100 years ago, 26 in October 1916, in the port of Arkhangelsk on the Bakarits site, one of the largest stories non-nuclear explosions, which according to official data claimed more than 600 lives. It was the largest man-made disaster in the history of the city.
During unloading in the port of Arkhangelsk, the steamer “Baron Drizen” exploded, arriving from England with a cargo of metals, vehicles and ammunition, including chemical weapon and explosives. At the time of the disaster, 1600 tons of cargo remained in its holds.
At noon, when the movers dispersed for lunch, there were two consecutive explosions on the steamer — first in the bow of the hold, where shells were stacked, and then, as a result of the outbreak of fire, and in the stern, where the explosives were. The explosions were so powerful that at a distance of several kilometers in the windows the windows flew out, the doors flew open, and the earth tremble was felt even in the neighboring Kholmogory - more than 60 kilometers away. At the berth, where the Baron Drizen stood, two huge craters with a diameter of more than 40 and 60 meters were formed. The blast wave destroyed the nearby Erl-of-Forfer English steamship, the 100-ton crane, the Record tugboat, the buildings of the power station and the fire station. Two more cranes and neighboring moorings were damaged.
The fire started as a result of the explosions. The wind blew fire into dozens of neighboring barracks, warehouses and other wooden buildings. In particular, the mail barge with international parcels burned to the ground. Many cargoes were destroyed, including explosives and projectiles already unloaded, which triggered new explosions that lasted for several hours. Hundreds of people were killed - Russian and foreign seamen, port workers and ordinary residents who were nearby, including women and children. The number of wounded was over a thousand.
From the report of the head of the Arkhangelsk port Veretennikov it is known that the explosions killed 650 people, 839 were injured. However, apparently, these are underestimated figures. In fact, more than a thousand people could die and go missing. Among them are the people of the 14th Arkhangelsk foot squad, Kostroma and Tambov squads, naval half-crew, students of the officer rifle school, Chesma sailors, shooters of a separate guard team, workers mobilized for the construction of the railway and port facilities, etc.
When studying the causes of the tragedy, the investigative commission concluded that it was a diversion. According to archival documents and the memoirs of eyewitnesses, the boatswain Pavel Polko was exposed to undermining the vessel, who later confessed that he had been bought off while the German agent was parking in New York.
Thus, in October, two powerful blows were delivered to Russia. So, apparently, the enemy agents 7 of October 1916, were able to destroy one of the most modern ships of the Russian fleet, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the battleship "Empress Maria". On the battleship there was an explosion of the powder cellar, followed by a series of explosions and the ship sank. Hundreds of people died and were injured. The explosion on the "Baron" was the second powerful blow to the Russian Empire. These two catastrophes have become a kind of "signs" symbolizing the approaching end of the Romanov empire.
It is worth noting that during the war in Arkhangelsk, which had strategic importance for the Russian Empire, unprecedented security measures were taken earlier. The activity of the port was controlled by the department of army counterintelligence, the security of the railway and internal roads was ensured by the separation of the Moscow-Arkhangelsk Gendarme Police Department. These departments reported monthly to the Admiral A. P. Ugryumov, personally to the commander-in-chief of Arkhangelsk and the Belomorsk Water District, on a monthly basis.
It was necessary to take into account the fact that in a wooden city fires were common. Do not rule out the possibility of the appearance of saboteurs. Especially a lot of effort was directed at combating potential spies. However, it was impossible to fully ensure safety. The traditional problems for Russia had an effect. Firstly, the haste with which the state-owned port areas and the military port were built in Arkhangelsk did not allow to carry out these works with due secrecy. The entire population of the city was somehow connected with the port. Information about the quantity and quality of cargo delivered to Arkhangelsk, the conditions and place of storage was almost impossible to keep secret (there was a similar problem on the Black Sea). Thus, according to various metropolitan commissions, the leakage of information largely went through local residents.
