Opportunities to strengthen the Black Sea Fleet provided 70 years ago
Warships can pass to the Azov and Black Seas via the Volga-Don Canal
The event, the anniversary of which we can now celebrate, was of great importance for the country's economy and even predetermined serious additional opportunities for the Russian army during the current special operation in Ukraine. We are talking about the Volga-Don Canal – July 27 marks exactly 70 years since the solemn official opening of this man-made river.
Photo : en.wikipedia.org
The idea to create a water bridge between the two great Russian rivers – the Volga and the Don – in a place where their channels approach each other by only a few tens of kilometers, arose almost five centuries ago. However, it was only in the middle of the last century that it was possible to implement such a difficult project and connect two mighty water streams with a navigable canal.
From the moment the Volga-Don began to operate, the Soviet media focused on describing the benefits that the use of the new waterway gives to the national economy. However, behind the economic “pluses”, military “pluses” were invisible to the layman. The construction of the canal opened the way for the transfer of ships and boats from the Azov and Black Seas to the Caspian and vice versa. Thus, the forces of the two naval groups – the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla – could now quickly supplement each other if necessary.
The last such operation was carried out more than a year ago. In April 2021, a detachment of 15 “Caspians” passed through the Volga-Don Canal to the Azov Sea and further to the Black Sea. Among them were artillery and landing boats, as well as small missile ships capable of carrying Caliber missiles.
As military experts explained then, such a “raid” is a complex operation, but the transfer of fleet forces from one theater of their possible actions to another is a very important strategic maneuver that helps ensure Russia's national security.
In the spring of 2021, there was still no hint of a special operation by the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. However, even then, experts in their comments emphasized that the transfer of additional ships armed with Caliber from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea Theater provides great additional opportunities that the leaders of neighboring Ukraine, who then pursued a very aggressive policy towards the republics of Donbass, must definitely take into account. heating up the degree of tension in this region and provoking Russia.
Since then, the situation has changed radically. In the course of the special operation, less than a month after it began, the Russian Armed Forces used sea-based cruise missiles to deliver pinpoint strikes against the facilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, at military enterprises where damaged Ukrainian military equipment was being restored. The shelling with high-precision “Caliber” was carried out, including from the ships of the Caspian flotilla.
Very soon, during the celebration of the Day of the Navy, numerous spectators and guests of this holiday in St. Petersburg will be able to see, among other naval equipment, the “guest from the south” – the small missile ship “Uglich” at the parade. He reached the city on the Neva, overcoming more than 2000-kilometer path along the Volga, through the Rybinsk reservoir, Lake Ladoga … But at the very beginning of the route, Uglich used the services of the Volga-Don Canal.
This is not the first passage by this ship of the Volga-Don. In 2019, he set off from his native Caspian Sea to the Black Sea and further across the Bosphorus to join the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean for some time. And a year earlier, the same raid (including through the Volga-Don Canal) was undertaken to strengthen our forces helping Syria, two combat comrades of “Uglich” in the Caspian flotilla, its two “twins” – small missile ships “Veliky Ustyug” and ” City of Sviyazhsk.
There are many remarkable episodes in the history of the Volga-Don Canal related to its purely peaceful life. Here are just a few.
The creation of this grandiose hydrotechnical complex was announced in the USSR as one of the “Great Stalinist construction projects.” Already in the midst of the work, it became clear that there were problems with the provision of materials, equipment and labor for a very important facility for the operation of the canal – the Tsimlyansk reservoir. It was then that the Kremlin leadership made a difficult decision: in the conditions of a total post-war deficit, to help one “Great Stalinist” at the expense of another. Thousands of GULAG prisoners, who had previously worked on the construction of the Salekhard-Igarka Transpolar Railway, were transferred by echelon to the construction of the Tsimlyansk hydroelectric complex.
To the detriment of the same northern “Great Stalinist”, a significant part of the building materials, fuel, and equipment destined for it were redirected to the Volga-Don. In 1951, part of the management of the large-scale northern railway construction, headed by its chief, Colonel V. Barabanov, left “for Tsimlyanskoye”.
As a result, the Volga-Don Canal and the Tsimlyansk reservoir were built, but the polar “piece of iron ”, deprived of a significant part of the resources for laying, did not become operational, turning into the “Dead Road”.
The closest distance between the channels of the Volga and the Don in a straight line is about 58 km. However, taking into account the terrain, in order to minimize the amount of earthwork, the designers chose a much longer, winding path for the canal. It is almost 101 km from the “entrance gate” on the Volga near Volgograd-Stalingrad to the “Don Gate” near the city of Kalach-on-Don.
The construction of the canal, which began in 1948, was carried out – in the spirit of that time – mainly by the forces of prisoners, as well as captured German soldiers and officers. Although official reports widely used the main symbol of the Volga-Don – a representative of the latest technology for that time – a walking excavator.
The total number of forced laborers on this “Great Stalinist” is not known exactly. In those days, it was believed that, thanks to well-established work and supplies, the number of dead and dead on the construction of the Volga-Don is relatively small – researchers mention “only” one and a half thousand people.
It was sacrificed to the new channel and something else. The entire zone of hydrotechnical construction, including several future reservoirs, occupied a very large territory, on which about 1,400 villages and farms had previously been located. Some of them simply interfered with the builders, and some were supposed to be flooded after the filling of new reservoirs. Therefore, it was decided to evict the inhabitants to other places and destroy all the buildings that remained from them.
Many poor fellows “happened” to be on completely uninhabited “lands” and huddle there for the first time in dugouts and miserable adobe houses. But some lucky ones were lucky: they became the inhabitants of the newly built village of Tsimlyansky. It was conceived as an exemplary settlement with neat houses, gardens and even a park decorated with rotundas and having an observation deck, from where a spectacular view of the structures of the Volga-Don Canal opened.
All this splendor was started, counting that Comrade Stalin would come to the “great construction site”, and he would be taken to Tsimlyansky. However, the aged leader never made it to the Volga-Don.
Another sacrifice made by the canal was the Khazar fortress Sarkel, built in the middle of the 1st millennium AD. This archaeological monument was uncovered during earthworks. Archaeologists were given only a very short time to conduct research. The unique items they found at the same time were then transferred to the Hermitage. And the remains of the ancient walls of Sarkel went under water, they ended up at the bottom of the Tsimlyansk reservoir.