March 24, 2009: The first Russian nuclear submarine, the Leninskiy Komsomol (or K3), is in danger of being scrapped, rather than preserved as an historical artifact. It will cost about $15 million to refurbish the decommissioned (since 1988) boat for use as a museum ship in St Petersburg, and this has been the plan for five years. But all the money was never provided. Fortunately, the nuclear reactor of the K3 has been removed and is being safely disposed of. But in the meantime, the rest of the K3 could end up as scrap any day now.
The K3 entered service fifty years ago, after seven years of planning, construction and testing. Called a November class boat in the West, the K3 was a 3,000 ton, 333 foot long sub with a crew of 104 and a max submerged speed of 60 kilometers an hour. The sub has eight torpedo tubes and 20 torpedoes. Supplies for two months of operations were carried.
The fourteen K3 class boats were noisy, much louder than the diesel electric subs they replaced, and noisier than Western nuclear subs. The U.S. and Western boats also had much better sonar, thus the K3 was always the last one to know who was where when it was submerged.
The K3 served mainly as a research vessel, to give Russian designers a better idea of what worked, and what didn't, when it came to nuclear subs. The K3 also suffered one of the first, of many, accidents abroad nuclear powered ships. In 1967, while operating off the Norwegian coast, a fire broke out and the carbon dioxide based fire extinguisher system ended up killing 39 crew members. It was later discovered that the fire apparently began when a sailor sneaked a cigarette in a no-smoking area. The K3 served, mostly tied up at a dock, until 1988.
The American contemporary of the K3 was the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), that entered service four years before the Russian boat. The Nautilus displaced about the same as the K3, but was a little shorter (320 feet). Crew size was the same, although the Nautilus had only six torpedo tubes. But the Nautilus was quieter and had better sonar. The Nautilus was very active, setting many records for underwater operations. Nautilus was taken out of service in1980 and turned into a museum ship in Groton, Connecticut.