Essays

Ships Experience Karma Too

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by Michael Walsh

AFTER THE DEFEAT of the Workers’ Reich the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union notoriously thieved everything they could lay their hands on. The Allies’ motto; ‘If it moves steal it; if it can’t be moved, blow it up’.

Ships can be moved: In November 2015, the Renegade Tribune carried “The Curse of the Monte Rosa.” Before England’s war, this luxurious Reich liner provided state-subsidised Mediterranean cruises for German workers.

On May 8, 1945, Germany’s overwhelmed armed forces — though not their government — surrendered. The SS Monte Rosa was then claimed by Britain as prize of war. The story of the liner’s fate doesn’t have a happy ending.

Renamed Empire Windrush, the pilfered German liner was put to use in transporting cheap labour from Jamaica and the East Indies to undercut the jobs of British workers. In 1954, whilst evacuating British troops and their families from the Korean peninsula, the Empire Windrush sank in the Mediterranean after suffering a voyage from hell.

Once is a coincidence; twice is karma. The Soviets were as voracious as were Britain and the US. Soviet plunder included the German-built transatlantic liner SS Berlin III. This super liner, after providing German workers with affordable Mediterranean cruises, was converted into a hospital ship in July 1939. The great liner that had served Germany so well was, during the last distressing months of the war, to heroically evacuate thousands of troops and civilians fleeing the rapacious Red Army.

SS Berlin III
SS Berlin III

Following Germany’s defeat, the SS Berlin III was seized by the Soviets. The allies called that ‘reparations.’ Call it what you will, from that moment on the great German liner was as cursed as was the Monte Rosa/Empire Windrush.

After repairs in Liverpool, presumably free of charge, the SS Berlin III was renamed by the Soviets and was called the Admiral Nakhimov. The former German cruise liner entered service for the Black Sea Steamship Company. This Soviet enterprise operated between Odessa and the Georgian port of Batumi. The liner’s cruise career was briefly interrupted during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Then, the Admiral Nakhimov was used to transport troops to the Caribbean island; these passengers were said to be harvest workers — armed with hammers and sickles, no doubt.

Back on the booze cruises for those who served the regime well, the stolen liner — the largest in the Soviet fleet — was destined to meet its fate. On August 31, 1986, the Admiral Nakhimov left Novorossiysk for Sochi. This was to be the liner’s last voyage; only the breaker’s yard lay ahead. On-board were 888 (go figure) passengers and 346 crew members.

Admiral Nakhimov
The Admiral Nakhimov

The liner’s voyage was marred by the inexplicably poor seamanship of its hapless skipper, Vadim Markhov. Even odder was the collision course being taken by the approaching bulk carrier, Pyotr Vasev, as it too traversed Tsemes Bay. It is not so much a long story but a sad tale of confused signals being relayed between the unfortunate Admiral Nakhimov’s second mate Alexander Chudnovsky on the bridge.

The cruise liner’s captain, Vadim Markhov, retired to his cabin but it isn’t certain which cabin; one not his own. This was a bizarre thing to do. Even a deck-boy knows that ships’ captains do not usually leave the bridge during busy port approaches. And it is unforgivable to do so when an approaching bulk carrier is on a collision course and behaving strangely.

Inevitably, there was a collision — following which the badly-holed “prize of war” sank; it did so in just seven minutes, just before midnight. In total, 423 of the 1,234 passengers and crew lost their lives. The Soviet authorities disallowed release of any news of the tragedy for two days. Today, the pride of the Reich, the “Strength through Joy” super liner lies in 150 feet of water in Tsemes Bay.

Soviet Bulk Carrier Pyotr Vasev
The Soviet bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev

Both Captain Markhov and Captain Tkachenko, who skippered the bulk carrier, were to face trial. The court’s 1987 finding was that both were equally culpable and each was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Both skippers were pardoned and released just five years into their sentences. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Interestingly, Captain Viktor Tkachenko, who skippered the bulk carrier that rammed the passenger liner, changed his name to Talor, which was his Jewish wife’s name. Captain Viktor Talor née Tkachenko took up permanent residence in Israel.

The story still doesn’t have a happy ending — or does it? In September 2003, Tkachenko/Talor skippered a yacht that foundered off Newfoundland’s coast. The bodies were recovered. They included the corpse of the ill-fated bulk carrier’s skipper. The worst captain in Soviet maritime history was buried in Tel Aviv, Israel. Perhaps he should have been better known as Captain Karma.

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Source: Michael Walsh, author of History Without the Spin

 

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