From Admiral Kuznetsov Memoirs
Air Raid on Berlin
I would like to make special mention of the Baltic Fleet air arm. It was active from the first day of the war. The Fighters covered their bases, the ships on the roads or at sea. During the Luftwaffe raids on Kronstadt, Tallinn, Hanko and Soviet airfields Fierce air engagements were fought. The Baltic Fleet air arm fliers fought bravely.
The strength of the fleet air arm was obviously inadequate. As I have already pointed out a large part of it had to attack land targets. This was due to the general situation on the battlefront. In the Hanko Peninsula the enemy bombarded every square metre of land. He was constantly shelling the airfield. Despite this the fighter pilots provided reliable air cover. Without it the naval base which was surrounded could not have held out. Already during the early days of the war the fleet air arm bombers launched raids on Memel, Danzig, Gdynia and other enemy ports. Starting from June 25 they bombed Finnish airfields and ports (because Finland sided with Nazi Germany in the war). Raids were conducted on Turku, Kotka, and Tampere. The air arm dropped mines off the enemy's bases to interfere with enemy sorties and attacked his convoys.
The Germans themselves wrote about the successful operations of the Baltic Fleet air arm. In 1962, Marine Rundschau analysed them in the following terms:
"After a few weeks of uncertainty in the situation the Soviet naval air arm secured practically indisputable supremacy in the air over the sea. Fleet air arm planes performed up to 17 air raids a day. The number of planes in each raid reached 25. The raids were systematic and persistent."
Late in July, the Nazis executed their first raid on Moscow. We wished to reciprocate with a raid on Berlin. But how? We had planned raids from the Leningrad air station on Pillau where the ships of the Nazi fleet were based. It is true that Berlin was closer to the fields located near Leningrad than to other fields. And still, Berlin was out of the range of DB-3 bombers. Alafuzov and I had to give serious thought to the matter.
We unfolded a map. A preliminary calculation showed that from a Leningrad airfield our planes would reach a point somewhere beyond Libau. But if they took off from the island of Osel, they could strike at Konigsberg. And if they flew at the limit of their endurance, they could reach Berlin. It is true that they had to fly over the sea and, having dropped their bomb load, they were to return home immediately. They could not waste even 20-30 minutes, because they would not have enough fuel to get to their airfields.
After consulting our specialists we learnt that, if the planes took all the fuel they could carry and no more than 750 kilogrammes of bombs each, they would cover the entire distance to Berlin (close to 900 kilometres) in just over three hours and return home with a little fuel in their tanks.
"This appears tempting," I thought. "But would it not be a one way mission from which they would not return?"
It was necessary to weigh everything carefully. But even then we had to secure the permission of GHQ. The mission was beyond the powers of the People's Commissar of the Navy.
S. F. Zhavoronkov, naval air arm commander, was also in a difficult situation. On the one hand, he said that the operation was practicable. Though the risk was great, the mission could be executed. On the other hand, he felt the burden of responsibility weigh heavily on his shoulders, if the flight should prove to be a failure. This meant that all the planes would be lost. I said to him: "I shall report the matter to GHQ." When I appeared at GHQ for my next regular report I unfolded before Stalin a chart of the Baltic Sea. The island of Osel was connected with Berlin by a distinct straight line. The final calculations were shown on the chart. An aircraft could take one 500 kilogramme or two 250 kilogramme bombs.
A raid on Berlin, in the event of success, would be of tremendous importance. The Nazis had announced to the whole world that the Soviet Air Force had been wiped out.
GHQ approved our proposal. I was told that I would be held personally responsible for the success of the mission.
The operation was a very difficult one. In view of this control over its execution was entrusted to S. F. Zhavoronkov, commander of the naval air arm. On August 2, he flew to an airfield near Leningrad where the 1st Torpedo Bomber Regiment was stationed. For considerations of secrecy only Vice-Admiral V. F. Tributs. commander of the Baltic Fleet, and Major General of the Air Force M.I. Samokhin, commander of the Baltic Fleet air arm, were notified about the real purpose of S. F. Zhavoronkov's visit.
There was no time to lose. Therefore, early in the morning of August 4, as Zhavoronkov recalled, 15 DB-3 bombers landed on Kagul airfield. The commander of the naval air arm arrived there soon after that.
In the night of August 7-8, 15 heavily loaded bombers took off with great difficulty. Their only protection against flak and fighters was the altitude of flight.