Secondly, Arkhangelsk turned out to be in fact the only sea port through which state and private cargoes were delivered to Russia, numerous Russian and foreign officials, military and civilian, were leaving and entering. The activities of many foreign consulates in Arkhangelsk during the war expanded. There even appeared new consular offices, in particular the American one. In such a human stream it was difficult to track spies.
In addition, many immigrants from Europe lived in the city itself. In particular, the Baltic (Ostsee) Germans, who retained their mentality and talked to each other mainly in German. In the office of the police master, the governor, the commander-in-chief with the beginning of the war and the patriotic wave, many anonymous denunciations of the alleged espionage activities of these “Archangel Germans” came. In the 1915 year, when the Russian army suffered a heavy defeat, the number of such denunciations especially increased.
It is also worth noting that the authorities could not organize proper protection of the port area due to the lack of unity of command in this matter. Thus, the reloading port area of Bakaritsa was in the joint jurisdiction of the military and naval departments. But the area of the railway was under the jurisdiction of the railway police. The general guard of Bakaritsa was the affair of the Moscow-Arkhangelsk Gendarme Police Directorate of the railway, while the military and naval department were in charge of protecting the goods of state importance.
In 1916, restrictions were imposed on access to and from the port territory. The crews of the neutral courts in general had no right to leave the deck for the entire duration of the stay. Control over the port workers was carried out using license plates. The workers handed over to the employer their passports, which he was obliged to transfer to the gendarme office. In return, they received badges that had to be presented to the guard at the entrance and exit from the port area. When the workers were fired, the badges were again exchanged for passports. The entire port area of Bakaritsa was enclosed with a fence with three guarded gates - for workers, for the lower ranks and for passing trains. However, everything was accompanied by traditional for Russia sloppiness. The guards guarding the fences stood at such a distance that they could not even see each other. That is, there was an opportunity to overcome them. An engineer seconded to Arkhangelsk noticed that the guard missed them without even requesting a pass, although he did not know them by sight, only because of their uniform caps. There was no guarding of the ladders during unloading; tried to put sentries, but they began to smuggle and steal.
In the 1916 year, several meetings took place in the city dedicated to the protection of public goods, including the port fire protection. Of the 32 tugboats in the Arkhangelsk port, five were equipped as fireproof ones. In England, several fire trucks were purchased for the port of Arkhangelsk. In addition to urban fire units, well-equipped units were created in the port areas - on Bakaritsa and in the Economy.
Thus, the authorities were aware of the danger of possible sabotage or accidents and measures were taken to protect the port and ships. However, it was not possible to prevent tragedies with dire consequences.
Warehouses on Bakaritsa, where during the First World War unloaded military cargoes from ships
The steamship of the Baron Driesen Northern Shipping Company (a requisitioned German merchant ship) arrived in Arkhangelsk on October 17 of New York from New York with thousands of tons of military cargo from New York. The crew of this Russian-flagged steamboat, recruited in the ports of America, was international. But all the officers, including the captain, were Russian nationals.
Having passed all the necessary formalities at the port, the steamer, which delivered the most important state cargo, was immediately put under unloading at Bakaritsa to berth No. 20. Nine days later, hundreds of tons of various ammunition were unloaded from the ship, including 200 tons of asphyxiating gases. At the time of the disaster, 1,6 thousand tons of explosives remained, as well as metals and various equipment.
At noon on October 26, when all the workers dispersed to the barracks for lunch, there was a strong explosion on the ship — first in the nose of the hold, where the shells were. Then, due to the fire that started, the feed exploded and exploded. The explosions were of such power that a huge crater with a diameter of more than 20 meters, filled with water, in which fragments of piles were floating, appeared at the place of the coastal mounts of the pier 60. Next was another funnel with a diameter of 40 meters. Opposite the berth there was the British ship Erl-of-Forfer, which was almost completely unloaded. The blast wave had demolished all the deck superstructures, the mast and the chimney. It was already impossible to restore it, so the treasury was forced to pay compensation to its owners.
