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Seizure of Romanian Navy
Background: by August 1944, the Romanian Fleet showed little sign of eagerness to continue the struggle in view of the Soviet air superiority. A German proposal to make a coordinated raid against Odessa ended with participation of no Romanian ship and early failure of operation due Soviet air attack.
On 24 August the Soviet Navy engaged the Romanian Navy for the last time in open combat during the operation in Danube’s Delta: a brush between Soviet small gunboats (BKA) against monitor Lascar Catargiu ended with a double Soviet air strike sinking the ship and the sister Mihail Kogălniceanu.
Officially 23 August was the day of King Michael’s coup against the German, to bring Romania on Soviet side, but war operations in the north of the country continued.
It was only by 25 August that Romania formally declared war to Germany, this did not prevent the local Soviet Danube Flotilla to demand the surrender of the Romanian riverine monitors (other riverine Romanian ships engaged actively with German forces between this date).
Moving back to the main German-Romanian naval base of Constanta, it is important to stress how it suffered a heavy Soviet air attack on 20 August (Note: some western sources mistakenly claim it was an “American” raid), with multiple vessels sunk or heavily damaged: among others Romanian torpedo boat Naluca and German submarine U-9 sank in harbor. On day 25 August the Kriegsmarine left the harbor, after scuttling vessels that could not sail: most significantly U-18 and U-24. The local Italian contingent (Italian Social Republic) scuttled the only operative vessel CB-3 on sea after a brief patrol attempting to look for Soviet vessels, and evacuated on land.
I have not gathered all details, but technically the Romanian Navy “should” have attacked the now-enemies German vessels inside the harbor or while abandoning it (or preventing the scuttling of submarines like U-18 and U-24). Reasons for absence of this kind of behavior are constant with the subsequent Soviet behavior.
First Seizures: Constanta- 30 August 1944
Soviet Navy dispatched two group of boats: thirty motor torpedo boats (I failed to identify them) brought troops on the piers while submarine chasers MO-336 (of OD-200 class) and MO-91, MO-141, MO-101 were ready to seize potential prizes. Interestingly, all MO-4 type boats received the new classification for Black Sea (first were all known as “SKA-“).
Presence of the OD-200 class submarine chaser is also interestingly (this operation and subsequent ones were their peak of activity of Black Sea).
I struggled to find trace of actual ships declared as “trophy” (prize) on 30 August in Constanta.
The most significant ones are likely the Italian midget-submarines CB-1, CB-2 (both not operative) and CB-4, CB-6 (both suffered damage during the 20-August air raid).
These boats are often described as “scuttled”, but there is photo evidence of them on 5 September on ground, also their not-operational status make very unlikely they were hold in water.
Another potential ship seized was the tug DMO-1 (ex-Soviet Foros, 150 GRT): I found a description of it in German service, but a recent list of author Miroslav Morozov place it under Romanian flag, so it could not have been captured by Soviets on 30 August.
COMMENTS AND OPINIONS over German-flagged ships left in Constanta intact and seized by Soviets are welcome!
Second Seizures: Constanta- 5 September 1944
While the Germans evacuated most of their forces (sailing south to Bulgaria), the three operative U-boats made some last offensive patrols right around Constanta harbor.
On day 1 September, U-23 torpedoed and crippled the Romanian tanker Oituz (2686 GRT) inside the harbor; most significantly on 2 September U-19 torpedoed and sunk Soviet minesweeper T-410 “Vzryv”. Most of the literature describe how Romanian minelayer Amiral Murgescu was “sailing alongside” the minesweeper, and the loss (and no damage to the minelayer) was claimed to be Soviet’s justification for the subsequent seizure of the Romanian Fleet.
Apparently, this widely reported description it’s false.
On Soviet sources (1989) it is clear how the Soviet Navy already decided the seizure of the Romanian Fleet, and T-410 “Vzryv” was part of the task force dispatched for such duty.
Moreover Amiral Murgescu wasn’t sailing “alongside” the Soviet ship but apparently sailed toward them, just to change route and come back to harbor (exact reasons are unclear: possibly was attempting to identify the incoming ships: Soviets doesn’t mention the possibility she was going to defect-sail away).
The rest of the Soviet task force was composed by minesweepers T-404 Shchit, T-406 Iskatel, large submarine chasers BO-103, BO-105 and smaller submarine chaser MO-360 (OD-200 type). BO submarine chasers were the newly 122a class introduced in Black Sea Fleet and this (and following) operations are their peak of activity. All these ships carried on-board extra troops for the boarding.
Here the following (partial) list of the Romanian Navy vessels seized by the Soviets during this occasion:
Destroyers NMS Regele Ferdinand (damaged by air bomb), NMS Regina Maria, NMS Marasti, NMS Marasesti.
