Two cities destroyed by Nature just after the holy days of Christmas; the wailing of the living, lost inside or outside the rubble; the waters of the Strait and their ripples in a light still confusing the sea with the horizon, full of a million pieces of what they had crushed in three waves of tsunami: that was the nightmare to which the Russian Baltic Fleet anchored in the early morning of 29 December 1908.
About twenty four hours had passed since one of the most devastating earthquakes in history, obliterating the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria (and beyond) in Southern Italy, and with them around 100,000 people: and the Battleship Cesarevič was the first sign of any rescue from the outside world.
In an era where television serves death regularly at dinner time, it is hard to realize what horror is hidden behind the disappearance of one hundred thousand people in an area as small as that of the Strait of Messina. It’s as if somebody had killed three persons a day, on average, every single day for the past century.
And so the intervention of the Baltic Fleet is truly remarkable, and still remembered with all those indefatigable cadets, appearing strong beyond all imagination to the local population, true angels and saviours for thousands.
Who knows how many people would not be alive today, if their grandpa or great-grandma had not been rescued by the Russians? Perhaps extracted from underneath a collapsed building, or even “just” provided with a warm blanket, a place to sleep and warm food to survive especially in the first days after the tragedy.
The intervention of the Baltic Fleet will be remembered alongside the earthquake commemoration in a few days’ time, in the night of 27/28 December 2008, when the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria will await that terrible hour of 5:21AM: because the sacrifice of hundreds, and the death of tens of Russian sailors should not be forgotten in the maelstroms of history.