Warship Wednesday December 4, 2013 The Ice Cold S-13
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, December 4, 2013, The Ice Cold S-13
The S-13 was an S-class Stalinents submarine. This class was a turning point for Soviet submersible development. Designed in the 1930s with help from the Germans, who were forbidden to work on U-boats by the Versailles Treaty, these boats were some of the most modern in the world at the time. Diesel-electric with a pair of engines and motors tied to their own independent propeller shafts, these boats could make nearly 20-knots on the surface and 10 submerged. Capable of depths of over 300-feet, they could submerge their 1000-ton 240-foot hull in just 30-feet of water. A dozen torpedoes in six bow and stern tubes gave the boat an impressive set of teeth. For surface action, a 100mm deck gun along with smaller AAA pieces were mounted. In all, some 56 S-class submarines were completed between 1939-1947.
They formed the backbone of the Red Navy for two decades and at least four went on to serve the Chinese as their first submarines. These boats saw hard service in the Baltic and the Black Sea during World War Two with only S-13 surviving of the first 13 ships of the class built.
The S-13 herself was commissioned on 31 July 1941, six weeks after the Soviet Union was invaded by Hitler’s Axis forces. Her keel had been laid down by Krasnoye Sormovo in Gorky on 19 October 1938, during much happier times. Homeported at Baltic Fleet anchorage at Kronstadt, her first captain was the unremarkable Pavel Malantyenk. Captain Malantyenk sank a pair of Finnish merchant ships before the S-13 was damaged by a depth charge attack from Finn subchasers. This led to his replacement by a hard-drinking skipper by the name of Alexander Ivanovich Marinesko.
Born the son of a Rumanian sailor in Odessa, Marinesko had long been a naval maverick. Although a good skipper, he was known to be somewhat flamboyant, hard on the vodka, and with a questionable eye to the ladies, (even once facing desertion charges after disappearing with a Swedish woman for several days during the war). As commander of the M-class submarine M96, he had sunk a German Artillery Barge and landed commandos behind the lines, earning an Order of Lenin and promotion to captain third rank. Taking over the newly repaired S-13 in 1943, he found her unlucky and was unable to sink any German ships on patrol.
Finally, on January 30, 1945, he saw a huge German ship in his periscope. Nearly 700-feet long and over 25,000-tons, this proved to be the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. An ocean liner taken up by the Kreigsmarine at the beginning of the war, the Gustloff had spent most of the war in Danzig, serving as a floating headquarters and training ship for the German U-boat service. But that night, the Wilhelm Gustloff was evacuating Danzig ahead of the approaching Red Army. She was carrying a crew of 173 (naval armed forces auxiliaries), 918 officers, NCOs, and men of the 2 Unterseeboot-Lehrdivision (the best of the U-boat brain trust), 373 female naval auxiliary helpers, 162 wounded soldiers, and 8,956 civilians, among them an estimated 4,000 children, for a total of 10,582 passengers and crew.
Her only escort was the torpedo boat Lowe (the captured Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Gyller). Although the Gustloff was full of civilians she was painted as a military ship, not marked or declared as a hospital ship, armed with visible guns (3x105mm, 8x20mm cannon), and running dark in a combat zone– all of which made her a legitimate target.
The S-13 launched three torpedoes at the Wilhelm Gustloff′s port side while it was 16 miles offshore soon after 21:00, hitting it with all three. The first torpedo (marked by the crew “For Motherland”) struck near the port bow. The second torpedo (“For Soviet people”) hit just ahead of midships. The third torpedo (“For Leningrad”) struck the engine room in the area below the ship’s funnel, cutting off electrical power to the ship. The Gustloff took a light list to port and settled rapidly by the head.
In the panic that followed, many of the passengers were trampled in the rush to the lifeboats and life jackets. Some equipment was lost as a result of the panic. The water temperature in the Baltic Sea at this time of year is usually around 39 °F; however, this was a particularly cold night, with an air temperature of -0 to 14 °F and ice floes.
Many deaths were caused either directly by the torpedoes or by drowning in the onrushing water. Others were crushed in the initial panic on the stairs and decks, and many jumped into the icy Baltic. The majority of those who perished succumbed to exposure in the freezing water. Less than 40 minutes after being struck, the Wilhelm Gustloff was lying on her side and sank bow-first, in 144 ft of water. Thousands of people were trapped inside on the promenade deck. When she went down, more than 9,000 people went with her, and is the largest maritime disaster in human history.
This crippled the German U-boat arm for the rest of the war. On the way back to Krondstadt, S-13 sank the SS General von Steuben. This 14,660-ton liner was also performing similar work as the Gustloff. Onboard were 2,800 wounded German soldiers; 800 civilians; 100 returning soldiers; 270 navy medical personnel (including doctors, nurses, and auxiliaries); 12 nurses from Pillau; 64 crew for the ship’s anti-aircraft guns, 61 naval personnel, radio operators, signalmen, machine operators, and administrators, and 160 merchant navy crewmen: a total of 4,267 people. The S-13 fired two fish into her side and she sank in 20-minutes with only 300 survivors ever found.
In the span of a single war cruise, the S-13 sent over 40,000 tons of shipping to the bottom along with 13,000 souls for the cost of just five 21-inch torpedoes. However, returning to port the Soviet high command doubted Marinesko’s claims. Here they had a drunk who had only sunk a barge in four years of combat coming in with his scratch and dent submarine saying he sank two huge naval vessels. The fact that the Germans were silent on their losses also played into this. Still, the subs political officer did in fact vouch that two attacks had been made, which earned Marinesko an Order of the Red Banner (instead of the more appropriate Hero of the Soviet Union award). When the brass came by to decorate Marinesko, he submerged his sub and left the dignitaries on the dock. On the next war patrol, the submarine did not make a single attack, even though it was in a target rich environment.
Marinesko was drummed out of the service in 1946, “For neglect of duty, regular heavy drinking and domestic immorality, the Commander of the Red Submarine S-13, Red Submarine Brigade of the Baltic Fleet, Captain 3rd Rank Marinesco, Alexander Ivanovich, to be dismissed, downgraded in military rank to lieutenant and placed at the disposal of the military council of the same fleet.” He died in 1963 forgotten and marginalized, living on a small pension. However, today he is seen as a Soviet hero and the Submarine Museum in St Petersburg is named after him. He is after-all the highest-scoring Russian Submarine Ace by tonnage in history.
The S-13 was decommissioned on 7 September 1954, stricken two years later, and scrapped.
Her sister ship, the S-56, the only known S-class still in existence, is on display as a museum ship in Vladivostok.
Type: Diesel attack submarine
Displacement: 840 tonnes (surfaced)
1050 tonnes (submerged)
Length: 77.8 m
Beam: 6.4 m
Draught: 4.4 m
Propulsion: 2 x diesels (2000 hp)
2 x electric motors (550 hp)
2 x propeller shafts.
Speed: 19.5 knots (36 km/h) surfaced
9 knots (16.7 km/h) submerged
Range: 9800 miles (10.4 knots) surfaced
148 miles (3 knots) submerged
Test depth: 100 m
Complement: 8 officers
16 non-coms and
2 x periscopes
Mars-12 microphone system
Sirius communication system
ASDIC (on some boats)
Armament: 6 x 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes
(4 forward, 2 aft, 12 torpedoes)
1 x 100 mm B-24-2 gun
1 x 45 mm 21-K gun
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO)
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
I’m a member, so should you be!