The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn, also called Tallinn disaster or Russian Dunkirk, was a Soviet operation to evacuate the 190 ships of the Baltic Fleet, units of the Red Army, and pro-Soviet civilians from the fleet's encircled main base of Tallinn in Soviet-occupied Estonia during August 1941.
Soviet forces had occupied Estonia in June 1940. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941, German forces advanced rapidly through the Soviet-occupied Baltic states, and by the end of August the Estonian capital of Tallinn was surrounded by German forces, while a large part of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was bottled up in Tallinn harbour.
In expectation of a Soviet breakout, the Kriegsmarine and the Finnish Navy had started on 8 August 1941 to lay minefields off Cape Juminda on the Lahemaa coast. While Soviet minesweepers tried to clear a path for convoys through the minefields, German coastal artillery installed a battery of 150 mm (5.9 in) guns near Cape Juminda and the Finnish navy gathered their 2nd Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla with patrol boats VMV9, VMV10, VMV11 and VMV17. At the same time the German 3. Schnellbootflottille with E-boats S-26, S-27, S-39, S-40 and S-101 was concentrated at Suomenlinna outside Helsinki. German Junkers Ju 88 bombers from Kampfgruppe 806 based on airfields in Estonia were put on alert. On 19 August the final German assault on Tallinn began.
During the night of 27/28 August 1941 the Soviet 10th Rifle Corps disengaged from the enemy and boarded transports in Tallinn.
The embarkation was protected by smoke screens, however, the mine-sweeping in the days before the evacuation began was ineffective due to bad weather, and there were no Soviet aircraft available for protecting the embarkation. This, together with heavy German shelling and aerial bombardment killed at least 1,000 of the evacuees in the harbour.
Gauntlet in the Gulf of Finland
Twenty large transports, eight auxiliary ships, nine small transports, a tanker, a tug, and a tender were organized into four convoys, protected by the Soviet cruiser Kirov, with Admiral Vladimir Tributs on board, two flotilla leaders, nine destroyers, three torpedo boats, twelve submarines, ten modern and fifteen obsolete minehunters, 22 minesweepers, 21 submarine chasers, three gun boats, a minelayer, thirteen patrol vessels and eleven torpedo boats.
On 28 August Luftwaffe bomber wing Kampfgeschwader 77 (KG 77) and KGr 806 sank the 2,026 grt steamer Vironia, the 2,317 grt Lucerne, the 1,423 grt Atis Kronvalds and the 2,250 grt ice breaker Krisjanis Valdemars. The rest of the Soviet fleet were forced to change course. This took them through a heavily mined area. As a result, 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers, struck mines and sank. On 29 August, the Luftwaffe, now reinforced with KG 76, KG 4 and KG 1, accounted for the transport ships Vtoraya Pyatiletka (3,974 grt), Kalpaks (2,190 grt) and Leningradsovet (1,270 grt) sunk. In addition, the ships Ivan Papanin, Saule, Kazakhstan and the Serp i Molot were damaged by I./KG 4, which also sank three more. Some 5,000 Soviet soldiers died.
Later that evening the armada was attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats, and the chaotic situation made organized mine sweeping impossible. Darkness fell at 22:00 and the Soviet armada stopped and anchored at midnight in the heavily mined water.
Early on 29 August Ju 88 bombers attacked the remains of the convoys off Suursaari, sinking two transports. Meanwhile, the undamaged ships made best speed to reach the safety of the Kronstadt batteries. The heavily damaged merchant ship Kazakhstan disembarked 2300 men of the 5000 on board before steaming on to Kronstadt. In the following days ships operating from Suursaari rescued 12,160 survivors.
The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn succeeded in evacuating 165 ships, 28,000 passengers and 66,000 tons of equipment. At least 12,400 are thought to have drowned in circumstances little known outside the former Soviet Union. The event was long downplayed by the Communist regime after the war. The evacuation may have been the bloodiest naval disaster since the battle of Lepanto.
On 25 August 2001, a memorial was unveiled at Juminda.
Partial list of sunk ships
- Latvian Icebreaker Krišjānis Valdemārs
- Soviet Submarine S 5 - 28 August 1941, Gulf of Finland
- Soviet Submarine S 6
- Soviet Submarine Shch 301 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Soviet Destroyer Yakov Sverdlov - 28 August 1941, off Mohni island
- Soviet Destroyer Kalinin - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Soviet Destroyer Artem - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Soviet Destroyer Volodarski - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Soviet Destroyer Skoryi - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Patrol vessel Sneg - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Patrol vessel Tsiklon- 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Gunboat I-8 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Gunboat Amgun
- Minesweeper No. 71 (Crab) - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Minesweeper No. 42 (Lenvodput-13) - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Minesweeper T-214 (Bugel), off Cape Juminda
- Minesweeper T-216, off Cape Juminda
- Minelayer TTS-56 (Barometr)
- Minelayer TTS-71 (Krab)
- Minelayer TTS-42 (Izhorets-17)
- Netlayer Vyatka
- Netlayer Onega
- Guard (rescue) ship Saturn
- Submarine chaser MO 202
- Motor torpedo boat TK 103
- 25 large and 9 smaller merchantmen (most of them lost to mines), including:
- Estonian transport SS Eestirand (VT 532) - 24 August 1941, off Prangli Island
- VT -511/ALEV (1446grt)
- VT-512/TOBOL (2758grt)
- VT-547/JARVAMAA (1363grt)
- EVERITA (3251grt)
- VT-518/LUGA (2329grt)
- VT-512/KUMARI (237grt)
- BALKHASH (2191grt)
- JANA (2917grt)
- VT -584/NAISSAAR (1839grt)
- VT -537/ERGONAUTIS (206grt)
- VT -530/ELLA (1522grt)
- AUSMA (1791grt)
- Tanker TN-12 (1700grt).
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