Tallinn disaster

Soviet cruiser Kirov protected by smoke during evacuation of Tallinn in August 1941.

Bombs start to fall near ships moored in Tallinn for the evacuation.

Reval Hafen 1.9.1941 (Tag der Eroberung)

The Port of Tallinn on 1 September 1941 after having been seized by the Germans.

Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs.

Soviet Convoy Tallinn to Kronstadt: Night of 27/28  August 1941

The major Soviet warship and transport losses came in August in one of the least known, although the worst, convoy actions of the entire war. The Soviets sought to relocate smaller warships from Tallinn to Kronstadt and to evacuate as many personnel by ship as they could before the Panzers arrived in the Estonian capital. In the German attack on the hastily formed Soviet convoy the Soviet Navy lost 18 small warships and 42 merchantmen and troopships, most to a night encounter with a dense minefield. The following day, as all major warships fled the convoy, Luftwaffe dive bombers struck floundering and exposed troopships and transports. Only two survived. Total loss of life was at least 12,000.

The evacuation of Soviet troops from the Estonian capital Tallinn is probably the largest destruction caused by sea mines in a single operation. Soviet minesweeper force was too weak and managed to clear only a narrow channel through the “Juminda” barrage. In the zone between Point Juminda and Kalbådagrund were 3 000 mines. To prevent minesweepers from sweeping channels in this barrage there was also a 150 mm battery on Point Juminda. Light forces threatened the evacuation convoys from the north. The Germans had also total air supremacy. The Baltic Red Fleet had earlier during the Summer used a route close to Estonian coast, but now it was forced to the middle of Gulf of Finland. Navy ships and transport vessels were to travel through a single narrow 150-mile channel.

Three large convoys carried most of the troops. A fourth convoy was made of smaller vessels. Many smaller vessels sailed alone. The total number of naval ships and small vessels was 153 and the number of transports and other vessels was 75. The ships and vessels were to be ready for departure on the roads off Tallinn between the net barrage and boom defence by 22.00 hours on 27 August. A force seven north-east wind delayed the beginning of the operation for more than 12 hours. The submarine chasers, launches, minesweepers and other small vessels could not sail in such weather. As a result, the evacuation fleet had to make its way through the mine barrages in darkness. The Baltic Red Fleets ships formed three task forces; the main force, covering force and rear guard. The main force was to protect the first and second transport convoys in the most dangerous section of the route, from Point Juminda to Suursaari island. The covering force was to protect second and third convoys between the islands of Keri and Vaindlo. The rear guard was to protect the third and fourth convoys from the rear. The small submarines M 98 and M 102 were sent to patrol areas south from Helsinki.

The first convoy had been planned to depart on 27 August at 22.00 hours. A convoy plan in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by a minesweeper and the merchantmen in a single line, three submarines followed the merchantmen and the two destroyers were the last ones. The flanks were covered by coastal patrol ships, MO-type patrol boats and a tug.

Minesweeper       Nr. 71, Krab                            First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 72, Dzherzhinski                              First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 57, Viesturs (former Latvian)                      Second pair, also T 298

Minesweeper       Nr. 91, Lyapidevskiy                              Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 52, Buyok                         Third pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 56, Barometr                  Third pair

Mobile base          Leningradsoviet                    

Headquarters ship               Vironia, former Estonian merchantman       2026 brt                 

Transport                VT-524 (former Latvian merchantman Kalpaks)         2190 brt                 

Transport                VT-547 (former Estonian merchantman Järvamaa)  1363 brt                 

Icebreaker             Kristjanis Voldemars           1932 brt                 

Floating workshop               Serp-i-molot                          

Transport                VT-511 (former Estonian merchantman Alev)            1446 brt                 

Transport                VT-530 (former Estonian merchantman Ella)              1523 brt                 

Transport                VT-563 (former Latvian merchantman Atis Kronvaldis)            1423 brt                 

Submarine             Щ 307                      

Submarine             Щ 308                      

Submarine             M 79                        

Destroyer               Svirjepyi                                   

Destroyer               Surovyi                   

Coastal patrol ship              Bayan                       Left flank, minesweeper without sweeping gear

Patrol boat            MO-507                   Left flank

Coastal patrol ship              Ametist (former Estonian Sulev)                      Left flank

Tug          OLS-7                        Right flank

Patrol boat            MO-208                   Right flank

Coastal patrol ship              Kasatka                    Right flank

The submarine Щ 301, motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1201, KTЩ-1206, KTЩ-1208, KTЩ-1209, KTЩ-1210 and KTЩ-1211, transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin), salvage vessel Neptun, schooner Urme (in tow) were also included in the first convoy, total 36 vessels. One reference list only 32 vessels, he has not listed Щ 301, Ivan Papanin and Urme. Instead of Neptun he lists salvage vessel Saturn. One reference differs in the list of motor mine sweepers, KTЩ-1201, -1203, -1204, -1205, -1206 and list of patrol boats, MO-204, MO-207.

