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Bigger is Better: 7 Insane Soviet Projects

The Soviet Union decided the best way to show up the West was through building the biggest version of any given object. The following are just seven of the largest examples.

1. Magnitogorsk


In Magnitogorsk, fishermen often sell their catch from the polluted Ural River to market rather than consume it themselves (Image Credit: Gerd Ludwig Photography)

Whether it was for guns, tanks, ships, railroads, or bridges, Stalin, whose name means "Man of Steel," knew he needed one thing above all else for his 1920s Soviet Union: steel. He also knew that to the east, in the southern Ural Mountains, there was a unique geologic oddity named Magnitka - an entire mountain of pure iron ore, the key ingredient for steel. In 1929, Stalin decreed that a city, "Magnitogorsk" [wiki] (see what he did there?), be built from scratch around said mountain to mine the ore and turn it into steel.

So began one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken. With expertise provided by Communist sympathizer from the West, a ready-made city for 450,000 inhabitants was constructed in about five years. Of course, Stalin saved on labor costs by having the heavy lifting done by political prisoners. In fact, 30,000 people died in the effort. Steel production began in 1934, but shortly after World War II the iron ore ran out and the city's economy collapsed.

2. The Baltic - White Sea Canal


Political prisoners from the gulags digging for the canal.
(Image Credit: Memorial Italia)


Though forced, workers at the canal was serenaded by an orchestra.
(Image Credit: Alexander Rodchenko [Wikipedia])

Ever the optimist, this time Stalin wanted connect the Baltic Sea, with its key port of Leningrad, to the White Sea's port of Archangelsk. The idea was that he could move the Soviet navy back and forth. So Stalin had more political prisoners sent to work on the canal - there was a seemingly endless supply from the gulags - and after a few brutal years it was completed in 1933. Disease, poor nutrition, and brutal conditions took a huge toll, though, with as many as 250,000 of the slave laborers dead by the end of it.


Portions of canal is too shallow for anything larger than a small barge.
(Image Credit: Thomasz Kizny, Forced Labor Camps)

The icing on the cake? The canal was completely useless when finished. For most of its length it was too shallow to admit anything larger than a small barge. Later a book of propaganda detailing the biographies of "heroic" workers and engineers, intended for distribution in capitalist countries, had to be recalled because in the downtime Stalin had ordered all the main characters shot.

3. The World's Largest Hydrofoil


Ekranoplan [wiki], named the Caspian Sea Monster by CIA analysts
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The world's largest hydrofoil wasn't really a hydrofoil at all. In fact, it was one of a series of unique machines called "ground effect" vehicles [wiki] built by the Soviet Union beginning in the 1960s.

The Soviets had a monopoly on this fascinating technology, relying on a little-known principle of physics - the "ground effect" - in which a dense cushion of air hugging the ground can provide more lift to a vehicle than air at higher altitudes.

Hovering about 3 - 12 feet above the ground, these vehicles resemble Luke Skywalker's levitating craft from Star Wars, and far more fuel-efficient than airplanes, helicopters, hydrofoil, or cars. And at 58 feet, the largest of these, the "Caspian Sea Monster" was given its distinctive name after CIA analyst saw it at the Caspian port of Baku in photos taken by spy satellites. The craft traveled at speeds of up to 240 mph, had a swiveling nose cone for cargo loading, and could carry up to as many as 150 passengers.

4. Avant-garde Design for a Funkier Parliament


Tatlin's Monument (Image Credit: Plates from the A.V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, in Cooke, C. et al (1990) Architectural Drawings of the Russian Avant-Garde [Wikipedia])

Designed by Vladimir Tatlin (1885 - 1953) in 1920, the Monument to the Third International [wiki] was a gigantic spiraling iron structure intended to house the new Soviet government. Taller than the Eiffel Tower (and the yet-to-be-constructed Empire State Building) at more than 1,300 feet, this curving, funnel-shaped structure was meant to encase three successively smaller assembly areas rotating on industrial bearings at different speeds, faster or slower according to their importance.

Rotating once a year in the lowest level was a giant cube for delegates attending the Communist International from all over the world. A smaller pyramid, rotating once a month above it, would house the Communist Party's executives. The third level - a sphere rotating once daily - would house communications technology to spread propaganda, including a telegraph office, radio station, and movie screen. Unfortunately the giant structure would have required more iron than the entire Soviet Union produced in a year, and was never built.

5. A Palace for the People

In 1931, Joseph Stalin ordered that the largest Orthodox Christian cathedral in the world - 335 feet high, the product of 44 years of backbreaking labor by Russian peasants - be dynamited so he could build an enormous "Palace of the Soviets [wiki]," to celebrate the Communist Party.


Palace of the Soviets, a 1934 concept by Iofan, Schuko, and Gelreikh

Stalin wished to replace the church with a new structure taller than the Empire State Building, and capped with a gilded statue of Lenin taller than the Statue of Liberty, but the "Man of Steel's" mad scheme never came to fruition.

Although the first phase was completed (the dynamiting was the easy bit), the construction never took place as necessary resources were diverted to fighting World War II. After Stalin died, his successor - Nikita Khrushchev - ordered a large swimming pool built where the cathedral had stood. Old women who remembered the original cathedral could be seen standing at the edge of the swimming pool, praying to forgotten icons.

Recently Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's autocratic mayor, tried to make up for Stalin's mess by ordering the construction of a tacky reproduction of the original cathedral using precast concrete.

6. The World's Largest Hydrogen Bomb


Tsar Bomba-type casing on display.

