Echoes of WWII years remain in depths of lake

Belarusians to lift famous Soviet ‘Titanic’ from Ladoga

By Anna Tolkachevskaya

A Russian search team has asked Belarus for help in lifting a railway barge which sank in 1942, carrying Soviet machinery. It currently sits on the bottom of Lake Ladoga. Diver Igor Matyuk, a famous Belarusian specialist in lifting machinery, has responded promptly, offering his unique equipment, which allows extremely heavy cargo to be lifted ‘by hand’.

Researchers began work at Lake Ladoga in February, camping on the frozen lake for almost two months, with 12km separating them from the bank, travelling by ‘unsinkable vehicle’; it’s almost impossible to anchor safely during the summer. “Directly below our base was the sunken barge, fully loaded with civil machinery and equipment: carriages, generators and tankers. The Germans took a great deal of effort to sink it in the autumn of 1942, so that it wouldn’t reach the occupied city,” explains Mr. Matyuk, who heads the military research team at the Minsk District Organisation of Soldiers-Internationalists.

In the war years, Lake Ladoga was the ultimate hope of Leningrad. ‘The Road of Life’ was the only route into the city for the Soviets. Now, the bed of the lake is a treasury of artefacts. Several dozen times, Mr. Matyuk and his colleagues have dived under to study the 50m vessel, which is also 9m in width, designed to transport railway carriages. It even has four rails, on which carriages, tankers and a locomotive are standing: all to be lifted to the surface.

At the initial stage, the Russian-Belarusian team lifted two huge tractors to the surface, in addition to a coal powered engine and the remains of a sailor. Every day, they make new discoveries, raising them from the watery depths. A box of instruments, unwritten envelopes and a cigar-holder are among the more unusual finds; no doubt, all have their own interest value.
Another barge also lies at the bottom of Lake Ladoga, named the ‘Ladoga Titanic’ locally, as so many passengers drowned on the fateful night of September 17th, 1941.To be raised this summer, barge #725 suffered a crack to the hull during a storm and the crew’s SOS signal brought a response from Fascist air scouts and, later, battle-planes. The total number of lost souls is unknown, as there was no manifest, but around 1,500 are thought to have been travelling. The tug-boat Orel picked up 216 survivors.
The Belarusian search team has major plans to raise a famous КВ military vehicle, driven by tank man Kolobanov, which was found recently in the marshes. It is to be restored for display at the new Great Patriotic War Museum.

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