The plan of the second convoy in shows three pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Azimuth, Moskva and merchantmen in a single line and the Tshapaev as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       No. 43 LVP-12                        First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 44 Izhorets-38                                 First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       No. 42                     Second pair

Minesweeper       No. 47 Izhorets-69                                 Second pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1510                                 Third pair

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1511                                 Third pair

Netlayer                  Azimuth                 

Gunboat                 Moskva                  

Transport                VT-523 (Kazhakhstan)                         

Transport                VT-584 (former Estonian merchantman Naissaar)    1892 brt                 

Motor schooner  Atta (former Estonian)                       

Transport                VT-505 (Ivan Papanin)       3374 brt                 

Transport                VT-537 (former Latvian merchantman Ergonautis)                   

Netlayer                  Vjatka                     

Transport                VT-550 (former Lithuanian merchantman Shauliai)                  

Netlayer                  Onega                     

Transport                Everita                    

Coastal patrol ship              Tshapaev                                 

Patrol boat            MO-214                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1512                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-200                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1514                                 Right flank

The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka), tug KP-12 towing TK-121 and tug Tasuja towing sweeper No. 86 (Izhorets-33), patrol ship Shors, sweepers No. 84 (Izhorets-28), No. 88 (Izhorets-31) and No. 121 (Izhorets-71), motor mine sweepers KTЩ-1203, KTЩ-1204, KTЩ-1205 and KTЩ-1509 were also included in the second convoy. Transport VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) is included in the convoy plan but it is listed in the first convoy. Minesweeper No. 42 is included in the convoy plan, but it is not listed. The second convoy had according to and 34 vessels, but one reference lists only 21. Two references lists agree with the larger vessels, but some smaller vessels are not listed.

The plan of the third convoy was two pairs of minesweepers in front, followed by Amgun, the merchantmen in a single line and Kolyvan as last one. The flanks were covered by MO-type patrol boats and motor mine sweepers.

Minesweeper       Nr. 58, Osetr                          First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 33, Olonka                       First sweeper pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 35, Shuya                         Second pair

Minesweeper       Nr. 83                       Second pair

Gunboat                 Amgun                    

Transport                VT-518 (Luga)                       

Transport                VT-512 (Tobol)     2758 brt                 

Transport                VT-581 (former Estonian merchantman Lake Lucerne)            2317 brt                 

Tanker                   TN-12                      

Transport                VT-581 (Balhash)                                   

Transport                VT-546 (former Estonian merchantman Ausma)       1791 brt                 

Transport                VT-574 (former Estonian merchantman Kumari)       237 brt  

Transport                VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka)              3974 brt                 

Transport                VT-529 (Skrunda)                                  

Salvage vessel      Kolyvan                  

Patrol boat            MO-501                   Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1104                                 Left flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1109                                 Left flank

Patrol boat            MO-502                   Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1101                                 Right flank

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1106                                 Right flank

The third convoy included also minesweeper Jastreb. The transport VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) in the convoy plan is listed in the ships of the second convoy. According to, and the third convoy had 21 vessels, inluding the Vtoraya Pyatiletka. Minesweeper Jastreb is not in one reference’s list, but there is sailing ship Hiiusaar.

The fourth convoy was made of 11 smaller vessels. It had.

Coastal patrol ship              Ost                           

Coastal patrol ship              Razhvedtshik                         

Gunboat          I-8 armed tug           

Minesweeper       5M2 (Piksha)                         

Minesweeper       8M1 (Povodetsh)                                  

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1503                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1504                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1505                                

Motor minesweeper          KTЩ-1506                                

Salvage vessel      Saturn                     

Tug          LP-5                          

Barge      TT-1         Torpedo transport              

One reference adds to this list a large number of vessels: Submarine Щ 301, mine sweepers Izhorets-12, Izhorets-17 and TЩ-86, motor mine sweepers Jastreb, Vaindlo, Voronin, KTЩ-1208, -1209, -1210, -1211, motor torpedo boat TKA-121, survey ships Sekstant and Vostok, tugs Esro, Kaja, Paldiski, Venta, Vilma, KP-6, KP-17 and S-101, sailing ship Atta, VR-6, coastal ships Vaindlo and Vormsi, transport Everita and ice breaker Tasuja. There were 38 vessels.

