SS Dzhurma

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Name: 1921: Brielle
1935: Djurma (also known as Dzhurma)
Owner: 1921: Royal Netherlands Steamship Company[1]
1935: Dalstroi[2]
Operator: 1921: Verenigde Nederlandsche Scheepvaartmaatschappij[2]
1935: Dalstroi[2]
Port of registry:

1921: Amsterdam, Netherlands[3]

1935: Nogaevo, Soviet Union[4]
Builder: New Waterway, Schiedam[1]
Launched: 31 December 1920[1]
Completed: April 1921[1]
Fate: scrapped 1970[1]
General characteristics
Type: cargo ship
Tonnage: 6,908 GRT[3]
Length: 122.7 m (402 ft 7 in) (pp)[1]
Beam: 17.8 m (58 ft 5 in)[1]
Depth: 34 ft 7 in (10.54 m)[3]
Decks: 3
Propulsion: 1 x triple-expansion steam engine[1]
Speed: 10.5 knots (19.4 km/h)[1]

SS Dzhurma was a Soviet steamship of the Gulag system that transported prisoners. Because of an alleged 1933–34 incident it became the most famous ship of the prison fleet of the Dalstroi.[5] The ship was built in the Netherlands in 1921 as SS Brielle. When the ship was sold to the Soviet Union in 1935, it was registered under the spelling Djurma, in accordance with the most common transliteration protocols of the time, but is now most commonly transliterated as Dzhurma.


SS Brielle was launched on 31 December 1920 at the New Waterway shipyard in Schiedam in the Netherlands. The bulk carrier was 122.7 metres (402 ft 7 in) long (pp) and was 17.8 metres (58 ft 5 in) abeam. The 6,908-gross-register-ton ship was powered by a single triple-expansion steam engine that could move it at speeds up to 10.5 knots (19.4 km/h).[1] After its completion in April 1921, it was delivered to the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company (Dutch: Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot-Maatschappij or KNSM).[1] The ship was operated by Verenigde Nederlandsche Scheepvaartmaatschappij (VNS), founded by a Dutch consortium (that included KNSM) after the end of World War I.[2] The ship was eventually absorbed into the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company, one of the consortium members.[2] The ship sailed under the Dutch flag out of Amsterdam for most of the next 14 years.[3]

During the Great Depression, the ship was taken out of service and laid up. When its owners faced financial pressures to sell the ship, it was purchased by the Dalstroi in 1935.[2] The ship was transferred to the Soviet flag under the name Djurma and registered with a home port of Nogaevo.[4] Djurma or Dzhurma translates as "shining path” in the language of the Evenks from the Kolyma region.[2]

Author Martin Bollinger reports that, during the ship's Soviet career, there is ample evidence that Dzhurma was used on Gulag routes between 1936 and 1950.[2] As a part of the Dalstroi fleet, it transported prisoners from Vladivostok, endpoint of the Transsiberian railway, across the Sea of Okhotsk to Kolyma via the port of Magadan. Travel time was about six to 14 days to Magadan; trips to the Arctic were seasonal as during the winter the sea froze over. A steamer would make about ten trips a year.[5] Conditions were horrendous and many people did not survive the trip.[5]

With the entry of the United States in World War II, the ship arrived for repairs at Seattle on January 31, 1942 under the Lend-Lease program.[6] In addition to prisoner transport, it was also used to haul war materiel across the Pacific, calling at the U.S. ports of San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon about a dozen times.[2] After 1950, the ship appears to have been used only for the carrying of cargo. It was removed from Lloyd's Register of Shipping in 1968 to allow a Polish ship of the same name to be built.[2] The ship was scrapped in 1970.[1]

Alleged 1933–34 incident

In an account by David Dallin and Boris Nicolaevsky in their 1947 book Forced Labor in Soviet Russia, it was suggested that in the winter of 1933–34 the Dzhurma, ferrying 12,000 prisoners to Ambarchik, got trapped in the Arctic ice and was unable to move on until the spring.[5] The story alleged that all prisoners died from frost and starvation with later versions indicating that surviving crew members may have resorted to cannibalism to survive. The story was propagated and widely accepted.[7][8][9] If true, this would have been among the worst ship disasters of all time.

In his book Stalin’s Slave Ships, Bollinger examined the evidence and found that the Dzhurma did not enter service in the Dalstroi until 1935 and was not big enough to hold 12,000 prisoners.[5] Bollinger estimated that the ship, if overcrowded, would be able to hold up to 6,500 prisoners. In addition, there are no accounts that this ship, which was not strengthened for Arctic travel, made the journey north through the Bering Strait to Ambarchik. Thus the alleged event has been proven not to be true. He suggested this could possibly be the case of a mistaken identity involving the cargo ship Khabarovsk that, if it had been carrying passengers had already had opportunity to deposit them at Ambarchik, and was trapped by ice when returning from Ambarchik in the 1933–34 winter.[5]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 ""5091121" (Brielle/Djurma)" (subscription required). Miramar Ship Index. R.B. Haworth. Retrieved 29 January 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Bollinger, pp. 88–90.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Register of Ships (1935–36 ed.). London: Lloyd's Register of Shipping.  Scan of page "Bre–Bri" (pdf) hosted at Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Register of Ships (1945–46 ed.). London: Lloyd's Register of Shipping.  Scan of page "Div–Dok" (pdf) hosted at Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Bollinger, p. 65ff.
  6. Tim Tzouliadis. The Forsaken. The Pengiun Press (2008). p. 208. 
  7. Tolstoy, p. 16.
  8. Rossi, p. 103.
  9. Forbes, Steve (3 February 2003). "Forbes: Fact and Comment" (book review of Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million by Martin Amis). Retrieved 24 January 2009. , February 3, 2003] access date January 24, 2009


See also