Every submarine and military vessel tells a story, but when you happen upon an abandoned one, the plot starts to thicken even more. The stories behind this collection of clandestine submarines and bases go way beyond their wartime or scientific capacities with interesting facts and new developments. From eerie and dark tunnel networks to rusted vessel parts abandoned on the shore, read here for an epic and foreboding journey about once-undercover submarines and military bases dating back to World War II and the Cold War, as well as formerly top-secret operations. History buffs — you don’t want to miss these!
1. The Sub Marine Explorer
The Sub Marine Explorer has quite the tragic story compared to other submarines. Completed by German inventor Julius H. Kroehl and American Ariel Patterson between 1863 and 1866, the Explorer was among the first underwater craft and the first submersible that could go below 100 feet (31 meters) for hours at a time while lit by candlelight. It housed six crew members, who could rise and dive without any aid from the surface using compressed air. It wasn’t developed for military purposes, but rather for the Pacific Pearl Company in Brooklyn, New York to scour the ocean’s bed for pearls.
The craft met disaster as the inventors didn’t know the effects of the decompression on the human body. Without picking up on the dangers, it caused many of the crew to suffer a strange and mysterious fever called “the bends,” resulting in death. Kroehl was the first to die after long trial runs in Panama. Eventually, the submarine was abandoned because of this fever and over-fishing of the pearl beds. In 2001, archaeologist James P. Delgado discovered the abandoned submarine in Panama in a severe state of decay, and since then it has become the subject of many documentary films on the history of underwater travel and has been included in the Historic American Engineering Record of the U.S. National Park Service.
2. German Submarine U-352
The German submarine U-352, otherwise known as a Type VIIC U-boat started its military odyssey in 1942 when it was assigned to the Wolfpack as part of Nazi Germany’s navy called the Kriegsmarine during the Battle of the Atlantic. The U-352 eventually made its way to North Carolina in the U.S., where it tried to sink the SS Freden unsuccessfully. Luck ran out for the submarine on April 7, 1942 when it fired at the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Icarus, mistaking it for a merchant vessel.
The Germans stood no chance, and the submarine sank to the bottom of the ocean after the Icarus crew opened fire on the German submariners. Today, the submarine wreck is a popular scuba diving spot because of its artificial reef populated by lots of colorful fish. Heinz Karl Richter, who survived the sinking, later told the Discovery Channel that Captain Rathke caused the downfall of the craft because of his obsession to receive a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross medal for sinking enemy ships. Many of the recovered artifacts are preserved at the replica of the wreck at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
3. Decommissioned Submarines at HMNB Devonport – The Guzz
Just outside of Plymouth, England lies what some sailors and marines call a deserted military graveyard. This submarine graveyard site, otherwise known as the Guzz, is quite a strange spectacle, filled with what were once state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, and deadly marine craft that formed part of the nuclear submarine fleet used at the front lines of Britain’s Royal Navy Cold War Defense system.
HMNB Devonport houses a dozen rusted submarines, including the Conqueror, HMS Courageous, the HMS Vanguard, the HMS Victorious, and the HMS Tireless, with their nuclear engines still intact. Britain needed a location to store its defunct and obsolete submarines, and chose a base just a stone’s throw away from local residents, who aren’t too happy about the development because of potential radioactive and waste material leaks. These powerful machines were once used to protect the nation, but today they have left Devonport residents concerned for their safety should the subs get dismantled.
4. Hara Submarine Base, Estonia
A bustling Soviet Union military hub for four decades, the Hara Submarine Base now lays abandoned and speckled with graffiti art, the skeleton of an old lighthouse, and rusting metal structures worn down from years of wind, rain, and snow – remains of a darker time. The base was built by the Russian military between 1956 and 1958, and used as a major base of operations during the Soviet occupation of Estonia until 1991.
