from the black sea to the arctic ocean,the soviet navy fought a deadly but largely forgotten warthat led to some of the greatest maritime tragedies in history. originally producedfor russian television in 2011, this is the storyof russiaâ€™s great patriotic war and the red armyâ€™s long roadfrom defeat to victory. on the deck of a german warship, the crew rolled trolleys loaded with hugemetal spheres towards the stern. it was nearly midnight on 21st june 1941 â€”the eve of the german invasion
of the soviet union â€” and german warshipswere busy mining the gulf of finland. there were just a few hours left before thefirst german air raids hit the soviet union, and the german ambassador in moscowhanded over a declaration of war. but here in the baltic,the war had already begun. unlike the army and air force,the soviet navy was expecting war. for three days it had been on high alert.its ships and aircraft mounted regular patrols to giveearly warning of any incoming attack. just before midnight on 21st june, the navywas put on red alert by its commander, peopleâ€™s commissar nikolai kuznetsov.
but while soviet airfields were hammeredon the first day of the war, the navy was hardlyin the firing line at all. the main baltic naval baseat tallin wasnâ€™t even attacked. but naval mobilizationstill left plenty to be desired. submarine commander petr grishchenkowas asleep when the germans attacked. but it was not the submarine base thatwas being attacked. it was the airfield. if the bombershad targeted the soviet fleet, there was every chance they would havepulled off a german pearl harbor. but the germans planned instead to blockadesoviet ships in their ports with mines.
the soviet navy was divided betweenfour distinct operational zones: the baltic sea and black sea,the arctic, and the far east. the distances involved were vast â€” it was a sea voyage of nearly 9,000 milesfrom vladivostock to leningrad. in 1941 the soviet navy possessedfew large modern warships. its expansion had focused insteadon submarines and light ships â€” a strategy advocated by severalyoung soviet naval theorists. the argument ran:â€œone submarine can disable a battleship. several submarines can impedethe actions of several fleets.â€
the doctrine received official approval. peopleâ€™s commissar of defense,kliment voroshilov, declared: â€œall we want is to protect our coastsand borders. our light forces, naval aviation, and submarineswill cripple an attacking enemy.â€ the ussr began a massive programmeof submarine-construction. the navy conducted manoeuvres,in which submarines practiced working with coastal batteries, aircraft and lightships to repel an enemy naval attack. at the outbreak of war, the soviet navyhad 3 battleships, 7 light cruisers, 54 destroyers, 215 submarines,22 guard ships,
290 torpedo boats, and 62 sub-hunters. all three battleships dated backto the days of the tsar. the baltic fleet was strongest,with 2 battleships, 2 modern light cruisers, and 21 destroyers. the northern fleet was weakest,with just 8 destroyers. the german navy, in contrast,had 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, 34 destroyers, and 155 submarines. at 6:30 am on 22nd june, baltic fleet headquarters received ordersfrom peopleâ€™s commissar kuznetsov.
but such a course could have little effect.as admiral panteleyev pointed out: â€œthe nazi navy had no intentionof entering the gulf of finland. on the contrary, it intendedto blockade us inside it.â€ a cruiser, covered by a smokescreen, manoeuvred slowlythrough the harbor of tallin. every few minutes,its main guns roared out. the cruiser kirov was firing at germantroops advancing on the estonian capital. the enemy retaliated with heavy artillery. this was why the kirov kept on the move,hiding amongst the smoke.
by late august 1941, the red army had been forcedto yield most of its baltic conquests. only tallin remained â€”a last soviet bastion in estonia. the germans and their finnish allies were determined to preventthe evacuation of tallin by sea. there were only two navigablechannels to the city, one along the coast, and one through the middleof the gulf of finland. the germans and finns filledthis central channel with 2,500 mines. the sea mine wasa highly effective naval weapon,
responsible for one fifthof all shipping losses during the war. the german em, or moored contact mine, consisted of a hollow spherewith seven thin "horns". inside, in a watertight box,was a 300 kilogram explosive charge. most of the sphere was empty,so the mine would float. the mine was rolledoverboard with its trolley, to which it was attached by a cable. the trolley acted as the mineâ€™sanchor and held it in place. the cable length could be adjusted,to set the depth of the mine.
