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Soviet nuclear shelter could stand 100-kiloton nuclear strike

Soviet nuclear shelter could stand 100-kiloton nuclear strike. 50214.jpeg

There are many places in the world that are worth paying a visit or two. But it is hard to find something more impressive than the hardly noticeable construction on the coast of the picturesque Balaklava Bay in the Crimea, Ukraine. This is a former secret anti-nuclear first category facility under the same name - Balaklava. Previously, the facility was used as a base for submarines with nuclear torpedoes. Nowadays, the place operates as a museum.

The full name of this tourist facility may seem to be too long, but it gives a clear notion of what it was built for: "Top secret anti-nuclear facility of first category (i.e. capable of withstanding a direct hit by a 100-kiloton nuclear bomb! - ed.) to shelter small and medium-sized submarines, to provide dock repairs and recovery of submarines and their crews." The place used to be a base for submarines with nuclear cruise missiles and torpedoes on board. Today, this is a museum complex "Balaklava", which is interesting to see just because it is indeed hard to find a better monument to the Cold War.

The story of the facility began when former allies in the Second World War - the Soviet Union and the United States - failed to agree on the division of the world into spheres of influence. After failed negotiations, the powers decided to achieve their goals with the use of force. The Americans had one big advantage - a nuclear bomb. Plans of a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union began to appear one after another: Bushwacker - 1947 and Bushwacker - 1948, Crankshaft, Orteks - 1949 and Dropshot - the largest and most sophisticated one. Under the plan, the territory of the Soviet Union was supposed to be attacked both with the use of strategic aviation and aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally, Soviet admirals immediately considered it necessary to obtain a well-protected shelter for submarines. The decision on the construction of such a shelter was made in 1952. As many as 322 million rubles were assigned for the 15,000-square-meter object.

It was assumed that the facility would consist of repair and maintenance shops, warehouses, arsenals and the actual shelter for several thousands of people, mostly residents of Balaklava. In 1956, under personal directions from Nikita Khrushchev, subway builders became involved in the work on the project. The builders removed over 200,000 cubic meters of rock (approximately 40,000 heavy Kamaz trucks) to build a canal for submarines. Concrete vaults and walls were 1.5 meters thick. As for the thickness of rock above the concrete construction, it was 126 meters!

The result of that tremendous work was a canal built in an arc of 30 degrees, piercing through the mountain. The entrance and exit from the canal was  securely closed with concrete gates. The northern one weighed 120 tons and the southern one - 150 tons. When completely closed, the doors could guarantee absolute protection for the facility in case of a nuclear explosion measuring 100 kilotons - four times more powerful than the bombs dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Inside, the man-made cave was equipped with numerous airtight doors of different thickness to completely isolate one part of the cave from another.

When the construction of the base was completed in 1962, it was possible to hide nine small or seven medium-sized diesel submarines in the underground fortress along with their crews and supplies of fuel and ammunition.

The arsenal for storage of nuclear warheads for submarines, both for cruise missiles and torpedoes, was commissioned in 1963. The entrance and exit from the facility towards the water channel was secured with shockproof and tightly closing gate. Together with lock chambers, they ensured protection of personnel from all effects of a nuclear explosion. The weight of only one part of the gate was 10 tons; it was 60 centimeters thick. Sheet steel doors weighed 480 kilos each. 

Interestingly, as long as the repository of nuclear weapons was built as confined space, there was a risk of natural static electricity to appear in the room. The personnel of the base were working in special clothes and shoes. The work of every person was supervised very strictly. Any operation would at first be announced out loud, and a person would have to announce their every action and move. Everything was recorded in a special register, so an error of any kind, especially the notorious human factor, was excluded. 

On the outside, the object had a powerful system of defense. Four rows of barbed wire were mounted along the mountainside. Signal mines were placed in the second row; electric current was running through the first one.

As time was going by, old submarines, for which the facility was built, would be removed from service, but new subs would not fit in. As a result, the base became worthless. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian submarines could be repaired and serviced there. Eventually, the equipment of the complex was dismantled and removed.

No one would care about the costs to modernize the complex during the Cold War years. But in 1991-1994 it became clear to everyone that the Cold War had gone down in history. Life returned to the concrete walls of the complex only in 2003, when it was turned into a Naval Museum of Ukraine. 

Oleg Shevchenko


Read the original in Russian  


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