- The Soviet Patrol Boat BK-31 was found in Stalingrad (now called Volgograd) in 2017.
- The Red Army used the boat in the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the deadliest battles of World War Two.
- BK-31 sank in October 1942 on the Volga River, most likely due to a direct hit from German forces.
- In a salvage operation, divers recovered Soviet guns from the rusty wreck.
The sheer impact of WW2 has been ever-present, shaping the course of events worldwide. The discovery of war remnants has long served as a reminder of its significance.
One such remnant is the Soviet Armoured Patrol Boat BK-31, which the authorities discovered in Stalingrad, Russia, in 2017. However, today, the city is called ‘Volgograd’ instead of Stalingrad – a name used from 1925 to 1961.
Discovery of BK-31 Soviet Patrol Boat
In 2015, a recreational diver reported seeing an unusual structure deep within the Volga River. Sure enough, the report caught the attention of local authorities. Further investigation revealed that it was the long-lost BK-31 – the Soviet Patrol Boat.
Finally, the authorities hired a contractor and recovered the vessel in November 2017.
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The discovery of the boat shed further light on one particular episode of World War Two history. The Red Army had deployed BK-31 in the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the largest and deadliest battles of the war. In a matter of five months, the battle led to approximately two million deaths.
Other than the vessel itself, the discovery also revealed the human cost of the battle. Authorities found the remains of 11 sailors from either inside or near the boat as well as at least 11 historic rifles and over 10,000 rounds of Soviet ammunition.
Evidence from the boat illustrated that Soviet sailors were also using wooden stoppers to prevent leakage. In addition, the patrol boat had 8 PPSh submachine guns and a Degtyarov machine gun on board.
Other weapons extracted were a Mosin sniper, a semi-automatic SVT rifle, and a Russian Nagant M1895 revolver. Some pristine Russian optics were also among the historical finds.
Dmitry Kabelkov, the head of the recovery, highlighted the uniqueness of the operation. He said they dug up the gunboat, fully buried in sand, and cleaned it underwater. Then they discovered that it was broken into three pieces and, because of this, they were able to lift it. He added that they found the boat covered in rust and with numerous puncture holes.
“It is obvious that it came under enemy machine gun and mine-thrower fire,” said Kabelkov.
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While noting the original weight of the boat and its 13-person crew, he calculated that it was at most 30 tons. The weight of the wreckage had actually increased five times due to the amount of sand accumulated around its various parts.
Sinking of BK-31
BK-31 was a significant vessel during the Battle of Stalingrad. During its service, the ship received the name of the “waterborne tank.” Why? Because the ‘waterborne tank’ used a cannon identical to the one found on T-34 tanks.
During the fight at Stalingrad, gunboats with features similar to floating tanks were widely used. These vessels often had T-34 tank turrets, anti-aircraft guns, and numerous machine guns. The BK-31 was one of them.
It was part of the Soviet Navy’s Volga Flotilla, and its mission was to defend Stalingrad behind enemy lines. On the day it sank, the crew on board were probably transporting wounded soldiers from the western bank of the Volga to the eastern bank.
Soldiers likely used 76.2 mm T-34 cannons to shell German forces as much as possible.
Nevertheless, the Soviet forces could not withstand the Nazi attack. The German troops stood firm. They had advanced to the point where their ground-based artillery, located on the western bank, could easily target ships on the Volga River.
The waterborne tank ultimately sank after getting a direct hit by Nazi fire. The unexpected loss would have demoralized the Red Army at that precise moment. However, the Soviets did end up victorious in the end.
After restoration, the authorities plan to display the wreck in the Battle of Stalingrad museum.