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Old 07-13-2019, 04:28 PM
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Arrow Four Soviet Sailors Had Been Adrift For 49 Days When A U.S. Warship Locked Onto Their

Four Soviet Sailors Had Been Adrift For 49 Days When A U.S. Warship Locked Onto Their Position
By: Ken MacDonald - Scribol - 7-14-19

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Four Soviet Sailors Had Been Adrift For 49 Days When A U.S. Warship Locked Onto Their Position

It’s March 1960 and the American aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge is sailing in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. This is a routine cruise, a journey from the Japanese port of Yokosuka back to the States. But three days after leaving Japan, what the ship’s lookouts now spot in the empty ocean wastes is far from routine. It’s a Russian military barge, in just about the last place you’d expect to see it.

Naturally enough, the American sailors feel obliged to rescue their four fellow mariners aboard the barge, who are clearly in trouble. But it’s the height of the Cold War, the prolonged period of intense hostility that marked Soviet-U.S. relations in this era. So the Russians aren’t so sure they want to be rescued. Perhaps the Americans could just give them some provisions instead…

And these four Soviet servicemen – they’re actually construction workers rather than sailors – certainly are in trouble. In fact, they’ve had almost 50 days of nothing but trouble. That’s how long their barge, a motorized transport vessel, has been drifting across the Pacific without power. Ocean winds and currents have then driven them around 1,000 miles since the start of their grueling ordeal.

The Soviets – actually one Russian, two Ukrainians and a Tatar – had been working in Kasatka Bay on Iturup Island, part of the Kuril archipelago. The Russians had seized the Kurils from the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. And during that conflict, the bay had been an important Japanese naval base.

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The Soviet barge, known only by the unromantic name of T-36, was a 100-ton, 57-foot long craft powered by two engines that gave it a top speed of a little under 10 knots. It was a vessel designed for coastal sailing, though, rather than ocean cruising. Unfortunately, T-36 had sprung her moorings during a violent storm and been driven out to sea.

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That day when the Kearsarge encountered the T-36, could simply have been an opportunity for the U.S. Navy ship to perform a good turn for the Soviets. But as we’ve mentioned, 1960 was a time when the Cold War freeze was at its iciest. During WWII, the Soviet Union and the U.S. had been allies in their fight against the Germans and the Japanese. But the friendship melted like spring snow when the conflict was over.

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As a result, the world was now basically divided into two camps. There were the Western democracies led by the U.S. and the Communists states headed by the Russians. So any encounter between the military forces of the two super-powers was liable to be tense to say the least. And that explains why the Russians in their drifting barge were so cagey about being rescued by a U.S. Navy ship.

We’ll come on to the full story of how that Soviet vessel, T-36, with its four crew members ended up in such a remote part of the Pacific a little later. But first let’s learn a bit more about the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge, which happened upon the barge as it drifted across the ocean.

The aircraft carrier Kearsarge was actually the third U.S. military vessel to sail under that name. Launched in 1861, the first Kearsarge was a sloop-of-war that fought on the Unionist side in the Civil War. She’s remembered for sinking the Confederate vessel Alabama in 1864 off the coast of France. Alabama had previously played havoc with the Union’s merchant shipping.

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The aircraft carrier Kearsarge was actually the third U.S. military vessel to sail under that name. Launched in 1861, the first Kearsarge was a sloop-of-war that fought on the Unionist side in the Civil War. She’s remembered for sinking the Confederate vessel Alabama in 1864 off the coast of France. Alabama had previously played havoc with the Union’s merchant shipping.

The second U.S. Navy ship named Kearsarge was a battleship built at the very end of the 19th century. She was deployed mainly in the Atlantic and during the First World War acted as a training vessel. After then working for many years as a crane ship lifting gun turrets and other heavy equipment, the second Kearsarge was eventually scrapped in 1955.

The Kearsarge at the center of our story was constructed in New York and first sailed in 1945. She was an Essex-class aircraft carrier, one of 24 such vessels built. Kearsarge entered service in March 1946, the year after the conclusion of the Second World War. The ship then underwent a major refit in 1950 so that she could carry jet planes.

