Take a Look Inside These Abandoned Submarines & Bases
Submarines represent the pinnacle of underwater wartime technology. They are large, crewed vessels which in some cases can also be remotely operated. Design and construction attempts started in the 19th century and they played a vital role in World War I, World War II and The Cold War. They were used to attack merchant and military surface ships and other submarines. The could also protect aircraft carriers. Their functions included blockade running, reconnaissance and covert insertion of special forces. Beyond their wartime capabilities, subs are also used in marine science operations, tourism and undersea archaeology.
They generally consist of a cylindrical body with hemispherical ends and a vertical structure. Submarines have an incredibly wide range of types and capabilities, as much if not more than any other vessel. Some smaller subs are built for one or two people and can operate for a limited period of a few hours, while others can house over a hundred individuals and run for up to six months at a time. They contain periscopes along with communications and sensing devices and can go deeper than the survivable depths for human divers.
Due to the nature of the way they’re built and used, recovery of sunken or abandoned subs can be extremely difficult. The remains of some of these vessels can be found all over world. This article features lost and forgotten subs, bases, pens and docks. Some are genuinely haunting while others have been turned into museums and tourist sites. Stick around until the end to learn about subs that weren’t abandoned, but seized by the government for illegal activity. There is also information about a controversial hoax involving the supposed recovery of a Nazi sub in American waters…
The USS Ling
This World War II submarine is abandoned in New Jersey’s Hackensack River. It’s a 2,500 ton, 312 foot long Balao-class sub named after the ling fish, also known as the cobia. The Navy gave it to a group of local veterans in the early ‘70s and it has been docked at the New Jersey Naval Museum ever since. The sub was battered by Hurricane Sandy is 2012. It is currently inaccessible to the public and is threatened by a luxury development project. Many want to restore it but can’t seem to find the funds to do so.
The ship was launched in 1943 and commissioned in 1945 with Commander George Garvie Molumphy in command. It was built to face German U-boats but never actually saw combat. As a result it is the only remaining high-speed submarine from WWII. It went from the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut to the Panama Canal Zone but was eventually decommissioned and added to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet and moved to the Brooklyn Naval Yard in New York where it was used for training. It has since received a battle star for its service.
From 1972 to 2007, the New Jersey Naval Museum rented the Ling’s riverside site for just one dollar per year. But then the aforementioned development project, run by the North Jersey Media Group, which owns the site, informed the museum that the sub would need to be relocated. It was towed to a deep dredge channel, but the river has since filled the area up with silt. With the project underway, no one seems to know whether to restore or scrap the vessel. While restoration seems like the more difficult and costly option, the sub’s location has made its removal just as challenging.
This VIIC Nazi U-boat was an upgrade from its predecessor and by far the most common of German’s fleet at the time. It started its journey in 1942 when it was assigned to the Wolfpack, which was made up of a dozen boats meant to patrol the convoy routes just west of Rockall, Scotland. It eventually made its way to the US, specifically North Carolina, where it attempted to sink the Swedish ship SS Freden. It was unsuccessful and later spotted by patrolling aircraft but escaped unscathed. Although its luck would soon run out…
Later that year it fired two torpedoes at what was mistaken for a merchant vessel it had been searching for. Unfortunately for the U-352 the target ended up being Icarus, a US Coast Guard Cutter. A fierce battle ensued that ended in the sinking of the Nazi ship. It was lost until a few years later when it was located by a history fanatic and a group of divers. A decade later Olympus, the company responsible for finding the sub, hosted a reunion of the battle’s survivors. Many of the artifacts have been recovered and preserved and are on permanent museum display.
The U-352 is over 100 feet deep below the surface, 26 miles south of Morehead City. It took George Purifoy, the founder of Olympus Dive Center, and a small crew of scuba divers a long time to finally find the shipwreck. At one point they even discovered the sunken USS Schurz, and as amazing as that was, it wasn’t the one they were looking for. The team had to wait to be able to upgrade their navigational equipment, specifically to the Loran-C hyperbolic radio system, which allowed them to use more accurate, long-range signal transmissions. The U-352 is now a popular dive site.
Above is one of two midget submarines corroding on the east coast of Scotland. Aberlady Bay features the wrecks of eight historic fishing vessels, which have been designated as maritime scheduled ancient monuments. The two subs, XT class crafts, were built by Vickers-Armstrong Limited in the early ‘40s and used in training. The men were preparing for an incredibly dangerous mission during World War II. After crippling Germany’s Tirpitz battleship, they were moored in the bay and used for military target practice.
The subs were manned by crews of 4 each. Both are around 52 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. The idea was to use the small size to build the men’s mental and nervous endurance. Their range was 82 nautical miles underwater and 500 nautical miles on the surface. The Gardner diesel engines, which have also been used in buses, took the subs up to around 6 knots. The aforementioned target practice included two live fire missions on the abandoned vessels to test new experimental explosive cannon shells from aircraft.
The Bay is located in East Lothian, Scotland right between Aberlady and Gullane. In 1952, it became the UK’s first Local Nature Reserve and is served by the East Lothian Council Rangers. The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club has Waterston House as its headquarters at Aberlady, with panoramic views of the bay. Aberlady Bay is part of John Muir Way, a long distance footpath from Fisherrow to Dunglass. It is also on the East Lothian Section of the transnational North Sea Trail, a path network connecting seven countries and 26 areas.
