Object 825: the history of a secret base hidden in the Crimea
In Balaklava Bay right inside a rock built an entire city. Why did the Soviet military need a military base inside Mount Tavros and what role does the facility play today?
The most secret hydraulic structure of the Soviet Union – the object 825 GTS. That was the code during the Cold War for the underground submarine base in Balaklava. At that time the USSR and the US were actively developing their nuclear potential and did not rule out a global military conflict.
It was then that Stalin gave a secret order to Beria to find a place where submarines could be based. As a result, a strategic facility was built in Balaklava Bay, inside Mount Tavros. Why was this place chosen to build a giant underground bunker and what functions does the complex perform today? About this tells the program “Mysteries of Mankind” with Oleg Shishkin on REN TV.
“Burlington Bunker in the English county of Wiltshire was built in the 1950s in case of a nuclear strike by the USSR. The shelter was primarily designed to save the British government. The bunker could accommodate 4,000 people. It had office space, a cafeteria, a telephone exchange, a television studio and even a railway station.
Meanwhile, “Burlington Bunker” – not the largest shelter during the Cold War. In the 1950s, the USSR, on Stalin’s personal order, built a unique underground facility where an entire submarine fleet could hide, this so-called object 825 GTS in Balaklava.
“Balaklava for the construction of the facility was not chosen by chance, there is a convenient bay, which almost never storms. The city is hidden mountainous terrain, the entrance to the bay is not visible from the open sea. Svetlana Minenko, deputy director of the Military Historical Museum of Fortifications (Balaklava), said.
A city inside a rock
An underground base for submarines was built right inside the mountain. Dozens of meters of rock over a three-meter concrete vault of the bunker could withstand a direct hit of a 100-kiloton nuclear bomb, which is five times more powerful than the warheads dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 825 GTS facility was one of the safest places in the USSR under the threat of a nuclear attack.
“There were also other facilities, such as Nora, five kilometers from Balaklava, where the Black Sea Fleet’s reserve secure command post was located. That facility allowed the leadership of the Black Sea Fleet, and in general the Navy during combat operations. Rank 2 Captain of the reserve Aleksandr Kozlov said.
The total area of the underground base in Balaklava exceeds 15 thousand square meters. The bunker is so huge that it could fit an Egyptian pyramid. The grandiose complex had been under construction for 8 years, from 1953 to 1961. The military began to build the object, but because of the complexity of the work, the subway construction workers were brought in. The rocks were drilled using the explosive method.
“The rocks were taken to the open sea, and there, unnoticed by the population, were flooded, since the object was secret. The abbreviation “GTS” stands for “city telephone exchange,” supposedly a city telephone exchange was being built. Alexander Kozlov said.
Everything you need for submarines
The secret base was designed to shelter, repair and maintain submarines. In order to camouflage the submarines only entered the bay at night. During those hours, the power in Balaklava was turned off completely. The underground channel, 602 meters long, could hold seven medium or nine small submarines. In addition, there was also a storage facility for torpedoes and nuclear warheads.
The through underground channel had two camouflaged exits, one into the bay, the other into the open sea. In case of need, they were blocked by hydraulic structures – batoports, the largest of which weighed 150 tons.
“Bathoport is a hydraulic structure, a floating gate that could hermetically close the entrance to the canal. At the site there are two batoports, the northern and southern, which close the canal itself, and there is a small batoport, which hermetically closes the entrance to the dry dock, where the submarines were repaired. Svetlana Minenko, deputy director of the Military Historical Museum of Fortifications, explains.
The Defense Ministry’s deputy director Svetlana Minenko explains, “There used to be a whole underground plant, devoted to repairs and maintenance of submarines. Hundreds of people worked in the secret workshops. To move cargo through the tunnels of the giant bunker a narrow gauge railroad was laid. Carts weighing 996 kilograms moved easily along the rails.
“The wheels of the cart were lined with brass and the top with aluminum. These are soft metals that don’t produce sparks when they come into contact. Two containers weighing 850 kilograms each were placed on the cart. We moved the cart only by hand,” said Svetlana Minenko.
In the case of a nuclear war
The underground shelter could shelter 3 thousand people in case of a nuclear attack. They would have had enough food and energy reserves for a month. The corridors of the bunker were not straight, but curved, so that the blast wave would quickly die down, hitting the walls. In addition, the designers provided special anti-atomic gates.