Kearsarge subsequently took part in one of the hottest episodes of the so-called Cold War: the Korean conflict. From September 1952, the carrier’s planes embarked upon around 6,000 raids against North Korean forces over the course of almost half a year. After that, in stark contrast to her recent combat action, Kearsarge served as a location for the classic 1954 movie The Caine Mutiny.

Following her Hollywood interlude, Kearsarge returned to the Far East, joining the Seventh Fleet there. In 1958 she was converted to an anti-submarine support vessel, and a year later Kearsarge played an important part in providing relief to the Japanese victims of the devastating Typhoon Vera.

Then on March 3, 1960, Kearsarge sailed from the Japanese port of Yokosuka, homeward bound for Naval Air Station Alameda, California, just across the bay from San Francisco. And, luckily for the Soviet crew who were now in dire straits, it was on this journey that the USS Kearsarge encountered the struggling Soviet barge T-36.

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Now let’s meet the four Soviet servicemen, all actually construction workers, who were aboard the T-36. The most senior of them was 21-year-old master sergeant Askhat Ziganshin. He was in command of Privates Fillipp Poplavski and Ivan Fedotov, both 20, and Private Anatoly Kruchkovsky, aged 22. In a 2015 interview published in the Russian state-sponsored newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Sergeant Ziganshin remembered the events of 1960.

Ziganshin recalled that while they were stationed in Kasatka Bay at Iturup Island in the Kurils, their mooring spot had hardly been ideal. In fact, his barge and others like it were simply attached to the masts of sunken Japanese ships, relics of the Second World War. And Ziganshin and his comrades had actually lived aboard their barge, since this was more convenient than staying in the village that their unit was lodging in.

Living conditions aboard the T-36 were far from luxurious, though. The men’s quarters were furnished with nothing more than a portable radio, four bunks and a stove. And in December 1959, after the barges had delivered a number of tractors ashore, a succession of violent storms gripped Kasatka Bay. In the midst of one such downpour, however, orders came for T-36 to unload meat from a refrigerated ship.

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Two barges, T-36 and T-37, were sent out on this routine job. The bread and butter work of these transport craft was to sail out to bigger ships moored offshore and ferry cargo from them to the land. And in normal conditions, the barge would have had a 10-day food supply aboard consisting of basics such as sugar, meat, tea and biscuits.

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But on this occasion, T-36 had a minimal amount of supplies on board, as the bulk had already been unloaded in preparation for the winter. During these coldest months, the men would typically be staying in their barracks on land. Disaster struck, however, before that move could take place. The force of the storm had snapped the barge’s cable. And Ziganshin and his crew now found themselves being driven towards the rugged coastline.

T-36 was able to get a radio message through to its control post stating that the barge, along with T-37, would head for the eastern part of Kasatka Bay. The gusts there were less powerful. However, the intensity of the snow storm subsequently caused T-36 to lose contact with the other barge. And to top everything, the vessel’s radio ceased to function, leaving T-36 with no communications at all.

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Moreover, what they’d hoped would be a safe haven, the eastern side of Kasatka Bay, turned out to be anything but. The direction of the winds altered, in fact, and the barge was now driven out into the open sea. With the vessel’s fuel tanks rapidly depleting, Ziganshin now believed that they had to try to make a run for the shore.

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This was far from an easy undertaking, however. The men aimed their barge towards a treacherous outcrop known as Devil’s Hill, hoping to maneuver their way through a gap in the rocks. But they collided with one of them, damaging the vessel and allowing water to pour into the engine room. It wasn’t enough to sink them, though, and now Ziganshin saw he had a clear run to a sandy beach where he could land his vessel.

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But just at the critical moment, the barge’s engines gave out. Ziganshin’s vessel was consequently without power, and the currents swept T-36 back out to the open ocean. Any chance of making the shore was now gone. And not only did they have no fuel, but they also had no means of communicating with the shore to report their plight.

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In the 2015 interview for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Ziganshin was asked if he and his comrades considered swimming for shore. His answer was emphatic. “Suicide!” he replied. “The water is ice-cold, high-waves, sub-zero temperatures.” They wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in that water, Ziganshin explained. The idea of abandoning ship was a complete non-starter, then.

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And there was also no chance of anchoring, Ziganshin recalled. The gusts were too high and the waters they had already drifted into were too deep. Moreover, the temperatures were so low that the vessel’s cables had frozen solid. “In a word, there was nothing left but to look at the shore disappearing in the distance,” Ziganshin said. The date was January 17, 1960.