Project 651 was a class of Soviet diesel-electric submarines armed with cruise missiles. This was also known by its NATO reporting name of Juliett-class. The K-77 was launched in 1965 as a part of the Northern Fleet. It was later used as the set of the Harrison Ford movie K-19: The Widowmaker. Afterwords it became a museum before sinking during a storm. It spent its final days docked in Rhode Island.
The subs were designed in the late 1950s to provide the Soviet Navy with a nuclear strike capability against targets and enemy combatants along the east coast of the United States. They were designed by a team led by Abram Samuilovich Kassatsier to carry four nuclear-capable cruise missiles with a range of around a few hundred miles. The K-77 was built later in the Juliett class, so her hull was conventional steel and her battery was of the conventional lead-acid type, rather than the austenitic steel and silver-zinc batteries used in the first Julietts.
Following the filming of the movie, which ended in 2002, the sub was bought by the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, towed to Collier Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island, and opened to the public in August 2002. Along with public tours, the vessel was also used in a comprehensive educational program. After fixing up the sub, it sadly sunk in 2007. The next year, divers began figuring out how to raise it back to the surface. All of the water was pumped out, but the sub was badly deteriorated.
This Zulu V class B-80 submarine was a part of Soviet Project 641. It was a navy attack sub used in World War II. Its design was influenced by the German XXI U-boat and became the basis for the Foxtrot-class subs that were very successful. The one above ended up being used as a museum ship in the Dutch Navy port of Den Helder and is currently in Amsterdam’s Maritime Quarter where it is rented out for parties.
Foxtrot was the NATO reporting name of a class of diesel-electric patrol submarines that were built in the Soviet Union. The Soviet designation was Project 641. They played a vital role in some of the more dramatic incidents of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Four of the Soviet subs were deployed to Cuba where US Navy destroyers dropped charges near them so that they would surfaced to be identified. Only one was able to get away.
B-39 is another Soviet Foxtrot sub that is now a museum ship on display at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, California. The sub was originally launched in 1967. It conducted patrols and stalked US warships throughout the North Pacific, along the coast of the United States and Canada, ranging as far as the Indian and Arctic oceans. She was decommissioned in 1994 and sold multiple times before ending up in San Diego.
Before becoming Vizag, Asia’s first submarine museum, this ship traveled a total distance greater than the earth’s diameter. The INS Kursura served for over three decades across multiple countries as both a wartime machine and messenger of peace. Once docked and converted, it was almost flooded after the Hudhud cyclone but the state government intervened and saved it.
The INS Kursura was a Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarine of the Indian Navy. It is over 300 feet long and has a maximum diving depth of almost 1,000 feet. It’s powered by three Kolomna 2D42M diesel engines and can go from 9 knots to 16 knots, depending on whether or not it is surfaced or submerged. It was commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned in 2001. The sub participated and played an important role in patrol missions during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
It took a year and a half to tow the sub to its final destination. Once it arrived, the Kursura was preserved and opened for public access on Ramakrishna Mission Beach in Visakhapatnam where it is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year and is considered a “must-visit destination.” The idea to convert it came from Admiral V Pasricha and the submarine was inaugurated by the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu.
The Sub Marine Explorer was the first submersible that was able to dive and rise without help from the surface. It was built by the German inventor Julius Kroehl and Ariel Patterson between 1863 and 1866 in Brooklyn, New York for the Pacific Pearl Company. It was hand powered and had an interconnected system of a high-pressure air compartment, a pressurized working chamber for the crew, and water ballast tanks.
The Explorer’s external air pressure chamber was filled by a steam pump. The compressed air would come in at around 200 pounds per square inch. The vessel submerged when its water ballast tanks were flooded. Pressurized air was then released into the vessel to build up enough pressure so it would be possible to open two hatches on the underside, while keeping water out. This meant that air pressure inside the submarine had to equal water pressure at diving depth.
It could go below 100 feet for hours at a time. While it was initially considered a wonder of contemporary naval design, the Explorer ended up causing passengers to experience a strange fever after dives. This decompression sickness, also known as “the bends,” even killed the man who built the sub following a year’s worth of proof of concept trials. Despite its issues, the submarine was still used to harvest oysters and pearls in the Pearl Islands, but it continued to make people sick. Many crew members died before the historic ship was abandoned.
The Explorer was then laid up in a cove on the shores of the island of San Telmo, where locals became familiar with its rusting hull. The craft was misidentified for years, with many assuming it was from WWII. But in 2001, over a century after it was abandoned, it was discovered by archaeologist James Delgado. The Explorer was then properly identified with the help of submarine historians Richard Wills, Eugene Canfield, Mark Ragan, Henry Silka, and Robert Schwemmer.
Four archaeological expeditions took place in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008. Documentation of the Sub Marine Explorer has resulted in detailed plans, including interpretive reconstructions of the craft, scientific studies of its environment and interaction with the surrounding water, bathymetric assessments, scientific analysis of rates of corrosion, and considerable historical research.
Work in 2006 was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Office of Ocean Exploration. The 2008 expedition was funded by the Waitt Institute for Discovery of La Jolla. They established that it is one of the oldest surviving submarines known to exist. A lot can be learned from the wreck, and Delgado feels it’s necessary to give the inventor his proper credit for designing and building such an innovative craft, beyond its issues with decompression sickness, of course.
James P. Delgado is director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and cohost of National Geographic International television’s The Sea Hunters. He received the 2003 Naval History Author of the Year award at the 130th Annual Meeting of the US Naval Institute. He had gone looking for what was then-rumored to be a Japanese two-man midget submarine, but discovered it was, in fact, much older and far more interesting.
