понедельник, 4 мая 2009 г.

6 days till the Victory Day (9 of May)


In May 2005 Russia will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the great allied Victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The Whims of Fate latches on to the occasion with a series of stories about the heroes who saved mankind from Nazi oppression. Our opening story today is about the legendary Soviet submariner Alexander Marinesko, the man Adolf Hitler called his personal enemy.

On January 30 of 1945 the S-13 sub Marinesko commanded pulled off a feat that has since been touted as the attack of the century. Never before had such a small unit manage to destroy such a huge number of enemy soldiers. Shortly before it happened the Wilhelm Gustloff, a behemoth German transport sailed from the Baltic seaport of Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland, carrying thousands of soldiers and civilians, half of them top-flight specialists, the veritable cream of Hitler’s infamous submarine fleet, enough men to form a whole 70 submarine crews. A formidable escort of surface ships was close at hand to ensure her safe passage to Kiel, but even that was not enough to prevent Marinesko’s act of maritime genius. Spotting the German transport the Soviet sub sent the great ship down lobbing three torpedoes into her giant hull. Only 988 people of the 8,000 passengers on board managed to survive the deadly attack. Alexander Marinesko and the crew of his S-13 boat effectively foiled the Germans’ entire naval operations in the Baltic. The loss of the Wilhelm Gustloff sent waves of pain and humiliation across the Third Reich and, like after the destruction of Field Marshal von Paulus’ Sixth Army in Stalingrad, the government declared a three-day’s mourning period. Enraged by the much touted leviathan’s sinking, Adolf Hitler ordered the execution of the convoy’s commander for failing to secure the ship’s safe passage. On his way back to base Marinesko also happened to sink another German transport, the General von Stoiben, with 3,600 tank men on board – the complement of a whole three full tank divisions.

Alexander Marinesko had had his full share of ups and downs, his times of triumph and oblivion. After the war he spent years working in obscure positions without anyone knowing a thing about the man’s heroic wartime past. Alexander Marinesko died of an incurable disease at the still early age of 50. How come a World War Two hero died a virtually unknown man? To answer this question we should go over the main highlights of Marinesko’s life.

At 17 he was a naval cadet in Odessa. The would-be sailors regularly trained on the four-mast sailing ship, the Tovarishch. One day, apparently out of sheer bravado, Marinesko stood on his hands high up the tallest mast. Seeing the young man teetering precariously 20 meters above the deck, the ship’s longtime captain, Ivan Freiman prophesied: “You will go through a whole lotta pain, young man, if you do not learn to tame your desires and your nature!” Marinesko got away with that breech of military discipline and was eventually drafted to serve in the Soviet Navy. A good professional, he was regularly commended by his superiors.

On the New Year’s night of 1945, in Turku, Finland, which then served as a Soviet submarine station, Alexander with friends went to a local restaurant where the Finns were celebrating the New Year. After a few shots the Soviet officers got into a brawl with the Finns, Hitler’s onetime allies. The charming Swedish lady, the restaurant’s owner, interfered right before things got out of hand and escorted the Russians into her office. Tall and handsome, Marinesko caught the woman’s fancy and so she invited him to stay for the night. The whole affair reached the ears of the Soviet military command, which did not like it at all because Soviet sailors were strongly advised against visiting local bars, let alone rub shoulders with foreigners. Marinesko’s whole career was hanging in the balance… He acutely felt he could lose his job any moment now, despite his exemplary service and numerous decorations. Finally he received an order to sail and that was when he sank the Wilhelm Gustloff and the other German transport. The two sinkings were more than enough to earn one the title of a national hero. Anyone but not Marinesko… His superiors had not forgiven what he had done in Turku. To make things worse, the brave captain had many enemies who gossiped about his alleged binges and skirt chasing. A strong man and an excellent sailor, Alexander Marinesko fell victim to the rumor mill and in October 1945 he received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy and a demotion. Cast into virtual oblivion he spent the next 15 years in obscurity before he finally regained his former rank, got a bigger pension and saw a TV documentary made about his heroic wartime effort. Justice finally triumphed and now there is a monument to Alexander Marinesko and a ship bearing his name. He is also a national hero now. The whims of Fate… You never really know where they will get you…

Source:The Voice of Russia

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