The Vaindloo freighter (formerly the Vestkusten, an Estonian cargo-and-passenger steamer) was not one of the ships traveling from Tallinn to Kronstadt, so you will not find its name on monuments and memorials dedicated to the Soviet evacuation of Tallinn, the Baltic Fleet’s largest and most tragic operation of WWII, which is sometimes referred to as the “Russian Dunkirk”.
However, the Vaindloo did indeed participate in that operation. The Vaindloo arrived at Gogland on the evening of 28 August to evacuate wounded sailors from the island who had been rescued from the water and sinking ships of Admiral Svyatov’s detachment. On the morning of 29 August, after taking the wounded aboard, the Vaindloo departed for Kronstadt. However, just a few miles from Gogland Island, German dive-bombers attacked the ship and it sank.
Unfortunately, there are no records of how many people were on board, how many of them were killed, or any details of the attack. Until its discovery, nobody even knew where it sank.
Seafloor conditions: the ship is preserved in excellent condition, on an even keel, fully accessible for inspection. The windows and doors are broken on the port side, apparently from the explosions of bombs that were dropped, and the deckhouse is easily accessible. The telegraph, helm and compass stand are preserved in excellent condition.
The Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905 gave a number of lessons that significantly influenced shipbuilding trends, the commissioning of new classes of warships, as well as the focus of fleet combat training and countermine operations.
One of the lessons learned led to the creation of the world’s first specially designed countermine ships – minesweepers.
In 1907, a commission was created to develop suggestions for using mines in warfare. The commission noted that Russia left much to be desired in this area. Based on the commission’s recommendations, the Naval General Staff decided to build specially designed minesweeper ships for the fleet. Vice Admiral I.K. Grigorovich, a supporter of developing domestic naval shipbuilding capabilities, dispatched an order for the construction of the new minesweepers to the state-owned Izhora Shipyard. It was also charged with the project’s design. The first two minesweepers, named Vzryv and Minrep, were laid down in December 1909.
The world’s first specially designed minesweeper, Vzryv, slipped its berth on 17 March 1911, followed on 6 April by Minrep, which would become the lead ship of the class. Before their trials had ended, on 12 June 1910, the Izhora Shipyard received an order to construct three additional minesweepers based on the Vzryv’s design and specifications: the Zapal, Provodnik and Fugas.
In the early years of WWI, during 1914-1918, minesweeper operations mostly involved piloting ships behind sweeps in the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea.
The lessons learned in the first months of combat operations showed that Minrep-class minesweepers handled well, were seaworthy, and easily withstood rolling and pitching. That said, they had a short cruising range and weak engines. This limited their use in fresh weather and remote areas.
The ships’ undoubted advantage was their high survivability, of which the Vzryv minesweeper serves as an excellent example.
Minesweeping operations are associated with constant risk and losses are inevitable. The Minrep-class minesweepers were no exception.
The Provodnik minesweeper had the dubious glory of being the first ship of the Russian Imperial Fleet to sink in WWI. It happened on 27 August 1914 while sweeping the first minefield deployed by the Germans at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland.
Description of the event by I.A. Kireev, staff navigator of the Baltic Fleet’s minesweeping division:
“The Provodnik cleared three mines, one after another. At the same time, the Zapal cleared one mine, after which its sweep ceased to serve as a reliable cover for the Yakor, which was following in its wake. At any rate, this was spurious cover at best, because the swept path ran at an angle to the heading due to the drift, and the left-front line minesweeper was basically sailing without cover. Despite their large draft, the second-line minesweepers safely cut through two lines of mines. The second pair struggled to advance, towing the mines that had been swept. From all sides, the short, sharp whistles that the minesweepers used to report about mines they had swept could be heard. Kitkin, who was on board the Iskra, ordered the Provodnik to approach to cut the mines that had been caught by the first pair; at the same time, he decided to interrupt the minesweeping operation and lead the minesweepers to clear water. On the Iskra, he had the false impression that the mine barrier followed a NW-SO orientation, so instead of turning to the port side, he signaled both lines to turn to the starboard side, not knowing that in doing so they would have to cross the barrier line. While performing this maneuver, at 15:45 the Provodnik in its turn hit a mine on the starboard side, against the stokehold. The explosion damaged the minesweeper severely: the bridge was destroyed, the pipe and mainmast were blown off, and the side had a huge, gaping hole. The loss of life was very high: of the 30 crew members, 11 were killed and 7 were injured. The minesweeper remained afloat for 15 minutes after the explosion: at first she tipped to starboard, then straightened up, sagged in the middle, and broke in two. The Zapal, Minrep, Yakor and Prochny launched dinghies to rescue her crew.”