“Each sash weighs ten tons, it is a metal structure poured inside with concrete. The thickness of the sash is 60 centimeters, the height is four meters. The second door is water- and gas-tight. Svetlana Minenko comments.
In the most secret part of the bunker was stored nuclear arsenal. The strategic weapons base was codenamed “Object 820. Even among the workers of the underground complex not everyone knew about its location. The residents of Soviet Crimea had no idea that Balaklava housed a nuclear arsenal capable of leveling the entire peninsula.
From a military base to a museum.
Over time, however, all strategic weapons were removed from the base. In the 1980s, the 825 GTS facility began to lose its significance for the Armed Forces of the USSR.
“The facility was built based on the parameters of small diesel submarines of Project 633. And the 1980s was the time when large nuclear submarines were built, none of which could enter the base, so the significance of this facility changed.” , said Reserve Captain 2nd Rank Alexander Kozlov.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the underground base stopped functioning altogether. In the 1990s, looters took out almost all the valuable equipment. After Crimea returned to the Russian Federation, specialists from Ministry of Defense carried out a large-scale reconstruction of the bunker and turned it into a museum complex. Every year it is visited by over 200 thousand people.
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Objects 825 GTS and 820 RTB or Top-Secret Underground Submarine Base in Balaklava
Where is it located?
Shortly after the end of World War II, a confrontation known in history as the Cold War began between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was not an easy time: the opposing superpowers were seriously considering an exchange of nuclear strikes and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were enthusiastically building numerous military facilities that would survive such strikes. It is believed that the secret directive to find a location for submarines capable of “blowing up more than once so that the whole world would be reduced to rubble” in the event of a preemptive attack by the US was drawn up by Stalin himself. The search for a suitable place continued for several years, in the end the choice fell on quiet Balaklava.
Narrow, winding strait, the width of which in its narrowest point did not exceed a hundred meters, sheltered from all storms and inaccessible to prying eyes (from the sea Balaklava bay is not visible from any angle) – all this has played a role, and in 1953 in Balaklava began large-scale construction. The city, with a history of several thousand years, was deprived of its status, quickly erased from all maps, turned into ZATO and included in the Sevastopol. Over the next eight years under Mount Tavros, situated on the west coast of Balaklava Bay, an underground complex was created in conditions of total secrecy. It included two objects: 825 GTS – a special workshop with a dry dock and a sea channel for repair of submarines, and 820 RTB – an arsenal for storage and preparation for military use of nuclear weapons.
All in all, about 120,000 tons of rock was removed during construction. To ensure secrecy, its removal was carried out at night by barges. Work at the sites was conducted around the clock in four shifts.
In 1961, the project was almost cancelled. It is said that during the inspection of the almost finished complex, Nikita Khrushchev waved his hand and said: “Better give it all to the winemakers!”. With great difficulty, the leadership of the Navy managed to defend the project and both parts were put into operation the same year.
To maintain confidentiality, the submarine base was called “city telephone station #825” (abbreviated “Object 825 GTS”), and the arsenal was called “repair-technical base #820” (abbreviated “Object 820 RTB”). The complex was a structure of atomic defense of the first category and could withstand a direct hit of a nuclear shell with explosive power of more than 100 kilotons (that is 5-7 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima).
Balaklava maintained its closed status until the mid-1990s. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was vacationing with my parents in Sevastopol, and we went to Balaclava to walk around the Cembalo fortress. The submarine base (of course, no one knew about its existence at the time) was no longer functioning, but the sharp-eyed military guarding it tracked us walking around the ruined fortress with a camera and made us take out the film and light it up – the level of secrecy was still at its highest level.
In the 1990s, the collapsed empire was cut to pieces and unceremoniously surrendered for scrap metal. Ukraine declared itself a nuclear-free power and no one needed the base in Balaklava. The unique complex, which unexpectedly ended up in a neighboring country, the Black Sea Fleet, unlike Sevastopol, could not defend. In 1991 the last submarine left here, and in 1994 the facility was officially abandoned by the military. For the next nine years, the base was left unattended, everything that could be sold was looted and taken away. In 2003, what was left was turned into a museum.
To this day, it is the largest of all the declassified military complexes of the Cold War.
