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Passion and determination: “Moskva”, found after 70 years

The story of the „Moskva” destroyer’s discovery made headlines during the past few days. Leaving aside the technical details, this remains the story of a man who had the energy to search the bottom of the sea for almost two years, with a passion for exploration and the determination to reach his goal. Mircea Popa, who founded Respiro Underwater Research Society, gave us exclusive information about how he discovered the Russian warship in the depths of the Black Sea and what significance this event has.

The discovery
After two years of research and exploration, Respiro Underwater Research Society succeeded, on May 3rd, 2011, to locate the wreck of the Russian destroyer “Moskva”, sank in the Black Sea on June 26th, 1941, during World War II. Respiro Society’s members, had already scanned a great deal of the area in which “Moskva” was supposed to be found and, on May 1st, 2011, a group of divers from Russia and Ukraine, GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) representatives, joined them. The divers were interested in finding the wreck and a diver colleague had put them in contact, for a joint collaboration. Mircea Popa received also help from Doctor Bogdan Cristian Ion, medical specialist in hyperbaric and diving medicine at the Hyperbaric Medical Center in Constanţa, who offered him Helium for the technical dives.   

On May 2nd Mircea Popa, Philip Yakimov and Sergei Ivchenko went offshore with the boat to explore the area again, in fact, to „fill the gaps” left unexplored by Respiro until that point in time. At the same time, Claudiu Mişa, Julia Golosiy and Svetlana Ivchenko paid a visit to the Marine Museum in Constanţa to check the archives for further details about the destroyer. Claudiu, Julia and Svetlana succeeded in contacting Commander (r) Ioan Damaschin (which in his turn studied the event of June 26th, 1941, and had a theory about where the wreck would be found) and arranging a meeting for May 3rd. So, on May 3rd the team divided in two groups: a group (Mircea Popa and Sergei Ivchenko) continued scanning with the sonar, and the rest met with Commander (r) Damaschin and two veterans who participated in the fight of 1941.    

The team found at sea, on the Respiro boat, scanned the bottom for about 6 hours, after which decided to move closer to the shore, to continue a scan at the S-10 mine weir, scan executed 10 days before by Respiro. Using the sonar, which has a coverage of 150 meters on either side of the craft (300m in total), the two found the wreck on the outer side of the mine weir. Mircea Popa recounts: “When I saw the wreck I had the feeling it was «Moskva», even though I was not sure, because the resolution at which you get the image from the sonar doesn’t allow you to see all the details. It was obvious it was a wreck, so we stopped, we turned around, we scanned it thoroughly and almost sure it was «Moskva». I didn’t even get the chance to shout. I was silent. We congratulated one another and we continued measuring the wreck on the sonar and we found out it was 90 meters in length, the ship we were searching for being 127 meters. We searched for the other piece scanning around for about an hour without finding it, so we turned back to shore. I was virtually speechless with joy; it’s the kind of discovery that takes your breath away.” Mircea Popa says he would have probably discovered the wreck faster had he met Commander (r) Damaschin earlier, but it just didn’t happen for them to meet.    

The first dive on “Moskva” was done to identify the wreck. Being beyond the recreational depth limit (40 meters) the dive was a technical one; the team of divers used double 12l tanks and one 11,1l tank, with Trimix 21/35 (21%O2 and 35%He, plus N2) as bottom gas and Nitrox 50% (50%O2 and 50%N2) for decompression; the dive’s bottom time was 25 minutes, the water had a temperature of 5°C and the visibility was 10-15 meters, very good for the Black Sea. The second dive was dedicated to filming the wreck.    

Two other pieces of the vessel were later found beside the first one, the destroyer breaking in two after the explosion; Mircea Popa suspects that in fact it’s only one piece, partially covered by sediments.    

We’ve demonstrated that you can conduct underwater research in Romania, you can if you want to. I hope that this discovery will convince others and that we will be able to attract funding to continue the exploration”, concludes Mircea Popa the story of finding the destroyer. The investment in this discovery was done mainly in time spent, as Mircea Popa explains: “What it cost us more was time. The primary investment was our time, and when it comes to numbers, we can say it cost probably 30-40 000 Euro. Anyway, if I could do underwater research all my life, I would be happy.”  The discovery puts an end to years of searching and offers divers around the world a new wreck to explore.   

The wreck
The wreck lies at a depth of 45 meters (in fact it starts at 37 meters and descends to 45), having its keel lying on the sand. Around two-thirds of the wreck is well preserved towards the stern, the destroyer being tilted around 30-35° towards portside, with its cannons, superstructure, propeller, wheel and other elements intact; the third towards the fore is tipped and rotated at 180°, the explosion breaking the destroyer in two around the first engine area, with the cannons and the forecastle buried in the sand. Mircea Popa says: “My greatest joy is that it’s positioned the way it is [...], that it’s not rolled over. If it was rolled over you could only see the keel.” “Moskva” is located close to the Romanian shore, at about 15 nautical miles (20 km) perpendicular off Agigea, N-E of the Eforie Nord resort.   

The wreck will not be penetrated, being declared a “tomb” and hence it is not desired to be desecrated. Moreover, not penetrating the wreck will make diving in the area more secure, even though the weapons found inside are probably inactive after such a long time underwater. Consequently, raising different artifacts from within the wreck will not be an option, the wreck being available just for exterior explorations.     