The basic premise of Sub Marine Explorer was based on an earlier 1858 patent by Van Buren Ryerson of New York for a diving bell also named “Sub Marine Explorer.” This was then modified by the aforementioned Julius Kroehl. He extended the hull form and incorporated a much more intricate design. Its sophistication makes it a 19th century antecedent to more modern “lock out” dive systems and subs, which is something Delgado wanted acknowledged after he discovered it.
Despite the Explorer’s severe state of decay, preservation attempts have been discussed. It is the subject of two documentary films, the first was an episode of the “Sea Hunters” that aired on National Geographic International Television in 2004, and the second, by Der Spiegel, aired in Europe and in the US on the Smithsonian channel in 2010. It is now included in the Historic American Engineering Record of the US National Park Service.
The Yellow Submarine
The Quester I is a 45-foot vessel that was built by a shipyard worker in Brooklyn, New York named Jerry Bianco who used salvaged metal to put it together. He initially painted the craft bright yellow. Over time it became more of an orange rust, except for the cap. This was due to the zinc chromate paint used in its construction. It failed to launch in 1967 after being conceived as part of an attempt to recover sunken treasure from the Andrea Doria.
SS Andrea Doria
The SS Andrea Doria was an Italian ocean liner that sank in 1956. It was approaching the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, bound for New York City, when the eastbound MS Stockholm of the Swedish American Line collided with it in one of history’s most infamous maritime disasters. This was heavily covered by the news media and involved in many lawsuits. The actual cause of the wreck will never be known due to an out-of-court settlement agreement between the two shipping companies.
After the wreck, the ship became a popular site for treasure divers. It is even known as the “Mount Everest of scuba diving” due to the depth, water temperature, and currents one must endure to reach it. These things combine to put the wreck beyond the scope of recreational diving. The skills and equipment required to successfully execute this dive, such as the use of mixed gases and staged decompression, put it in the realm of only the most experienced technical divers. This led Jerry Bianco to build the Quester I…
He worked on building the ship for several years before finally attempting to launch it in 1967. While it was being lowered down with a crane, the vessel tipped sideways and became stuck in the mud. There are multiple, conflicting stories around what happened after it got stuck. Some say he attempted to recover it but couldn’t raise the funds. Others say it became unstuck and floated up and down the bay before eventually sinking.
Failure To Launch
One of the stories surrounding the unusual event was that the crane operator was to blame, having ignored Bianco’s directions. Since only partial ballast had been placed inside the submarine, a result of Bianco’s attempts to save money, it was unstable. It should’ve been held in position by the crane while the ballast would be properly repositioned, but unfortunately, this is not how the attempt was executed.
It’s really a shame that Bianco never got to see how the vessel would have actually performed. Surely he would go back and avoid the aforementioned design flaw if he’d known how crucial those components were to the operation’s success. Once it was placed completely into the water, the unstable craft rolled onto its side. He tried to refill the ballast and tether the sub, but his backers’ enthusiasm waned, and he could never return to the project.
The Quester I was later discovered and some of its parts were stolen. After being the target of vandals and thieves in the ‘70s, a storm later tore it from its moorings and carried it to Coney Island. It rests a few hundred yards from the southern shore. The Quester I is now part of a ship graveyard along Coney Island Creek. There are around two dozen vessels there, but their origins are unknown. They could be whaling ships, forsaken barges or ancient US Navy vessels.
The Creek is basically two sea inlets that are used to define Coney Island as an actual island. A portion of the Creek once divided it from mainland Brooklyn, where the builder of the Quester I was from. Other abandoned ships in the graveyard, along with The Yellow Submarine, serve as reminders that they were once much more important to the world of transportation, but were sadly tossed aside when better options were invented.
The graveyard will remain for a while, seeing as it would be too difficult to remove and isn’t technically doing anything wrong by being there. The ships, which now act as an artificial reef, could actually spill dangerous toxins if disturbed. The wreckage, along with the Quester I, has become a local landmark. The Jules Verne-like Yellow Submarine is now the home of birds and blue crabs, and is also used as a fishing platform.
Her Majesty’s Naval Base
HMNB Devonport is the home of over a dozen submarines. It is connected to The Devonport Naval Heritage Centre. After previously operating in the UK’s Cold War efforts, Britain’s former nuclear submarine fleet is currently in the dockyard with much of its radioactive cargo still intact. It is one of three operating bases in the UK for the Royal Navy, with the other two being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Portsmouth.
Located outside of Plymouth, England, it is the largest naval base in Western Europe and the sole repair and refueling facility for the Royal Navy. There are fourteen dry docks over four miles of waterfront. It started as the Royal Navy Dockyard and focused on shipbuilding between the 17th and late 20th century. There have been a number of nuclear waste leaks on the site.
The HMNB Devonport is also called Guzz by sailors and marines, which could come from the Hindi word for “yard” used as a shortened version of dockyard. This nickname also might come from the word “guzzle,” which probably refers to the eating of a local delicacy, or GUZZ, the radio call sign for the nearby Admiralty station at Devil’s Point. It was more than likely one of the former as opposed to the latter, which has been disproved.
Royal Navy Dockyard
The Royal Navy Dockyards are harbour facilities where commissioned ships were either built, based, overhauled or refitted. In addition to their docks they had various specialist buildings on site, like storehouses, woodworking sheds, metal shops and forges, roperies, pumping stations, administration blocks and accommodation for the resident officers. The Royal Navy kept multiple, publicly owned dockyards all over the world. Today, many of them have been privatized.
