Doom and glory. The last trip of the submarine Sch-317

“Shch-317” at the naval parade. Leningrad, 1939. Photo

In 1942, the submarine forces of the Baltic Fleet found themselves in a difficult situation. Entering combat service was hampered by the presence of coastal batteries, minefields, anti-submarine ships and patrol aircraft. However, even in such conditions, the submariners solved combat missions and performed feats. So, in the summer, the submarine “Shch-317” of Lieutenant Commander Nikolai Konstantinovich Mokhov set off on its last military campaign.

The boat and its commander

The average diesel submarine Sch-317 of the project Pike X series began service with the Baltic Fleet in the fall of 1936. In the fall and winter of 1939-40, during the Soviet-Finnish war, she made two military campaigns, but had no contacts with enemy ships and was unable to open her battle account.

Doom and glory.  The last trip of the submarine Sch-317

Lieutenant Commander N.K. Mokhov. Photo Rg.ruFROM

At the time of the attack of Nazi Germany, “Shch-317” was in Tallinn on average repair. The evacuation soon began, and technical readiness was restored only in Kronstadt. At the end of September, another campaign began, again unsuccessful. The next service started in early November and ended soon after. Due to the poor organization of combat work, the boat came under “friendly fire” and was forced to return to Kronstadt for repairs.

The future commander of the boat “Shch-317” N.K. Mokhov (1912-1942) at that time was the commander of the 9th training submarine battalion, equipped with “Babies”. In this position, Mokhov received a negative characterization: the command noted that he alternates high demands on his subordinates with almost familiarity. There were other complaints about discipline as well. As a result, on January 16, 1942, Lieutenant-Commander Mokhov was demoted to the position of commander of the submarine “Shch-317”.

Submariners with “Shch-317” are engaged in the maintenance of the gun, early 1942. Photo

Probably, such a position suited N. Mokhov more, and he quickly showed his best side. In the most difficult conditions of the first blockade winter in Leningrad, he was able to organize subordinates and allies and carry out the necessary repairs to his boat. As noted in the award documents, “Shch-317” was the first in its brigade to prepare for hostilities in 1942.

At the end of spring, the ship was ready to go to sea and hunt for enemy ships. For this, there were 4 bow and 2 aft torpedo tubes on board with ammunition of 10 torpedoes of 533 mm caliber.

Submarine on a campaign

The goal of the Baltic Fleet’s submarine campaign in 1942 was to disrupt enemy sea traffic. The transports in the Baltic Sea solved the problems of supplying Army Group North, as well as providing supplies of Finnish and Swedish resources. All these ships, as well as the covering ships, had to be sunk.

Argo transport is the first target of Shch-317. Photo

On the night of June 6, the submarine Sch-317 under the command of N. Mokhov left Leningrad and headed for Kronstadt. This transition was already associated with difficulties. The southern coast of the Gulf of Finland was occupied by the enemy, and the submarine risked falling under fire from artillery and aviation. Fortunately, she was not noticed.

Having completed their preparations, in the late evening of June 9, the submariners left Kronstadt and headed for about. Lavensari (now Powerful Island), where the forward base was located. The first part of the route, to Cape Shepelevsky, had to be overcome on the surface due to the shallow depth. The enemy noticed the submarine several times and began shelling – fortunately, to no avail. After passing the cape, “Sch-317” plunged and reached Lavensari without incident.

Steamer Ada Gorthon is the target of the second successful attack. Photo

To reach the assigned combat position and the operational space along the established route, the submarine had to overcome two German minefields. To the south and east of about. Hogland, between the island and the southern shore of the bay, was the Seeigel (“Sea urchin”) barrier. This barrier included several thousand anchor mines arranged in 8-12 rows at different intervals and at different depths.

West of Tallinn, the bay was blocked by the Nashorn (“Rhino”) barrier. This time, six lines of several hundred mines interfered with the submariners. Both obstacles contained non-contact bottom mines that interfered with the passage under the anchor.

Overcoming the obstacles turned out to be extremely difficult. The boat had to go to the maximum permissible depth in order not to fall on the anchor mines. At the same time, it was impossible to approach the bottom – in order to avoid triggering the bottom. It took about three days for the Shch-317 to travel from Gogland outside the Rhino.