the metal "horns" triggered the mine. when a ship hit one, it brokean acid container within the horn. this turned it into a battery and sentan electric charge to the detonator. the mine would then explode. having fought their way to the coast, the germans opened fireon the navigation channel. but neither artillery, nor the mines, could prevent soviettransports reaching tallinn. soviet mine-hunters led the way.
because of their shallow draftthey passed safely over the mines, dragging a trawl that cut their cables. when a mine floated to the surfaceit was destroyed with gunfire, creating safe lanes through the minefield. during august, a steady streamof wounded soviet soldiers and refugees were evacuated from tallinn by sea. but it took a heavy toll on the sovietmine-hunters. some hit shallow mines. others were sunk by tma "influence" mines,triggered by a shipâ€™s magnetic field. on 26th august,stalin telegrammed voroshilov,
authorizing a withdrawal from tallinand the evacuation of its garrison by sea. the operation called for an armadaof more than 200 soviet ships. they would have to run a gauntlet of germanand finnish aircraft and torpedo boats, and minefields that could notbe cleared because of bad weather. the convoy departed tallinat noon on 28th august, carrying 28,000 soldiers and refugees. the ships sailed in the central channel, meaning german and finnish coastalbatteries fired at extreme range. luftwaffe divebombers joined the attack,
as soviet destroyers laid smokescreensto protect the convoy. there were dozens of mines in the channel. they soon began to claim their victims. the cruisers and destroyers forged ahead, making for the heavily-defendednaval base at kronstadt. the slower transports were left behind. german aircraft fell uponthem like vultures. of the 75 transports that left tallinn, 12 were destroyed by mines and 19 by aircraft. if the warships had slowed downto protect the convoy,
the losses might have been fewer. but the fleet commanderneeded his warships back safely. the baltic fleet could not be sacrificed. the cruiser kirov reached kronstadtwithout serious damage, as did 11 of 13 submarines,but only 5 out of 10 destroyers. of the 28,000 evacuees,two-thirds arrived safely. but more than 15,000 lives had been loston the 200 mile voyage from tallin. within days, the germans begantheir assault on leningrad. the warships, saved by the brutaldecision to abandon the tallin convoy,
would play a vital partin the cityâ€™s defenceâ€¦ hitlerâ€™s hopes of a rapid victory againstthe soviet union had been dashed. as the war entered its second year, the germans became increasingly concernedabout their own shipping routes. vital supplies of swedishiron ore came across the baltic and along the norwegian coast. chrome ore came acrossthe black sea from neutral turkey. the germans turnedto their sophisticated sea mines to protect all these shipping lanes.
in 1942, they created huge minefieldsalong norwayâ€™s northern coast, watched over by aircraftand coastal batteries. it had an immediate and deadly impacton soviet submarine patrols. in april 1942, the shch421hit a german mine and sank. the same month shch401went missing on patrol. three further submarineswere lost in quick succession. sinkings by soviet northern fleetsubmarines dropped off rapidly â€” from 21 in the first half of 1942,to just 4 in the second half of the year. they came at a cost of 9 submarines.
the sailors of the baltic fleet sufferedall the hardships of their home base, the besieged city of leningrad. rations were so meager that many of themsuffered the effects of malnutrition. meanwhile, german factories were turningswedish iron ore into tanks, guns and shells. only the submarines of the baltic fleetcould disrupt this supply. on 2nd july 1942,s7, under commander lisin, slipped through the minefieldsof the gulf of finland. sweden was neutral. but while surfaced,
lisin came under attack from swedishaircraft, and was lucky to escape. that night lisin sank the swedishtransport margareta, loaded with coal. two days later, he sank another swedish ship, luleo, carrying iron ore to germany. the swedes claimed both ships had been sunk within territorial waters â€” a violation of their neutrality.the soviets denied this, but felt it prudent to order s7 awayfrom the swedish coast. on 30th july, lisin sighted fourmore ships. to overtake them, he took a huge risk â€” sailing on thesurface at full speed in broad daylight. he attacked from a depth of just 20 feet.
if detected,he stood little chance of escape. but lisinâ€™s audacity paid off â€”the german transport kathe was sunk. s7 had no torpedoes left and was heading home, when a finnish steamer was detected. the main deck gun had jammed, so the crewopened fire with their anti-aircraft gun. it took almost 400 shells to sink her. from the wreckage, lisin picked upthe finnish captain and his engineer and brought them to leningrad. it was a very rare exampleof a submarine taking prisoners. four crew members of the s7 were decorated.
