The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade
(1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa)
Caspian Sea Ships
& The Ross Report
Overview Of The Project to Name The Ships
In February 2018 I embarked on a project with a few others to try and identify all of the Caspian ships of 1942 that were used in "Wave 1" of the crossings from Krasnovodsk in the USSR across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi in Persia. These ships took Polish evacuees out of the Soviet union and across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi in Persia.
The starting point was the above "Ross report" From Colonel Ross, who was put in charge of overseeing the arrivals in Pahlevi. We then scoured the internet and books for survivor accounts that had any critical data in it i.e dates, military units, boat names, departure dates, travel time, weather, time of day and arrival dates etc.
After spending hundreds of hours researching, referencing and comparing, sadly I have to admit, the trust factor of any Wave 1 data is very low. The trust factor for Wave 2 is just as low, far, far, too many conflicting survivor accounts and the "official" report lacks much credibility.
What Was The Ross Report?
A British army Lieutenant-Colonel by the name of "A.Ross" was assigned to prepare a report for the British army as the boats arrived from Krasnovodsk to Pahlevi in March 1942.
The report contains a wealth of data and yet, the more the data is examined the more it is called into question. However, there is a lot of accuracy too in the report and thus it gives us a great (the only!) understanding of the movement of Soviet boats that transported the exiled Poles out of the Soviet Union and into freedom in Persia.
Using this report along with survivor accounts can allow us (with a high degree of accuracy) to work out which ship your relative was on.
Where Can I Get A PDF Copy?
There are two parts to the report as follows:
- Report By Lt Colonel A Ross, Wave 1 1942 - Link to National Archives Listing of Wave 1 Report . To get a copy download here
- Report By Lt Colonel A Ross, Wave 2 1942 - Link to National Archives Listing of Wave 2 Report. To get a copy download here.
Many thanks to Janusz Zajaczkowski who obtained a copy of the Ross Report that led to it being publicly and freely available.
Why The Ross Report May Be More Accurate Than Your Relatives Military Records
These ship arrival logs (AKA The Ross Report) should take precedence over your relatives military records in terms of crossing dates because due to the sheer number of troops on the move and the mayhem and hurriedness of the day, many military records simply state "From date x to date y travelling from USSR to Middle East", whereas The Ross Report was more accurate than the military records.
The soldiers military records were updated retrospectively in the Middle East (because how else would they know the "to" date of travel?). When you consider that regiments were busy arriving, getting disinfected, innoculated, medical treatment, fed, watered, clothed and assigned to temporary tents etc its very clear mayhem was everywhere.
The unit commander had thousands of records to update hurriedly and that is why my preference is on believing the shipping logs in the Ross report over the soldiers military records for the arrival date in Pahlevi (questionable as I believe these records are).
Why The Ross Report Should Not Be Relied Upon:
As good as the Ross report is (Wave 1), it must be remembered that the evacuation from the USSR was a hastily constructed plan that was so dis-organised that the receiving committee at Pahlevi were often unaware of ship movements, frequently being surprised by their arrival and even the closeness in timing of arrivals (particularly on April 1 1942).
Therefore, Colonel Ross was in "fire-fighting mode" doing the best he could (and for that we admire him). However, this lead to many issues with the accuracy of the report that dealt with the ship arrivals (Appendix B). Some of these issues are:
There Is No Definition Of "Arrival" At Pahlevi
- Is that arriving outside of Pahlevi harbour, docking or dis-embarkation? This matters because of the timescales involved.
- This specifically matters for any boat that "arrived" around midnight because it alters the arrival date recorded. You could "arrive" on say 23:45 on 1st April but this could be recorded as arriving on 2nd April (by the time dis-embarkation occurred), particularly remembering that larger boats required 2 steamer trips to dis-embark them as the harbour could not take large tankers (and yet one witness account claimed the Profintern directly docked at Pahlevi with no steamer being required to ferry them to shore adding further doubt on the believability of just about everything involved here!).
Conflict Of Arrival Time At Pahlevi
- There was one ship, according to survivor accounts, that waited 36 hours to disembark at Pahlevi. What date was recorded as the arrival date in the Ross report? We don't know because the ships name is not known. Did the survivor account agree with the Ross report date or not? We don't know, it could have been out by 36 hours.
- "Arriving in Pahlevi" according to the survivor account could mean physical sight of the beach or it could mean being "terra firma" standing on Pahlevi beach. Therefore "arrival" is non-specific in both the instance of the survivor account and also the Ross report. This is of particular interest on 1st April 1942 when 4 boats turned up.
- Not to egg the point but how did the evacuees even know the date? Many were illiterate, there was no tv or radio that was accessible and they were all on the run from the USSR. Documenting facts would have been the furthest thing from their minds.
Missing Smaller Boats
- Some survivor accounts mention "boats smelling of fish". None of these boats have been identified or, at this stage, would appear to be in the Ross report because the boats as per the Ross report are mostly tankers (mainly belonging to Casptanker).
- Further, survivor accounts mention "multiple" and "a flotilla" of boats at Krasnovodsk for boarding. Obviously there are very many missing boats from the report not just fishing boats.
