Soviet Submarine: the U-434 in Hamburg
Hamburg, in the North of Germany has one of the largest ports in the world and is a city well worth visiting. One of the top attractions is the Soviet Tango class submarine B-515, now renamed U434. The Tango class is a relatively modern submarine and the B-515 was used for reconnaissance and spying. The museum submarine has been left in original state and visitors get a good feeling how life on a cramped diesel submarines must have been. Comtourist visited Hamburg in 2008 and checked out the U-434.
Versmannstrasse 23C Hamburg
Every day from 10.00 to 18.00
The B-515 museum submarine
In the years after the fall of the Soviet Union the Russian navy’s budget was dramatically cut. This meant that some creativity was needed to acquire the necessary funds to keep the once so proud Russian navy afloat. One way was selling (obsolete) equipment to the highest bidders. Some European and American businessmen or museum directors ceased the opportunity and bought Soviet submarines to be used as tourist attraction or party location. Currently several soviet submarines can be visited like the: B-39 in Folkestone, B-143 in Zeebrugge, B-413 in Kaliningrad, B-39 in San Diego, B-427 in Long Beach (all Foxtrot class), B-80 in Amsterdam (Zulu class), B-515 in Hamburg (Tango class), U-359 in Nakskov (Whiskey class) and the K-77 in Providence USA (Juliet class). All of these are diesel submarines build in the sixties and seventies of the last century. The list above makes clear that the Tango class is rare as a museum piece, so visiting the U-434 while in Hamburg is time well spend.
History of the U-434
The submarine B-515 now renamed U-434 was build at the Krasnoe Sormovo shipyard in Gorki in 1976. It was placed into the service of the Soviet North Sea fleet based in Severomorsk near Murmansk and remained in service until 2002. The U-434 was used as espionage submarine and was active during the Cuba crisis, performed spy missions on the US East coast and patrolled the Soviet territorial waters. In 2002 it was bought by the U-boat museum in Hamburg and towed from Murmansk to Germany. The Russians took the weapon systems out but other then that left the sub in original condition. The ship was restored at Blohm und Voss, the most famous German shipyard from Hamburg known for building the Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Admiral Hipper, Wilhelm Gustloff and many of the word war 2 U-boats. Then it was docked on it’s current location in the Baakenhafen and can be visited as a museum. A shop, a visitors centre and a large parking are available near the submarine. The museum submarine can be reached by a 15 minutes walk from Messhafen metro station. There is also a bus shuttle (the Hamburg Hummelbahn) that has a stop near the submarine.
U-434 museum facilities
Besides the submarine are there also some other facilities that are part of the museum. There is a visitors centre with photo’s about the history of the U-434 and some artefacts like a torpedo and a door from the U-434. An East 60M electric torpedo is displayed outside. The U-434 has 6 torpedo tubes and can carry 24 torpedo’s. The length of the torpedo is 8.23M with a weight of 2 tons. The torpedo’s were loaded into the vessel along an upper deck ramp trough the torpedo loading hatch. A special loading system made it possible to load 2 torpedo’s at the same time in eight minutes and make the submarine ready for combat. There is also a Russian welding system from the U-434 displayed. A museum shop sells all kind of souvenirs relating to the U-434 and Soviet submarines in general.
The torpedo room
Visitors enter the Soviet project-641b submarine in the front torpedo room via a spiral staircase. Appropriate music and dummy’s in Soviet naval uniforms bring the visitors in the right mood. In this large room the are tow rows with each three torpedo tubes. The first things that strike the visitors is the heat and the enormous amount of tubes, wires, switches, valves, leavers etc. On both side of the room are 3 torpedo holders one original torpedo is still in its storage location. 10 sailors worked in the torpedo room with 24 533mm torpedo’s each weighing 2 tonnes. At the end of the torpedo room is a round hatch leading to the next compartment.
The living quarters
From the torpedo room a hatch leads to the next compartment where the rooms for the senior crew and officers mess are located. The hatches between the compartment fairly narrow and on ground level so visitors must put in some effort to go trough. In the centre of the crew compartment runs a narrow hallway. The officers mess is the largest room in this compartment, it is actually quit spacious considering the limited room available in the cramped submarine. Interesting detail is a picture of the statue of liberty in New York photographed from a submarines telescope. It is unclear if this is a creative element added by the German museum staff or an original picture from the submarine. The U-434 being a spy submarine would make it possible that this is a trophy shot to remember a successful spying mission!
Other rooms in the staff compartment are a the captains room, the medical room, some officers cabins shared by 4 persons each, a toilet and a washing room. Each of these rooms has very little space and often multiple functions. Dummies dressed in Russian navy outfit are placed in many rooms to enhance the experience. At the end of the corridor is a staircase that leads to the battery room below and to the command bridge above in the sail area of the submarine. The command bridge was not open for visitors during our visit.
