There are hidden mysteries all over the world and some of them belong to underwater wrecks or bases that are still being explored to this day. Each one with a fascinating story behind them...
The Sub Marine Explorer
Until 2001, residents of the Pearl Islands in Panama had long believed the Sub Marine Explorer to be a relic from World War II, but its history extends much further. Built in the 1860s, the Sub Marine was originally used to retrieve pearls.
Some have referred to the Sub Marine Explorer as a “glorified diving bell”, but its inner workings were actually rather sophisticated. The vessel was powered by hand and included an interconnected system of a high-pressure air chamber or compartment, a pressurized working chamber for the crew, and water ballast tanks.
German Submarine U-352
German U-boats took no prisoners during World War II. The purpose of the fleet was to enforce a naval blockade against enemy ships transporting supplies, and it was common for several of the vessels to sail together as a “wolfpack” in order to bring down a target.
U-352’s mission didn’t go quite as planned. While on the east coast of the United States, the submarine fired at a vessel that was believed to be a merchant ship. In fact, Icarus was actually the patrol boat of the US Coast Guard. U-352 was sunk by the retaliation, with the 33 surviving crew members taken as prisoners of war.
Decommissioned Submarines at HMNB Devonport – The Guzz
Where do retired nuclear submarines see out the remainder of their days? At the Royal Navy military base in the English city of Plymouth. Nicknamed “The Guzz”, the naval base is the largest in Western Europe and has become a graveyard for many of the nuclear submarines which were once on the frontlines of the Falklands War.
The Guzz became home to thirteen out-of-service nuclear submarines in 2018 after the British Ministry of Defence admitted that it had delayed the decommissioning process as a result of the cost. Despite some of the submarines not being active for decades, there have been reports of nuclear leaks at the base over the years.
Hara Submarine Base, Estonia
When looking at the playful graffiti that decorates the concrete walls of the Hara Harbour, it is easy to forget that it was built by the Russian military in the mid-1950s as a secret site to demagnetize submarines during the Soviet occupation that lasted five decades.
The naval base was one of the few sites where employees worked to make the submarines less susceptible to sea mines. It operated until Estonia gained independence in 1991, after which most of it was dismantled. Once kept secret from the public, the base is now considered to be an urban tourist spot.
The USS Ling
Despite being built by the US Navy with the intention to fight the Nazis during World War II, the USS Ling has lived a mostly quiet life as it was never sent to war. Instead, the 2,500-tonne submarine was used as a training vessel upon arriving at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1960.
In the 70s, a non-profit organization tried to save the sub from being scrapped by having it moved to the Hackensack River in New Jersey. There, she was redone and went on display at the New Jersey Naval Museum. Sadly, the museum has since closed, but negotiations are underway to re-home the Ling at the Louisville Naval Museum.
The Yellow Submarine Quester I – Coney Island’s Lone Submarine Wreck
Visitors to Coney Island may spot a yellow structure popping out of the water. It belongs to the Quester I whose tale had all the elements of an adventure, but never really got off the ground, so to speak. The purpose of the submarine? To retrieve treasure from the SS Andrea Doria which had sunk after being hit by another liner.
It took shipyard worker, Jerry Bianco, years to construct the Quester I from salvaged metal and she was finally ready for her mission in 1967. But upon being lowered into the water, the submarine tipped and got stuck in the mud where it has remained ever since.
The SFRY Submarine Tunnels
During its rule of Croatia, the Yugoslav army carved secret tunnels into the remote island of Vis. The enclave was the furthest from the mainland and it was here, during World War II, that the leader of the Yugoslav resistance movement (and future leader of the country), Josip Broz Tito, chose his hideout.
When Croatia gained independence in 1991, the maze of caves, underground tunnels, bunkers, and submarine hideouts were simply abandoned. Today, this former military base has been adapted by civilians and serves as a tourist attraction to the otherwise sleepy island.
The SFRY Submarine Tunnels
The Battle of May Island can be described as an unfortunate series of events. Taking place on a misty night in 1918, the so-called battle was actually nothing more than a tragic accident that left several vessels damaged and resulted in 104 Royal Navy men losing their lives.
40 naval vessels, including battleships, cruisers, and submarines, were set to take part in an exercise known as Operation EC1 in the North Sea. What transpired was 5 collisions involving 8 vessels. When 1 sub turned to avoid a minesweeper and it crashed into a fellow sub. Two were lost and three others left damaged.
XT-Craft Midget Submarines, Aberlady Bay, Scotland
Aberlady Bay became the first Local Nature Reserve in the United Kingdom during the 1950s, but it is more renowned for housing wrecks than fauna and flora. At least eight abandoned fishing vessels from the 19th and 20th centuries can be found on the Scottish isle.
