10 Warships That Simply Disappeared
On Jan. 25, 1968, an Israeli submarine called the INS Dakar went missing along with her entire 69-man crew. For 30 years the Dakar was subject to much speculation, searching, and, thanks to the actions of the Israeli government, conspiracy theorizing. In 1999, her remains were found in between the islands of Cyprus and Crete, at a depth of 9,800 feet. The best reporting on the INS Dakar can be found here. Apparently, the hull simply collapsed after the crew dived too quickly. But official denials from the Israeli military, and a 2005 interview with an Egyptian naval officer stating that he was part of a crew that had sunk the Dakar, complicate the picture.
To make matters even more interesting, three other submarines disappeared in 1968. (I’ll get back to them shortly.) The disappearance of warships is nothing new to history buffs, but here are 10 disappearances, aside from the INS Dakar, you may not have heard about:
10. HMAS Sydney & Kormoran (lost: November 1941). So, in 1941, two light cruisers, one German and the other Australian, got into a fight in the water and both vessels were destroyed. Hundreds of survivors from the Kormoran (German side) were found floating in life rafts and on nearby islands, but no survivors were ever found from the Aussie cruiser. The two vessels, or what was left of them, were finally recovered in 2008.
9. U-47 (lost: March 1941). The U-47 was one of many German submarines that disappeared during he course of World War II, but thanks to the exceptional talents of German record keepers, it is known that U-47 was one of the most successful U-boats of World War II: she sank 31 Allied shipping vessels all by herself. In late February of 1941, U-47 left for a mission off the coast of Ireland, but she never returned. Unlike many of the warships on this list, U-47 has never been recovered and nobody knows exactly what happened to her.
8. USS Scorpion (lost: May 1968). A nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine that disappeared into the deep blue at the height of the Cold War? You better believe it. Speculation has continued to run wildly in all directions. The U.S. Navy’s reports have been inconclusive, too. A Soviet torpedo may have been responsible for the disappearance of the Scorpion. Or it could have been a hull eruption. Or a malfunctioning torpedo that exploded within the submarine. Nobody truly knows, but because the Scorpion was nuclear, it is subject to close monitoring by several U.S. agencies responsible for environmental safety. The wreckage can be found 9,800 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic, about 400 miles southwest of the Azores.
7. Minerve (lost: January 1968). The French Navy submarine disappeared two days after the Dakar did, and in the Mediterranean Sea, to boot. No wreckage has ever been found, but foul weather is still the prime suspect. The Minerve was on a routine patrol and her new captain had more than four years and 7,000 hours of submerged boating under his belt. A joint French-American search in 1969 found no traces of the Minerve, either.
6. K-129 (lost: March 1968). The fourth submarine to disappear in 1968, K-129 is useful for pointing out that the technology gap between the capitalists and the socialists was already showing, with U.S. efforts from Alaska being able to pinpoint the wreckage to within five miles of the crash, while the Soviet navy’s search was hundreds of miles away from the actual crash site. Project Azorian, which was the name of the secret CIA mission to retrieve K-129, was one of the best-kept secrets of Cold War. The CIA got involved because the Navy was too open, and a nuclear-armed Soviet submarine had wrecked roughly 1,500 hundred miles northwest of Oahu. Despite its secrecy, the story got out to the press within a year. At 16,000 feet below sea level, the attempt to salvage K-129 was at the time a major feat of engineering, as nothing had ever been retrieved at the depth before. Only part of the submarine was salvaged.
5. København (lost: December 1928). A large military training vessel of the Danish Navy disappeared en route from Buenos Aires to Australia. When I say “large,” I mean it was the largest sailing ship ever built when it was finished. And it just vanished without a trace. The captain of the vessel, one Hans Andersen (really!), was known for being slow to communicate, so an official search crew didn’t get started until April 1929. By that time, only sailors’ tales remained of the København. This story reminds me a good novel: John Calvin Batchelor’s The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica.
4. HMAS AE1 (lost: September 1914). Australia’s first submarine lasted almost seven months in Canberra’s service before she disappeared off the coast of Papua New Guinea. An official search party was not put together until 1976, and it wasn’t until December 2017 that the wreckage of AE1 was found. The Australian government is honoring the site as an official war grave. Several theories had been put forth about the AE1, from sabotage to German mines to underwater volcanoes. The craziest part? AE1 was hard to find because of all the other shipwrecks in the area!
3. ARA San Juan (lost: November 2017). Disappearances are not limited to the Cold War or the world wars. The Argentine warship San Juan disappeared during a routine patrol. All 44 members are presumed dead, including Argentina’s first female submarine officer. The San Juan was purchased from West Germany (you read that right) and it is theorized that the submarine simply imploded. Dang. No tall tales or conspiracy theories for the San Juan; just a developing country trying to maintain a Navy using Cold War-era technology.
2. HMS Sappho (lost: February 1858). Known for causing a serious diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and the United States over a slave-trade incident, the HMS Sappho almost met her fate when she ran aground in Honduras (she spent most of her time suppressing the slave trade). The Sappho was refloated, caused a serious incident with the United States, and then disappeared along the coast of Australia. All searches for the vessel and her crew came up empty-handed.
1. USS Porpoise (lost: September 1854). The Porpoise spent most of her time working on scientific expeditions, kinda like Jean-Luc Picard’s USS Enterprise in Star Trek. She traveled to Antarctica and helped the U.S. chart vast swathes of the South Pacific, circumnavigated the globe, helped bomb Mexico into submission during the Mexican-American War, and patrolled West Africa looking for illegal slave traders. Not a bad life, if you ask me. In May of 1854 she set out with a squadron to China in order to explore the North Pacific, but en route the Porpoise became separated from her squadron and disappeared.
Have a good weekend.