Prisoners of the barge T36

After a 49-day drift in the Pacific Ocean on a faulty, half-submerged barge, exhausted Soviet soldiers told American sailors: we only need fuel and food, and we will swim to the house ourselves ... "Heroes are not born, heroes become" - this wisdom is the best approaches the story of the four Soviet guys who shook the world in the spring of 1960.

Young guys were not eager for fame and fame, they did not dream of exploits, just once life put them before a choice: become heroes or die.

January 1960, Iturup Island, one of the very islands of the South Kuril ridge that Japanese neighbors dream of to this day.

Due to the rocky shallow water, the delivery of goods to the island by ships is extremely difficult, and therefore the function of a transshipment point, a "floating pier" near the island was performed by the T-36 self-propelled tank landing barge.

Behind the formidable phrase "tank landing barge" was hidden a small boat with a displacement of one hundred tons, the length of which at the waterline was 17 meters, width - three and a half meters, draft - just over a meter. The maximum speed of the barge was 9 knots, and the T-36 could not move away from the coast without risking more than 300 meters.

However, for those functions that the barge performed at Iturup, it was quite suitable. Unless, of course, there was a storm at sea.

And on January 17, 1960, the elements played out in earnest. At about 9 o'clock in the morning, the wind, reaching 60 meters per second, tore the barge from its mooring and began to carry it out into the open sea.

Those who remained on the shore could only watch the desperate struggle waged with the angry sea by the people on board the barge. Soon the T-36 disappeared from sight ...

When the storm died down, the search began. Some things from the barge were found on the shore, and the military command came to the conclusion that the barge, along with the people on it, had died.

On board the T-36 at the time of her disappearance were four soldiers: 21-year-old junior sergeant Askhat Ziganshin, 21-year-old private Anatoly Kryuchkovsky, 20-year-old private Philip Poplavsky and another private, 20-year-old Ivan Fedotov.

The relatives of the soldiers were told that their loved ones were missing while on duty. But the apartments were still monitored: what if one of the missing did not die, but simply deserted?

But most of the guys' colleagues believed that the soldiers perished in the ocean abyss ...

The four, who found themselves on board the T-36, fought the elements for ten hours, until the storm finally subsided. All the meager supplies of fuel went to the struggle for survival, the 15-meter waves badly battered the barge. Now she was simply carried farther and farther into the open ocean.

Sergeant Ziganshin and his comrades were not sailors - they served in the engineering and construction troops, which are called "construction battalions" in slang.

They were sent on a barge to unload a cargo ship that was about to come. But the hurricane decided otherwise ...

The situation in which the soldiers found themselves looked almost hopeless. The barge no longer has fuel, there is no connection with the shore, there is a leak in the hold, not to mention the fact that the T-36 is not at all suitable for such "travel".

The food items on the barge were a loaf of bread, two cans of stew, a can of fat, and a few spoons of cereal. There were two more buckets of potatoes, which were scattered around the engine room during the storm, making it soaked in fuel oil. A tank of drinking water was also overturned, which was partially mixed with sea water. There was also a potbelly stove on the ship, matches and several packs of Belomor.

The fate of them allegedly mocked them: when the storm subsided, Askhat Ziganshin found the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda in the wheelhouse, which said that training missile launches were to take place in the area where they were being carried away, in connection with which the entire area was declared unsafe for navigation.

The soldiers concluded: no one will look for them in this direction until the end of the missile launches. So, you need to hold out until they end.

Fresh water was taken from the engine cooling system - rusty, but usable. They also collected rainwater. They cooked a stew as food - a little stew, a couple of potatoes smelling of fuel, a little cereal.

On such a diet, it was required not only to survive on our own, but also to fight for the survivability of the barge: to chop off the ice from the sides in order to prevent its overturn, to pump out the water collected in the hold.

They slept on one wide bed, which they themselves had built - snuggling to each other, took care of the warmth.

The soldiers did not know that the current that carried them farther and farther from home was called the "current of death." They generally tried not to think about the worst, for such thoughts could easily lead to despair.

Day after day, week after week ... Food and water are getting less and less. Once Sergeant Ziganshin remembered the story of a school teacher about sailors who suffered a disaster and suffered from hunger. Those sailors cooked and ate leather things. The sergeant's belt was leather.

First, they cooked, crumbled into noodles, a belt, then a strap from a broken and inoperative radio, then they began to eat boots, tore off and ate the skin from an accordion that appeared on board ...

With water, things were really bad. In addition to the stew, everyone got a sip of it. Once every two days.

The last potato was boiled and eaten on February 23, the Day of the Soviet Army. By that time, auditory hallucinations were added to the pangs of hunger and thirst. Ivan Fedotov began to suffer from fits of fear. His comrades supported him as best they could, reassured him.

For the entire time of the drift in the quartet, not a single quarrel, not a single conflict occurred. Even when there was practically no strength left, not one tried to take food or water from a comrade in order to survive on his own. They just agreed: the last one who survives, before dying, will leave a record on the barge about how the T-36 crew died ...

On March 2, they first saw a ship passing in the distance, but, it seems, they themselves did not believe that it was not a mirage in front of them. On March 6, a new ship appeared on the horizon, but the desperate signals for help given by the soldiers were not noticed on it.

On March 7, 1960, an air group from the American aircraft carrier Kearsarge discovered a T-36 barge about a thousand miles northwest of Midway Island. The semi-submerged barge, which should not move more than 300 meters from the coast, has traveled more than a thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, covering half the distance from the Kuriles to Hawaii.

Servicemen Philip Poplavsky (left) and Askhat Ziganshin (center) talk to an American sailor (right) on the Kirsarge aircraft carrier, which took them on board after a long drift on a barge. Photo: RIA Novosti

In the first minutes, the Americans did not understand: what, in fact, is a miracle in front of them and what kind of people are sailing on it?