Amongst those that have been designated as maritime scheduled ancient monuments are two XT-craft midget submarines. The wrecks were training versions of X-craft subs built for the Royal Navy during World War II. They were eventually toured to the bay in 1946 to be used as target practice.
K-84 Ekaterinburg 667BDRM Delfin Class
Before being named after the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in 1999, the K-84 was known only by her hull number. The submarine formed part of the Delta-class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines that were designed and built in the Soviet Union. The vessel remained in the Russian Navy even after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Praised for her missile launches in her heyday, Ekaterinburg was struck by tragedy in 2011 when she caught fire while at the PD-50 floating drydock. In order to put out the flames, the submarine was partially sunk. In 2020, her weapons were removed in preparation for decommissioning which will conclude in 2022.
Sazan Island’s Abandoned Submarine Base
Forming the border between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas is the island of Sazan. Although the largest island in Albania, it is uninhabited. That’s because it was used as a base for Soviet Union Whiskey-class submarines during the Cold War and a small naval base remains as a training field for the British Royal Navy.
Four submarines remained at Porto Palermo following the fall of communism, and while Soviet-era gas masks can still be found scattered around the island, the base is deserted. In 2010, Sazan’s waters were proclaimed a National Marine Park by the Albanian government and various fauna and flora call it home.
U-475 Black Widow (Foxtrot B-39)
For ten years, the public was able to visit the Soviet Navy submarine as she was put on display as a museum ship. But the history of the U-475 Black Widow is far richer. The vessel was part of 74 attack submarines built by the Soviets during the Cold War, some of which were used to train Libyans, Cubans, and Italians.
Before being decommissioned in 1994, the Black Widow served with the Soviet Baltic Fleet but was mainly used to show foreign crews how to operate their own Foxtrot-class subs. Once sold, she was taken to two English museums but is currently moored on the River Medway in South-East England where her condition is less than ideal.
Foxtrot (Zulu V Class B-80)
The Zulu-class submarines were some of the first attack vessels belonging to the Soviets after World War II. But this sub, in particular, found itself leading quite a different life after she was decommissioned. Built in the 1950s, the B-80 served as part of the Soviet Navy’s Northern Fleet during the Cold War.
Post-de-commissioning in 1991, the sub was bought by Dutch businessmen and taken to Holland after they assumed Foxtrot to be a B80 instead of an older Zulu V class. So what happened? She was turned into a party venue in Amsterdam! However, the sub was scrapped in 2019 following a dispute between the owners and the City.
The underground submarine base in the Ukrainian settlement of Balaklava was designed to withstand direct impact from an atomic bomb. That is perhaps why the structure still exists — even though the last Russian submarine was removed from the base in 1996.
De-commissioning of the base began in 1993, but at one stage it employed almost the entire population of Balaklava. It has since been turned into a naval museum where visitors can see the network of water channels that enabled submerged submarines to come and go without being seen.
With wartime submarines coming in and out of the Balaklava complex, it makes sense that it featured a repair base. Given the code-name Object 280, its purpose was to store the nuclear arsenal before they were moved further into the facility that was situated within the Tavros mountain.
Object 280 is not to be confused with the similarly named Object 825 GTS which was intended to house, repair, and maintain Project 613 and 633 submarines. In 2014, it was reported that Russia was considering restoring the Balaklava base, but we doubt Object 280 will be needed for its original purpose.
Some submarines are built for war, some for finding sunken treasure; but we’re pretty sure you won’t guess why Bigfoot was created. The amusingly named vessels were commissioned by smugglers to transport their wares. In fact, the custom-built crafts are often referred to as narco-submarines or drug subs.
Developed with technology capable of avoiding radar, sonar, and infrared systems, the subs had been the subject of rumors for many years due to never being seen — earning themselves the nickname of the folklore creature. That all changed in 2006 when the US Coast Guard seized one of these submersibles southwest of Costa Rica.
INS Kursura (S20)
Unlike most of the submarines on this list, the INS Kursura was not built by the Soviets or the Germans and did not feature in the Cold War or World War II. Instead, the diesel-electric vessel belonged to the Indian Navy and was only the fifth one built.
India was involved in its own big battle against Pakistan in 1971 and it was here that Kursura earned her stripes. Playing a key role in patrol missions, the 1969 sub was instructed to sink any Pakistani warships. After her time in the field, Kursura was used for training and goodwill visits but is now on public display.
Horse Sand Fort
The 200-foot Horse Sand Fort took 15 years and over 424,000 GBP to build. Bear in mind that this was during the mid-1800s, as a fort of this calibre would likely cost five times more these days. Located off Portsmouth in England, armour plating surrounds its two stories, with a basement buried below.