I was informed about their departure immediately before I left for GHQ to make a regular report. I was sure the first question to me would be about the raid on Berlin.
And I was right. It gave me satisfaction to report that the operation had been launched.
Daring coupled with carefully calculated risk produced effective results. The Germans did not expect such arrogance. As our aircraft approached Berlin, ground based posts flashed signals requesting identification and route. They thought these were German aircraft that had lost their bearings. The ground based posts proposed that the planes should land at one of the nearby airfields. Hypnotised by Goebbels' propaganda machine the ground observation posts could not imagine Soviet aircraft appearing overhead. The Nazi hordes were forcing their way to Leningrad and Moscow. Berlin thought that the cherished goal was just round the corner. Meanwhile Russian fliers were heading for the capital of the Third Reich at an altitude of 7,000 metres.
The fliers sighted the lights of Berlin from afar. The city was not even blacked out. British raids from the West were seldom and not too powerful. The inhabitants of the German capital would take refuge in their air raid shelters as soon as they heard the air alarm.
Navigator Khokhiov took advantage of the city lights and visible ground features, such as rivers, lakes and highways, to ascertain the course and to lead the planes to Berlin's military objectives. Though our planes were already over the target, there was no flak yet. Having dropped their bomb load all the 15 bombers reversed their course. They could not afford to observe the results of the air raid. The searchlights were now being trained on the Soviet planes and the flak was heavy.
The mission was accomplished. The Soviet Air Force's raid on Berlin—the first in the Great Patriotic War—was performed. The crews were so pleased that the dangers of the return flight and the limited reserve of fuel in the tanks were practically forgotten.
The Nazis could not imagine that it was Soviet planes that dropped the bombs on the capital. On the following day the German papers carried a report which stated:
"The British air force bombed Berlin. There were victims killed and wounded. Six British bombers were shot down." Commenting on the report the British wrote: "Yesterday's German High Command report alleged that on Thursday night enemy aircraft attacked places in Western Germany, and single aeroplanes dropped bombs on Berlin, causing civilian casualties.
"It was officially stated in London yesterday afternoon that no Royal Air Force aeroplane had attacked Berlin during the night."
There was no reason to doubt this comment. The Germans were forced to draw the conclusion that the successful raid was executed by Soviet bombers. They could not help questioning the announcements about an early victory on the Soviet- German Front and about the destruction of the Soviet Air Force.
The first raid was followed by others. But the difficulties mounted. The enemy would meet our planes with heavy flak as soon as they crossed the coastline. Berlin was encircled by an elaborate antiaircraft defence system. Every time the Soviet bombers had to resort to new tactics. Flying at a high altitude was a great help. As our bombers flew at a height of more than 7,000 metres the threat of night fighters with special flood- lamps and of flak decreased.
The Hitler cabinet demanded that the High Command should "abolish the naval and air bases in the islands of Osel and Dago and, above all the airfields from which Soviet bombers launched raids on Berlin." We were compelled to improve the protection of our airfields. Practically all the antiaircraft weapons stationed in the islands and a few fighters were shifted there.
The fleet air arm conducted more raids on Berlin. The last attack was made on September 5. When the Soviet forces had to leave Tallinn, further flights from the islands were impossible. Soviet bombers performed 10 raids on Berlin. They dropped 311 bombs and registered 32 fires.
Defence of Tallinn and Breakthrough to Kronstadt
During the First few months of the war the main bases of our three Fighting fleets—Tallinn, Sevastopol and Polyarnoye - were threatened with seizure. When the Nazis took Riga early in July, it was clear that they would try to encircle Tallinn and to take it. In the beginning of August the enemy besieged the city. The defenders of Tallinn fought heroically. Practically at the same time the enemy sought to take Odessa. The Crimean Peninsula was threatened by the Nazis too. In the middle of October Sevastopol was in danger. In the beginning of November the defenders of the city beat off the First assualt. In the North, in the Murmansk sector, the Germans were unable to get close to Polyarnoye. But the main base of the Northern Fleet was also endangered. However, during the First few weeks of the war the fate of Tallinn caused the greatest anxiety.
The threat to Tallinn demanded urgent decisions on many questions. One of these was the organisation of the city's defence. The danger to the main base being imminent it was vital to decide where the fleet command post should be located so that the Military Council could effect control of the entire fleet.