The hull and sail of the U-434
The project-641b (Tango class) submarine build in 1976 has the looks and characteristics of a modern submarine. It is tall, round and streamlined where its predecessors like the Zulu and Foxtrot class still look like world war 2 submarines. The sail has six windows typical for Soviet submarines used for navigation when the submarine in not submerged. Currently a round chamber welded on the front site of the hull that as used as the entrance. Two of the torpedo launch tubes are visible above the water on the bow. The two wings used for manoeuvring are extracted with their place is the hull sealed.
It is possible to walk around and have a look on the deck of the U-434. Both on the front and the back are an escape hatch painted in clearly visible red and white. It would have been possible to use an rescue submarine to save the crew in case the submarine sunk until a debt of 60 meters. There is also an escape system that does not require and rescue submarine that in theory should work until a debt of 80 meters. This requires the compartment to be flooded. Crew members will the be shot to the service with compressed air. Soviet submarine sailors trained this escape method of a debt of 30 meters. In practice it did not prove to be a very safe escape method. Submarines have an outer and an inner hull. Visitors can see the room between the outer and pressure hull when going down in the U-434 via the entrance.
The control room
At the end of the living quarters is a pair of stairs, on goes down a level to a battery room the other one goes up a level to the submarine control room. Unfortunately was the control room closed during our visit of the U-434, normally it should be open to the public. The control room is partially situated in the submarine’s sail but is part of the pressure hull. The equipment in the control room of was state of the art technology during the U-434’s deployment in the cold war. The captain and the helmsman have their seats in the control room from where they operate the submarine. There is also a map room for the navigation of the sub in the control room.
Below the control room and the living quarters is the auxiliary machinery room responsible for powering the submarines various sub systems. The bottom part of the periscope is positioned in the middle of the corridor of this area. Soviet sailor dummies create a realistic atmosphere in this are with many switches and leavers.
The next area is the living quarters for the sailors where the majority of the submarine crew live. Here are a relaxing area with a big table where sailors would probably eat and recreate, a kitchen, toilets and sleeping cabins for officers. A total of 84 navy men (16 officers, 16 NCO’s and 52 sailors) manned the submarine during deployment. The sailors sleep in field beds on the lower decks, three cooks are responsible for providing meals to the submarine crew.
The diesel engine room
The next compartment is the control room for the diesel engines, with three similar control systems for the submarines three diesel engines. The 6 cylinder turbo diesel engines use a fuel injection system only now used in modern truck engines. The engines are compact, fuel efficient, quit and are even today considered as modern diesel engines.
Between the three consoles used for the operation of the diesel engines are the engine telegraphs. The telegraphs (one per engine) are used by the commanders in the control room to dictate the engine speed. The electrical engine has a similar telegraph system.
The electric engine room
Next room is the electric engine room, here are three electric engines allowing the submarine to stay submerged for 90 minutes sailing top speed. The batteries, placed in other compartments deliver a total capacity of 16.000 Ah (a car battery has 60 ah). The batteries are being recharged when the submarine sails on the service with its diesel engines. There is one small additional ultra quit electric engine used for spying missions when the submarine needs to stay undetected.
The stern section
The last section in the stern of the submarine houses the drink water tanks, the fire prevention system (a kind of foam as water can not be used in an electric environment and the hydraulic system for the site and dept rudders. The five bladed propeller of the ship is also displayed in this part of the submarine. The more blades a ship has the quieter it can operate, hence the five blades for this spying submarine.
There are not many modern Soviet submarines converted to museum ships, the U-434 is probably one of the most interesting Soviet submarines that can be visited around the world. The submarine is in original state, with many added decoration which gives the feeling it could depart on a mission at any moment. Hamburg’s harbour is one of the biggest in the world, a visit of the U-434 can very well be combined with a harbour port tour. Comtourist recommends anybody to visit the U-434 who is in the neighbourhood of the famous hanseatic city.
Technical data: Project 641B (Tango class) attack submarine
History of the Soviet Project 641B submarine
The project 641B (Tango class) diesel submarine is a third generation Soviet diesel submarine and was the successor of the project 641 (Foxtrot class). The Tango’s larger hull compared to earlier Soviet diesel subs enabled it to have a significant higher battery capacity, also makes the clean lined hull it much quieter than its predecessors. The Tango can stay under water for more then a week before it has to snorkel and recharge the batteries. The overall performance of the Tango came very close to it’s nuclear counterparts. The first Tango was completed in 1973 at the Krasnoe Sormovo ship yard in Gorky. A total of 18 Tango’s were build in 2 versions.
The Tango class deployed by the Soviet and Russian Black Sea and Northern Fleet. The Tango’s roll was to engage enemy surface forces and submarines and to protect friendly convoys. Also would they be used in an ’ambush’ role against NATO warships operating at choke-points on the sea lanes. Most units of the Tango class were retired in 1995, four boats supposedly remain operational and six are kept in service with the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet at Polyarny , they are probably in a very bad state however. Besides the B-515 (U-434) in Hamburg is there also the B-396 on display as museum boat in the new Navy museum in Moscow.