Apr 7

Forty-Two

Sunday, April 7, 2019 12:01 AM

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April 7th, 2009 was the 20th anniversary of the sinking of K-278 Komsomolets, a Project 685 or in NATO-speak “Mike” class submarine. Forty-two souls were lost on that date in 1989. On the 20th anniversary, I travelled up from Moscow by train to St. Petersburg to represent the U.S. Navy at the ceremonies to honor those who died as well as those who survived.

Mike-class submarine (Royal Norwegian Air Force)

Mike-class submarine (Royal Norwegian Air Force)

A service was first held at Nikolsky Cathedral, better known as the Sailor’s Cathedral, where the echoes of the singing and chants swung back and forth from the Orthodox priests to the choir and back again. The waifs of incense filled the air adding to the sights and sounds of the beautifully ornate church. One could not help but be moved at this truly mariners’ cathedral especially on reflecting upon the plaques hung on the walls listing those sailors lost too many times at-sea.

Cathedral Plaque (Courtesy of the Author)

Cathedral Plaque (Courtesy of the Author)

I met my host, the President of the Submariner’s Club of St. Petersburg, after the church service at the cemetery where some of the Komsomolets’ crew were laid to rest. We first drank some vodka, as is custom in Russia, then walked past and paid our respects at the K-141 Kursk submarine memorial and also the gravesite where President Putin’s parents are buried before moving on to the location of the Komsomolets memorial ceremony.

Introduction outside the cathedral (Courtesy of the Author)

Introduction outside the cathedral (Courtesy of the Author)

A procession lined up along a cemetery road. I joined in behind two Russian Federation Navy sailors carrying our wreath to be placed at the gravesite holding two carnations myself for the grave for an even number of flowers are reserved in Russia for those who have passed.

Memorial Procession (Courtesy of the Author)

Memorial Procession (Courtesy of the Author)

Throngs of people from the procession clustered near the gravesite. I then stood at the grave with my host and saluted. I held my salute on a 42 second count in honor of the 42 who died most from hypothermia in the freezing waters of the Barents sea, 100 nautical miles southwest of Bear Island, Norway.

Gravesite Salute (Courtesy of the Author)

Gravesite Salute (Courtesy of the Author)

Memorial (Courtesy of the Author)

Memorial (Courtesy of the Author)

A dinner was held later where surviving members of Komsomolets’ crew, their families, and the families of those lost joined together to remember. The many poignant stories of this naval but truly human tragedy were captured best when the children of the dead gathered for a photograph.

Surviving crew members (Courtesy of the Author)

Surviving crew members (Courtesy of the Author)

Children of crew members (Courtesy of the Author)

Children of crew members (Courtesy of the Author)

Being as it turned out the only active duty uniformed representative present I rose and spoke at the dinner. I noted the honor in serving one’s country for those who died were doing just that.

Dinner remarks (Courtesy of the Author)

Dinner remarks (Courtesy of the Author)

An attaché serves many roles in the country he’s accredited to but to be present on such a day as April 7th, 2009 representing America is not one to be forgotten.

Readers who enjoyed this piece might also be interested in the following: https://www.navalhistory.org/2018/10/26/alfa-foxtrot-586-reunion-with-the-russian-fishing-trawler-captain-who-saved-them