In addition, the stoton crane and the Record tugboat sank; two more cranes and neighboring moorings were damaged. Fully burnt postal barge with international parcels. An explosion near the 20 pier, the stone building of the power plant, was completely destroyed. The building of the fire station, which collapsed, buried several people under its ruins, was also badly damaged. The fire that started as a result of the explosions was intensified by the wind, and soon the fire spread to the nearby wooden buildings - 27 barracks and 5 auxiliary buildings. Many cargoes died, some of them were covered with earth or drowned.
At the marinas and on the river at this time stood 49 ships, some of them also had explosives on board. Loads that were on the pier, flew into the air. The explosions followed one after the other - in a few minutes Bakaritsa turned into hell. Whole cars with ammunition flew up into the air, scattering projectiles that exploded in the air or when they hit the ground. Burning boxes of ammunition cracked like machine guns and scattered bullets in all directions. As a result, the wreckage falling from a great height caused considerable damage to the steamboats standing nearby.
After the first explosion, all the minesweepers, tugboats, and fire brigade teams (senior high school and college students) were sent to the crash site at Arkhangelsk at that time. Already after 30 minutes after the first explosion, Glavnach Ugryumov and his technical assistant Fedorov arrived at Bakaritsa. By that time, only a few officers remained in the port area and part of the port, customs and railway employees, many of whom were injured. Additional rescue forces and medical assistance arrived from Vologda on a special train. The cruiser Vindiktiv came out of Yokangi to Arkhangelsk, taking aboard all the carpenters and workers that they were able to assemble. One of the first to come to the crash site on a motorboat was Captain 2 of the rank Polivanov, the security chief of the military district. He, in spite of the continued explosions and debris falling around, began to move steamships away from the docks and put them in safe places with the help of tugs.
Rescue survivors had in the most difficult conditions. The work of evacuating poisonous gas tanks from the fire zone, which were unloaded directly on the piers, was associated with particular danger. Employees of the ambulance train who evacuated numerous wounded men showed great courage: they searched for survivors, organized the delivery of the wounded to the Cathedral Quay, and from there the distribution to the infirmary. All 19 hospitals were prepared to receive the wounded in the city. Fire and explosions continued for several more days. In fact, they stopped only when everything that could burn was burned at Bakaritsa.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of victims. At the time of the explosion, most of the inhabitants of Bakaritsa were crowded together: it was lunchtime, and the workers were in their barracks, and the officers and employees in the canteen. The dining room suffered less, but there too many people were injured by glasses from broken windows. Barracks almost all burned down, turning into mass graves for hundreds of workers. According to official reports of the Commission of Inquiry, the death toll was more than 600 people, and the number of injured and those who went to hospitals ranged from 829 to 1166. Of the aliens, 51 people died and 15 were injured. These were mostly British (27 dead and 15 injured). Many lightly wounded workers immediately fled to their villages. During the war, the authorities tried to hide the scale of the disaster. As a result, military censorship and the government commission, which conducted a closed investigation into the causes and the identification of the perpetrators of the explosion in the port of Arkhangelsk, bypassed the issue of the victims.
It was also obvious that the catastrophe not only killed hundreds of lives, but also led to huge material losses. According to rough estimates, about 30 thousand tons of military cargo exploded or was destroyed. This figure gives an idea of the terrible power of explosions and fires. Losses amounted to 80 million gold rubles (a huge sum for those times). Many marinas were severely damaged and required restructuring. In the area of the explosion in the space of half a square kilometer all the land was dug. Everything that was here: barracks, warehouses, access roads, etc., was destroyed by explosions and burned down.
