In another life I was an imagery analyst in the military. Locked away in a bunker somewhere looking at images of all sorts from a myriad of sources. I enjoyed the stereoscopic work most of all, handling and caressing one dimensional data in a three dimensional illusion. It is an entirely convincing world – gamers understand the inclination to twist your head to look under a bridge – when there is nothing to look under. There is none of that adventure with Google Earth (regrettably) but I can easily find myself distracted by it nonetheless, taking myself on travels to places I have been, and others I have not – except in that three dimensional illusionary world. Let’s take a little journey to places that hint of that world.
I once visited New London in Connecticut, USA. Here we are up the river at a base for Los Angeles nuclear class submarines. The first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus is docked here where you can take a wander around her stainless steel spaces. Standing upright the whole time mind you! Complete with ice-cream machines – our diesel submariners would have drooled had they known this was fitted to a submarine in the 1950s! From the museum there is precious little to see up the river but from Google Earth there is plenty to have a look at. Mind you Google Earth resolution is not anything that allows us to get very excited about what we are looking at in these installations, although with all sorts of folk out there flipping satellites past, these vessels are usually covered up when they are under repair or sensitive pieces of their anatomy are out for display. The Russian sub at the top, photographed on Google Earth in its dry dock, has everything uncovered including its propeller and steering gear. (By the way that photo is an excellent example of just how much analysis can be accomplished by studying shadows. In fact it is the shadow, or a lack of certain shadow which is making me hesitate on calling the type). In this photo over New London you can see the spinning end of the sub sitting in dry dock is covered in a shroud.
Let’s flit across the globe and have a look at the Russian naval base at Murmansk. It is a sprawling affair but littered with warships and submarines as well. Unfortunately a blog format does not do the scale of the place any justice but this extract, showing six Kilo class submarines tied up alongside, gives an idea of the tour that is possible. One of the nice things about exploring these areas is that, being so far north the sunlight often throws objects into sharp relief. If the sun is shining that is! And winter sun is best, throwing long shadows over snowy ground. Interestingly snow can often throw things into relief rather than obscuring them.
While Murmansk is intriguing and of course the site for numerous tall tales and true about espionage by and against the Russians (Tom Clancey to start with) Vladivostok, home of the Russian Pacific Fleet, has much more material to explore. Interestingly, when I was prowling around there a couple of years or so back you could find any number of half sunken warship hulls, sunken submarines half laid up on beaches and other detritus of a broken Russian military. Since then it has been cleaned up though there is still plenty of stuff that has the air of being mothballed. But these days it seems there is more serious stuff tied up than there was in the immediate past, as this image shows. I want to say that three of these are Udaloy Class destroyers but I need to freshen up on my old image libraries first. The Russians did finally build some ships with nice lines and the Udaloy was one of those. How they managed to cram so many weapons on those hulls was another mystery altogether.
Mothballing is not necessarily a Russian specialty however. The USN does that far more comprehensively than just about anybody else. So keep flying your Google Earth east and find yourself in the lower reaches of the Sacramento River, just up from San Pablo Bay and opposite the foreshore of Martinez. These few ships are a selection from rows and rows of similarly aligned ships sitting in the shelter of this industrial waterway. The clarity of the image is better here, the light sharp and some idea of what shadows can do for you is also evident. But I am attracted mainly to that Iowa class battleship sitting there – it is powerful even in repose.
We could keep flying around these sorts of places, but not tonight. And you may just be too tired of ships by now in any event. If you had suggested to me when I was a young pup, sweating on my security clearance so I could start doing imagery analysis for real, I would have thought you barking mad if you suggested one day we could prowl around these places from our home computers. And in the interests of getting that clearance I would have run away from you!! (Mind you, the US military does have some interesting, and some thoroughly banal sites heavily pixellated to keep us from learning too much). Maybe we can tour those some time. Or perhaps CIA sites, courtesy of the combined resources of Wikipedia and Google Earth, might constitute the next tour! It is certainly travel with a difference.