Although the prospect of a French invasion had long passed by the time Horse Sand Fort was completed in 1880, the structure was used during World War II and concrete blocks were added to the submarine as a form of defense. According to a report from 2020, those stationed there were chosen for their inability to swim to avoid escape.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
14,000 people work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington. It's the largest naval shore facility in the Pacific Northwest. Impressively, the shipyard served a purpose in both World War I and II as it was established in 1891. In the first war, it constructed sea vessels. During the second, the shipyard focused on repairing the US fleet.
Two years before PSNS was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992, the Navy authorized the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program (SRP) at the site. The program’s mission was to recycle nuclear-powered ships and decades later the shipyard remains the only US facility certified to do so.
The original intention for Johnston Atoll was rather different from what the site eventually became. Located in the North Pacific Ocean, 750 nautical miles from Hawaii, the atoll was initially set to be a bird sanctuary. That all changed when the US military took control in 1934.
For the next seven decades, the island was used for several nuclear testing operations and was passed back and forth between the Air Force, the Navy, the Defence Nuclear Agency, and others. During World War II, Johnston Atoll was used as a refueling base for submarines, but the entire base was closed in 2007.
Soviet Submarine K-77
The K-77 is one of the Soviet’s Juliett-class submarines which were built to follow US Navy aircraft carrier battle groups in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. However, the Russians began withdrawing the Julietts from active service in 1988 and by 1991, K-77 had also been de-commissioned.
In later years, the wartime sub took on a second career as a restaurant in Helsinki after being leased to a Finnish businessman named Jari Komulainen. When the eatery was not as successful as Komulainen hoped, he thrice tried to get rid of the K-77 — including twice on eBay. Awkwardly, no bids were received.
A Japanese Type-A Midget Submarine
During World War II, the Japanese designed submarines to assume the role of the command ships for submarine squadrons — they were known as the Type-A Cruiser submarines. When withdrawing from Kiska Island in 1943, the Japanese blew up their own subs using internal explosions. Talk about harakiri.
Although most of the submarines were destroyed, the skeletons of some can still be found. They serve as a reminder of a bygone era for those visiting the scene in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. It is not uncommon to see visitors trying to squeeze themselves into the metal to sit in the hot seat.
Bunker Alsou or Object 221
The only underground structure in Ukraine larger than Bunker Alsou is the 42-mile subway in the capital of Kyiv. Constructed in 1997, the bunker is located within the Crimean Mishen Mountains and was used to protect the Black Sea command from a potential nuclear attack by the US.
Also known by the long-winded title “Protected Command Point Black Sea Fleet”, the bunker was given the shorter codename of Object 221. Featuring four levels and tunnels that stretch longer than six miles, the bunker was also used as a command center for the Soviet military in case of emergency.
The consistent sea breeze in Liepāja has earned the Latvian city the nickname of “city where the wind is born.” But during the 1960s, the whimsically titled area was strewn with military personnel as a third of the city was occupied by a Soviet naval base.
The first Russian training school of submarine navigation was founded in Liepāja in 1906, and six decades later the 14th Submarine Squadron of the USSR Baltic Fleet found itself stationed there with 16 submarines. That’s what we call “thinking ahead!”
Saint-Nazaire Submarine Base, France
Like many areas, the Germans took over the French territory of Saint-Nazaire in June 1940. Submarine operations began almost immediately in the commune’s harbor which, until World War II, had been one of the largest on the Atlantic coast of France.
A submarine pen was built to house the Nazi’s U-boats, the first of which arrived in September 1940. The base itself measured a surface of 420,000 square feet and dozens of anti-aircraft weaponry, machine guns, and mortars could be found on the roof. After being destroyed by the Allies, the site was turned into a museum.
Maunsell Sea Forts, United Kingdom
During the Second World War, a series of fortified towers were established along the coast of England to protect the United Kingdom from enemy forces. Located in the estuaries of the Thames and Mersey, the towers were operated by both the army and the Navy. They got their name from their designer, Guy Maunsell.
Although decommissioned in the late 1950s, the towers became a popular tool for pirate radio stations in the ‘60s which used their transmitters to broadcast without a license. Decades later (and long after the pirate radio craze had died) a station emerged from the Red Sand fort to pay tribute to its 1960s counterparts.
Situated just outside the city of Tromsø is the secret naval base which the Norwegian Navy built during the Cold War. Costing 4 billion Kroner to construct, the base was carved into a mountain and featured a submarine dry dock that can accommodate 6 subs simultaneously.
A tragic accident occurred in 2005 when a Special Boat Service commander lost his life during a scuba exercise inside the base. This could have contributed to the shutdown and sale by the Norwegian government four years later. It was bought well below the asking price by the Olasvern Group as a maintenance base for oil platform rigs.