In general, история tragic and strange at the same time. It happened in the Kara Sea and became the largest in terms of human losses during the Great Patriotic War in the Arctic. The tragedy of August 12, 1944, in principle, when the war was already on the territory of the enemy, which also probably played a role. On this day, the German submarine U-365 sank the ship "Marina Raskova" and two of the three minesweepers accompanying the vessel.
We can say that the crew of the boat showed miracles of skill, destroying a well-guarded convoy. However, not everything is so simple.
Yes, there were an unforgivable loss of life, about 400 people died, including women and children. Perhaps this number of victims could have been avoided if not for a series of mistakes made by the convoy commander.
Let's start as usual with the characters.
Wikipedia gives information that this is the cargo and passenger ship “Marina Raskova” (American Liberty-type transport) launched in June 1943 and operated until its death in the Kara Sea on August 12, 1944.
However, no. This steamboat was built back in 1919, and was originally called the Salisbury. In 1941, he changed his name to Iberville, and in 1942, being bought out by the US government, he changed his name to Ironclad again.
“Ironclad” went to the USSR as part of the convoy НХ-178 (did not reach due to damage during the storm) and PQ-17 (survived and reached Murmansk, the epic of the Ayrshire corvette, if anyone is interested). It was transferred to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease, received the name "Marina Raskova" and was operated as part of the Northern Shipping Company.
The displacement of the ship was 14 tons, speed 450 knots.
Minesweepers of the AM series ("American").
These were also American boats. T-114, T-116 and T-118 were also transferred to the USSR under Lend-Lease and operated under these numbers as part of the Northern fleet.
Displacement 725 tons, speed 13,5 knots.
The armament of the minesweepers of AM consisted of 2 × 76-mm guns, a 40-mm anti-aircraft gun "Bofors" and 6 anti-aircraft anti-aircraft guns 20-mm "Oerlikon".
Anti-submarine weapons: Mk.10 Hedzhehog rocket launcher (24 barrels), two Mk.6 stock-bombers. Hydroacoustic station and radar.
Medium German submarine type VIIC. Surface displacement 735 tons, surface speed underwater / underwater 17,7 / 7,5 knots.
Armament: 88 mm gun, four bow and one stern TA 533 mm.
And after the presentation, the narrative begins. Actually, Marina Raskova and three minesweepers made up the BD-5 convoy, which entered history so sadly.
Marina Raskova carried out very important flights to supply the polar stations and villages of the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea. This explains such an impressive escort of three warships.
On August 8, 1944, the ship went to sea with cargo for polar stations and a large number of passengers of the next shift at the station. The passengers were 116 military personnel and 238 civilian personnel of the Main Directorate of the Northern Sea Route. Among the civilians were 124 women and 16 children from the families of wintering and military personnel. Taking into account 55 crew members, there were 409 people at Marina Raskova.
According to the documentation, the steamer had a sufficient number of life-saving appliances: four full-time lifeboats, four inflatable rafts, several spacious wooden kungas, life jackets and circles. There was very little sense from the latter, even in the month of August, but nonetheless. However, as subsequent events showed, rescue equipment was not equipped with alarm equipment, an emergency supply of water and food. This is a nuance that. however, it claimed a lot of human lives.
The transport was allocated an escort of three minesweepers of the AM type: T-114, T-116 and T-118. The convoy commander of the 1st rank Shmelev, who held the flag on the T-118, commanded the convoy. It is difficult to say how many people were on the minesweepers, because Shmelev’s command group and a commission from the flotilla headquarters under the command of General Loktionov were added to the standard crews of 70 people, which was supposed to check the status of weather stations. We can assume that the three minesweepers were still about 300 people.
As a result, the convoy consisted of more than 700 people. An important figure, as we will talk about losses.
