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K-19: The Widowmaker
K-19 The Widowmaker
Actors: Harrison Ford, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings, Christian Camargo, Roman Podhora
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
PG-13     2002     2hr 18min

During the Cold War, an poorly prepared Soviet submarine goes on its maiden voyage and the crew must work to prevent a nuclear disaster.

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Movie Details

Actors: Harrison Ford, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings, Christian Camargo, Roman Podhora
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Creators: Basil Iwanyk, Brent O'Connor, Christine Whitaker, Dieter Nobbe, Edward S. Feldman, Christopher Kyle, Louis Nowra
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Harrison Ford, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Studio: New Films International
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/10/2002
Original Release Date: 07/19/2002
Theatrical Release Date: 07/19/2002
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 2hr 18min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 19
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English

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Member Movie Reviews

Diane S.
Reviewed on 8/18/2010...
Really good movie. Some good tense moments in it.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Marleen M. from WHEELING, WV
Reviewed on 4/26/2009...
This is an amazing true that will make you cry.
3 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Aimee M. (AimeeM)
Reviewed on 2/5/2008...
I LOVE this movie! It made be cry TWICE, and I don't cry in films! What makes the movie so amazing is that it is a True Story.

An inspiring tale of survival and willingness to sacrifice your life to save your friends. Incredible movie.

The only downer is Harrison Ford can not play a Russian. I'm sorry, the poor guy can't out-live his Han Solo persona, and as a Russian Captain it just doesn't work.

But his role is easily overlooked when you consider the overall dynamics of the story. I HIGHLY recommend this film. If you haven't seen it, do. The men who died on the K-19 deserve all the remembrance they get from this film and more.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

A Worthy Submarine Film Among Few Others
Joseph Esposito | California | 10/09/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Let's start off this review with the following acknowledgment: many of the 'facts' in this movie are actually exaggerations. Yes, the basics of the events happened, but the drama surrounding them is largely enhanced for the viewer. This is not all that different than many other fact-based films, and it certainly in no way takes away from the quality of the film given that the most important event, the nuclear accident, is true. For me, all of the other events pale to this one, and I think it is handled brilliantly. What sets this film apart, in my eyes, from many others is that it delivers the claustrophobic terror of radiation in maddeningly effective way. The fabricated mutiny, the exaggerated differences of opinions between the focus on these things is to miss the point. If you're looking for cold hard fact enjoy the History Channel instead. This is a film, and part of what makes a good movie is entertainment.

Putting aside the fact checks, you're left with a gripping look at what a nuclear accident on a submarine is like. The cast is almost universally good, although at times it can be hard to ignore certain...breaks in accent, shall we say. Still, the performances hold and luckily the burden is shared across many capable shoulders. The crew feels like a crew, the interplay between the men coming off as natural and authentic. The captains, feuding as they are, come off as men of authority. In particular, I thought Liam Neeson projected a true sense of a fatherly affection for his men. Beyond the actors, the unfolding of the nuclear accident, and specifically the repair work, is some of the most tense and savagely dramatic work you'll see anywhere. With little ability to rely on the actors faces in their repair suits, the music and tight direction carries the invisible danger surrounding the failing reactor. Though it can be tough to watch, I admire the graphic depiction of the impact of radiation on a human being. It is jarring to see how quickly and easily one of our greatest discoveries can break us down.

In summary, if you are a submarine film fan, as I am, there's much to like here. While it's never a movie you expect to win as Oscar, it's still a highly enjoyable piece of film that has a unique p[lace in cinema as depicting the Soviet Navy as heroes rather than sinister Cold War villains. Highly recommended."
An Oscar for 'Best Supporting Submarine' (K-77)
Kalikiano Kalei | Ho'olehua, HI | 03/16/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This past week (March 2010), the annual Hollywood Academy Awards event was held amidst all the splashy hoopla-de-da that characterises this recurrent self-celebration of tinsel town's best creative efforts. I don't normally pay much attention to all the fluff and attendant media fawning therein, but the Oscar awards ceremony this year was markedly different for the following reason: for the very first time in motion picture history a woman was awarded Oscars for both `Best Director' and `Best Film'. [What didn't happen, but perhaps should have, is a special award of `Best Supporting Submarine' to the ex-Soviet Juliett Class boat that starred in another of Bigelow's earlier films 'K-19: The Widowmaker').]

