Mr.Ken Johnson is the webmaster of The International Submariners Associatio11/USA. The website is http://www.isausa.org. He attended the Congress held in Moscow this year.
The history of the Russian Submarine fleet extends through the depths of time to those first underwater craft back in the 17th century. It was to take almost 200 years before the first operational fighting submarine, DELPHIN, took its place amongst the ranks of the Russian Navy in 1903. By 1906 the fleet was growing and the submarines of the Russian Navy were moved into a class of their own.
For the last JOO years that fleet has incorporated over 1150 craft including 269 nuclear submarines; and in 2006 the Russian submarine remains in a class of it is own to celebrate its centenary.
On May 22-26, 2006 the 43’d International Submariners Congress was held at Moscow, Russian Federation. Representatives from 18 nations attended with a total delegate count of 300. There were 41 members of the U.S. delegation, including Adm. Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret), Board Chairman of the Naval Submarine League, and his wife, Margaret. Another member of the U.S. delegation who amazed just about everyone he met with his stamina was 95 year old Jack Stephenson whose first rate after joining the Navy in 1934 was Sailmaker 3rd Class. Jack had to change his rate in 193 7 to Boatswains Mate when the sailmaker rate was abolished. Jack qualified in submarines in 1939 and went on to serve as COB on 3 boats during WW 11, making a total of 11 war patrols.
Since 2006 marks the 1 oo•h anniversary of the Russian Submarine Force, our hosts went all out to make this a most memorable occasion. Fleet Admiral Vladimir Chernavin, Russian Federation Navy (Ret.) was Chairman of the event and personally took part in the official events. This event obviously had high level Russian Federation backing as well as significant underwriting support from several Russian businessmen.
The first day’s events included a tour of the Moscow Kremlin followed by a special submarine memorial service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This is a spectacular church, originally built over a period of 44 years in the mid 1800s to celebrate Napolean’s defeat in 1812. The original structure was blown up and destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1931 with the intent of replacing it with a large building and monument to the socialist worker. World War II interrupted this plan and the site became a public swimming pool. The reconstruction of this church began in 1995 and was completed in just 5 years. It represents a significant re-emergence of the Russian Orthodox religion in the present day Russian Federation and it serves now as the center of the Russian Orthodox faith. This service was followed by a luncheon and in the evening an official opening ceremony and program of international entertainment representing music and dancing of not only Russia, but most of the countries represented.
The second day’s events included a visit to the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War with a special ceremonial demonstration on our arrival by a military drill unit and band. This was followed by a wreath laying ceremony in the Hall of Honor and tour of the museum. The Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which opened on May 9, 1995, is located in the base of the Memorial Victory Complex on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow and covers more than 48,000 square meters. The Museum consists of the Entry Hall, the Halls of Glory and Memory, the Picture Gallery and six dioramas devoted to the most dramatic battles of the Great Patriotic War, two movie theaters, a hall for veterans’ meetings and an exhibition hall.
The museum tour included a visit to the special Russian submarine 1OOth anniversary exhibit which was on display from April 21 • 1 through June 22″ 4 in the exhibition hall of the museum. Included in this exhibit were 111 scale models of Russian submarines from the extensive collection of Andrey Artyushin. His collection includes models of every submarine design produced by Russia over the 100 year history of its Submarine Force. Andrey also played a major role in organizing the 43n1 Congress. A substantial portion of this exhibit was devoted to the submarine K-19 which suffered a nuclear accident on July 4, 1961. The Hollywood movie, K-19: The Widowmaker. was released in 2002 with a story line which was based on this incident. With this year marking both the 100 1- anniversary of the Russian submarine fleet and the 45 1 h anniversary of the K-19 incident, the exhibit pays special tribute to the surviving 1961 crew members and they are being honored by Mikhael Gorbachev who has nominated them this year for the Nobel Peace Prize. Efforts are also underway to preserve the K-19 as a Cold War memorial rather than scrapping it as was planned.
On the third day of the Congress, we attended the dedication and opening ceremonies for a new submarine museum, a project 641B (NATO Tango) class submarine. This submarine was specially configured for display by the Sevmash shipyard and prepared for dedication as part of the 43rd Congress. Following the dedication the Congress attendees were the very first to tour the submarine. The diesel-electric submarine B-396 was built at the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in Gorky (now known as Nizhny Novgorod) and commissioned in 1980. It was based in Polyamyi and naval base Linakhamari, served in the Mediterranean Sea, South and Northern Atlantic, Barents and Norwegian Seas. In 1984 it was named Novosibirskiy Komsomolets. In 1998 it was excluded from the Russian Navy list. In 2000 the designers of Sevmash Design Bureau began preparations for the technical project of reconstruction of the submarine as a museum which was completed just prior to its dedication.
Closing ceremonies were held on the evening of May 25 1h with a dinner and entertainment program during which formal presenta- tions were made by the various delegations attending.
The celebration did not end in Moscow, but was continued from May 26-28 at St. Petersburg as an informal Meeting of International Submariners. Most delegates who attended the Moscow event also attended this celebration in St. Petersburg which was organized by the St. Petersburg Submariners Club. Arrangements had been made for those planning to attend this celebration to leave the closing ceremony in Moscow early and catch an overnight train to St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg events included a river cruise on a catamaran cruise boat and visit to Kronstadt on the first day. The second day, May 27’h included a tour of the Central Naval Museum and visit aboard the historic cruiser AURORA. This was followed by a visit to the Nakhimov Naval College adjacent to the cruiser, AURORA and lunch with the cadets. An interesting feature of the Nakhimov Naval College is that the brass railing of the staircase leading to the fifth floor dining hall has the names of each graduate of this college engraved in it. Since this day was also the birthday of the city of St. Petersburg, there were many parades and special events going on in the city and we were taken on a Neva River dinner cruise in the evening where we could see the fireworks display from the vantage of the river.
The last day included a solemn military honors ceremony at the KURSK memorial in the Seraphimovskoye Memorial Cemetery. This memorial includes the graves of 38 members of KURSK crew, mostly officers, including that of Capt. Gennady Lyachin, KURSK Commanding Officer. Following the ceremony we were each given two flowers and the opportunity to place them on whichever grave we chose. We were then brought to the beautiful St. Nicholas Cathedral for a public prayer service for lost submariners. Closing ceremonies were held in the Pribaltiskaya Hotel where those who attended this meeting stayed.
Since this Congress I have been asked by several people how I learned about it and was able to attend. As the title of this article states, this was the 43rc1 International Submariners Congress. This celebration was somewhat unique in that it was followed by a second meeting and celebrated a significant milestone of the host country. These annual meetings began in 1962 with the first meeting in Paris and have been held almost every year since in different cities, mainly in Europe. This was the second such meeting I have attended, the first being at Chatham, UK in 2003. They are open to all submariners or those interested in submarines. There is no central international submariner organization but many nations have their own organization. In the United States, this is the International Submariners Association/USA. Next year’s Congress will be held in Cherbourg, France in September 2007, the following year it will be held in Gdinya, Poland and in 2009 it is planned to be held in San Diego, CA for the first time ever in the United States.