The 'Soviet Dunkirk' the Tallinn evacuation

May 17th, 2012  

Topic: The 'Soviet Dunkirk' the Tallinn evacuation

I was wondering if anyone had read about this little known episode, one of the greatest massacres in naval history. It is hardly fair to call the Tallinn disaster Dunkirk however, since it was a near complete disaster for the Russians, with Axis forces co-ordinating themselves far better than at Dunkirk.

As German land forces closed in on the Estonian capital of Tallinn in August 1941, the bulk of the Baltic Soviet navy lay moored in the port of Tallinn. An hasty evacuation had to be organised, due to the reluctance of senior naval personnel to mention this possibility to Stalin. However by this time, the exits to the passable channels were heavily mined. The Germans and Finns had put down most of the parallel rows of naval mines - contact mines, and magnetic, acoustic, and pressure mines - in the course of August. According to a volume on the history of the Finnish Navy, a staggering total of 1,787 mines and 771 anti-sweeping devices had been laid before the evacuation began.

In addition, the Luftwaffe, Eboats and naval guns were stationed to intervene and contributed to the massacre. The Soviets had minesweepers but the low Sun and Surf made any swept mines difficult to see.

Approximately 30,000 Soviet Red Army soldiers and thousands of civilians were packed into more than 200 vessels for the evacuation. However, the fast Soviet warships eventually cut and run from the German bombers so the troopships and merchantmen were left to their own devices.

The largest estimates of casualties in August 1941 run to more than 100 ships lost and as many as 25,000 killed, but these figures admittedly take in vessels that were sunk during the previous week and into early September. Approximately 15,000 or 16,000 people made it back to Kronstadt near Leningrad.

Some data taken from here
May 17th, 2012  
I am confused, 30,000 people on 200 ships does not seem a whole lot and if 25,000 of those were killed how did 15,000 or so survive the trip?

Just for interests sake and to give an idea of numbers, when the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in 1945 it is estimated that roughly 6-9,000 died out of 10-11,000 on the ship (there are many estimates of losses but accurate numbers are unknown).
May 17th, 2012  
It's mainly because it refers to 30,000 troops + civilians going out and 15,000 people making it back to Leningrad.

In addition, some figures refer to the the single flotilla which sailed on a single day, and others refer to shipping lost a few days either way. For these reasons and that some were dumped on islands then got captured, reassigned or killed, and others arrived back at different times no-one ever knew what were the true figures. In that link there is a minimum figure somewhere.

It was one hell of a dog's dinner anyway, although the Russians hit back during the evacuation of East Prussia later in the war. I suspect they were not able to impose such a proportionate tally then, is because they lost most warships in this escapade.
May 17th, 2012  
According to '900 days - the Seize of Leningrad' by Harrison Salisbury; of the 29 large transports which left Tallinn, 25 were lost, 3 were beached and only 1 reached Leningrad. Also of a total of 67 non navy ships 34 were lost.

On the Kazakhstan, Captain Kaliteyev wore no life jacket to prevent fear in the passengers. However, he was was knocked unconscious during the bomb explosion which killed most of his men on the bridge and he fell into the water. He was picked up by a submarine whilst clinging to a sloop. This arrived back before his ship which the remaining crew managed to save. Despite his remaining crew supporting his character and verifying the events, he was shot for desertion under fire and cowardice! He was subsequently exonerated in 1962.

I wonder what they would have done with Schettino from the Concordia?
May 18th, 2012  
Here is a website with more information plus some recommended reading...

Gauntlet in the Gulf of Finland

The Port of Tallinn on 1 September 1941 after having been seized by Germans
Four convoys totaling 20 transports, one tanker, 8 auxiliary ships, 9 small transports, one tug, and one tender were organized, protected by the Soviet cruiser Kirov, with Admiral Vladimir Tributs on board, 2 flotilla leaders, 9 destroyers, 3 torpedo boats, 12 submarines, 10 modern and 15 obsolete minehunters, 22 minesweepers, 21 submarine chasers, 3 gun boats, one minelayer, 13 patrol vessels and 11 MTB.

The armada started to move out at 2200 on the evening of the August 27. Five ships were sunk on 28 August by German Ju 88 bombers. At 1600, August 28, the first ship approached the heavily mined waters of Cape Juminda. The first ship to hit a mine and sink was the steamer Ella, and a few moments after her, several other ships hit mines, while German bombers and Finnish coastal artillery opened fire. In the attempt to force the passage the Soviet Navy lost 5 destroyers, 2 torpedo boats, one patrol vessel, 3 minehunters, 3 submarines, 2 gun boats, 2 smaller warcraft and 15 transports; one flotilla leader, 2 destroyers, one minehunter and one transport were damaged. Later that evening the armada was attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats, and the chaotic situation made organized mine sweeping impossible. Darkness fell at 2200 and the Soviet armada stopped and anchored at midnight in the heavily mined water.

Early on 29 August Ju 88 bombers attacked the remains of the convoys off Suursaari, sinking 2 transports. Meanwhile the undamaged ships made best speed to reach the safety of the Kronstadt batteries. The heavily damaged Kazakhstan disembarked 2300 men of the 5000 on board on Steinskär before steaming of to Kronstadt. In the following days ships operating from Suursaari rescued 12,160 survivors.

The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn succeeded in evacuating 165 ships, 28,000 passengers and 66,000 tons of equipment.
May 23rd, 2012  
In the 900 day book, it suggests that the internal political war was as significant as the military one. Stalin tried to get naval officers to sign a document for preparing the Baltic fleet for scuttling in Kronstadt harbour, but everyone refused! One refused Stalin directly and thew it back for his signature, but even Stalin wouldn't sign it.

Later Beria the chief of police tried to prosecute someone for doing just this, so no wonder!

The book doesn't seem to reflect well on Zhukov's time short in Leningrad as an emergency commander. He just threw everyone forward, sometimes without arms. Perhaps he was attempting to reduce the food demand? More impressive were the defensive preparations in the city planned by others such as overlapping M/G posts, hidden traps and mines, and barriers of ferroconcrete. It would have been like Stalingrad without a head start for the Germans. This must have weighed much on Zhukov's mind when he took Berlin.

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