Alexander Marinesko

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Alexander Marinesko
Born 15 January 1913
Odessa, Russian Empire
Died 25 November 1963(1963-11-25) (aged 50)
Leningrad, Soviet Union
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Navy
Years of service 1933 – 1945
Rank Lieutenant-Commander

Hero of the Soviet Union Order of Lenin Order of Lenin

Alexander Ivanovich Marinesko (Russian: Александр Иванович Маринеско, Ukrainian: Олександр Iванович Марiнеско, Aleksandr Ivanovich Marinesko, Alexander Marinesco; Romanian: Alexandru Marinescu) (15 January 1913 – 25 November 1963) was a Soviet naval officer and, during World War II, the captain of the S-13 submarine, which sank the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff, with recent research showing that over 9,000 died (almost 5000 of whom were children[1]) when the ship sank, most of whom were civilians fleeing the advance of the Red Army.

Early life[edit]

Born in Odessa, Marinesko was the son of a Romanian sailor, Ion Marinescu, and a Ukrainian woman. His father had fled to Russia after beating an officer and settled in Odessa, Russifying his name to Ivan and changing the last letter "u" of his surname to "o".

Alexander trained in the Soviet Merchant Navy and the Black Sea Fleet, and was later moved to a command position in the Baltic Fleet. He was promoted to lieutenant (ensign) in March 1936 and advanced to senior lieutenant (sub-lieutenant) in November 1938. In the summer of 1939 he was appointed commander of the new submarine M-96. When it entered service in mid-1940, it was declared to be the best submarine of the Baltic Fleet. Marinesko was awarded a golden watch and promoted to captain lieutenant (lieutenant) in 1940.

World War II[edit]

After the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, the Soviet Union became engaged in the Second World War, referred to by Soviets as the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet high command of the Baltic Fleet decided that the M-96 should be sent to the Caspian Sea to serve there as a training boat. But this could not be realized because of the German blockade of Leningrad. On 12 February 1942 a German artillery shell hit the M-96 causing considerable damage. The repair required more than four months. Because of the long inactivity, the level of battle training of the crew was low.[citation needed] Marinesko began to find consolation in alcohol, and he was expelled as a candidate member of the Communist Party.[citation needed]

During a patrol near the Finnish coast, on 14 August 1942 Marinesko spotted the German heavy artillery barge (Schwerer Artillerie-Träger) SAT-4 "Helena". He launched a torpedo and later reported that he had observed the sinking of the barge. In 1946, the barge was turned over to the Soviet Baltic Fleet as war prize and it was found that her displacement was not 7,000 BRT as claimed by Marinesko, but only 400 BRT. Then Marinesko exposed his submarine to real risk by prematurely returning without any warning to his base.[citation needed] Soviet patrol boats attacked M-96, and a tragedy was avoided by sheer luck.[citation needed] In October 1942, M-96 had to disembark a commando detachment on the coast of Narva Bay. Its task was to attack a German headquarters and capture an "Enigma" coding machine. Although only half of the unit returned, without the machine, Marinesko had performed his task successfully and was decorated with the Order of Lenin and promoted to captain third rank (lieutenant-commander).[citation needed] He was again admitted as a candidate-member to the Communist Party.

In the beginning of 1943, Marinesko was appointed commander of the modernized submarine S-13. Of the 13 units of the Type S (Stalinets), Series IX and IXbis, only this boat survived the war.[citation needed] Leaving the base in the Finnish town of Hanko in October 1944, S-13 took position near the Hela peninsula, where the main German communication lines passed. Marinesko soon spotted the small transport ship "Siegfried" (563 BRT) and launched four torpedoes, which all failed. He surfaced and opened fire at the ship with his cannon. He reported 15 hits and that, as a result, the ship was sunk.[citation needed] He stated that the displacement of this ship was 6,000 BRT.[citation needed] In fact, the "Siegfried" was hit severely, but managed to reach the harbor of Danzig.