What follows
At this moment, the possibility of opening a museum under the trusteeship of the National Network of Museums in Romania is taken into consideration, with the purpose of exploiting this discovery from a cultural and historical standpoint. With regard to the touristic and commercial potential of the find, Mircea Popa details: “The touristic potential is [given by] its exploration by certified divers. Already many [divers] from Russia and Ukraine showed interest to come to Romania and visit this wreck, and not only, there are other wrecks in which they showed interest, including submarines and other ships found at different depths.” There are around 20 wrecks close to the Romanian shoreline which can be explored by divers, in the entire Black Sea being probably a few hundreds.    

As Mircea Popa stresses, there is an advantage regarding the depth at which the wreck lies, as it benefits from a somewhat protection against treasure hunters: “«Moskva» is a difficult dive. Thank God it’s a difficult dive as this means it will be protected.” Mircea thinks this will lead to an increase in the request for tec courses in Romania, certification which will allow diving at wrecks such as “Moskva”, found at greater depths. He wants to continue the underwater exploration: “The 206 submarine could be our next target. Anyway, any new wreck is welcomed.”    

On June 26th, 2011, celebrating 70 years since the capsizing of the destroyer, in Romania, an attempt of organizing commemoration events of this moment and of the people who lost their life in 1941, will take place.   

The history
The Russian destroyer, built in the 30s and entered into service in 1938, was in Sevastopol on June 25th, 1941. Together with another Russian destroyer – “Harkov”, and other three support vessels (a cruiser and two destroyers), the warship was sent, on June 26th, to attack the Constanţa harbor (Romania). After a raging attack in which were shot towards the coast 350 torpedos, the Romanian destroyers “Queen Mary” and “Mărăşti”, found at sea, together with the coast artillery, succeeded in turning around the Soviet vessels. Crossing the landmine weir built between Midia Cape and Tuzla, an explosion took place and the “Moskva” warship was sunk in less than 5 minutes. There were 268 persons declared missing, while 69 survivors were salvaged by the Romanians. It is not clear what caused the explosion of the Russian destroyer: a mine blowing up in the weir, the explosion of the ammunition found onboard the ship while hit by a projectile shot from an enemy vessel or the attack of a submarine found in the area [A/N information given by  Commander (r) University Lecturer PhD. Ioan Damaschin]. The scenario of a mine exploding is supported also by the research conducted by Respiro Society. Mircea Popa tells us: “At 300 meters from the wreck, right under the mine weir, you can find a quite big piece of wreck, approximately 23 meters in size. It’s possible that this piece broke off when the weir mine exploded. Hence, the distance from the mine weir to the wreck is small. That piece we didn’t have a chance to explore on site, we saw it only on the sonar, but we still have to see what it’s all about.”   

    

Respiro Underwater Research Society was created in 2009 as a „non-for-profit organization, dedicated to researching, documenting and preserving the underwater habitat and all its components”. The Society is made of a team of divers, archeologists, geologists and marine biologists.    

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3 responses to “Passion and determination: “Moskva”, found after 70 years”

  1. Foarte frumoase aceste imagini.Dovedesc ca Romania incepe sa aiba succese la scufundari.Din pacate din cate am studiat pe Internet se scriu foarte multe inexactitati despre scufundare.Practic batalia are loc noaptea,daca ar fi fost ziua aviatia romano- germana de vanatoare si bombardament o faceau praf.Totul s-a petrecut noaptea.Nu au fost martori oculari asa cum au insput sa apara.Mai avea nava si un avion mic care ateriza pe punte,era folosit pentru a ghida tirul.Pagube mari nu a prea facut.Gara nu era asta.Era o gara in centrul orasului,cam pe unde sunt amforele si relivele de ziduri.Mina marina nu l-a distrus,o asemenea nava nu se distruge cu o mina,se avariaza doar.Dupa bombardament nava se retrage in noapte cu mare viteza.Este interceptata de vedete rapide romane care profitand de intuneric se apropie foarte aproape si lanseaza asupra ei in directia magaziei de munitie o incarcatura torpiloare explozibila de mare putere mult mai puternica decat o mina clasica,asa ceva mai facusera romanii pe la razboiul de Independenta.Nava rusa se scufunda fulgerator.Era considerata Nava Amiral a flotei Sovietice in Marea Neagra.Tatal meu era sublocotenent atunci si era si in misiune pe la Focsani- Constanta -Bucuresti in acele zile cauta sa faca rost de niste mitraliere antiaeriene de mare performanta pentru apararea Iasului,armata Romana la inceput de razboi fiind foarte prost dotata.Succesul marinaresc romanesc a fost urias,fiind comunicat atunci la toate unitatile militare din tara.A fost o bucurie colosala ca la alungarea bombardierelor rusesti de catre legendarul aviator Horia Agarici.

  2. Vasiliu Lucilius says:

    13 Sep 2012 at 15:43

    Mai sunt si alte ipoteze cum ca ar fi fost scufundata de o baterie britanica aflata top secret in Campia Romana ,care tragea cu cu proiectile ,,cu aripi,, capabile sa atinga tinte la distanta de 300-400 de kilometri complet camuflata,cu amortizor si obturator de flacara.

  3. Revenim peste cativa ani.Din pacate nu este epava crucisatorului Moskova.

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