Taking into account the situation in the Baltic theatre, including the need to defend Vyborg, the Military Council of the fleet proposed to shift the command post to the firth of the Luga River.
The Navy could not take the final decision on the site of the command post. Since the Baltic Fleet was then under the operational control of the North-Western Sector, the commander- in-chief of the sector had the final say on the matter.
In his report I. S. Isakov who was then in Leningrad and had been to Tallinn informed me that the C-in-C. North- Western Sector, and he himself shared our point of view. They maintained that the Baltic Fleet command should remain in Tallinn.
As far as I remember, GHQ, Supreme Command, did not discuss this question specially. As I reported the situation in the zone of in the middle of July I said that the Baltic Fleet Military Council proposed to move the command post to the firth of the Luga and that the C-in-C, North-Western Sector, decided to keep the Military Council headquarters in Tallinn. J. V. Stalin remarked:
"It is necessary to defend Tallinn with all available forces." I took his words for an approval of our decision. Our forces defended Tallinn in extremely unfavourable conditions. The German forces powerfully forged ahead. Their offensive potential was not yet exhausted. The main base of the Baltic Fleet was not prepared for defence from the land. The 10th Infantry Corps of the Eighth Army withdrew to Tallinn at the last moment. Naturally, it could not organise a powerful defence around the city. In addition, the ground was not favourable for such a defence. In proximity of Tallinn the available underground structures were not adequate for the storage of ammunition.
In summer 1941, the conditions on the battlefront were extremely difficult. Despite this, while the enemy was still on the remote approaches to the city the fleet command, the party organisations and local government bodies of Tallinn managed to build three lines of defences. Not only servicemen, but also the local inhabitants helped build them.
All the forces that happened to be in the main base zone. including the 10th Infantry Corps under Major General 1. F. Nikolayev, the ships and coastal defence artillery, the antiaircraft artillery units and fleet air arm (and also a regiment of Estonian and Lettish workers—Ed.), took part in its defence.
Enjoying numerical superiority the Hitler command hoped to take Tallinn as early as July. But the enemy ran into determined resistance and was stopped as a result of heavy fighting. To renew their attack the Nazis had to bring up fresh forces to Tallinn from other sectors of the front.
On August 20, the enemy launched ferocious assaults from the city's immediate approaches. The Germans committed to action full-strength divisions with additional artillery support. In the course of several days hard battles were fought on the outer defence perimeter. The Army and Navy displayed indomitable courage. The artillery, armoured trains and antiaircraft units that were employed to support the infantry put up a splendid performance. Antiaircraft batteries fired at the Nazis at point blank range. There were a few cases when anti- aircraft gun crews were two-three kilometres in front of the infantry, Despite this, they gallantly thwarted the enemy's assaults.
When the German forces were within the range of naval ordnance, the ships' guns and coastal defence batteries engaged them. They Fired some 12.000 rounds at the attacking Nazis, not counting the ammunition Fired by the antiaircraft artillery units. The Germans suffered heavy losses caused by the Fire from the cruiser Kirov, destroyers, gunboats, coastal and antiaircraft batteries. Despite this, the Nazis continued to press on the city. The Fuehrer ordered his generals to make haste. He hoped that the seizure of the main base would help wipe out the main forces of the fleet. On August 25-27, furious fighting went on on the last perimeter. In the night of August 26-27, the Germans were already on the city's boundaries. Bringing up their artillery and mortars they relentlessly shelled our ships moored at the jetty and on the roads.
The position of the defenders became very precarious. On August 25, the Military Council of the fleet reported to the commander-in-chief, North-Western Sector, and the People's Commissar of the Navy that the order on the defence of the city was being carried out. Everybody capable of carrying weapons was fighting the enemy. All the available weapons were in the defence areas. All the ratings the ships could spare were fighting on land. Under pressure of superior enemy forces the ring around Tallinn was growing smaller and smaller. The 10th Infantry Corps was suffering heavy losses. In several places the defence line had been penetrated by the enemy. The command had no reserves it could use to "patch up the holes". The ships on the roads were being shelled. Enemy tanks had forced their way into the Nume Forest. In reporting the situation the Military Council requested instructions and decisions on what to do with the ships, the 10th Infantry Corps and coastal defence units, if the enemy should break into the city and our troops should withdraw to the sea.
