“They sent us the sky, not the sea!” – So say the grateful southerners about the teams of several warships of the Russian Navy, who first came to the aid of those who find themselves in the heart of the tragedy. And called the “blue angels” – because of the color of collars, sailor formanek.
the Training squad under the command of rear Admiral V. I. Litvinov, consisting of the battleships “Tsesarevich” and “Glory”, and cruisers “Bogatyr” and “Admiral Makarov” in winter in the autumn of 1908 was made the expedition across the Mediterranean sea. On ships in addition to the team was more than a hundred interns, mostly cadets of the Marine corps. Completing learning tasks, the Russian squadron in mid-December dropped anchor in the roadstead of the Italian port of Augusta, located in the East of the island of Sicily.
on the Morning of 28 December on the Russian ships suddenly hit from nowhere by a huge wave. Battleships and cruisers was badly shaken, but no serious problems have arisen. Only a few hours later, the sailors found out that the ninth wave was caused by an earthquake a hundred miles from here and destroyed two dozen towns and cities located in coastal areas of Sicily and Calabria. Subsequently determined that this powerful natural disaster has claimed the lives of almost 200 thousand people.
on the same day to the commander of the detachment asked the Russian Vice-Consul in Sicily. He reported that the city of Messina, the epicentre of the earthquake, so much destroyed, and local inhabitants in need of urgent assistance. After this, the Admiral, with prior notification by telegram of the Russian Navy, gave the command to raise the anchor and follow to Messina.
Hours spent on this transition, the Russian sailors did not lose in vain. On all the ships of the squadron have formed rescue teams, distributed between tools, the necessary equipment, in the ship’s hospital was preparing for the imminent influx of patients.
the Painting, seen at the place of destination, horrified. – Mountainsod was almost completely destroyed, smoked numerous fires, the surviving inhabitants looked completely confused and helpless.
to our ships immediately lowered boats and boats. Rescue crews went ashore. The men made their way among the ruins and digging people from the rubble. On the pier was deployed improvised dressing station.
the Work was complicated by the fact that so ruined city after he shook a few “delayed” aftershocks, causing a new collapse and casualties.
From the memoirs of one of the Russian officers: “Separating into small detachments, not paying attention to every minute the falls are still falling and new buildings, although faint tremors shaking the ground, they bravely climbed over the piles of garbage and shouted, “Hey, Signore, Signor!” And if in response they heard the moan or the shout, they set to work, shouting learned Italian words: “Subito! Corragio!” (“Now! Hold on!”) Work was a frenzy, there were cases when the troops refused to change and continued excavations, regardless of fatigue or the risk.”
And there was a big risk. For several days the rescue operations under the newly formed debris killed six Russian sailors, and several people got serious injuries. Among them was the flagship mechanical engineer Pyotr Fyodorov. The officer climbed into the excavated pit, to pull in the depth of the man, and at that moment there was a new quake that caused the collapse of the walls of the manhole, Fedorov eventually found himself under the rubble, and the men spent an hour digging it up.
in Addition to all the problems and difficulties of our sailors had to fight among the ruins of the real fighting. The fact is that from the earthquake-damaged local jail, took the opportunity to run a few hundred prisoners, including criminals. These gangsters started in left without power the city looting and pillaging. The only protection for residents remained the same Russian sailors. Our camecamping from time to time to distract from the rescue and evacuation operations and take up rifles. Sometimes there was a serious fire, in which several sailors were injured. One of such incidents was written by a reporter of the Italian newspaper:
“…Taking away of Bank money wardrobe the bandits, the Russian sailors had to withstand a fight with a crowd of robbers, three times superior in numbers. However, six of the sailors were wounded…”
the Crews of the Russian fleet acted selflessly. According to the initial plan it was assumed that rescue crews will work on the rubble shifts, but most of the sailors refused to leave on vacation. “There’s a Christian soul perish under rocks!” said to justify this decision one of them. And this phrase became a slogan for all.
