By Ashleigh / Nov 3, 2022
He Opened It
He was the first to find it, which is why he thought he had the right to open the hatch first.
He winced as metal harshly scraped against metal. The top soon came off and revealed the long-forgotten contents. They all stepped closer, curiosity behind their eyes as they crowded around, shaking their head in disbelief. All of a sudden, someone grabbed him, pulling him away from it.
Exploring The Forest
Kaspar looked at the left path, then the right. One was well-worn and popular with hikers.
The other could barely be called a path at all – and that was the one he wanted. It was time to explore the Estonian swamp. The lush green pines pierced the sky. Soon, Lake Kurtna Matasjarv appeared.
As he wandered the squishy perimeter, he noticed strange markings in the patchy earth.
They might have been covered with years of growth, but it clearly wasn’t like any shape he had seen before during his many wanderings. He nudged it with his boot. Then, something else caught his eye.
A rope? Was there a sunken boat? He scraped away the mud and tried to pull it – it wouldn’t budge.
It was already an odd situation, but now he had to tell someone. He ran home and dragged his confused parents out. It wasn’t long until others in the village got word, and a large crowd gathered.
It Wouldn’t Budge
The men gathered around to see if they could find any clue as to what was apparently submerged in the lake.
One of them spotted the rope that was partially buried in the mud. He uncovered it with his hands until he was able to get a grip on it, and then he pulled with all his might. The wet dirt gave way easily, but it wouldn’t budge. Then, they all tried pulling.
Calling The Authorities
Nothing. There were over a dozen strong men and women, but whatever was at the other end wasn’t going to come up without a fight. They pulled and pulled but to no avail.
They didn’t have the right equipment or the manpower to unearth the mystery. It was time to call the authorities in.
Soon, the deep rumbling of a huge bulldozer echoed around the forest. The help they needed had finally come. They tied the rope to the gigantic machine as its driver prepared himself to move the vehicle forward.
Several people also thought to chip in and hold some parts of the rope to help with the haul. But even the extra horsepower wasn’t enough. Whatever it was, it had to be massive.
Many Hands And Hours
Everyone rushed home to grab their own ropes and bring their own vehicles in.
It was 8 hours of steel cables, shovels, machine-power, and manpower – even little Kaspar lent an enthusiastic hand. Like everyone else, he was desperate to see what his discovery really was and committed to however many hours it required.
Suddenly, they all felt something move as everyone collectively pulled. Minutes later, the tip of something rose to the water’s surface.
People rushed to reclaim it from the mud, using shovels to dig the dirt from around it to make it easier for the bulldozer to drag it out. At last, the mysterious “thing” finally revealed itself.
The sun had started to dip below the treeline, and everyone let out a gasp as the beast slowly rolled up and out of the water like an algae-covered monster.
Some of the onlookers knew exactly what it was and dashed to scrape off the hardened mud on its surface, revealing an enormous open hatch.
Unearthing The Beast
It had been hours since they had partially hauled the massive metal thing out of the muddy water. Even while their energy sapped away, the men wiped the sweat from their brows and continued to wipe away the layers of mud, revealing an eerily-familiar white symbol.
With their intrigue driving them on, they had come this far. Now, they readied themselves for the final haul.
With one last mighty pull, it was finally out. Everyone fell silent as they watched the metal behemoth roll out of the lake, squelching and fighting against the heavy mud and streaming torrents of water over the villagers.
None of them could quite believe the piece of history they had resurrected… but what was a war tank doing here?
That was the question on everyone’s mind. What was a WWII war machine doing in a lake in the Estonian swamp… in the middle of nowhere?
Kaspar sprinted up to look inside. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and he would not miss it. Through the water, he saw something shiny. “Mom? Are those big bullets?”
Kaspar felt strong arms pulling him off and dragging him away. “Get away from that!” his mom yelled. There was still ammunition rolling around in the cabin.
The tank was in amazing condition … so there was a chance the shells could still be dangerous. It wasn’t long until they heard the wailing of sirens.
A camouflaged truck and men in combat gear rushed out of the armored vehicles and towards the mud-caked tank.
Someone must have called the authorities as soon as they saw what was inside. Everyone stood still and dead quiet, wondering if they were in trouble. One officer came up to Kaspar and asked him a pointed question.