The Baltic Fleet and the 10th Infantry Corps had done all they could to defend Tallinn, They inflicted heavy losses on the enemy and diverted considerable forces from his main goal—Leningrad. The possibilities for the further defence of the Estonian capital were exhausted.
I reported to GHQ, Supreme Command, about the critical situation in Tallinn and requested permission to evacuate the Baltic Fleet's main base. In actual fact it was the duty of the C-in-C, North-Western Sector, to report on this and request the GHQ's permission for withdrawal from Tallinn. But for some reason he hesitated to do so, when we could not afford to wait. On August 26, GHQ, Supreme Command, ordered the fleet to evacuate the defenders of the city and to force its way to Kronstadt to strengthen the defences of Leningrad.
From the moment the fleet received GHQ's orders it took no more than a day to withdraw the Soviet forces from Tallinn. Within these few hours it was necessary to prepare the entire fleet of about 200 units for sailing. At the same time the troops under cover of ships' guns and coastal defence batteries were to withdraw from the frontline for embarkation. One can easily imagine the tense conditions in which the commands of the fleet and of all the formations had to work. The flag command post was transferred into new dugouts in Minnaya Harbour.
Troops started to come aboard the transports at 1600 hours on August 26. By evening Kupecheskaya Harbour was already under enemy mortar fire. At 2100 hours the defenders of the last lines started to withdraw. At 0400 on August 27, the Military Council of the fleet boarded the cruiser Kirov having issued the Final orders to those who were still ashore.
This was an orderly withdrawal that was executed in keeping with a plan. Till the last moment General M. I. Moskalenko, chief of the fleet's logistical establishment, effected guidance of the destruction of the war supplies that could not be loaded aboard ships. Rear Admiral Y. F. Rail, an experienced sailor, was placed in command of the rear guard. He was ordered to lay minefields and to plant mines in the jetties of the port.
At 1600 hours the ships forming the fleet's main forces started to weigh anchor. Flying the flag of the fleet commander the cruiser Kirov sailed with a destroyer escort accompanied by minesweepers. At 1700 hours, flying the flag of the fleet chief of staff Y. A. Panteleyev the flotilla leader put to sea. Her mission with 20 other Fighting ships was to provide cover. At that moment the harbour was under enemy fire.
The Baltic Fleet was withdrawing from Tallinn to fight its way to Kronstadt. Leningrad needed the aid of the fighting ships and the former Tallinn garrison. The Germans had been in too great a haste to declare that they would take Leningrad late in July. On August 28, they took Tallinn with tremendous difficulty, paying a heavy price in manpower. The Blitzkrieg was growing over into a protracted war. Time was on our side, it was working against the Germans.
The conditions in which the fleet was to force its way to Kronstadt were extremely tough. Knowing that we would evacuate our main base the German command issued orders on June 29 to lay more mines in the Gulf of Finland. In the zone between Point Juminda and Kalbodagrund Light the Germans laid some 3,000 mines. To prevent our minesweepers from sweeping channels in this Field and to thwart the break- through of our ships they installed a 150-mm battery on Point Juminda Nina.
The fleet command also took into account the possible appearance of a major detachment of the enemy fleet in the Gulf of Finland. However, this did not happen. The German naval command was unwilling to take risks with its ships in an attempt to break through our Hanko-Osmussaar mine-and-coastal artillery position. The Nazis hoped to wipe out the Baltic Fleet with the help of the Luftwaffe and mines, without committing their fighting ships to action. It would be fair to say that their hopes were not wholly unfounded. Our Fighting ships and transport vessels were to travel through a single 150- mile channel, forcing their way through dense minefields covering a vast area. In addition, they were to head for Kronstadt before the eyes of the enemy who had already appeared on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The enemy's light forces moored in the Finnish skerries threatened the Soviet fleet from the north.
But the Soviet fleet had no other alternative. The decision to evacuate the Tallinn garrison by sea was a sound decision.
Having received pertinent instructions from GHQ, Supreme Command, the Military Council of the North-Western Sector permitted the fleet to start the withdrawal on August 26. The fleet commander was required to organise the movement of big convoys with troops and cargoes in the wake of minesweepers. The materials and supplies that could not be shipped were to be destroyed. The air units stationed at airfields in proximity of Leningrad were ordered to cover the eastern leg of the route.
