Nuclear Submarine Museum, Balaclava, Crimea
We visited in 2011 when the now disputed territory of Crimea was part of Ukraine.
Having suffered an excruciating arrival into Sevastopol by overnight bus from Odessa followed by a stressful two hours trying to secure train tickets to Lviv a few days hence and finally taking 90 minutes to find a hotel with vacancies, we would finally have a fabulous treat in store.
After recovering with a late breakfast and lie down, we took a taxi to nearby Balaclava.
(You will probably have heard of Balaclava, possibly due to the balaclava helmet that takes its name from the small port town. This came about from the Crimean War where the British supplies came through the port due to the main port of Sevastopol being a Russian stronghold.
The Winters in the Crimean hills where the British were based were extremely hard and when women in the UK heard of the freezing plight of their menfolk, they knitted warm clothing to send out for them. A common piece of woollen clothing was a hat that covered the face and neck – the balaclava helmet had been born)…….
We had a single reason to go to Balaclava. They had recently opened a former Russian naval nuclear submarine base as a museum. The site had been top secret during the Cold War and had seen the name Balaclava wiped from all official maps.
The museum was a boy’s own dream. The entrance encompassed the area where the submarines would rise up majestically out of the sea to glide serenely up through a tunnel carved out of the mountain and inside the rock to the waiting workers.
This was something straight out of Thunderbirds or James Bond. As we entered we half expected to see a Blofeld lookalike sat at a table stroking his large fluffy white cat.
Generally we don’t do museums as you may know, but this one was unique. There were miles of tunnels with seawater flowing through the middle, so they could house the docked submarines. The canal area barely looked wide enough for a submarine to fit, but clearly it was designed to perfection.
The whole place was an engineering masterpiece that had lain hidden from all but those in the know.
As we stood in wonderment looking at the black water, some speakers suddenly burst into life to play the sounds of the day – a recording of sirens blaring, the noise of heavy tools on metal, the shouts of the workers, the hum of a powerful generator.
It was easy to imagine the scene of organised bedlam as a sub arrived. Action stations, each man with a specific job to do. The mind wandered to 007 again, with images conjured of bomb blasts, gunfire and casualties flying through the air.
We lingered to drink in the scene to make sure it stuck. Three tour groups went through and well into the distance before we reluctantly left what was the core of the museum. Awesome!
Onto the exhibitions – grainy black and white films showed a sub arriving with Russian commentary about the excitement raised when work arrived; photographs displayed diagrams and plans to show how the place was built; framed written accounts of what it was like working there, hung on the walls. Objects exhibited included torpedoes, a two-man mini observation sub, an array of shiny medals and a display of Russian military uniforms throughout the ages.
The final event was to walk through the four feet thick steel doors that when shut sealed the place from the outside world.
The equally thick steel doors alongside indicated that nuclear activity once took place behind them.
By the time we exited we had hardly spoken a word to each other, so spellbound were we. It was no contest, the best museum we had ever visited. We agreed that only having an actual submarine in situ could have topped what we had just seen. Two very satisfied customers indeed!