Marinesko, Alexander Ivanovich

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Marinesko, Alexander, born in Odessa, Marinesko was the son of a Romanian sailor, Ion Marinescu, and a Ukrainian woman. His father had fled to Russia after beating an officer and settled in Odessa, changed his name to Ivan and changing the last letter “u” of his surname to “o”.

Alexander  trained in the Soviet Merchant Navy and the Black Sea Fleet,  and was later moved to a command position in the Baltic Fleet. He was promoted to lieutenant in March 1936 and advanced to senior lieutenant in November 1938. In the summer of 1939 he was appointed commander of the new submarine M-96.  When it entered service in mid-1940, it was declared to be the best submarine of the Baltic Fleet. Marinesko was awarded a golden watch and promoted to captain lieutenant in 1940.

After the German invasion of the USSR  in June 1941, the Soviet Union became engaged in World War II, referred to by Soviets as the Great Patriotic War.  The Soviet high command of the Baltic Fleet decided that the M-96 should be sent to the Caspian Sea to serve there as a training boat. But this could not be realized because of the German blockade of Leningrad. On 12-02-1942 a German artillery shell hit the M-96 causing considerable damage. The repair required more than four months. Because of the long inactivity, the level of battle training of the crew was low. Marinesko began to find consolation in alcohol, and he was expelled as a candidate member of the Communist Party.

During a patrol near the Finnish coast, on 14-08-1942 Marinesko spotted the German heavy artillery barge, Schwerer Artillerie-Träger, SAT-4 “Helena”. He launched a torpedo and later reported that he had observed the sinking of the barge. In 1946, the barge was turned over to the Soviet Baltic Fleet as war prize and it was found that her displacement was not 7,000 BRT as claimed by Marinesko, but only 400 BRT. Then Marinesko exposed his submarine to real risk by prematurely returning without any warning to his base. Soviet patrol boats attacked M-96, and a tragedy was avoided by sheer luck. In October 1942, M-96 had to disembark a commando detachment on the coast of Narva Bay. Its task was to attack a German headquarters and capture an “Enigma” coding machine. Although only half of the unit returned, without the machine, Marinesko had performed his task successfully and was decorated with the Order of Lenin and promoted to captain third rank (lieutenant-commander). He was again admitted as a candidate-member to the Communist Party.

In the beginning of 1943, Marinesko was appointed commander of the modernized submarine S-13 . Of the 13 units of the Type S (Stalinets), Series IX and IXbis, only this boat survived the war. Leaving the base in the Finnish town of Hanko in October 1944, S-13 took position near the Hela peninsula, where the main German communication lines passed. Marinesko soon spotted the small transport ship “Siegfried” (563 BRT) and launched four torpedoes, which all failed. He surfaced and opened fire at the ship with his cannon. He reported 15 hits and that, as a result, the ship was sunk. He stated that the displacement of this ship was 6,000 BRT. In fact, the “Siegfried” was hit severely, but managed to reach the harbour of Danzig.

After spending New Year’s night 1945 in Hanko with a Swedish woman, the owner of a restaurant, Marinesko disappeared for several days. It was proposed that he be court-martialed as a deserter, and this could be fatal for him. Moreover, fraternisation between Soviet citizens and foreigners was not allowed. But the commander of the Baltic Fleet Admiral Vladimir Filippovich Tributs   realized that in such case the S-13 would not be operational for a long time. Therefore, Marinesko was sent on a new mission to prove his abilities. Vladimir Tributs died age 77 on 30-08-1977 in Moscow.

Marinesko left Hanko on 11-01-1945 and took position near Kolberg on January 13. During the next few days his submarine was attacked several times by German torpedo boats. On 30-01-1945, the S-13 attacked and sank the Wilhelm Gustloff.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was evacuating civilians and military personnel. Of the nearly 10.000 people on board fleeing the advancing Soviet army on the Eastern Front, there were between 5.400 and 9.400 casualties in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlof, making it the single worst maritime disaster in history, 996 people survived. The vast majority of both legal and military opinion consider this a tragedy of war.

The only known Dutch passenger, a resistance man from my hometown Eindhoven, on board of the Gustloff, Gijsbert “Gijs” Visscher, who escaped from a prison camp, reached the harbour, smuggled on board and survived. Back home his further life was branded by this horrible event.  

Days later, on 10 February, Marinesko sank a second German ship with two torpedoes, the Steuben, this time carrying mostly military personnel, with an estimated total number of 4.267 casualties. Marinesko had maneuvered submerged for four hours, following the enemy by sonar. He was convinced that the target was the light cruiser Emden. Marinesko thus became the most successful Soviet submarine commander in terms of gross register tonnage (GRT) sunk, with 42.000 GRT to his name.

However, Marinesko was not awarded with the Hero of the Soviet Union title. His commanders refused to trust reports regarding the scale of the hits; in addition, he was deemed a controversial person, partially due to his problems with alcohol, “not suitable to be a hero”. Instead, after the hits were confirmed, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Marinesko felt personally insulted, and when staff officers came to present him the order on his submarine, he gave the order to submerge her.

During his next mission from 20 April to 13 May Marinesko  did not conduct a single attack, although he was sent to an area with intensive enemy ship traffic. This mission was evaluated as unsatisfactory. According to the Brigade Commander Submarine Captain 1st Rank Kournikov, Marinesco “had many occasions to detect enemy transports and convoys, but by improper maneuvering and hesitation to approach for attack could not …-command submarine in position unsatisfactory. The commander of the submarine did not try to seek out and attack the enemy … As a result of inactive operations commander submarine “S-13” did not fulfill his mission

On 31 May, the battalion commander of the submarine high command submitted a report, which indicated that the “commander of the submarine spends all the time drinking, is not engaged in official duties, and his continued presence in the post is inappropriate.”

On 14-09-1945, order 01979 was issued by Commissar of the Navy Nikolai Gerasimovitch Kuznetsov

, which stated: “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 Marinesko, Alexander Ivanovich, to be dismissed, downgraded in military rank to lieutenant and placed at the disposal of the military council of the same fleet.” Kutzetsov died age 70 on 06-12-1974 in Moscow.

Death and burial ground of Marinesko, Alexander Ivanovich.

    From 18-10-1945 to 20-11-1945, Lieutenant Marinesko was the commander of a minesweeper T-34, 2nd Division minesweepers, 1st Red Banner Brigade, trawling Baltic Fleet, Tallinn Maritime defensive area. On 20-11-1945, by order of the People’s Commissar of the Navy, order number 02521, Lieutenant Marinesko was transferred to the reserve and retired. From 1946-1949, Marinesko was a senior mate on ships of the Baltic Shipping Company. In 1949, he was appointed the deputy director of the Leningrad Institute of Blood Transfusion. In 1949, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of squandering socialist property and imprisoned from 1949-1951 in Busan. In 1951-1953 he worked as a surveyor with the Onega-Ladoga expedition, and in 1953 led a group of the supply department at the Leningrad plant “Maison”. In 1960, Marinesko, by then very ill, was restored to his wartime rank of captain third rank and granted a full pension. He died in Leningrad after a long and serious illness (probably cancer) on 25-11-1963, age 50 and was buried at the Bogoslovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg.

Cemetery location of Marinesko, Alexander Ivanovich.

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