Torpedo boats NMS Smeul, NMS Sborul (damaged by air bomb), gunboats NMS Căpitan Dumitrescu, NMS Locotenent-Comandor Stihi Eugen, NMS Sublocotenent Ghiculescu, Minelayer NMS Amiral Murgescu (damaged by air bomb), auxiliary minelayer NMS Dacia (damaged by air bomb), submarine tender NMS Constanta.
Submarine chasers VS-1, VS-2, VS-3 (ex-German KFK), motor torpedo boats NMS Viscolul (damaged by air bomb)
Motor torpedo boats NMS Vedania, NMS Vantul, NMS Vijelia, NMS Viforul, NMS Vartejul, NMS Vulcanul (all out-of-duty because of technical issues)
Submarines NMS Marsuinul and NMS Requinul.
The seizures were not absent of bloodshed: most violent episodes occurred on destroyer NMS Regina Maria where the destroyer’s squadron commander committed suicide, while another officer was wounded by bayonet.
Seizure of Bulgarian Navy
Third Seizures: Varna - 9 September 1944
The situation in Bulgaria was a completely different scenario from Romania. During the war, Bulgaria (while part of the Axis) declared to be neutral. This neutrality was de-facto eclipsed by an almost absolute German control over the Bulgarian Navy and effective participation of Bulgarian Navy in defensive operation (albeit with little success: claim that the Bulgarian Navy sunk Soviet submarine Shch-204 with depth charges are wrong, even if it is possible she was sunk by a Bulgarian (or German) seaplane).
Soviet Union formally declared war to Bulgaria on 5 September 1944 and in the following days the nation saw a general take-over of the country by the Fatherland Front (a gathering of opposition forces including communist partisans, but also part of the military officials loyal to the “Zveno” and the Agrarian Party).
On this prospective of an developing political situation the Soviet Navy moved to secure the Bulgarian Navy: officially to prevent the possible participation of naval officers to pro-German activities, but quite clearly also to gain new trophies.
Soviet detachment dispatched for this operation was: minesweeper T-404 Shchit, large submarine chaser BO-105, smaller submarine chasers MO-379 (OD-200 type), MO-347, MO-348, MO-712 (all MO-4 type, including the veteran boat SKA-0712 with new code).
Differently from the seizure of the Romanian Navy, apparently there was little opposition from Bulgarians. Main trophies include:
Old torpedo boats Druzki, Khrabri, Strogi (“Strogi” was not commissioned by the Soviet Navy, likely due age).
Motor torpedo boats n°4, n°5, n°6, n°7 (ex-Dutch boats)
Motor torpedo boats n°1, n°2, n°3 (German Lürssen type).
The Soviet booty included also a good number of German MFP landing crafts, the following vessels of type “D” were all built locally and nominally assigned to the Bulgarian Navy:
F-851, F-852, F-900, F-901, F-902, F-903, F-904, F-905 and F-906 (all of them entered service very recently).
Proper German-flagged (abandoned) MFP seized in Varna are F-325 (type “A”) and F-495 (type “C”, apparently it was mistakenly believed sunk in Mediterranean).
Other boats , allegedly nominally transferred to the Bulgarians are F-128, F-176 (both type “A”) and F-405 (type “C”).
Seizures of F-571 and F-575 is wrong (both scuttled at Swistowo, Soviets recovered the second one).
F-848 cannot be considered an intact prize like the others because was technically grounded (intentionally) on 25 August south of Varna (also recovered and incorporated by Soviets).
Information about other German military crafts captured on that day by Soviet Navy in Constanta apparently are wrong:
Minesweeper R-163, while reported as recovered intact, was actually scuttled by Germans and then raised by Soviets.
Same for the German submarine chasers UJ-112 and UJ-113 (or UJ-110): all were scuttled, also inland and not in Varna, before being recovered by Soviets.
Fourth Seizures: Burgas- 9 September 1944
On the same day, a task force (split in two detachment) sailed to Burgas.
First detachment included minesweeper T-406 Iskatel and submarine chasers MO-72, MO-307, MO-339, MO-422 (all MO-4 class). They encountered on sea near Cape Emine the Bulgarian submarine chasers Belomorets and Chernomorets (effectively the two best ships of the Bulgarian Navy). Both vessels received order from the Fatherland Front to surrender to Soviets when they were on sea: nevertheless they were caught by Soviets and brought to harbor. Soviets also gave similar orders to four trawlers and several small fishing boats (but reasonably these were not considered “trophies”). Once close the shore, two Bulgarian sailors attempted the escape swimming to beach but they were recaptured on-spot by Soviet soldiers (or local Communist partisans, different description of events).
A second detachment included BO-103 and four MO-4 class boats, but it seems first detachment encountered Bulgarian ships.