By Alexander Pimenov
No ordinary boat or barge was discovered by the divers, but a true combat ship from WW1 — probably part of Naroch’s river flotilla of armoured boats, about which almost nothing has been known until recently.
“We were cleaning the bottom and banks of Lake Naroch, collecting 600kg of rubbish,” explains Andrey Likhachev, Director of the Sea Pegasus Diving Club. “Before departure, we had a few free hours, so decided to check out information published recently by Myadel historian Gennady Malyshev in a district newspaper. He wrote that, in 1916, a flotilla of Russian Imperial armoured vehicles were based at Lake Myastro (connected with Lake Naroch). There were rumours among local residents that a barge lay on the bottom, but most lakes have legends of ships or aircraft having sunk in them. The stories aren’t always true; however, we thought it was worth a shot.”
The employees of Narochansky National Park gave permission and the divers soon discovered a 10m long and 2.2m wide ship, resting bottom-up. Its strong armour, connected by rivets as big as three Kopeck coins, and a huge hole in the side from a shell or mine showed that it was no civilian boat. Moreover, a piece of barbed wire, used during WW1, was found nearby. The divers are cautious, since the ship is almost completely buried in the silt, making it difficult to examine the details.
We possess extremely little information about the flotilla to which the boat might have belonged. In 1916, a frontline crossed the Narochansky area, with 12 to 18 (according to various data) river gunboats brought from the River Pripyat. Some were constructed in the USA by Mullins and Co, fulfilling an order from the Russian Imperial Navy. Their equipment included one 37mm gun and a ‘Maxim’ machine-gun on a rotating platform, with 4-6 crew. The ships belonged to a separate, special purpose sea brigade of the Russian Imperial Navy. According to various data, it may have been commanded by either much awarded Lieutenant Yuvenaly Svobodin or by Lieutenant Olshevsky. Nothing is known about the destiny of the two motor boats of the flotilla, which fought on Lake Naroch. Perhaps the divers have found one of them. Alongside scientists, they’ll conduct a more detailed investigation in the days to come.