Oceans: Soviet Sub Penetrates Sydney Harbor!

By Don Walsh

Refusing to believe the civilians' claims, the captain made frantic calls up the naval chain of command. Finally, he was advised that his ship would be decommissioned in December 1994. Then after some modifications it would become a tourist attraction at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Sydney.

Foxtrot-540 was towed into Sydney Harbor 31 August, 1995. With 90% of her systems still operational, the submarine's engines could run, the batteries could be charged and most all of the electrical, air, and hydraulic systems were fully functioning. Two of her officers (chief engineer and sonar/weapons officer) came along to continue decommissioning activities and to instruct the museum on how to take care of their boat. Of course the weapons and certain (but apparently not all) classified items had been removed. Understandably, various intelligence services were quite interested in visiting the submarine immediately upon arrival. After some "delays" they returned some of the classified items to the Russians.

The submarine is operated by an Australian company on a three-year lease-purchase contract from the Russian government's Rosvoorouzhenie armaments sales agency. Since the sub as delivered was "government property," the question of who would look after it arose. Because it was not practical for the Russian Navy to have a captain on board, a responsible person was found in the person of Hilton Farquhar, formerly an enlisted Sailor in the Australian Navy. Presented with a commission to be the submarine's commander and the ceremonial sword used by Russian submarine captains, he lives mostly on board in the commanding officer's stateroom. Farquhar is assisted fulltime by retired Captain, 3rd Rank, Ilya Kalinin who was the submarine's engineering officer for eight years.

"Commander" Farquhar took me on a most interesting tour of Foxtrot-540. For this former U.S. Navy submariner the boat is impressive from several points of view. While the basic design of this triple-screw, diesel-electric patrol submarine is nearly 40 years old, it was capable of diving to 950 feet and could carry nuclear-tipped torpedoes. The streamlined hull permitted submerged speeds as high as 16.5 knots for a brief period of time. Two-tier battery compartments forward and aft gave the submarine prolonged submerged endurance. The large diameter interior was quite spacious permitting easy access for maintenance and cleaning. On the negative side, it appeared that little care had been given to serious sound silencing and machinery isolation. It was inherently a noisy boat.

Over the past three years, Foxtrot-540 has attracted nearly 700,000 visitors (paying about $10 a ticket) at the splendid Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbor, a major tourism site in Sydney. It is berthed alongside the retired Australian Navy destroyer Vampire (D-11). One wonders if either ship detected the other during their long service careers.

Foxtrot-540 soon will make another patrol and harbor penetration. In early May she departs Sydney in a heavy-lift ship for Long Beach, California. She will become part of the Queen Mary tourism complex in June 1998, and will remain there for at least five years. It is somewhat ironic that a Russian warship moves in just as the U.S. Navy leaves the Long Beach area, ending more than 70 years there.

What this submarine may not have done in life, she has done in retirement by penetrating harbors of two former Cold War adversaries. However, in her present operational mode the last thing she wants to be is stealthy . . . that doesn't sell tickets. As the well-advertised Foxtrot-540 moves from port to port, she is truly a post-Cold War case of beating swords into timeshares.

Meanwhile, back in Sydney, there will be another submarine. The soon-to-be-retired Royal Australian Navy submarine Onslow (SS-60) will take Foxtrot-540's place alongside Vampire (D-11). She's a year older than the 540 boat so the antiquity of this museum display will be maintained.


Dr. Walsh is neither marine archaeologist nor treasure hunter. He has spent the past four decades involved with design, manufacture, and operation of submersible systems. A retired naval officer (submarines) he was designated U.S. Navy deep submersible pilot #1 in the early 1970s. During 2001, in addition to Atlantic Sands, hehas participated in diving operations at the battleship Bismarck (16,000 feet) and RMS Titanic (12,500 feet). On 20 July 2001, he had lunch on board the Titanic, when the Mir 2 landed on the bridge so the sub crew could eat.

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