But the sailors from the aircraft carrier experienced an even greater shock when Sergeant Ziganshin, delivered from the barge by helicopter, said: everything is fine with us, we need fuel and food, and we ourselves will swim home.

In fact, of course, the soldiers could no longer sail anywhere. As the doctors later said, the four had very little to live: death from exhaustion could occur in the next few hours. And on the T-36 by that time there was only one boot and three matches.

American doctors were amazed not only at the resilience of Soviet soldiers, but also at their amazing self-discipline: when the aircraft carrier's crew began to offer them food, they ate just a little bit and stopped. If they had eaten more, they would have died immediately, as many who survived a long famine died.

On board the aircraft carrier, when it became clear that they were saved, the forces finally left the soldiers - Ziganshin asked for a razor, but fainted near the washstand. The sailors of the Kirsardzha had to shave him and his comrades.

When the soldiers slept off, they began to be tormented by fear of a completely different kind - there was a cold war in the yard, and they were not helped by anyone, but by a "probable enemy." In addition, a Soviet barge fell into the hands of the Americans.

Soviet soldiers Askhat Ziganshin, Philip Poplavsky, Anatoly Kryuchkovsky and Ivan Fedotov, who drifted on a barge from January 17 to March 7, 1960, are photographed during an excursion in the city of San Francisco

By the way, the captain of the Kirsardzha could not understand why the soldiers so zealously demand that he load this rusty trough on board the aircraft carrier? To calm them down, he told them that another ship would be towing the barge to port.

In fact, the Americans sank the T-36 - not because of a desire to harm the USSR, but because the half-submerged barge posed a threat to shipping.

To the credit of the American military, in relation to the Soviet soldiers, they behaved very dignified. Nobody tortured them with questions and interrogations, moreover, guards were placed in the cabins where they lived - so that the curious would not bother them.

But the soldiers were worried about what they would say in Moscow. And Moscow, having received news from the United States, was silent for a while. And this is understandable: in the Soviet Union they were waiting for the rescued to ask for political asylum in America, so that they would not get into trouble with their statements.

When it became clear that the military were not going to “choose freedom, ” the feat of Ziganshin's quartet started talking on television, on the radio and in newspapers, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev himself sent them a welcome telegram.

The first press conference of the heroes took place on the aircraft carrier, where about fifty journalists were delivered by helicopters. It had to be finished ahead of time: Askhat Ziganshin's nose began to bleed.

Later, the guys gave a lot of press conferences, and almost everywhere they asked the same question:

- How do the boots taste?

“The skin is very bitter and has an unpleasant odor. Was it really about taste then? I wanted only one thing: to deceive the stomach. But you just can't eat the skin: it's too tough. So we cut it off in small pieces and set it on fire. When the tarpaulin was burnt, it turned into something similar to charcoal and became soft. We smeared this “delicacy” with grease to make it easier to swallow. Several of these “sandwiches” made up our daily ration, ”Anatoly Kryuchkovsky recalled later.

At home, schoolchildren asked the same question. “Try it yourself, ” Philip Poplavsky once joked. How many boots did the experimental boys weld after that in the 1960s?

By the time the aircraft carrier arrived in San Francisco, the heroes of the unique voyage, which, according to the official version, lasted 49 days, had already grown a little stronger. America greeted them enthusiastically - the mayor of San Francisco handed them the "golden key" to the city.

Soviet soldiers drifting on a barge from January 17 to March 7, 1960 (left to right): Askhat Ziganshin, Philip Poplavsky, Anatoly Kryuchkovsky, Ivan Fedotov. Photo: RIA Novosti

The soldiers were dressed in the latest fashion costumes, and the Americans literally fell in love with Russian heroes. In the photos taken at that time, they really look great - neither the Liverpool Four.

Experts admired: young Soviet guys in a critical situation did not lose their human appearance, did not become brutal, did not enter into conflicts, did not slip into cannibalism, as happened with many of those who fell into similar circumstances.

And ordinary residents of the United States, looking at the photo, were surprised: are they enemies? Nice guys, a little shy, which only adds to their charm. In general, for the image of the USSR, four soldiers during their stay in the United States did more than all diplomats.

Upon their return to the USSR, the heroes were welcomed at the highest level - a rally was organized in their honor, the soldiers were personally received by Nikita Khrushchev and Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky. The soldier was demobilized, saying that the guys had served their full time.

All four were awarded the Order of the Red Star, a film was made about their sailing, several books were written ...

Philip Poplavsky, Anatoly Kryuchkovsky and Askhat Ziganshin, on the recommendation of the command, entered the Leningrad Naval Secondary Technical School, which they graduated in 1964.

Ivan Fedotov, a guy from the banks of the Amur, returned home and worked as a river boatman all his life. He passed away in 2000.

Philip Poplavsky, who settled near Leningrad, after graduating from college worked on large sea vessels, went on foreign voyages. He passed away in 2001.

Anatoly Kryuchkovsky lives in Kiev, for many years he worked as a deputy chief mechanic at the Kiev plant "Leninskaya Kuznitsa".

Askhat Ziganshin, after graduating from college, entered the emergency rescue squad in the city of Lomonosov near Leningrad as a mechanic, married, and raised two beautiful daughters. Having retired, he settled in St. Petersburg.

They were not eager for glory and did not worry when the glory, having touched them for several years, disappeared, as if it had never existed. But they will remain heroes forever.

P. S. According to the official version, as already mentioned, the T-36 drift lasted 49 days. However, reconciliation of dates gives a different result - 51 days. There are several explanations for this incident. According to the most popular, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was the first to speak about "49 days". Nobody dared to dispute the data officially announced by him.