Take away the Perseus from the abyss: the expedition of the Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society found a legendary ship
On the eve of the Victory Day, the participants of the complex expedition of the Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Fleet “Remember the War” discovered the remains of the first domestic research vessel at the bottom of the Barents Sea. “Perseus” in its short life did surprisingly much for the study of the Arctic and died during a Nazi air raid in the first weeks of World War II.
The fate of “Perseus” reflected the dramatic history of Russian science. It has become a symbol of the dedication of our scientists and the heroism of the defenders of the Motherland. Not surprisingly, his search became one of the central plots of the third season of the “Remember the War” expedition.
In 2023, searches are planned to be carried out for the first time in the waters of all three seas of the Russian Arctic, where during the Great Patriotic War there were clashes between the Northern Fleet and the fascist Kriegsmarine.
The work is planned for 13 stages. It is expected that a record number of ships and vessels of the fleet, as well as civil organizations supporting the project, will take part in the expedition this season.
The peculiarity of this expedition is that combat training tasks of the Northern Fleet and the actual search work are carried out in parallel. For military sailors, the discovery of historical artifacts becomes a kind of practical test for professionalism in real search and rescue operations.
As the head of the expedition, the head of the hydrographic service of the Northern Fleet, captain of the first rank Alexei Kornis, told us, several stages are currently going on at once – “Kola Bay”, “Ura-Ara”, “Approaches to the Kola Bay” and “Eina”. The latter is the closest to completion, during which the remains of the Perseus were discovered.
Eina Bay is a bay on the southern coast of the Rybachy Peninsula (Murmansk Region), which is the northern part of the Motovsky Bay of the Barents Sea. In the early 1940s, a Soviet garrison was stationed on the peninsula. The Eina Bay began to be actively used to supply the military base, and at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, after the Nazis cut off the isthmus connecting Rybachy with the mainland, the Eina Bay turned out to be the only sea route connecting the Murmansk region and the Red Army formations on the peninsula.
One of the ships that supplied food and medicine to our soldiers was the Perseus. Here he died on July 10, 1941. But even after the death of the ship continued to help in the fight against the Nazis. Part of his remains turned into the basis for the pier, where they unloaded more and more cargo coming from Murmansk.
The Perseus has never been a warship. Named after the ancient Greek hero who defeated the sinister medusa Gorgon, it was called upon to explore the high latitudes.
2021 marks one hundred years since the establishment of the Floating Marine Scientific Institute. Plavmornin was created by Lenin’s decree to study the seas of the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic coast. The country desperately needed resources, scientists had to find them.
Read also: How Soviet scientists on a fragile boat conquered the Arctic
A year after the organization of the floating institute, an unfinished slaughter schooner was handed over to him. It was retrofitted at the expense of “donors”: for example, a steam engine and a boiler were taken from a sunken tugboat, a steering mechanism from a decommissioned destroyer, and a dynamo machine from the Chesma battleship, which participated in the Russo-Japanese war. The hull was reinforced with an ice belt, and the very shape of the ship allowed it to avoid being squeezed by ice – like the famous Nansen Fram and the old Pomeranian koches.
For the work of scientists, seven laboratories were equipped – two at the stern and five in the bow of the ship, most of the scientific instruments were made by Arkhangelsk craftsmen according to drawings taken from books. The supply of drinking water made it possible to stay on the voyage for up to 15-17 days, and coal for up to 30-32 days. The crew consisted of 24 people, the scientific group – from 16.
The first flight began on August 19, 1923. The expedition was led by Plavmornin’s director Ivan Mesyatsev. Thus began the history of the first domestic research vessel “Perseus”.
On February 1, 1923, its own flag appeared on its gaff – the famous blue pennant with the image of the seven stars of the constellation Perseus, which later became the emblem of the N.M. Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography. Knipovich.
For 16 years, “Perseus” made 84 scientific expeditions, traveled 100,000 nautical miles, having been at sea for a total of almost six years. Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya – these are the main directions of Perseus expeditions. In 1928, the ship took part in an operation to rescue members of the crew of Umberto Nobile, whose airship crashed while returning from the North Pole. “Perseus” provided our ships with radio communications.
In 1932, the Perseus, together with another research vessel, the Nikolai Knipovich, explored the region of the North Cape (Norway) – Bear Island – South Cape on Svalbard. At that time, the USSR turned out to be the only country that fulfilled all the obligations assumed within the framework of the Second International Polar Year. But it is much more important that the Perseus expeditions of the 1920s and 1930s basically laid the foundation for mankind’s scientific knowledge of the Barents Sea.
