Substance Of Memory: How Participants Of "Remember The War" Expedition Restore History

Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet
Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet

The results of the third season of the complex expedition of the Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society "Remember the War" have been summed up. From January to November 2023, 12 stages took place in the waters of the Barents, White, and Kara Seas, as well as on the coast of the Kola Peninsula. Several important oceanographic surveys have been carried out, including the exploration of the seabed relief over a significant area. A new geographical object has been discovered: an island near the Rykachev Glacier. In this article, we will talk about the part of the work that is reflected in the name of the expedition and is in many ways its mission: the search for ships and aircraft lost during the bygone war.

Without a map

During the Great Patriotic War, the Arctic seas and their coasts were the scene of fierce battles and numerous casualties. At the same time, from the end of the war to the first decade of the 21st century, the search for lost ships and aircraft was not systematic. Over the decades, only a handful of objects was discovered. But from 2013 to 2020, the Northern Fleet found 10 sunken ships and aircraft. And only in three seasons of the expedition "Remember the War" 49 were found. Meanwhile, behind each of these objects there is a heroic episode of the bygone war and hundreds of lives of sailors of the Soviet Union and the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition.


The head of the expedition "Remember the war" Aleksey Kornis. Photo: Vitaly Novikov
The head of the expedition "Remember the war" Aleksey Kornis. Photo: Vitaly Novikov

There is still no map where, even presumably, the ships sunk during the war are marked. There is only a "final plan" with the ships that sank during the Great Patriotic War as of May 1945. It is kept in the Central Naval Archive in Gatchina.

"But, unfortunately, this plan contains a large number of errors and inaccuracies," says Aleksey Kornis, head of the “Remember the War” expedition, Captain 1st rank, head of the Department of the Hydrographic Service of the Northern Fleet. “Before us, enthusiasts from the regional public organization ‘Polar Convoy’ made an attempt to systematize knowledge about the lost ships, but again, as it turns out, there were a large number of mistakes. So we have to work on each episode separately, using official data, information from predecessors or our own conclusions. Of course, we always start from the official coordinates of the places of sinking (discovery) and, if we do not find the desired object, we begin to consider other options.”

Moreover, sometimes exploring the seabed, it is possible to draw important conclusions, for example, about the effectiveness of certain military tactical decisions.

“A real detective story in this regard happened with the search for the German submarines U-307, U-286, and U-387,” continues Aleksey Kornis. “They were discovered before the start of the complex expedition. In 2021, its participants only clarified their coordinates. But the establishment of the real location allowed us to put an end to the debate about the effectiveness of anti-submarine defense (or military luck?) from our side and from the allies. Unfortunately for historians of the Northern Fleet, the victories can now be accurately attributed to the British anti-submarine groups. This is an objective assessment, from which it is important to be able to draw the right conclusions.”

Not just about the past

So, step by step, the expedition is moving towards historical truth, restoring memory. But such searches have not only obvious memorial significance. There is also a purely practical aspect. During the search, specialists scan large areas of the seabed.

“Knowledge of the actual bottom situation allows you to carry out marine economic activities more effectively,” explains Aleksey Kornis. “A large number of fishing nets are often found on the piles of sunken ships. The identification of shipwreck sites helps to reduce losses for fishing. And not only. Proper knowledge of the situation increases the variability of solutions related to the study or development of bottom spaces.”


Preparing the sonar for operation. Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet
Preparing the sonar for operation. Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet

Even more dramatic finds may be those that surprised the expedition participants in 2021. During the war, the enemy set up two minefields near Belushya Bay. In 1943, they were discovered, but taking into account the post-war trawling, up to 17 German bottom mines may still be in the specified area. A reconnaissance search within the framework of the complex expedition confirmed their presence – the search teams gained practical experience in detecting and neutralizing them.

The “Perseus”, the “Airacobra”, and others

In 2023, the search specialists returned from oblivion a number of ships and aircraft that had great significance for the country. First of all, this concerns the vessel “Perseus”, which once became a kind of founding father of the research fishing fleet. The legendary vessel, whose 100th anniversary was celebrated by the specialists at the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) in 2022, was discovered in April while surveying the bottom relief in the interests of mapping in the Ein Bay. Unfortunately, all that remains of the “Perseus” does not even give a hypothetical possibility of its restoration.


A commemorative monument for the “Perseus”. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
A commemorative monument for the “Perseus”. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

The logical conclusion of the stage was the joint action of the Northern Fleet and VNIRO to install a monument to the “Perseus” on the coast of the Ein Bay.

In addition, the sailboat “Vesna” or the PMB-67 motorboat may have been discovered. They delivered cargo for the Northern Defensive Area during the Great Patriotic War.


Preparation for the lifting of the remains of the "Airacobra". Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet
Preparation for the lifting of the remains of the "Airacobra". Photo: press service of the Northern Fleet

In the summer, an “Airacobra” was lifted from a depth of 100 m in the Kola Bay.

“The fighter of Lieutenant M. S. Vasin of the 2nd squadron of the 255th Aviation Regiment of the Northern Fleet on June 27, 1944, due to engine failure, made an emergency landing on the surface of the bay when approaching Vaenga Airfield,” says Aleksey Kornis. “In 2021, during the exploration of the seabed, the aircraft was discovered by the specialists from ‘Arctic Marine Engineering and Geological Expeditions’ JSC. A year later, the fighter was examined by specialists from the Northern Fleet and the engineering company ‘Fertoing’. The aggressive environment had an extremely negative impact on the safety of the aircraft. Taking into account the impossibility of its museification, it was decided to lift the aircraft for use as a donor for the ‘Airacobra’ previously raised from Shchukozero. Its restoration is being carried out at the Museum of the Northern Fleet Air Force.”

