By Pierre Kosmidis
During war, ships are being sunk by enemy action, submarines, surface ships, mines, or due to bad weather. Not many ships though are sunk by a load of…. oranges.
This was exactly the fate of a French patrol boat, the Alexandra, which sank on March 8th, 1918, thanks to an ingenious plan by the Turkish artillery officer Mustafa Ertuğrul Aker, who is credited with the sinking of the first seaplane carrier, the HMS Ben-My-Chree (READ THE FULL STORY) and PARIS II (see below). After sinking the seaplane carrier , the coastal batteries were moved to Kemer at a distance of 148 km from Kaş towards Antalya (the distance between Kemer and Antalya is 36 km)
The tale of those two ships sunk during World War 1, is very interesting and remained obscure for almost a century. The two French patrol boats, Alexandra and Paris II met their fate close to the coast of Kemer in Turkey, when the Turks were fighting on the side of Germany during WW1 and France was part of the Entente Cordiale, along with the British and the Greeks.
Experienced scuba diver, Trimix instructor and explorer Mr. Asim Karsçakar from Turkey conducted a series of dives in the area with fellow scuba divers Mr. Aziz Yiğitler and Mr. Selim Pala and tells the story of the two wrecks.
“Paris II was a French patrol ship, sunk on December 13th 1917 by artillery fire. 17 crew were taken prisoner.
The wreck was discovered at a depth of 30 metres in 1995 and positively identified, thanks to the name “Paris”, which is still visible to this day” Mr. Asim Karsçakar says, adding:
Paris II was one of the few ships to be honoured with the Cross of War and all of her Officers and crew were also honoured with the fourragère, a military award, distinguishing military units as a whole, in the form of a braided cord.
The batteries of howitzers and mountain guns were situated in open ground on the top of a hill, 3 km to the south of the town.
They had a direct view 4.4 km southwest into the mouth of the harbour of Kemer.
The Turkish guns commanded by Mustafa Ertuğrul Aker opened fire, hitting Paris II and sank her at a depth of approximately 30 metres in the Gulf of Avala.
Mr. Asim Karsçakar adds an interesting twist to the story, which highlights the humanity that can be seen even in the midst of war:
“After the ship began to sink, 25 Turkish soldiers under the command of Mustafa Ertuğrul Aker came to the help of the French sailors and saved their lives by taking them ashore.
They shared their dry clothes and their food, which was sparse because of the war conditions and treated the French sailors as their guests.
The French sailors, who were far away from home and were going through one of the most difficult experiences of their lives, were highly moved by this gesture.
The young lieutenant Mustafa Ertuğrul based his principles on universal human values and became very good friends with the captain of the French ship Ronnin.
The French captain Ronnin gave his dog to the Turkish lieutenant as a keepsake of their friendship and returned to his country. He would go on to report his experience to his superiors and spoke with praise about this Turkish lieutenant. This story of Paris II was verified by fairly recent documented evidence.”
The French Naval Forces official report regarding the sinking of Paris II and the treatment of the Prisoners of War states: “On doit reconnaître ici la haute courtoisie et la humanité parfaite avec lesquelles les Turcs les accueillirent.. ” (Here, we must acknowledge the courtesy and the humane way, with which the Turcs welcomed them…)
“This diving spot can be easily reached from the Kemer Yacht Harbour. It is the best known diving spot in the region. The wreck lies upright at a depth of 21-31 metres on a sandy surface. Paris II is said to appear as if it is almost floating.
Before WW1 Paris II was built as a trawler and was later converted into a patrol boat. The length of the boat was 65 metres and its width was 14 metres.”
The fate of Alexandra is far more intriguing, as Mr. Asim Karsçakar explains:
“Mustafa Ertuğrul Aker sent a small boat with two of his soldiers dressed like farmers on March 8th, 1918. They filled the boat with oranges, eggs and chicken, just as if they were going to the market. The Turks placed explosives under the oranges and booby trapped them so as to detonate when the boxes would be moved.
Alexandra, sailing from the Greek island of Kastellorizo (where Ben My Chree, the first floatplane carrier sunk) opened fire and the disguised Turks acted as if they panicked and swiftly abandoned the boat full of oranges and rowed back to the Turkish coast.
Alexandra checked back in the afternoon and noticed that the “orange boat” was still there. The French pulled the boat with a cable and moved away from the shore, in order to stay out of range of the Turkish artillery. While they were taking the oranges to Alexandra, a strong explosion was heard.
Moments later, under a thick cloud of smoke, Alexandra disappeared beneath the waves. For decades, her loss was thought to have been caused by torpedoes launched by a German submarine, but the true cause of her loss was confirmed by POW reports, as survivors tried to go to Kastellorizo, but due to bad weather, after spending the night at sea they finally landed at the Turkish coast and were taken prisoners”.
Paris II, sunk by Turkish batteries on 13 December 1917, awarded the “Croix de Guerre”.
Built as PARIS by A.Normand, Le Havre
for Lobez, Poret & Cie., Boulogne (KNJQ)
Requistioned as PARIS II
Built 1913 with a sistership ASIE
551 grt/208nrt (1135t displacement) 164×27.6×15.4ft
Triple Expansion 3 Cyl 15 2/5″,31 9/10″&40 1/10″-27″
By Caillard & Co, Havre 800ihp= 10,65kts
Alexandra, sunk by… oranges on March 8th, 1918.
ex British Trawler
by Smith’s Dock Company, Ltd. North Shields
Yard No. 734 launched 17 Feb 1904
182grt/34nrt 110.5×21.0x11.6 (depth) ft
Triple Expansion 3 Cyl 12″,19″&32″-22 1/2″
400ihp (180lbs) by MacColl & Pollock, Ltd,
Wreath Quay Engineering Works, Sunderland
First owner J,Thomas, Milford (VSBJ)
1908 W.Purdy , N.Shields
by 1913 Purdy Stm Fishing Co.Ldb (G.R.Purdy, Mgrs.)