The outbreak of World War II forced the navy to put on medical service many ships of various classes, which then played a significant role in the evacuation of the wounded. So, in the Black Sea navy the ships brought to the rear 412 332 wounded and sick, 36 273 in the Baltic Fleet and 60 749 in the Northern Fleet. As you can see, the traffic volume was simply gigantic, and it was impossible to manage only hospital (sanitary-transport) ships. Therefore, temporarily allocated ships and military vessels were attracted, especially since on average there were no more than 12-13 specialized ships on each fleet. For example, in the Black Sea Fleet during the entire period of the war, 273 ships participated in the evacuation, of which only 13 were specialized hospitals. For military medical needs, the passenger liners Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, Adjaria and Armenia were remade "(Then tragically perished).
A typical alteration to a floating hospital was the removal of first-class partitions, repainting (often into deforming disguise) and the organization of an operating room with dressing points on a ship. So, the Lviv motor ship, after such an adaptation, had 5 doctors, 12 nurses and 15 orderlies on staff - during the war years it evacuated almost 12,5 thousand wounded in 35 flights. It is easy to calculate that at one time the ship took about 340-360 people from the coast, which did not exceed the maximum capacity of 400 patients. The record-holder among sanitary transports is the motor ship "Abkhazia", which managed to almost 1942 thousand people in just 31 voyages until mid-33. It is also reliably known that once during the voyage the ship was able to evacuate 2085 people at once - this was also a record.
Literary sources even cite data on the condition of those evacuated - in first-line medical transports, for every 5 people, only 1 was recumbent, the rest were walking. In ships of the second line, a similar ratio was already 50% to 50%. In most cases, evacuation on ships was subject to all patients without exception (even slightly injured), since it was necessary to quickly prepare the reserves of the hospital bed in hospitals. In the region of Odessa and Sevastopol, evacuees arrived at medical ships immediately from the front, bypassing field hospitals, which required the provision of first aid already on board. In operating rooms and dressings, bleeding was stopped, wounds were treated, shock was removed, tires and gypsum were applied, and saline and glucose were transfused. Special care was for patients with concussions and bruises of the brain, as well as penetrating wounds of the abdomen and skull. Those unfortunate with such wounds were hard to move, so they were placed in the central part of the vessel at a distance from the engine room. Due to the fact that first-line vessels often took 2-4 times more wounded from the shore (because of this, the ratio of lying and sitting was 1: 5), special ship medical groups were organized. The composition consisted of 2-4 doctors, 4-8 paramedics or sisters, 16-25 orderlies and 1 quartermaster.
Summarizing the above, it can be argued that the total amount of medical care on hospital ships was small - this was due to the short-term evacuation, as well as the congestion of the wounded parts of the ships. One of these was the ship "Armenia", which, with a nominal capacity of 400 wounded, on November 7, 1941 took about 5000-7000 people on board.
80 out of 7 thousand survivors
The “Armenia” motor ship left on November 6 from Sevastopol in Tuapse, after taking on board the wounded and sick, the fleet hospitals (about 250 people), as well as the heads of the medical service of the Black Sea Fleet and flotillas (60 people). Initially, loading in Sevastopol took place on November 3, 4 and 5 on the Tuapse and Joseph Stalin tankers, and then only on Armenia. But since the release date of the tankers was not clearly defined, everyone had to be transferred immediately to the ship. In total, the ship was staffed by five naval hospitals, one base sanatorium, sanitary-epidemiological laboratory, 5th medical rank and part of the sanitary department of the Black Sea Fleet. As the safety rules required, the ship went to sea on the evening of November 6, unexpectedly went to the outer raid of Balaklava to take on board the NKVD officers and the personnel of local hospitals. That same night, “Armenia” arrives in Yalta, where it picks up its last passengers - the total number of people on board at that time, according to various sources, varies from 5 to 7 thousand. Next, on November 7, it got dark to go to Tuapse destination. But the ship's captain Vladimir Plaushevsky suddenly goes to sea in the morning.