The second of the first run of ships to sink was the first minesweeper of the class that was built: the Vzryv.
I.A. Kireev’s description of the Vzryv’s sinking follows:
“Today (appr. 28.05.1916), while establishing the westernmost line of the Forward Mine Position, a disaster took place on the Vzryv minesweeper. It had already deployed 30 mines, but while launching the 31st mine, a poorly secured protective device hit the explosive cutter along the edge of a slot on the stern skirting and exploded. The explosion detonated the mine. There was a deafening blast and a huge column of flame and black smoke rose up over the minesweeper’s stern. The minesweeper continued along its course, then stopped about a minute and a half later; people who had been thrown overboard from the stern by the explosive gasses were swimming in the water. The Fugas was already far behind, and the flagship minesweeper ignored its instructions. Turning sharply to starboard, the Zapal headed toward the stricken ship; the Minrep did the same, without being ordered to do so. Minesweepers 17, Sheksna, Mologa and 16 stopped their engines. The Fugas, as well as minesweepers 14 and 15, immediately turned around following the explosion and sailed full speed toward the accident. At the time of the explosion, 20 of the 38 crew members were on the stern; they were all killed except for one minelayer, Markin, who was thrown into the air by the explosion and landed in the water far astern the minesweeper. Subsequently, doctors extracted about 150 tiny bits of shrapnel from his body, and he quickly recovered.
The most incredible thing is that he was standing the closest to the explosion. The dinghies rescued four wounded from the water and took 14 survivors off the Vzryv (of whom another two were wounded). Immediately afterward, another mine exploded on the minesweeper’s deck, and the remaining three mines were smoking; one of them had been thrown by the explosion and lay on its side on the engine compartment hatch. Frequent explosions from cartridges stored in the mine cabin could be heard, the stern was on fire, the round-aft was smashed, the ship’s skin was torn off in places and bulkheads were jutting outward. The Minrep unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire. Kovalevsky, who had approached on the Fugas, was ordered to tow the Vzryv to the west of the barrier line and use the good firefighting equipment on board minesweeper 15. The wounded were transferred to minesweeper 14 and sent to Hanko. The Fugas towed the burning Vzryv a long time, but minesweeper 15 was unable to extinguish the fire. An hour and a half after the initial explosion, first one and then the other two smoking mines exploded, the bow lifted into the air, and the minesweeper swiftly sank.”
The Provodnik was the first ship of the Russian Imperial Fleet to sink in WWI. The Vzryv sank while establishing the Forward Mine Position, which sealed the entrance to the Gulf of Finland tightly shut in 1916, and it was at this minefield six months later that the Russian Baltic Fleet would enjoy its largest victory – in one night, seven of Germany’s newest destroyers sank after hitting mines in the Forward Mine Position’s trap.
On 28 November 1944, underway as part of a convoy from Tallinn, MKT T-387 (“MKT” is the Russian abbreviation for naval minesweeper) was hit by a torpedo near the Pakri Peninsula by the German submarine U-679 (according to M.Morozov) or U-481 (according to uboat.net). Thirteen members of its crew were killed when it sank.
The minesweepers were designed and built in Leningrad during the siege and were meant to make up for the huge losses among the Baltic Fleet’s Fugas-type (“Fugas” is Russian for “mine”) coastal minesweepers in the first two years of the war. Despite the Leningrad shipyards’ limited capabilities, the ships turned out to be quite a success and served for many years in the fleets of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries.
The combat losses among these minesweepers were very low – just three were sunk. This makes the study and documentation of their wrecks interesting and important.
Underwater, the minesweeper is quite badly damaged. The stern is missing and the deckhouse armature has been broken by fishing nets. The hull is stuck in the clay in such a way that the bow rises out of the seafloor at an angle of roughly 25 degrees. The binnacle, helm and telegraph are well preserved. Unfortunately, the poor visibility at the dive site made it impossible to inspect the wreckage in detail.