But by the time the fleet set sail the fleet air arm's forward field was already in enemy hands. It was practically impossible to provide air cover for the fighting ships and transport vessels negotiating the channel to the island of Vajndio. The fighter planes of that period could remain on patrol over Hogland Island for only 10-15 minutes. The Luftwaffe, therefore, was a serious threat to the fleet and above all to the slow, poorly armed transport vessels and fleet auxiliaries. The shortage of antisubmarine ships and weapons made the U-boat hazard very real. In view of this the fleet commander asked the command of the North-Western Sector to launch an attack on the German airfields at daybreak on August 28. The raid was to be executed by the Baltic Fleet air arm and the army air force. He further requested that 16 MO-class submarine chasers "borrowed" from the Ladoga Naval Flotilla be sent to protect the channel from Keri Light to the island of Hogland. Finally, he asked that the fleet be provided air cover as long as it was possible.
In compliance with this request the command of the NorthWestern Sector placed the entire fleet air arm under the fleet command (it had been temporarily withdrawn from the fleet for operations against land targets), temporarily transferred to the Kronstadt naval base command eight MO-class submarine chasers which had been under the command of the Leningrad Waterfront and Lake District Defence Zone, But the orders were issued with a great delay. That was why it was impossible to execute all the measures. The fleet was already underway.
The fleet staff had made thorough preparations for the evacuation of the Tallinn garrison, even before it received pertinent orders. Four convoys had been formed to move the troops. The ships and vessels were to be moored on the roads off Tallinn between the net barrage and boom defence by 2200 hours on August 27.
The fleet's fighting nucleus was split up into three task detachments, namely the main forces, covering force and rear guard. The main forces were to protect the first and second convoys in the most dangerous section of the route—from Point Juminda Nina to the island of Hogland. The covering force was to assure the safety of the second and third convoys between the islands of Keri and Vajndio. The rear guard was to protect the third and fourth convoys from the rear. The submarines M-98 and M-102 were sent to patrol zones south of Helsinki, if enemy ships should attempt to attack our fleet from that direction. The air arm was to cover the fleet east of the island of Hogland.
The withdrawal of troops from the defence positions and their embarkation were to be covered by massive fire of ships' guns.
At daybreak the convoys and the task detachments were to make their way through the enemy minefields off the island of Keri.
On an order of the Baltic Fleet commander in the afternoon of August 27 the defenders of Tallinn launched a powerful counterassault along the entire defence perimeter. They even drove the enemy back several kilometres. Under cover of this counterassault the embarkation of troops started at 1600 hours. All day long the Nazis held all the embarkation points and the roads off Tallinn under heavy artillery and mortar Fire. The ships suffered no damage. The losses inflicted on the troops were negligible.
It should be mentioned that the embarkation was successful largely owing to the skilful use of ships' guns and coastal defence artillery.
In the morning of August 28, the ships and transport vessels that had been moored alongside moved to the roads. The harbours of Tallinn were mined and the most vital objectives were demolished.
In keeping with the plan the convoys and task detachments were to put to sea a little earlier, i. e. in the night of August 27-28. But the night before a powerful gale started to blow. 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 fleet was forced to make its way through the minefields in darkness.
At 1400 hours on August 28, the First convoy put to sea. It was followed by the second convoy 50 minutes later. After that the third and fourth convoys departed. The main force weighed anchor at about 1600 hours. By 2200 hours the Fighting ships and convoys formed a line 15 miles long. The main force with the flagship Kirov took the lead. The Military Council of the fleet was aboard the Kirov.
The moment the ships set out of the Tallinn Bay, they were attacked by the Luftwaffe. The air attacks continued till darkness. Then the lockouts sighted floating mines.
The First ship — transport vessel Ella — was lost soon after 1800 hours. She struck a mine and sank. Twenty five minutes later the icebreaker Valdemars was hit by several bombs dropped by Luftwaffe planes. Then enemy bombers attacked the transport vessel Vironija.
Darkness set in quickly. The silhouettes of the ships steaming in the tail distinctly showed against the background of the fires raging in Tallinn. Huge pillars of fire and black smoke shooting out of the water reported on the loss of fighting ships and transport vessels.
When darkness set iii, the hideous roar of Nazi bombers subsided. However, this did not mean that the crews could relax, because of the danger threatening from the waters. In the darkness it was difficult to sight the moored mines that were now afloat among the debris of smashed rowing boats. The night of August 28-29—the first night en route—proved to be the most difficult one.