- I believe that far more people arrived in Pahlevi in Wave 1 than the Ross report indicates, simply because there is so much anecdotal proof of "unofficial" boats doing the crossing as well. The fact that the numbers in the "Indian Ambulance report" agree with the Ross report is too good to be true, I suspect Colonel Ross's number was used in the other report and did not derive from any other source.
- Mainly due to a terrible storm, not all boats made it. At least one boat sunk, likely more than one as the boats were small and the storm was very bad (particularly circa 27 March 1942).
- Because the Ross report only records successful voyages of the larger boats, we don't know what boats set-off from Krasnovodsk as per the above point.
Regimental Units On Boats
- I have seen survivor accounts where it is mentioned that the person could not be on the same ship as the rest of their unit (due to overcrowding) and so went on another ship. This gives 2 problems these being 1) A ship name cannot necessarily be identified by a survivors regimental unit and Pahlevi arrival date and 2) A member of a regimental unit cannot be said to have landed in Pahlevi on date X simply because their regiment landed on that date.
- Therefore we have no reliable reference point and all arguments based on regiments and dates are therefore unreliable because "reasonable doubt" exists over all points of reference.
Survivors Dubious Memories
- I am not convinced that these are the best source of verifying boat names. For instance Franek Rymaszewski switched his story from saying he was on the Profintern to being on the Agamali Ogli (You can see this by using Google Wayback on his site).
- In another instance someone referred to being on the "Krasynii Profintern". As best as we can tell the "Krasynii Profintern" operated in the Baltic. not in the Caspian Sea (which was land locked i.e surrounded by land with no passage to the Baltic Sea). The boat in the Caspian Sea as the "Profintern", a completely different ship. Clearly, they had been on Google, found mention of the "Krasynii Profintern" and assumed this to the ships name thereby inserting this into their "memory" as fact.
Conflicting Survivor Accounts
- Evidence has been seen where 2 survivor accounts exist but disagree with each other, normally over the arrival date in Pahlevi. And yet, these accounts come from individuals that according to the Ross report would have been in the same boat.
Conflicting Officials Accounts
- In his memoirs General Sosabowski said (http://sosabowski.com/ludwigcv.html): "I left the U.S.S.R. on the 1st April 1942, on the second transport of the 9th. Division..." The 2nd transport of the 9th Division, according to Colonel Ross, left on 31 March 1942 in Boat 10 (The Turkmenistan). So either General Sosabowski is wrong or Colonel Ross is wrong (Or could the boat have left at midnight?).
The "Packed Like Sardines" Argument
- Does it not seem a coincidence that each boat was "packed like sardines" and included entire military units on each boat? Too much of a coincidence, I sincerely doubt entire military units were all entire, on one ship, packed to the gunnels. There has to have been overspill, parts of regiments on other ships but unrecorded in the Ross report that was simply trying to give a "gross overview" of the situation rather than a "body by body" account.
What Really Is The Ross Report?
Therefore, the Ross report is a snapshot of some boats on some dates with some people, but dates are in dispute (and memories of survivors) and will never be verifiable until more accurate reports come to light (which probably don't exist).
I have scoured the internet for hundreds of hours doing searches in Russian and English and am unable to find any more clues on the Wave 1 boats. Too many accounts with no dates and/or boat names.
Someone who has helped me tremendously in various research, Anita Cwynar, offered her view on the matter which absolutely nails the "personel" aspect of survivor testimonies: "I think the Ross Report is a classic example of giving your superiors what they want to see. It happens in the public sector, the private sector, and unfortunately, in war time also. The chaos that was the Caspian Sea crossings could not possibly have been documented accurately, it was far more important to save lives against a deadline than to keep records. Yet somebody wanted a log, a head count, something that could be passed up the ranks through the chain of command. So Ross did the best he could given the circumstances. As to survivor testimonies, we are dealing with people here who had been starved, abused in every possible way, were already in a state of PTSD that was necessary protection from the horrors they had suffered, watching their loved ones die, be killed, you name it. We know full well that witness testimony of well-fed and well rested people cannot always be relied upon, we cannot expect a higher standard in time of war." (Editors Note: For the avoidance of doubt we are speaking about the recording of dates, times, ship names etc and not about the horrific encounters these people suffered).
In summary, the Ross report gives us an idea of what was going on but caution has to be exercised over believing anything in it as there is fluidity in departure dates, travel time, regiments and landing dates.
With all aspects being subject to variance, little is concrete fact, so I contest all aspects of reports and accounts of Wave 1, much as I would love to believe it all at face value!
The BIG Question!
So many survivor accounts speak of the boarding at Krasnovodsk and that there were "Polish Army Representatives as well as NKVD Officials" present. BOTH had separate lists of the passengers that were cross checked and ticked off.
In theory, the Polish lists would have gotten into the hands of the British Army in Persia (Iran) and then surely would have found their way into the National Archives or PISM. Surely as the Polish officials left the Soviet Union to go to Pahlevi they took these lists with them?
Another theory is that the list from Wave 1 stayed in the Soviet Union (because there was a further evacuation and so Polish officials would have stayed behind, presumably with these lists). So what then happened to the lists after the Wave 2 evacuation in August 1942?
Where are these lists? Where are they? I would LOVE to know!