The Glomar Explorer is part of the greatest deception ever perpetrated by the CIA, and it was built at the Sun Shipbuilding yard in Chester, reports Mike Rosenwald for the Washington Post’s Podcast, Retropod.
In 1968, a Soviet submarine called K129 sank in the Pacific. The sub was carrying three nuclear missiles and cryptography equipment.
The Russians searched for two months but couldn’t find the sub. The United States, using hydrophones, located K129 17,000 feet down on the bottom of the ocean, 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii.
The CIA badly wanted the sub and its cargo, so it created a cover story that would allow it to go get it.
Robert Baer, a former CIA case worker, author and commentator, recites the cover story. “Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire, is going to build a gigantic ship called the Glomar Explorer and it’s going to sail to the Pacific Ocean and mine the ocean floor for manganese nodules and he’s going to make a fortune off of this.”
Global Marine Development Inc., a pioneer in deep-water offshore drilling operations, was contracted (with CIA help) to design, build and operate Hughes Glomar Explorer, built specifically to secretly salvage the sunken Soviet submarine from the ocean floor.
On Nov. 1, 1972, at the former Sun Shipbuilding yard in Chester, work began on the 63,000-short-ton, 619-foot-long Hughes Glomar Explorer.
The ship had a hidden compartment with a claw system to scoop up the sub.
Six years after the sub sinking, the Glomar Explorer sailed to the sub’s location. During salvaging operations, the site was visited not once, but twice, by Soviet intelligence trawlers, but the cover story held and the trawlers departed believing the deep sea mining story.
The ship retrieved only part of the sub after the claw failed and by 1975 the secret operation was starting to leak to the public so there was no opportunity to finish the job.
The salvage uncovered two nuclear missiles and the remains of six Soviet submariners. The crew was buried at sea with full honors. The ceremony was videotaped (see video above). Russian President Boris Yeltsin received a copy of the video in 1992 shortly after the Soviet Union’s collapse and reportedly burst into tears when he saw how well the sailors’ remains had been treated.
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