June 29, 2015

Fotiy Krylov (СБ-135 Фотий Крылов) - A Six Hour Tour?

Sleeve Insignia of the
Russian Pacific Fleet
I signed up for MarineTraffic.com's notification service to tell me when ships of (my) interest come and go from Port. I'd sort of forgotten I'd done so, as I hadn't received a notice from any of my alerts lately. AIS transponders on military ships get turned off when they're being stealthy; but a ship that
wears more than one hat might choose not turn off their transponder, else it would be suspicious. One such ship, that I strongly believe serves multiple roles, is the Fotiy Krylov (СБ-135 Фотий Крылов IMO:8613346 MMSI:273441150). The Fotiy Krylov is the twin of the Nikolay Chiker (СБ-131 Николай Чикер IMO:8613334 MMSI:273543910), but serves the Pacific fleet, sailing out of the home of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet,Vladivostok (Владивосто́к) from what roughly translates to Golden Horn Bay, or Zolotoy Rog Bay (Золотой Рог) .

You may remember that the Nikolai Chiker was zig-zagging around the east coast of the US and Caribbean last year, in tight patterns, executing what I can only presume was a search for something, or survey of something uncharted (read: DoD underwater sensors).

Fotiy Krylov (СБ-135 Фотий Крылов)
Photo Credit: Unknown | Location: Port of Limassol
Both ships have very unique capabilities; underwater cameras, specialized gear, and a moon pool allowing un-monitored underwater operations. The ships are officially ocean going tugs, but I believe they are used for much more.

The Krylov left Vladivostok, executed some very interesting maneuvers at sea, and returned to harbour back at Vladivostok... all in 6 hours. From the pattern, what do you think they were doing?  That's more than a casual shake-down or idle cruise.

It looks to me like they were steering in large sweeping patterns listening for something, found something, and returned to the military side of the port.  Whatever it was, they didn't have an exact location of it, but circled in when they found what they were looking for.

The question is, what did they retrieve?

Я бы очень хотел недавний снимок корабля Фотий Крылов в золотой рог!

From my previous post, I aggregated as much open source information as I could, and compiled the following specifications for the Fotiy Krylov (and Nikolay Chiker, its twin).  These are the largest and strongest ocean going tugs in the world.

Baklazhan (Project 5757) Class Tug

Ship Name No. IMO MSSI Fleet Launched Commissioned
Nicolay Chiker SB-131 8613334 273458540 Northern Fleet 1988-04-19 1989-04-12
Fotiy Krylov SB-135 8613346 273441150 Pacific Fleet 1988-09-09 1989-06-29

Built by Hollming Oy, Rauma, Finland
Keel Laid 1987

Standard Displacement 7417 tonnes (7299.9 (uk) t) (8175.8 t (short)) (7417000 kg)
Full Load 8128 tonnes (7999.6 (uk) t) (8959.6 t (short)) (8128000 kg)
overall: 99.0 m
overall: 19.5 m (64.0 ft)
hull: 7.1 m (23.3 ft)
top speed: 18 kt (33.3 km/h) (20.7 mph)
Standard Range 11000 n miles (20372.0 km) (12658.6 miles) at 16 kt (29.6 km/h) (18.4 mph)
Machinery: 4 Wärtsilä Vasa 12V32 diesels; 24,160 hp(m) (17.76 MW); 2 shafts; controllable-pitch propellers; bow thruster; 1,360 hp(m) (1 MW)
Firepower: None
Complement: 51 plus 20 spare berths
Radars: 2 Nyada MR-212/201 Vaygach-U (NATO: Palm Frond) navigation radars; I-band
Cost: $50M ea

"Both ships constructed by Hollming, Rauma, Finland. Laid down in 1987 and entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1989. Under ownership of Russian company Sovfracht, operated by Greek company Tsavliris during the 1990s before returning to Russian naval service in about 2006. Both tugs are probably still available for commercial use. Equipped with three water cannons." -Jane's Fighting Ships