In Balaklava bay float jellyfish, empty bottles and half-smoked khabariki. The immortal fame of Vadim Galygin from Comedy Club comes to mind at once: “To make the Black Sea, you have to spit some sunflower seeds on the floor, throw some cigarettes, shit under the tub, piss in the tub – here is the Black Sea to you!”
This is how the entrance to the underground canal from the Balaklava Bay looks like. In case of need it was closed by 150-ton bathoport – the hydro-technical gate which completely plugged up the underground base. Now it is in the open position, that is, recessed into the special niche.
In case of attack, the object was to become a shelter for the inhabitants of Balaklava. This is evidenced by the preserved inscriptions near the entrance.
Up to 3,000 people could be accommodated under the protection of the facility. In this case, the full autonomy would have been 30 days.
The facility 825 GTS included underground water channel with dry dock, repair shops, fuel and lubricants storages and mine torpedo warehouse.
All underground premises were protected by special gates, which completely sealed the inner space. The gates were closed automatically in two minutes. In case of automatic failure, there were special doors, which could be opened manually in 12 minutes.
In the center of the corridors there were transportation rails for carts.
Along the walls hung informational posters telling about the submarines of Soviet times.
On the left and right lie old hulls of mines and torpedoes.
In the concrete vaulted galleries the spirit of the Cold War still hangs.
The corridor leading to the underground dock runs in a semi-circle. It is believed that the shockwave must have weakened as it passed through this bend.
Around this point is the most powerful layer of rock overhead – 126 meters. The concrete vault is up to 3 meters thick. The recipe and the brand of cement used in the construction are still classified as “top secret”.
The only operational submarine, demonstrated in the museum, – Triton-1M. These super-small submarines were used for covert delivery and disembarkation of divers, laying mines, underwater patrols and detecting enemy saboteurs, inspecting the hulls of ships and other submarines.
Triton-1M was produced at the Novo-Admiralty Shipyard in Leningrad. In total 32 copies were produced. No more than 7 have survived to this day.
The crew of the submarine consisted of two people. Operating range – 35 nautical miles, maximum diving depth – 40 meters, autonomy – 7.5 hours.
Underwater channel for submarines was 8 meters deep, 12 to 22 meters wide and the arch was 18 meters high.
In peacetime the boats entered the canal only in the surface position and at night. Loading of equipment and ammunition was carried out on a special underground wharf. Despite popular belief, there have never been any nuclear submarines at this base.
In wartime, 9 small or 7 medium-sized submarines could hide here.
In the center of the canal, there is a dry dock – a special hydraulic structure, which is separated from the canal by a small water port and is used for repair and maintenance of the outer hulls of submarines.
A submarine was launched into the chamber of the dock filled with water, after that the water was pumped out within four hours, and the ship stood on the keelboats (special supports). Then within one or two days, the submarine was clad with repair scaffolding, and began its repairs, which on average lasted 3-4 weeks.
On the opposite side of the canal from facility 825 GTS was facility 820 RTB – an arsenal for storage and preparation for military use of nuclear weapons.
Now one can cross from one facility to the other by a bridge spanning the canal. In Soviet times there was no bridge; both facilities operated independently of each other.
The 820 RTB facility had the highest level of secrecy and not a single person on duty at the neighboring 825 GTS facility had even a clue that there was a nuclear arsenal on the other side of the canal. Even so, they knew how to keep state secrets at that time (and they hung the talkers by their balls on rusty nails in public, and they were right, by the way).
The entrance to the arsenal is blocked by two gates: yellow protective of sheet metal with concrete inside, each weighing 10 tons – in case of a bomb attack – and red hermetic gates for protection against radiation, poisonous gases and water. They say there used to be two gates at the entrance to the 825 GTS facility, too, but they were scrapped in the 1990s.
All of the gates were electrically operated. In the event of a power outage, they could also be opened manually.
The temperature and humidity regime in the arsenal was strictly observed (temperature – from +5 to +15 degrees, humidity – 50 to 60 percent). In the interest of secrecy, the place was also as soundproofed as possible.
At 820 RTB there were about 150 servicemen on permanent duty.
The arsenal included a technical area, a local area, a large transport corridor, a storage area for prepared ammunition, and a loading area.
In case of an emergency (e.g., a preventive nuclear strike by the U.S.), the arsenal would turn on a red illumination.
Nuclear charges for small missiles were transported on such a cart. Its weight is almost 1000 kilograms, payload is 7 tons. It had to be moved around the arsenal by hand.
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