She stalked Nato ships during the Cold War, lurking in the depths of the ocean on long-range patrols. And these photographs show just what a grim job it would have been for those on board.
They show the poky interior of a Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine called B-143, operational from 1960 to 1991 and which would have carried a complement of nearly 80 men – and an armament of heavyweight torpedoes, including a nuclear one.
The pictures were taken by Ukrainian-Belgian couple Olga Sorukhanova and Vladimir Kouksov, who run Chiffa Photography, and record a slice of Cold War history for posterity. The pair boarded the sub in January 2020 in Belgium, close to where it was being scrapped. It had previously been on show at the Seafront Zeebrugge maritime theme park until the summer of 2019.
Naval expert H. I Sutton, author of book Covert Shores, told MailOnline Travel: ‘In Soviet service, she would have been a patrol submarine intended primarily to fight against ships. She could have taken on submarines too but was not the best for that. She would have carried up to 22 heavyweight torpedoes. She had quite a lot of torpedo tubes, six shooting forwards and four out the back. This compares to five in total for a Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine. She likely carried a nuclear-armed torpedo as a weapon of last resort – these were normal aboard Russian submarines. She had a crew of around 78 people so it would have been very cramped. She could only run underwater for a few days and was considered not very stealthy. Nato would have taken her seriously even though she was not the most capable model of Soviet submarine.’
Mr Sutton said that in the 1960s, the Foxtrot class of submarine would mostly have been something of a mystery to the West. He added: ‘Within Western defense intelligence agencies they would have been building up a picture, possibly with very good information from spies or satellite surveillance and so on. But there was a thirst for knowledge and data. So these would have been very secret back then.’
Olga said: ‘This is a place you don’t find yourself in every day. Exploring abandoned places for years, it seems that we have seen almost everything. But this time it was not the case. The narrow passages, lack of space and complete darkness were not the best things to experience. But it was insanely interesting.’ Scroll down to explore the fascinating vessel…
Ukrainian-Belgian couple Olga Sorukhanova and Vladimir Kouksov clambered around Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine B-143
B-143 was built in 1960, served for 31 years and would have carried a nuclear-armed torpedo ‘as a weapon of last resort’
The motor control onboard the submarine, which had previously been on show at the Seafront Zeebrugge maritime theme park until the summer of 2019. It was then moved and dismantled
The photographers said that part of the hull had been cut off by the time they visited the submarine and some of the equipment had been partly removed or damaged. One thing that was still intact, though, was the command periscope, pictured
Naval expert H. I Sutton, author of the book Covert Shores, told MailOnline Travel: ‘In Soviet service, she would have been a patrol submarine intended primarily to fight against ships.’ According to the photographers, this image shows the place where the chief mechanic would have worked
The only toilet that the photographers found on the submarine. This type of submarine could accommodate a crew of 78. Olga said: ‘Don’t ask me how! Living conditions on board would be rather difficult. There was not enough space for every person. The captain was the only one who had a cabin’
A fascinating image of the submarine’s central information point, which housed the radar and sonar suites and ballast control. According to H. I Sutton, ‘she could only run underwater for a few days and was considered not very stealthy… Nato would have taken her seriously even though she was not the most capable model of Soviet submarine’
According to the photographers, it wasn’t easy getting on to the submarine as they had to squeeze through a small hole to get on board. But Olga added: ‘We simply couldn’t resist the temptation to see it with our own eyes.’ Pictured is the submarine’s command seat
A huge dummy torpedo that the photographers found. According to H. I Sutton, while in service, ‘she would have carried up to 22 heavyweight torpedoes’
The photographers said they had to ‘climb and crawl’ to reach the bow compartment, pictured, where the dummy torpedo was stored. This type of submarine had six forward-facing torpedo tubes
The photographers said that ‘the narrow passages, lack of space and complete darkness were not the best things to experience’ while exploring the submarine
The Foxtrot Soviet subs gained notoriety during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Four were deployed to the island during the Soviet Union’s stand-off with the USA. One apparently came close to launching a nuclear torpedo at the U.S Navy
The four torpedo tubes at the stern, bringing the total to 10. According to H. I Sutton, a Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine has five torpedo tubes in total
Mr Sutton said that the West would not have known much about the inner workings of the Foxtrot submarines
The 300ft-long Foxtrot class of sub could dive to nearly 1,000ft. B-143 lurked in the depths from 1960 to 1991. Her top speed while submerged was 16 knots or 17mph
There are no Foxtrot submarines left in service anywhere in the world, said H.I Sutton. He added: ‘Today she is vintage’
Taking images on board the submarine was difficult. Olga said: ‘We tried to hold the tripod with the camera in one hand and a lamp in another. Some compartments had some light but others were completely dark’
It is a ‘pity’ that the submarine has now been cut into scrap metal, said Olga and Vladimir
The photographers said that snapping pictures on board this submarine was one of their ‘most spectacular’ explorations so far. They added: ‘Exploring abandoned places for years, it seems that we have seen almost everything. But this time it was not the case. We knew it would be special, but we couldn’t imagine that it would be this special.’ Pictured is a propaganda poster they found on the upper deck
The submarine pictured in 2016 at the Seafront Zeebrugge maritime theme park
- More Chiffa Photography work can be seen on Facebook and Instagram. Several Foxtrot submarines are on display around the world, including at the Maritime Museum of San Diego and the Museum of the World Ocean in Kaliningrad, Russia. There is also a Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine – U-475 Black Widow – moored on the River Medway in Kent. The privately owned boat, known as B-49 during her years of service, was open to the public for a few years but is now in a dilapidated state. She is, however, earmarked for restoration.