Wilhelm Gustloff and Steuben[edit]

After spending New Year's night 1945 in Hanko with a Swedish woman, the owner of a restaurant, Marinesko disappeared for several days.[citation needed] It was proposed that he be court-martialed as a deserter, and this could be fatal for him.[citation needed] Moreover, fraternisation between Soviet citizens and foreigners was not allowed. But the commander of the Baltic Fleet Admiral V. F. Tributs realized that in such case the S-13 would not be operational for a long time. Therefore, Marinesko was sent on a new mission to prove his abilities.[citation needed]

Marinesko left Hanko on 11 January 1945 and took position near Kolberg on January 13. During the next few days his submarine was attacked several times by German torpedo boats. On 30 January 1945, the S-13 attacked and sank the Wilhelm Gustloff.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was evacuating civilians and military personnel. Of the nearly 10,000 people on board fleeing the advancing Soviet army on the Eastern Front, there were between 5,400 and 9,400 casualties in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, making it the single worst maritime disaster in history.[citation needed] The vast majority of both legal and military opinion consider this a tragedy of war.[citation needed]

Days later, on 10 February, Marinesko sank a second German ship with two torpedoes, the Steuben, carrying mostly military personnel, with an estimated total number of 4,267 casualties.[2] Marinesko had maneuvered submerged for four hours, following the enemy by sonar. He was convinced that the target was the light cruiser Emden. Marinesko thus became the most successful Soviet submarine commander in terms of gross register tonnage (GRT) sunk, with 42,000 GRT to his name.

Marinesko's tomb in Bogoslovskoye Cemetery

However, Marinesko was not awarded with the Hero of the Soviet Union title. His commanders refused to trust reports regarding the scale of the hits; in addition, he was deemed a controversial person (partially due to his problems with alcohol), "not suitable to be a hero".[citation needed] Instead, after the hits were confirmed, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Marinesko felt personally insulted, and when staff officers came to present him the order on his submarine, he gave the order to submerge her.[citation needed]

During his next mission from 20 April to 13 May Marinesko did not conduct a single attack, although he was sent to an area with intensive enemy ship traffic. This mission was evaluated as unsatisfactory.[citation needed] According to the Brigade Commander Submarine Captain 1st Rank Kournikov, Marinesco "had many occasions to detect enemy transports and convoys, but by improper maneuvering and hesitation to approach for attack could not ...-command submarine in position unsatisfactory. The commander of the submarine did not try to seek out and attack the enemy ... As a result of inactive operations commander submarine "S-13" did not fulfill his mission ... ".[citation needed]


On 31 May, the battalion commander of the submarine high command submitted a report, which indicated that the "commander of the submarine spends all the time drinking, is not engaged in official duties, and his continued presence in the post is inappropriate."[citation needed]

On 14 September 1945, order 01979 was issued by Commissar of the Navy N. G. Kuznetsov, which stated: "For neglect of duty, regular heavy drinking and domestic immorality, the Commander of the Red Submarine S-13, Red Submarine Brigade of the Baltic Fleet, Captain 3rd Rank Marinesko, Alexander Ivanovich, to be dismissed, downgraded in military rank to lieutenant and placed at the disposal of the military council of the same fleet."

From 18 October 1945 to 20 November 1945, Lieutenant Marinesko was the commander of a minesweeper T-34, 2nd Division minesweepers, 1st Red Banner Brigade, trawling Baltic Fleet (Tallinn Maritime defensive area). On November 20, 1945, by order of the People's Commissar of the Navy, order number 02521, Lieutenant Marinesko was transferred to the reserve and retired.

From 1946-1949, Marinesko was a senior mate on ships of the Baltic Shipping Company. In 1949, he was appointed the deputy director of the Leningrad Institute of Blood Transfusion. In 1949, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of squandering socialist property and imprisoned from 1949-1951 in Busan. In 1951-1953 he worked as a surveyor with the Onega-Ladoga expedition, and in 1953 led a group of the supply department at the Leningrad plant "Maison".


In 1960, Marinesko, by then very ill, was restored to his wartime rank of captain third rank and granted a full pension. He died in Leningrad after a long and serious illness (probably cancer) on 25 November 1963, and was buried at the Bogoslovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg.


Marinesko was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously, in May 1990, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the victory in Europe. At about the same time, the Ulitsa Stroitelei (Builders' Street) in St. Petersburg was renamed in his honor to Ulitsa Marinesko, located in Kirovskiy District, connecting Avtovskaya and Zaitseva streets. The Submarine Museum in St. Petersburg was named after him,[3] and monuments dedicated to him were erected in Kaliningrad, Kronstadt, and Odessa. He is one of the more prominent characters in the Günter Grass' novel Crabwalk (2002), which describes in detail the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ Pipes, Jason. In A Memorial to the Wilhelm Gustloff Pipes cites Heinz Schön as reporting in Die Gustloff Katastrophe that the loss of life was 9,343, almost 5000 of whom were children.
  2. ^ Koburger, Charles W., Steel Ships, Iron Crosses, and Refugees, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1989, p.7. Koburger also notes that other equally reliable sources put the total embarked at 3,300.
  3. ^ St. Petersburg Submarine Museum, А.I. Marineskо Museum of Submarine Forces website.

External links[edit]