On August 11, without any incident, the convoy entered the Kara Sea. And the day before, on August 10, the headquarters of the Kara Naval Base, which was based on Dikson Island, received information that fishermen noticed a German submarine near the island. At the base, they reacted and sent in a search for the Catalina seaplane. The plane flew around the island, the boat was not expected to be found. Thousands of square kilometers of the sea is no joke.
It is not known whether Shmelev received this information, apparently, no, since the whole series of further events is a clear confirmation of this.
We can consider this the first fatal mistake: do not warn the convoy that they saw an enemy submarine in the area.
Obviously on the ships of the convoy reigned some disagreement. BD-5 was on a straight course, completely not bothering with anti-submarine zigzag. Ahead of the transport was the T-118, T-114 and T-116 on the right and left, keeping at a distance of one and a half miles from the Marina Raskova.
Most likely, they walked generally relaxing, as if the enemy was not supposed. I am sure that acoustics did not particularly listen to water for the same reason. In general, in the vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean, it was very difficult to find something, which once again confirms the commotion that the Admiral Scheer arranged at one time.
About the same thing happened this time. No one was waiting for the enemy, but at 19:57 Moscow, an explosion rang out on the starboard side of Marina Raskova. The area was characterized by very shallow depths (up to 40 meters), therefore no one (?) Expected the enemy’s submarines here. And, perhaps, it’s not entirely logical, but it was decided that the “Marina Raskova” was blown up by a mine.
Here immediately arises a very difficult alignment. Mina is a non-self-propelled thing. Someone simply must deliver it to the place of production, activate and install it.
Germans? Well, theoretically they could. Their submarines could put mines, for this a series of XB boats was built, each of which could deliver 66 min of the SMA series. Yes, and the aforementioned submarine of series VII instead of torpedoes could carry 26 minutes "TMA" or 39 minutes "TMV". And in the vertical shafts it was possible to place 16 minutes of the same SMA series.
In general, the Germans could deliver mines, apparently ours were in the know, and the torpedo explosion was taken as a mine. Which only once again indicates that normal observation was not conducted.
Therefore, having excluded the probability of an attack by the submarine, Shmelev orders the T-116 and T-118 to approach the transport for assistance, and the T-114 to carry anti-submarine defense. Already not bad, but it would be completely correct to report the incident to the headquarters of the flotilla, but this was not done.
Most likely, Shmelev decided that “Marina Raskova” had hit a wandering mine, now they will repair the damage and move on.
However, just seven minutes after the explosion at the Marina Raskova, the exact same explosion rang out on the T-118. The ship stayed afloat for 27 minutes, and then sank.
Part of the crew, including the convoy commander, was rescued by the remaining ships and vehicles, which continued to stay afloat.
And ... and all that happened only strengthened Shmelev’s understanding that the convoy was in the minefield! And Shmelev continued to act on the basis of his erroneous beliefs.
Having crossed aboard the T-114, Shmelev ordered the rescue of people from transport to begin. And if up to this point the T-114 at least designated some anti-submarine actions, then from that moment the crew began to engage in a completely different matter.
And then Shmelev at 20:25 gave the order to anchor and focus on saving people from the “Marina Raskova”. Which was done.
T-114, according to the orders of Shmelev, took on board more than 200 people. At 00:15 on August 13 from the boat belonging to the minesweeper T-116, traveling with people from the "Marina Raskova" to T-116, the periscope of the submarine was seen. It is clear that there was no radio station on the boat, therefore they could not promptly report what they saw. Why they didn’t use the searchlight is not entirely clear, but at 00:45 a T-114 burst the torpedo and the ship sank four minutes later.
The T-114 crew died, the commander of the convoy Shmelev died, almost all the passengers transported from the "Marina Raskova" were killed, just a few people escaped.
By 01:00, the T-116 commander, Captain Lieutenant Babanov, received a message from the boat crew about the periscope seen. That is, the version of the minefield collapsed (finally) and it became clear that the submarine was working.