“In fact, we did only a human duty, wrote the Lieutenant of the cruiser “Admiral Makarov” George Graf. – Is the sailors of the Russian Imperial fleet would be treated differently to the misfortune of another nation.”
the Russian sailors not only were people under the rubble. They still tried though as-that to provide survivors of disaster with food and water. Ship clock baked bakery for Italian bread. Many sailors on their own initiative gave Messina, not having warm clothes, your jackets.
Rescued from the rubble of the wounded, giving them the first aid, were transported by Russian ships turned into a real hospital ships. “We had 300 wounded, recalled one of the Russian sailors. – They were placed everywhere, even in the captain’s cabin, blankets and pillows; we were left without anything. All care for the wounded, as for a close relative…”
Our battleships and cruisers in turn weighed anchor and left the Harbor of Messina to Naples and other ports on the Italian mainland to deliver in a local hospital injured and back to bring food, medicine for the survivors, but lost all of the inhabitants of the unfortunate city.
one crisis lasted for 5 days. During this time the squadron Litvinov joined by several British ships and two Russian gunboat “Gilyak” and “Korean”. Their crews also joined in the rescue efforts. Finally arrived and units of the Italian army and police. When the hope of finding more survivors under the rubble has dried up, and in Messina to establish the relative order Russian back to their ships. On 3 January, our school party left the roadstead of Messina harbour and continued its scheduled voyage.
In total during this time in rescue operations on the ruins of the city took part more than 3,100 of our sailors – officers, cadets, conductors and lower ranks. They rescued from the rubble about 2 thousand inhabitants of the city.
the Italians have appreciated this unprecedented act of help from the Russian officers and sailors.
“We are not able to describe to Your Excellency more than brotherly care with which we were surrounded… Russian sailors wrote their names in Golden letters for eternal gratitude to all of Italy… long live Russia!!!” – A letter sent to the Italian doctors our marine Minister.
And the newspaper “La Stampa” stated: “the Eternal and imperishable page in the history of Messina has written a fair-haired Slavs, so restrained in appearance and is so responsive in fact.”
the Selfless work of Russian rescue people in the Italian city was a huge international outcry. An audience in the Winter Palace, shortly after the completion of the overseas navigation training unit, Tsar Nicholas II told his commander Litvinov: “You, Admiral, with his seamen in a few days did more than my diplomats for all my reign.”
Two years later, in 1910, the Italian government has awarded all the Russians – participants of rescue works. Admiral V. I. Litvinov received the Grand cross of the Italian Crown order were also given to commanders of ships and ship doctors. In addition, they received specialbig medal “For assistance to victims during disasters in Messina and Calabria”. All the other crew members and midshipmen interns who were in the squad were awarded small medals with the inscription: “In memory of the disaster that struck Messina and Calabria”.
By the way, the Italian award a decade later helped one of the officers – the commander of the cruiser “Admiral Makarov” V. F. Ponomarev. After the Bolshevik revolution, this distinguished sailor was forced to emigrate from Russia. Once in Constantinople, without a livelihood, he was earning a pittance on bread, working as a night watchman. In such a miserable role Ponomarev once accidentally caught the eye of Italian diplomat. After learning that he is the Savior of Messina, the Italian was shocked and offered Russian sailor to write a letter to residents about his unenviable fate. It gave an amazing effect: the city community has gathered an impressive amount of money, which was enough to support not only Ponomarev, but several of the participants of the Mediterranean campaign of the Russian squad, which managed to find among the emigrants.
in addition in memory of this tragic and heroic epic in Messina rebuilt over time, there is a “nominal” streets: “Street of the heroes of Russian sailors 1908”, “Street of Russian sailors”, “Street of Russian sailors of the Baltic fleet”. And 1978 on the municipality building was installed a memorial plaque: “In memory of the generous assistance rendered by the crews of Russian warships to the residents of the Messina earthquake of 28 December 1908”. A few years ago also established a monument created with the money collected by the citizens by subscription, is depicted a group of Russian sailors, rescuing people from the rubble. On the plate at the bottom – the inscription: “to the Russian sailors, heroes of mercy and self-sacrifice, the grateful descendants and the inhabitants of Messina.”
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