"Built by Hollming (Rauma), Helsinki and completed 12 April 1989. A second of class A Krylov SB 135 completed 30 June 1989 but was sold illegally to Greece in March 1993 and for a short time renamed Tsavliris Giant. These are the largest salvage tugs in the world with a 250 ton bollard pull on each of two towing winches with a third 60 ton winch. The crew includes two divers and there are two decompression chambers. Four firefighting foam/water guns are fitted on the bridge/mast. Designed to operate in extreme temperatures. SB 131 is in the Northern Fleet." -Jane's Fighting Ships

"Rescue tug "Nikoli Chiker" was built in 1989 in Finland, commissioned by the Navy of the USSR. It was intended to be used primarily for towing large ships, ie, aircraft carriers, and conduct rescue operations. The construction of these two vessels, this one and the class leader the "Foty Krilov", cost the navy $ 50 million.
Immediately after construction during the tests, type "Fory Krylov" was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the vessel which can create the most powerful traction when towing. Power plant is 25, 000 horsepower. These characteristics, as well as design features allow it to tow vessels of up to 250 thousand tons at a rough sea at eight points at a speed of four knots. Performance still unrivaled.
Although by designation it is just a tug boat, even the most powerful in the world, this hides its other capabilities. This is a rescue complex. Installed on it is diving equipment which allows for complex deep-water work. It is equipped with a pressure chamber, dry suits, underwater cameras, the means to blur the ground, underwater welding and cutting, metal detectors. In addition to all tug capable apply for ships in distress flame retardant liquid, using their own equipment to extinguish fires. Helipad supports all-weather 24-hour operation of the helicopter with refueling. Fully equipped operating room and three wards." -Warfare.ru, Wikimapia

"The moored lifting power of these tugs is 230 tons. Each is equipped with diving equipment for depths of up to 60 meters (nearly 197 feet). The tugs are also equipped with two 8-ton capacity cranes. They are also equipped with water cannon.
Additional equipment includes a 3-ton capacity crane; two 32-ton salvage winches; two 10-ton salvage winches; two 150-ton towing winches; one 60-ton towing winch; two 400-ton cable/chain stoppers; a 250-ton bollard pull and a 441-pound transfer system for dry cargo and personnel.
HULL: These ships have a burly profile. The raked bow has a large-radius nose rimmed with a bulwark, a forecastle extending well aft, tall superstructure topped by a bridge with 360-deg visibility, paired stacks on the after corners of the superstructure and a low-freeboard stern with curved counter. The helicopter platform is forward of the bridge and can accept a medium helicopter.
The ships began service in the Soviet navy. Both were named in 1991. FOTIY KRYLOV was leased to a Greek commercial company in 1992 and renamed M/V GIANT, then renamed again as TSAVLIRIS GIANT. NICOLAY CHIKER also was leased to a Greek company. In 1995, both were returned for further service in the Russian navy." -MilitaryPeriscope.com

Lloyd's Register - Fairplay's Internet Ships Register
Jane's Fighting Ships

Last recorded position:

June 21, 2015

SAC Reflex Action (1957-1965) Weapons Storage Areas

On October 1st 1957 the Strategic Air Command commenced an overseas alert operation, called Reflex Action, with twenty B-47 nuclear-capable bombers deployed to Sidi Slimane Air Base in Morocco.   This number would greatly expand over the course of the operation and include many more bases. Reflex operations would rotate bomber and refueling aircraft and crews to overseas bases where they would be disbursed away from CONUS, and be within striking distance of their targets.  The Reflex mission ended on March 31st 1965. (ref. Alert Operations and the Strategic Air Command, 1957-1991 - Diane Publishing Co.)

It shouldn't be surprising that the Army Corps of Engineers had designed and built Weapons Storage Areas along with the massive runways and hangers at all of the SAC air bases in the 1950s.  By all indications these WSAs were designed to handle and store open-pit detonators and nuclear bombs, to equip B-47s with a strike payload while on 90 day Reflex operations, on rotation from their home base.


