The expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the Northern Fleet has completed its work on the island of Kildin in the Barents Sea.
According to the head of the expedition, Dmitry Alekseev, it had two tasks. The main one was checking the state of military graves belonging to the period of the defense of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War. The second was the search for pieces of military equipment and weapons for possible display in museums.
The joint task force of 28 people included members of the Russian Geographical Society and search specialists from five Russian regions (the Chuvash Republic, Murmansk and Pskov Oblasts, Moscow and Moscow Oblast), as well as the military and employees of the Northern Fleet. The group was transported to the island by the crew of the landing craft utility of the Kola Flotilla of All-arms Forces.
Back in the 1930s, Kildin was being prepared for a possible defense of the Kola Peninsula. By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the island had turned into a powerful and well-fortified military base. Observation posts, coastal artillery batteries and a military airfield operated on the island. Kildin defended the entrance to the Kola Bay, where the Northern Fleet was based and its main port, Murmansk, is located. It was here that the ships of the allied convoys came under the Lend-Lease program.
“During the war, the enemy never set foot on Kildin,” says Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Dulich, head of the Northern Fleet's Missile and Artillery Directorate. "The island itself was called 'granite battleship'. Its importance during the defense of the Soviet Arctic was significant until the very last months of the war. Enemy submarines hunted for transports in the Barents Sea even in the spring of 1945. As you know, the American transport ship 'Thomas Donaldson' was sunk on March 20, 1945, just 20 miles short of the Kola Bay.”
Despite the fact that there were no hostilities on the island itself, non-combat losses in the garrison, numbering more than a thousand people, did happen. Soldiers died in aircraft accidents, died from wounds and diseases. Since then, several dozen military graves have remained on the island. The military memorial service of the Northern Fleet's logistics headquarters is working on cataloguing and keeping them in proper condition.
In turn, the Murmansk search specialists have been reconciling military graves on the entire Kola Peninsula with documentary data for several years and are trying to find out the fate of each warrior.
"We had four military grave passports, now we managed to establish their location, as well as the names of the soldiers who are resting there. Memorial plaques and monuments were installed,” says the head of the military memorial service Irina Karakyan.
“Kildin is a difficult place in terms of weather conditions,” notes Dmitry Alekseev. "There is not a single tree on the island. Strong winds are common here, and during our expedition the air temperature during the day dropped to 6°C . It was stormy for several days. We were literally flooded with rain. Having got here, even in summer, any person will be impressed by the heroism with which people served in that difficult time and in such a difficult place. And what a huge responsibility fell to the lot of the garrison, thanks to which not a single enemy ship was able to get into the Kola Bay."
The head of the RGS expedition believes that in the future Kildin may become an interesting place for thematic tourism.
“The scale of fortifications and defense systems on the island is impressive,” says Dmitry Alekseev. "In fact, it was a circular defense along the perimeter of the coastline. Many objects of the times of the Great Patriotic War are well preserved. Of undoubted value are 180-millimeter coastal artillery batteries and multi-level fortifications that go deep underground. We examined a 400-meter tunnel with technical rooms. It is literally carved into the rock ..."
The expedition members were primarily interested in objects and artifacts related to the period of defense of the Soviet Arctic during the war years. However, even in Soviet times, the island was used by the military. For example, Kildin was one of two points on the territory of the USSR (the second was in the Crimea), where the first Soviet cruise missiles were tested. By the way, the search specialists found one training rocket, of course without "stuffing", but quite suitable for exhibiting in a museum. Another find was a launcher for anti-submarine torpedoes from around the 1970s, which is also in relatively good condition.
The current trip was the fourth season of the RGS expedition to the Kola Peninsula region. Last year, search specialists worked near the village of Liinakhamari in Murmansk Oblast. Next year, it is planned to explore the coastline from the Titovka River to the Zapadnaya Litsa River, a place of fierce confrontation between Soviet and German troops.