Also known as HMS Neptune, this Faslane site is the service’s headquarters in Scotland and is the home of Britain’s nuclear weapons. These are found in the form of nuclear submarines armed with Trident missiles. The location of the base is strategically selected to protect the majority of the UK’s population and mitigate loss of life from fallout in the event of a soviet attack.
HMNB Portsmouth is the third of the three operating bases. It is located on the eastern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. It is one of the sites whose shipbuilding, repair and maintenance elements became privatized around two decades ago. It is the oldest in the Royal Navy and is home to one of the oldest dry docks in the world. Now looking back at the HMDB Devonport, let’s check out some of the subs there…
The HMS Victorious is the Royal Navy’s second Vanguard-class submarine. As previously stated, the subs at HMND Devonport are armed with nuclear weapons. Victorious carries the Trident ballistic missile, which is equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. It was originally developed by Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation and is named after the mythological trident of Neptune. The sub was built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd, launched in 1993 and commissioned in 1995.
The HMS Vanguard is the eleventh with its name in the Royal Navy. It is the lead boat of her class that, like the previously discussed HMS Victorious, is armed with a Trident ballistic missile. It was also built by the same manufacturer as the Victorious. Since both were built, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd has become BAE Systems Submarine Solutions. The Vanguard was launched in 1992 and commissioned in 1993. In 2002, ten litres of radioactive coolant leaked from it.
The HMS Courageous is a decommissioned Royal Navy, Churchill-class nuclear fleet submarine. She, along with the HMS Conqueror and a British task force, went to reclaim the Falkland Islands from the occupying Argentine forces. The Courageous made it back unharmed and was retired a decade later. It was then selected as the museum ship to represent the SSN fleet.
Horse Sand Fort
Another English sub location is Horse Sand Fort, which was one of the largest Royal Commission sea forts. It was equipped with a variety of weapons behind protective layers of granite, concrete and iron-armor. After being used during the WWII, it was purchased by AmaZing Venues with the intention of turning it into a museum.
It is located in the Solent off Portsmouth, Hampshire, England and is one of four built as part of the Palmerston Forts constructions. Horse Sand Fort was constructed between 1865 and 1880 on a ring of masonry consisting of large concrete blocks with an outer layer of granite blocks. It is armour-plated and 200 feet across with two floors and a basement. The inside is filled with clay and shingle and covered with a thick skin of concrete.
Horse Sand Fort is split into three levels. The lower foundation walls of the fort are 59 feet thick. The floors would have originally provided storage of armoury and guns and the things needed to sustain the men that were stationed on site. The top of the fort consisted of a lighthouse and various chimneys and ventilators. The fort also has its own fresh water well. During WWII extensive submarine defenses were built below sea level from the fort to the shore.
At the northern end of Simushir Island, around 250 miles off the coast of Japan, lies a secret Soviet Union submarine base. The island, which is in the northwest Pacific Ocean’s Sea of Okhotsk, is part of a chain that was formed by volcanic activity. Its unique formation features a massive, open caldera. Simushir was formerly known as Marikan.
Following the Soviet military’s arrival during WWII’s Battle of the Kuril Islands, an entire town was built around the base. It was surrendered by the Imperial Japanese Army without resistance and was used by the navy as a secret sub base through the late ’80s into the early ’90s. At one point it was home to roughly 3,000 people. Only one of the three docks remains, and the rest of the location has rusted over time…
The site contained a hospital, large apartment blocks, a school and livestock pens. To this day, books are still scattered everywhere, abandoned vehicles and equipment left to deteriorate, and there’s even a shoe repair shop with unfinished orders lining the walls. The site also has some beautiful features, with a volcano in the background beyond the sheltered bay and beach. Not many people visit the location, but those who do are treated to an incredibly haunting experience.
Simushir used to be inhabited by the Ainu, or Aynu, an indigenous people of Japan and Russia. The island appears on an official map showing the territories of Matsumae Domain, a feudal domain of Edo period Japan dated back to 1644, and these holdings were officially confirmed by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1715. Russian explorer Gerasim Izmailov was marooned on Simushir in the early 1770s. He spent a full year subsisting on “scallops, grass, and roots.”
Sovereignty initially passed to Russia under the terms of the Treaty of Shimoda, but was returned to the Empire of Japan per the Treaty of Saint Petersburg along with the rest of the Kuril islands. Settlers on the island were engaged in fishing and the raising of Arctic fox and reindeer. During World War II, the civilian population was evacuated to the Japanese home islands and Simushir was garrisoned by a detachment from the Imperial Japanese Army. It was surrendered to Soviet forces during the Battle of the Kuril Islands without resistance.
Simushir is highly elongated, consisting of a series of stratovolcanos. The island is 37 miles long and 8 miles wide, with an area of 88 square miles. At the north end of the island is a half-submerged caldera, the aforementioned Brouton Bay. It is named for William Robert Broughton, who surveyed Simushir when it was still called Marikan in October of 1796.
The island is currently uninhabited and administered as part of the Sakhalin Oblast of the Russian Federation. There are even some sub remains floating in the caldera. The location, which was supposedly also a radar station with extensive recon and monitoring equipment, can still be seen clearly in satellite images. There are giant signs, maps and murals all over the abandoned base. The image above is propaganda featuring Comrade Lenin in the abandoned Kraternyy Naval base on Simushir.
