Peredelkino, outside of
. Photo shows the
Church of the Transfiguration. Moscow
It’s c-o-l-d! All the cold weather we’ve been having in New England has caused me to think back when I was really cold…. and
comes to mind. Russia
These guys were very athletic, and good at cross-country, and we flew across the fields like greased lightning. One guy carried a flask of pepper vodka in his backpack, and when we’d stop, he’d offer everyone a swig.
Fortunately, the outing did not include any exotic Soviet female spies, a la Bond, nor even any of the grungy kind of real KGB agents who usually tailed us.
But I remember it being really COLD.
I was assigned as Naval Attaché in
1981-83. Most of our work
consisted of traveling to other cities where we could observe the Moscow in all its glory. As a naval officer, I led a group of
two naval officers and one Marine officer and some of us were on the road
nearly all the time. USSR
Most of our trips consisted of catching the midnight train from Leningrad Station en route
Leningrad (now ). We would arrive in that far northern
city about 8 a.m. and a
driver would pick us up and take us to the American Consulate. We kept a small four-wheel drive
vehicle, a Soviet Niva, at the Consulate for our business. As soon as we dropped our bags at the
Consulate, we would get in the Niva and start our travel around the city. St. Petersburg
Our job was to observe as much as possible of the construction of new warships at the many shipyards in and around
. We would also observe what ships were
in the harbor, and in the Leningrad ,
including barges and ships, which traveled back and forth in the Soviet canal
system. Neva River
Some of the time, we would park our Niva and get out and walk, often in heavy snow, to get the best look at a particular intelligence target.
The KGB knew when we had filed to travel to
, and they generally followed us
wherever we went. Sometimes
they followed us closely; sometimes they kept their distance. Leningrad
Usually our routine included a walk along Lieutenant Schmidt’s Embankment of the
Neva, where we could see a lot of ships tied up all along
the embankment. The
KGB assigned a crew of “goons” to keep an eye on us there. The head goon was a fellow we called
“Fats.” He had followed
generations of western attachés.
Slogging in that snow along Schmidt’s Bank was a cold exercise.
Sometimes we would be driving to view various shipyards, and stop for a lunch break at Harry’s Pie Shop. Its real name, in typical Soviet fashion, was probably “Lunch Shop No. 237” or such. Harry’s was a place that turned out really greasy pirozhki, little pastries, stuffed with shredded cabbage or meat. And if it were meat, you didn’t want to know any more about the meat. They served these little pies with glasses of hot tea, loaded with sugar. Or, you could walk outside the shop and find a little man with a portable tank, selling kvass or beer. Kvass is a lightly-fermented drink made from stale bread. The beer was watery and fairly tasteless. If you decided to buy a glass of kvass or beer, it would set you back about ten cents
, and you got to drink out of
the same glass the previous customer had used. U.S.
So, out of the cold we would come, to stand at the high tables in Harry’s, and eat a couple of pastries and drink sugary tea. Then, back we would go to the snowy world of
Russians wear marvelous fur hats, which are quite comfortable in cold weather. However, there is an ethic that they observe: Real men don’t put the flaps down until it is “Minus dvadsat gradusov” or –20° C., which equates to –4° F. Russians say that only drunks and students put the flaps down in warmer temperatures.
And now we live on Cape Ann in
.Winter swimmer in the
Submarines. Life in a diesel submarine on patrol could be very cold. We were assigned to patrol a barrier up off
. This was peacetime (1961-62) but we were always
practicing for the time when the whole Soviet submarine force would pour out of
Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and other northern ports and head for the coast of the United
We would patrol at best sonar listening depth—maybe 150 feet—for several hours, and then, when it was dark, we’d come to periscope depth, and if the coast was clear, we’d put up our snorkel and light off our diesel engines and charge the batteries.
North Atlantic it
is usually pretty rough, so the snorkel valve would open and shut as the waves
hit it. If the valve would
stay shut for a minute or so, the engine, which required a lot of air to
operate, would suck the air out of the submarine, and particularly out of your
ears, until it got to such a vacuum that it would shut down the
engines. (That may explain why I wear hearing aids today. That and the
Difficulty charging meant that we tried to economize on that battery. In addition to proceeding at about three knots, we kept the heaters on only the bare minimum, and we didn’t use water except to drink. It was really cold in that boat. No showers, no shaving.
Soon it would come time to surface, and we’d race up to the bridge and set the watch. In those waters, the heavy waves were usually crashing over the bridge, so you wore full immersion suits, and you strapped yourself on to your station so a wave wouldn’t wash you overboard. There were just two lookouts and the officer of the deck up there, and it could be cold, and wet.
We made a long snorkel transit one time during the winter, from waters off
Iceland to Massachusetts Bay.
It was near zero degrees F. when we surfaced and motored on the surface toward ,
and ice was forming all over our decks. I
remember watching the fishermen I saw, out in this miserable weather, glad that
I didn’t have their job. Shortly afterward, it was time to go back out to sea,
and when we dove, we couldn’t submerge! All that ice on our decks made us
very buoyant. Soon,
though, several tons of it broke loose, and we submerged, sinking like a
rock! We recovered, but it
was scary. Salem, MA
We’d been at sea for a couple of months, and since we were entering port the next day, and we’d eaten all the potatoes stored in the officers’ shower, we could take showers. Even though the shower was only 30 seconds long, it was hot and wonderful!
[Portions of the foregoing were originally published in my Blog of May 9th, 2011.]
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