After the explosion at Bakaritsa
Causes of tragedy
Immediately after the Baron catastrophe, an investigative commission was appointed to investigate the causes of what happened under the command of Admiral Manikovsky. In the same month, the newest battleship of the Russian fleet, the Empress Maria (As the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet battleship "Empress Maria" died). In addition, the mysterious explosions also occurred on several ships of the Allied fleets. There were also cases of sabotage, fires and explosions on ships carrying military cargo from the United States to the Allies. In America, the German spies were very active. There have even been several incidents of sabotage in factories producing military products.
Thus, it all said that it was a diversion. The Germans had a motive and opportunity. A number of similar cases of sabotage, fires and explosions forced us to assume that the explosion on the Drizen was not an accident, but also the work of enemy agents. Considering that the steamer had just arrived from New York, it was not excluded that the agents who had penetrated on board there hid an infernal machine with a clockwork in the hold.
Based on the testimony of witnesses and expert opinion, the commission rejected the accidental cause of the fire on the steamer Baron Drizen. Everything pointed to "malicious intent", to "an explosion with the help of a hellish machine electrically or with the help of a Bickford fuse with a string of explosive mercury." The investigation of this case was extremely difficult to carry out, since all possible evidence was destroyed. However, the investigators almost immediately came to the “German trace”. It turned out that the head of unloading operations in the port of Arkhangelsk at that time was Edmund Mellenberg, a German by birth. Moreover, there was a note in the documents of the gendarmerie regarding him: "He was involved in the case of military espionage in favor of Germany." In addition, the commission drew attention to the fact that in the morning, a few hours before the explosion, Captain F. Dreiman, Senior Assistant D. Akman and Third Assistant N. Kose (Germans by nationality) left the ship. At the time of the explosion, they were on the other side of the river, in the city. The fact that the commanding staff of the ship left the ship at the beginning of its unloading seemed strange. The captain and his henchmen were arrested.
But there was no obvious evidence against them, and the exact cause of the explosion was not established. By the verdict of the Arkhangelsk District Court, the main suspects remained at large. Including Dreyman and Mellenberg. Under the secret order of the Minister of the Sea, Grigorovich Dreyman, Akman and Kose were released, having established secret supervision over them, and Mellenberg was reinstated in service. The switchman was Pavel Polko’s boatswain - the only one of the Baron Drizen’s team who miraculously survived from the sailors left on the ship (according to the boatswain, he was thrown overboard by the blast wave). During interrogations, he confessed to perfect sabotage. He was sentenced to death, but was released after the revolution.
Started revolutionary confusion finally buried the case. In March, 1917, the Provisional Government created an emergency commission of inquiry, which was to carry out an investigation into the unlawful actions of former ministers. Among the most notorious cases were: the death of the newest battleship "Empress Maria", as well as about the explosions on Bakaritsa and Economy. Thus, the ship “Semyon Chelyuskin” exploded 13 in January 1917, near the port of Saving in Arkhangelsk, hundreds of people were killed and injured. It was believed that the new Archangel tragedy was the result of German sabotage.
The Commission, with the approval of the Provisional Government, took into custody the Minister of the Navy I. K. Grigorovich. During the arrest, numerous documents on disasters in the port of Arkhangelsk were found in the admiral's apartment. It was concluded that the maritime ministry was still trying to hush up the investigation, so as not to wash dirty linen in public. However, nothing serious digging failed. In addition, the transfer of documents from the maritime department to commission investigators was constantly sabotaged under various pretexts. Thus, as with the king, the investigation rolled to a curtailment, and the commission did not complete the work begun on the naval department. After the October Revolution, the commission was eliminated, and all judicial and investigative activities in the affairs of the pre-Soviet period were stopped altogether. The criminals were never punished.
As a result, the causes of the tragedy could be, like the eternal Russian disorder and disorder, for which the high authorities had to answer, so the investigation came to a dead end. So sabotage, for which there were all the conditions. For example, the arrival of “Baron Drizen” due to miscalculations in the organization of unloading at the berths accumulated a huge amount of other ammunition, which dramatically increased the scale of the disaster. In addition, the guards did not show proper vigilance, which could be used by attackers.