As anyone who follows film media knows, Hollywood has traditionally been a supreme bastion of entrenched male chauvinism and women, except on rare occasions (when raw talent has trumped gender associations), have typically been regarded at best as little more than intelligent sex-objects. Consequent with Kathryn Bigelow's commendable (and in my opinion, much deserved) double Oscar win, I personally sat up and took serious note of this attractive 59 year old woman's list of past cinematic accomplishments. I was amazed and surprised to learn that she had been the director of that unusual, but outstandingly quirky film `Point Break' featuring a couple of California surfers who rob a bank (wearing masks of US presidents), but I was further fascinated to find she had also directed one of my favorite war films, a Harrison Ford / Liam Neeson Cold War epic titled `K-19: The Widowmaker' (based on an actual incident occuring to an unfortunate Echo-2 Class Soviet nuclear missile submarine...K-19...that sustained a near-meltdown of its nuclear pile on its maiden voyage in 1961).

Cut to April of 2007, at which time a Russian submarine sank to the bottom of the Providence River, while moored to a wharf in Rhode Island. Regrettably, it remained there for just over a full year while efforts were made to determine how to raise the 4,000 ton vessel from its watery resting place at Collier Point Park. That submarine was K-77, also known as 'Juliett 484'. The amazing story of how Soviet submarine K-77 came to its final end in the United States, after surviving 27 years of the `Cold War' as a Soviet guided missile submarine (followed by an additional 17 years out of active commission as a warship, serving as a museum display), and how it relates to the film `K-19: The Widowmaker', constitutes a most interesting and surprising saga, for the Russian submarine used in the filming of 'Bigelow's K-19: The Widowmaker' was none other than K-77.

Soviet submarine K-77 began its life in a ship-builder's yard located in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, the seventh Juliett Class boat built among its 16 Juliett Class sister subs between 1963 and 1968. While the name `Juliett' is an arbitrary NATO imposed Cold War era identification assigned to K-77's class, its selection in this reference reflects a somewhat curious and unknown aspect of these boats in that they were the first submarine vessels designed principally by a (Russian) woman naval architect. Officially recorded in Russian naval archives as the `Project 651' hull K-77 submarine, this Cruise Missile Attack type sub's keel was laid on January 31st of 1963. The boat was commissioned on 31 October 1965 and during its service carried an original war load of twenty-two regular torpedoes and four Soviet P-5 nuclear tipped cruise missiles stowed in special launch tubes built into its outer, upper hull structure.

The Juliett Class boats had been initially conceived as a post-war offensive addition to the Soviet Navy's weapons arsenal that would give the Soviet Union the ability to launch cruise missiles (with nuclear warheads) against the seaboard cities of the United States. The concept would later grow to embrace the use of more advanced cruise missiles against American aircraft carriers (so-called super-carriers), since the Soviets had no such vessels and American carriers (with their great strategic mobility and airpower assets) were viewed as a grave threat to the USSR in the event that the cold war suddenly turned hot.

The P-5 turbojet-propelled (albeit augmented by two solid-fuel rocket launch boosters) missile initially carried by the Juliett Class boats was a relatively short range weapon (300 miles) carrying a 2,000 pound nuclear payload at an altitude of from 600 to 1300 feet, but these were later replaced by upgraded P-6 and P-500 cruise missiles with extended range and capabilities. Although as originally conceived, the Soviet plan called for more than 75 of these conventionally powered (diesel and electric motor propulsion) missile carrying vessels to be built, that number was eventually trimmed down to a total of only 35, of which 16 were eventually built. Since a larger and more powerfully armed version of the type known as the Echo-2 Class (with nuclear powered propulsion and eight cruise missile launchers) were already being built, the advantages offered by nuclear propulsion for extended global operations seemed to offset a larger conventionally powered class. Considered to be an aesthetically attractive submarine design, the Juliett Class boats proved in service to be basically well engineered and operationally quite reliable, whereas their larger nuclear-powered sister class (Project 675, Echo-2) relatives were to demonstrate recurrent, severe design problems with their nuclear propulsion units in succeeding years, frequently developing many near catastrophic faults while underway and on patrol.