Another significant event of the past season was the successful search in the White Sea Throat. The work was carried out in July utilizing the hydrographic vessel “Senezh” of the Belomorsky Naval Base (BelVMB). In particular, the USS-34 minesweeper was discovered.

“The ship was not put on a map, although immediately after the war the place of its sinking was established by the specialists from the Emergency Rescue Service of the Northern Fleet,” Aleksey Kornis continues. “Unfortunately, we have to deal with such facts all the time during the expedition.”


The transport “Argun”, discovered as a result of scanning the seabed. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
The transport “Argun”, discovered as a result of scanning the seabed. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

The transport “Argun”, discovered as a result of scanning the seabed. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

In addition, the minesweeper T-37 was discovered for the first time and the coordinates of the location of the hull of the transport “Argun” , identified in 2019 during an expedition of the RGS Underwater Research Center together with the BelVMB Hydrographic Service area, were confirmed.

The expedition found another, as yet unknown, vessel in the area from where numerous signals were received about the breakages of fishing trawls.

In September, the expedition found the steamer “Dixon” in the Kara Sea, which was torpedoed and sunk by a Nazi submarine in 1943. So far, the place of the shipwreck on the maps has been marked with the mark "position doubtful". Now we have the exact coordinates.

They are to be found

No less important than the finds is the completely opposite result, when nothing could be found where the presence of sunken ships was assumed. This applies, for example, to the Lend-Lease transports "Kentucky" and "El Capitan", which were the main purpose of the search at the stage in the White Sea Throat.

The first one is especially interesting because there may be more than a dozen British “Matilda” tanks in its hull – very rare examples of armored vehicles. The search for the “Kentucky” was carried out in four suspected areas of its sinking, information about which was obtained by the expedition participants at the Central Naval Archive.

The T-120 minesweeper, the transport “Kuibyshev”, and the tug boat “Medvezhonok” were not found at the official sinking coordinates. The search for the transport “John Witherspoon” and the USS-65 minesweeper in their supposed places of sinking in the Novaya Zemlya area, as well as the M-122 submarine off the Rybachiy Peninsula, has not yet yielded results.

You may recall that earlier the specialists from the company “Fertoing” found the transports “Marina Raskova”, the icebreaker steamer “Alexander Sibiryakov”, the minesweepers T-114 and T-118 far from official coordinates. So there are still many mysteries in the Arctic seas, and the expedition "Remember the War" will have enough work for several years.

“It was important for us to understand how the theory differs from practice and the conclusions drawn coincide with the real situation,” says Aleksey Kornis. “The main thing for us is that the accumulated array of information leaves no doubt that the search work will be successfully completed in the future.”

Following the results of the third season, a summary map has been prepared, which shows all the objects identified as a result of search or historical research. Of course, it will become the basis for all subsequent expeditions.

The presentation of the report for the third season will traditionally be held at the Murmansk Regional Scientific Library in early March.

The present past

Historical and memorial events traditionally became an important part of the expedition. Customarily, they were held at the memorial dedicated to the hydrographic vessel “Meridian”, which sank in 1941, in the village of Mishukovo on May 9 and June 22. The memorial has become an important unifying symbol of generations of hydrographers.


At the memorial to those who died on the hydrographic vessel “Meridian” in the village of Mishukovo. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
At the memorial to those who died on the hydrographic vessel “Meridian” in the village of Mishukovo. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

On the day of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, a commemorative event was held, where military honors were given to the sailors of the submarines D-3 and K-2.

According to the results of the three seasons of the expedition, proposals were submitted for the publication of the order of the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation and the re-publication of the order of the Commander of the Northern Fleet on the establishment of sacred memory coordinates.

“It seems to me that the most important achievement of the expedition is not the number of underwater objects found (although there are really a lot of them!) and not only their historical value. The most important thing is that those participating in the expedition touched our great past, pain, tragedies, and victories, which for many of us have long become emotionless pages of military chronicles," Aleksey Kornis sums up.

The third season of the “Remember the War” expedition (January – November 2023)


— sailing ship "Venus" (or drifterboat "Kildin"), two ships of the post-war period in the Bay of Ur;

— research vessel “Perseus”, sailboat “Vesna” (or motobot PMB-67) in the Ein Bay;

— minesweeper US-37, unknown vessel (length 62 m) in the White Sea Throat;

— unknown vessel (length 104 m), unknown vessel (length 102 m) on the approaches to the Pechenga Bay;

— transport "Dixon" in the Kara Sea;

— two unknown vessels or parts of vessels (length 27 m and 45 m) near the Teriberka Bay.

Coordinates have been clarified:

—transport “Argun”;

— minesweeper SC-34;

—patrol ship "Calm";

—rescue vessel "Shkval".

Removed from the maps:

— two ships in the White Sea Throat(variants of the location of the transports "Kentucky" and "El Capitan");

— the T-120 minesweeper;

—transport “Kuibyshev”;

— barge P-4.

The fate has been clarified:

— steam scow "Teriberka".

Nikolai Sumarokov