Here we have the SAC Weapons Storage Area at the former Torrejon Air Base in Spain (40.4846, -3.4175)

Here we have the SAC Weapons Storage Area at the former Zaragoza Air Base in Spain (41.6482, -1.0316)

Here we have the former SAC Moron Air Base in Spain, also where B-47 Medium Bombers were deployed on Reflex missions.  Does the Weapons Storage area look at all familiar in design and layout yet?  (37.1742, -5.5947)


The former Ben Guerir Air Base Weapons Storage Area seems to have been expanded upon since the SAC moved out my the Moroccan Air Force, but the bones of the original (32.0988, -7.8969)

Sidi Slimane Air Base Weapons Storage Area (34.2151, -6.0419)

Nouasseur Air Base Weapons Storage Area (33.3659, -7.5530)


Goose Air Base (now CFB Goose Bay) - What do the above six US Army Corps of Engineers-designed and built USAF SAC bomber facilities have with Goose Air Base?  Goose had both Canadian forces and Canadian built buildings (at the NE side) and American facilities built on the South side.  Look at the area around where the push-pin is, and tell me what you see.  Isn't it remarkably similar in design to the nuclear Weapons Storage Areas at the above six bases?  The ring road? The earth covered magazines?  The little rectangular buildings?  Goose Air Base, now CFB Goose Bay, had the facilities to store nuclear bombs, and a squadron of B-47 Medium Bombers on loan from their bombing wing in the US, on rotation, every 90 days.  Why would you position B-47 nuclear-capable bombers, in the exact same type of facility that was built overseas (six times+) and not store nuclear bombs with them?  Clearly Goose Air Base was a forward operating location for retaliatory or first-strike against the USSR which had nuclear bombs on site. (53.2958, -60.3770)

CFB Cold Lake poses an interesting problem because it is still operation, has conventional munitions on site, and has been developed and built up by the RCAF.  It was certainly a refuelling base for KC-97 mid-air refuelling planes for Reflex, and there was (is) a Molehole at the South end of the air base where SAC KC-97 crews would be stationed on alert ready to fly.  But, did the base house any nuclear bombs during that time?  There exists an undeground facility at CFB Cold Lake to store equipment and potentially planes, but I have no evidence to suggest any of the weapons storage sites that are visible today, or underground, would have been built or used for nuclear bombs.  None of the usual buildings or layout indicating a presence of nuclear munitions are present at CFB Cold Lake (54.4021, -110.2794)


Here we have the former SAC Sondrestrom Air Base in Greenland that was supposed to be a KC-97 refuelling base, and not a repository for nuclear weapons.  As far as I can see that's correct; there are no signs of nuclear weapons storage buildings or infrastructure to support those nuclear weapons.  Given the harsh environment, I suspect no nuclear weapons were stored at Sondrestrom Air Base. (67.0108, -50.7089)


Kindley Air Force Base in Bermuda was an SAC refuelling facility; other than four earth covered magazines that are overgrown with vegetation, I don't see anything that could resemble a (nuclear) Weapons Storage Area.  It looks like it was only a refuelling facility too. (32.3644, -64.6808)


RAF Fairford, England was host to SAC bombers as part of Reflex, and the Weapons Storage Area is slightly different, but the plant building and igloos are clearly visible (51.6792, -1.7649)

RAF Greenham Common, England, being of British design, not American, does not have the same WSA configuration as the American-built SAC sites, but clearly has hardened double fenced storage that would have been available for nuclear weapons storage.  B-47s were rotated in to the base, so it all ties together. Similar to the Canadian CFB Cold Lake, it was developed after Reflex, so it's hard to see what it would have looked like from present satellite photos (51.3774, -1.3024)

RAF Brize Norton, England was host to American SAC activity for Reflex Action, but I'm not 100% sure this munitions facility was used for nuclear bombs because of the differences in building design. (51.7408, -1.5657)

