17 July 2013

Dnieper Hydroelectric Station: the forgotten horror

The Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (Ukrainian: ДніпроГЕС - DniproHES, Russian: ДнепроГЭС - DneproGES, also known as Dneprostroi Dam) is the largest hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River, placed in Zaporizhia, Ukraine.
If you look at the Wiki page on the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, you will get some factual information on what was once one of the biggest and most ambitious Soviet projects:
Construction began in 1927 and the plant started to produce electricity in October 1932. Generating some 650 MW, the station became the largest Soviet power plant at the time and one of the largest in the world.

It was indeed a significant achievement for the fledgling socialist country. And the power station performs its duties to this day:
Today the dam has been privatized and continues to power the adjacent industrial complexes. The pressure of the water leaving the dam is at 38.7 metres and the reservoir that is behind it is 33.3 cubic kilometers.
I choose to leave the numbers in the above quote on purpose. 33 cubic kilometers, it is 33 billion tons of water. Sounds like a lot. And it certainly doesn't sound like something that you would want spilled, especially if you happen to live downriver, would you agree?

But this is exactly what has happened on August 18, 1941, when the German army got close to the Western side of the Dnieper river. In the English version of Wiki (linked above), the whole history of the power station during the WW II is compressed to this:
During World War II, the strategically important dam and plant was dynamited by retreating Red Army troops in 1941, and then again by the retreating German troops in 1943****. In the end the dam suffered extensive damage, and the powerhouse hall was nearly destroyed. Both were rebuilt between 1944 and 1949.
A completely different version of the story, hidden for many years in the Soviet archives, is horrible, even after 72 years that passed. Follows translation of a few parts of the linked article, the pictures mostly don't require explanation or translation.
In 1941, during the retreat of the Red Army DneproGES was blown up. The booklets claimed that the explosion killed only Nazis. Civilian population living down the river allegedly was notified in advance of the imminent destruction of the 60-meter-high dam.
However, according to historians, when two months after the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, August 18, 1941, Soviet troops could not keep the defense Zaporizhia and began to retreat, they blew up the main strategic asset - DnieproGES, using 20 tons of explosives - ammonal.
Wehrmacht officers on the western side of the dam
The giant hole in the dam caused a wave with height of several tens of meters, which, according to eyewitnesses, washed away the coastal strip of cities, flooded Khortytsa and reached the neighboring towns Nikopol and Marganetz.

The Soviet command did not warn the residents of the imminent danger. As a result, tons of Dnepr water hit the civilians. In the Soviet Union they have chosen not to dwell on the tragic events in Zaporizhia that followed the explosion of the DneproGES.

Destruction, at the time, of the most powerful hydroelectric power plant in Europe, the Soviet propaganda explained as a "hostile act of sabotage."

Only recently Ukrainian historians have acquired documented evidence that the Dnieper wave swallowed about a hundred thousand people: 80,000 local citizens and refugees from neighboring regions, with about 20,000 Soviet soldiers who had failed to leave the area*.

This is what recalls of those days the immediate "executioner" Boris Epov, then a colonel of engineering corps: "August 14 I was called to the chief of engineering corps, General LZ Kotlyar and required to prepare a proposal for the destruction of the Dnieper hydroelectric dam, the bridge over the bay and the turbine hall, including the necessary materials. I was ordered to fly out on a special plane in the morning to Zaporizhia for the preparation of the planned destruction and was given two second lieutenants. Colonel Shifrin, the commander of the engineering force of the Southern Front received necessary instructions.
Now comes the crucial point in this matter of fact report:
Chief of Staff of the Front, Gen. Kharitonov, who arrived with colonel Shifrin, instructed to perform the destruction after the Germans will come to the right bank of the Dnieper. The right to perform the job will be signalled by the retreat of the NKVD regiment guarding the dam, and [retreat] of the Colonel A.F.Petrovsky.
Notice that there is no mention at all of any coordination with civilian authorities or other Soviet military units - just definition of the "trigger" event. And Colonel Epov proved to be a good and diligent soldier:
By the end of the day on 18 August, the Germans came to the right bank of the Dnieper and began shelling the left bank, the NKVD Regiment also moved to the left bank and the commander of the regiment, leaving together with lieutenant colonel Petrovsky, gave the command to execute the destruction, which that I have performed with the two junior lieutenants. The explosion in the dam body has ripped about 100 meters of its length (from the total length of the dam equal to 600m).
That's it. And no mention of any advance warning of civilian population or of the victims at all.

I don't think anything could be added to the above - neither as a comment or as a conclusion. Only one additional quote from that Russian version of the Wiki on the subject:
The act of blowing up Dnieper Hydroelectric Station was one of the charges against the German war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials****.

(*) In the Russian version of Wiki on the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, the victims are acknowledged, albeit somewhat vaguely:
In the swamps and the coastal zone thousands of soldiers and of the local population were killed. However, a number of sources refuted** the information about the huge losses of the Soviet side. The German command evaluated its casualties as 1500***.
The casualties' numbers differ quite characteristically between the Ukrainian and Russian sources, and I am afraid that the truth will never be known, but for civilian casualties the range is 20,000 - 150,000.

(**) No such sources, in fact instead of "refuting" the sources pointed to simply skip the issue.

(***) Other sources either don't report on that or say that no Germans were killed by the flooding.

(****) A most amazing story is related to what Wiki says about the dam being destroyed by the Germans upon their retreat in 1943. According to it, Soviet combat engineers have performed heroic feats to prevent the retreating Germans from destroying the dam again. And they succeeded in this!

The story is crowned by the following afterword:
As you can see, the Soviet troops made ​​considerable efforts to preserve DneproGES intact, the destruction of the dam was successfully prevented. However, at the Nuremberg trials, to increase the demands for German reparations, Soviet Union presented photos of DneproGES blown up by its own troops.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Pretty sure I visited there when I was a kid, had no idea about this story. Although blowing shit up and blaming it on Germans was pretty common tactic, they pulled this off in Odessa and probably multiple other places.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yeah, quite depressing that story.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Interesting. Didn't know this.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

According to this article, the primary source of your quotes is a Ukrainian politician representing Svoboda. http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/events/1251958-70-let-nazad-sovetskie-vojska-vzorvali-dneproges
Svoboda is a neo-Nazi party, until recently it was called "Socialist Nationalist Party of Ukraine".
So... Questionable.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Take a look at the remarks at the end, there is indeed a controversy, between Russian and Ukrainian sources.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The numbers 20,000 and 80,000, as I said in the previous comment, are being challenged, however, if you look at the sources, including the Russian ones, the estimates vary from 20,000 to 150,000. And Russian non-military sources do agree that thousands of civilians were drowned by the flood.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Right... But what is the primary source for NKVD blowing it first time around?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

NKVD didn't blow it up: it was done by engineering corps, when the NKVD unit that guarded the dam retreated before the German attack.

This part is not challenged by anyone, the opposite is rather true: the Red Army is quite proud of this achievement. The matter of drowned citizens and soldiers is being glossed over or not mentioned at all. Although if you look at the Russian Wiki (link in the post), it is mentioned.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

This story is not merely depressing; it is of the sort that leaves you not wanting to believe in goodness of people.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Goodness? What goodness?