Four Soviet ships were found at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland and identified by the specialists from "Underwater Exploration Team" during the first stage of the RGS expedition "180 miles to Leningrad. The history of the Tallinn breakout on the modern sea map". There are remains of 2.5 thousand people aboard the vessels that were sunk in August, 1941.
From 5 to 15 May, the underwater explorers made several dives south-west of Moshchny Island in the Gulf of Finland, where, according to available data, four vessels sank. They transported wounded Red Army soldiers and civilians. All four vessels were found by the divers at depths of 30-50 meters.
We have already told about the first find – the transport No.524 (better known as "Kalpaks"). Three other vessels – No.511 ("Alev"), No.547 ("Järvamaa") and No.563 ("Atis Kronvalds"). On August 29, 1941, they all sank because of numerous German air strikes.
The tragedy occurred during the so-called Tallinn breakout – the evacuation of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet from the port of Tallinn to Kronstadt. The crossing was accompanied by colossal losses. Out of 225 ships and vessels, 62 were sunk. The number of human casualties is more than 15 thousand, mostly wounded soldiers and civilians. Nevertheless, most of the ships and personnel were saved. They subsequently played an important role in the defense of Leningrad.
Until now, the largest tragedy in the history of the Great Patriotic War in the Baltic Sea has remained in the shadows. In particular, because all the victims of the Tallinn breakout have not been found and identified.
The RGS together with the "Underwater Exploration Team" and the marine engineering company "Fertoing" organized an expedition "180 miles to Leningrad. The history of the Tallinn breakout on the modern sea map". The project was supported by the Presidential Grants Fund and the “Transneft” Company.
The search for four ships off Moshchny Island was the first and very successful part of the expedition.
“The weather in the Baltic was favorable for searches, and visibility under water was generally good – up to five to seven meters in the first days,” said the head of the expedition Konstantin Bogdanov. “Towards the end of the search, the water became more turbid due to the finely dispersed suspension, but we were able to take photographs of the objects and identify the sunken ships for certain by the items found and design features.”
According to Konstantin Bogdanov, the dives took place normally. All team members are safe and sound, the equipment worked without failure. The next most important stage may be the exploration of the area, where in August, 1945, several ships also sailing from Tallinn to Kronstadt were blown up on minefields.
“Together with underwater researchers from Estonia and Finland, we would like to make the identification and survey of ships that perished near Juminda peninsula in the territorial waters of Estonia,” says the head of the expedition. “I hope that the Estonian authorities will meet us halfway – coordinate the arrival of our team and the conduct of research.”
Another important location for underwater explorers is the area of the Gulf of Finland near the island of Gogland. At least three vessels that participated in the Tallinn breakout have not yet been found here.
In general, during the current expedition, its participants hope to find and identify a dozen warships and civilian ships resting at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland. Thanks to the participation of “Fertoing” in the project, based on the results of the search, an interactive map will be created with the exact coordinates of the sunken ships and their three-dimensional projections. It is also planned to collect as much information as possible about people whose lives were cut short during the Tallinn breakout.
At the end of August, on the day of the 80th anniversary of the tragedy, the organizers of the expedition, together with the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Baltic Fleet, are going to hold a memorial event, in which the descendants of the victims and survivors of the Tallinn breakout will take part.
Dead and found
Below are descriptions of the ships discovered during the first part of the expedition "180 miles to Leningrad: the history of the Tallinn breakout on the modern map" from 5 to 15 May, 2021.
Transport "Kalpaks" (No.524)
1914 French-built Latvian steamer.
In Tallinn, it took on board about a thousand people, of whom 850 were wounded, the rest were mostly women and children. During the crossing, the ship repeatedly stopped in minefields and heroically rescued people from sinking ships. According to various estimates, by the evening of August 29, there were up to 1.5 thousand people on the ship – almost all of them were wounded and rescued from the water.
"Kalpaks" sank on August 29, 1941 at 4:46 pm, after being hit by three aerial bombs.
Unambiguous identification became possible after the discovery on the bow end of the ship a bell with the original name of the transport, “Marie Louise”, and the year and place of construction – 1914, city of Nantes.
Numerous human remains, field kitchens, horse-drawn hospital laundry boilers, small arms and helmets of wounded soldiers were found in the holds and on the deck.
For the first time, the ship's hull was discovered by the expedition "A bow to the ships of the Great Victory" about two years ago during the search for the M-96 submarine, but it was not examined.
Transport "Alev" (No.511)
Estonian steamer built in 1909 in England.
In Tallinn, it took on board 670 wounded. During the crossing, it stopped and took on board people from the sinking ships, including from the command ship "Vironia". The number of people on board the ship at the time of the shipwreck is unknown.
On August 29, it sank with all personnel after numerous attacks by German aircrafts. These were 18 sailors and 670 wounded, as well as an unknown number of those rescued from other ships. Details of the wreck have not survived. "Alev" was found in the immediate vicinity of the "Kalpaks" hospital vessel.
As a result of an underwater survey, it was established that the steamer received direct hits from aerial bombs in the bow hold and deckhouse. The ship broke in half and sank almost instantly, which explains the large number of casualties. The stern of the transport rises high above the ground, while the bow is broken and lies almost at the level of the ground. A ship's bell was found on the bow, but without a name. The identification of the vehicle was made by comparing the characteristic structural elements of the discovered vessel with historical photographs of “Alev”. Remains of dead soldiers, parts of ammunition and personal small arms were found in the hold and on the deck. Under the side, at the bottom, the wreckage of a passenger car that had fallen from the deck was found.
Transport "Atis Kronvalds" (No.563)
1900 German-built Latvian steamer.
In Tallinn, it took on board 800 people, mostly civilians, as well as the property and equipment of the Tallinn military port.
On the evening of August 29, it was destroyed by German air strikes. About 800 people ended up in the water. A few hours later, a small motor-sailing vessel approached the place of the shipwreck; it managed to pick up only about forty people from the water, including the wounded captain of the ship, Emsin.
A ship bell with the inscription “Stör Kiel 1909” was found on the bow end. In addition to the remains of the dead passengers, numerous bales and boxes were found in the holds and on the deck, and ship repair equipment was found on the aft deck.
The identification of the transport was made by comparing the characteristic structural elements of the discovered vessel with historical photographs of the vessel and by analyzing the cargo found on board.
Transport "Järvamaa" (No.547)
1894 Estonian steamer of English construction.
In Tallinn, it took on board about 800 people, mainly naval sailors from the headquarters of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet and the Torpedo Boat Brigade, as well as naval property and weapons from warehouses in Tallinn.
On the evening of August 29, it was heavily damaged by German air strikes, and the central superstructure caught fire from the bomb hits. Late in the evening of August 29, the minesweepers who came to the aid rescued more than 500 people from the burning ship. By the end of the day, on August 29, in addition to the passengers from Tallinn who were there, there were also those who had escaped from “Kalpaks”. Burnt out and empty, "Järvamaa" sank in the morning of August 30, breaking in half in the area of the bow holds. The stern of the transport rises above the ground, and the broken bow end plunged into the ground to the level of the deck.
A heavily corroded ship's bell was found on the bow of the vessel, the name on which was not readable. The remains of people and elements of ammunition were found on the aft deck, and naval equipment was found in the aft hold: buoys, paravanes, boxes, etc.
The identification of the transport was made by comparing the characteristic structural elements of the discovered vessel with historical photographs of “Järvamaa” and by the analysis of the cargo found on board, as well as by traces of fire in the superstructure area.
Documentary materials collected by the military historian Radiy Zubkov and the specialists from the "Underwater Exploration Team" were used in making of the publication.