The main Soviet battlefleet under the command of Vice-Admiral V. Tributs, departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. The cruiser Kirov was Tributs’ flagship.

Cruiser   Kirov                        

Flotilla leader       Leningrad                                

Destroyer               Gordyi                     

Destroyer               Jakov Sverdlov                      

Destroyer               Smetlivyi                                  

Submarine             Kalev (former Estonian)                     

Submarine             Lembit (former Estonian)                  

Submarine             S 4                            

Submarine             S 5                            

Icebreaker             Suur Tõll (former Estonian)               2417 brt                 

Mine sweeper     T-204 (Fugas)                        

Mine sweeper     T-205 (Gafel)                         

Mine sweeper     T-206 (Verp)                          

Mine sweeper     T-207 (Shpil)                          

Mine sweeper     T-217                       

The small vessels in the main force were motor torpedo boats No. 37, 73, 74, 84, 103, 113 and 114, MO-class patrol boats No. 112, 131, 133, 142, 202 and 204. The submarine Щ 405 may have been in the main force.

The covering force sailed under command of rear admiral Pantelejev.

Flotilla leader       Minsk                      

Destroyer               Skoryi                      

Destroyer               Slavnyi                    

Submarine             Щ 322                      

Submarine             M 95                        

Mine sweeper     T-203 (Patron)                      

Mine sweeper     T-210 (Gak)                            

Mine sweeper     T-211 (Rym)                           

Mine sweeper     T-215                       

Mine sweeper     T-218                       

The small vessels in the covering force were motor torpedo boats No. 33, 53, 91, and 101, MO-class patrol boats No. 207, 212, 213 and 510. The submarines M 98 and M 102 were in the covering force, but they were sent to patrol south from Helsinki.

The rear group was made of old destroyers and small patrol ships. The rear group was under command of rear admiral Rall.

Destroyer               Artyom                   

Destroyer               Volodarskiy                            

Destroyer               Kalinin                     

Coastal patrol ship              Burja                        

Coastal patrol ship              Sneg                        

Coastal patrol ship              Tsiklon                    

The small vessels in the rear group were motor torpedo boats No. 51 and 61, MO-class patrol boats No. 5, 195, 197, 204, 210, 211 and 232.

The first transport convoy sailed between islands Naissaar and Aegna at 12.15. A mine exploded in the sweeping gear of the first sweeper pair at 13.09 hours, four miles NW Aegna island. The second convoy passed Naissaar and Aegna at 15 hours and the third convoy 20 minutes later. The fourth convoy sailed at 14:15. The main force of Baltic Red Fleet weighed anchor and departed Tallinn harbor at 14.52 hours. It took the lead with the cruiser Kirov as flagship.

The Navy ships and convoys formed a line 15 miles long. The first convoy passed Keri island at 16 hours and was off Juminda peninsula at 1800 hours. Soon thereafter the ships sailed directly to the mines. The steamer Ella was first to sink. Then began German air attacks, artillery fire from Finnish coastal batteries and later in the evening torpedo attacks by German Schnellboots and Finnish patrol boats. All this caused confusion, the train of ships stretched and sailing through the 200 m wide swept channel became impossible. The sweeping equipment of many sweeper were damaged by explosions and drifting mines cut loose from moorings were great danger. The sunset was at 20.40 hours and at 22 hours the visibility was only a cable length. Warships were not giving much protection to merchant ships, as they were fully occupied with drifting mines.

On the evening of 28. August following ships were lost:

    At 18.05 VT-530 (Ella) from the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.20 tug LP-5 (S-101) from the fourth convoy that tried to rescue people from Ella hit a mine and sank.

    At 18.30 icebreaker Kristjanis Voldemars from the first convoy was sunk by bombs.

    At 19.40 the minesweeper Nr. 71 (Krab) sailing in the first sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.11 submarine S 5 hit a mine and sank in 40 seconds.

