“Heroes are not born, they become heroes”

After a 49-day drift in the Pacific Ocean on a faulty, half-submerged barge, exhausted Soviet soldiers told American sailors: we only need fuel and food, and we’ll swim to the house ourselves … “Heroes are not born, they become heroes” – this wisdom is the best Approaches the history of four Soviet guys who shook the world in the spring of 1960.

Young guys did not rush to fame and fame, they did not dream of heroic deeds, just once life set them before a choice: to become heroes or die.
January 1960, the island of Iturup, one of those same island of the South Kurile ridge, which to this day dream of Japanese neighbors.

Because of the rocky shallows, the delivery of cargo to the island by ships is extremely difficult, and therefore the self-propelled tank-barge T-36 performed the function of the transshipment point, the “floating berth” off the island.

Behind the formidable phrase “tank-landing barge” was a small boat with a displacement of one hundred tons, the length of which at the waterline was 17 meters, width – three and a half meters, the draft – just over a meter. The maximum speed of the barge was 9 knots, and to move away from the shore, without being exposed to risk, the T-36 could not be more than 300 meters.

However, for those functions that the barge performed at Iturup, it was quite suitable. If, of course, there was no storm at sea.

And on January 17, 1960 the element was played out in earnest. About 9 o’clock in the morning the wind, reaching 60 meters per second, tore the barge from the mooring and began to carry it to the open sea.

Those who stayed on the shore could only watch the desperate struggle that the people who were on board the barge with the angry sea. Soon the T-36 disappeared from view …

When the storm died down, the search began. Some things were found on the shore from the barge, and the military command came to the conclusion that the barge, along with the people who were on it, had perished.

On board the T-36 at the time of its disappearance were four soldiers: 21-year-old junior sergeant Askhat Ziganshin, 21-year-old private Anatoly Kryuchkovsky, 20-year-old private Philip Poplavsky and another private, 20-year-old Ivan Fedotov.

The soldiers were told that their relatives were missing while performing their military duty. But behind the apartments still installed observation: suddenly someone from the lost did not die, but simply deserted?

But most of the fellow soldiers believed that the soldiers disappeared in the ocean abyss …

The four, caught on board the T-36, for ten hours struggled with the elements, until finally the storm did not abate. To fight for survival, all the meager supplies of fuel left, 15-meter waves heavily battered the barge. Now it just carried away farther and farther into the open ocean.

Sergeant Ziganshin and his comrades were not sailors – they served in the engineering and construction troops, which in slang are called “construction battalion”.

On a barge they were sent to unload the cargo ship, which was about to come up. But the hurricane decided otherwise …

The situation, in which the soldiers turned out, looked almost hopeless. There is no more fuel at the barge, there is no connection with the shore, in the hold, not to mention that the T-36 is not at all suitable for such “trips”.

Of food on the barge were a loaf of bread, two cans of stew, a can of fat and a few spoons of cereals. There were two more buckets of potatoes, which during the storm scattered through the engine room, which made it soaked with fuel oil. Overturned and a tank of drinking water, which is partially mixed with the sea. Still there was on the ship a stove-burzhuyka, matches and a few packs of “Belomor”.

The fate of them allegedly mocked: when the storm ceased, Askhat Ziganshin found the Red Star newspaper in the cabin, in which it was said that in the area where they were being carried, training missile launches were to be held, and therefore the whole area was declared Unsafe for navigation.

The soldiers concluded: no one will be looking for them in this direction until the end of the missile launches. Hence, it is necessary to hold out until their end.

Fresh water was taken from the engine cooling system – rusty, but suitable for use. Rainwater was also collected. As a meal they cooked soup – a little stew, a couple of smelling potatoes, the smallest amount of cereals.

On such a ration it was required not only to survive by ourselves, but also to fight for the survivability of the barge: to chop ice from the sides in order to prevent its overturning, to pump out the water that was gathering in the hold.

We slept on one wide bed, which we ourselves built, – keeping close to each other, they took care of the heat.

The soldiers did not know that the current that carried them farther and farther from home was called the “course of death.” They generally tried not to think about the worst, because of such thoughts it was easy to fall into despair.

Day by day, week after week … Food and water are less. Once Sergeant Ziganshin remembered the story of a schoolteacher about sailors who had suffered a disaster and were suffering from hunger. Those sailors were cooking and eating leather things. The sergeant’s belt was leather.

With water, the situation was very bad. In addition to the pottage, it got to everyone in the throat. Once in two days.

The last potatoes were cooked and eaten on February 23, on the Day of the Soviet Army. By that time auditory hallucinations were added to the thirst of hunger and thirst. Ivan Fedotov began to suffer fits of fear. The comrades supported him as best they could, calming him down.

For all the time of drift in the fourth there was not a single quarrel, not a single conflict. Even when there is almost no strength left, not one has tried to take food or water from the friend to survive on his own. Just agreed: the last one who survived, before he died, will leave on the barge a record of how the crew of the T-36 perished …

On March 2, they saw for the first time a ship passing in the distance, but, it seems, they themselves did not believe that there was no mirage in front of them. On March 6, a new ship appeared on the horizon, but the desperate signals for help that the soldiers gave were not noticed on it.

On March 7, 1960, an aviation group from the US aircraft carrier Kirsarg discovered a T-36 barge about a thousand miles northwest of the island of Midway. A semi-submerged barge, which should not be more than 300 meters away from the coast, traveled more than a thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, crossing half the distance from the Kuriles to Hawaii.