As was the case regarding many of both the US and Soviet submarine designs produced in the aftermath of the Second World War, the strong influence of late wartime German submarine research and development made itself apparent in new boats like the K-77. A comparison of the 3,174 ton displacement (surfaced) K-77 with wartime U-boats (such as those represented by the substantially advanced German Type XXI) clearly shows the lineage of their German-derived technology. This advanced technology came to serve both the Russian and American sides as part of the massive post-war recovery of German advanced research in weapons systems, and just as German aircraft breakthroughs formed the foundation of most US and Russian advances in aeronautical engineering, so did WWII German naval research significantly further the development of modern submarine fleets on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The Juliett Class boats were fitted with (at the time) sophisticated weapons aiming and targeting radar systems that were intended for use in precisely guiding the P-5 missiles to their selected targets. Although the primary guidance system employed on board the Soviet cruise missiles was inertial, a massive (over 100 square feet) directional guidance radar antenna built into the forward part of the Juliette's sail (or conning tower), was used to send mid-course corrections to the missiles while in flight. Hidden behind a large hydrodynamically streamlined section of faired forward sail plating, the radar antenna was rotated 180 degrees from its `stowed' facing aft just before launch--a process that took several minutes once the boat had surfaced. This radar guidance system was later down-linked to the Soviet Kasatka satellite communications network when more advanced missiles came into use (P-6 and P-500), allowing more precise aiming and directional targeting uplinks to the launched missiles.

Although the first two Juliett Class boats had been constructed from special low-magnetic signature austenitic steel, a number of serious problems resulted from its use with the result that K-77's hull was fabricated from conventional steel. K-77's hull was further coated with a two-inch layer of sound deadening polymeric (specially profiled and formulated acoustic rubber) tiles that made the Juliett Class boats a somewhat formidable threat to US warships in the late 60s period. Despite a general tendency for Russian submarines of that era to be excessively noisy while submerged and therefore easily picked up on sonar, the Juliett Class vessels operated in markedly silent contrast to that otherwise norm for Soviet boats, and although the relatively short range of their missiles was a limiting factor, the offensive threat they posed could never be fully dismissed out of hand.

The primary vulnerability of the Juliett Class lay in the fact that the missiles had to be launched from the surface (at a maximum forward speed of about 4-5 knots). Since the total time required from surfacing to actual firing was in excess of 5 minutes, the threat posed by the Juliett Class boats was gradually downgraded by the West, as it was felt that in any genuine' hot war' scenario, the boats would likely have been detected and destroyed by US defense forces before they could get off their first cruise missile salvo. This inherent vulnerability of the Juliett and Echo-2 subs was further enhanced by the fact that they had to remain on the surface for as long as 20 minutes after launch, so as to be able to radar-track and guide the deployed missiles. Under such circumstances, it would have been imperative that the Juliett and Echo-2 subs have an active air cover umbrella in the form of fighter planes for their effectiveness to be assured.

Although the improved Echo-2 nuclear powered boats were equally vulnerable in their missile launch cycle (despite possessing the advantage of nuclear propulsion), the Soviet Naval Command kept the newer Echo-2 boats operating globally while the slightly smaller and conventionally powered Julietts were redirected from former global strategic patrol duties (shadowing enemy carriers and lurking close-in to enemy coastal cities) to supportive duty with the Soviet Baltic Fleet.

K-77 was initially assigned to duty with the Soviet Northern Fleet, operating on the shores of the Barents Sea near the Kola Peninsula. When the Soviet Union officially came to an end (with the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1990), K-77 was one of two ex-Soviet submarines of her class that were stationed in reserve status at the former Soviet Naval Base of Liepaja on the coast of Latvia, along with two boats of the diesel/electric Foxtrot Class and several other Russian naval surface vessels.

