On February 10, 1945, the S-13 submarine sank its second largest transport - the German liner "Steuben"
Alexander Marinesco became a legend during his lifetime, at the same time he was consigned to oblivion and returned from oblivion only decades later. His figure is extremely controversial, as are the results of his military campaigns. He was dismissed from the Navy after being demoted two steps - from captain of the third rank to senior lieutenant - and resignation from the post of ship commander, and a quarter of a century after his death he received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Of the six military campaigns that he performed as a submarine commander during the Great Patriotic War, four were unsuccessful - but for one and only of them he achieved the title of the most effective Soviet submariner.
Alexander Marinesko and his S-13 submarine made this amazing trip from January 9 to February 15, 1945. The first ship that the boat sank on 30 January was the giant liner Wilhelm Gustloff (25,484 gross registered tons), and the second, sunk on 10 February, was the liner Steuben (14,690 gross registered tons). The death of both liners, turned into military transports, was a real tragedy for Germany. These ships, built as cruise passenger liners, after the outbreak of the war, were converted to meet the needs of German submariners: "Wilhelm Gustloff" became first a floating barracks, then - a training ship, and "Steuben" - a floating hotel for senior officials of the Kriegsmarine. And only at the very end of the war, when the collapse of Nazi Germany became inevitable and obvious, both former liners were involved in Operation Hannibal: a hasty evacuation of German refugees from East Prussia, which already included the troops of the Red Army.
It was this circumstance in the post-war years that allowed many Western historians and researchers of the war at sea, directly or indirectly, to accuse Alexander Marinesco and the entire crew of the C-13 of committing war crimes. Say, Soviet submariners attacked defenseless hospital ships, on which unfortunate Prussian refugees were fleeing from the horrors of the Red Army offensive. The truth is exactly half: it was really Soviet submariners who attacked, and it was really refugees who were fleeing. As for "defenselessness" and "hospitalization", this is completely untrue. As auxiliary vessels for the Kriegsmarines, both former liners - both the Gustloff and the Steuben - had military camouflage colors and side armament: 37-mm anti-aircraft guns and anti-aircraft machine guns. That is, according to all the conditions of the international rules of war at sea that were in force at that time (which, by the way, Germany violated much more often than all other belligerent countries), none of the two ex-liners could be considered a hospital ship or a ship carrying refugees. After all, none of them had a red cross on board or on deck, both went as part of a military convoy, both were armed, and both had active Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine servicemen on board.
Alexander Marinesco. Photo: wiki.wargaming.net
However, in the situation with the Steuben, the matter was further complicated by the fact that at the time of the discovery of the ship, the captain of the C-13 was absolutely sure that he had found the light cruiser Emden. Indeed, there are many similarities in their silhouettes, especially at night and at long distances. Both are twin-tube, twin-masted large ships, although closer inspection shows that they are not all that alike. But, as a rule, the submariner does not have much time to carefully examine the target. In addition, the C-13 found not just a single ship, but a whole convoy: in addition to the Steuben, it included the T-196 destroyer and the TF-10 minesweeper, and found it with the help of sonar equipment. That is, Marinesko dealt with what in the language of submariners is called "A group target, moving in variable courses, tracking is carried out by hydroacoustic contacts."
It is now known to everyone that the auxiliary ship of the Kriegsmarine "Steuben" (the former liner "Munich", after a fire in the port of New York and restoration in 1931, was renamed "General von Steuben", and in November 1938 - in "Steuben"), involved in Operation Hannibal and left on its last voyage on February 9, 1945 from the Prussian port of Pillau to Kiel. It is now published updated data that on board there were over 4,000 people, most of whom were wounded soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht - 2,680 people, as well as about a hundred healthy soldiers, almost three hundred military medics and orderlies and about a thousand refugees. And then the Soviet submariners heard the noise of the propellers and machines of several ships, sailing without navigation lights and performing anti-submarine maneuvers. From the noise and silhouette of the largest of the ships, it was concluded that the submarine had found the light cruiser Emden.
For such a tasty target - after all, a cruiser, albeit a training one, with a displacement of more than 6,000 tons! - captain of the third rank Marinesco and his team watched for 4, 5 hours. Only at five o'clock in the morning on February 10, 1945, in the area south of Stolpe-bank S-13, surfacing to the surface, a volley of two torpedo tubes attacked what her crew considered the cruiser Emden. Both torpedoes hit the target, and after 15 minutes the ship sank. However, the C-13 was not present during the last minutes of the Steuben: in order not to undergo the same massive and dangerous attack of the escort ships, as after the attack of the Wilhelm Gustloff, Alexander Marinesko ordered to leave the place of attack at full speed, making sure only that the target amazed. The fact that it was not Emden, but the auxiliary ship Steuben, he learned only after returning on February 15 to the base in the Finnish port of Turku. By this time, local newspapers had already published a message from the German media that the Steuben transport was sunk, that only about 660 people were saved, and the death toll was from 1100 to 4200 people. As always, in the turmoil of urgent and universal evacuation, few kept an accurate record of the people who boarded the ships - participants in Operation Hannibal …
For his fifth military campaign, which made him the most effective submariner not only in the Baltic, but in the entire Soviet Navy, Captain 3rd Rank Alexander Marinesko was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. But the command of the submarine base in Turku, who knew well that on this voyage, Marinesco and his crew had actually left from under the tribunal - to earn forgiveness by exploits (which made the S-13 not only the only surviving boat of this type, but also the only "penalty" boat in USSR), this idea was not supported. Instead, Marinesco received the Order of the Red Banner on March 13, 1945, and his boat was awarded the same award on April 20, 1945. Only in 1990, Alexander Marinesko was nevertheless awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which he certainly deserved - 27 years after his death. The commander of the S-13, the most prolific Soviet submarine, passed away in November 1963, just two months after his 50th birthday.