“Perseus” was not only a watercraft, but a symbol of all the brightest and most romantic hopes, a belief in a bright future and human capabilities, which the air of those years was written with. Prominent geologist and writer Vladimir Obruchev even composed the anthem “Perseus”, performed to the tune of the song “We are blacksmiths”. It ended with these words:
And let the proud pennant “Perseus”
A swarm of stars and the sky is blue,
Over the entire polar world flies
Today, tomorrow and always.
And the famous ship turned out to be an excellent school for several generations of Soviet scientists of various scientific fields – physics, biology, chemistry, marine geology, meteorology. Figuratively speaking, students and graduate students went on board the Perseus, and future professors and academicians descended from it.
The attack of Nazi Germany on the USSR crumpled all plans. Scientific work had to be curtailed. “Perseus” was mobilized and became an ordinary sea laborer. The schooner, armed with only one Maxim machine gun, turned out to be unarmed in front of the Luftwaffe attack aircraft, which at the beginning of the war had dominance in the skies over the Arctic.
As a result of one of the attacks of fascist aviation on July 10, 1941, a fire broke out on the Perseus. Soon the ship sank, but the crew managed to escape.
– Unfortunately, we have not yet found the details of the raid itself.– says Alexey Kornis. – But, apparently, as I now understand, the ship split into two parts, one of which sank, and the second ended up on dry land, subsequently becoming a kind of berth for cargo transferred to the Rybachy Peninsula. The sunken part after the war was examined by divers of the Northern Fleet, and they delivered a verdict: the ship can no longer be restored. The fact that it was once “Perseus” since then on the maps impersonally reminded only the icon “Sunken ship with parts above the water.”
The expedition leader says that in 2010 no one saw these very parts above the water. And taking into account the fact that at the end of the last century a large number of ships on dry land and at shallow depths were sawn up by the so-called “metalworkers” and “black search engines”, the sailors who prepared a navigation report for the hydrographic service of the Northern Fleet proposed to remove the sunken ship from the maps . Which is what was done. Perhaps due to this, according to Alexei Kornis, the remains of the Perseus have survived to this day.
– After surveying the bottom topography this year and finding the coordinates of the sunken ship in archival materials, the picture has developed – “Perseus” was found, – says the leader of the expedition. And adds: – Found again.
Two words about search technology. For such work, as a rule, hydroacoustic means are used to “scan” the bottom with high resolution: sonars and multibeam echo sounders. Tack after tack, necessarily with overlapping lanes, so as not to miss any object that poses a danger to the navigator.
– The work is a little monotonous, but at the time of the discovery of a sunken ship it is always very emotional, – Alexey Kornis admits.
During the war, the most valuable equipment was removed from the ship, especially since the depths allowed it. In the 60s, it was examined by divers who discovered the helm. It was donated to the historical and maritime club “Perseus”, created at the Krasnogorsk gymnasium No. 7.
Is there anything else of historical value there? – Alexey Kornis continues. – I think no. That part, which became the wharf by the will of fate, was almost not preserved. This is very contrasting in the background of post-war photographs. Judging by the sonar image of the remaining underwater part, it is also badly damaged. Surely time has left its mark there. Rising to the surface is out of the question. But in any case, this summer we will additionally examine the remains of the ship, such a task has been set by the command of the fleet.
And on June 22, on the Day of Memory and Sorrow, representatives of the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography plan to erect a full-fledged monument to Perseus near Eina Bay.
The discovery of the Perseus is not the only result of the expedition’s new season. The researchers, having studied the documents of the Russian State Archive of the Navy, found that several auxiliary ships of the Northern Fleet died in the Gulf of Eina during the Great Patriotic War. Part after the war was raised, in some cases, the rise was considered inappropriate, while others were not found at all. It was decided to carry out their search in 2023.
The waters of the Barents Sea keep many traces of the past war. Researchers, for example, have already clarified the coordinates of the Shtil patrol ship, carried out a unique operation to raise the Airacobra aircraft from a depth of more than 100 meters, discovered the remains of the Vesna sailboat and the PMB-67 motorboat, also sunk by fascist aircraft. They are also examined during the summer period.
– This year, along with the exercise, hydrographers also surveyed the bottom relief of the Eina Bay in the interests of mapping, – says Alexey Kornis. “This is an equally important part of our work. We try to make sure that the search results are used as efficiently as possible in the future, modern technologies allow this.