Crewmen who survived a Soviet nuclear submarine disaster complained that the doomed vessel lacked the proper rescue equipment, which an officer blamed for the deaths of 38 of the 42 victims.

Sixty-nine sailors were aboard the nuclear submarine in the Norwegian Sea April 7 when a fire broke out that sailors could not extinguish. The nuclear generator on board was turned off and the vessel sank after surfacing briefly to allow the crew to escape.Lt. Cmdr. Sergei Dvorov said Friday that only four men perished because of the blaze itself. "To put it plainly the rest died because rescue devices were imperfect," he told the Sotsialisticheskaya Industria newspaper.

The survivors painted a picture of lifeboats that could not be budged from moorings on the sophisticated "Mike class" attack submarine and a lack of asbestos masks, fireproof suits, proper life rafts and life jackets.

"The instructions for the life raft in my section said that 10 persons will stay on the raft and 10 will hold the side of the raft," said Alexander Kozhanov, a warrant officer. "I took my spot outside the raft in the water.

"What kind of blasphemy is this that a man has got orders in advance that his place is overboard," Kozhanov said. "So we `bathed,' holding the side of the raft for an hour and a half in icy water.

"Before that it took us 40 minutes to get the life raft off its mooring blocks because it weighed 440 pounds. Also, not a single sailor managed to get on the life jacket as hard as they tried."

The wave of criticism reported in the press followed what appeared to be an obligatory series of genuine stories of valor, including the bravery of the sailor who turned off the atomic reactor on the vessel, which sank in 4,000 feet of water 300 miles off the coast of Norway.

Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), the defense newspaper, also carried reports of horror and bravery aboard the submarine when crewmen discovered they lacked asbestos clothing but fought the fire for five hours anyway.

"Sailors had to rush to sections in which the fire broke out in their usual cotton clothes and in rubber masks," Krasnaya Zvezda said. "One of the masks melted on the face of Lt. Cmdr. Nikolay Volkov, who died later.

Compounding the horror of the morning on the frigid seas, the aircraft that arrived to help only had equipment to save downed pilots and the sailors did not know how to use the rescue devices dropped to them, the paper said.

Yuri Anisimov, a warrant officer, said the submarine lacked special tablets that can make survivors in the water insensitive to cold for several hours.

"Why not supply sailors with them?" Anisimov said. "Are these tablets more expensive than human lives?" Anisimov said he managed to stay afloat because he kept thinking of his three children.

The breakdowns continued on land. Sotsialisticheskaya Industria said that the buses taking relatives of the survivors to an airport stalled on the road several times and family members had to be transferred to a truck.

"Someone then shouted to an officer: `If your buses are falling to pieces while on the road, small wonder what happened to the submarine,"' the newspaper said.