It was the second month after the attack of fascist Germany on the Soviet Union. In the Pacific, especially in its southern part, German raiders and submarines hunted allied transport ships. However, massive and active actions at this time in the east was not observed. The steamer "Ashgabat" of the Far Eastern Shipping Company was heading to the port of Sydney for a load of lead and wool.
The transition from Vladivostok to Sydney took place with complete disguise and far from the traditional swimming courses in the area. Everything was going fine, except for the incident in the Coral Sea, when an Australian plane with machine gun bursts in front of and above the vessel tried to stop Ashgabat and send it to the port of Rabaul in New Guinea to check the ownership. Attempts to establish communication with the light signaling with him were not successful due to insufficient power of the ship's light signals. At nightfall, the plane flew away, and the Soviet ship, darkened completely, continued to follow to Sydney.
The specificity of this voyage was that Ashgabat was the first Soviet ship to Australia, with which we did not have diplomatic relations and where there were no representative offices of the Soviet Union. Naturally, this was reflected in his stay in Sydney. On the port roadstead, a Soviet steamer was met by boats, yachts and motorboats full of people who welcomed our first ship to their country.
Representatives of the Governor-General of Australia, the mayor of Sydney and the naval authorities to greet the ship in Australia came along with the port authorities who arrived to register the arrival of the vessel. In honor of the arrival of "Ashgabat" in the city hall a reception was held at which the mayor of the city, representatives of civil and military authorities spoke. In response, Alexey Pavlovich Yaskevich, captain of the steamer, thanked the speakers for the warm welcome and expressed the hope that in the near future a break would come on the fronts and the enemy would be defeated by joint efforts. During the stay, the Russian sailors arranged several receptions on their ship and took part in organized meetings on the shore.
In the local newspapers, articles were almost daily published, pictures of the ship and crew members with very positive and benevolent comments. Struck discipline, order and cleanliness on the ship, good appearance and behavior of the crew members. During the stay, letters, telegrams, postcards from various societies and individuals came with greetings and congratulations on the occasion of a safe arrival and the hope of establishing good relations. The Dockers of Sydney presented the ship with a gift - a watch mounted in mahogany with the inscription: “The crew members of the Ashgabat farm from the dockers of Sydney”. These watches were subsequently transferred to the Vladivostok Maritime Museum. Before leaving Sydney, the Australia-USSR Society was organized. After the end of loading in Sydney and calling at Brisbane for reloading, on September 10 the ship headed for Vladivostok, where it arrived without special incident on October 2.
After some repair work, Ashgabat was sent to the port of New Orleans to install weapons, load and join the allied northern convoys to deliver cargo to our northern ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. From the very first days of the Great Patriotic War, the transport fleet in the Baltic, in the Northern and Southern basins, began military transportation. It was a difficult and highly dangerous job, because the ships at that time did not have weapons, and the crews did not have the experience of navigation in wartime conditions. There were also no mine protection, although the fascists managed to mine a number of strategically important areas.
The military situation dramatically changed and complicated the conditions of navigation. All navigational aids of the fence (light and radio beacons, buoys, milestones, targets), which ensured safe navigation, were put out of action in order to mask. The communication of ships with the shore and with each other was extremely limited. For the entire time of the war, ships were introduced blackout and complete blackout. Despite all the difficulties, transport sailors fleetShowing heroism and dedication, they successfully completed the tasks assigned to them.
From the beginning of 1942, a part of the largest and most high-speed vessels of the transport fleet was sent to transport goods from the ports of the USA, Canada, England to Murmansk, Arkhangelsk. Navigation on this theater of war passed through the North Atlantic in the high northern latitudes, and was carried out in convoys. These convoys were international, they included the courts of England, the USA, Canada, the Soviet Union and other allied countries. The convoy escort consisted of frigates, destroyers, cruisers, battleships and other warships of the allied states. The transport ships marching in the convoy were, as a rule, armed with cannons, machine guns, depth charges, mine protection and aerostat barriers. Part of the ships marching in convoys had small military teams.
