The Tannenberg is sinking.
Finland declared war on the Soviet Union on June 1941, XNUMX, and the situation in the Gulf of Finland deteriorated sharply. The Finnish fleet immediately began mining the waters of the bay, expanding the minefields already laid by the Germans. Already on the same night, the German minelay "Brummer" accompanied by minesweepers and torpedo boats, he placed mines north of Moonsund and west of Osmussaar Island (Odensholm). At the same time, two boats, S-46 и S-106, entered the Soviet mines and sank.
In July, a mine war in the Gulf of Finland flared up with might and main, and the Finns used in it not only their surface forces, but also submarines "Saukko", "Vetekhinen", "Vesikhiisi" и "Iku-Turso"... But the failure of the aggressors ended in an attempt by German and Finnish torpedo boats to interrupt the supply routes of the cut off base on the Hanko Peninsula - Soviet aviation attacked and dispersed enemy ships, damaging two of them.
But the real black day of the German forces in the Baltic Sea was July 9, 1941.
On that day, the German fleet suffered heavy losses, although not in the course of hostilities, but in a sense as a result of them. After laying minefields "Wartburg", Apolda и "Corbeta" The German command came to the conclusion that part of the mine-sweeping forces could be transferred from the Baltic to the west, to the North Sea. The choice fell on the 2nd group of mines under the command of the already famous captain Schoenermark on the flagship Tannenberg... At the last moment minzag "Brummer" replaced with an auxiliary mine zag "Preussen" under the command of Captain Third Rank Wilhelm Schroeder. Together with the third ship was "Hansestadt Danzig" captain of the third rank Karl Ernst Barthel, they had to leave the Baltic Sea and, as it later turned out, left it forever, replenishing the lists of lost units kriegsmarine.
Taking on board the full load of mines, the group left Turku on the evening of 8 July. Fearing Soviet submarines, the German ships headed west, towards the island of Utö, and from there southwest, towards the northern tip of the island of Öland, that is, towards Swedish territorial waters.
On the afternoon of July 9, German ships entered the Kalmar Strait, which separates Oland from mainland Sweden, with the intention of following a direct course to Swinemunde. According to the flight plan, the group commander was to receive timely information about the presence of Soviet submarines in the waters of the central Baltic. It was this circumstance that forced the Germans to go to Germany in a roundabout way. For the same reason, German ships had to keep as close to the shores of Öland as possible, disregarding the sovereignty of Swedish territorial waters, despite repeated warnings from the Swedes.
In addition, their own minefield forced them to go in a roundabout way. "Wartburg"stretching in the southern Baltic from Memel to Öland. This barrier, almost perpendicular to the southern tip of Åland, left only a narrow passage at its western edge, and it was it that the Germans decided to use to reach the unmineralized waters of the southern Baltic.
But before implementing this plan, Captain Schoenermark's squadron had to walk along the coast of Sweden for about a day. The ships were sailing on a designated course under the escort of minesweepers 5th flotilla, which were supposed to escort the minesags to Swinemunde, and attached to them three units of the same type from the 2nd flotilla, whose task was to strengthen the escort on the most dangerous section of the route along Öland. The night passed without remarkable events - the weather was fine, and the sea was calm. In the area where Soviet submarines were expected, the ships were rebuilt from a wake column (one after the other) into a line (sides to each other). The closest thing to the coastline was Tannenbergfollowed by "Preussen" and the most extreme - "Hansestadt Danzig".
Towards evening, when the ships were already approaching the southern tip of the island, in front of Tannenberg, slightly abeam its port side, a Swedish minesweeper appeared, which was identified as "Sandeong"... At the sight of a Swedish ship Tannenberg turned to the left so that the minesweeper, when approaching the German ships, had to go perpendicular Tannenberg.
The Swedish ship threw out the flags of the international code of signals, which on Tannenberg misread as DQ - fire on board. The Germans decided to ignore the signal and continue on their own course. This led to a series of fatal consequences for them.
Due to a weakly visible signal, moreover, it was incorrectly read, in addition, transmitted by a slow flag signal instead of a more efficient traffic light (for which the Germans later made claims to the Swedes), and the subsequent misunderstanding and lack of reaction, the German squadron is about 4 miles west of the southern the tip of Åland entered a Swedish minefield.
The first, at 18:40, was blown up Tannenberg, and before his crew reacted and took measures to save the ship, he was still walking by inertia, bumping into subsequent mines. Schoenermark, fearing that the fire on board, caused by the explosions in the lower part of the hull, could spread to the engine room, did not dare to resume the course and called the minesweepers to help them take Tannenberg in tow. But the damage was already so severe that Tannenberg began to lurch strongly to starboard, and Schönermark made the only correct decision in such a situation: he ordered the crew to immediately jump into the water. The ship literally sank into the water in moments and sank.
But the misadventures of the German squadron did not end there.
The fate of "Preussen" and "Danzig"
Explosion on "Preussen".
While the drama was playing out in front of the German crews Tannenberg, the rest of the ships continued to go the same course, without turning, right after their perishing accomplice. The second was blown up by mines "Preussen"... On which the cars were also stopped.
The ship, engulfed in flames, began to drift, threatening to ram the third of the mine-loaders. To avoid a collision, Captain Schroeder decided to start the cars, but at the same time "Hansestadt Danzig" turned away and ran into a mine, which exploded directly under the midship. A violent explosion immediately knocked out both of its engines, further explosions followed in the engine room, and the fire began to burst onto the deck.
Fate "Preussen" и Danziga was already a foregone conclusion. Nothing could save these ships, and, in fact, ships, since they were designed and built as passenger liners, without an armored belt and watertight bulkheads, which are found on warships. The commanders of both mine blocks ordered their crews to evacuate.