The site features numerous remnants of the Cold War militarization of the Kurils, with much of the equipment and infrastructure left behind. Above is another piece of Soviet propaganda that still remains to this day. The site also potentially used listening posts to spy on the US, which is not far across the Bering Sea.
The site was so secretive that even Russians weren’t allowed to enter, unless they were residents of the Soviet-style gulags and military installations along the coast. Military devices, like pieces in the image above, rust away, while old, disregarded uniforms line the grounds. There are also abandoned toys and medical and dental equipment. With crumbling buildings and decaying cement everywhere, it is arguably the eeriest site discussed in this article.
The Isle of May
Located in the Firth of Forth, an estuary of several Scottish rivers, is a National Nature Reserve that’s owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. The only way to get there is by ferry. Over 285 bird species have been recorded on the island and, at the height of breeding season, can host around 200,000 seabirds. But it was a submarine disaster that makes it relevant to this article. Read on to learn more…
The island’s name is of disputed etymology, but is possibly of Old Norse origin, meaning “island of seagulls.” It is also from the Gaelic ‘Magh,” which means a plain. Most of the other islands in the Forth also have Gaelic etymologies, like Inchmickery, Inchcolm and Craigleith. There are certainly names on the island from both languages, including Tarbet, St Colme’s Hole and Ardchattan, as well as Kirkhaven. It is also thought that its name may refer to the use of the island by the Maeatae as a royal burial site.
May is also home to one of the earliest Christian churches in Scotland. There are records of a Viking raid, as well as evidence of the location being a popular destination for pilgrims. But on January 31, 1918 a sequence of accidental collisions between Royal Navy warships resulted in two sunken submarines with four more being damaged. Read on to learn more about this historic event that was so embarrassing it wasn’t even public knowledge until much later…
The Battle of May Island
The “Battle” of May Island occurred during Operation EC1. The Royal Navy ships were on their way to fleet exercises in the North Sea from Rosyth in Scotland. Five collisions happened between eight vessels over the course of the night that went from the end of January to the beginning of February. Two submarines were lost and three other submarines and a light cruiser were damaged.
The military disaster by the Isle of May didn’t involve any enemy ships. It instead came from a group of K Class submarines colliding in the dark of night. The subs, which were notoriously dangerous, changed direction suddenly and hit other vessels including a battlecruiser. There were multiple casualties and the incident wasn’t talked about for many years to follow.
This took place during WWI, when around 40 naval vessels were on their way to Scapa Flow in Orkney. The vessels included the 5th Battle Squadron of three battleships with their destroyer escorts, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron of four battlecruisers and their destroyers, two cruisers and two flotillas each led by a light cruiser. The disaster happened as a result of visible lights that threw off the course of some of the subs. This caused confusion which led to various wrecks.
What is currently a Naval museum complex started out as a top secret underground submarine base that was used during the Cold War. It was built in the 1950s in a way that made it so that the subs didn’t have to surface outside of the base’s underwater access point. This was a huge part of the location’s secrecy. It could withstand a direct nuclear attack and function as an emergency nuclear shelter that could support the entire population of the nearby town.
Object 825 GTS
It was once known as Object 825 GTS, a hollowed out mountain side that was equipped with a water channel and dry dock outfitted for repairs and weapons storage. If necessary, caisson gates could be used to seal the entire complex. To access the open sea, an exit was provided on the northern side of the mountain. The holes in the rocks are neatly covered with camouflage devices and networks.
Located in Mount Tavros, it housed, repaired and maintained Project 613 and Project 633 submarines, which included some from the Whiskey class and others from the Romeo class. There was even a special tunnel used for loading equipment into the base during wartime. It also included a technical repair base, codename Object 280, which was designed for its nuclear arsenal.
After WWII, the US and the USSR continued to develop their nuclear arsenals, threatening each other with pre-emptive and retaliatory strikes. The Soviet side created a secret directive to find a place where they could house submarines for a retaliatory nuclear strike. This was a creative idea, and took some time to figure out. After years of research they chose Balaklava, coded the city and merged it with Sevastopol, a neighboring city which would then act as a city district.
The small inlet, which is narrow, winding and somehwere between 200 to 400 meters wide, is naturally protected from storms and visibility. This made it the perfect choice for what they were looking for. The site can’t be seen under any angle from the open sea. The aforementioned city of Sevastopol also housed a major naval base that is still used by the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet.
In 1957 a special construction department coded as No. 528 was created to handle the construction of the underground facilities. This was definitely complicated considering the necessary secrecy. The building of the site took 8 years from 1953 to 1961. It required 120 thousand tons of rocks to be removed from the Tavros mountain. To ensure secrecy, supplies were transported at night on a barge in the open sea.
After the site closed in 1993, it was unguarded for a decade. During this period of time, the former base suffered from plundering, with all of its metal structures being scavenged for their metal. When it was handed over to the naval forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Sevastopol “Marine Commission” led by Vladimir Stefanovsky proposed the construction of the current museum. But before we explore the details of the museum, let’s learn a little more about the site.
The city of Balaklava changed possession multiple times throughout its history. During the time of the Ancient Greeks it was an important commercial city. A settlement was founded that they called Symbolon. Then in the Middle Ages the Byzantine Empire controlled the area and called it Yamboli. It was later conquered by the Genoese in 1365 and named Cambalo. They built a large trading empire in both the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Aside from the naval base and museum, tourists also come to see the ruins of a Genoese fortress located high on a clifftop above the entrance to the Balaklava Inlet. It has been used as the stage for a Medieval festival and is even the subject of Mickiewicz’s penultimate poem in his 1825 cycle of Crimean Sonnets. And in 1787 the city was visited by Catherine the Great.
