“Now we are land seamen,” joke USSR Navy Captain Anatoliy Stasenok and USSR Navy Commander Andrei Stasenok. “We don’t see any sea!”
In 1983 Anatoliy Stasenok, second-in-command of the 33rd division of the 1st Red Banner Order Nuclear Submarines Fleet of the Arctic Navy, returned from his last trek. The year after his son Andrei entered the Navy service in the same division.
The photo album of the Stasenoks is both history and geography. The Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea.
“Here is the Komsomolets submarine, which sank on April 7, 1989 together with 42 members of the crew,” sighs deeply Anatoliy Kuzmich while showing the photo. “I used to visit the submarine, the only one able to dive up to one thousand metres below the sea surface. And here is the grave of Gennadiy Lyachin in St. Petersburg. He was the commander of the notorious Kursk submarine. Alas, nobody is insured against a tragedy”.
For 25 years out of 39 Anatoliy Stasenok spent in the Navy’s nuclear submarine service. Twice his submarines had nuclear reactor emergencies, which the crew managed to liquidate.
“If one man had panicked, the explosion would have been unavoidable,” the mariner is convinced. “You won’t find a more smoothly co-operating crew than that of a submarine. In 1975 I took part in the first long ocean trek of a nuclear submarine. We had to last for 90 days. But on the 15th day the carbonic acid absorption unit broke. Everybody felt overwhelming drowsiness, weakness, experienced lack of appetite, some even fainted. To emerge would be to fail the task. The commander decided to fix the unit while underwater. And we managed to do it though the CO2 content in the air hit 3 percent”.
The father and son were also stationed in the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole. Their stories about the kingdom of eternal frost are supplemented with hard photos, which show noses of submarines, barely visible due to ice embacles. Among the family relics there is a bottle of sea water from the Pole and a letter Andrei sent home from the board of polar station SP-30.
“A submarine can emerge from under ice barely thicker than one metre without breaking the hull. At times we had to spend three-four days looking for an opening to emerge,” Andrei shows a ice echo radar tape with 25-metre underwater icebergs.
“Once we hit an underwater iceberg 70 metres below the surface,” says Anatoliy Kuzmich. “The hydroplane was torn away. However, even with that damage the crew performed all the tasks we were given”.
“I was stationed on Murmanskiy Komsomolets submarine,” Andrei recalls his first subglacial trek back in 1986. “We emerged in a pack-ice area. Here comes a polar bear, right up to the submarine. The cook brought him a sack of fish and fed him some 20 kilograms. Then we tossed him a tin of condensed milk after making several holes in it. He took the desert in one hand, swatted it with another and started licking the candy. After the snack the animal wandered off and fell asleep. A couple of hours later he once again came up to the sub apparently waiting for the feast to continue. The cook went to fetch another sack of fish. This funny event nearly ended with a tragedy. We started submerging, but did not see a huge block of ice up behind. It went away, the sub tilted to the stern. In one minute the sub dived 270 metres below the surface! A couple of minutes more and we could have been crushed. After assessing the situation, the crew managed to stop the fall and prevent the tragedy. We didn’t even have time to get scared,” I was told. They have 2 orders and 27 medals between them. It is understandable the father had to live during the cold war and test new nuclear submarines. On his son’s chest I saw a medal “For Service in Battle” and could help asking what he had done to deserve such an award in peacetime.
“During a war everybody has one target — destroy the enemy. In peacetime one has to be able to detect the enemy first and learn its intentions. We tracked down a British submarine in the Atlantic and ‘tailed’ it for 24 days. Whatever the British did, they couldn’t lose us and had to return back to their base, where we accompanied them and got awarded for this success”.
For many years Stasenok father and son have not been in a submarine, have not breathed artificial air and do not draw curved charts, which go upwards for a month and a half and then go down for the same period of time. But still they know precisely what submarines and where they are stationed, keep an eye on construction of new submarines, feel genuine joy when new submarines are floated out and believe the Undersea Fleet Day one of their great family holidays.
by Tamara Zenkovskaya
More than half a century Stasenok-junior and his father spent in the undersea fleet service