At 11 hours 45 minutes off the coast near Gurzuf, the ship is torpedoed by the German He-111 torpedo bomber. The ship goes to the bottom in just four minutes. At least two torpedoes were fired, one of which hit the bow of the ship. Among the options, the assumption is considered that two Heinkels attacked “Armenia” at once, dropping two torpedoes each. According to another version, eight "Junkers" destroyed the sanitary vessel with bombs, as evidenced by the Crimean Anastasia Popova, who survived in that hell. She heard several explosions during the attack, only by a miracle she did not suffer and managed to jump overboard. There is also evidence of observers who saw circling planes around the “Armenia” from the Crimean Mountains and even heard the cries of the unfortunate - the ship was so close to shore before it died. It is worth saying that the ship was not at sea alone - it was covered by two patrol vessels, which either retreated from the guarded “Armenia” or did not manage to do anything due to a lightning attack.
The Soviet ambulance "Abkhazia" sunk in the Sukharnoy beam of Sevastopol. The ship was sunk on 10.06.1942 as a result of a German air raid by a bomb falling into the stern. Photo: waralbum.ru
As a result, they were able to save only 80 people (according to other sources, 8). Of course, the ambulance ship had identification marks that uniquely alert the enemy about the state of passengers. But also on board was a pair of 45-mm anti-aircraft guns, guards from patrol ships and, according to some reports, even a couple of fighters covered “Armenia”. All this gave individual historians a reason to formally justify the war crime of the Luftwaffe, during which about 7 thousand people were killed. This, by the way, is much more than in the resonant disasters of the Titanic and Lusitania.
Of course, the most important mistake of the command was a reckless order to go to sea in the morning, when earlier there were precedents on the Black Sea for the barbaric attitude of Germans to ambulance transport: in the summer, the Chekhov and Kotovsky ships were attacked from the air, flying the Red Cross flags. The only question is, whose order was it? The ship’s commander himself, Captain-Lieutenant Vladimir Plaushevsky, would not have dared to go to sea in the early morning — he was an experienced navigator and had managed to transport about 10 thousand wounded on August 1941, 15 (the date the ship was handed over to the military).
One of the reasons for the early exit in Tuapse could be provocative rumors about the Germans attacking Yalta. But the Germans appeared in the city only on November 8. Questions also arise about the reasons for the ship unexpectedly entering the outer raid of Balaklava, where "Armenia" took the NKVD officers. According to one version, the Chekists took valuables from museums and archives of the Crimea with them.
In the 2000s, Ukrainians made an attempt to find “Armenia” on the seabed, allocated $ 2 million and attracted Robert Ballard, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Oceanography, for this. A huge section of the water area was examined with a bathyscaphe, but no medical vessel was found. Among the finds of search engines were 494 historical sites that had never been featured anywhere before: ancient Greek ships, submarines, planes and ships of two world wars, as well as the Soviet anti-submarine helicopter with crew inside ... One of the reasons for the futile search could be the difficult bottom topography in the Gurzuf area, abounding failures, in one of which the sinking “Armenia” could slip. According to another version, the ship's commander was ordered not to sail in Tuapse, but to return to Sevastopol. On November 7, 1941, at 2.00, Stalin signed the VGK Headquarters Directive No. 004433 to the Commander of the Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet on measures to strengthen the defense of the Crimea, in which the main task of the Black Sea Fleet was the active defense of Sevastopol and the Kerch Peninsula with all available forces. It was at least impractical to take out several thousand personnel of military hospitals in Tuapse in this case. It is possible that “Armenia” turned to Sevastopol and was sunk somewhere west of the previously proposed place - approximately on the beam of Cape Sarych. The Ukrainian mission in this area did not organize searches.
The death of “Armenia” seriously bleached the medical service of the Black Sea Fleet: they lost both the senior staff and doctors, paramedics and nurses of Sevastopol and Yalta hospitals. In the future, this negatively affected the ability of the medical service to provide assistance to the wounded and sick. The echo of the sunken “Armenia” was felt for a long time on the fronts of World War II.