Looking at the base today, one could never have imagined that it once housed hundreds of military personnel, who placed advanced electronics and sensors in the waters around Hara. The base was constructed using stones from nearby villages. After years of laboring under the Soviets, the Estonians and their neighbors joined hands in 1989 during a peaceful protest to dismantle the submarine base. This garnered worldwide attention, forcing the Soviets to leave at the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
5. The USS Ling
The USS Ling high-speed submarine, commissioned in 1945 under the command of George Garvie Molumphy, was launched to face German U-boats during World War II, but it never came to face any battles. It traveled from the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut and then to the Panama Canal Zone in 1946, but was finally decommissioned later that year and added to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
In 1960, USS Ling was converted into a training ship and towed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York where it was reclassified as an Auxiliary Submarine. Today, the 2,500 ton sub is docked at the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey, but it is inaccessible to the public. Many people have wanted to restore it but lacked the funds to do so. The submarine also got badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
6. The Yellow Submarine Quester I – Coney Island’s Lone Submarine Wreck
What do the SS Andrea Doria and Coney Island’s submarine wreck Quester I have in common? Well, as the story goes, in 1956, the Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria, known as the Titanic of the ’50s, sank off the coast of Massachusetts after colliding with the MS Stockholm, carrying 46 souls and treasures worth millions of dollars to the bottom of the ocean. When Brooklyn shipyard worker Jerry Bianco caught wind of the story, he decided to build a 45-foot (13.7 meter) submarine from the salvaged metal of the dozens of shipwrecks on Coney Island to retrieve the sunken treasure.
Bianco called it the Quester I and painted it with cheap yellow chromium paint, which is why the vessel has been dubbed the yellow submarine. Unfortunately, the Quester I got stuck in the muddy banks after the crane operator didn’t follow instructions when lowering the submarine into the water in 1970. The Quester I now lies abandoned with two dozen wrecked vessels in the ship graveyard along the Coney Island Creek. No one knows how those other ships got there, but many assume they were whaling ships or ancient US Navy vessels.
7. The SFRY Submarine Tunnels
The region that was once Yugoslavia is home to some eerie, dark, and abandoned submarine tunnels built along the Adriatic Sea in modern-day Croatia. The tunnels formed a strategic military location for those fighting for independence for the Island of Vis against German occupation during World War II. These tunnels were actually the first modern military tunnels drilled into the Croatian Vis hillsides.
The island of Vis was shrouded in secrecy for decades as it housed the former Yugoslavian army during the period of communism in the underground network of tunnels, also called bunkers or U-boat pens, cut deep into the mountainside. These tunnels provided integral military support, but were finally abandoned in the ’90s after Yugoslavia fell apart. Today, the site is a hot tourist spot attracting thousands of tourists to the tunnels, barracks, and dry docks.
8. The Isle of May’s World War I Submarines
The Battle of May Island has gone down in history as one of the most embarrassing military disasters to date, so much so, that it wasn’t made public until well after all of the people involved passed on. You’ve probably heard of it, but did you know that no enemy ships were involved? Well, picture this: a pile up of a battlecruiser ship and three submarines! So, how did it actually happen?
On January 13, 1918, a group of K class submarines of the British Royal Navy, known as quite deadly vessels, collided in the dark of the night after the two of them suddenly changed direction on their way to Scapa Flow in Scotland. The crew changed direction after realizing they were heading toward minesweepers, but hit other ships, including a battlecruiser. The accidents resulted in disaster: both submarines sank and the crew of the K4 were all killed, while 51 members of the 59-member crew on K17 died. The subs lie 100 meters apart and 50 meters in the ocean.
9. XT-Craft Midget Submarines, Aberlady Bay, Scotland
Every day during low tide, one can see two World War II Royal Naval XT class midget submarines, or more like their wrecked and corroded skeletons, lying abandoned on the east coast of Aberlady Bay in Scotland. These vessels were two of six T-Training vessels built by the British engineering corporation Vickers’ Armstrong Ltd in the early ’40s.