lisin was recommendedfor the highest award, the title "hero of the soviet union". in september 1942, s-12, under commander turayev, left on patrol. but one day in, she was damagedin an attack by finnish aircraft. her leaking oil tanks lefta greasy trail on the waterâ€™s surface. then the sonar operator picked upthe sound of propellers. the submarineâ€™s batteries were almost dead,and she was in shallow water. on the charts, turayev spotted a small60 metre deep trench on the sea floor. the sea-bed all around was 40 metres â€”
this was where the finns would settheir depth charges to explode. s-12 descended into the trench. the submarine was rockedby exploding depth charges, and battered by debris from the sea bed. but she suffered no serious damage. after dark s-12 made her escape. but turayev had no intentionof cutting short his patrol. he made a torpedo attack on the ageinggerman battleship schlesien, but missed. he was finally forced backto base by autumn storms.
on 17th october 1942, commander lisintook s-7 on a second baltic patrol. but while rechargingbatteries on the surface, s-7 was attacked by a finnish submarine. four men of the upper watch, includingcommander lisin, were thrown clear. the other 42 crew members perished. it was from insidea finnish prisoner-of-war camp that lisin heard heâ€™d beenmade a hero of the soviet union. when finland signed an armistice in 1944,lisin returned to active service. he fought against japan in 1945, andfinally retired from the service in 1970.
in 1942, soviet submarineshad struck a small but significant blow against germanyâ€™svital supply line across the baltic sea. but it came at a heavy priceâ€¦ in 1942, soviet submarines sankat least 21 ships, and damaged a further 9. but of 27 baltic fleet submarineson patrols, 12 did not return. and was already a dangerousenvironment for soviet subs, was about to become a deathtrapâ€¦ by the end of 1941, it was clear
that hitler faced a long struggleagainst the soviet union. he assigned the german air force and navy the task of stopping allied aid convoysreaching russia across the arctic ocean. these convoys broughtmuch-needed shipments of food, supplies and vehicles to the northernports of murmansk and archangelsk. cargo ships from north americaand britain were assembled into convoys, and assigned a naval escort for the dangerousarctic crossing to northern russia. the proximity to german-occupied norway made the protection of warships essential.
convoys bound for the ussr were codenamed pq, and those returning â€” qp. the first allied convoyof 7 merchant ships arrived â€” without loss â€” at arkhangelskon 31st august 1941. the convoys passed within 200 milesof the norwegian coast, at speeds of no more than 10 knots. conditions on the crossing could behorrendous â€” waves the size of houses, temperatures of minus 30 degreescentigrade, and incessant arctic gales. destroyers of the sovietnorthern fleet joined the escort for the final leg of the journey to russia,
and provided defence againstgerman air and submarine attack. the early convoys to russia consistedof no more than a dozen transport ships, and the first 7 convoyssuffered no losses at all. the first u-boat attack against an arcticconvoy did not occur until january 1942, and resulted in the loss of onetransport from convoy pq-7a. but as the convoys increased in size,so too did their losses. convoy pq-17 set sailin june 1942 with 34 ships, of which 23 were sunkby german aircraft and u-boats. this disaster led to the suspensionof arctic convoys for 3 months.
hitler, in his determination to choke offany aid to the soviet union, sent heavy reinforcements to norway, including the mightynew battleship, tirpitz. she was a sister-shipto the bismarck, and like her, carried a fearsome batteryof eight 15 inch guns. soviet sub k-21, under commander lunin,was also bound for norway. on the afternoon of 5th july 1942, k-21â€™s sonar officer reportedthe sound of heavy warships. it was the tirpitz,leading a german squadron
to intercept the allied convoy pq-17. lunin used his periscopeto observe the target â€” although he knew that in clear weather, there was a danger that its wakecould be spotted by a german lookout. the german ships were moving at high speed, leaving only a small windowfor lunin to make his attack. as lunin made his approach,the warships suddenly changed course. he had to act quickly. from inside the enemy formation,k-21 attacked with its stern torpedo tubes.
