Theories about the loss
Accidental activation of torpedo
The U.S. Navy's court of inquiry
listed as one possibility the inadvertent activation of a battery-powered Mark 37 torpedo
by stray voltage. This acoustic homing torpedo, in a fully ready condition and without a propeller guard, is believed by some to have started running within the tube. Released from the tube, the torpedo then somehow became fully armed and successfully engaged its nearest target: Scorpion
Explosion of torpedo
A later theory was that a torpedo may have exploded in the tube, caused by an uncontrollable fire in the torpedo room. The book Blind Man's Bluff
documents findings and investigation by Dr. John Craven, who surmised that a likely cause could have been the overheating of a faulty battery.
The Mark 46 silver-zinc battery
used in the Mark 37 torpedo had a tendency to overheat, and in extreme cases could cause a fire that was strong enough to cause a low-order detonation of the warhead. If such a detonation had occurred, it might have opened the boat's large torpedo-loading hatch and caused Scorpion
to flood and sink. However, while Mark 46 batteries have been known to generate so much heat that the torpedo casings blistered, none is known to have damaged a boat or caused an explosion.
Dr. John Craven mentions that he did not work on the Mark 37 torpedo's propulsion system and only became aware of the possibility of a battery explosion twenty years after the loss of Scorpion
. In his book The Silent War
, he recounts running a simulation with former Scorpion executive officer
Lieutenant Commander Robert Fountain, Jr. commanding the simulator. Fountain was told he was headed home at 18 knots (33 km/h) at a depth of his choice, then there was an alarm of "hot running torpedo". Fountain responded with "right full rudder", a quick turn that would activate a safety device and keep the torpedo from arming. Then an explosion in the torpedo room was introduced into the simulation. Fountain ordered emergency procedures to surface the boat, stated Dr. Craven, "but instead she continued to plummet, reaching collapse depth and imploding in ninety seconds — one second shy of the acoustic record of the actual event."
Craven, who was the Chief Scientist of the Navy's Special Projects Office
, which had management responsibility for the design, development, construction, operational test and evaluation and maintenance of the UGM-27 Polaris
Fleet Missile System had long believed Scorpion
was struck by her own torpedo, but revised his views during the mid-1990s when he learned that engineers testing Mark 46 batteries at Keyport, Washington just before the Scorpion's
loss, said the batteries leaked electrolyte and sometimes burned while outside their casings during lifetime shock, heat and cold testing. Although the battery manufacturer was accused of building bad batteries, it was later able to successfully prove its batteries were no more prone to failure than those made by other manufacturers.
Malfunction of trash disposal unit
During the 1968 inquiry, Vice Admiral Arnold F. Shade testified that he believed that a malfunction of the trash disposal unit (TDU) was the trigger for the disaster. Shade theorized that the sub was flooded when the TDU was operated at periscope depth
and that other subsequent failures of material or personnel while dealing with the TDU-induced flooding led to the sub's demise.
The book All Hands Down
by Kenneth Sewell and Jerome Preisler (Simon and Schuster, 2008) concludes that the Scorpion
was destroyed while en route to gather intelligence on a Soviet naval group conducting operations in the Atlantic.
While the mission for which the submarine was diverted from her original course back to her home port is a matter of record, its details remain classified.
Ed Offley's book Scorpion Down
promotes a hypothesis suggesting that the Scorpion
was sunk by a Soviet submarine during a standoff that started days before 22 May. Offley also cites that it occurred roughly at the time of the submarine's intelligence-gathering mission, from which she was redirected from her original heading for home; according to Offley, the flotilla had just been harassed by another U.S. submarine, the USS Haddo
W. Craig Reed, who served on the Haddo
a decade later as a Petty Officer and diver, and whose father was a U.S. Navy officer responsible in significant ESM advances in sub detection in the early 1960s, recounted similar scenarios to Offley in Red November
over Soviet torpedoing of the Scorpion
and details his own service on USS Haddo
in 1977 running inside Soviet waters off Vladivostok, when torpedoes appeared to have been fired at the Haddo
, but were immediately put down by the Captain as a Soviet torpedo exercise.
Both All Hands Down
and Scorpion Down
point toward involvement by the KGB
spy-ring (the so-called Walker Spy-Ring) led by John Anthony Walker, Jr.
in the heart of the U.S. Navy's communications, stating that it could have known that the Scorpion
was coming to investigate the Soviet flotilla. According to this theory, both navies agreed to hide the truth about both incidents. Several U.S. Navy SSNs collided with Soviet Echo subs in Russian and Scottish waters in this period. Commander Roger Lane Nott, Royal Navy commander of the SSN HMS Splendid
during the 1982 Falklands War, stated that in 1972, during his service as a junior navigation officer on the SSN HMS Conqueror
, a Soviet submarine entered the Scottish Clyde channel and Conqueror
was given the order to 'chase it out'. Having realized it was being pursued, "a very aggressive Soviet Captain turned his submarine and drove it straight at HMS Conqueror
. It had been an extremely close call."
The Soviet submarine force was as professional as the British and the Americans. According to a translated article from Pravda
, Moscow never issued a 'fire' command during the cold war.
This is disputed by Royal Navy officers, "there had been other occasions when harassed Russians had fired torpedoes to scare off trails."
The Navy court of inquiry official statement was that there was not another ship within 200 miles of Scorpion
at the time of the sinking.
U.S. Navy conclusions
The results of the U.S. Navy's various investigations into the loss of Scorpion
are inconclusive. While the court of inquiry never endorsed Dr. Craven's torpedo theory regarding the loss of Scorpion
, its "findings of facts" released in 1993 carried Craven's torpedo theory at the head of a list of possible causes of Scorpion
The first cataclysmic event was of such magnitude that the only possible conclusion is that a cataclysmic event (explosion) occurred resulting in uncontrolled flooding (most likely the forward compartments).