The Gulf of Finland is the cradle of northern civilizations. Trade and sea traffic have existed there from time immemorial. The old trade routes are strewn with a huge number of sunken tall ships of all eras, nationalities and sizes. Most of them are in excellent condition: they are hard to access, but the cold waters of the Gulf of Finland keep the wood perfectly preserved. Artifacts can be found on almost every wreck: dishes, bells, personal belongings of crewmembers, anchors, helms, and remains of cargo.
Among ourselves, we call these ships “Scanias” because they served as the long-haul trucks of their time.
Commissioned on 14 June 1907. Laid down in December 1906 at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. Launched on 22 August 1909, entered service on 6 October 1911.
During WWI, she conducted search operations along enemy communication lines, conducted and covered mine-laying operations by the fleet’s light ships; she conducted a total of 17 combat patrols.
On 7 November 1914, she went on a patrol to Dagerort and then, instead of returning, at the commander’s initiative she remained at sea and sailed to the Swedish coast.
This patrol was the first time that the Russian Fleet hunted for the enemy, instead of its usual positioning tactics. Subsequently, hunting tactics would bring the Russian Fleet many successes on both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.
On 8 November 1914, she sighted the Amazone cruiser at Gotska Skande and at 4:05 fired one torpedo from a distance of roughly 7 cable lengths at the approaching destroyer. The Germans saw the torpedo’s wake and turned out of its way. This was the Russian submarine’s first attack.
The surface and dive engines were overhauled in the winter of 1914-1915 at the Baltic Shipyard. Additionally, a 47 mm gun was installed, as well as a training and mine-laying device to deploy four obstacle mines.
In November 1915, the sub sank during its 17th combat patrol while laying mines between Libava and Memel. Nothing was known about her fate for 100 years. The most plausible theory was that the mine-laying equipment reduced the submarine’s surface stability and she capsized during a storm.
The Akula submarine was one of just a few WWI-era Baltic Fleet submarines that was able to operate in the enemy’s coastal waters. This largely determined her further intensive combat service.
On the evening of 4 December 1914, the Akula submarine was in the open sea. A snowstorm was raging, the wind was was whipping the heavy snow – the winter Baltic was storming. At times, the visibility was nearly zero. The submarine’s commander, Captain Second-Class S.N. Vlasyev, watch officer, Midshipman K.F. Terletsky, and helmsman, Petty Officer Ivan Pasteh, were on the bridge. The waves were lashing around the sub, but she continued stubbornly onward, as Vlasyev was searching for enemy ships. Before going to sea, headquarters informed the submarine commander that the German cruiser Augsburg had been spotted: a tempting target. So, the Akula was sailing on the surface, although in such weather she should have submerged long ago.
It seemed nearly impossible to see anything in the whiteout. But no, it was possible! “Ship on the starboard side! Distance 20-25 cable lengths! Moving on a collision course!” Ivan Pasteh, who was one of the best helmsmen in the Baltic Fleet and had only recently had a merit promotion to petty officer, had come through again. “Well done”, the commander replied, peering into the distance. “I see it! The Augsburg! All hands below deck!” Terletsky and Pasteh jumped into the hatch. Before following them, Vlasyev brushed the snow off the periscope. However, the blizzard was getting worse with every passing minute. The commander went below and closed the hatch, then leaned against the periscope, but could see nothing at all. The lenses were instantly covered in snow. The sub was blind. Was it possible to attack in such conditions? “Konstantin Filippovich, what shall we do?”, the commander asked Terletsky and, without waiting for an answer from the watch officer, said: “There’s only one way out: we need to return to the bridge – decks awash, I’ll command from above. Helmsman remain below. Let’s go!”
The pumps roared to life. The Akula submarine began drawing water into the stern ballast tanks. Bubnov’s first submarines took a very long time to submerge – a full three minutes – so the commander decided to bring the submarine to decks awash position, leaving only the bridge surfaced.
In this case, it takes just one minute to submerge. Even if an enemy cruiser were to spot the submarine, which in these conditions was highly doubtful, it would have time to dive.
Opening the top hatch, Vlasyev and Terletsky returned to their positions on the tiny bridge, the lion’s share of which was occupied by the two periscope shears. Both sky and sea were attacking the officers. Hurricane-force winds were driving the snow, and the waves were furiously lashing the bridge. The bridge flooded both when submerged and with decks awash, when it was nearly level with the surface of the sea, and practically nothing separated the officers from the shock of the waves. It was almost as if they were riding the sub into battle. Even the slightest mistake by the helmsman would send the bow under and wash the officers overboard. Once, that very thing happened on the Peskar submarine. A tugboat stopped (the sub was being towed), the helmsmen miscalculated, and both the commander and mechanic, who were on the bridge, went to a watery grave.