In 1475, over a century after the Genoese took it over and named it Cembalo, it was conquered by Turks. They renamed it Balyk-Yuva, which stands for Fish’s Nest, and it eventually became Balaklava. Between 1768 and 1774, the Russo-Turkish War saw Russian troops invading Crimea. In a little over a decade it was definitively annexed by the Russian Empire. It became famous for the Battle of Balaclava, which was immortalized in verse by British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his Charge of the Light Brigade.
Cold War Museum
Today the Cold War Museum features information about the Crimean War. It hasn’t changed much since it was a functioning, top secret base. The long, coldly sterile tunnels and thick walls and doors give it an eerie, powerful feel. Apparently, there was even a phase during its operating period when the Russians were attempting to train dolphins for underwater missions like attaching explosives and beacons to ships and submarines.
The museum has themed exhibition halls, which were previously repair shops and arsenals, a submarine standing by the underground pier, a tourist center, a cinema room with a chronicle of the time of active military confrontation between the two superpowers, and an underground memorial. It celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013 and the ceremony was attended by veterans, former employees and various representatives from the authorities and armed forces.
Johnston Atoll, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most remote military bases in the world. It was discovered by accident when an American captain ran aground in the early 20th century. What was once a bird refuge eventually became an important military site used for crucial refueling, maintenance and repairing aircrafts and submarines.
Johnston Atoll is also known as Kalama Atoll to the Native Hawaiians. It is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. The atoll has four islands and is located on a coral reef platform. Johnston is one of two natural islands along with Sand Island, while Akau and Hikina are two artificial islands formed by coral dredging.
In 1796, the Boston-based American brig Sally accidentally grounded near the island, leading the captain, Joseph Pierpont, to create the first Western record of the Atoll. While he published his experience in several newspapers, he didn’t name or lay claim to the area. But in 1807 Captain Charles J. Johnston of the Royal Naval ship HMS Cornwallis did. This led to the Guano Islands Act, which was enacted in 1856. This was federal legislation passed by the United States Congress that enabled citizens of the US to take possession of islands containing guano deposits.
National Wildlife Refuge
In the mid 1800s Johnston Atoll was claimed by both the US and the Kingdom of Hawaii. At the turn of the 19th century Hawaii became an integral part of the United States during the Spanish–American War. In 1923, the Tanager Expedition, which was a joint expedition sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture and the Bishop Museum of Hawaii, visited the Atoll. Three years later President Calvin Coolidge established Johnston Island Reservation as a federal bird refuge…
Patrol Wing Two
However, the Navy was interested in the area for strategic reasons. In 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed the islands under the “control and jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy for administrative purposes.” It was operational for almost 70 years under the control of the US military. In 1935 the US Navy began construction which continued up until it was designated as a Naval Defensive Sea Area and Airspace Reservation in 1941. Then the building of an airfield commenced and was completed later that year.
Naval Construction Battalion
During World War II it was shelled by a Japanese submarine and the next year its civilian employees were replaced by Seebees, or the Naval Construction Battalion. At its height it housed around 1,300 people. It is currently still under the control of the US Air Force but will eventually revert back to being a wildlife refuge.
While it still functioned as a bird refuge, the site also became the home of a seaplane base. Several seaplanes made flights from Hawaii to Johnston, such as that of a squadron of six aircraft in 1935. Four years later civilian contractors were brought in to expand operations. Building continued and more landings were cleared. In 1942 a Catalina pilot wrecked at Johnston Atoll.
During WWII it was used as a refueling base for submarines, as well as an aircraft refueling stop for American bombers transiting the Pacific Ocean. By 1944 it was one of the busiest air transport terminals in the Pacific. Its airport, the Johnston Atoll Airport, was used commercially by Continental Air Micronesia. The Atoll even played a role in the bombing on Pearl Harbor. A week after, it was shelled by a Japanese sub that had been a part of the initial Pearl Harbor attack…
The day of the attack, the USS Indianapolis was out of her home port of Pearl Harbor, to make a simulated bombardment at Johnston Island. Japan’s strike at Pearl Harbor occurred as the ship was unloading marines and civilians on the Atoll. When Johnston was attacked a week later, several buildings including the power station were hit, but no personnel were injured. And then a week after that it was shelled again, but on all occasions Johnston Atoll’s coastal artillery guns returned fire and drove away the subs.
Between 1958 and 1975, Johnston Atoll was used as a nuclear test site for atmospheric and extremely high-altitude nuclear explosions in outer space. It was also used as the launch site of 124 sounding rockets, also known as research rockets, which are instrument-carrying rockets designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during their sub-orbital flights.
For a few decades, between 1971 and 2001, it was used to store and destroy chemical weapons. It held about 6.6 percent of the US military chemical weapon arsenal. This consisted of rockets, mines, artillery projectiles, and bulk 1-ton containers filled with Sarin, Agent VX, vomiting agent, and blister agents such as mustard gas. After 1990, more chemical weapons from West Germany and the Solomon Islands were also stored there.
