dvantages over their nuclear counterparts as well, being more compact, which allows them to operate in shallow water, approach close to shore, transport diver saboteurs, lie down on the sea floor, and lay mines in narrow channels. Modern life-support systems allow them to remain submerged for up to five days, and to remain at sea for up to a month and a half.
The Novorossiysk is a sort of “world record holder” for silent propulsion, according to his captain. His sub is regularly followed by an “honorary escort” of NATO corvettes and frigates, but as soon as it dives and performs a deviation maneuver, the NATO ships fall off like so many barnacles. During one mission in the Mediterranean, a US destroyer searched for the Novorossiysk in vain for three days straight, before the sub surfaced nearby.
“There is a belief that during this kind of ‘hide and seek’, one cannot speak loudly, but that’s not the case,” Stanavov emphasized. “Conversations from inside the thick-walled rubberized hull can’t be picked up even by the adversary’s most sensitive sonar systems. The noise from numerous onboard systems can be heard, however; therefore, the crew turns them off, leaving only the essential systems.”
Living quarters aboard the Novorossiysk are compact, with cabin meeting rooms comparable in size to the interior of an SUV. Here, officers hold meetings, eat meals, etc. One bulkhead is decorated with a large picture of St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, signed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Another wall features a plaque with the names of the sub’s first crew, a folded, framed St. Andrew’s Flag, and an Orthodox icon. Sleeping quarters are reminiscent of those inside a rail car, except shorter and narrower. This is where off-duty sailors spend the majority of their time, so as not to trip up others in the corridors.
According to Captain Tabachny, on submarines everyone understands their heightened responsibilities. Iron subordination to command, mutual respect and readiness to help one’s comrades are the three pillars holding things together. Those who do not understand this do not last on the sub for long.
“Every sailor knows that I am the commander and that my actions are not up for discussion,” Tabachny said. “A sailor should not even think about why this or that order has to be carried out. If I say turn the valve, it must be turned. Democracy has no place on a submarine. Still, we manage to maintain humane and friendly relations. We do not have separate gangways and galleys. Everything is shared, like in a big family.”
29-year-old Petty Officer I Class Nikolai Sonin came to the Novorossiysk from the marines and has no regrets. “On the ship, I’m responsible for the torpedoes. The food here is exotic; there’s more work, less physical preparation. I don’t even notice the confined spaces; I just don’t have the time,” he admitted. The vessel has two cooks, and the menu is indeed exotic, including 50 grams of red wine and red caviar daily while at sea.
Tabachny admits that while he isn’t really superstitious, he does prefer to go to sea in an old wool sweater of his. Furthermore, he doesn’t like going out to sea on Mondays. The latter is easy to explain and comes down to the fact that sailors are less focused following the weekend.
“Soon, the Novorossiysk will cast away its mooring lines and quietly depart for another mission. Despite difficult work conditions, submariners are cheerful people who sincerely love their work. Jokes and smiles on faces here shouldn’t be perceived as something trivial. Any experienced sailor knows that being in a sub without a portion of good humor is like being without a breath of air – one cannot live without it,” Stanavov concluded.