Terletsky and Vlasev remembered that case. However, that was during the July heat, and this was a freezing December blizzard. The two men courageously fought on the Akula’s bridge in the raging sea. This was a fight indeed. And there was a reason… It was as though they were accompanied by Vlasyev’s wife, Joanna Alexandrovna, whom Terletsky devoutly loved. Vlasyev knew this, but felt no enmity toward his subordinate: another woman took Joanna Alexandrovna’s place in his heart. A break-up was inevitable, but Vlasyev was not indifferent about who would raise his children: two sons and a daughter. It had already been decided that the children would stay with their mother. The commander had known Terletsky for years, was sure of him, but couldn’t help but to once more test the mettle of the man whom Vlasyev’s children would call stepfather. So, there was more than just the needs of battle forcing the submarine commander to take the desperate step of “riding” the submarine into combat.
Wave after wave washed over the submarine… Water was streaming into the open hatch. The situation was very bad. The submarine was taking on extra water at a time when the ballast tanks were carefully calculated and balanced. “This is bad”, Vlasyev yelled, “We’ll sink the sub. We need to close the hatch!” “But how will we contact the helm?”, Terletsky yelled, practically into the commander’s ear, as the sea was simply bellowing. “We’ll send commands through the upper vent valve, since it’s open now. Close the hatch!” Terletsky did as commanded. The German cruiser approached. Its silhouette suddenly appeared as the blizzard made a brief respite, as if exhausting its anger, then disappeared again into a veil of snow. Torpedoes away! However, they missed. In his debriefing, Vlasyev reported: “The likely causes were the following: poor targeting due to low visibility, changing snow conditions, as well as because, having remained topside, we had to be careful not to be washed overboard – when we fired, I was barely managing to hold onto the handrail.”
The report also stated: “I consider it my duty to note the dedicated work of the officers and team members while sailing in such harsh conditions… it is also necessary to note the dedication and contribution of the watch officer, Midshipman Terletsky, an outstanding officer in all respects whose competence, character and knowledge in service merit special distinction.”
Joanna Alexandrovna would soon take the children and leave Vlasyev for Terletsky. Unmarried (until a divorce agreement could be filed), they lived in Revel together. But Terletsky received command of the Okun submarine, which was based on the Aland Islands. Joanna Alexandrovna traveled to the Aland Islands in late November 1916 to visit Terletsky. Their few days together passed quickly. On 1 December, Terletsky took Joanna Alexandrovna to the Shiftet freighter, which was sailing to Revel, and then went to the harbor, as he had a combat patrol coming up.
The morning fog was like a curtain, revealing the pines and granite of the Aland Islands. Terletsky piloted the Okun submarine out of the harbor. The Shiftet was sailing several cable lengths away. Terletsky was watching the steamer through his binoculars. He thought that he could see Joanna Alexandrovna at the stern. After all, she knew that Konstantin Filippovich would follow in the steamer’s wake for a while, until submerging. Suddenly, there was a flash of fire under the stern of the freighter. The blast wave reached the sub and rolled the Okun onto its side. The freighter sank almost immediately, its bow jutting into the air. Then came another dull rumble – the steamer’s boilers exploded in the icy water. Joanna Alexandrovna was not among the few who were rescued.
From the report of the commander of the Fifth Detached Artillery Company of the Abo-Aland position on the Maritime Front:
02.12.1916: “At 09:35, a steamer sailing from Marienhamn was covered in thick smoke, objects were seen flying in all directions. The faint sound of an explosion followed. After around three seconds, only the sinking stern could be seen, and within 10 seconds it had all plunged into the water.”
Excerpt from the Shiftet steamer’s casualty list:
Boatswain’s Mate Sergei Ivanov, helmsman of the Okun submarine, who was escorting the wife of Captain Second-Class Vlasyev.