Sometimes the ships snaked their way between two floating mines. The men would push the deadly spheres from the ships. Owing to frequent explosions the minesweepers constantly had to replace their gear. This affected the fleet's progress.
Soon the mine hazard was "augmented" with more dangers, such as gun fire from Point Juminda Nina and motor torpedo boat attacks from the Finnish skerries. Thus enemy MTBs attacked the cruiser Kirov and several other ships. The flotilla leader Minsk flying the flag of Rear Admiral Y. A. Panteleyev, chief of staff, beat off two attacks with artillery fire. The guns of the cruiser Kirov silenced the enemy battery at Point Juminda Nina. But it was impossible to make further progress in the darkness, because several ships and transport vessels had struck floating mines, including a few our minesweepers had cut off from their mooring lines. The lockouts could no longer see them. The loss of several ships caused the fleet commander to order the fleet to cast anchor till daybreak. He was strongly tempted to use the night to make headway, because the Luftwaffe had stopped its attacks.
At dawn the fighting ships and transport vessels continued to head eastward. In the final leg of the route the fleet beat off many air attacks. The Luftwaffe launched one attack after another.
On August 29, the detachment of the fleet's main forces drew into Kronstadt Harbour. This day was particularly trying for the transport vessels and auxiliaries, because their antiaircraft armament was inadequate and because of their low speed. Besides, they were not covered from air by our fighters. Taking advantage of these factors the Luftwaffe harassed them from morning till night.
The passage of the Baltic Fleet from Tallinn was extremely difficult and dangerous. The crews and evacuated troops displayed indomitable courage and bravery. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of officers and men performed heroic feats.
The Baltic Fleet carried out its mission of forcing its way to Leningrad region. It managed to preserve its main fighting element which played an important role in the city's defence. The enemy's attempt, to destroy the fleet's main forces with the help of the Luftwaffe failed, though the ships were escorting convoys in the narrows. Out of the fleet's 195 fighting ships, transport vessels and auxiliaries that left Tallinn 53 were lost en route. Though the enemy dive bombers launched numerous attacks, they could not sink a single Fighting ship.
The most tragic loss in this operation was the loss of human life. Out of the 23,000 that departed aboard the Fighting ships and transport vessels from Tallinn over 4,000 lost their lives.
Though there were blunders, it would be fair to say that the evacuation of Tallinn was successful. The Naval Staff wanted not only to analyse the operation, but also to establish the mistakes to prevent the other fleets from repeating them. Late in September GHQ, Supreme Command, adopted a decision on the evacuation of Odessa. The Naval Staff issued instructions to the Black Sea Fleet on what it should avoid. The latter made full use of the experience acquired in the evacuation of Tallinn.
If the Baltic Fleet had had one hundred minesweepers its losses would have been smaller, when it forced its way from Tallinn to Kronstadt. But where could we have gotten them?
It is true that we had built too few minesweepers before the war. But this was not the only cause of our heavy losses. Another cause was that the main Fighting ships had not learnt the art of efficient co-operation with minesweepers. In addition, transport vessels and auxiliary ships badly lacked teamwork. In peace time we failed to work on it with due effort. And as the ships navigated the narrows in the face of a grave mine hazard the losses were particularly high. The fighting ships formed into special forces were to protect the transport vessels from motor torpedo boat and submarine attacks. After the island of Hogland was left behind the fighting ships sailed ahead. The transport vessels with their inadequate antiaircraft armament were actually left without protection against persistant massive Luftwaffe attacks. The close escort of the transport vessels was made up of a small number of ships which could not beat off the enemy air attacks effectively.
The effect would, perhaps, been different, if more destroyers and patrol vessels had escorted the transport vessels along the entire route. But it is always easier to display hindsight than foresight.
Despite everything, the Baltic Fleet managed to withdraw from the besieged Tallinn and to bring safely to the rear bases nine tenths of the fighting ships. It accomplished its mission under the most difficult circumstances. The crews of the fighting ships, particularly those that made up the close escort force, did a splendid job of rescuing the crews and passengers from sinking ships. Thanks to their self-denying effort and heroic behaviour some 12,000 (out of a total of some 17,000) human lives were saved. Rescue operations were conducted as the damaged ships went down and after they disappeared underwater. Some 12,000 people from such ships were safely brought to Kronstadt.
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