Johnston Atoll was also an Agent Orange storage and disposal site from 1972 to 1977. These activities left the area environmentally contaminated. Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant chemical that is widely known for its use by the US military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War, which exposed up to four million people in Vietnam to the defoliant. Remediation and monitoring continue on the Atoll today. The chemical weapons disposal plant was responsible for the leaking of Agent Orange into the environment. The testing has led to the continuous leaking of various petroleum products.
Hara Submarine Base
Another amazing abandoned submarine base is located in Estonia. The Hara submarine base hasn’t been abandoned for too long, but definitely looks like it has. It was once occupied by a Soviet invasion force but is now being invaded by urban explorers, many of whom use the site for graffiti. The base was built by the Russian military in the late 1950s and used during the occupation of Estonia until 1991 when it achieved its independence.
It was a major base of operations that housed several hundred military personnel. The waters around Hara were covered in sensors and other advanced electronics. Following a peaceful protest that involved millions of people, which drew worldwide attention, the submarine base was abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, it has succumb to disrepair. Even though the concrete foundations still stand, the buildings have been gutted.
It was built using stone reclaimed from the torn-down walls of nearby villages. The metal is now rusting away as the barren concrete structures are strained from years of wind, rain and snow. The remains of an old lighthouse still stand out in the water. It is now a part of Estonia’s Lahemaa National Park, hidden deep in the island’s forest.
The Baltic Sea
At the peak of its operational functionality, the magnetic field’s cables stretched out nearly 10 miles into the Baltic Sea. This made it so that workers could neutralize the magnetism that passing steal submarines emitted, which then allowed them to slip through undetected. At the time, Hara was one of the world’s three bases that were capable of executing this procedure, which is known as demagnetization.
What can be seen of the site today is estimated to be approximately 10% of what was there when the base was operational. The aforementioned measuring system is hidden under the sea through the entire bay. It was protected above by wires and sensors which are assumed to have been taken as the Soviet Navy left the area. The departing Russian soldiers took everything they could that was of any value. Everything else was left to fight the elements.
Submarines were moored and tuned there for decades, with the long, concrete piers still sticking up above the water. Even some of the buildings have been so exposed there are actually parts of them that have sunk into the sea. Visitors have said that water can be heard splashing inside while walking through. Below are a few excepts from other visitors who have recorded their experiences at Hara online…
A visitor writing for the Hidden Tallin website said, “Today, Hara Submarine Base is only a skeleton, stripped of its meat by fierce Baltic winds and laid bare for all to see; frozen in a state of incremental deterioration. Imposing, yet lonely, it is almost possible to muster some sympathy for Hara as she sits there, stranded on the coast, staring out into the void with only a few swans for company. Rust and decay take dominium and street artists descend as this base enters the next stage of its life.”
The Velvet Rocket
Justin Ames wrote on The Velvet Rocket website that “Hara is interesting from a historical perspective as a crumbling Cold War relic and a symbol of the Russian occupation of Estonia, but is also visually interesting for its stark, barren appearance and because few individuals have seen what a submarine base looks like.”
A visitor from the Wasteland Project wrote, “There’s not much left from the abandoned submarine base near the small town of Hara at northern Estonia. But even the fragments are quite much regarding that once upon a time the complex filled almost the entire bay. These sad ruins were all that remained when the system collapsed. The rotting pier with grey concrete columns was like some weird Soviet Acropolis.”
The SFRY, or Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is the home of submarine tunnels built along the Adriatic during the German occupation of World War II. It was an extremely important spot and the first of the modern military tunnels that were dug out along the Vis hillsides. Before being abandoned in 1989, the location was crucial to those who were fighting for the island’s independence.
Vis Island was a major military base for the Yugoslav army. During World War II it was at one point the site of the general headquarters of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav Partisan resistance movement. At one point, a crate of the Armed Services Editions of paperback books was dropped by parachute along with other supplies. They were then read aloud to the Partisans by English speaking soldiers. Italy occupied Vis for a couple years between 1941 and 1943, when it was liberated by the Partisans and held by a British flotilla until 1944. After the war ended it was returned to Yugoslavia.
The island has an amazing history. It was inhabited by the time of the Neolithic period. In the 4th century BC a Greek colony, called Issa, was founded there. In the 1st century BC, the island was held by the Liburnians. Until 1797, the island was under the rule of the Republic of Venice. After the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, the island was ruled by the Austrian Empire. Following the end of WWI, it was under Italian rule again in the period from 1918 to 1921, according to the provisions of the 1915 Treaty of London, before it was ceded to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as part of the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.
Two battles happened in the sea just north of Vis Island. The Battle of Lissa happened on March 13, 1811, when a small Royal Navy squadron, under the command of Captain William Hoste, defeated a larger French squadron. Then, a little over half a century later, another Battle of Lissa happened. On July 20, 1866, the smaller Austrian fleet, under Admiral Tegetthoff, attacked the Italian fleet, under Admiral Persano, defeating the larger Italian force and sinking the Re d’Italia, the ironclad lead ship of the Regia Marina, or Italian Royal Navy.
It housed the former Yugoslavian army for almost a half century during the period of communism. The tunnels were used to hide and the bases were mostly abandoned in the 1990s. This is when Yugoslavia started to fall apart. It entered into a four-year war with the forces commanded by Belgrade, Serbia. After almost half a century the Yugoslavian navy left empty barracks and numerous caves and tunnels which they had previously tended for several reasons.
The island was shrouded in secrecy throughout its operations as a military base. The sub docks, also called bunkers or U-boat pens, were cut deep into the mountainside and connected to a huge network of underground tunnels capable of providing integral military support. There is the Hitler’s Eye tunnel and the Parja tunnel, among others.
