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Scorpion: Unsolved Mystery

Scorpion: At Sea

Scorpion off Connecticut during trials on June 27, 1960
Photograph courtesy U.S. Navy
With nearly eight years of U.S. naval service to its credit, Scorpion left Norfolk, Virginia, on February 15, 1968, for exercises in the Mediterranean.

On May 21 all was well. Scorpion radioed its position: about 50 miles (81 kilometers) south of the Azores. On May 22 it lay in pieces beneath 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) of water, each section resting in the crater of its own impact. All 99 men aboard were lost.

Nobody knows for sure what happened, at least nobody who has spoken publicly. Potential explanations range from the mechanical to the clandestine.

The Search

The Navy didn’t suspect trouble until May 27, when the submarine failed to return to Norfolk as scheduled. A search was launched, Scorpion was officially pronounced “presumed lost” on June 5, and efforts to locate the sub continued into the fall.

Toward the end of October, a Navy research ship towing a camera-equipped deep-submergence vehicle in the North Atlantic spotted the sub. Location: about 400 miles (644 kilometers) southwest of the Azores. Despite a thorough investigation of the site, the cause of the catastrophe eluded everyone.

Unsolved Mystery

An initial investigation concluded that the most likely cause was an accidentally released torpedo which circled back on its only possible target, Scorpion. A later investigation ruled instead that the sub’s huge battery had likely exploded.

The Scorpion reports were largely declassified in 1993, but much information remains hidden from the public. Some have speculated alternate causes for the accident, including a collision with a Soviet submarine. The U.S. Navy’s official position remains that there is no evidence to support such theories.

Until the still sunken remains of Scorpion can be examined in detail, the truth may never be known.

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Scorpion Off Italy