Submariners in battle

On June 16, Shch-317 was the first of the Baltic Fleet’s submarines to announce that it was entering a combat position. It is curious that this message was intercepted by German radio intelligence – but the command did not attach any importance to it. The Germans considered their barriers reliable enough that no Soviet submarine could break into the open sea.

Destroyer HMS Ehrensköld, enemy in battle on July 1. Photo Wikimedia Commons

On the same day, the divers noticed the Finnish transport Argo with a cargo of mineral fertilizers. Having made the necessary calculations, N. Mokhov fired and hit the target – and wrote down the first ship for 2513 brt. The Swedish steamer Ulla came to a distress call from the Argo. Soviet submariners tried to attack him, but missed.

June 18 near about. Gotland spotted the Orion (2,405 brt) ship carrying Swedish ore to Germany under the Danish flag. The ensuing attack was partially successful. The torpedoes hit the target, the crew left the ship, but it did not sink. A few days later he was taken to the nearest port. The next target of “Shch-317” was the Ada Gorthon ore carrier (2400 brt), discovered on June 22 near the island. Eland. The ship and cargo went to the bottom. On June 25, they carried out another attack, sinking an unidentified vessel by 2500-2600 brt.

On July 1, the steamer Galeon was discovered in the same area, accompanied by the destroyer HMS Ehrenschiöld of the Swedish Navy. “Shch-317” fired back with torpedoes and betrayed itself; the destroyer tried to use depth charges. Both attacks were unsuccessful – the opponents dispersed and lost each other. On July 4, the submariners unsuccessfully attacked the light transport Fortuna, and on July 6 they were again attacked themselves. The destroyer HMS Nordenskjöld did some damage to the boat, but it remained in position.

Otto Cords – 966 brt to the combat score “Shch-317”.

On July 8, the German transport Otto Cords (966 brt) hit the periscope of Lieutenant-Commander Mokhov. The vessel sank to the bottom together with the cargo. Probably in the following days there were new attacks, but unsuccessful.

On July 10, “Shch-317” informed the command about the use of ammunition, the sinking of five ships and an imminent return home. This was the last radiogram – the boat did not get in touch again. A few days later, the documents reflected: the submarine died during the transition from the combat position to the base. The deceased crew was presented for awards. The commander was awarded the Order of Lenin (posthumously).

Death and memory

For several decades, the circumstances of the death of “Shch-317” and its crew remained unknown. There have been versions of an attack from surface ships, coastal artillery or enemy aircraft. Also under suspicion were two minefields on the way to the base.

Fragment of N.K. Mokhov to the award from the “People’s feat” database

Everything became clear only a few years ago. In June 2017, the remains of a sunken submarine were found at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland between the islands of Gogland and Bolshoi Tyuters. In the spring of the next year, the expedition “Bow to the ships of the Great Victory” established that it was “Shch-317”. On the eve of Victory Day, a plaque was fixed on the ship in memory of 41 dead submariners.

The location and characteristic damage to the submarine clarified the circumstances of her death. “Shch-317” successfully passed through the Nashorn barrier and overcame most of the Seeigel. On the last line of the Sea Urchin, the submarine hit a mine – with fatal consequences.

Underwater successes

In June-July 1942, during 30-40 days of combat service, the submariners with the “Shch-317” used all 10 torpedoes and carried out several attacks, incl. five successful – as indicated in the radiogram. These were significant successes for that time. The submariners of the Baltic Fleet faced various difficulties, and not every cruise ended with at least one sunken ship.

Remains of “Shch-317” at the bottom. Photo Wikimedia Commons

On the combat account of Lieutenant-Commander N.K. Mokhov and his “Shch-317” are three confirmed vessels for a total of almost 5900 brt. Another 2405 brt ship was attacked and struck, but not sunk. The fifth successful attack has yet to be confirmed. Although other torpedo firing was unsuccessful and there is controversy about one of the successful attacks, the overall performance of the Shch-317 submarine is quite remarkable.

The first and last military campaign of Lieutenant-Commander Mokhov ended in tragedy. However, before that, the submarine “Shch-317” and its crew managed to clearly show the German fleet that it was too early to write off the Baltic Fleet and its submarine forces. They continued to be a formidable force, capable of acting and inflicting damage in the most difficult conditions, despite the blockade, minefields and escort ships.

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