Saint Petersburg - S13

The Soviet submarine S-13 was Stalin class submarine and began construction in October 1938 and was put into service in july 1941. It came to belong to the Soviet Baltic fleet and served (patrolled) in the Baltic. S-13 successes in the early years were modest and only after the sinking of the German transport and passenger ship, Wilhelm Gustloff on 30 January 1945, it became famous. Gustloff had left the port of Gdynia (german Gotenhafen) with about 10,500 passengers. An overwhelming majority were civilians on the run from the approaching Soviet armies, and some were military personnel. Gustloff was discovered by S-13 under Captain Alexander Marinesko’s command shortly after she left Gdynia’s port. Marinesko then pursued Gustloff and under the cover of darkness, the S-13 went up to the surface and fired three torpedoes, all of which hit Gustloff on port side.

Gustloff sank in about 40 minutes and over 9,000 passengers died. Many of them died in the freezing water they ended up in. This makes the sinking of Gustloff the single largest maritime disaster in history. From a German point of view, strong criticism was directed at the Soviet Union because it was considered to be a civilian transport ship without military significance and thus a war crime. Whatever it was it’s still a subject for discussion. But to Marinesko’s defense, it was impossible for him to know what cargo Gustloff transported. There was darkness and no reliable information was available. Marinesko probably acted as any other captain would have done, he discovered a hostile ship and acted based on what was expected of him as captain of a submarine.

Just over a week later, the S-13 sank another German ship in the waters off East Prussia, General von Steuben, who transported about 5,200 passengers. Half of them were injured soldiers, while the others were a mixture of civilians and others. Just before midnight on February 9, the S13 fired two torpedoes that hit Steuben on starboard side. The ship tilted and sank in twenty minutes. An estimated 4,500 of the passengers died. Before the S-13 left the port of Porkkala on January 11, 1945, Captain Marinesko risked court martial for alcoholism. Therefore his supreme commandes didn’t see him as a candidate for promotion and decoration. Although he became the most successful submarine captain in the Soviet navy during the Second World War, he was denied the title of hero of the Soviet Union.

After the war, he even came to be demoted and fired from the fleet. Marinesko died of cancer in 1963 at the age of 50. In 1990 Marinesko was rehabilitated and he was posthumously awarded the hero of the Soviet Union of that time party secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. The S-13 was taken out of service in 1954 and in 1957 the boat was scrapped.

Current status: Museum (2021).

Location: 59°58'59.22" N 30°23'56.50"E

Get there: Metro to Ploschad Lenina Station and from there bus.

My comment:

Marinesko is buried at Bogoslovskoye cemetery in northern Saint Petersburg. Nearby there is a submarine museum named after him where S-13 is part of the exhibition. In the south of Saint Petersburg a statue has been erected of him as late as 2013, probably coinciding with his centenary. There is also a street named after him.

Follow up in books: Prince, Cathryn: Death in the Baltic (2014).