lunin fired 4 torpedoesâ€¦then waited for the sound of explosions. the sonar officer reported two explosions. lunin radioed the fleet commander,claiming a hit on the tirpitz. but they were wrong.the torpedoes had missed. meanwhile, in the black sea, soviet submarines werealso active in hunting down the enemy. lookouts on the shch 205 studieda freighter that carried no national flag. according to an anglo-turkish agreement, all chrome ore mined in neutral turkeywas to be bought up by great britain,
thus depriving germanyof its main supply of chrome, which it needed for alloysused in the armaments industry. but turkey continued to sellchrome ore to germany as well, in shipments sent to bulgaria,which soviet submarines tried to intercept. the turkish freighter "duatepe" spottedthe submarine, and raced for an inlet. captain lieutenant sukhomlinov gavethe order to open fire with the deck gun. a stream of shells soon reducedthe duatepe to a blazing wreck. the submarineâ€™s next victimwas the turkish transport shafac. two torpedoes torethe small ship to pieces.
the shch 205â€™s next missionwas to deliver ammunition to the besieged naval base of sevastopol. when the ammunition was unloaded, 50 wounded soldiers were crammedinto the small submarine for evacuation. the shch 205â€™s survived around40 bomb and depth-charge attacks, before reaching the safety of novorossiyskon the black seaâ€™s eastern shore. the black sea was less dangerous for sovietsubs than the narrow straits of the baltic. but shallow coastal watersposed their own risk â€” the sea was oftenno more than 10 to 15 metres deep,
and could be heavily mined by the germans. soviet submarine commandershad to be bold and aggressive. in october 1942, commander greshilov,in a small m class submarine, sank the 500 ton germantanker "le progress", as she sailed under escortnear the danube delta. in august 1943 greshilov, now commanding a largerpike class submarine, struck again, sinking the turkish transport tisbe under the noses of her escort of twodestroyers and two sub-hunters.
she went to the bottomwith 1,600 tons of chrome ore aboard her. in 1944 greshilov was awardedthe ussrâ€™s highest honour, back in the baltic, the threat posed by soviet submarines caused the germansto take drastic new measures. minefields alone were clearly not working. in the spring of 1943, the germans began erecting hugesteel nets across the gulf of finland. this double anti-submarine net,codenamed walrus, stretched 25 miles from naissar island,
off the coast of estonia,to the coast of finland. the net was too strong for eventhe largest submarine to break through. for good measure, the germansand finns laid another 9,000 mines in the gulf of finland. on hogland island, they builtan underwater listening station to detect passing submarines. when the winter ice melted,the first soviet submarines attempted to break throughthis formidable array of defences. in may 1943, shch-303,under the command of ivan travkin,
left kronstadt bound for the baltic. two days into the patrol,sonar reported a rhythmic, metallic rasping against the hull. travkin made several attempts to get through the net, but all ended in failure. with sonar also picking up severalenemy anti-submarine patrols, travkin decided to reporthis findings and head for home... shch-408 was less lucky. she wasdetected and sunk by enemy patrol craft. shch-406, under the command of heroof the soviet union yevgeni osipov, also never returned to base.
when travkin returned, he and his crewwere greeted like men back from the dead. the baltic fleet command triedbombing the nets from the air. submarines tried firing torpedoes at it. but neither had any effect. two more submarines, the s9 and s12,were lost whilst investigating the net. after that, all attempts to breakthrough were suspended. for the time being, the germans hadsucceeded in trapping and neutralising the entire soviet baltic fleet... in the black sea,it was the german luftwaffe
that posed the greatestthreat to the soviet navy. in the first weeks of the war,the soviet black sea fleet conducted raids against romanianports â€” and later, against the german-occupied crimea. the first raid, just fourdays into the war, targeted oil storage facilitiesat the romanian port of konstanza. but after a short bombardment, the destroyermoskva hit a mine and sank rapidly, leading to the withdrawalof the raiding force. soviet marines also carried out small-scaleraids against romanian targets.
after the fall of the crimea, the black seafleet targeted axis forces stationed on its coastline.in october 1943, three destroyers â€” kharkov, sposobnyand besposhchadny â€” left the east coast to conduct a night-time bombardmentof german positions at yalta and feodosia. then they sailed for home. at dawn the destroyers were attacked by 8 stuka dive-bombers with fighter escorts. kharkov was hit in a boiler-roomand taken in tow by sposobny. but the german air attack was unrelenting. the last raid consisted of 25 stukaswith a large fighter escort.