RAF Upper Heyford, England was also host to USAF SAC bombers, and has at least two Weapons STorage Areas (the other is NW of the point below, on the other side of the old runway. (51.9353, -1.2332)

So what, you ask?  Those are just the locations I pulled up out of one report (below), many more USAF air bases worldwide had Weapons Storage Facilities.  I was focusing on those which are documented as participating with the Reflex Action, since it fell smack in the middle of my are of interest with Goose Bay Air Base (1950-1971).  I'm not a PhD of architectural history, but with some common sense, I think you can see from the visuals above, you have a good sample of what air bases constructed by the Royal Canadian Air Force (CFB Cold Lake), the Royal Air Force (Brit), and the US Army Corps of Engineers look like.  My point is, they are all very different in design, and you can see from their design, what their mission was.  Large aprons or hard stands with nearby fuel farms (such as Sondrestrom AB in Greenland or Goose AB) show where refuelling planes would wait on alert.  Earth covered magazines in different configurations were arranged for safety from explosions that might happen at fuel dumps and were always located away from airplanes or other buildings in case of an explosion.  American-designed SAC Weapons Storage Areas for nuclear bombs were constructed as you see them above.  B-47 bombers were on alert at those same bases for the express purpose of dropping nuclear bombs on targets in the Soviet Union; either with a pre-emptive strike, or retaliatory strike.  The history of US Nuclear Weapons in Canada is incomplete, but I hope additional information will become declassified and reveal what the true history is of Canada's involvement with the Cold War.

Reflex seemed appropriate, no?

June 20, 2015

Biggs AFB Weapons Storage Area - Radiological Contamination Found (June/July 2013)

While researching what makes a Weapons Storage Area architecturally unique, I came across a news item about an earth covered magazine at Fort Bliss, at the Biggs Army Airfield (formerly Biggs Air Force Base), which was found to have low level radiological contamination.  From the official report, we know the radiation is Alpha and Beta particles, not Gamma (so it's not good, but it could be worse.)  

News articles from the US Army, Fort Bliss Bugle, CBS News, and RT.com all report about the same story, each with their own spin.  The media coverage missed some important questions.  Why was there radioactive paint on the floor, and why this hadn't this been noticed before?  Where else, nationally or internationally, could this have happened? 

"The Snake Pit" - Biggs Army Airfield

This is the report made by the Air Force after their inspection of the site. Please note that they wrote on page one they manage "numerous" similar sites, which is why they are sharing their experience, even though they have no authority of the US Army base.  "Numerous" makes sense to me, but they haven't disclosed that in any other document that I can find.  In fact, I can't find any evidence of more than Fort Bliss having nuclear contamination from legacy "open pit" weapons of the 1950s.

There's a lot in that letter to absorb, but with careful eye, a few bits of information can be teased out, such as; I can try and request, from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a list of what nuclear weapons were stored at Goose Air Base between 1950 and 1971.  The DTRA is the department with that sort of information; it's their job to know.  I'm not very confident that they will provide me with that information, but I can ask.  While I'd like the information myself, even if they deny me, I can pass on the location of the information to the appropriate people at CFB Goose Bay and DND for follow-up, if they're interested in pursuing it.

Circling back to my question, how did the floor paint get radioactive?  Here's how, with an explanation from the Stony Brook Weapons Storage Area

