The Underground Den of Submarines – Balaklava, Crimea, Ukraine

The Underground Den of Submarines

Balaklava, Crimea, Ukraine

A submarine turned by its bow to the shore and went with a slow speed towards the rock. The rock parted and hid the black-deck cabin at first, then the entire submarine.

Those who found themselves at the Balaklava seaside late evening could watch such a scene. A tourist would hardly understand what happened, whereas the local people would guess that the next submarine that entered its shelter would be at the underground ship-repairing factory.

Fishing Where A Submarine Used To Sail
Fishing Where A Submarine Used To Sail

For a long time, residents of Balaklava did not know exactly what was happening in the underground factory. Nowadays, it's possible to wander the dark winding halls with a guide, if one pays 10 griven (2 US). The excursion to the navy complex-museum "Balaklava" clarifies the mysterious past of "Facility 825" -a top secret complex where the Soviet subs were hidden and repaired.

In the mid 1950s, Josef Stalin, a leader of Soviet communists, amazed by results of A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, gave the order to hide the underwater fleet from possible nuclear attacks. The order had to be carried out and soon military engineers prepared the project for the constructing of a giant underground complex, located in the thick of the rock, deeply underground. This facility had to serve as a house for subs. It had to include such a roof and doors that could allow the ship to enter and exit by its own speed. And inside, it had to be able to survive A-bombs in the company of other subs, surrounded with the consideration and care of commanders and repairers.

Corridor Through The Dungeon
Corridor Through The Dungeon

Balaklava became the ideal place for the realization of this idea. Balaklava used to be a small fishing village located 15 kilometers from Sevastopol. Soviet high command was attracted to its long and winding bay, surrounded by impassable rocks from all sides and practically imperceptible from the seaside. In the summer of 1957 the town disappeared; Balaklava became secret. Its name was erased from every geographical map. All entrances and exits to and from the town were "hermetically" closed and carefully protected by KGB officials.

At that time Moscow Metrostroi (subway builders) workers appeared with heavy tools. Hammers and perforators, picks and spades stuck into the thickness of the rock, throwing out its granite insides. Four years of full day work turned lifeless rocks into the huge active fortification. Bright, electric lights lit up long, grey halls, sea air filled the "lungs" of the cave going inside through the hidden winding pumps of ventilation. "Stuffing" of the stone giant was impressed. Arsenals for storing nuclear warheads, spacious depots for rockets and torpedoes, a great amount of production shops, workshop and offices and also a hospital, a canteen, a shower room and rooms for the rest were built. In a word, all the conditions for the sufficient exploitation and repair of the submarines and effective work of the staff were done.

Today, with hills and bottoms of the rock no longer camouflaged, it's impossible to make out the entrance to the gallery. A reference point for tourists is that a bright shield with the painted submarines is lost among the concrete and grey rocks. Once equipped by people underground, the space is so roomy that an Egyptian Pyramid could be put inside. A lorry can go through the wide highway of the underground without problems.

Excursions usually begin from the survey of the canal. A "weary submarine" used to sail under these high arches. As a guide says, its length is over 500 meters. Water was pumped out, the dock was dried and a submarine was driven inside like a bullet in the canal of a weapon. In vast factory space, dodging in the depth of the rock, the work was boiling up: trucks and cars were scurrying, shipbuilders were harrying, the chains of lifts were clanking, drills of tools were whining. The underground factory could repair up to nine submarines, warsawyanka (project 615) at a time.

Handcart Transporting A Nuclear Warhead
Handcart Transporting A Nuclear Warhead

The military, being previous workers of the secret facility, confirm that every submarine took part in maneuvers twice a week at a minimum. The exploitation nuclear weapon was worked off. Submarines used to go to battle duties with nuclear warheads very often. It was absolutely impossible to enter Balaklava as a stranger. Secrecy was on a high level. Nevertheless, local fishermen say that fish entered the dock with the subs. Repairmen caught them with buckets and smoked them immediately. That smoke went up to the surface trough the vent system, so it was possible to tell when the next submarine stood to be repaired. What a hint for a foreign secret service!

In May 1994 the last Russian submarine left Balaklava's bay. After the Soviet Union's collapse, the town as well as the underground galleries, passed on to the jurisdiction of independent Ukraine. The secret facility had been protected for some time. Then the guard was taken away (the reason is still unclear) and the enormous anti-atomic doors were opened for scrap metal breadwinners. As witnesses say, brigades of burglars, without hiding, drove trucks into the dungeon and took out everything that yielded to strikes of sledgehammers and the flame of a blacksmith's shop.

After these raids, labyrinths of the facility turned out to be filled with trash. Museum assistants will take years to clean everything – the total space of underground halls, tunnels and passages is about 15 square kilometers. On dark walls of the underground complex, one can still see traces of the burning of stolen, nonferrous metal. Perhaps the burgling of former factory workshops would still be going on if the military hadn't decided to make a museum. Its numerous assistants immediately became sharp-sighted guards of the remaining property.

It's not easy to collect information about "Facility 825." There are neither archives nor engineering papers. KGB representatives took everything out. Museums workers collect information in pieces and ask people who had worked there before, but sometimes people are afraid to give an interview because of the former confidentiality. However, the interest in this facility is grandiose, especially from foreigners.

Attaches from 43 countries of the world have already been there. The Countess Avon, a relative of Winston Churchill, visited the unclassified facility. She was so surprised by the scene; she couldn't resist carving her name with a hairpin on the wall next to the entrance. Veterans of different military departments and former spies look at the "den" of submarines with open mouths – at the time they didn't manage to unravel the secret of Soviet submariners.

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