    At 20.20 rescue vessel Saturn towing Vironia hit a mine and sank.

    At 21.45 Vironia hit a mine and sank. Vironia from the first convoy was damaged by air attack 18.30 and taken to tow by Saturn from the fourth convoy.

    At 20.30 gunboat I-8 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.48 submarine Щ 301 hit a mine and sank.

    At 20.50 destroyer Jakov Sverdlov hit a mine and sank after 5-6 minutes.

    At 21.57 transport Everita from the second convoy hit a mine and sank. The ship had drifted slightly too much south from the sweeped lane.

    At 22.05 the minesweeper Nr. 56 (Barometr) sailing in the third sweeper pair of the first convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.15 coastal patrol ship Tsiklon from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 22.30 destroyer Skoryj from the covering force hit a mine and sank while towing the damaged flotilla leader Minsk.

    At 22.45 destroyer Kalinin from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 destroyer Volodarskiy from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.05 destroyer Artyom from the rear group hit a mine and sank.

    At 23.00 VT-518 (Luga) from the third convoy hit a mine. As no towing was possible, the master decided to scuttle the ship.

    Barge TT-1 hit a mine and sank.

    The armed tug OLS-7 disappeared during the night.

Other ships lost on 28.8. are:

    VT-547 (Järvamaa) hit a mine and sank at 21.00 near Suursaari, or was mined and sank 29.8. at 17 hours west from Suursaari.

    Hiiusaar was bombed.

    Schooner Atta was torpedoed by Finnish VMV-17.

Before midnight the four convoys had to anchor in the middle of the barrage. The main force had sailed through the mine barrage and anchored north from Vaindlo. Flotilla leaders, four destroyers and few transports from I, II and IV convoys were north of Mohni lighthouse and the bulk of transports from the II and III convoys north from Juminda. On the morning of 29. August the ships continued their way. Bombers attacked again and sank several transport ships. Without air cover and anti-aircraft guns and their possibility to manoeuvre limited by mines, they were easy targets. During that day following ships were lost:

    At 05.30 tug I-18 was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 05.30 tug Paldiski was captured by Finnish patrol boats.

    At 06.51 a vessel sank in mine explosion, it might have been the salvage vessel of the third convoy, Kolyvan.

    At 07.43 coastal patrol ship Sneg hit a mine and sank 30 minutes later.

    At 08.39 a ship was sunk by mine.

    At 08.41 another ship was sunk by mine. These two ships may have been transports Naissaar and Ergonautis from the second convoy.

    At 09.06 VT-501 (Balkhash) from the third convoy hit a mine and sank.

    At 12.30 VT-512 (Tobol) was sunk by bombs.

    At 13.00 VT-546 (Ausma) was sunk by bombs.

    At 15.00 VT-524 (Kalpaks) was sunk by bombs.

    at 15.07 VT-520 (Evald) was sunk by bombs.

    At 17.40 VT-563 (Atis Kronvaldis) was sunk by bombs.

    At 18.10 tanker No 12 was sunk by bombs 5 miles east of Suursaari.

    VT-529 (Skrunda) was hit 5 miles NW Vaindlo and the ship was scuttled 30.08.

    VT-511 (Alev) was damaged by bombs and sank few miles west from Lavansaari.

    VT-543 (Vtoraya Pyatiletka) was sunk by bombs.

A number of ships were beached at Suursaari during 29.8.:

    The floating workshop Serp-i-molot was damaged by bombs and beached on southern end.

    VT-505 (Ivan Papanin) was hit by bombs and the ship was run aground on west coast of Suursaari.

    VT-581 (Lake Lucerne) run aground on south end of Suursaari after bomb damage.

    VT-550 (Shauliai) was hit by bomb and towed to Suurkylä harbour on Suursaari.

The main naval forces arrived to Kronstadt in the afternoon of 29.8. The only transport that survived was Kazakhstan. The ship was damaged by bomb 29.8. at 07:15 near Vaindlo and it arrived to Kronstadt 2.9.

Zubkov summarizes the losses during Tallinn evacuation as:

    22 navy vessels, these were 5 destroyers, 3 coast guard ships, 2 minesweepers, 2 submarines, one gunboat, one motor torpedo boat and 8 patrol boats.

    43 other vessels, including 19 transports, one tanker, one ice breaker, a floating workshop, 7 tugs and two rescue vessels.

by Jari Aromaa.

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