The Navy submarine USS Scorpion is shown in this April, 1968 photo. CLICK FOR LARGE
Expert torpedoes book on USS Scorpion
A Honolulu marine scientist calls a book about the sinking of the USS Scorpion "wrong and irresponsible"
Honolulu marine scientist John P. Craven, who has long been associated with top-secret Cold War spy missions, says a new book attributing the 1968 loss of a nuclear attack submarine in the Atlantic Ocean to a torpedo launched by a Soviet sub is "wrong and irresponsible."
Officially, the Navy has described the loss as an accident caused by mechanical failure, but journalist Ed Offley calls it an act of war.
The Scorpion, a Skipjack-class nuclear submarine, had been in service for only eight years when it became the last sub lost by the Navy.
In his 482-page book, "Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion," Offley maintains that the USS Scorpion and its crew of 99 submariners were lost May 22, 1968, during an undersea battle in the Atlantic with a Soviet sub.
Offley, who has been investigating this incident for more than 20 years, believes there is a connection between the loss of the Scorpion and the sinking of the Soviet Golf-II-class submarine K-129 two months earlier in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. He believes the Soviets blamed that loss on overaggressive U.S. anti-submarine warfare efforts.
Offley discounts the official Navy Court of Inquiry findings 39 years ago that an internal mishap or mechanical failure caused the sinking of the 252-foot Scorpion. Over the years, theories on the sinking have included that it was struck by one of its own torpedoes that was inadvertently activated and launched, or that a fire in the torpedo room caused one of the projectiles to explode.
The book's premise is that the 3,000-ton Scorpion was shadowing a Soviet formation that included an Echo-II-class attack submarine when it was attacked and sunk.
Offley maintains that Moscow was aware of the Scorpion's surveillance mission because of information turned over to the Soviets by Navy radioman John A. Walker, who sold the secret communications codes.
Offley also contends that underwater sound recordings from sound surveillance system sensors heard by two sailors depicted "an underwater dogfight" between the Scorpion and a Soviet submarine.
But Craven, an 82-year-old Kahala resident, rejects Offley's premise, describing it as "absolutely and completely wrong."
USS SCORPION (SSN 589)
The last nuclear submarine lost by the Navy on May 22, 1968.
Commissioned: July 29, 1960
Displacement: 3,075 tons
Length: 252 ft
Armament: 6 torpedo tubes
"I do not know where he came up with that idea and published it," said Craven. "It's just speculation that the Scorpion was sunk by a Russian torpedo."
Craven, who is now chief scientist for the Common Heritage Corp., said the details behind the sinking and the search for the Scorpion are still classified, which opens the entire operation to speculation.
"The problem here is that very few people are cleared for the intelligence programs that we have in which we are able to find out what the Soviets know about this situation. I am cleared for those programs, but I am not allowed to say what I found out about those programs.
"All I can say is what I found out from those programs is that this is irresponsible speculation.
"There is no way the Soviets would have engaged in this kind of activity."
Craven also rejected Offley's theory that the sinking of the Scorpion was linked to the loss of the Soviet submarine K-129, pointing to the possibility that even identification of that submarine might be erroneous.
"There are very few people who know the details of that (Soviet) submarine," Craven added, "and the reason for that is because all of the material we collected on that submarine was immediately classified and no one was allowed to see except for the very, very high level of the government.
"So there is no information that is available to people like Offley that could offer the slightest clue as to what happened to whatever you call that thing."
In May 1968, Craven was chairman of the Navy's Deep Submergence Systems Project, whose activities included top-secret programs involving development of deep-diving manned submersibles and intelligence operations to find and retrieve objects on the ocean floor, Offley wrote.
Craven heard a news bulletin on Memorial Day that the Scorpion was overdue and drove directly to the Pentagon, where he was directed by three Navy admirals to conduct a survey to see if there had been any underwater recordings that might have caught sounds of the Scorpion sinking. He discovered that an oceanographic research station in the Canary Islands had a recording made on May 22 of what Craven described as "massive initial pulse of sound, then silence for 91 seconds," then "a train wreck cascade of smaller sound impulses."
Two other sound recordings were later found that led searchers to an area in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. The wreckage was eventually found 400 miles southwest of the Azores in 10,000 feet.
Craven, in an 1984 interview with Offley, said his Navy team of submarine experts concluded that a torpedo warhead accident onboard the Scorpion was the culprit. That theory was advanced in the 1999 book "Blind Man's Bluff."
As for the sinking of the Russian submarine K-129, Offley said the Soviet submarine was on patrol in an area 750 miles northwest of Oahu, its arsenal of nuclear ballistic missiles targeted on Pearl Harbor and other island military bases, when it went missing. In the 2005 book "Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S." the authors maintain the Scorpion was sunk in retaliation for the sinking of K-129. The authors believe that Soviet sub sunk after colliding with the U.S. sub USS Swordfish.
Offley and others have maintained Craven and his deep-water experts were involved in a mission to explore and recover the Soviet wreckage. Past accounts have attributed the 1974 recovery mission to a Central Intelligence Agency charter ship, the Glomar Explorer, which reportedly raised parts of the Soviet sub's hull, containing several nuclear-tipped torpedoes and the remains of eight crewmen.