But despite their plight, there wasn’t a great deal of time for despair. Instead, their focus now was on keeping water away from the barge’s engine. A considerable amount had poured into the vessel earlier when they’d been holed on the rocks as they tried to make for shore. Obviously a resourceful crew, though, they managed to patch up the leak.

Now that the imminent risk of sinking had receded, it was time for the four men aboard T-36 to make an inventory of their supplies. You’ll remember that they had limited food and water on board as they’d been preparing to spend winter ashore. And their supplies were indeed meager, to say the least.

Their total supply of rations was: a pail of potatoes, partially spoiled by spilled fuel; one loaf; a quantity of millet and peas; and one jar of fat. As for water, there were around 10 pints of that. As it was intended to cool the engines, the container included a certain amount of rust, but it was just about drinkable. They were also able to supplement their water supply with rainwater.

Other than that list of supplies, they had a couple of packs of Belomorkanal brand Russian cigarettes plus a few boxes of matches. Hardly much use in keeping them alive, of course, but perhaps a help with morale in an era when seemingly just about everybody smoked. So, Ziganshin and his men were hardly equipped for a prolonged period at sea.

Nonetheless, they were initially optimistic that their adventure in the open ocean – they didn’t yet think of it as an ordeal – would be a short one. They would be spotted by another vessel and rescued. Or the winds would become more favorable and carry them back to land. Neither of those things happened, however.

Fortunately, despite their initial optimism, Ziganshin had taken the precaution of strictly rationing their supplies from the get-go. And not long after their uncharted journey got underway, Ziganshin found an old newspaper on the barge. In it was an article about how the section of ocean they were in was earmarked for Soviet missile testing.

This wasn’t good news. It meant that the amount of shipping in the testing area was likely to be very minimal. As a result, their chances of rescue seemed to have become much more remote. And so the rigorous rationing of supplies would prove to be a life-saving decision. In fact, the restrictions bordered upon harshness.

In the Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview, Ziganshin recalled that one of their number, Fedotov, had started to show signs of immense strain. He apparently began to rant that they would all die from starvation, for example. The other two privates then asked Zignashin to take sole charge of the supplies for safety’s sake. And things later became even grimmer.

The rationing had started off with one daily meal of a soup made from some fat, a couple of potatoes and a little of the peas and millet. Each man also received three tiny servings of water, measured in a minuscule cup that was actually part of a shaving set. After a time, however, even that tiny water ration had to be reduced by 50 percent. And worse was to come.

Eventually, the supplies aboard T-36 were exhausted, despite the stringent rationing. And as the barge crew was later to find out, a life belt from the T-36 had washed ashore. As a result, the Russian navy was now convinced the men must have perished during the stormy weather.

Now with no food, the men attempted fishing but without success. Desperation then drove them to boil and eat their leather belts and shoes, and even pieces of an accordion they happened to have on board. As March 7 rolled round, the construction workers were down to a single boot, a few matches and a small amount of water.

Miraculously, though, that was when USS Kearsarge appeared and rescued the men from what must surely have been the very doorstep of death. They had been at sea for 49 days in all. As we saw earlier, Ziganshin and his comrades were initially reluctant to abandon their barge, asking only for supplies. But given their weakened state and stricken vessel, boarding the American carrier was surely the only realistic option of survival that they had.

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The four men were duly airlifted from their barge to the safety of the Kearsarge. And now, news of the rescue of these four Soviet servicemen by an American warship echoed around the world. At a time of intense mutual suspicion between the U.S. and the Soviets, there was something immensely appealing about seeing humanity triumphing over hostility.

The Kearsarge now transported the men back to the States. Once in San Francisco, each of the Soviets was given $100, a suit and a key to city. They were feted by the American press, in fact, and were even offered asylum in the U.S. But Ziganshin and his comrades were anxious about their reception back in the Soviet Union.

The Russians unanimously refused the offer of asylum. And, happily, the men’s fears about their reception at home were groundless. The Soviet authorities declared that they were heroes, in fact, because of their extraordinary feat of survival at sea. Once they’d made their way back to Moscow, they were received by the Minister of Defense, while the press in their homeland praised them to the skies. For once, here was a Cold War story with a happy ending.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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