The submarines were used to carry out an extremely dangerous and challenging mission against the notorious Tirpitz battleship of the German Navy in September, 1943. The submarine crews were successful, which in turn allowed the Royal Navy and Air Force attacks to sink the Tirpitz in 1944. Two of the submarines were taken to Aberlady Bay. There, the subs were moored. The Royal Air Force went on to use it for gun tests and target practice.
10. K-84 Ekaterinburg 667BDRM Delfin Class
This nuclear-powered Delta IV-Class ballistic missile submarine lies eerily still in the port city of Severodvinsk at Zvezdochka shipyard. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the vessel was still in operation and in use by the Russian Navy, but it was only renamed after the city of Yekaterinburg in 1999.
In 2011, the submarine was partially sunk due to a fire that broke out on the vessel. The submarine was loaded with 16 ballistic missiles (R-29RM Shtil) and four nuclear warheads in each missile, and if they had not been removed before the fire, experts claim that Russia could have faced one of the biggest catastrophes since Chernobyl. The damage from the fire exceeded one billion rubles ($15,620,000).
11. Sazan Island’s Abandoned Submarine Base
Sazan, a small island off the coast of Albania, was once home to a Soviet base of Whiskey-class submarines, but now it’s an abandoned place filled with tunnel networks under the island and obsolete vessels. The Soviets used to operate chemical and biological weapon plants on the island, but Albania seized the submarine base after it left the Warsaw Pact in 1968, increasing their navy significantly.
However, by the time the ’90s came around, the submarines became obsolete and the Albanian army wasn’t replacing them, so the base fell into poor shape and was abandoned. All that’s left is a barren base and small town pitted against a magnificent landscape, which is why it comes as no surprise that there are plans in the works for turning the place into a tourist hot spot. In the meantime, the base is used to monitor pirate and smuggling activities between Italy and Albania, and the Royal Navy used the island in 2013 for counter-terrorism training sessions.
12. U-475 Black Widow (Foxtrot B-39)
This giant abandoned attack submarine was once a Soviet Navy vessel during the Cold War used to train Libyan, Indian, and Cuban submariners. The vessel was commissioned in 1967 and was classified under the Soviet Project 641 class submarines, but Western forces called it Foxtrot.
After the submarine was decommissioned in 1994, it passed into private hands and was used as a public museum ship near the Thames Barrier in England. Four years later, the U-475 Black Widow submarine was open to the public in Folkestone, and today it lies in a state of disrepair waiting to be restored on the River Medway in the town of Strood in southeast England.
13. Foxtrot (Zulu V Class B-80)
One definitely doesn’t think of a party vessel or ship when a navy attack submarine comes to mind. Well, that’s exactly what became of the Soviet Zulu V class B-80 submarine, a vessel that was part of the Soviet Project 611, which was a series of post-war attack submarines.
The submarine, renamed Foxtrot, is stationed at the Maritime Quarter in Amsterdam North in the middle of the harbor after submarine enthusiasts decided to bring it to the Netherlands. At first, the vessel was used as a Museum ship in the Dutch Navy port of Den Helder, but it was sold to be rented out as a party location. The interior of the submarine was stripped including all its instruments so that party goers can make full use of the craft.
14. Balaklava, Ukraine
The town of Balaklava, Ukraine looks so picturesque that one wouldn’t guess there are long, eerie, and cold tunnels hollowed out of a mountain, which formed part of a top secret Soviet submarine base with a water channel and dry dock. Once called Object 825 GTS, the base was built in the ’50s so that submarines could surface without being seen. This network of tunnels had a nuclear shelter that could protect the entire nearby town from a direct nuclear attack, as well as a facility for weapon storage and repair.
The base was abandoned in 1996 and repurposed as a Cold War Naval Museum complex, which features information about the Crimean War. The complex still gives off a sterile and cold impression with its thick and heavy walls. Within these very walls, the Russians allegedly trained dolphins to attack enemies by attaching beacons and explosives to other submarines and ships for underwater warfare operations.