Americans in the first minutes did not understand: what, in fact, for the miracle in front of them and what kind of people are floating on it?

But the sailors experienced an even greater shock from the aircraft carrier when Sergeant Ziganshin delivered a helicopter from the barge: everything is fine, we need fuel and food, and we’ll make it home ourselves.

In fact, of course, the soldiers could not swim anywhere. As doctors later said, there were very few lives left for the quartet: death from exhaustion could come already in the next few hours. And on T-36 by that time there was one boot and three matches.

American doctors were amazed not only by the perseverance of Soviet soldiers, but also by amazing self-discipline: when the crew of the aircraft carrier offered them food, they ate quite a bit and stopped. Eat more, they would immediately perish, as many died, survived a long famine.

On board the aircraft carrier, when it became clear that they were rescued, the forces finally left the soldiers – Ziganshin asked for a razor, but he fainted near the washbasin. Shaving him and his comrades had to sailors “Kirsarge.”

When the soldiers slept off, they began to be tormented by a very different kind of fear: there was a cold war in the yard, and it was not someone who was helping them, but a “probable adversary”. In addition, the Americans got a Soviet barge in their hands.
Soviet soldiers Askhat Ziganshin, Philipp Poplavsky, Anatoly Kryuchkovsky and Ivan Fedotov, drifting on a barge from January 17 to March 7, 1960, are photographed during an excursion in the city of San Francisco

The captain of the Kirsarge, by the way, could not understand why the soldiers so zealously demanded that he load the rusty trough aboard the aircraft carrier? To calm them, he told them: the barge in the port would tow another ship.

In fact, the Americans sank the T-36 – not because of the desire to harm the USSR, but because the half-submerged barge posed a threat to navigation.

To the credit of the American military, in relation to the Soviet soldiers, they behaved very worthily. No one tortured them with interrogations and interrogations, more than that, to the cabins where they lived, they put security in order not to bother the curious.
But the soldier was worried about what they would say in Moscow. And Moscow, after receiving news from the United States, was silent for a while. And this is understandable: in the Soviet Union, they were waiting for the saved political asylum in America to be asked, so that with their statements they would not be trapped.

When it became clear that the military was not going to “choose freedom,” about the feat of the four Ziganshin spoke on television, on the radio and in newspapers, and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev himself sent them a greeting telegram.
The first press conference of the heroes took place on an aircraft carrier, where about 50 journalists were delivered by helicopters. To finish it it was necessary ahead of time: at Askhat Ziganshin a nose went blood.

Later the guys gave a lot of press conferences, and almost everywhere they asked the same question:

“What about the taste of boots?”

“The skin is very bitter, with an unpleasant odor. Yes, was it then to taste? I only wanted one thing: to deceive the stomach. But just do not eat your skin: too hard. Therefore, we cut off a small piece and set fire to it. When the cistern burned, it turned into something like charcoal and became soft. This “delicacy” we smeared with a solidol that it was easier to swallow. Several such “sandwiches” were our daily diet, “Anatoly Kryuchkovsky later recalled.

At home the same question was asked by schoolchildren. “Try it yourself,” joked once Philip Poplavsky. I wonder how many boots were cooked after this experimental boys in the 1960s?

By the time of the arrival of the aircraft carrier in San Francisco, the heroes of the unique voyage, which lasted, according to the official version, 49 days, have already grown a bit stronger. America met them enthusiastically – the mayor of San Francisco handed them a “golden key” from the city.

The soldier’s hospitable hosts dressed in costumes in the latest fashion, and Americans literally fell in love with Russian heroes. In the photographs taken at that time, they really look great – neither to give nor take the “Liverpool Four”.

Specialists admired: young Soviet guys in a critical situation did not lose their human face, did not become brutal, did not enter into conflicts, did not fall to cannibalism, as happened with many of those who fell into similar circumstances.

And ordinary Americans, looking at the photo, were surprised: are they enemies? Dearest children, a little shy, that only adds to them the charm. In general, for the image of the USSR, four soldiers during their time in the US have done more than all diplomats.

After returning to the USSR, the heroes were waiting for a reception at the highest level – a rally was organized in their honor, the soldier personally was received by Nikita Khrushchev and Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky. The soldiers were demobilized, saying that they had served their boys in full.

All four were awarded the Order of the Red Star, a film was made about their swimming, they wrote several books …

Philip Poplavsky, Anatoly Kryuchkovsky and Askhat Ziganshin on the recommendation of the command entered the Leningrad Naval Secondary Technical School, which graduated in 1964.

Ivan Fedotov, a guy from the banks of the Amur, returned home and worked all his life as a river man. It did not become in 2000.

Philip Poplavsky, who settled near Leningrad, after graduating from the school, worked on large sea-going vessels, went abroad for voyages. He passed away in 2001.

Anatoly Kryuchkovsky lives in Kiev, for many years he worked as deputy chief mechanic at the Kiev plant “Leninskiy Kuznitsa”.

After graduating from college, Askhat Ziganshin acted as a mechanic in a rescue unit in the city of Lomonosov near Leningrad, married and raised two beautiful daughters. After retiring, he settled in Petersburg.

They did not rush to fame and did not experience, when the glory, touching them for several years, disappeared, as if it were not there. But they will remain heroes forever.