When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Weird

Have you seen Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo? (1982)

It’s an amazingly odd movie, with a suitably off-the-wall performance by Klaus Kinski. Apparently, Herzog had originally cast Jason Robards in the lead role, but he got sick, and Kinski took the part. Herzog and Kinski had clashed severely during the production of Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Kinski was so unpopular with the rest of the cast that one other actor offered to kill him. [wik] The story is of a rubber plantation baron who decides that the best way to access rich farmlands in the Amazon basin is to move a steamship there – by dragging a 320-ton ship over a mountain range. Hannibal would have been shocked.

It is not a funny movie. It’s Herzog.

Iran has a problem. They have a submarine that they bought from the Russians in the 1990s. The submarine is at one shipyard and the Iranians want it at another, so – to keep it from submerging permanently – they are taking it overland.

It’s not very far, and – at least – the road is fairly flat. But when you are hauling something that weighs 2,325 tons and that is 240 feet long and 40 feet around, even a small hill is a lot to deal with. The sub is just about 10 times heavier than the ship in Fitzcarraldo. (By the way, Herzog insisted that they actually haul a ship, and 3 people were badly injured during filming)

The sub is out of the water and is currently installed on a custom-built trailer. I’m not a heavy moving expert, but the trailer looks pretty good; it has massive I-beam ‘legs’ (and lots of them) to keep it from tipping over, and giant beds of wheels to distribute the weight. The design appears to be that if the road-bed cannot support the sub and carrier, it will sink down and the legs will support it upright.

If you’re familiar with failblog and the fail crane you know that road surfaces can be surprisingly squishy at times, and that if you have a large object, it will cheerfully fall over if you give it the chance. I hate to say this, but the first thing I thought was “it was smart of the Russians to build that great big flange on the top, so it won’t roll far.” Just kidding, just kidding.

Here’s a link to the full video on [twitter]

The Iranians want submarines because they are an implicit threat to US naval ships in the Persian Gulf, which the US treats as though they were territorial waters. I imagine that there will be a small army of covert operatives along the sub’s path, just waiting to help an accident happen. I suppose it can’t be sunk, but an accidental fire would sure do a lot of damage (it’s a diesel sub, not nuclear). Presumably the Iranians are trying to move it to the other base, where it can be guarded better, because if they tried to make it launch-ready where it currently resides, it would be subject to a huge panoply of accidents.

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Speaking of “panoply of accidents” the Kuznetsov is scheduled to be ready for sea trials in 2022. Apparently it will be repainted as part of the refit; now is your chance to be a defense contractor: [nn]

The shipyard has posted information on the order to paint the aircraft carrier’s external surface by September 1, 2022. More than 250 million rubles ($3.4 million) will be allocated. The bidding period will last through May 20.

One of my high school wargaming group graduated and went on to command a Harpoon missile battery on the CVN Theodore Roosevelt – the “Coronavirus Carrier” (he has long since moved on) one of the things he told us is that the punishment detail on a nuclear aircraft carrier is to paint the damn thing. According to him, depending on the size of the disciplinary pool, it takes 12-14 years to go from the front of the carrier to the stern. That has to be an incredibly wretched way to spend time.

The next Russian aircraft carrier (AKA: Russia’s last aircraft carrier) is slated to be nuclear. The Russian navy has not got a good history of naval nuclear engineering. The US had a rare gem in the form of Hyman Rickover, who insisted that the nuclear navy be large enough and redundant enough to be able to build organizational expertise and history. The US nuclear navy has been remarkably free of reactor meltdowns, because of Rickover’s extremely annoying “engineering, first and always” attitude – the man was incapable of bending, let alone compromising.


  1. Hardz says

    Last time I was in the area the last thing we were concerned with was submarines. In most parts of the world your biggest threat to a surface unit is going to be a submarine, in the Persian Gulf region it will always be the least of your concerns as the average depth plus the usual water level temperatures are not in favor of submarine warfare (this is negated if of course you wish to send your subs elsewhere). Iran had a decent stock of SSM’s back in the 1990’s and I presume has at least the same or better now and it also had a decent amount of ASM’s. Oddly enough as far as ship painting goes, in Australia painting of the ship is not for punitive purposes but a normal part of the ships routine. You (US) Americans go about everything the wrong way. :P

  2. Some Old Programmer says

    You (US) Americans go about everything the wrong way.