It was a time of great political, social, and economic turmoil for the new Russian state, as Russia suddenly found itself possessed of ponderously expensive and over-extended military forces, obsolete armament (much of it now outmoded by more recent advancements) and millions of unneeded military personnel that it had built up during the Cold War period. With the Cold War now officially ended, the newly emergent economic reality demanded extreme austerity from the Russian Republic, requiring many painful cuts and eventual reductions in both its military forces and surplus materiel.

Among the suddenly expendable Russian defense items at the Leipaja base in Latvia were the two Juliette Class boats wharved at the former Soviet naval anchorage. These two boats were the K-77 (AKA: Juliett 484) and a sister boat, the K-24 (AKA: Juliett 461), which had been assigned to the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Although the Julietts were taken briefly out of service by the Soviet Navy in the early 80s, they had been placed back in service in 1985; two of the fleet ended up in reserve status, due to certain strategic arms limitations stipulations. The two Leipaja Julietts were eventually decommissioned in 1994.

With Latvia demanding immediate return of the Leipaja anchorage to their nation, the Russian Navy now faced a rather uncomfortable dilemma: how to dispose of some of their large number of submarines (both conventionally powered and nuclear), now that the base they were tied up at belonged to the Latvian Republic? It was a perplexing challenge, since the logistical considerations (particularly with reference to the nuclear powered subs, with their potentially hazardous propulsion plants) were as enormous as the economic ones. Meanwhile, the two Julietts simply sat at their dock, gathering rust. As may be easily recognised, disposing of nuclear submarines carries substantial risks due to their nuclear propulsion systems and the possibilities contained therein for dangerous and extremely hazardous contamination; conventionally powered submarines with their electric/diesel engines, on the other hand, are inherently less environmentally hazardous by an order of magnitude.

At this point, an unusual sequence of events occurred. A Finnish businessman named Jari Komulainen, who had been visiting Leipaja (Latvia), spotted the two Julietts at anchor and had a most unusual idea. Surely some of the two ex-Soviet subs could be made into fascinating `Cold War' floating museums for the Finnish people and foreign visitors to Helsinki to enjoy? Since Finland had been forbidden to build or operate submarines at the end of the war (due to their alliance with Nazi Germany), and mindful of Finland's earlier association with the Vesikko (a prototype for the World War Two German Type II Class submarine, built for Finland in 1933, now on permanent land-based display on Suomenlinna island in Helsinki Harbor as part of the Finnish Military Museum), Komulainen approached the commercial attaché at the Russian embassy in Helsinki and proposed that he be allowed to personally purchase one or two of the surplus Juliette Class boats for this purpose.

By a gratifying coincidence, the Russian attaché was a former submarine commander who had earlier helped Komulainen obtain one of the conventionally powered ex-Soviet Foxtrot Class boats (Project 641 submarine) in 1993. Quickly perceiving the novel value of such an arrangement, not to mention the convenience factor embodied in what amounted to a very clever way of disposing of two obsolete, surplus-to-need submarines for his government, he was agreeable to the proposal; eventually both the K-77 and her sister Juliett Class boat (the K-24) were acquired by Komulainen for use as public displays.

While the K-24 went initially to Copenhagen for dockside exhibition (and later to the German Maritime Museum at Peenemunde, where it remains on display today), K-77 was soon towed to Helsinki Harbor and installed at a wharf there, near the shipyards. Aside from the novelty of having a former undersea Russian warship open for inspection, the close interactions of Finland and Russia (more often extremely antagonistic than not over the past 100 years) had cultivated a further fascination among the Finns for this relic of the Cold War. By 1994, the ex-Soviet Foxtrot Class sub was gone and replaced by the K-77, which was pressed into initial use as an off-beat floating bar & restaurant. For this purpose two large cuts had been made into the pressure hull allowing a less restricted general access to the sub's interior (these large openings were secured by dogged doors, but they were not of the pressure-resistant, watertight variety, a fact would have later significance when K-77 sank at dockside in Rhode Island in 2007, as shall be seen). [Note: Regrettably, the Project 641 Foxtrot Class boat that K-77 had replaced was shortly thereafter lost at sea while under tow to a future display venue in England.