When Vis Island was under England’s control, it was known as “The Key” to the Adriatic, as well as the Adriatic Gibraltar, and most commonly, little Malta. Some even refer to it as a “forbidden island.” After WWII the Yugoslavian Army installed such features as an imposing concrete submarine dock that led right into the island’s hills, and long tunnels that ran under the surface.
Vis reverted to Croatian control almost twenty years ago, and most of the structures were simply abandoned. The site is now used as a tourist spot and contributes to the livelihood of the island’s several thousand residents who coexist with its empty barracks, disused tunnels and empty dry docks. This amazing location is now an attraction for adventure tourists who finally have a chance to explore the tunnels.
For a long time, Vis, which is recognized as one of the most fortified islands, was commercially isolated with only modestly developed tourist, agricultural and economic activity. Today, some of the remaining structures have been repurposed for civilian needs, while others simply remain empty. But thanks to these relics it currently makes a fair amount of revenue from tourists eager to see the disregarded Cold War-era installations.
The Alternatura Tourist Agency promotes the island by saying “Vis Island holds many historic secrets, from the time of Diomedes, Platon and Issa to Vis marked by English presence on the Adriatic sea, at the times of being part of Francis Josephs’s empire, to becoming the base of commands of Tito and resistance partisans. Fortresses, military subways and labyrinths of tunnels…”
“But, some of the most attractive are the military tunnels dug throughout the island after 1945 when the island was a major military base for Yugoslav army. There are over 30 different military objects scattered across the island: One of the most attractive is the missile base at Stupišće point near Komiža. It was a huge base for land-sea missiles with impressive tunnel and bunker complex to be on alert in case of invasion.”
Alternatura then proceeds to describe the visit. First, after a half hour drive, tourists will see the remains of cannons, abandoned warehouses and even a rocket base. One of the tunnels leads to the highest point of the island, known as Hum peak. From there visitors are able to see the surrounding archipelago and the neighboring town of Komiža. After visiting the small St. Spirit church, there is also a walking tour of Tito’s cave.
This small island off the coast of Albania housed a Soviet submarine base which included a small contingent of its Whiskey-class submarines. The site featured a labyrinth of tunnels and was home to a chemical and biological weapons plant. It now has a small outpost that’s mostly used to monitor pirate and smuggling activity between Albania and Italy, as well as a training field for the Royal Navy.
It was once known as Sason and records of the island date back as far as 215 BC. It traded hands from the ancient Greeks to the Roman and Byzantine empires and even Albanian lords through the 14th century. Despite its aforementioned capture, it belonged to the Venetians by 1696. In 1864 it was ceded to Greece with the rest of the Ionian Islands as part of the Diapontia Islands.
The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 saw soldiers actually landing on the island and formally claiming it. But at the end of the second conflict Italy and Austria-Hungary pressed Greece to evacuate. Italy occupied it and established a military commander on the island, which is called Saseno. Following WWII it was ceded to Albania under a postwar peace treaty. During the Cold War the Soviets built a Submarine Base and Chemical/Biological weapons plant on the island.
Above is an image of a narco submarine, a type of custom-made ocean-going self-propelled submersible vessel. They are built and used by drug traffickers to smuggle contraband and are commonly associated with the Colombian drug cartel. They can carry several tons of substances and many have been seized after being detected by radar. The subs can even be unmanned and controlled remotely.
Narco submarines are also know as drug subs. Newer versions are fully submersible, designed specifically to be difficult to detect visually or by radar, sonar and infrared systems. Difficult, but not impossible, which explains how some, like the ones in these images, are caught by authorities. In 2015, 17 thousand pounds, or 7.7 tonnes, were seized from a semi-submersible which had been tracked by aircraft.
Narco submarines, or drug subs, are also called Bigfoots. This name was given to them by the US Coast Guard the first time they found one. The Bigfoot title came because for a long time they were just a myth, only being discussed as rumor but never actually seen. Over the last couple decades several dozen have been seized carrying hundreds of tons of cocaine every year. The subs can cost up to $2 million to make and take around a year to build, typically hidden under jungle canopy.
In 2016 a report surfaced claiming that a Nazi submarine had surfaced in the Great Lakes. Apparently divers discovered it in Lake Ontario and contacted the US Coast Guard. This was shocking news considering the implication that Nazi’s made it this far into America. But anyone who paid attention to the source of the article could clearly see that it came from a fake news site.
World News Daily Report
The headline reads, “USA: MYSTERIOUS NAZI SUBMARINE FROM WWII DISCOVERED IN GREAT LAKES” with the subheading “Niagara Falls – Divers from the U.S coast guard took part this morning, in a delicate wreck recovery operation to bring to the surface a Nazi submarine discovered two weeks ago at the bottom of Lake Ontario.” The article features the two images seen above. The first was proven to be photoshopped, see below, and the second is obviously from something else.
The fact check site Snopes confirmed that, along with all content on World News Daily Report, the story was “entirely fabricated.” It then revealed that the image was actually of a Cold War-era Russian submarine and not a World War II-era German U-boat. Finally, Snopes pointed out that the fake news website even comes clean with a disclaimer that states, “WNDR assumes however all responsibility for the satirical nature of its articles and for the fictional nature of their content. All characters appearing in the articles in this website — even those based on real people — are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any persons, living, dead, or undead is purely a miracle.”