Private citizens and civilian officials:
Wife of Captain Second-Class Vlasyev […]
There were 65 names on the list of casualties. Approximately 10 people were rescued, one of whom died on the way to Marienhamn. Thus died Terletsky’s beloved. Two of Vlasyev’s three children (by this time, the oldest son had entered the naval college) remained in the hands of the commander of the Okun submarine , K.F. Terletsky. He was deeply faithful to the memory of Joanna Alexandrovna, and Vlasyev’s children remained under Terletsky’s tutelage a long time. The youngest son – Rostislav – considered him his father for decades, not noticing a difference in his attitude toward him and Boris, Terletsky’s son from his second marriage. Boris Terletsky died bravely in the beginning of WWII, while serving as a lieutenant in the armored corps.
In the winter of 1914-1915, during repairs to the bow, a 47-mm caliber gun was installed. Since the Baltic Fleet had no specialized mine-laying submarines, in the fall of 1915 the Akula was outfitted with a device to transport and deploy four of the mines used on the Baltic Fleet’s Krab underwater minefield.
Hooks fastened the mines in nests behind the conning tower on the upper deck, and after their transport fasteners were released they would be slid overboard by hand along pillar brackets. Practical tests conducted during the Revel raid gave positive results. On 14 November 1915, the submarine’s commander, Captain Second-Class N.A. Gudim, took the Akula on its 17th combat patrol to deploy mines south of Libava.
On the evening of 15 November 1915, the Akula submarine was spotted by coastal stations along the shore, where it was riding out a storm. The ship was not seen again – the reason why the Akula submarine sank remains a mystery to this day.
The Akula was the Russian Fleet’s first submarine lost in combat.
Notes of V.A. Merkushov, Okun submarine commander in 1914-1915. Submariner’s notes, 1905-1915. Compiled and edited by V.V. Lobytsyn. — M.: Soglasie, 2004. — 624 pp., ill. — isbn 5–86884–094–1. Press run: 1,000 copies.
In three days, it will have been a month since the Akula went on its first mine-laying run at Vindava. Too much time has passed, and with pain in my heart I must assume she sank…
This is the first combat loss in the Baltic Fleet’s Submarine Division. If the Germans had sunk the Akula, they would long ago have proclaimed it to the whole world, thus, it seems likely that nobody will ever know how, where and why she sank. Did she hit a mine, get caught up in nets – which the railing for the four obstacle mines near the conning tower would have made particularly easy – or was there some accident during diving: nothing is known.
Perhaps the Akula sank from an explosion of one of its own mines. (Once, at Revel, a mine’s fuse activated during diving and it armed; they managed to disarm it, but this case is very revealing.) Maybe, while under way, due to the rolling and waves striking the Akula’s hull and the unprotected obstacle mines, one of them became armed, struck some object floating on the surface, and detonated…
Or perhaps one of the mines’ mounts was unable to withstand the repeated strong impacts of the waves and broke or was weakened; the mine slipped, armed and detonated on the sub’s hull.
It could also be supposed that the submarine simply capsized, although in avoidance of this the Whitehead mines were only used in internal launchers, and the four external Dzhevetsky-Podgorny launchers were not loaded.
Whatever the case, after departing from Revel on the morning of 16 November, a storm forced the Akula to anchor at the Lower Dagerort lighthouse, after which she went to sea and was lost, taking four officers and 28 shipmates with her – old, experienced submariners…
Until the new submarines of the 1912 program entered service (Bars, Gepard and Vepr), the Akula was our best submarine, led by one of our most experienced commanders, Captain Second-Class Nikolai Alexandrovich Gudim. The executive officer was Lieutenant Gersdorf, the helmsman was Lieutenant Kopets, and the watch officer was Midshipman Chistovsky.
Due to the crew’s limited knowledge of the new obstacle mines, the first combat patrol was accompanied by Lieutenant Stefan Kalchev – he was of Bulgarian descent, graduated the naval college with me, joined the Russian Fleet in 1911 and was the assistant of the mines’ inventor, Captain First-Class Shreiber.
This is the same Kalchev who had invented a special drifting mine with near-zero buoyancy, intended specifically for the Bosporus. His intention was for the cylindrical mechanical mine to float freely with the current at a set depth until it ran out of electrical charge, say around a week, but the float time could be shortened to several dozen minutes.
Thrown into the mouth of the Bosporus, the mines would be carried by the current, unnoticed by anyone, deep into the strait, where they would detonate after hitting the submerged part of a ship underway or at anchor, or a net or embankment, sinking the ship, severing the net, or destroying coastal structures.
