100 Years Since the Sinking of Ispolnitelnyi and Letutšij, December 12th 1914

Helsinki, Finland – December 12th, 2014

Ispolnitelnyi (Исполнительный) and Letutšij (Летучий) part of an eight ship convoy, all “Leutenant Burakov” class, on their way from Helsinki to Moonsund, today known as Väinameri between mainland Estonia and the islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. The convoy was supposed to lay mines in an operation which aimed to block fairways used by the Germans on the Northern Baltic Sea.

Leutenant Burakov 1905 Class was a series of 11 ships built in Le Havre and La Seyne, France during 1905 for the Russian navy. All ships participated the First World War. These ships were small destroyers, also called as torpedo boats.

The sinking of Ispolnitelnyi according to Admiral Essens Report

Admiral Nikolai von Essen writes in his report, that on 12th Dec. 1914, 8 minelayers from the 4th division left Helsinki to Moonsund. There, the convoy was supposed to wait for orders to lay mines off Libau. The convoy went out to the sea via Sommarö fairway across the Gulf of Finland to the southern coast of the Gulf in groups of 2 minelayers. In the middle of the sea on heavy wheather, an explosion was seen on Ispolnitelnyi, accompanied by a mass of flame and smoke. The incident was observed from other minelayers. The closest to Ispolnitelnyi were Legkij (Лёгкий) and Letutšij (Летучий), which both immediately went to the site of the accident. They rescued a total of 8 persons (Legkij – 1, Letutšij – 7) from the water. After an hour later, Letutšij, which was 2,5-3 cables ahead of Legkij started to list suddenly and sunk. According to von Essen, the strangest thing was, that there was no explosion, but he reports that they saw a “rubka” for a few seconds (which could be a periscope of a submarine) next to the sinking ship.

In reality the ships were overloaded with mines and the upper decks were covered with ice which added extra weight. Together with stormy weather and high wave action, both ships lost stability and capsized. There were no hostile submarines at the area at that time, and nobody had any offensive operation under way at the current moment. It was a winter storm which sunk the two ships. 130 sailors went down with Ispolnitelnyi and Letutšij.

The First Dive at the Wrecksite

The first dive team descended following the shot line, which had landed on the port side of the wreck. The visibility was worse than the average on the Baltic Sea at that time. First, we saw a mess of 1-2 inch pipes, but under the pipes, there was a 3 inch cannon (which later turned out to be a 75mm Obuhov). Next to the cannon we saw a big “adjustment wheel”, which was actually the steering wheel which had just accidentally landed next to the cannon from the bridge. Because of the bad visibility we decided to follow the deck with a reel line towards the stern.

Some of the damaged "grill deck".

The 75mm Obuhov bow cannon and the wheel that was tossed from the bridge by a trawl.

On our way we found a Maxim gun and torpedo launcher which still had a torpedo inside. In front of the bow gun we found a big wave cutter. The bow was exactly of the design seen typically pre World War I and during the conflict. The bow also had a small boom. The shape of the bow and the torpedo launcher suggested that the wreck was, in fact, a World War I torpedo boat. Therefore it was obvious that it could be one of the missing Leutenant Burakov class vessels, Letutšij or Ispolnitelnyi. A light structured bridge had been destroyed close to the deck cannon, quite obviously by a trawl net, which had tossed the wheel next to the cannon.

Torpedo launcher with a torpedo still inside.

All our observations were pointing perfectly at the 11 vessel Leutenant Burakov Class, but it was still unclear, which one of the two vessels that sunk on the 12th of December was in question. Each vessel had a name tag on the bow, which in theory, should still be readable and on its place. Unfortunately the name tag was covered by a trawl. The next dive team took a GoPro-camera, which was carefully put under the trawl on the supposed spot. The camera managed to capture some symbols, which were analysed carefully in an image manipulation operation that started to resemble the tv-series CSI. The result was that we managed to identify enough letters to be sure, that the vessel was in fact Ispolnitelnyi. This also closed out Letutšij and the identification was 100% sure.

Torpedo launcher with a torpedo still inside.

Leutenant Burakov Class

L: 56.1 m, W: 6.1 m, D: 3.5 m
Displacement: 400 tons (fully loaded)
Max speed: 26 kn
Operational Range: 1860 NM @ 10 kn
2 x 75 mm cannons
2 x 457 torpedoes
6 x 7.62 mm Maxim gun
Mine Capacity: 10 mines

2014 Marked the Centenary of World War I

According to UNESCO, underwater cultural heritage from World War I has not yet been comprehensively researched despite the fact that it bears witness to one of the most important conflicts in recent history. This heritage is also highly threatened by metal recovery and treasure-hunting. Badewanne encourages all divers to exercise a sense of responsibility and to respect our common and unique unique submerged legacy. We hope that all wreck sites, regardless of their age, would remain untouched for the future generations.

More information about the World War I underwater cultural heritage can be found at UNESCO.

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Badewanne diving team is a non-profit organization representing a group of voluntary divers that have been documenting shipwrecks in the Gulf of Finland (known during WW II as “Badewanne”) for more than 20 years. We are a multitalented team with a broad skill set of underwater video, still photography, drawing & painting, 3D modelling, underwater engineering, marine biology and environmental sciences.

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