Originally known as K-77, the name `Juliett U-484' was acquired by the boat while she remained as a tourist attraction in Helsinki. According to Komulainen, the designation had been found inscribed on a plate uncovered within the craft's sail. The designation seems to have been one of a number of removable designations the K-77's crew used to display on the sail's exterior while on patrol so as to confuse and throw off NATO reconnaissance aircraft. Before long, the `U' component in the name was dropped and she remained simply `Juliett 484'.

According to an October 2002 article by Sami Soininen in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, K-77 was not the source of inordinate profit for entrepreneur Komulainen that he may have originally envisioned, but it did remain at least somewhat profitable. The boat remained a singular draw for a wide range of people including native Finns as well as foreign visitors (who would first see the Juliett Class boat and then take a ferry to nearby Suomenlinna to view the famous Vesikko Type II U-boat precursor). Former submarine service officers of all nationalities were invariably attracted to K-77 and `Juliette 484' became quite a well-known aspect of Helsinki's many charming attractions.

During her years at Helsinki, there were a number of unusual inquiries by strange groups and individuals asking if the boat were for sale. One of these, we are told by journalist Soininen, was a cartel of Arabs from an unnamed Middle Eastern nation who seriously wanted to put the boat back into sea-going condition (for unknown purposes--one can only imagine). Another equally shadowy group turned out to be of Columbian (South America) nationality and although their offer to purchase the submarine was refused, American DEA agents later revealed that the Columbians were members of the infamous Cali Cartel who wanted a submarine for use in their drug-smuggling operations (despite their failure in obtaining this, or any other former military submarine, the Cali cartel today employs a number of much smaller, home-made submersible craft for this purpose).

Visual examination of K-77 close-up by American Naval authorities confirmed what had already been discovered back in the 1970s by US sonar experts, that concave sections of the Juliett Class boat's upper hull (designed to act as missile launch exhaust ducts) caused a distinctively singular sonar signature, thereby making identification of submerged Juliett Class boats a fairly simple matter for US anti-submarine forces of that era. This liability, combined with the unavoidable surface exposure required for launch and guidance of the Shaddock missiles, rendered the class technologically obsolete long before they were actually decommissioned. The surmise by US submarine warfare experts is that the Juliett Class boats, while essentially useless in the often shallow and rocky coastal operating areas of the Scandinavian nations (where only smaller, shallower draft submarines could operate with reasonable safety), would have been best employed in support of Soviet nuclear capabilities in the Baltic Sea. Despite that supposition, among the many paper documents found still on board the boat (surprisingly) when it was sold to Komulainen were several that suggested the boat had at some time been shadowing Norwegian Kobben Class submarines at some point in its operational history.

In 1997, which is when I was taking a tour of Finnish defense facilities as a guest of the Finnish Defense Minister, one of the side-excursions we made was to examine K-77. It was a very, very overcast day when we drove down to the harbor and I well recall seeing the darkened hull of this clearly Russian designed submarine looming out of the water at dockside like some sort of sinister sea-monster; it made quite an impression on me at the time. Flying from one of its periscopes was the blue, white and red Soviet Naval Ensign as we approached its berth and flying from another was the Communist red hammer and sickle flag (inappropriately, since Soviet subs never flew that flag in active service); we subsequently spent a good two hours going over the boat from stem to stern--an inspection I very much relished. Little did I dream I'd soon be seeing the same interior spaces once more in Hollywood director Kathryn Bigelow's film `K-19: The Widowmaker' and not recognise them! I managed to shoot two rolls of film within K-77's interior and out on its deck, but to my everlasting regret left one of the exposed rolls sitting on a charting table in the control room!

