The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn, also called Soviet Dunkerque or Tallinn disaster was a Soviet operation to evacuate parts of the Baltic Fleet and Red Army units from the encircled city of Tallinn in Soviet-occupied Estonia during August 1941.
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 breakthrough, the Kriegsmarine and the Finnish Navy had started on 8 August 1941 to lay minefields off Cape Juminda at the coast of Lahemaa. 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 harbor.
Gauntlet in the Gulf of Finland
Four convoys totaling 20 transports, one tanker, 8 auxiliary ships, 9 small transports, one tug, and one tender were organized, protected by the Soviet cruiser Kirov, with Admiral Vladimir Tributs on board, 2 flotilla leaders, 9 destroyers, 3 torpedo boats, 12 submarines, 10 modern and 15 obsolete minehunters, 22 minesweepers, 21 submarine chasers, 3 gun boats, one minelayer, 13 patrol vessels and 11 MTB.
The armada started to move out at 2200 on the evening of the August 27. Five ships were sunk on 28 August by German Ju 88 bombers. At 1600, August 28, the first ship approached the heavily mined waters off Cape Juminda. The first ship to hit a mine and sink was the steamer Ella, and a few moments after her, several other ships hit mines, while German bombers and Finnish coastal artillery opened fire. In the attempt to force the passage the Soviet Navy lost 5 destroyers, 2 torpedo boats, one patrol vessel, 3 minehunters, 3 submarines, 2 gun boats, 2 smaller warcraft and 15 transports; one flotilla leader, 2 destroyers, one minehunter and one transport were damaged.
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 2200 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 2 transports. Meanwhile the undamaged ships made best speed to reach the safety of the Kronstadt batteries. The heavily damaged Kazakhstan disembarked 2300 men of the 5000 on board on Steinskär before steaming off 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 reckoned to have been drowned in what, albeit little known outside the former USSR (what happened was long downplayed by the Communist regime after the war, and is not so publicly remembered by the Western-aligned Estonian government today), might well have been the bloodiest naval disaster since at least the battle of Lepanto.
Some of the ships sunk
- Icebreaker Kristjanis Voldemars
- Soviet Submarine S 5 - 28 August 1941, Gulf of Finland
- 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
- Minesweeper No. 71 (Crab) - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Minesweeper No. 42 (Lenvodput-13) - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda
- Guard ship Saturn
- Patrol boat MO 202
- Motor torpedo boat TK 103
- 25 large and 9 smaller merchantmen, most of them lost to mines
- Potter, Elmar P.; Nimitz, Chester W. (1986). "Der Krieg in der Ostsee [The War at Sea in the Baltics]". In Rohwer, J.. Seemacht. Eine Seekriegsgeschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart [Sea Power. A Naval History]. Herrsching: Manfred Pawlak Verlagsgesellschaft mbH. pp. 602–622. ISBN 3-88199-082-8.
- Finnish navy in Continuation War, year 1941
- Naval War in the Baltic Sea 1941-1945
- Krivosheev, G.F. (1997). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. London: Greenhill Books. pp. 265–271. ISBN 1-85367-280-7.
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