15. Object 280
The Soviet Naval museum complex in Balaklava also included a huge technical and repair base code named Object 280. The complex was designed to store and maintain all the nuclear arsenal that was secretly transported to the tunnels in the mountain of Tavros.
Object 280 was essentially a special tunnel used to load equipment into the submarine base during wartime seeing that the whole idea of Object 825 GTS was to store, repair, and maintain all submarines of Projects 613 and 633. If all of this sounds very cryptic and fascinating to you, then continue reading for more about abandoned submarines and bases.
Ever heard of a narco-submarine, dubbed a drug sub? Well now you have! The Bigfoot submarine is a type of submersible unmanned vessel custom built by drug traffickers to smuggle tons of contraband and drugs under the radar while being controlled remotely. Here we have a narco-submarine captured in Ecuador in July, 2010.
The Colombian drug cartel members are notorious for using this submarine to export cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and then the United States. The vessels contain sophisticated technology so that infrared, radar, and sonar systems cannot detect them easily. These subs were nicknamed Bigfoot because the existence of these craft was just a myth for a long time.
17. INS Kursura (S20)
The Indian Navy’s fifth submarine was the INS Kursura (S20). This vessel has traversed the ends of the globe, literally, having traveled a total distance greater than the diameter of the Earth combined during its 31 years of service in the Indian Navy.
Since 1969, this submarine served as a wartime vessel during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, participating in naval exercises with other countries, and acting as a messenger of peace by paying goodwill visits to other nations. After the submarine was decommissioned in 2001, it was turned into a public museum on the Vizag, otherwise known as Visakhapatnam. In fact, it’s known as a “must-visit destination” because the submarine has retained its originality. The vessel was almost flooded by Cyclone Hudhud in 2014, but the government saved it.
18. Horse Sand Fort
Here we have another British submarine base and fort used by the Royal Commission. Called Horse Sand Fort, the sea fort is situated in the strait of Solent off Portsmouth, England. It was originally built as part of the Palmerston Forts, which were four forts constructed to deal with a French invasion in 1859.
The British used it during World War II, as the base was heavily equipped with lots of sophisticated weapons and extensive submarine defenses, which were protected behind layers of concrete, granite, and iron-armor gates and walls. In 2012, AmaZing Venues, a collection of unique event venues and hotels in the UK, purchased the fort with plans of converting it into a museum.
19. Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
The U.S. Navy shipyard called Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is located in Washington. It’s been in use since 1891 as part of a ship-submarine recycling program, and currently holds four decommissioned aircraft carriers, one submarine tender, and 16 nuclear submarines, which are awaiting scrapping.
The shipyard also contains a reserve fleet of inactive vessels should the U.S. Navy need them in the future, such as the Kitty Hawk. Otherwise called the PSNS, it is the only U.S. shipyard facility certified to recycle any nuclear ships since 1990, and since then it has scrapped some cruisers and over 125 submarines.
20. Johnston Atoll
The Johnston Atoll might be operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now, but it served as the playground of the U.S. military for seven decades. It was one of the most isolated military bases in the world in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was converted from a bird refuge to a military service location in the ’30s to refuel, repair, and maintain submarines and aircraft.
During its heyday, around 1,300 military personnel were working and living on the station, and it became a famous nuclear testing facility in the 1940s. The most controversial fact about the history of the Johnston Atoll was that it was a storage and disposal site for the chemical weapon Agent Orange. The Agent Orange and nuclear and radioactive testing meant that chemical and petroleum products leaked into the surrounding environment until the ’60s, and therefore remediation and monitoring efforts still continue today.
21. Soviet Submarine K-77
Part of Project 651, otherwise known as the Juliett-class submarines, the Soviet K-77 was a cruise missile submarine launched in 1965 as part of the Russian Navy fleet in the Arctic Ocean called the Northern Fleet. The Soviet Navy withdrew the Juliett-class subs in 1988, but that didn’t mean the K-77 was going under (in the other sense of things) because it was featured in the 2002 film K-19: The Widowmaker starring Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford.
