Motor ship “Armenia” Photo: ru.wikipedia.org
The beginning of the Great Patriotic War forced the navy to put on medical service many ships of various classes, which then played a significant role in the evacuation of the wounded. So, in the Black Sea Fleet ships took out 412,332 wounded and sick to the rear, 36,273 in the Baltic Fleet and 60,749 in the Northern Fleet. The volume of traffic, as we can see, was simply gigantic, and it was impossible to manage with hospital (sanitary) ships alone. … Therefore, temporarily allocated ships and warships were attracted, especially since, on average, each fleet had no more than 12-13 specialized ships. For example, during the entire period of the war, 273 ships participated in the evacuation of the Black Sea Fleet, of which only 13 were specialized hospital ships. For military medical needs, the passenger liners “Georgia”, “Ukraine”, “Crimea”, “Adjara” and “Armenia ”(Then tragically killed).
Sanitary transport “Lviv”. Photo: pikabu.ru
A typical conversion into a floating hospital was the removal of first-class partitions, repainting (often in deforming camouflage) and the organization of an operating room with dressing points on the ship. So, the ship “Lviv” after such adaptation had 5 doctors, 12 nurses and 15 orderlies on staff – during the war years it evacuated almost 12.5 thousand wounded in 35 voyages. It is easy to calculate that at one time the ship took about 340-360 people from the shore, which did not exceed the maximum capacity of 400 patients. The record-holder among sanitary transports is the motor ship “Abkhazia”, which until the middle of 1942 managed almost 31 thousand people in just 33 voyages. It is also reliably known that once during a voyage, the ship was able to evacuate 2085 people at once – this was also a record.
Literary sources even provide data on the condition of the evacuees – in the first line ambulances for every 5 people, only 1 was lying down, the rest were walking. In the ships of the second line, this ratio was already 50% to 50%. In most cases, all patients without exception (even slightly wounded) were subject to evacuation on ships, since it was required to quickly prepare bed reserves in hospitals. In the area of Odessa and Sevastopol, the evacuees arrived on the medical ships immediately from the front, bypassing field hospitals, which required the provision of first medical aid already on board. In operating rooms and dressing rooms, bleeding was stopped, wounds were treated, removed from shock, splints and plaster cast were applied, and saline and glucose were transfused. Special care was given to patients with contusions and contusions of the brain, as well as penetrating wounds of the abdomen and skull. Unfortunate people with such injuries could hardly endure rolling, so they were placed in the central part of the ship, away from the engine room. Due to the fact that the ships of the first line often took 2-4 times more wounded from the shore (because of this, the ratio of lying to sedentary was 1: 5), special ship medical groups were organized. The team consisted of 2-4 doctors, 4-8 paramedics or nurses, 16-25 orderlies and 1 quartermaster.
Summing up the above, it can be argued that the total amount of medical care on hospital ships was small – this was due to the short-term evacuation, as well as the overload of wounded parts of the ships. One of these was the ship “Armenia”, which, with a nominal capacity of 400 wounded, on November 7, 1941, took on board about 5000-7000 people.
80 survivors out of 7 thousand
On its last voyage, the motor ship “Armenia” left Sevastopol in Tuapse on November 6, having previously taken on board the wounded and sick, the personnel of the fleet hospitals (about 250 people), as well as the heads of the medical service of the Black Sea Fleet and flotillas (60 people). Initially, loading in Sevastopol took place on November 3, 4 and 5 on the Tuapse and Joseph Stalin tankers, and then only on the “Armenia”. But since the release date of the tankers was not clearly defined, they all had to be moved immediately to the ship. In total, the ship had personnel from five naval hospitals, one base sanatorium, a sanitary and epidemiological laboratory, the 5th medical order and part of the sanitary department of the Black Sea Fleet. As required by the safety rules, the ship went to sea on the evening of November 6, unexpectedly entered the outer roadstead of Balaklava to be taken aboard by the NKVD officers and the personnel of local hospitals. The same night, “Armenia” arrives in Yalta, where it picks up its last passengers – the total number of people on board at that time, according to various sources, varies from 5 to 7 thousand. Then, on November 7, as it gets dark, it would leave for the destination Tuapse. But the captain of the ship Vladimir Plaushevsky unexpectedly goes to sea in the morning.
