First Person: The Shadow of the Cheonan

by Cougar News Staff 603 views0

[Editor’s Note: The following is an account from Army Private First Class Mark Nussbaum who toured the sunken South Korean naval ship Cheonan.]

By Mark Nussbaum, Co-Written by John Nussbaum, Cougar News Staff Writer

It seems like the plot out of a B-grade war flick or a Tom Clancy novel.

A ship is patrolling the territorial waters of a woebegone patch of ocean, while a hostile submarine prowls nearby, waiting for that moment to strike in the deadliest way possible. The sub commander watches that ship through the periscope from a distance. His greedy, glory-hunting eyes judging and watching for when the conditions of battle will be just right.

Then, he finds that moment, he closes the periscope and orders a dive. Slowly and surely, they move closer and closer. They are hunters in the night, waiting for that moment when they can take the greatest advantage of their enemy. The bridge of the sub is hot and crowded. What little light there is, is only being given off by the old computer screens and lights from the multitude of dials and gauges. The captain waits, he sweats with the tension as the edge closer and closer to their prey.

Finally, that moment comes and the order is given. The crew member pushes that little red button and sends a callous tool of death and destruction on its way to kill those he has never met nor seen.

Compared to the sub, the torpedo is a screaming banshee, but it’s too late for the prey to react because the torpedo is tracking the cruiser by the sound of its engine.

As the missile explodes underneath the cruiser, it sends up a pocket of air large enough lift the ship out of the water breaking its spine and splitting the ship in two sending it to the ocean floor.

The sad truth, however, is that while the detail may not be the same, a real ship was sunk and lives were lost in the Yellow Sea last year when the Republic of Korea Naval Ship Cheonan was sunk.

My name is Mark Nussbaum. I am stationed at Camp Casey in Dougducheon, South Korea with the 210th Fires Brigade. To say I live within spitting distance of the DMZ would be a severe understatement on my part. However, in my short time being stationed at Casey, I’ve come to engender myself to the beauty of the South.

It is one of those places in the world that you can have your breath taken away by a simple mountain hike; Its people live in a constant state of readiness and fear thanks in no small part to their neighbor to the North.

The Korean War lasted from June 1950 to July 1953, ended with only a cease-fire. Technically, the two countries are still at war. For the last two years, however, tensions and relations have been steadily pushed to the edge with multiple acts of aggression.

One of the most notable incidents in recent memory occurred in March of 2010.

Cheonan Before Sinking

The Cheonan, a Pohang Class Corvette of the Republic of Korea Navy, was on a routine patrol around the northwestern islands of Yeongpyong, a border island that is highly disputed by the north and south due to is proximity of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Displacing 1,200 tons, stretching 289 feet long and 32 feet wide, it is by no means a small ship.

Powered by diesel engines for cruising, and jet turbine engines for combat speeds, the Cheonan could reach speeds of 35 knots and had a total of 6,260 horsepower available to it.

Crewed by 104 men at the time, the ship sank with 46 hands still on board. Finding the exact cause of the ship sinking was relatively unknown until the ship was raised off of the ocean bottom for examination.

The Korean military and the international investigatory panel that was formed in the wake of the sinking initially downplayed the possibility that this was a torpedo attack – the original thought was that the ship struck a mine left over from the Korean War.

Once the Cheonan was raised from the ocean floor, it was revealed that it was struck amidships in the engine room. The torpedo is thought to have been equipped with a homing device that locked on and tracked the sound of the ship’s engines.

When the torpedo struck, it caused the Cheonan to lift up and out of the water. The amount of pressure released by the torpedo, combined with the weight of the ship, caused it to bend and snap into two pieces.

Underside of the Cheonan showing the hull plating being pushed between the ribs of the ship

In the picture to the left, you can see the underside of the ship along with its stabilizer fin. These fins usually lie straight along the hull, however, the pressure released by the torpedo explosion twisted and locked them into place.

After examining the ship, investigators determined that the torpedo approached the ship from a 40-50 degree angle from the port bow. Notice the pressure marks where the skin of the hull pushed in and stretched inward, indicating that the torpedo exploded under the boat pushing the metal skin inward between the ribs of the ship.

The supposed remains of the torpedo that struck the Cheonan

Standing underneath and looking at the destruction, its hard not to be humbled and intimidated by the power that a single torpedo can do to such military might.

Housed in the glass case underneath the ship between the two sections is the remains of the drive shaft of the torpedo’s motor section.




Damage on the underside of the Cheonan's hull

In this photo, you can see how the torpedo cut clean through the hull.

The red circle shows where the skin of the ship folded in, crushing two Korean sailors under several tons of pressure. The wires also cued the investigators to show there was no fire or explosion damage from an internal explosion.

The most impressive damage showing the forces of water and pressure were around to the propellers of the Cheonan. The propellers were spinning at full speed. The propellers stopped instantly and froze once the explosion occurred.

The water pressure bent the propellers, or “screws,” like they were nothing more than a piece of paper.

One of the propellers of the Cheonan

When the Republic of Korea’s Navy contacted the makers of the propellers to ask how much pressure they could withstand before bending, the company replied with 4 tons of pressure per square inch. To bend the propellers in this photo, it was estimated that the pressure was nearly 8 tons per square inch.

The soldiers with the 6th Battalion – 37th Field Artillery Regiment from Camp Casey, South Korea examined the recovered Republic of Korea’s Naval Vessel, and learn about how it was sunk by a North Korean Torpedo. They also observed a moment of silence for the 46 sailors who were lost.

The Republic of Korea still continues its yearly naval drills and refuses to let the North intimidate, harass and destroy their way of life. But while the shadow of the Cheonan is long and deep, the pride of the South Koreans still burns hot and will not let this grave injustice ever be forgotten. They will not forget that 46 of their people were killed on the whims of a tin pot dictator like Kim Jong-Il.

All pictures above provided by Sam Shaffer.

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