The construction of a gas pipeline or the laying of an energy installation on the seabed is a great opportunity to uncover secrets. Many times during such projects workers find wrecks that no one knew about before. This was also the case with the wreck of the Douglas A-20 bomber in the northern part of the Baltic Sea.
In cooperation with the Finnish Air Museum, the Finnish Heritage Agency and the gas pipeline company Nord Stream 2 AG, we got the opportunity to dive on a previously unidentified WWII aircraft wreck. As a result of our work, we determined that it is the wreck of the Douglas A-20 Havoc/Boston bomber – informed Badewanne divers.
An aircraft wreck is, of course, much smaller than a shipwreck. In addition, the Douglas A-20, which was found by Nord Stream 2 AG employees, lies at a depth of 100 metres. So it’s no wonder that no one has come across the wreckage of the bomber before. The machine therefore lay on the seabed from the end of World War II until the construction of the gas pipeline began.
In 2016, during the seabed research under the planned gas pipeline an unknown object was located. Upon closer inspection, it was determined that this was an unidentified aircraft wreck. It was at this location that a group of Badewanne technical divers arrived and were allowed to dive on the wreck.
The group fulfilled the task in the best possible way. During the exploration, the divers made photographic documentation of the bomber wreck. They also discovered the serial number of the manufacturer, as well as the tactical number of the operational squadron “White 24”. This was key information for further exploration and discovering the history of the machine and its crew.
With the above data and significant details of the bomber’s wreckage, and with the help of Russian, German and Finnish sources and researchers, Aviation Museum curator Matias Laitinen was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In doing so, he brought to light the story of the aircraft from the time it left the manufacturer’s factory until it sank. What’s more, the story turned out to be extremely interesting.
The Douglas A-20 bomber was built in the USA and delivered to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. It was then assigned to the 51st Mine-Torpedo Aviation Regiment of the Naval Air Force of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. On 18 September 1944, the aircraft attacked the German freighter M/S Moltkefelt, which was sailing in the escort of the minesweeper M 151. The anti-aircraft fire from the minesweeper proved to be accurate and effective. As a result the pilot Gusman Miftahudinov, who commanded the aircraft, had to launch it.
The entire crew of three, consisting of pilot Miftahudinov, gunner/radio operator Gleb Lokalov and navigator Yuri Aksenov, left the sinking machine and boarded a life raft. They then drifted in the raft for several days until they reached the Åland Archipelago. Near Kökar Island, they were rescued by the Finnish coastguard from Motor Yacht unit MP-103.
It turned out that the crew’s luck did not end with the successful launch. Finland had just concluded a truce with the Soviet Union, and so the entire crew of the Douglas A-20 were not taken prisoner. Instead, they returned fairly smoothly to the Soviet Union and service in the air force. After a few months, all three took to the air together again. On 14 January 1945, they were shot down during a raid on German units in the Bay of Gdansk. They all died.
The story of the Douglas A-20 wreck and its crew Matias Laitinen and members of the Badewanne group presented in detail for the first time at the Aviation Archaelogy & Heritage conference held in Malta in November 2017.
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