    Yes, that’s our brand. And with have a fuckton of half-wits that are proud of it.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    If the sub can’t move on its own, why not just collect all the pontoons and tugboats necessary and float it from Bostanu to Bandar Abbas?

  4. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#4:
    If the sub can’t move on its own, why not just collect all the pontoons and tugboats necessary and float it from Bostanu to Bandar Abbas?

    I suspect they are worried that it might experience a “pontoon failure” like the Kuznetsov did.

  5. says

    It’s not even a metric fuckton!

    Are you kidding!? We use Freedom Units based on the length of our former king’s penis body parts. As freedom loving people are wont to do!

  6. says

    It would be fun to dress up as Fitzcarraldo and do some photos in front of the sub. Except I don’t want to be anywhere near it when it accidentally explodes. Have you noticed that Iran appears to be having an explosion pandemic?

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Hardz
    Interestingly enough, the Iranians have been cranking out a bunch of midget subs to deal with the Gulf depth problem. Ghadirs.

    I have no idea if they would be effective but the Iranians seem determined. At least it looks like you would not have to do a three-point turn to reverse course as you might have to with that KIlo.

  8. komarov says

    “”” I hate to say this, but the first thing I thought was “it was smart of the Russians to build that great big flange on the top, so it won’t roll far.”””

    Unless the “flange” were to snap off when confronted with the total momentum of 2000+ tons of steel that would really prefer to keep going, as per Newton. There’s an upside, should that happen: The sub will be much more streamlined once the hole’s been patched. It’ll need less paint, too, which is nice considering that being put on the punishment painting detail of a submarine must be even worse than on an oversized aircraft carrier.

    “””Have you noticed that Iran appears to be having an explosion pandemic?”””

    Oh, indeed. But some of the stuff that went up would have been a war-crime to explode on purpose, so we can safely conclude that those were just normal, every-day explosions, not some foreign country.
    But how well are sub reactors built? Presumably there is some allowance in the design to make sure the reactor doesn’t leak radioactive goop should the sub be forcibly decomissioned. On the other hand, “let the deep ocean handle it” is the sort of thing military men would come up with (excluding Rickover perhaps). If the latter design philosophy was applied, then an exploding submarine on land could turn out very badly indeed. Basically a little Chernobyl. That’s probably something people would like to avoid, including any foreign powers in the area that have been speculated about as being involved in all those explosions.

  9. Hardz says

    @ 8 jrkrideau
    I’m decades out of date as far as current military tech goes it seems. Those little subs would be perfect for holding merchant vessels to ransom in the Straight of Hormuz. Any reasonably modern navy with basic ASW capability would have little trouble finding and dealing with them though. Very interesting though, thanks.

  10. lorn says

    IDK, seems to me you could tack some sheet metal over any open ends and openings and float the unit to where you want it. Any minor leaks are handled by a couple of portable pumps. Then again, I don’t understand why one location, or the road, can be secured from sabotage but not the present location.

    Also, it isn’t as if the probable route is not known, Or that the technology of how to sabotage the route is unknown. IEDs and series charges are something of a high art in the present middle east.

    A series of timed charges would be how I see it at first blush. Platter charges on the water side to flatten those tires and get the mass in motion. Followed by a couple of large charges opposite to tip it over and, with a little luck, get it rolling sideways all the way to the sea. The charges could be set in place weeks in advance. Just falling off the cradle might doom the hull.

    A quick and dirty alternative would be a half-dozen EFPs taking it broadside. Large EFPs should have no problem going through the hull and making a mess. Well designed and built, but possibly too large to emplace easily, it isn’t impossible they could go clean through both sides. That sort of violence, multiplied by six, could very well do damage that is too extensive to cost effectively fix.

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