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"Volga Don" German Cargo Ship

Depth: 30 .
Date of sinking: 1943

  On the present this is the largest and practically intact wreck within accessible diving depths. It lies on an even keel with open hold hatches, its stern is missing. The cargo holds contain the remains of a cargo which includes cassette air bombs. A gun has been mounted on its foredeck. Tableware fragments have been found under a silt layer which has piled up inside the superstructure.

  The wreck rises 6-8 meters above the bottom. A current is encountered at the depth of 3-4 meters, visibility remains fine for the Black Sea area conditions.

  This cargo ship was the former Soviet gunboat Krasnaya Moldaviya ( Red Moldavia, Elpidifor number 423 ), built in 1917 - 1929. Since 1929 until 1941 the Wolga-Don, manganese ore carrier.

  She was captured by the Germans in 1941 and after through repairs returned to active duty in 1943. The ship had a displacement of 956 brt. On 25 November 1943 a convoy including Wolga-Don was making for Sevastopol. The Romanian gunboats Stihi and Dumitrescu, the minesweeper R-205 and hunter-killers UJ-2301 and UJ-2309 were assigned to cover her. She carried 325 tons of military hardware for Luftwaffe. At 19:07 she was hit by a single torpedo from the Soviet submarine L-6 ( commanded by Captain Lieutenant B.V.Gremyako ). 5 people were killed in the explosion while the rest abandoned ship and were saved by the escort vessels. But the Wolga-Don didn't go down. The gunboat Dumitrescu took her in tow but rough sea and violent weather didn't let her reach her destination. She sank three miles off shore with all her cargo on board.

"Volga Don" German Cargo Ship
Volga  Don German Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Volga Don" German Cargo Ship
Volga  Don German Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Volga Don" German Cargo Ship
Volga  Don German Cargo Ship

  Briefing : a dive on the German cargo ship Wolga-Don.

  ...We propose a dive on one of the most interesting objects in the Crimea -   the German cargo ship Wolga-Don.

  To begin with, let us clear up some misunderstanding : we speak about a German vessel, but this is Wolga-Don. There is some contradiction. The point is that this was originally Soviet ship built at the Nikolayev shipyard in 1917-1929. She was a dry cargo ship of 956 brt displacement for transportation of manganese ore. In 1941 Nikolayev city was seized by the Nazis, and the Wolga-Don, as well as many other ships fell into their hands. The name of the transport is fictitious, because there is no evidence that could confirm it though divers call her Wolga-Don.

  In 1941 she was repaired and fitted out for delivery of military cargoes and equipment to the army. On 23 November 1943 a convoy consisting of the Wolga-Don escorted by gunboats and the minesweeper R-205 and hunter-killers UJ-2301 and UJ-2309 sailed to Sevastopol. There was 325 tons of cargo for Luftwaffe and its airfield ground units on board including ammunition, armament and materiel.

  At 19:07 the transport was attacked allegedly by the Soviet submarine L-6 which fired a single torpedo. 5 people died, the survivors were rescued by the escort vessels while the ship kept afloat. The gunboat took her in tow but rough sea and wind didn't let salvage her when she sank only 3 miles away from the coast. There is a wide port side hole in the stern, apparently attributable to the original torpedo attack. The damage was such that she couldn't reach the appointed port.

  The wreck sits on an even keel and upright at the depth of 30-31 meters, measuring approximately 45 meters in length, and is situated 3 miles off shore opposite Shtormovoye village which is between Lake Donuzlav and Cape Yevpatoriyskiy. It lies bows to the north-west, on a roughly Lake Donuzlav orientation. The depth of around 30 meters at its deepest is normal for usual dives on air with a 15 litres tank which lets explore the whole steamer during 20-25 minutes.

  The hull's got silted up approximately up to its water-line. The rest part of the ship towers over the sea bottom, including the aft superstructure that is the highest point of Wolga-Don to which a drop-line is usually secured and from where we should begin our excursion. One can hardly swim around such a big ship and explore it during one dive if he's got usual tanks instead of a rebreather.

  The deck-house is around 24 meters down. The best starting point for a look-over is the superstructure from which you should move aft. On the upper level after superstructure the deck-house is placed, on the middle level the companion cabin, on the lower one store rooms and other auxiliary rooms, a cook galley, a shower-bath and a latrine. All the rooms are cross-through. There are through passages port and starboard, connecting the boards with the superstructure which has big rectangular windows. This very interesting shipwreck features many inner rooms and open holds.