I don’t know how far the development of these mines had advanced, and who knows whether it will be finished now?
Thanks to its reliability, sailing range and relatively fast dive time, the Akula was constantly sailing to enemy shores, repeatedly attacked German ships, launched mines at them, but despite the commander’s massive energy and the crew’s endurance, they were not successful.
Nonetheless, Nikolai Alexandrovich was, without a doubt, one of our best, most worthy and talented submarine commanders. He happily combined eight years of continuous service in the submarine fleet with the inclinations and ability to apply theoretical insights to tactical problems.
Under a different command at the Baltic Fleet’s Submarine Division, Captain Second-Class Gudim would most likely have been transferred to the Naval General Staff, where his experience, knowledge and inclinations could have fully manifested themselves.
With his death, we have lost an officer who could have created new submarine tactics that do not yet exist in any of the world’s fleets, due to how recently we have begun sailing underwater…
On the evening of 15 November 1915, the Akula submarine was last seen by the Russian observation posts on Ezel Island.
The Akula was the first truly Russian combat submarine, designed and manufactured at Russian shipyards. She was one of the world’s best pre-war submarines.
She was the first submarine in the Russian Fleet to have diesel motors installed.
At the beginning of WWI (before the Bars-class submarines entered service), the Akula was the Baltic Fleet’s most advanced submarine, completing 16 combat patrols in 16 months, and sinking on its 17th patrol.
She conducted the Russian Fleet’s first submarine-launched combat torpedo attack.
The Akula was the first submarine in the world to fire several torpedoes at once.
In 1915, due to the Baltic Fleet’s acute shortage of ships for concealed mine-laying along enemy coasts, the Akula submarine was equipped with deck gear to transport and launch four anchor mines.
The Akula was the first Russian submarine lost in combat.
The submarine is excellently preserved, laying at an almost even keel on a course toward the proposed mine-laying site. All four mines that she was carrying lie side-by-side: the outer hull has been destroyed over the years and the mines fell down. The main hatch is open, the compass is installed, the periscope is stowed: the submarine sank while surfaced. The brass inscription “Akula” is visible on the remnants of the outer hull.
The bow of the sub has been torn off by an external explosion on the starboard side, and the part of the bow that has been torn off lies 10 meters behind the stern. Most likely, while sailing on the surface, the submarine hit a drift mine (there was a German mine field nearby, where Russian minesweepers were working). The explosion tore off the bow of the ship, which fell vertically to the seafloor, and the rest of the sub sank more gently. The Akula had no isolated compartments, so the submarine most likely sank almost immediately. The entire crew was undoubtedly killed and most of them are likely still inside the shipwreck.
The Pallada was considered a relatively modern and powerful ship at the start of WWI. However, it was built for massive artillery battles, as nobody had thought seriously about the danger of submarines – and the Pallada was insufficiently protected from torpedo attacks.
The surprise, lightning-fast sinking of a huge surface ship by a relatively small and inexpensive submarine showed just how promising and underestimated they were as weapons of war.
The ship is believed to have been lost as a result of the carelessness of Captain Magnus. Sergei Reingoldovich Magnus was well aware of the threat posed by submarines: literally two months before the outbreak of the war, the Akula submarine (“akula” is Russian for “shark”) simulated attacking and sinking the Pallada during a training exercise. According to eyewitness accounts, this made a strong impression on the captain of the Pallada, who “was beside himself for several days”. Nonetheless, while returning from watch on the fateful day of 28 September 1914, the cruiser did not take evasive maneuvers (anti-submarine zig-zag) and, additionally, the captain released the destroyers from its escort. The huge ship, sailing in a straight line at a relatively low speed, posed an excellent target for the U-26’s captain, Egewolf Freiherr von Berckheim.
The attack happened during lunch, when most of the crew were in the cruiser’s inner compartments. An explosion, likely of the steam boilers (the torpedoes hit the cruiser dead-center), split the Pallada in two and it took several minutes to sink. No-one was rescued. A flotation ring and the ship’s icon were picked out of the water sometime later – they are kept at the Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg.
U-26 was one of the most successful German submarines in WWI but soon shared the sunken cruiser’s fate. During one of his combat patrols, von Berckheim sank the Yenisei minelayer and another three merchant ships, but while returning from patrol he hit a mine that they Yenisei had previously deployed.
