The case of the RMS Titanic sinking in 1912 has generated numerous absurd conspiracy theories over the years, but it turns out the discovery of its wreckage was indeed part of a real-life military cover-up. According to a new report, the team that found the “unsinkable” ship at the bottom of the ocean was actually charged with locating two missing nuclear submarines.
Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who led the American team that found the Titanic, is finally allowed to tell the newly-declassified story of what really happened in 1985. Speaking with CBS News, he explained that he had already executed several top secret missions for the Navy when he found himself building an underwater vehicle in 1982. Unable to secure a science grant for the Titanic exhibition, Ballard got the idea of asking the Navy to pay for it.
He approached Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Ronald Thunman and explained that it was his lifelong dream to find the Titanic and was curious if the military department could find a way to make that happen. Thunman apparently thought Ballard was crazy but agreed to the plan as long as Ballard did something for the Navy first. The military wanted to explore two nuclear submarines that had gone missing in the 1960s. It was the height of the Cold War and the military did not want the Russians or other adversaries stumbling upon the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion.
“We knew where the subs were,” Ballard told CNN. “What they wanted me to do was go back and not have the Russians follow me, because we were interested in the nuclear weapons that were on the Scorpion and also what the nuclear reactors (were) doing to the environment.”
The plan was to hide the mission in plain sight. The press would only be told about the hunt for the Titanic and no adversaries would be suspicious of the team’s activities. Ballard was primarily tasked with exploring the USS Scorpion and when that mission was accomplished he moved on to his own personal goal with 12 days left on the clock. “I learned something from mapping the Scorpion that taught me how to find the Titanic: look for its trail of debris,” he told CBS.
The team found the wreckage eight days later and its initial celebrations quickly turned sober as the understanding set in that they were looking at the grave site for 1,500 people. They returned home as heroes and had to maintain their cover story. After the discovery was announced, a Navy spokesperson told the New York Times that the military only funded the project because it was interested in the testing of new underwater equipment.
It doesn’t feel so much like the public was lied to as it does that there was whole other shadowy side to the project we never knew about. Everyone got what they wanted and it’s a pretty innocuous cover-up. At least, that’s what they want us to believe. [CBS News, CNN]
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