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From Russia, With Sub

Visitors can squeeze into a Soviet submarine in Long Beach for a new Cold War perspective.

July 30, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.

Actually, they're already here. Scorpion, a Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine, has docked alongside the Queen Mary to give Americans a glimpse of the trappings of the Cold War while giving history buffs and maritime fans another reason to visit Long Beach Harbor.

"It's wonderful to have a secret tool of the Cold War open to the public," said Joseph Prevratil, president of the RMS Foundation, the nonprofit group that operates the Queen Mary and now Scorpion. "In a biblical sense, the swords have been turned into plowshares."

Commissioned in 1972 by the Soviet government during the height of the Cold War, Scorpion was used to search and track enemy forces in the Pacific. Its nuclear-tipped torpedoes could destroy a port or battle group.

The 300-foot-long sub, weighing 2,000 tons, had a 22-year career before it was decommissioned by the Russian Navy in 1994 and purchased by an Australian company that displayed it in Sydney. From there, it was towed by a semi-submersible tugboat to Long Beach. It will be on display for five years before it is returned to its Australian owners.

An estimated 700 people a day have visited the Scorpion since it opened July 14. The tour provides a comprehensive look at the sub through a short video presentation, and there's gift shop with Scorpion exhibits and paraphernalia. Visitors can spend as much time and take as many pictures as they want aboard the aging warship.

The self-guided tour, which includes a narration piped into each compartment, starts at the 65-foot forward gangway, which leads down a narrow staircase to the forward torpedo room, a favorite among kids. The narrow compartment houses six torpedo tubes and replicas of the missiles that were once loaded inside them.

"The torpedoes are my favorite 'cause they could launch six at once," said Elizabeth Bender, 7, who visited the attraction while on vacation with her family from Northern California. "I thought they would be small, but they're as big as a ladder."

From there, visitors squeeze through a porthole-style hatch to inspect the closet-sized officers' quarters and the sonar room, where sound above and below sea level was detected.

Next up is the control room. The engines, rudder and dive planes were controlled on the starboard side. A chart room and periscope, which looks out at the Long Beach Harbor container docks, sit on the port side.

In the fourth compartment, visitors can see the "top-secret room" where classified documents were kept during the Scorpion's travels. It's also the site of the galley.

As visitors descend another staircase, they enter the diesel engine room, where three 12-foot-high 2,000-horsepower engines are located. The adjacent electric motor room controlled the power and has the only freshwater shower aboard the sub. The only other shower is saltwater.

The tour culminates in the aft torpedo room. Though this room holds four torpedoes, it was also the primary living quarters for the 78 submariners who lived aboard the Scorpion.

"I like the beds best because they're big enough for me," said Alyson Shahood, 7, of Huntington Beach.

Unlike museum exhibits, just about anything aboard the rusted black sub can be touched; kids, especially, will get a kick out of pushing and pulling on all the buttons and wheels. Scorpion is still in nearly operational condition. But don't worry: Capt. Third Rank Igor Kolosov, the in-house submarine expert who served aboard another Foxtrot sub with the Soviet Navy, said all the important controls have been deactivated.

Scorpion has been popular among kids and adults alike, and it has caught the eye of Russian tourists. Those who visit Scorpion say they had never before seen a real submarine. As odd as it may seem, they say they are learning more about the Soviet fleet in the U.S. than they did in their homeland.

"It's strange because I came to America to see things like Disneyland, but now I see something from Russia," said Andrew Zaginov, 16, who visited the exhibit with a group of 50 Russian exchange students. "It's funny to see Russian words in America and to see a film with our language in America."

BE THERE

The Scorpion at the Queen Mary at 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. (562) 435-3511. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Adults, $10; seniors, military personnel and children ages 4 to 11, $9. Packages that include admission to the Queen Mary and its Titanic exhibit are also available.

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