Some cheerful looking nautical stars
From the outside, it looks little more than a slowly corroding hulk, but in the cramped confines of this abandoned vessel everything looks in great condition – even if the echoes that rebound around the space are a little creepy.
With the empty vessel bobbing peacefully in the river where it is berthed, being inside this submarine is unnerving enough even now. So we can only imagine what it must have been like to inhabit this confined space when the craft was operational, submerged 250 meters (820 ft) beneath the waves for weeks at a time.
A whole corridor full of valves and mysterious looking controls
Walking around inside the sub today, practically the only sound you’ll hear is the hollow clanging of your footsteps on metal. The sole source of light is the torch you’ve brought with you. And the air is cool and still, with maybe a lingering whiff of the diesel that powered this once-formidable underwater vessel. It seems like the perfect place to chance upon the ghost of a long dead submariner.
A missile that’s been deactivated – at least, we hope!
All this emptiness and quiet stands in stark contrast to the atmosphere that would have reigned during the submarine’s days in the Soviet Navy. At that time, it would have been full of sailors going about their business, forced into close proximity with one another by the restricted space. For weeks, if not months, on end they would have shared the same tiny rooms and walked the same narrow corridors; even breathed the same air. Definitely not a good place for the unsociable. Or claustrophobic.
Presumably you’d need to be good at multi-tasking to work on a sub.
Looking at these photographs, we can’t help admiring some of the decorative paintwork in the submarine. It’s not just the dull grey one might expect of a Soviet military ship. There are nautical stars painted in red and blue – colors that are echoed elsewhere throughout the craft. Even the torpedoes, a couple of which may well have been nuclear-tipped, are painted a cheerful red and lime green. Superficially, it doesn’t seem to live up to its nickname, the ‘Black Widow’.
A missile: Still scary even with the colorful paint
This Foxtrot B-39 (U 475) Russian submarine was apparently built in 1967 and operated through several decades of the Cold War before it was decommissioned in 1994. It actually served as a museum for two brief spells – once in London’s Thames Barrier and once in Folkstone, Kent – but these days it lies abandoned in the River Medway, near Rochester in England.
A close-up of one of the stars
Once a proud symbol of Soviet military might, this Black Widow has now sadly fallen into neglect. With paint peeling from its hull and other signs of creeping decay, it’s all but forsaken, occasionally visited by people like urbex photographer Foantje (who took these pictures), and in definite need of some TLC.
We wonder if anyone had to climb in there.
“The Submarine is now listing to one side and has a hole in [it],” says Foantje of the craft’s condition when he explored it. “When entering, there is lots of bird shit. Shame the submarine has got in such a state. It [has] got bad rust on the outside too.”
You wouldn’t want to accidentally turn the wrong wheel.
In their heyday, the Soviet Foxtrot submarines were formidable vessels of war. They were the biggest regular subs in the Russian Navy and could travel 16,000 nautical miles (18,412 mi) without needing to refuel.
A first-aid cabinet: Hopefully all you would need in an emergency, as no ambulances could get to you here.
The Foxtrots could also stay submerged while continuing with their operations for four days at a stretch, and even after that they only needed to get close enough to the surface to suck in fresh air with their snorkels so as to keep their diesel engines running.
Yet more dials, buttons and switches
Although they spent most of their time underwater at a depth of 250 meters (820 ft), Foxtrot-class submarines could dive to depths below 300 meters (984 ft) if necessary. They could also reach speeds of up to 16.8 knots (19 mph) – not exactly torpedo velocity, but surely not bad for a large submarine at the time.
Being slim would be a definite advantage if you worked on a submarine.
One of the most formidable features of Foxtrot-class submarines was, of course, their weaponry. They could carry 22 torpedoes – two with low-yield nuclear warheads – or a total of 44 AMD-1000 ground mines. They were also able to use a nuclear anti-ship torpedo with a yield of 15 kilotons – so they packed quite a punch.
Some kind of gauge: A nuclear radiation detector, maybe?
The Soviet Navy prized their submarines highly. For one, they were much easier to conceal from potential attack than surface ships, and they could also break through enemy blockades in a way conventional ships couldn’t. The Soviets had a policy of quantity over quality, and operated subs built in the 1960s, like this one, until at least the 1990s.
This looks like it might be part of the periscope.
Foxtrot-class submarines rose to become among the most successful submarines in the Soviet Navy. They patrolled oceans all around the globe and would also form defensive barriers a long way from the Soviet coast.
A creepy looking corridor
Foxtrot subs also played an important part in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In fact, only the intervention of a Soviet officer named Vasili Arkhipov prevented a Foxtrot submarine off Cuba from sparking potential nuclear war by firing its torpedoes in retaliation to practice depth charges dropped by US Navy destroyers.
There’s not a lot of space to hang out in on a submarine.
This particular submarine apparently didn’t play much of a role in actual combat situations. Instead, it was used largely for training submariners from countries friendly to the Soviet Union – Libya, Cuba and India – whilst also serving as a pawn in the chess game being played out between the USSR and NATO.
Since the crew probably didn’t need to be reminded of where they were, the mat is likely a leftover from the sub’s museum days.
As suggested, Black Widow submarines were no place for those who valued their ‘alone time’. Each one was crewed by 77 men, crammed into a space only 92 meters long and 7.5 meters wide – with much of the room taken up by machinery and other equipment. You can see from the photographs how restricted it must have been.
A spooky-looking corridor
Not only did these sailors have to spend their days working together, they also had to stay in close quarters with one another when it was time to sleep. Officers were lucky enough to have their own bunks, but everyone else ‘hot bunked’ – that is, took whatever sleeping space they could get. On Foxtrot-class submarines, there were only 27 bunks shared between 54 ordinary crewmembers! Fortunately, they worked – and slept – in shifts.
Stove with special non-spilling pots, important on a moving ship
Living and working on a submarine was, and still is, a challenge in many different respects. Sailors are constantly surrounded by other men, so privacy is severely lacking, and yet as the same time they are completely isolated from friends and families. Even on today’s submarines, there’s no phoning home, or getting calls, and in case of family emergencies, messages are sometimes deliberately not relayed for fear of the effect they might have.
Probably the only place on board where a little privacy could be found
A Soviet submarine captain, Victor Silen, described some of the problems of life onboard the craft. For one, he complained that there was scarcely any room for exercise. For the physically fit sailors, this was not a problem at first, but their condition soon deteriorated without cardiovascular workouts, which led to boredom, apathy, loss of appetite, and frayed tempers.
Cramped living quarters
Another potential difficulty was the food. Since fresh food could not be brought onto the submarine, a lot depended on the proper preservation and storage of the edible items so that they did not spoil. “Support services, unfortunately, often violated sanitation codes and supplied the submarine with poorly packaged items or food which hadn’t been refrigerated and whose life-span was reduced sharply aboard the ship,” noted Captain Silen.
Outside the submarine
Although they had a good run, the Foxtrot submarines stopped being manufactured in 1983 and were all retired, as far as we know, by 2000. Most of the old submarines were either scrapped or turned into museum pieces. This particular sub looks to be waiting for someone to find it a new home and restore it to some of its formed glory. Any takers? One careful owner…