...At most of the Atomic Energy Commission storage sites, the nuclear capsules were stored in bank type vaults with two combination locks.  These vaults were located either in separate parts of the Plant or in special buildings in the Plant area.  In order to enter these storage areas, two persons had to be present at all times.  Personnel would remove the “bird cages” from their storage compartments in the "A" Structures and deliver them under tight security to the "C" Structure.   The "C" Structure on Stony Brook provided equipment and space to perform all required maintenance operations on the nuclear capsules used in the earlier nuclear weapons, such as the MK6, MK15, MK17, MK21 and MK36.  These early weapons also used polonium-beryllium initiators to generate neutrons during the implosion sequence. Polonium-210 has a half-life of approximately 138 days, so the initiators had to be replaced periodically.  These devices were maintained according to precise quality control methods. Between 1954 and 1957 the initiators were replaced with a newer type which were sealed and did not require routine replacement.
The nuclear capsule maintenance activities were then conducted in the “C” Structures on Stony Brook.  Before opening the bird cage, the specialists put on protective gear - a rubberized apron, respirator and latex gloves. The inspection and maintenance steps followed were:  
1.       The bird cage would be depressurized and the top removed.
2.       A handling tool was then screwed into the base of the capsule support.
3.       Capsule was removed from the bird cage and placed on a support ring.
4.       The capsule and support were visually inspected and cleaned using
             Kimwipes and trichlor.
5.       After the inspection and cleaning, the capsule was returned to the bird cage.
6.       A bag of dessicant was placed on top of the support, and the top was replaced.
7.       The bird cage was then pressurized, and re-sealed.

After the maintenance, cleaning and testing of the capsules was completed, the capsules would then be transported back to the "A" Structure. All personnel were checked for traces of radiation after this process had been completed.
Another aspect of the 332X0's duties and responsibilities involved dealing with "spalling".  As the nuclear capsules aged and went through temperature cycles, they would begin to "spall".  Spalling was a physical reaction that resulted in small particles popping off the surface of the capsule, sometimes as far as two feet.  If the capsule was spalling, a transparent plastic covering with two hand holds was placed over it.  Even with this precaution, radioactive particles would end up on the table or floor.  The cleanup of these particles was accomplished by wiping the area, or sometimes even painting the affected area.
By the late 1950s, most of the capsules were enclosed in a cadmium "can", and therefore did not require a complete inspection, just verification of the pressurization within the bird cage.
By about 1960, the nuclear capsules had been phased out of the stockpile and the requirement for maintenance activities at the "C" Structure was terminated.  This phase-out was occasioned by the increased stockpiling of the sealed-pit thermonuclear weapons, such as the MK28, the MK15 Mod 2, and others.
Inspection and cleaning of the "pit" areas of the weapons were done in the Mechanical Bay (M-Bay) using latex gloves, a flashlight, a mirror, Kimwipes and trichlor.  A visual inspection was conducted first with the flashlight and mirror by looking through the IFI (In-flight Insertion) tube.  The pit was then wiped down with Kimwipes and trichlor.  The most difficult part of this procedure was trying to reach the back part of the pit.  With the MK6, the entire arm of the specialist was inside the pit, and the specialist's head was pressed against the High Explosive (HE) sphere and a detonator.  In the MK15, MK17, MK21 and MK36, it was necessary to reach through the IFI tube and clean the back of the pit using a toilet brush wrapped with a Kimwipe.
While the precise dates vary regarding when and what types of nuclear weapons would have been stored and maintained at each Weapons Storage Areas around the globe, the procedures being performed on those nuclear weapons would have been the same for any weapon of the "open pit" type.  In the case of the Biggs AFB WSA, according to the July 2013 report, between 1955 and 1959 open pit nuclear bombs were stored and maintained there, and other nuclear weapons continued to be stored there until 1966.  It's quite possible some of those weapons would have used polonium-beryllium initiators discussed in the Sandy Brook WSA write up above; with a halflife of 138 days (under four months), the maintenance on the open pit bombs must have been taking place every few months on a rotating schedule.  I don't know how many detonators would have been stored in their C Structures at Biggs, but if we grab a round number of 100, every 3 months, for 4 years... that's 1600 cleanings of the pit, and a lot of contaminated Kimwipes buried in the back yard.

