Mystery: Why does a Russian naval base have a painting of an American Los Angeles-class submarine?


Military bases can be dull places, and if movies and TV shows have taught us anything, it’s that Russian posts have all the charms of a gray brick wall. However, Imperial Russia actually built some architecturally impressive fortresses – technically “Kremlins” – including the Tula Kremlin, Astrakhan Kremlinwhich has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Convention site as an outstanding monument of the art of engineering.

During the Soviet era, however, the emphasis was much more on function than on form, and this is where drab buildings and utilitarian architecture came into play. Such was the case with the Gadzhiyevo submarine base located on the Kola Peninsula near the western Arctic. Even though Moscow has sought to modernize and increase the size of the facility, getting a much-needed facelift, it’s by no means what most would describe as aesthetically pleasing.

Last month an effort was made to “beautify the place”, and this included a new mural of a submarine which was painted on the side of a large apartment complex in the town of Gadzhiyevo on the Barents Sea. Instead of Soviet-era grey, the building was given a coat of light red paint – while one wall featured a large mural of a submarine appearing to dive into the ocean.

Images of the building were shared on the Russian social networks VK service.

It soon became apparent that there was a problem with the representation. While the Kremlin – that of Moscow of course – generally supports such patriotic gestures that highlight Russia’s past and present glories, some weren’t too happy.

The mistake

This is because the painted submarine was not a Russian ship such as a Kilo-class or Borei-to classify; it looked more like a US Navy Los Angelesnuclear-powered fast attack submarine (SSN). The US submarine has become a frequent visitor to the Barents Sea in recent years, and it’s usually armed with plenty of torpedoes, as well as Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles to potentially hunt Russian warships.

It didn’t take long for many to point out the error.

“How awful! Why paint an enemy ship?!” one comment said, while another suggested, “We have our own submarines, and they are far more beautiful than our enemy’s.”

There were soon calls for the removal of the mural, The Barents Observer reportedwho added that another comment suggested it was a mockery of the soul of every Russian submariner.

“This submarine is not only foreign, it belongs to the enemy. It has been the main adversary of our submarine forces for the past 30 years,” the commentary notes. “With what kind of feelings will our submariners parade through the local streets next to this photo?”

Such mistakes would probably have been a problem in Soviet times, especially when Stalin was running the show. However, it doesn’t appear that anyone has been visited by the FSB, and no one has been sent to a gulag (yet).

Los Angeles-class attack submarine. Image credit: Creative Commons.

Instead of completely covering or repainting the mural, it was “updated” earlier this month to looks more like a russian Deltaclass submarine. Muralists Natalya Popova and Sergei Beresnev corrected the error by extending the tower and retouching the rear part of the ship. Additionally, at one point in June, it also appeared to have a letter “Z” – a symbol used by Russian authorities in their war against Ukraine. Although the letter does not exist in the Cyrillic alphabet, it was painted on tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment.

The Z has since been retired, but the now more Russian “upgraded” submarine on the mural remains.

Today’s editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes.

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