Shortly after my visit K-77's tenure as a museum display boat in Helsinki Harbor came to an end when Komulainen managed to lease the submarine to a Canadian promoter as a tourist destination in St. Petersburg, Florida. After an uneventful tow across the Atlantic, the boat arrived at St. Petersburg only to find that given the sub's fairly deep draft, its intended mooring site there was too shallow (the sub draws over about 27 feet at the stern). This necessitated moving it to a more distant location where tourist access was somewhat hampered. Due to lowered tourist visits, before long the Canadian promoter was forced to declare bankruptcy and after a brief effort to sell the submarine on eBay (with a price tag of a million US dollars, in 1999) ownership of K-77 once more reverted to Komulainen. Wishing to get the aging submarine out of its harbor, where it was regarded as a possible hurricane hazard, Komulainen did not want to undergo the cost and difficulty of having the sub towed back across the Atlantic to Finland.

Fortunately, at this time Intermedia Films, in cooperation with the National Geographic Foundation, was about to undertake the filming of a movie to be titled `K-19: The Widowmaker'. Starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson and directed by now well known and Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow, the film was based on the story of the first Soviet Hotel Class nuclear submarine (K-19) that experienced a catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown while on its maiden voyage in 1961. Over 20 crew members died as a result of that incident and although the sub was eventually decontaminated and returned to service, it forever after acquired the nickname Hiroshima among Soviet submarine crews. Word of the boat's availability had apparently reached the film's producers in Hollywood, subsequent to all the publicity arising from its attempted sale on eBay (in 1999).

Intermedia therefore expressed an interest in acquiring temporary use of K-77 for its film and shortly after an agreed-upon one year rental of about $200,000.00 had been paid, the sub was towed up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where some structural modification was undertaken on its hull (for the film). Per Soininen's account, K-77's hull was lengthened by some 25 feet and its superstructure was slightly modified to resemble a Hotel Class nuclear submarine. Commendably, the involvement of the National Geographic group resulted in an insistence that absolute accuracy in depiction of a Hotel Class boat (which was a nuclear ballistic missile submarine) be maintained as much as possible...gratifying evidence of the fact that the old Hollywood technique of using underwater shots of a US WWII Fleet Type boat for ALL films about submarines had long since come to an end (fortunately!).

Due to restricted space inside K-77, major portions of the boat were removed and reconstructed in sound-stage sets on shore where filming could be more easily accomplished. An agreement signed by all parties involved in the film stipulated that when filming of the movie was finished, the boat would be returned to its original, pre-movie state. In order to assure this, over 1000 still photographs and a number of detailed drawings were undertaken prior to the modifications required.

After the year required for filming expired, the same problem as before presented itself once more: what to do with a very large, outsized and difficult to dock former Soviet submarine? Halifax port authorities were as anxious as their counterparts in St. Petersburg to see the huge 3174 ton submarine relocated to another site and the requirement for a fairly deep water berth for the boat proved again to be an effective deterrent for most potential buyers. Once again, K-77 faced the prospect of being an unwanted behemoth orphan in the storm and it was anyone's guess as to what the boat's fate might have been (sold prematurely for salvage as scrap?), had it not have been for a group in Rhode Island calling itself the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation.

The USS Saratoga Foundation is based at the former US Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, RI, and its declared goal was to turn the facility into a theme-oriented naval park with the 56,000 ton Forrestal Class super-carrier as its principal focus. Interestingly, the Saratoga had been decommissioned in 1994 (the same year that K-77 had been taken out of Soviet service) and the prospect of having a former Soviet super-carrier killer submarine to serve as a storied counterfoil to the mighty Saratoga was undeniably attractive to many. The idea that the Saratoga and other large American Forrestal Class aircraft carriers of its type had been the principal targets of Juliett Class subs was hard to resist and it almost seemed like a natural for the foundation to add K-77 to its park, for use as a Cold War era floating museum.

Owing to the fact that the Saratoga was still US Navy property and the fact that the foundation had not yet convinced the navy that its Quonset Point venue was the proper final resting place for the great carrier, the president of the Saratoga Foundation felt that having the K-77 on display would serve the additional purpose of acting as a powerful marketing incentive, furthering broad support for the Saratoga acquisition proposal. With a Board of Advisors comprised of a number of retired former US naval officers of elevated rank and with a large and enthusiastic volunteer base of former navy volunteers and general members (reportedly over 4000), it seemed as if there would be a substantial financial support base to draw upon for both K-77's and the Saratoga's acquisition. Negotiations were therefore initiated with Komulainen to acquire K-77 for this purpose and after an unspecified asking price was paid (reckoned to be about $500,000 or less), the sub was once again towed by sea from Halifax to its new berth at Quonset Point. The new Saratoga Museum Foundation museum sub formally opened in 2002.