After the film, the vessel was towed to Rhode Island to become a museum under the auspices of the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, but it sank during a storm on April 18, 2007. It was recovered in 2008 during a diving expedition, but was sent for scrapping because of how it had deteriorated.
22. A Japanese Type-A Midget Submarine
Shaped like a killer whale, a Japanese Type-A midget submarine from WWII lies abandoned on Kiska Island far out in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. After the Japanese had to withdraw from Kiska in July, 1943, they destroyed their submarines with huge internal explosive charges that blew the hull of the craft.
All that’s left is the skeleton of the Type-A Ko-hyoteki midget submarine which serves as unprotected museum piece where people can wedge themselves between the rusted metal. During WWII, the Japanese built defenses and military infrastructure on Kiska Island to attack and occupy U.S. territories.
23. Bunker Alsou or Object 221
Otherwise known as Protected Command Point Black Sea Fleet, Bunker Alsou, or Object 221, this Soviet stronghold is situated in the Crimean Mishen Mountains in Ukraine. This bunker is the largest underground structure in the country besides for the subway.
The Soviets used this reliable and strategic stronghold to protect its Black Sea command from a U.S. nuclear attack. It was constructed in 1977 and given the code name Objekt 221 with tunnels that run for more than 6 miles (10 km) with four levels cut deep into the mountain. This bunker was very much a product of the Cold War like Object 825 – the nuclear submarine base at Balaklava — as it was the regional headquarters for the nuclear Black Sea Fleet. It also served as an emergency command center used for back-up by the Soviet military forces.
The ice-free harbor of Liepāja is located in western Latvia on the Baltic Sea and ensures cargo exchange between East and West Europe with all its 16 terminals. The Port of Liepāja is actually the country’s third largest port, but it once had a different purpose.
Liepāja’s harbor once housed 16 submarines and a nuclear deposit in Karosta, a neighborhood in the north of the city. It was constructed as a naval base for the Russian Tsar Alexander III from 1890 to 1906, and later served as a base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Today, it is a poplar abandoned placed for tourists and artists to visit because of the scenic seascapes on the Baltic shore silhouetted by blasted fortresses.
25. Saint Nazaire Submarine Base, France
During WWII, the Nazi forces built quite a few massive submarine bases in France and Saint Nazaire was one of them. In fact this base was one of the five largest submarine bases constructed by the Third Reich in Occupied France.
When the Germans arrived in June 1940, the harbor was immediately overtaken and used for submarine operations. The allies completely destroyed Saint Nazaire, but the base remained intact and was reconverted into a cultural site with museums with a former French submarine and bars inside the abandoned base. You can actually get quite a nice view from the Flak platform today.
26. Maunsell Sea Forts, United Kingdom
The Maunsell Sea Forts are armed towers built during WWII in the Thames and Mersey built with the purpose of defending the United Kingdom. The towers operated as navy and army forts to ward off any attacks by Nazi submarines and air raids.
After the base was already decommissioned in the late 1950s, it was used for pirate radio broadcasting of the 1960s. Makes sense that such an illegal activity would take place at an abandoned army base and fort. The unrecognized Principality of Sealand claims to manage one of the forts with boats occasionally visiting the abandoned place.
Located just outside the city of Tromsø, Norway is the decommissioned Royal Norwegian Navy base. It is a huge complex that was burrowed into a mountain with a submarine hangar made of rock, giving direct sea access. The Norwegian government decided to close the base in 2008 after a restructuring of Norway’s navy.
What’s more, they even put the base up for sale in 2011 on a Norwegian auction site. It was eventually sold for 38 million Norwegian Kroner ($4.3 million) to an oil rig firm, but as of late, there is suspicious Russian military activity going on there with research vessels docking there.
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