Two Soviet ships that perished near Juminda Peninsula in August 1941 were discovered and identified by the members of the RGS expedition "180 miles to Leningrad. The history of the Tallinn breakout on the modern sea map". We are talking about the transports "Balkhash" and "Naissaar". The first of them is still considered the biggest death site in the Gulf of Finland.
According to the head of the expedition, director of "Underwater Exploration Team" Konstantin Bogdanov, the vessels were identified by comparing the underwater footage and structural features visible in historical photographs, as well as analyzing archival documentation.
According to the most authoritative researcher of the history of the Tallinn Breakout, Rear Admiral Radiy Zubkov, the BT-501 "Balkhash" transport took on board up to 3,900 people. This is the entire garrison of the city of Paldiski, together with the hospital and the families of military personnel. The transport safely passed almost the entire minefield in the Juminda area and sank already at the exit on the morning of August 29.
According to archival data, only 86 people were saved. According to their testimony, the explosion occurred in the area of the second hold. The vessel began to plunge rapidly forward, capsizing at the same time. There was practically no chance of escaping.
"Balkhash" was found at a depth of 96 meters. The bow of the vessel is deeply buried in the ground, and the stern rises 10 meters. A huge number of human remains were found on the deck and in the holds.
“I confess, we experienced an emotional shock,” says Konstantin Bogdanov. “Over the years of our expeditions, we have found many wrecks of submarines and ships. But, probably, for the first time, we encountered the fact that human remains are just lying in a layer of 1.5 to 2 meters thick at the side of the ship. These are hundreds and even thousands of dead people. Eighty years have passed, and not only ammunition or items have survived, but also organic matter. Perhaps this is due to the peculiarities of the place, depth or temperature of the water. In addition, obviously, the ships sank very quickly, there was practically no chance of escape. When you see children's skulls, it is very difficult to remain indifferent. It is at such moments that the conviction comes that there is nothing worse than war. This should never happen again ...”
The fate of the second discovered ship has remained a mystery for 80 years. Radiy Zubkov pointed out that no documentary data on the exact place and time of the sinking of the VT-584 "Naissaar" transport had been found. It is only known that it was supposed to take on board 1,500 people from the rifle units defending Tallinn. It is not known for certain how many people actually boarded and what cargo was taken.
An examination of the “Naissaar”, lying at a depth of more than 70 meters, clarified the fate and circumstances of the sinking of the transport.
“’Naissaar’ was blown up on the same mine line as “Balkhash” at the eastern edge of Juminda on the morning of August 29,” says Konstantin Bogdanov. “A mine explosion tore off the bow of the ship – it sank almost instantly. Judging by the number of human remains and weapons found on the seabed, ‘Naissaar’ may have remained in the port of Tallinn until the last moment, receiving retreating rifle units. We assume that well over 1,500 people were taken on board.
According to Radiy Zubkov, the “Naissaar” transport is the third most fatal place among all participants in the Tallinn Breakout.
Historian and diver Mikhail Ivanov, on the eve of the expedition, prepared a fairly accurately localized search plan, but it was not easy to find specific objects. As Konstantin Bogdanov testifies, at a depth below 60 meters, visibility declines sharply. "Milk" begins, a dense layer of suspended matter. The fact that "Balkhash" and "Naissaar" were discovered is an absolute success. And establishing the details of sinking of the latter can, truly, be considered a small historical discovery.
Meanwhile, during a recent dive at a depth of 97 meters, the researchers discovered something that they did not expect at all.
“At first it seemed to us that it was a submarine,” says Konstantin Bogdanov. “But upon closer inspection, we realized that we had found a large fragment of a minesweeper or torpedo boat. We do not know anything about the ship yet, identification is ahead. But the fact is, this is another previously unknown mass grave in the Gulf of Finland.”
The next few days, the researchers will devote to the search for at least three more ships that sank on the night of August 29, 1941, and are now resting on the seabed near Juminda Peninsula.
We would like to remind you that the second stage of the expedition "180 miles to Leningrad. The history of the Tallinn Breakout on the modern sea map" takes place in Estonian territorial waters. The international search team began work on July 1. In addition to the specialists of "Underwater Exploration Team", it includes researchers from Estonia, Latvia and Finland.
“I would like to express my special gratitude to the Heritage Conservation Department of the Republic of Estonia, officials and public figures of this country, for their support of our expedition and just a very friendly attitude,” says Konstantin Bogdanov. “The common memory of the tragedy of the war, like, perhaps, nothing else, unites our peoples.”