Russian Submarines: An Illustrated View

Author: Wayne Frey
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
Year: 2006
Reviewer: Neal Stevens

Until very recently there were so few books with pictures of Russian submarines that I was familiar with most of the images on sight. That has changed with the demise of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Internet; the World Wide Web has relegated dusty library research to an earlier era along with dependence on snail mail and life without cell phones. Now, if a naval enthusiast wishes to study pictures of Russian subs, he simply does a Google image search. You've seen the stock images that litter the web but nothing like that will prepare you for the motherload of detailed and highly sensitive images contained in Wayne Frey's Russian Submarines. This 125-page book is filled with close-ups of Akulas, Alfas, and Typhoons, at sea, under construction, and from unique--and previously classified--angles and situations. This book would have created an international stir just a decade past.

The book is divided into four sections, each section containing pictures and information about the three most intriguing and deadly ex-Soviet subs: Akula, Alfa, and the massive dreadnought Typhoon. A fourth section covers the little-known Beluga, an experimental sub the author terms the "Russian Albacore". Some of the shots clearly look like they were taken from under a coat or worker's jacket. Many of the pictures merit examination with a magnifying glass. The author's sources have captured some of the Russian Navy's deepest secrets.

Russia's current fast attack workhorse is the  Project 971 (Щука-Б), which NATO terms Akula. Once a frontline soldier in the underseas arms race, Akula is now showing its age. Performance and stealth have been exceeded by the US's new Virginia class multi-mission sub.

Akula creeper motor
and housing door



Close view of the shutter doors on the outer hull, or the "easy case", as the Russians call it.

The Alfa project 705 (Лира) class  attack sub, also known in the Soviet Navy as the Golden Fish, was a titanium-hulled,  deep-diving speed demon that startled the US Navy into designing the Mark 48 ADCAP torpedo. With a double hull that was streamlined for maximum performance, the Alfa is as much a work of art as a war machine.


The Typhoon project 941 class ballistic missile submarine was the one true threat to the free world in the Cold War. As the largest submarine in the world, the Typhoon was propelled through the deep by two nuclear powerplants and was armed with twenty SS-N-20 missiles that would lay a continent to waste with 10 MIRV nuclear warheads apiece.

Yes, you're looking at a close-up
of one of the screws on the Leviathan
of the Deep.



Sensor pod and instrument
on Beluga.

The Beluga class sub is based in Sevastopol, Ukraine and often in the once-secret city Balaclava. The Beluga was used primarily to research performance profiles and the polymer emulsion system unique to Soviet subs.

Many know the Typhoon as the star of the Tom Clancy novel and film The Hunt for Red October. Pictures include several interior shots of the tape drive computer system and the helm station. With a dash of irony, one picture shows a Typhoon beneath a cover designed to foil overhead intelligence satellites.

This book is short on text and academic information, but that can be found in Norman Polmar volumes aplenty. Russian Submarines is a photo essay, with  a concise caption that accompanies each photo. The images are authentic and arresting--am I really looking at a Russkie sailor with a fishing pole on the bridge of an Akula? How did Frey get these pictures? Before beginning this book review, I had a quiet dinner with the author. We discussed the state of the Russian Navy and he revealed some of the channels and methods by which he gained the photographs in this book. Frey has made several trips to Russian ports and knows the security protocol, and ways to circumvent it. The author has cultivated deep ties with the Russian submarine community. He counts as friends many current and ex-Russian submariners. These relationships have afforded Frey with access to ex-Soviet subs like few other Westerners, outside of the CIA.

For the Dangerous Waters player or Cold War buff, Russian Submarines is a big ammo title that will bolster your library. It makes an excellent companion piece to Polmar's Cold War Submarines. These are pictures that, in the '80s, a spy would have killed for, and be killed for. It's like finding a classified dossier in your mailbox one morning.



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