soviet fighters arrived,but it was an uneven contest. anti-aircraft guns and fighters managedto destroy 18 german aircraft. but all three soviet destroyers were sunk. 780 sailors of the black sea fleetwere lost with them. this disaster caused the stavka to prohibit any further surface raids in the black sea. from the conning tower of s-56,men peered anxiously towards the shore. finally, they saw the signal. the submarine was there to landa reconnaissance team behind enemy lines. it was a frequent missionfor soviet submarines during the war.
s-56, under commander shchedrin, had travelled from vladivostok morethan half way around the world, via the panama canal,to reach the arctic ocean. this 17,000 mile route was the only way to avoidmajor war zones and the winter ice. northern fleet submarines were alsotasked with attacking the convoys that brought supplies to axis forcesin northern russia. on 17th may 1943,near the northern tip of norway, s-56 sighted a convoy of one tanker,4 cargo ships and 8 escort vessels.
shchedrin fired a salvo of 4 torpedoes. in one salvo, s-56had sunk the tanker eurostadt, carrying 1,300 tons of fuel,and damaged the steamer wartheland. the attack was followed by a 6 hour chase, in which more than 60 depth chargeswere dropped... but none found their mark. as huge battles ragedat stalingrad and kursk, in the north the front remained static, and the battle to defendthe arctic convoys â€” with their vital cargoesof military aid â€” continued.
the soviet northern fleet foughta running battle against u-boats and the luftwaffe into 1944. that year, a majordevelopment finally allowed the soviet baltic fleetto break free of its shackles. in september 1944,finland signed an armistice, allowing soviet ships to bypass the netand mine defences of the gulf of finland, and even operate from finnish ports. in january 1945, the red army launchedan offensive into east prussia. the germans began a massiveoperation to evacuate military personnel
and equipment by sea. the ships alsocarried thousands of refugees. amongst them was the wilhelm gustloff, a cruise ship requisitionedby the german navy. on 30th january, she set sail from gdynia amidst heavy snowfalland temperatures of minus 10. on board were 918 u-boat cadets,500 other military personnel, and according to some estimates,as many as 9,000 refugees, of whom nearly half were children. fearing a collision with other convoys,
the captain of the wilhelm gustloffturned on her navigation lights. it was these lights that led commandermarineskoâ€™s s-13 to her shortly after 9pm. marinesko stalked his quarryfor more than an hour. having got into a firing position,he launched 4 torpedoes. 3 hit the liner,with devastating consequences. more than 9,000 liveswere lost on the wilhelm gustloff. but the soviet navy defended its rightto attack a ship under escort, carrying military personnel. two weeks later, the same submarinesank the liner von steuben,
with the loss of 4,000 lives â€”the majority of them, in this case, wounded german soldiers. in the first months of 1945,the red army was advancing rapidly, crossing poland to threatenberlin in the north, and crossing hungaryto reach vienna in the south. but there were still pockets of germanresistance along the baltic coast, in pomerania and latvia. destroying these groupsâ€™communications by sea was the baltic fleet submarinesâ€™last mission of the war.
searchlights swept acrossthe entrance to the bay of danzig. for the commander of soviet submarine l3,it was a discouraging sight. commander konovalovhad orders to break into the bay, but he considered it a suicidal task. l3 stood off at the bayâ€™s entrance. in early 1945 it was the sceneof intense air and sea battles, particularly around the hel peninsula,as the germans desperately tried to evacuate the remnants of their military forces, and thousands of terrified refugees. but they had to run the gauntletof soviet submarines.
on 17th april 1945,l3 sighted a convoy leaving the bay. it was bound from hel to swinemã¼nde. after dark, konovalov attackedwith 3 torpedoes. his victim was the transport ship goya,carrying more than 6,000 passengers. there were just 183 survivors. in july 1945 konovalov was awardedthe title hero of the soviet union. his crew were also decorated. on the very first day of the war, the submarine l3 had beenat the mercy of the german luftwaffe.
it had only been spared, because the germans did not consider soviet submarines to be a high enough priority. but they had gone on to prove themselvesa truly deadly adversary. today the conning tower of l3 is on display at the moscow museumof the great patriotic war. the soviet people celebratedvictory day on 9th may 1945. and on 22nd july,soviet ships hoisted their colours to mark the first navy daysince the end of the war. it was also marked by parades,and, on this occasion,
an address from josef stalinto all soviet sailors. it read: â€œthe navy has more than fulfilledits duty to the soviet motherland.â€