Navigation in convoys was difficult. A convoy is a closed order of ships that must move and maneuver as a whole in any conditions and circumstances of navigation. Each ship must maintain its own distance, which constituted the 1-3 cable, observe the established course and speed and carry out maneuvers at the command of the convoy commander. If we consider that the convoys were formed from vessels of different tonnage, with different maneuverability and inertial qualities, and taking into account that the convoy vessels were completely darkened, and from navigation navigational lights were allowed to keep only a blue Hakabort fire of reduced visibility, you can imagine how difficult it was such swimming is not only militarily.
In the order and in the instructions of the convoy, such maneuvers were provided for in the event of an enemy attack, such as turning "all of a sudden", "consistently" or dispersed. Performing them required a lot of art. The most difficult in terms of navigation was the navigation of convoys in conditions of limited visibility (snowstorm, fog, dark time of day), outside visual contact with neighboring vessels. After all, the slightest deviation from a given course or speed regime threatened to collide with the corresponding consequences.
With the arrival of “Ashgabat” on November 19 in New Orleans, bow and stern guns were installed on the vessel, anti-aircraft machine guns, a set of anti-submarine depth charges and a mine defense system were installed on the wings of the bridge and the boat deck. Special crew members were trained in the maintenance and use of these weapons. Then I had to ship aviation gasoline in barrels. This operation was unusual. It was required to use all the cargo capacity and load capacity in an indexless vessel.
Since the American standard of the barrels allowed the installation of no more 8 rows, and this did not fill the volume of cargo space, the Soviet sailors had to build in all the holds false floors from 2,5-inch boards, on solid supports in the flora shelves on the deck. After loading, the vessel headed to the Canadian port of Halifax for inclusion in the convoy.
3 January 1941, as part of a convoy of approximately 100 ships, Ashgabat headed for England. The transition in the North Atlantic in stormy conditions went well, with the exception of a few stragglers or lost ships. During the passage of the court escort successfully repelled attempts to attack the convoy submarines. After arriving in Clyde, part of the ships of this convoy was sent to the Scottish port of Lough Yu to form a convoy to Murmansk.
In March, a convoy of PQ-12 from 14 transports was formed. Their number, except for “Ashkhabad”, included “Stepan Khalturin”. Under the escort of the Anglo-American warships in the first part of the journey and under the protection of Soviet warships in the second part of the journey, the PQ-12 convoy, despite attempts to attack submarines, safely and without loss reached Murmansk.
However, not always everything went so well. The convoys suffered heavy losses. Everyone remembers that only 35 came from our 17 ships of the PQ-11 convoy. The feat of the “Old Bolshevik” motor ship, many times described, testifies to the courage, dedication and heroism of the merchant seamen. Bravely went to our ships and in single voyage.
In an artillery duel with a German submarine off the coast of Australia, the winner was the crew of the ship “Uelen” (captain N. Malakhov). Avoiding torpedo attacks of a submarine near the island of Jan Mayen, the steamer "Vanzetti" (captain V. Verond) sank this boat with the fire of his gun. These and other examples show, as G. Rudnev writes in the book “Courses Laid under Fire”, that “yesterday’s peace ships became war-ships, and their crews became fighters and, despite the fact that they did not wear military uniform, were considered until the end of the war by civilians, no less trials fell to their lot than those who fought at the front. ”
The former People's Commissar of the Navy of the USSR N. Kuznetsov in the book “Fleet Alarm” gives statistics of single voyages: “From October 1942 to February 1943, from our northern ports were sent in single order 24 Soviet and only three allied transport, and from Iceland to us - 10 allied and three Soviet transport; from the 40 transports making the independent transitions, the 6 of the Allied and 4 of our vehicles were killed. ”
However, the war was not only at sea, and the danger that threatened ships in convoys or in single voyage did not diminish with arrival at the ports. Despite the almost uninterrupted airborne bombardment of Soviet fighters, enemy bombers broke through to Murmansk and dropped bombs on the city, on the port, on ships, so that the crew, scheduled for combat anti-aircraft guns, also carried this additional watch.
During the unloading of "Ashgabat", enemy aircraft repeatedly flew at the moorings of the port of Murmansk. Sometimes the bombs fell near the place of loading, but the entire explosion and flammable cargo of aviation gas was completely unloaded.
