Speaker by Various Artists


Apocalypse on the count of three: inside a Soviet missile silo

by Clinton Logan

Sergeant Alexander of the 46th Rocket Division buckles me into the commander's chair and wrenches the four-point harness down to the point of discomfort. Two massive blast doors seal the control chamber shut 12 storeys below the Ukraine countryside, protecting us from nuclear attack.

The atmosphere down here feels artificial and far removed from the earth's surface 40 metres above. A stuffy mixture of metal and electronics permeates the sterile, cramped space of the command centre. An impressive array of lights and switches — the pinnacle of '70s Soviet technology — blankets the curved wall of the 3.3 metre wide room. All controls have been kept operational to preserve the fidelity of a launch. 

It's so quiet you can hear yourself breathe.

Papers are removed from a locked safe, and codes compared with the commands appearing on our screens. They match. The launch directive from Moscow has been authenticated.

Alexander takes a seat in the second officer's chair and barks orders in a mixture of Russian and English.

KLYUCH [key] IN!


ОДИН... ДВА... 

(If I hesitate at this stage, the Sergeant's Makarov pistol will quickly relieve me of my duty, and a backup officer will take my place.)


The harsh, shrill sound of an alarm buzzer ricochets about the confines of the steel room. A semicircular array of missile-shaped status lights starts blinking ominously.

At six seconds, 10 120-ton silo hatches swing open, and three seconds later 10 SS-24 "SCALPEL" thermonuclear missiles ignite their rocket engines.

Alexander grips my chair with both hands and violently shakes it to simulate the kinetics of the 100 ton missile launching next to us. At the same time, nine other SS-24s rocket away from their respective silos. 

The Sergeant turns, looks me directly in the eye, and in an accent as thick as tar...

ten. vockits.
twinty. tree. minutes.

He grins.

A strike from this facility would've hit the United States with ten missiles, each carrying 10 nuclear warheads. A forest of 100 mushroom clouds would've blanketed the east coast with the combined power of 423 Hiroshimas. An area of 12,000 square miles would've been vaporised along with every living thing in it. 

At the height of the Cold War, the USSR managed 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles with nine sites just like this one.

Today there are around 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, each targeting an adversary. Officers from America, Russia, Britain, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea are on duty 24/7, waiting for that single coded command, waiting to push that small grey button on the count of three.

"But I’m good at war. I’ve had a lot of wars of my own. I’m really good at war. I love war, in a certain way, but only when we win." — Donald Trump


Clinton Logan is a New Zealander who decided three years ago that "it was time to recalibrate my relationship with the world" and has since ventured forth from his home in New York State to explore, photograph and write about the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and, currently, the former Soviet Union. His last post recorded a visit to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The words and pictures in this post are adapted with permission from the personal Facebook account where he records his journeys.

The main control room. One commander (seated in the foreground) and two officers were always ready to launch 10 inter-continental missiles within two minutes of receiving instructions from Moscow. Photo: Clinton Logan

The Pervomaisk missile complex consisted of 10 dispersed silos positioned 10-15 km from each other. In combat mode this 120-ton silo cover could be opened in 6-8 seconds. After firing the cover would be closed again so the enemy could not distinguish the empty silos from the ones that still contained unfired weapons. Photo: Clinton Logan

My finger on the button that hard resets the United States. Pushing this small grey button in 1977 would have ended the world as we know it. Photo: Clinton Logan

Missile silos were heavily guarded with a layered system of seismic and microwave intrusion sensors, mine fields, electric fences and machine gun bunkers. Photo: Clinton Logan

Blast doors that seal the underground control centre from nuclear attack. Photo: Clinton Logan

Living compartment, 12 stories underground for the reserve crew. These officers were always ready to change with the crew in the command centre if they were unable to perform the duty of launching the missiles. The cramped quarters contained three beds, toilet, food supplies, kitchen hotplate, coffee machine, dishes, technical papers, weapons, television, radioset and gas masks. The cupboards also included 5 bottles of vodka and a Makarov pistol. Although drinking was strictly prohibited, the handgun and alcohol were provided so that after the entire world had been destroyed by a nuclear exchange the officers could sit back, get drunk, and make one final decision ... Photo: Clinton Logan

Main control panel. One commander and two officers were always ready to launch 10 inter-continental missiles, within two minutes of receiving instructions from Moscow. Photo: Clinton Logan

The SS-18 "Satan", measuring 3 metres in diameter and 34 metre long, is the largest ballistic missile in existence. The SS-18 can deliver a 770 kiloton nuclear payload (52 times the strength of Hiroshima) to a target up to 16,000km away. This year Russia plans to start replacing the SS-18 with the RS-28 Sarmat. The RS-28 will be capable of delivering a 50-megaton charge, the equivalent of 3,300 Hiroshimas. That's enough destructive force to eradicate an area the size of Texas or France in one blast. "Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious." — Dr. Strangelove Photo: Clinton Logan

Coolant room. One of many machine rooms that support the autonomous operation of the underground Unified Command Post (UCP). In times of war the UCP could function independently from the outside world for up to 45 days. Photo: Clinton Logan

The 150m underground corridor that leads down to the massive blast doors that protect the self-contained 12-storey Unified Command Post (UCP). Photo: Clinton Logan