A careful search of the K-77's interior compartments after the boat had been handed over revealed a further extensive cache of overlooked documents, photographs, radio messages, and maintenance reports (all in Russian, of course) that had apparently been left behind when the submarine was originally been sold to Komulainen in 1993. The most important finding from this unexpected trove of data was that K-77 was indeed K-77 and not K-81, as has been erroneously claimed by several sources on the internet. As part of the initial work, the Saratoga Foundation also began efforts to get in touch with former Soviet Navy submariners who had sailed on K-77 and learned that the boat had patrolled in the Mediterranean Sea, been in coastal waters of West Africa and on patrol off the US Virgin islands. Of further interest was the information that once during her years of service, there had been a fire on board that had killed two of her crew. Ghosts on the K-77? Perhaps.

Given that the K-77 is an immense and ponderous vessel (one of the largest non-nuclear submarines ever built) drawing about 23 - 29 feet of water, finding a suitable berthing site for her posed special concerns. The boat was eventually tied up on the Providence River at Collier Point Park, a site adjacent to the former Quonset Point Naval Air Station. Although the river at that site has a sloping bank gradient, the boat was moored parallel to shore and far enough from the bank that this factor (the bank gradient) was felt to have been dealt with adequately as tides rose and fell. Thus, K-77 was finally opened to the public after a complete assay of it had been completed and necessary accommodations made to comply with public access and safety issues. For five years, subsequent to its formal opening in 2002 K-77 served as a fascinating focal point for the Saratoga Foundation's activities and functions, annually drawing a substantial number of interested visitors and providing further incentive for their Saratoga themed park concept to come to ultimate fruition. The large and enthusiastic group of former navy volunteers who support the Saratoga Foundation put in many hours of work on K-77 keeping her shipshape and presentable, no mean feat given the massive maintenance requirements of such a large vessel. It looked as if the benefits of having K-77 on display would continue to serve the Saratoga Foundation well in its efforts to secure final release of the Saratoga from the US Navy.

Sadly, nature had other ideas and intervened adversely in this plan of the Saratoga Foundation, when Rhode Island was inundated by an unusually severe "Nor'easter" storm in April of 2007. In that storm, one of the worst on record, Juliett 484 was swamped by its stern and shortly thereafter sank at its mooring site. Although a formal accident investigation report has yet to be released detailing the exact sequence of events that led to this loss, the following events appear to have been primary contributors.

On April 17th, 2007, the storm responsible for K-77's loss had created massive and unusually strong tidal surges in the Providence River. The situation was further complicated by the closing of a special hurricane barrier further up the river and a shift in wind direction to the East (most unusual, per the usually prevailing conditions). When the barrier in question was closed, discharge of redirected water took place in the area very near the sub's stern, creating further abnormally large hydrodynamic surges. This combination of factors apparently resulted in the bow of the sub being pushed inward toward the shore and the stern being pushed further out into the river. When the tide dropped that day, the sub's bow was left aground, while the stern section fell disproportionately. Due to the fact that access openings allowing entrance to the aft torpedo room had been cut into the pressure hull (when the boat was originally in Finland) and fitted with hatches that were weather tight but not pressure/water tight, water began to enter the sub and gradually filled the aft interior compartment spaces of the pressure hull.

Although at that point the urgency of the need to enter the sub and secure internal watertight doors was clearly recognized, local health and safety officials prevented museum volunteers from entering the sub in its semi-flooded state, and there is little question that the storm was so severe such actions would have been quite hazardous. Sadly, the predictable result was that within 30 hours the entire vessel had filled from stern to bow. The boat sank to the bottom of the river where it was moored (water about 35 feet in depth) and given the depth of the river at that point this left only the periscope masts above water. The severity of the storm initially keep anyone from being able to do anything further at the onset of the emergency, but an underwater survey of the sunken sub done after the storm had subsided showed it resting on the river bottom at a 50 degree list to port, a posture resulting from dislodged river mud beneath its keel that held the boat there.