So, within a few minutes, all the ships of the Schönermark group disappeared from the surface of the Baltic Sea. At the crash site, only groups of surviving sailors remained, in life jackets or on rafts, around which they scurried "Sandeong" and German minesweepers catching the wrecked.
The only thing the Germans were lucky in were hot, summer weather and relatively high water temperatures, as well as the presence of escort ships, which immediately undertook a rescue operation and reduced crew losses. Healthy and lightly wounded in minesweepers went to Swinemünde, where on July 10 they were received by a hospital ship Stuttgart, and seriously wounded people who needed urgent medical care, "Sandeong" took them to Kalmar, where he handed them over to the naval hospital. This probably saved the lives of some of them.
The Hansestadt Danzig (left, in military camouflage) is still afloat.
By preliminary agreement, information on the Swedish minefields, their exact coordinates and data on the Swedish patrols were transferred to the German naval attaché in Stockholm. He passed on all the information further, to the High Command of the Navy (Oberkommando der Marine, OKM), or rather, to its operational department or Naval War Command Headquarters (Seekriegsleitung).
The headquarters of the leadership of the naval war, in turn, passed the information further down the line - the closest naval commander in Swinemunde, in this case the commander of the cruisers (Befehlshaber der Kreuzer, BdK) to Vice Admiral Hubert Schmundt, to whom the commander of the destroyer forces (Führer der Minenschiffe, FdM) Captain XNUMXst Rank Arnold Bentlage. Bentlage was supposed to bring information about the Swedish minefields to the attention of the destroyer ships operating in the Baltic Sea.
However, such important information did not reach its destination, in particular, to the commanders of three minelayers lost on their return from Finland to Germany. In this regard, an investigation was appointed, which placed all the blame for the late delivery of information - on the use of mail instead of radio communication when sending them through OKM to BdK and further to FdM, possibly due to their extreme secrecy.
Investigation of the incident
It has never been possible to establish how the information was transmitted from Stockholm to Swinemunde, and from there to Finland, and when it happened. In any case, this happened after the squadron of Schönermark left Turku. True, at that time there was still an opportunity to radio the commander with an encrypted message, but in the German command in Finland it did not occur to anyone.
In addition, it is obvious that the overly bureaucratic apparatus of the Kriegsmarine and the duplication, and perhaps tripling of administrative functions: OKM, BdK, FdM, should be blamed for the disaster at Åland. Regardless of this, it seems that the exchange of information was not finalized at the diplomatic level in German-Swedish relations, for which the Germans later made claims to the Swedes.
The Swedes, in their defense, put forward the argument that since July 1, 1941, their radio has constantly broadcast warnings about minefields in Swedish waters. But it seems that no one listened to Swedish radio on German ships and ships, and as a result, only Swedish fishermen took all the warnings ...
The Danzig bow cannon.
The Åland disaster remained classified. And throughout the war, and even for some time after it, no information about the catastrophe was published either in Germany or in Sweden.
They first learned about it in 1947-1948 after the publication of a collection of trophy documents "Conference of the Fuehrer on Maritime Affairs, 1939-1945" first in Great Britain and the USA, and then in West Germany (The Admiralty, 1947).
From these documents it became known that an investigation was initiated to find out the reasons and circumstances of the loss of the three minelayers. The trial of the culprit (or culprits) took place soon, and on July 25, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder reported to Hitler. True, the previous conference with the participation of Raeder and Hitler took place on the evening of July 9, but that was just at the time when the Tannenberg and two other ships.
At the next meeting with Hitler, Raeder informed him that the military tribunal somehow inexplicably acquitted the unnamed perpetrator of the loss of three minelayers on all charges. Raeder, however, added that as commander-in-chief of the German navy, he disagreed with the verdict and ordered a reconsideration of the case.
Nothing is known about the date and course of the new meeting of the military tribunal, except that, most likely, it took place sometime in early September. Since on September 17, Raeder reported to Hitler that the tribunal found guilty and roughly punished a certain captain of the first rank Brüning, and also opened a case against one of the officers of the headquarters of the commander of the cruisers. About what punishment Brüning and another, unnamed officer from the headquarters of the cruiser commander suffered and what were the conclusions of the investigators, materials "Conference of the Fuhrer on Maritime Affairs" are silent.
There is, however, indirect evidence that sheds little light on this incident.
At the time described, a captain of the first rank by the name of Erich Alfred Breuning actually served in the Headquarters of the Naval War. Since 1936, he has been a referent of Section I. If we are talking about him, the fact that he was first acquitted and then punished (without specifying how he was punished) suggests that the punishment was not particularly severe. Most likely, it was an official reprimand, maybe even without entering it into a personal file, since already at the same time, in September 1943, the aforementioned Breuning took command of the 3rd patrol battalion, and in June 1943 became the commander of the patrol area "West" (Sicherung West) with a simultaneous promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral.
In such circumstances, it can be assumed that the entire burden of responsibility for what happened off the island of Öland was placed on that "nameless" officer from the headquarters of the cruiser commander.
Unfortunately, in the archives of the documents of the commander of the cruisers of the initial period of the war against the USSR, there is no information about the officer convicted by the court-martial. kriegsmarine... It follows from this that either the archive is incomplete, or the investigation in question did not give any results, or no verdict was issued in this case. The fourth is not given.
One way or another, the fate of the German auxiliary minelayers who three weeks earlier participated in an insidious mining operation off the Soviet shores and on Soviet communications even before the start of the war can be summed up in the words of the biblical Solomon: "Don't dig a hole for another - you yourself will fall into it."
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Sources and literature:
Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 1939-1945. The Admiralty, 1947.