The Pallada is excellently preserved under the water. The ship broke into two halves that lie at a distance of roughly 100 meters from one another. The forecastle and fore turret were torn off when she sank. They lie near the bow and are easily accessible for inspection, where speaking tubes, telegraphs, shells and cartridges can be seen. The huge admiralty anchors remain in place, and near the end of the bow lies the wing of a bronze eagle – the figurehead, apparently torn off by a fishing net.
A wooden coat of arms with a two-headed eagle and the inscription “Pallada” is well preserved at the stern.
Ordered on 18 September at the F. Shichau shipyard in Elbing. Serial number S 1406. Laid down on 27 July 1939, launched on 1 June 1940, completed on 22 November 1941. Remained in Baltic waters until April 1942, where she underwent testing and a combat training course. In May-September 1942, assigned to torpedo school. Located in French waters from September 1942 until June 1943. Escorted the Wismar blockade runner when it broke out of Japan.
On 28 March 1943, T-18 was part of the the Himalaya blockade runner’s destroyer escort, but the ships returned to port after spotting enemy aerial reconnaissance. Over 5-8 May 1943, T-18 took part in three mine-laying operations.
After returning to Germany in July 1943, became part of the torpedo school. From September 1943 to November 1943, conducted combat training for the submarine fleet and was assigned to the 23rd submarine flotilla. During this time, T-18 was based in Memel (Klaipeda) and Danzig (Gdansk). From December 1943 to May 1944, the ship was under repair at the shipyard where it was built. After the repairs were completed, the torpedoboot performed various missions in the eastern Baltic and Gulf of Finland from June to September 1944.
On the morning of 17 September 1944, T-18, T-13 and T-20 were sailing from the Aland Islands to Tallinn to refuel. In the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, the detachment discovered an Estonian cutter (small sailboat) with refugees from Sweden, who were travelling to neutral Sweden. The Germans stopped the boat and began to search her. T-18 conducted the actual search, lowering a dinghy after mooring with the side of the Estonian boat. The other two destroyers were nearby, but even though he was on T-18, the flotilla commander did not order them to cover the flagship. He would come to regret his carelessness within 10 minutes of starting the search, when a pair of A-20 Boston bombers from the Red Banner Baltic Fleet’s 51st mine and torpedo wing appeared on the horizon. They were piloted by Senior Lieutenant Borisov, who was carrying a torpedo under his fuselage, and Lieutenant Pudov, who had two FAB-250 bombs on board. The T-20 torpedoboot, which was far ahead, began to fire on Borisov’s bomber, which after launching its torpedo from a long distance was forced to turn away.
Meanwhile, Pudov’s aircraft was rushing toward T-18; the third German torpedoboot, T-13, was behind the flagship and could do nothing to help. T-18 would have to rely solely on the power and accuracy of its antiaircraft defense. The torpedoboot’s commander, Ober-Lieutenant Meyer-Abich, was an experienced military officer and waited for the enemy to enter the range of its entire artillery arsenal so that he could repel the aircraft’s attack with with a curtain of fire. This was a standard Kriegsmarine tactic and was drilled during training exercises to the point of being automatic. It is unknown how the duel between the plane and ship would have ended, if not for an accident – the cadet standing at the signal transmission station hesitated to pull the handles of the telegraphs to transmit the command to the artillery posts.
The German antiaircraft gunners were woken from their stupor by a shout from the commander himself. The automatic guns unleashed a burst of fire in the direction of the approaching bomber, but it was already too late: Pudov dropped his two 250kg bombs on target from a distance of 150-200 meters, hitting T-18. The time was 07:08. Since nothing happened for the following 30-40 seconds, Meyer-Abich thought the bombs had missed, but then a sudden explosion followed near the boiler room, the ship broke up and within seven minutes both halves were on the seafloor. There were 98 people rescued from the water, including the commander of the ship and flotilla, as well as the Estonian refugees who were on board at the time of the attack. Thirty German sailors went down with the ship, mostly enginemen and antiaircraft gunners.
An inspection of the wreck on the seafloor showed that it is in excellent condition: even the leather on the antiaircraft gunners’ seats, paint, and small parts of the machine guns and other weapons were preserved. The ship’s bell can even be seen – it is visible at the end of the video. The ship is broken into two halves that are stuck into the clay seafloor exactly how they sank – almost vertically.