Truth is always stranger than fiction, so it's no wonder that Stanley Kubrick's absurd comedy Dr. Strangelove is actually premised on fact. The strange truth here was that Nikita Khrushchev and company had actually been plotting to build a "doomsday" device. The plan called for a large cargo ship anchored off the Soviet Union's east coast to be loaded with hundreds of hydrogen bombs. If at any point the radiation detectors aboard the ship measured a certain amount of atmospheric radiation, indicating that the Soviet Union had been attacked, the bombs would detonate.


Mushroom cloud of the Tsar Bomba test detonation.

Soviet scientists persuaded Khrushchev to drop this mad scheme. He did, however, order the construction of the world's largest nuclear bomb in 1961, the so-called "Tsar Bomba [wiki]" ("King of Bombs"), which weighed in at about 100 megatons - equivalent to 100 million tons of TNT. The largest nuclear test involved a smaller version of "Tsar Bomba" that measured somewhere between 50 and 57 megatons - the Soviets weren't sure themselves.

7. World's Largest Icebreaker, the Yamal

And it's the world's only nuclear-powered icebreaker at that! Confronted with the world's largest piece of ice - the Arctic Ocean - the Soviet had no intention of letting nature stand in their way. So, they came up with a simple solution: the world's largest icebreakers.

The first included the Lenin and Arktika class of nuclear-powered icebreakers, introduced in 1959 and 1975, respectively. The arktika icebreakers had not one but two nuclear reactors, powering 75,000-horsepower engines.


Yamal, world's largest icebreaker (Image Credit: ikzm-d.de)

None compare with the newest vessel, however - the Yamal [wiki] - launched in 1993. Also powered by two nuclear reactors, it measures in at 490 feet long, displacing 23,000 tons of water, with a crew of 150 and an armored steel hull 4.8 centimeters thick. Recently re-outfitted for tourist operations, it has 50 luxury cabins, a library, lounge, theater, bar, volleyball court, gymnasium, heated indoor swimming pool, and saunas. A helicopter is stationed on the ship to conduct reconnaissance of ice formations.

From mental_floss' book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!


The ground-effect vehicle and the ice breaker don't really seem all that insane. The Soviets had far more insane projects...

For instance, their version of our space shuttle which was a close duplicate in every way except it lacked any sort of life-support systems whatsoever. They took it off and landed it on remote control anyway to show it off, before giving up on the whole concept. (Turns out they might have been right in the long run, considering how much trouble our shuttles have and how reliable Russian Soyuz capsules are!)

BTW, the US space shuttle can be piloted on remote control also. I don't think NASA's ever used this capability.
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Oh and don't forget this little beauty:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_A-40

A flying tank!! And they actually got it to work, by removing most of the tank's armor and ammo.
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Other more successful examples of BIG soviet realisations:

The An-225 Mryia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_An-225
"currently the world's largest flying airplane"

Antonov An-124 Ruslan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_An-124
" is the largest aircraft ever mass produced (until production of the Airbus A380 starts)"
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How about the plan they had to reverse the direction the Volga river flow that surly qualifies as a completely insane idea
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kevin -

You're right. I didn't know we made the Chicago river run backwards. Weird.

http://www.apwa.net/About/Awards/TopTenCentury/chica.htm

And, of course, there's always wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_river
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Re: the Yamal icebreaker

"and an armored steel hull 4.8 centimeters thick."

That sounds mighty thin. According to the Wikipedia article linked:

"The Yamal is equipped with a double hull. The outer hull is 48 mm thick where ice is met and 25 mm elsewhere and has a polymer coating to reduce friction."

Big difference. If that's verbatim from the book, that's quite an error.
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Scratch that. Damn. It's Monday and I must be more tired than I though. Millimeters, not meters. Now I feel quite a fool. It still sounds very thin for some reason.
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The nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal has never been the world's only nuke icebreaker; it's one of six Arktika class ships, though several of them are inactive. It's pretty dumb to say "none compare" when the previous four have pretty much the same design. The last Arktika class ship built (completed in 2006 after a 13-year stall for funding) is even bigger.

Besides that, even the Arktikas aren't the only nuke icebreakers; there are also two Russian river icebreakers, and a monster nuke-powered cargo ship with an icebreaking bow.

And I'm not sure the Arctic is the world's largest piece of ice; I'd guess the Antarctic sheet is bigger.
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Russia/CCCP posses superior simplicity and the greatest environment of people. Their projects are simple yet effective and at low cost which makes their weapons the best. But Stalin's reign was terrible...I would have worked on economical conditions instead and not execute 20 million Russians which included the best scientists, doctors, architects, etc in the USSR and those who would surely shorten the Second World War by maybe a year to my opinion.
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Soviet technology would also be more advanced. It's true. If Stalin would not kill so many of his own people, the USSR would still stand today. It was the greatest Empire that ever stood and its collapse was what shook the century.
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But do you know who much taller than the empire state building the palace of the soviets was going to be? I really need to know I'm doing a project on it in school, man I live in Moscow I should know these things!
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The 57 megaton Tsar Bomba was the same as the 100 megaton, but with some lead substituted for the uranium slug to keep the yield down. Its considered a very conservative design and very efficient (97%) for a 3 stage thermonuclear device, so it was guaranteed to work.
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hey what about the Chinese plan of 500,000 people jumping to send a tidal wave to japan?

oh yeah... it would destroy china too LOL
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What I heard about the Tsar Bomb (from wikipedia?) was that A) the name was probably given by the CIA since it's doubtful the commies would have named anything 'Tsar' and B) that they decreased the power of the bomb since a 100 Megaton would have thrown so much fallout into the atmosphere that it would have circled the northern hemisphere for quite some time and made relations with the other nations in the northern hemisphere even more tense than they already were.
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