The Dyatlov Pass Incident, 1959

When investigators found the bodies of nine missing trekkers in the Artic tundra half-dressed and away from their tent for no apparent reason, it began perhaps the spookiest mystery in Russian history. Find out what happened here.

It was the depths of winter and 23-year-old Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov with eight other fit, young men and women arrived at the town of Ivdel in Siberia’s nether regions.

They had come from the Ural Polytechnical Institute to complete a 190 mile (300km) training hike and the whole group were pretty much experts at operating in this harsh, hostile environment. Yet the mystery around their fates has led to no less than 75 theories to account for their demise.

Rescuers first on the scene and investigators of the day pieced together what they could: The group had passed through the Dyatlov Pass in a blizzard and got disoriented and lost. Realising they had taken the wrong route up the wrong mountain, they camped out in a single large tent on a mountain slope, in spite of some woodland being just one mile yonder, perhaps so that the team could practice making camp in the open.

Then something compelled the group to flee so desperately, they cut a hole in the tent side and so quickly, they didn’t have time to dress or even put on shoes to guard against the −30 °C (−22 °F) winter storm outside. They walked to the nearby copse of trees where two of them were found around a small fire in just their underwear.

Another three were found halfway back towards the tent, apparently trying to return once the danger, whatever it was, had passed. All had died from hypothermia. The other four were discovered later in the year once the snow had melted 75m (246ft) further in the woods and down a ravine. They were missing eyes and lips but also with severe chest injuries and a fatal skull injury.

So what had scared the group so much they fled the tent’s sanctuary under-dressed to certain death in the blizzard? Why had they split up? Were the other four’s injuries really due to falling into the ravine? …and why did one of the nine have heavy traces of radiation?

No one knows why the party ran half dressed from their tents into the freezing night (forum.fortyck.pl)

Reports around the event were highly censored, even by the Soviet’s standards and this only fuelled conspiracy theories and intrigue. Another group of hikers about 31 miles (50 km) south of the incident reported strange orange spheres in the sky to the north on the night of the incident. There are also claims military weapon tests may have been conducted nearby, which could’ve panicked the nine.

Other theories include everything from violent katabatic winds, infrasound, high winds blowing one member away and who the others attempted to rescue, to attack by local tribal people or even by a yeti.

The most plausible explanation, however, is that the group were alarmed by a slow-moving wall of snow known as a ‘snow slide’ which might have blocked the entrance and a fear of getting engulfed by the mass of snow forced them out. Regardless, the swirl of mystique around this incident compelled the Russian state to launch another investigation in 2019.

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The ‘Baltic Gold’ Gift from The Sea, 2015

The oceans have always proved bountiful for coastal communities, providing not only sustenance but valuables lost in the sand or washed ashore from shipwrecks. For the people of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in 2015, however, the sea gifted a hoard of ‘Baltic Gold’. These gemstones gave them a much needed boost to their bank accounts when the economy was sluggish. Read about this gift from the sea.

Amber is hard, transparent fossilised tree resin, the sort famous for entombing tiny insects from prehistory for us to marvel at in their original state.

It is a gemstone used to make jewellery and a variety of decorative objects, and has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times.

It’s also pretty valuable, with 2020 valuations for Baltic Amber (the source of 95% of the world’s amber) worth between $13–15 per gram.

In 2015 Christmas came early for residents of Pionersky in the Russian Kaliningrad region on the Baltic coast as a storm began washing up large deposits of ‘Baltic Gold’. Locals flocked to the beach to line their pockets.

Some, dressed in wetsuits, waded out up to 30 metres (100 ft) into the sea to catch large amber chunks, each worth hundreds of dollars, in cages.

The less intrepid combed the shoreline for smaller pieces, being able to collect a handful in just five minutes of feverish searching.

Even pensioners forgot their ailments and age and scratched the frozen soil with sticks like babies in a sandpit.

The timing could not have been better as these presents from nature helped people out during the country’s economic crisis and raised people’s spirits.

With amber valued at 10-20 dollars per gram, this amber was a modest windfall for the Russians (dailymail.co.uk)

The Last Cavalry Charge in History, 1942

Amidst the mechanisation of the Eastern Front in WW2, Italy’s much maligned military reputation received a shot in the arm when the Italian Savoia Cavalleria cavalry regiment daringly charged the Soviet army.

It was August 1942 and the tide of WW2 was just beginning to turn in favour of the Allies after the surging, seemingly unstoppable Axis ‘Operation Barbarossa’ petered out.

Now, the Soviets turned the tables with an offensive of their own. The Italian 2nd Infantry Division manned a sector on the Don River and when the Soviets launched an assault on their positions, the Italians couldn’t fend them off. After two days, they were routed and needed help fast.

High command ordered the Savoia Cavalleria cavalry regiment to the rescue. This unit, still mounted on horseback from a bygone age, was about to perform one of the most extraordinary acts of the war. On the 23rd it moved to occupy a position, stopping short 1000m (1100yrds) unaware that two thousand Soviet infantry already occupied the position. Early the next day a troop moved in to recce the position and made contact with the enemy. The Soviets, now aware of the cavalrymen’s presence, opened heavy fire.

Realising they were in a tight spot and faced annihilation if they didn’t attack immediately, regimental commander Colonel Alessandro ordered his men into a do-or-die charge. The situation was desperate yet the cavalrymen had one ace up their sleeve.

A winding gorge nearby came out on the Soviet’s flank and 2nd Squadron quickly launched themselves down the gorge. Pouring out at the other end they fell upon the alarmed Soviets, sabres thrashing wildly and hand grenades flying among their ranks. Corporal Lolli, unable to draw as his sabre was stuck in its sheath, charged holding high a hand grenade; Trumpeter Carenzi, having to handle both trumpet and pistol, unintentionally shot his own horse in the head. Some horses, even though riddled by bullets, would keep galloping for hundreds of metres, squirting blood at every beat, suddenly collapsing only a while after their actual death.

The cavalrymen fell upon the alarmed Soviets, sabres thrashing wildly and hand grenades flying among their ranks. (quora.com)

After having crossed just about half of the Soviet line the strength of the squadron was already reduced by half, and the commander himself was grounded. Realising 2nd Squadron was getting shredded to pieces, Allesandro ordered his 3rd Squadron into the fray. This they did and, with their blood up, they eschewed the gorge’s cover and charged headlong forwards.

For the loss of 32 soldiers and 100 slain horses, the Savoia Cavalleria Regiment managed to kill and capture hundreds of Soviets and bought time for the routed 2nd Division to seek safety. German liaison troops looking on were full of admiration for what the cavalry had just achieved. Addressing Allesandro, they said: “Colonel, these kinds of things, we cannot do them anymore”.

The Italians had just performed the last ever major cavalry charge in history.

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