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"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship


Depth: 52 .
Date of sinking: 1916

The fate of the Russian trasport   Tsesarevitch Aleksei
        Diving on wrecks is favoured by divers in all countries. Taking into account this interest to the wrecks, foreign specialists compile detailed catalogues with descriptions of underwater objects accessible to the tourists. Any diver can learn the story of the object   he visits before an excursion dive. We have it in quite another way. The lack of available navigation satellite systems, messed up documentation, secrecy have led to the situation that for an identification of a lost ship the tourists have to limit themselves to the native people's tales and doubtful stories, told by their instructors. Fortunately there are some people with a careful attitude to history in our country whom we must be grateful to.
      Ygor Viktorovitch Alekseev is one of them. He collects and systematizes the materials which concern the ships lost in the Black Sea. Here is his story of the Russian steamer   Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch.   Many books and articles have been written about the battleship   Tsesarevitch   and her great role in the history of our navy, but few authors mention the fate of this large cargo-and-passenger steamboat. One had to perform a rather difficult task of collecting information and finding out the reason of her loss.
      ROPIT (   Russian Company of Steam-Shipping and Commerce   ) was the largest in the Russian Empire in the beginning of the 20th century. It owned not only vessels of all purposes but also a developed coastal infrastructure in every port   in Russia and abroad. A successful varied activity let the shipping company to constantly renew its fleet. The last ( on the eve of the First World War ) replenishment of ships took place in 1912 when   the six newest   high technology steamboats came to their port of comission - Odessa. Among them was the   Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch . Her mission was to visit the ports of the Crimea and the Caucasus but after three years of service she remained on the seabed for ever.
        She was a cargo-and-passenger double-decker with 2 masts and 2 screws which had been built in Hoboken ( Belgium ) by   SA John Cockerill . Her length, width and draught were accordingly 90.6 , 12.6 and 6.6 meters, displacement was 5472 tons. Three thousand horsepower steam engines let the ship pick up the speed of up to 12 knots and make distant and prolonged voyages. The ship's crew consisted of 53 men, there were 20 comfortable   1st class cabins, 32 2nd class cabins, and about 900 passengers could take there places on the decks. The cargo was carried in 4 holds.

"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)

"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)
"Crown Prince Aleksey" Russian Cargo Ship
Crown Prince Aleksey Russian Cargo Ship
(photo A. Marinichev)

The   Tsesarevitch , as the seamen and common people   briefly called her, had become a welcome visitor in all ports of the Black Sea after one year of regular voyages. But the First World War was already coming... It reached the region in October of 1914. From its beginning the Russian Wertern Allies - they were England and France - were keeping a substantial fleet near the Dardanelles, because they knew about the age-old aspirations of Russia   " to settle down in the straits " and aimed to break through the Dardanelles to Constantinople earlier than the Russians through the Bosphorus. The Russian command didn't want to allow the Allied armies to take the straits' zone without its participation and was preparing a landing operation. In the port of Odessa   the transport squadron [ flotilla ] of the Imperial Black Sea Fleet began to form. The most modern ships were to be mobilized, they were turned into auxiliary transports and got numbers which were marked on their boards with white paint. The Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch   became transport No 78 of the Imperial Black Sea Fleet of Russia.
      For long months the ships of the transport squadron had to stay in Odessa where they underwent modernization, then took part in   landing troops exercises. This continued till the beginning of 1915. But because of the necessity to increase turnover of goods the landing equipment was taken off from some part of them including the Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch   and their crews turned to transportation of various goods. It was their usual work which became very dangerous in wartime. Almost every raid of the enemy warships fixed the fate of one or several Russian steamers and sailers.
    That was how the   Tsesarevitch Aleksei   with the large white number on her board at the midships started to run between the shores again. The transports used to sail alone, but they received sailing orders only if no enemy submarines had been detected on their proposed route. Their captains led them past Russian minefields hoping that their good luck would let them avoid meeting the submarines and save from the enemy cruisers shells. In 1915 the crew of the Tsesarevitch Aleksei managed to escape all these dangers.
    In the spring of 1916 the reorganized transport squadron increased its troop capability and was ready again to carry out its orders. Several transports sank in the southern part of the Black Sea. The Caucasus Army at Trebizond required supplies which were concentrated in the northern ports, thus the sqadron ships began to make regular trips from Odessa, Nikolaev and other towns to Batumi and the Turkish ports which had been seized by the Russian army. They didn't transport troops, but their holds contained   quartermasters' cargoes, usually provisions. Transport No. 78 ( the former Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch ) was to make runs on this route.
    One of these voyages became the ship's last one. On the 16th of June, 1916, on her usual course in calm weather near cape Tarkhankut, when the ship was taking her usual turn, a powerful explosion of an enemy mine rang out under her stern. The sailors   tried to stop in-coming water, but the damage was substantial, and the transport began to slowly submerge. The modern ship managed to struggle with the elements for some time and kept her course and speed. The captain made a try to reach the shore, but the doors of the watertight bulkheads were not closed in time, and the water spread very rapidly. The engine-room was quickly flooded though the mechanics had extinguished boilers and prevented their burst and destruction of the ship. The Tsesarevitch got a noticeable different on her stern and came to a stop slightly rolling on the waves. Her crew gathered on the upper deck. At the officers' command everybody left the ship and took to the boats. As she was a cargo-and-passenger steamer, there were a lot of them, and part of them went to the bottom with the ship. She submerged slowly and then vanished underwater, and her crew safely reached the shore.
    In the Soviet period attempts were made to raise up the Tsesarevitch, and she was even partially unloaded and bags of flour were taken out of her holds. This flour could be even used for eating, but only after breaking a crust which had formed inside every bag after it had been in contact with water. They say it was what the native people and divers ( who worked on the ship ) did in those rather lean years.
    It is rather interesting that according to the official version there were 1120 tons of sugar in bags on board during this last voyage for the needs of the Caucasus Army. It looks like that the flour and champagne which are " trophies " of   "black"divers nowadays have been taken from the ship's larders ( stores ). The Soviet navy hydrographers made regular inspections of the Tsesarevitch. Below are the data from their report in 1949 :
    " Transport Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch, coordinates 45-18-11.8 and 32-31-14.2. Depth at the level of the upper mast 39 meters, search zone 47.5-49.2 meters. The object has been explored by the divers of the wrecking service of the Black Sea Fleet in December, 1949. According to the available "map of treasures" - 2.7 cables south-south-east from cape Tarkhankut. The ship is a cargo-and-passenger steamer, bottom depth - 52 meters, at the masts level - 39 meters, the bow points to the shore, heel 40 degrees on the right board with a strong different on the bow. There is a large hole in the right board in the stern and 3 pantoons with the lift capacity of 200 tons on the right hand in the first third. The ship is covered with much silt. The deck on the forecastle is wooden, it is heavily destroyed. Soil consists of silt with sand. Several rooms can be used for forming air-filled cavities. Visibility 15-20 meters."
      Now you have learned some circumstances of the life and loss of the former Imperial Black Sea Fleet transport. The Tsesarevitch Aleksei Nikolaevitch has remained for ever on the bottom of the Black Sea, and we must keep her for the coming generations.

      Neptun magazine



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