And then a strange thing at first glance happened: instead of searching and attacking the submarine, Babanov unfolded the ship and went to the Yugorsky Shar Strait, in Khabarovo. On the one hand, it looked like cowardice and betrayal, but on the other hand, the T-116 took almost two hundred people, and could repeat the fate of the T-114 ...
A difficult decision. Babanov reported the decision to the commander of the White Sea Flotilla, but only half an hour later, when he was already leaving the sinking transport.
The flotilla commander Rear Admiral Kucherov gave Babanov an order: if the ship did not sink and stay on the water, be near it and carry out anti-submarine defense. If the ship sank, then go to Khabarovo. Babanov said nothing and went to the base. As a result, the T-116 arrived safely in Khabarovo.
It is very difficult to evaluate the actions of Babanov. On the one hand, the warship simply had to attack the submarine, thereby possibly preserving the transport. On the other hand, perhaps Babanov was not so confident in his abilities, but that there, he could simply be demoralized by a massacre arranged by the Germans.
Plus, it is quite possible that almost 200 rescued people in a small boat with a crew of fifty people simply would not have allowed the crew to work according to the combat schedule.
Honestly, it's not for us to judge Captain-Lieutenant Babanov. Not to us.
So, the only surviving minesweeper left the scene of the tragedy, taking with him rescued people. As I understand it, the ship was packed to the limit.
But the "Marina Raskova" was still floating on the water. There were seven crew members along with the captain. In addition, next to the transport was a boat with T-116 with seven rowers from among the crew members of the minesweeper, who were engaged in rescuing people from the water, kungas and rafts with the passengers of Marina Raskova.
At 02:15, the transport was repeatedly attacked by the submarine and sank. U-365 after hitting the last, third torpedo, surfaced and left the scene of the attack.
It is difficult to say whether this submarine was seen by fishermen at Dixon, but a fact: German submarines were present in the Kara Sea. This was the Greif group, which already had experience in the Arctic.
The U-365 submarine of Lieutenant Commander Wedemeyer was part of this group. Captain Wedemeyer was considered a very experienced sailor, and his actions to destroy the convoy BD-5 confirm this.
Preserved data from the ship's magazine U-365, which allows you to see what happened through the eyes of the other side.
On August 12, at 18:05 pm, a convoy of BD-60 was discovered by the crew 5 miles west of Bely Island. The boat plunged to attack and began approaching the ships.
Taking advantage of the negligence in guarding the convoy, Wedemeyer managed to get closer to transport by less than one kilometer.
19:53. U-365 makes a volley of two FAT torpedoes on a steamboat, one of which hit Marina Raskova. The second passed by.
19:58 the boat launched a T-5 homing acoustic torpedo in the direction of transport and escorts. Miss.
20:03 Wedemeyer released another T-5, which hit the T-118.
After that, the U-365 fell to the bottom to evade a counterattack and reload torpedo tubes, which by that time were empty. The attack, however, did not take place, minesweepers were occupied by a torpedo T-118.
While the Germans reloaded torpedo tubes, they heard explosions of three depth charges. This can hardly be considered an attack; most likely, the deep bombs of the T-118 worked, reaching a given depth.
23:18. U-365 surfaced to periscope depth in order to assess the situation.
Wedemeyer saw that it was only 3-4 cable from T-114, then Marina Raskova drifted further. T-116 was not visible. Realizing that the T-114 was anchored, engaged in rescue operations, the commander of U-365 decided to attack this ship.
00:45. U-365 hits a torpedo in an anchored T-114. The minesweeper sank after five minutes.
Further, the U-365 commander saw the T-116, but since the minesweeper was clearly moving away from the scene of the tragedy, Wedemeyer did not try to catch up with him, since he still had one goal, an undereachable transport.
02:04 a.m. U-365 fired one torpedo at Marina Raskova, the torpedo hit, but the ship did not sink. Obviously, the steamboat cargo provided additional buoyancy. Wedemeyer did not come up and fired a third torpedo.