At 11:45 a.m. not far from the coast near Gurzuf, a ship torpedoes a German He-111 torpedo bomber. The ship sinks to the bottom in just four minutes. At least two torpedoes were fired, one of which hit the bow of the ship. Among the options, the assumption is considered that two Heinkels attacked “Armenia” at once, dropping two torpedoes each. According to another version, the sanitary ship was destroyed by bombs of eight Junkers, as evidenced by Anastasia Popova, a Crimean survivor in that hell. She heard several explosions during the attack, only miraculously did not suffer and managed to jump overboard. There is also evidence of observers who from the Crimean mountains saw planes circling around the “Armenia” and even heard the screams of the unfortunate – the ship was so close to the coast before its death. It should be said that the ship was not alone at sea – it was covered by two patrol ships, which either moved away from the guarded “Armenia”, or because of the lightning attack did not manage to do anything.
The Soviet ambulance transport “Abkhazia” sunk in the Sukharnaya Balka of Sevastopol. The ship was sunk on June 10, 1942 as a result of a German air raid by a bomb hit in the stern. Photo: waralbum.ru
As a result, they were able to save only 80 people (according to other sources, 8). Of course, the ambulance ship had identification marks that clearly notify the enemy about the condition of the passengers. But also on board were a pair of 45-mm anti-aircraft guns, escort from patrol ships and, according to some sources, even a pair of fighters covered “Armenia”. All this gave some historians a pretext for a formal justification of the war crime of the Luftwaffe, during which about 7 thousand people died. This, by the way, is much more than in the resonant disasters of the Titanic and Lusitania.
Undoubtedly, the most important mistake of the command was the reckless order to go to sea in the morning, when earlier on the Black Sea there were precedents of the barbaric attitude of the Germans to ambulances: in the summer the ships Chekhov and Kotovsky were attacked from the air, flying the flags of the Red Cross. The only question is, whose order was it? The commander of the ship himself, Lieutenant-Commander Vladimir Plaushevsky, would not dare to go to sea early in the morning – he was an experienced navigator and managed to transport about 15 thousand wounded on the “Armenia” since August 10, 1941 (the date of the ship’s handover to the military).
One of the reasons for the early exit in Tuapse could be provocative rumors about the German offensive on Yalta. But the Germans appeared in the city only on November 8. Questions also arise about the reasons for the unexpected call of the ship to the outer roadstead of Balaklava, where “Armenia” took away the NKVD officers. According to one of the versions, the Chekists took valuables with them from the museums and archives of the Crimea.
In the 2000s, the Ukrainians made an attempt to find “Armenia” on the seabed, allocated $ 2 million and attracted the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Oceanography, Robert Ballard. They explored a huge section of the water area with a bathyscaphe, but they did not find a sanitary ship. Among the finds of the search engines there were 494 historical objects that had not appeared anywhere before: ancient Greek ships, submarines, planes and ships of two world wars, as well as a Soviet anti-submarine helicopter with a crew inside … One of the reasons for the futile searches could be the complex bottom topography in the Gurzuf area, abundant failures, into one of which the sinking “Armenia” could slip. According to another version, the ship’s commander was ordered to sail not to Tuapse, but to return to Sevastopol. On November 7, 1941, at 2.00 am, Stalin signed “Directive of the Supreme Command Headquarters No. 004433 to the commander of the Crimean troops, the Black Sea Fleet on measures to strengthen the defense of the Crimea,” in which the main task of the Black Sea Fleet was the active defense of Sevastopol and the Kerch Peninsula with all available forces. In this case, it was at least inexpedient to take out several thousand personnel of military hospitals in Tuapse. It is not excluded that the “Armenia” turned to Sevastopol and was sunk somewhere to the west of the previously assumed place – approximately on the traverse of Cape Sarych. The Ukrainian mission did not organize searches in this area.
Military doctors of the besieged Sevastopol. Photo: pravoslavie.ru
The death of “Armenia” seriously bled the medical service of the Black Sea Fleet: they lost both the management team and the doctors, paramedics and nurses of the Sevastopol and Yalta hospitals. In the future, this negatively affected the ability of the medical service to provide assistance to the wounded and sick. The echo of the sunken “Armenia” was felt for a long time on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War.