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"The Brave Four": How Soviet conscripts survived 49 days in the open ocean
"The Brave Four": How Soviet conscripts survived 49 days in the open ocean
Sailors who survived the disaster

In the early spring of 1960, a US Armed Forces warship rescued Soviet soldiers carried out in a storm on a damaged barge into the open sea and then into the Pacific Ocean. Finding themselves in dire conditions with a meager supply of water and food, the team withstood a 49-day drift, sailing most of the way from the Kuriles to Hawaii.

By the will of fate

In January 1960, the T-36 self-propelled barge performed the role of a "floating pier" near Iturup Island on the South Kuril ridge. A small ship could reach a speed of no more than 9 knots per hour and move away from the coast for 300 meters, which made it possible to use it as a kind of transshipment point.

This is what the wrecked ship looked like

On January 17, a real natural disaster broke out. At about 9 o'clock in the morning, a gust of wind blew the barge off the ropes and began to carry it away from the shore. The sailors did not dare to approach the island - they would simply be torn to pieces.

Almost ten hours of continuous struggle with 15-meter waves depleted the fuel reserves. In a desperate attempt to throw themselves ashore, having made a difficult maneuver and actually dooming the ship to death, the sailors got even more problems - the barge got a hole. It was hastily closed at a temperature of -18 ° C. The vessel went into the open sea with practically no fuel reserves, and even with a leak. When the storm subsided, the search began, but no traces of the barge were found. The servicemen were declared missing, and the ship - sunken.

It was impossible to provide assistance from the shore, the colleagues could only hopefully watch the desperate struggle of the sailors with the unraveling elements. Soon the barge completely disappeared from sight … As soon as the storm died down, the search began. A few things washed ashore were all the rescuers had at their disposal. By decision of the command, the sailors were recognized as missing, and the barge - sunken.

Captured by the elements

At the time of the loss of the T-36, there were four on board: junior sergeant Askhat Ziganshin and three privates - Tolya Kryuchkovsky, Filya Poplavsky and Vanya Fedotov. The guys had no experience of survival in difficult conditions, and this is not surprising - they were only 20-21 years old. Yes, and practical knowledge in the field of navigation was absent - Ziganshin and his colleagues were listed in the "construction battalion" and were sent to a barge to unload a cargo ship.

The first step was to make an inventory. A loaf of bread, two cans of stew, a kilogram of pork fat, a box of matches, cigarettes, a couple of spoons of cereal … And also potatoes, which were scattered around the engine room during a bad weather, and they were all soaked in fuel oil. The fresh liquid tank was overturned, and the water suitable for drinking mixed with the sea. On top of the deplorable picture - the lack of fuel, communication with the shore and a hole in the hold.

The vessel was carried to the southeast, farther and farther from the Kuriles. The soldiers were unlucky twice: the barge got into a warm current, called by the Japanese fishermen Kuroshio - "the current of death." Due to the high speed of oceanic currents - up to 125 km per day - sea inhabitants do not take root here. Askhat Ziganshin later recalled: "The fish did not catch a single one, although they tried all the time, preparing tackles from the material at hand that they found on board."

Moreover, by an unfortunate accident, the T-36 was carried away from the sea routes, where Soviet missile tests were planned.Both Soviet and foreign ships were absent in the square, and for a long time the only companions of the sailors were hungry sharks. The chances of being discovered by a random vessel were nil …

It was decided to eat once every two days. From stewed meat and potatoes, a liquid soup was cooked on a stove-stove. When the provisions came to an end, they switched to leather things - tarpaulin army boots and belts. They gutted and ate the contents of the harmonica, which miraculously ended up on the ship.

The skin was crushed and boiled to a glue state or burned until it turned into charcoal. They ate it, smeared with a little technical vaseline on top - a sickening "sandwich" no more than once a day. Later, journalists all asked what the boots tasted like. Anatoly Kryuchkovsky recalled that the skin was very bitter and smelled unpleasant. But did they have a way out? They ate with their eyes closed, trying to trick the stomach.

The situation was more complicated with drinking water. There was very little of it - everyone was supposed to take a sip every two days. They collected liquid from the engine cooling circuit - cloudy and rusty, but the fresh water was quite suitable for consumption.

We all slept together on the same bed, warming each other. Hungry, exhausted comrades never quarreled during the entire drift. Neither of them took away by force the other part of the ration. Have not stooped to cannibalism. Together they shared the hardships and fought both for their lives and for the safety of the ship, chipping off pieces of ice from the side so that the barge would not capsize.

February 23 - their main holiday - the servicemen could not miss. We wanted to celebrate it with lunch, but according to the schedule it was a “non-meal” day. Then the sergeant offered to smoke in turn a twisted cigarette - his last tobacco.

Miraculous salvation

On March 7, the sailors were awakened by the noise of helicopter blades. Barely blinking open their eyes, the soldiers were surprised to find an aviation brigade from an American aircraft carrier. They had already seen a ship sailing in the distance on March 2, but they mistook it for a mirage. Overcoming the fear of communicating with the main enemy of the USSR in the Cold War, Ziganshin, delivered by helicopter to the aircraft carrier, began to explain to the amazed Americans that the team needed fuel, food and maps, and they would get home on their own.

The next morning the aircraft returned, and the exhausted sailors suddenly heard in broken Russian: "Do you need help?" To board an American ship meant to incur suspicion of desertion or betrayal of the Motherland. It is possible that the sailors were persuaded to accept help from the "enemy" of the sailors by the words of the American physician that they had only a few hours to live, the condition of the soldiers was so deplorable.

The sailors hit the American aircraft carrier

On board the aircraft carrier, they ate very little - they knew that they could die if they immediately pounced on the food. Ziganshin asked for a shaving kit, but lost consciousness at the sink - the last strength left the soldier. Doctors made a helpless gesture, the story of Russian soldiers seemed so incredible. Fortitude, courage and unquestioning discipline amazed even the most experienced American officers.

An American soldier helps a rescued man to shave

Liverpool Four in Russian

In San Francisco, where the team was taken from an aircraft carrier, the Russians were greeted like heroes. The mayor of the city even gave them a symbolic key to the metropolis. The soldiers were dressed in fashionable suits, they were torn apart by journalists and photographed endlessly. Young Soviet guys were liked by ordinary people in the United States. Their charm and charm debunked the anti-Soviet propaganda about Russians.

Soviet soldiers pose for journalists

Meanwhile, worried about news from abroad, KGB officers paid visits to the families of soldiers, revealing the fact of possible desertion or betrayal of the country's interests. The guys were waiting for Moscow and the unknown - how they would be met in the USSR.

For the country, the return of the fighters, who had already been considered dead, was a very important event. Having traveled from the Kuriles to San Francisco and further to New York and Paris, the sailors finally arrived in Moscow.At the airport they were greeted by crowds of people with congratulations and bouquets of flowers.

Meeting at home

The soldier was compared with the legendary musicians from the then popular Beatles - "Liverpool four" in Russian. Radio and television programs were broadcast with their participation. Vysotsky dedicated one of his songs to Sergeant Ziganshin. Askhat recalled that he received 200-300 letters a day from Soviet women offering him a hand and heart, and some also tried to lure with dowries - an apartment and a car.

Not without an official reception. The heroes were personally greeted by Nikita Khrushchev and then Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky. It was decided to demobilize them from the ranks of the Soviet army and to present them with the Order of the Red Star for services to the Fatherland.

The feat of these guys is remembered today. But there are also forgotten heroes in the history of the country who themselves left the world. They will only be remembered portraits of the forgotten heroes of the Second World War, who lived out their days on the island of Valaam.

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