My point is, the radioactive contamination that was "discovered" at Biggs in 2013 is a result of standard operating procedures in handling and maintaining the nuclear weapons of the 1950s that the DoD doesn't discuss.  It was not contamination from an "accident" that was a one-off.  I suspect that the Florida veteran who brought up the issue didn't do so quietly, and the US Army was forced to talk about nuclear weapons that existed there, or did so accidentally before talking to another department.  I'm going to further speculate that not only is this not a surprise to the DoD, it's likely known at a Secret or above level commonly, in the right circles.  The ramification of this information getting out is that world governments will know everywhere there was a US Strategic Air Command base in the 1950s, there were nuclear weapons (regardless if the host country allowed them), and every base  that had nuclear weapons with open pits (all of them in the 1950s), was left with painted over radioactive dust in concrete igloos that to this day emit Alpha particles and Beta particles.  Also, the report above shows the Alpha particles are stopped by the paint, but, the Beta radiation goes right through the paint, losing only a little power.

Didn't the United States Strategic Air Command build a Weapons Storage Area at Goose Air Base around the same time?

Why yes, yes they did.

June 09, 2015

Primus Model 2069 - Swedish post-1963 Camp Stove

Every year the City of Ottawa has a put-your-junk-out-on-the-curb day, where everyone in the city is encouraged to put their crap out, like a free garage sale, for everyone to drive by, and pick up.  It's a great way to get rid of that exercise bike you haven't been using and couldn't be bothered to sell on Kijiji!

I don't usually see anything that catches my eye, but I did this year! I recognized this as a camp stove, but didn't know its specifics until I got home; even now the details are a little unclear.  It is a Primus model 2069, made in Sweden, after 1963 (as the US Patent and Trade Office shows the patent was submitted in August of 1963).

Does this look like a 50 year old piece of camping gear to you?  To me, the peeling paint and bit of surface rust doesn't look too bad, and it's smaller than my Coleman, so it's prefect for getting bumped around in the back of the Suburban.  The catch is, the rubber hose which attached to the long-gone 1960s-era portable propane tank is cracking, and the end doesn't fit any modern propane tank, disposable or refillable.  So, I've got to build a custom hose before I can take it camping.

According to the patent, the burners in the Primus 2069 were designed to be used with propane over 45psi, and up to 105psi-275psi, without a regulator, to ensure an intense flame that would overcome harsh weather.  It turns out, a low pressure (standard BBQ) regulator normally puts out 0-20psi, a high pressure regulator can go up to 60psi, and unregulated flow would be...
According to the publication NFPA58, a tank with 20 pounds of gas at 70°F would have a pressure of 145 psi, at 90°F would have 180 psi, at 105°F would have 235 psi, and at 130°F would have 315 psi.
So, can this 1960s-era stove be run directly off an unregulated 20 pound or 5 pound tank of BBQ propane?  It seems so!  However, a high pressure (60psi) regulator might give more consistent results, so that's not a bad idea either.


June 07, 2015

Weapon Storage Area - Educational Material

I'm not exactly sure what course this is in reference to, but these three videos are a fantastic look at how operations are performed at Weapon Storage Areas.  The Goose Air Base WSA, constructed in 1954, is a predecessor to the design used in the modern WSAs what you see in these videos, and similarities are striking.

June 03, 2015

Mid-Canada Line Locations

"Site Up North"
by Raymond Fortin
I was very happy to receive in the mail a response to an Access To Information and Privacy request I logged a month ago, and in it was a scan of an old document which clearly documents the coordinates of every single Mid-Canada Line (MCL) site that ever was.  I updated my old 2013 blog post, and here it is!

When satellite imagery wasn't clear, the sites are just placed where they are "supposed" to be.  Assume these are all rounded numbers, and not precise locations.

If you've got pictures of these locations, from the past or present, I'd love to see them!

Special thanks to:
Original Document
  • Archie Gray, Bell Canada I&M Rep, 1957-58
  • Bernard Gervais de L'association des Aviateurs et Pilotes de Brousse du Québec
  • The Department of National Defence Access To Information Act and Privacy team
  • Larry Wilson and his dedication to his web site ( http://www.lswilson.ca/ )
  • Mike Milinkovich, Bell Canada I&M Rep, 1956-59
  • Thomas Page, Gene McManus, and the The Air Defense Radar Veterans Association 
  • (Québec) Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs (The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks)