S-9 was one of five Baltic Fleet submarines that the command sent in 1943 to break through a massive anti-submarine barrier in the Gulf of Finland. Of the five subs, only the Shch-303 survived, returning to base with heavy damage. The other four were lost (S-9, S-5, Shch-406 and Shch-408).
The sub has a rich but tragic history: she sank twice, was attacked twice by a German submarine (U-140), survived several attacks by enemy ASW forces and aircraft, and was damaged by artillery fire, as well as from running into a Soviet anti-submarine net.
October 1941 was especially difficult for the sub. During a storm, the blades of its screws and rudders were bent after hitting a rock.
Her first commander died after making several egregious mistakes while surfacing during a storm on 7 October: they did not completely blow the ballast tanks, and the sub was sailing stern to the waves. A wave crashed over the sub, washing overboard everyone who was standing watch (including Commander Rogachevsky), the central post and battle bridge were completely flooded through the open hatches, and the submarine sank to the seafloor 56 meters below. Thanks to the competent actions of the crew, foremost among whom the mechanics, they were able to surface and get the sub working again, though the equipment and documents in the central post were significantly damaged.
In October 1942, the sub survived a ramming attack by a German freighter after a successful torpedo attack against the lead ship in the column (the periscopes were bent, and the anti-net saw and hydrophone were torn off).
During the very first dive after these events, a leak was found in the central compartment – the bent periscope kept the main hatch from closing tightly. Blowing the emergency ballast tanks was not enough, and the sub sank to the seafloor 44 meters below with a completely flooded central post. The commander of combat unit 5, Safonov, saved the ship by blowing all the remaining ballast tanks from the aft compartment. The flooding ruined all of the equipment and documents in the central post, including the gyroscope, echo sounder, log, a periscope motor, and rudder control mechanisms.
S-9 went on five combat patrols during the war lasting a total of 101 days, conducted three torpedo attacks, and damaged one freighter – on 27 September 1942, it hit the Mittelmeer freighter (6,370 GRT) with one torpedo from a distance of two cable lengths.
Its other two attacks came on the following day, 28 September, when it fired single torpedoes at the Hornum freighter (1,467 GRT).
After it missed, S-9 surfaced and opened artillery fire. The freighter caught fire after two hits, the submarine submerged, but the freighter’s crew managed to extinguish the fire and save the ship.
S-9 went on its fifth patrol on 26 July 1943. On 12 August, it reported that it was beginning the return trip to base, after which it was lost without a trace.
On 4 September, the body of the S-9’s senior helmsman, K.T. Dikov, was found near Seskar Island wearing an ISA-M rescue device.
When examining the submarine’s wreck, we saw an open bow torpedo tube (upper starboard side) through which the crew apparently attempted to abandon ship. The aft emergency hatch, main hatch and bow hatch were closed and the damage to the sub is characteristic of a bottom mine detonation: there is a vertical fracture passing through the sub’s hull in the aft third.
One interesting note is that in 1942, there was a popular belief among Baltic Fleet submariners that the heavy Soviet submarine losses could have been because the Germans were using electromagnetic contact mines.
Crews and shore personnel tried to reduce the risk of EM-mine detonations: on the hull of the S-9 you can still easily see the modifications they made: the runner and protruding metal parts are wrapped in rubber, and there are three wooden beams installed along the hull.
The Lefort battleship’s construction started on 18 November 1833. Her shipbuilder was Y.A. Kolodkin. She joined the Imperial Baltic Fleet on 28 July 1835.
In 1836-1838, 1840, 1841, 1843 and 1846, as part of different ship squadrons, she went on training voyages in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. On 3 July 1836, near Kronstadt, she took part in the ceremonial meeting with Peter the Great’s sailboat – the Russian Tsar’s famous training ship that is believed to have given birth to Russian naval history. During 1844 and 1847, she went with her squadron on training voyages in the North Sea. In 1848-1850, she took part in the Baltic Fleet’s expedition to Danish waters.
In 1851-1852, she was under repairs at Peter the Great’s docks in Kronstadt.
She participated in the Crimean War in 1853-1856. In May-June 1854, she was prepared to protect Kronstadt in case the enemy fleet broke through to St Petersburg. In 1855, she remained in Kronstadt. In 1856 and 1857, she was used as a cargo ship to transfer soldiers and cargo between Kronstadt and Revel (Tallinn).
From Rear Admiral Nordman’s investigation report, we can get some details about Lefort’s last mission: on 9 September 1857 (under the Julian calendar used at the time in Russia; under the current Gregorian calendar, the date would be 22 September 1857), a detachment of three ships – the Lefort, Vladimir and Empress Alexandra – using a favorable southwesterly wind, sailed from Revel toward Kronstadt to spend the winter there.
On the evening of 9 September, when the ships were approaching Gogland Island, the wind picked up to storm speeds and the detachment commander decided to stay in the area until sunrise, performing maneuvers to maintain the ships’ stability so that they could continue later.
On the morning of 10 September, the wind shifted to a northerly direction with squalls and snow. Changing tacks, the detachment tried to hold position between Gogland and Bolshoy Tyuters islands. At 7:30 in the morning, another strong squall rolled the Lefort to her portside. After laying on her portside for a few minutes, the ship capsized and disappeared under the waves.
Nobody survived. The ship took her commander, Captain First-Class Kishkin, along with 12 officers, 743 sailors, 53 sailors’ wives and 17 children to the bottom: 826 people in total.
The investigation commission questioned all of the witnesses to the tragedy, but was unable to draw a final conclusion about the cause of the accident, noting in their report: “the Lefort tragedy is the type of accident that, fortunately, happens very rarely, where the cause remains a mystery despite every effort of the investigators […] This catastrophe has touched not only the sailing community, but many grief-stricken orphans and families throughout the Russian Empire have cried for their relatives for years, and long into the future, the Lefort will be a heavy, sad memory for everyone. In the very distant future, when memory of the Lefort dissolves like that of each and every disaster in the world, the fantastic painting of professor Ivan Aivazovsky will remain in the Kronstadt naval library.”
Until the Estonia passenger ferry sank in 1994, the Lefort tragedy was largest peacetime sea disaster on the Baltic Sea. The tragic sinking of the Lefort was memorialized by the famous marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky.
The Lefort battleship was discovered during our team’s expedition on 4 May 2013 while scanning the seafloor with sonar in search of the Soviet Shch-320 submarine to the north of Bolshoy Tyuters Island. The ship lies at a depth of 70 meters. She is in perfect condition due to the water conditions in the Gulf of Finland. The only visible damage are the masts and bowsprit, which were apparently broken while sinking, and the aft decorations, which have been partially torn off by fishing nets.