Then “Ashgabat” in the QP-12 convoy (in the opposite direction of the letter of the symbol changed places) returned to New York via Reykjavik, and from there 27 on April 1942 of the year appeared in ballast to Cuba. At the time of the east coast of the USA, the fascist submarines were in charge. The US Navy is still gaining experience in the fight against submarines. The voyage to Cuba was carried out in a single order according to the instructions of the US Coast Guard, obtained from the Naval Department. The instructions determined the exact courses and sections of the path that need to be taken only during the daytime. In principle, it was sailing along the coast at minimum depths using, in case of danger, an “anti-submarine zigzag” maneuver — a change of course on 22,5 ° to the left and right of the main course at unequal intervals. Turning points for new courses were decorated with luminous and sound buoys.
With the dawn of April 29, Ashgabat left Chezapik Bay. Further navigation was to be carried out, according to the instructions, without entering the intermediate ports to wait for the dark time. In the process of navigation, observation was carried out by sectors from the wings of the bridge, the forecastle and from the platform of the stern implement. Classes and training alerts were conducted. weapons. At 19 hours, with visibility of the 3-4 miles, feed sector observers reported that a deaf noise was heard at the starboard 130 ° course angle, as if from an explosion, and a small surge was seen at a distance of about two miles. Immediately the alarm went off, the crew took their places on schedule, the surge area was given as the stern. The ship began to perform "anti-submarine zigzag." Over the sea was conducted enhanced surveillance. After passing around the course of 40 minutes from the surge and not noticing anything suspicious, Ashgabat lay down on the previous course. Partial alert was given a battle alert, but calculation remained on the stern and bow implements.
In 21.50, on the right wing of the bridge, a powerful explosion was heard in the stern of the vessel in the deeptank area, the light on the vessel was turned off, and the alarm call did not work. However, even without this, the crew had already taken their places in alarm. Aft quickly went under water with a large roll on the starboard side. After about a minute of feeding, the 2-3 minutes before the spar deck and the middle superstructure went under water. Almost immediately after the explosion of the torpedo, or rather the power of the explosion, torpedoes, senior assistant L. Tatarinov, second mechanic D. Trofimov, boatswain F Shtykov and sailor V. Arkhipov, who were at the nose gun, fired three shots at half-mile emerged the boat. However, due to the large trim and heel of the ship, it was not possible to carry out aimed fire, however, after the third shot the boat sank and disappeared.
Immediately after the torpedoing, the radio operator D. Pankov broadcast the message about the attack of the submarine. The senior mechanic V. Sidorenko reported that the engine and boiler rooms were flooded. Thus, approximately after 15-20 minutes after an explosion, as well as due to damage and deformation of the transverse bulkheads, both the stern holds, dip tank, engine room and boiler room and the second hold were completely flooded, resulting in a complete loss of vitality. The ship sank to the ground with a trim on the stern and roll to starboard in such a way that only the forecastle and part of the bow deck remained on the surface.
Before fully submerging the stern and middle parts of the vessel under water, seeing no opportunity to fight for the buoyancy of the vessel, at about 22.30, Captain Yaskevich gave the crew command to leave the vessel, taking machine guns into the lifeboat, as the possibility of re-ascent of the boat was allowed.
All 36 people of the ship’s crew left the ship in an organized and calm manner on ship boats and rafts. Later, Soviet sailors picked up a US Coast Guard ship and brought it ashore. Fortunately, when torpedoing among the crew, no one was injured, except light injuries, since the explosion occurred in the non-residential part of the aft deck.
Since the ship flooded at shallow depths, Soviet and American specialists arrived from Washington and New York to resolve issues related to the carrying out of ship raising operations. After examining the site of flooding and taking into account the size and nature of the damage, as well as the age of the vessel, the commission concluded that these operations were unsuitable.
The entire crew of the steamer "Ashgabat", both in the process of sailing in convoys, and during the torpedoing of the vessel, behaved courageously and heroically, which was noted in the cruise report. Subsequently, he was disbanded and sent home in different courts, or replenished their crews.
A.P. Yaskevich, after some stay in the USA, was appointed captain of the first ship of the Liberty type, adopted by the Soviet side in the USA and called the Red Guard. On this vessel, Yaskevich sailed until the end of World War II. During the war with Japan, "Red Guard" participated in the landing of troops on the islands of the Kuril ridge, as well as the transfer of military cargo and units in the ports of Korea and China.
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