“You found it?” the large man asked. The boy gave a small, scared nod. The man smiled. “I’m impressed. Well done.” The soldier looked around at the villagers and said, “We need you to step back while we make sure it’s safe.”
And, between the army and internet research, the answers to the mystery finally emerged.
It took two weeks and every available hand to bring the tank completely out of the lake. The team managed to haul the gigantic machine far up the bank enough so people could go around and take a closer look.
Many took photos of and with the major historical find. But how had a Russian-built tank with German markings ended up there?
Underwater For Decades
Experts confirmed that it was indeed a war machine — a Soviet-built T34/76A, to be precise. This 7-metric-ton vehicle was the prime element in the Soviet army in their battle against the Germans.
Aside from being underwater for an astounding 56 years, they discovered another amazing detail about the symbols and numbers painted on its side.
This particular tank was thought to have been captured by the enemy and repainted with their own symbols.
The National Interest
Even though it was a capable machine that could navigate all kinds of environments, the main theory is that the Germans dumped it so it couldn’t be retaken. The next astounding discovery took place in the Gorodenko museum.
Another curious detail about the tank was that it didn’t seem to have any damage at all. While some of the metal on the surface had eroded slightly from decades of being underwater, the Russian war machine appeared to still be in good condition.
In fact, it was so intact and looked so very solid that they couldn’t help but hope that it still worked.
Experts revealed that the pristine condition that the tank was found in was thanks to the low oxygen levels in the marshy bog area that became its watery grave.
These conditions helped to preserve the metal while minimizing any corrosion. Everything was still intact — as if the metallic beast had been sunk a year ago. But was it still operational?
She Still Runs
During the restoration, curators were amazed when they found that they were able to start the old diesel engine without needing any spare parts at all.
They also recovered a total of 116 pieces of ammunition. And experts were even able to answer the burning question of why the tank was located in that particular area.
The Eastern Estonia Narva front was the location of some intense battles. Around 100,000 soldiers perished, and more than 300,000 were wounded.
The Modelling News
The fighting forces migrated, and endless tanks and soldiers poured into the narrow, swampy area. The finale of the battle took place on August 3. Huge quantities of Soviet armor and artillery attacked the German positions, but until August 10, not much had changed.
It was in the summer of 1944 that German troops, during the Battle of the Blue Mountains, captured the Soviet ‘Trophy Tank’.
What makes this find extremely rare is that this tank had to fight for both the Russian and German sides during WWII. However, it was sent to its watery grave just six weeks later.
By August 22, the Red Army had achieved several victories – including taking back the city of Kharkov (now Kharkiv). Meanwhile, the Germans planned a massive defensive wall that stretched from the Sea of Azov in the south to the Gulf of Finland in the North.
Called the “Panther Line,” the defensive wall was meant to be analogous to the Atlantic Wall the Germans were building in Normandy, France. However, it was already the beginning of the end.
The Red Army advanced too quickly for the Germans to build their defensive wall. The Soviets pushed them westward across Ukraine.
The Modelling Interest
On September 19, 1944, the Germans began to retreat along the Narva front line — and deliberately dumped the tank. The German army wasn’t willing to submit anything and destroyed what they couldn’t use.
The President of Estonia, Lennart Meri, even came to inspect the tank a few days after it was pulled out of the lake – surprised to hear that a priceless artifact had been found by a curious little boy.
The old T-34 was intended to be displayed for everyone to see at a war museum in Gorodenko village as a working exhibit, but there was one problem.
According to Estonian laws, the group that recovered the tank – the Otsing club and museum – had to wait five years before they could take possession of it.
In 2006, the five-year waiting period had elapsed, and the club became the proud owner of the priceless piece of history. There was just one thing left to do.
The T-34’s restoration began, and its parts and components took a year to be overhauled. In 2007, the work was complete, and the tank sat at the club’s workshop near the village of Sirgala – which is in the woods, halfway between Johvi and Narva – waiting to be reassembled.
The Estonians hoped to have it ready to offer visitors a ride on the fascinating piece of history. However, it is unclear where the tank is today.
The Soviet tank lay forgotten in the lake for decades before being found – if it wasn’t for the curiosity of one boy, it might never have been recovered.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.