Raketa: Soviet Union Abandoned “River Rockets”


this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years (Image: baseguruwebsite/Instagram; the Raleta graveyard)

Not to be confused with the watch brand of the same name manufactured for the Red Army and Soviet Navy from 1961, the Raketas – or Rockets – were the first commercially-produced hydrofoil riverboats built in the Soviet Union. And like other mechanical leviathans to come out of Russia during the Cold War era, these rusting relics are truly impressive to behold.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-2 (Image: baseguru)

When first launched in 1957, the retro riverboats offered an exciting glimpse into the future. The mere fact that they remained in production until the early 1970s reflects the popularity of the design, as various other awe-inspiring Soviet creations of the age, like the iconic Caspian Sea Monster (or KM) and the Lun-class ekranoplan ground-effect vehicles, barely made it beyond the experimental phase.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-3 (Image: baseguru)

The brainchild of Soviet design legend Rostislav Alexeyev, whose contribution to high-speed shipbuilding has been compared to the pioneering work of Andrei Tupolev in aviation and Sergei Korolev in space flight, Raketa boats’ use of hydrofoil technology allowed their hulls to be lifted out the water to reduce drag and increase speed.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-4 (Image: baseguru)

The prototype model, Raketa-1, was built at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 – who of the oldest and most storied shipbuilders of the Soviet Union – in the Sormovsky District of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth largest city. The vessel was launched into the Volga River on August 25, 1957 on a 260 mile journey that took seven hours.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-5 (Image: baseguru)

Later Raketa designs, like the Meteor and Kometa, were larger and faster, majestic icons that skimmed the surface of the Volga. So popular were the Raketas that the term remains part of the Russian vernacular, applied to other riverboat and hydrofoil designs long after Alexeyev’s famous invention has ceased to be manufactured.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-6 (Image: baseguru)

Scribol writes that a Raketa in good condition could set you back an impressive $ 300,000 – $ 400,000. But like many other fine examples of Soviet engineering, the social and political upheaval that gripped the collapsing USSR as the Cold War came to a close consigned many impressive vessels to the scrapyard, or, in this case, a boneyard of abandoned Raketas.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-7 (Image: baseguru)

Urban explorer and photographer baseguru came upon these forlorn hulks that once plied the mighty Volga and other Soviet river systems, quietly corroding away amid a collection of abandoned ships and neglected buildings. Among the wrecks were several mothballed Meteors, whose appearance evoked a sense of retro-futuristic nostalgia for the post-war decades.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-8 (Image: baseguru)

These examples of what Messy Nessy terms “river rockets” are understood to be located near the closed town of Zaozyorsk in Murmansk Oblast, a cluster of rundown modernist structures and decaying shipyards criss-crossed by rusting railway tracks, which was built back in 1958 as a northern base for Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet.

this-graveyard-contains-the-abandoned-raketas-or-rockets-that-once-plied-the-volga-and-other-great-rivers-of-the-soviet-union-during-the-cold-war-years-9 (Image: baseguruwebsite/Instagram; other abandoned vessels)

Raketas were exported relatively widely to serve on the river systems of Europe and some remain in operational condition today. But like many other impressive vessels mothballed in rundown shipyards across Russia, it seems fair to say that these old Soviet river rockets have likely graced the waters for the final time.

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