  Of particular interest is a car of a minibus type which is most likely an airfield mobile command center because it has large windows along its sides. Its bonnet and other parts are not visible, only a wheel protruding from the silt.

  We are swimming further through the ship's holds and encounter a hold bulkhead. The area behind it is relatively easy penetration even for those who have double tanks due to holes which have formed during its deterioration. You won't even have to ascend to the deck above. After passing through the holes we see big piles of cassettes of air bombs on the right and left hands, and then traversing gears of two howitzers, also right and left. The howitzers are covered in silt so that one can't see their barrels. All around in the debris field inside the hold one can observe remnants of cases, some other things, and many shells touching which is strongly unadvisable. They are scattered everywhere in the hold.

  Also fascinating is the fore hold which is situated under the deck representing a dark area where our lights come in handy. In the fore hold on the port side they illuminate a jeep, first its rear part with a back axle and wheels. Having cautiously passed by it we see the whole car which looks very picturesque ! After a short ascent we reach the wreck's deck with fore crew's quarters where crew members lived. Three entrances can be found near each other, the preferable way would be to come in port side, swim through one cabin on the upper storey to the corridor between cabins and then to the right cabin. Inside there are remnants of berths, pieces of furniture, bars and a washbasin. There is also the lower storey of these rooms, but this will be a rather complicated extremal dive demanding special preparations.

  So, we have explored the cabins on the upper storey, swimmed through a starboard hole and along the board to the bow and have gone around the ship from the front. Both anchors are stowed in the hawsepipes. It's from this point the shipwreck looks breathtakingly impressive, presenting a huge structure encrusted with mussels. When a current is present one gets an impression that it is still moving through the water.

  Then we should ascend to the working depth of 24-25 meters and swim along the port side because our dive time is about to expire. You should carefully track your time, as we have all different breathing rates and we must have a sufficient supply of air for a normal ascent. All are gathering at the superstructure roof and slowly make for the surface.

  As for any repetitive dives on the wreck with penetration for exploring the lower storey of living space at the bow and the engine-room and swimming along a corridor practically under the whole superstructure - this is already wreck diving that requires a high level of qualification, knowledge and experience. So these areas should really only be penetrated with an experienced guide ( divemaster ).

The engine-room has a complex layout with many narrow passages, completely dark and hazardous, and even a relatively experienced diver who has never been there takes the risk of getting lost there. Complete darkness also reigns inside the lower living space at the bow. It comprises store rooms and issuing rooms, and several cabins that have got silted up to a great extent. A total loss of visibility due to a silt-out remains a high-risk hazard even if you practically don't move, after which you have to exit in complete darkness. That's why you should not go there alone, but only in company with a divemaster under his/her watch.

  How many times can this shipwreck be dived ? As many as you please. Every time you do it there is more to see, more interesting places to explore. Lying in shallow water ( 25-30 meters ) the Wolga-Don offers easy accessibility to all levels of divers. Naturally greater supplies of air give you additional time for a look-over, but this will require decompression. You can use nitrox which is optimal for this diving object. Nitrox 40 is appropriate though the most optimal will be Nitrox 36. Gas mixes should be ordered beforehand. Using rebreathers and twin sets has an apparent advantage though a usual 15 litres bottle will let you stay on this shipwreck for 15-20 minutes and get an enormous pleasure.

  It is not recommended to swim away from the wreck losing sight of it because surrounding the wreck is a sandy desert with nothing in sight. The remnants of the masts are resting on the sea-floor along the boards. The funnel rests nearby 5-7 meters away from the starboard. A debris field with some iron beams and other things can be seen around the stern, but it's within a 10 meters distance while there is a bare area around the bow.

  The currents over the wreck are usually quite strong to make your movements difficult. In this case, in order not to waste your air you can swim either along the board gripping hold of the bulwarks, or inside the holds and then the rest part of the shipwreck which will protect you from a current. The currents can be very strong and multidirectional, more often they pass from the bow towards the ship's stern or from the starboard towards the port side. It means you can be easily brought aside from the shipwreck beyond your field of view. You should never lose sight of the shipwreck, even when visibility is drastically reduced, though in most cases the wreck site doesn't suffer low visibility which is usually in the 5-7 meters range which is sufficient to explore the exterior of the ship. Sometimes it extends to approximately 15-20 meters.

  The water temperature does not exceed 9 degrees centigrade, so you will need a helmet and a pair of gloves. Within my memory the water has been warm two or three times, but in conditions of almost zero visibility. Let us hope you will have a good luck, and water temperature and visibility levels will be favorable for exploring the wreck.

  Neptun magazine, 2008

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