On October 29, 1955, 65 years ago, the Soviet battleship Novorossiysk exploded in the Sevastopol Bay. As a result, 604 sailors were killed. The cause of the accident remains unknown even now.
That night Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Nikitenko was on duty as a watch officer on the battleship. Now he is Captain 1st Rank, retired. Subsequently, he was my first commander. Despite the ban, he shed light on some details of the emergency.
“The day before, the battleship came returned after an exercise and anchored in the Sevastopol Bay,” said Nikitenko. “The situation on the ship was routine. At 1:30 a.m. a massive explosion occurred under the forebody. Scattered information started getting to my desk from the combat posts. Soon it became clear that there was a huge hole in the forebody. At first, I managed to align the ship by pumping fuel oil from cisterns from one side to the other. However, the tank that was located at the forebody, was steadily dipping in the water. There were waves already splashing on the greater part of the deck. It became clear that Novorossiysk was doomed. The summoned rescuers managed to save only a small part of the crew from it. At 4:15 a.m. the battleship turned over, becoming a common grave for hundreds of sailors.
“In order to find out the reasons of the tragedy a government commission was established immediately. The act of investigation was classified for many decades. We were only told that the commission had concluded that the submergence of Novorossiysk had been caused by the explosion of an old German mine, which an anchor had scraped. I never trusted this version. After all, according to the most conservative estimates, it would have taken several hundred kilograms of explosives to deploy the battleship's armor on an area of 10 m². In reality, the mines of this kind don’t exist.”
In the early 1990's, as a reporter for a military media outlet, I got acquainted with this case declassified in 1992. I was struck by the fact that it did not contain anything that could be a military or state secret. It seemed that the signatories had done everything they could to classify the act as a result of the blatant groundlessness of their conclusion that Novorossiysk had sunk as a result of the explosion of the old mine. It was very convenient for everyone to write off the accident for a random mine. As a result, fewer careers would end. However, another version of the explosion was also mentioned in the act. Namely, subversive activity.
“It should be recalled that Novorossiysk used to be called The Giulio Cesare. During World War II it was the flagship of the navy of fascist Italy. After the victory in the war, it went over to the USSR. Already at that time, in the Western media, there was a statement by Prince Borghese, the Italian Rear Admiral who commanded the union of combat submarine swimmer saboteurs. He swore that his subordinates would not allow “service of the Italian flagship to the USSR” and would blow it up by all means. In my opinion, the government commission made a reasonable conclusion on the matter. According to it, Prince Borghese's combat swimmers would be unable to deliver clandestinely to Sevastopol Bay the several hundred kilograms of explosives that would be capable of piercing the 20 cm armor of the battleship.
Later, I got a chance to discuss this situation with Nikolay Garmatenko, one of the former naval experts of the commission and Captain 1st Rank, ret.
“Behind the scenes, many experts on the commission covertly voiced a suspicion that the sinking of The Novorossiysk was likely to be the work of Prince Borghese's thugs,” he said. “The fact is that they did not need to drag hundreds of kilograms of explosives to Sevastopol Bay, because shortly before the battleship was handed over to the USSR, the Italians significantly increased its forebody for some reason. Our crew, who received The Giulio Cesare, immediately noticed freshly welded seams near the tank and the stem. Weren't any explosives put there?
“However, it was impossible to check it in the foreign port. In addition, the X-ray and ultrasonic equipment was not yet accurate enough. The crew took the battleship out to sea at their own risk. The voyage wasn’t marred by any emergency. The initial apprehensions fell into oblivion. Then the crew on the ship changed. So, they might simply have forgotten about the potential problem. In this situation, underwater subversives did not need to enter the Sevastopol Bay. In neutral waters, they could attach a small magnetic time bomb to the forebody of the battleship. So, it could detonate a massive explosive charge that had been previously placed inside the frame of the ship.”
Of course, this version looks like a plot of an adventure film and has no official confirmation. However, it is also obvious that it somehow explains all the odd details about the battleship’s explosion. Which runs counter to the official explanation of the cause of the tragedy.