Although the Foundation held a one million dollar insurance policy on the boat, its provisions stipulated that only half of that amount was eligible for operations involving salvage. Acutely aware of the fact that the longer the sub remained in its sunken exposed status in the river, the less the chances of its being able to be successfully raised and restored, effort nevertheless continued to raise the boat as soon as weather and safety considerations permitted. Months passed, but eventually a cooperative US Army and Navy team effort was able to raise K-77. By the time it was finally brought back to the surface, K-77 had laid on the bottom for just over a full year (15 months) and once the water had finally been pumped out, it quickly became apparent that the damage and exposure was far more extensive than anyone had anticipated. Given the excessive expense that a full restoration effort would have required, the Foundation most reluctantly decided that there was no economically reasonable option to pursue other than to dispose of the boat for its scrap salvage value. Thus, the boat's remains were sold to the nearby Rhode Island Recycled Metals Corporation (ship breakers).

Despite history's having now consigned K-77 to the scrap heap of modern memory, you may still view Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow's movie, 'K-19: the Widowmaker' and remind yourself that the scenes depicting the Hollywood `K-19' are actually of K-77. In this manner, although disguised for the movie, K-77 manages to live on in cinematic perpetuity as a final, fitting tribute to her memory."
Historically significant perhaps, but may lack mass appeal .
trebe | 04/27/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Supposedly based on actual events suppressed for decades, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) tells the story of a nuclear incident aboard a Russian submarine, on a mission in the North Atlantic. The time is 1961, John F. Kennedy is president, and cold war tensions are at a high level. Peace between the superpowers is maintained by the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD), where neither nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon, for fear that the other would do the same. A part of the balance of power, are submarine launched nuclear missiles.

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Star Wars) is Captain Alexei Vostrikov, newly appointed captain of the K-19, the Soviet Union's newest super sub. He is replacing Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), who has come into disfavor with Moscow. For the sub's maiden voyage, Moscow directs Polenin to take K-19 into the north Atlantic, cruise under the ice cap, and test launch a missile, thus demonstrating to the Americans, Russia ability to strike the US from a submarine.

Setting to sea, things are a little rough, as Vostrikov puts the crew through drill after drill. He then tests the limits of the craft, taking it down to crush depth, then making a rapid ascent. Crashing through the ice cap, he then fires the test missile. Their mission successfully completed, Moscow directs the sub to begin patrolling off the eastern shore of the United States.

On the way to America, one of the nuclear reactors begins to overheat. Atomic power being a relatively new technology, Captain Vostrikov is in a tough spot, as he must rely on a reactor officer, just out of the training academy. The ship has only a few hours, before the core becomes critical, and detonates. A desperate plan, to reroute the ship's water supply to cool the core is attempted. The modifications are successful, but the workers are exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation.

The immediate threat has been averted, but those aboard are being subjected to high doses of radiation. Refusing to accept help from a nearby American ship, Vostrikov's plan is to try and limp back to Russia. When the makeshift cooling system fails, rather than risk a nuclear explosion, the crew decides to submerge and try to make additional repairs.

Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break), was dedicated to telling the story of these forgotten men, in as realistic way as possible. The film does capture some of the atmosphere of the conditions on a Russian sub, as well as the spirit and attitude of the officers and crew. K-19 is essentially a drama about overcoming a disaster, those looking for an action film, may be quite disappointed. Although the story has historical significance, until the nuclear crisis, things move a bit slow, and the clash between captains Vostrikov and Polenin, is about the only thing for the audience to focus on. While there is some interest in watching superstars Ford and Neeson clash swords, it really does not make for the most exciting or compelling viewing. Based on this, while the filmmaker's motives are certainly laudable, and the film is a first class production, its lack of commercial success, is not particularly surprising."