02:24 "Marina Raskova" broke in half from the last explosion and began to sink. Half an hour later, the ship disappeared under water.
U-365 has surfaced. People swam in the water, boats and rafts were on the surface. Since the U-365 campaign had just begun, the submarine commander did not plan to take prisoners. Therefore, U-365 is gone.
The people remaining on the water had to survive in very difficult conditions.
Having received a report from Captain Babanov about the death of the BD-5 convoy, the commander of the White Sea flotilla Kucherov ordered to begin the search for submarines and survivors. As for the search for submarines, of course, it is somewhat optimistic, but the rescue operation lasted right up to September 3. And what they have been looking for so long has saved many lives. Although someone could not be saved.
At the site of the death of the transport remained about 150 people. 70 people were found and saved by airplanes, however, some of them could not be defended, people died from exhaustion and hypothermia after salvation.
The T-116 delivered 181 people to Khabarovo, 36 sailors with the T-118, and 145 passengers from the Marina Raskova. Thus, 251 people were saved. The figures of the victims vary slightly, but in any case, the losses amounted to about four hundred people, including almost all the women and children who were on the "Marina Raskova".
The real feat was made by the pilot Matvey Kozlov, the commander of the flying boat Katalina.
On August 23, he noticed the first kungas and managed to pull out all the survivors with the crew. Here are the lines from his report:
“They found there 14 people alive and more than 25 corpses. The corpses lay in two rows at the bottom of a kungas filled knee-deep with water. Survivors lay and sat on the corpses, of which about six were able to move with difficulty on their own. According to the statement of the people filmed and the inspection of the kungas, it was established that there was no fresh water or any products on the kungas. ”
Due to the storm and overload, the Catalina could not take off. The crew could not at least somehow lighten the plane so that it could take off, and Kozlov decided to go by sea. For twelve hours the pilot drove a flying boat, which had become an ordinary boat, along the waves. And in the end I brought it.
What conclusions could be drawn from this disaster?
Of course, the latest acoustic torpedoes of German submarines were a very unpleasant surprise.
But it is already clear that as many mistakes as Soviet sailors made were simply criminal. In fact, the convoy commander Shmelev himself set his ships under attack, misjudging the situation and making the wrong decision. Moreover, persisting in the minefield version, Shmelev significantly exacerbated the situation.
Given that the “Marina Raskova” did not immediately sink, Shmelev could well have organized an attack on a German submarine, and, if not sunk, then made it impossible to re-attack the transport.
Extra evidence of this is the events that occurred only 2 days after the end of the rescue operation, September 5, 1944.
All the same T-116, under the command of the same Babanov, who for some reason was not demoted, was not shot, acting alone, discovered and reliably sank the German submarine U-362, in the Mon Monte Islands off the west coast Taimyr.
The submarine was found in the water position. That is, the observers worked fine, and perhaps the radar helped. Naturally, the boat went under water, but the minesweeper's sonar worked out, after which the T-116 successfully attacked and sunk the boat.
Tell me, could the crew of Babanov a month earlier arrange exactly the same layout for U-365? I am 100% sure that I could.
Instead, the minesweepers' crews focused on mine action. Yes, if the convoy really got into the minefield, Shmelev’s actions would be absolutely correct.
The whole problem is that there was no minefield.
U-365 in the first phase of the attack fired 4 torpedoes. Nobody noticed them on our ships. How could this happen?
Avoiding damaged T-116 vehicles doesn’t look very nice. Yes, it’s like running away. However, it is difficult to judge Babanov, who, left alone and having on board almost 200 saved, did not dare to start a duel with a submarine. But the fact that the command decided not to punish Babanov speaks volumes. And the fact that it was not in vain proves the victory of the T-116 crew over U-362.
That's all I would like to say about the events of August-September 1944 in the Kara Sea. The episode is completely unpleasant, but it had a place to be in our history.