Bunker Archaeology: The 305 mm naval guns WW2 emplacements, by Konstantinos Kirimis

Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos and information submitted by researcher and author Konstantinos Kirimis, used by permission

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Check the links below IN RED for more stories by Konstantinos Kirimis:

Bunker Archaeology: Exploring the 150 mm artillery positions in Aegina

 

WW2 Bunker Archaeology: The 102 mm gun emplacements of Aegina

 

Μια βαριά θωρακισμένη πόρτα, έχει κυριολεκτικά λυγίσει, από έκρηξη στο εσωτερικό. Εντούτοις, τα πέριξ τοιχώματα είναι ανέπαφα. Δείγμα της στιβαρότητας της κατασκευής.
One of the steel doors is bent by an internal explosion within the bunker. The actual bunker walls remain intact, another testament to their shock-proof construction.

The Greek Navy constructed a series of naval gun bunker emplacements in the period between 1936 and 1940, as the war was imminent, in order to control the access to the vital port of Piraeus, the main port of Athens, the capital of Greece.

Among those fortified positions was the North Aegina Fortress on Tourlos hill.

A google map of Aegina island with the 305mm naval gun bunkers at the northeastern tip (noted with a star).
A google map of Aegina island with the 305mm naval gun bunkers at the northeastern tip (noted with a star).

Konstantinos Kirimis says to www.ww2wrecks.com:

“The 305 mm naval guns emplacement in Tourlos is an impressive fortification project. Its dimensions cause awe and make us imagine how this bunker was 80 years ago.

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A WW2 photo with the 305 mm guns in position. Note the two-tone camo pattern.

I would personally wish to see this bunker complex restored, with explanatory drawings and photographs highlighting its historical background.

Ο κεντρικός διάδρομος που οδηγεί στο κέντρο της διάταξης (βάση πύργου 305χλστ).
The main corridor leading to the 305 mm gun position. Note the open steel doors on each side of the corridor.

Such an initiative, in addition to a potential source of revenue for the local community, would demonstrate the Greek Navy’s land-based units and the important role they played during that historical period.

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Purple star: The entrance. Blue line: The corridor leading to the underground bunker. Yellow circle: The underground areas (ammo dumps, auxiliary spaces, etc.). Red circle: The 305 mm twin guns emplacement.

The naval artillery bunkers were equipped with 4 305 millimeters guns.

Despite the fact that those guns have now been removed, the remaining parts of the bunker complex and gun emplacements remain impressive, due to their sheer size and relatively good condition after almost 80 years since they were built.

Βοηθητικός θάλαμος, όπως φαίνεται απ’έξω. Από τις σωλήνες δεξιά, κάποτε διέρχονταν καλωδιώσεις. Παρατηρήστε τη φύση του οπλισμού στο σκυρόδεμα. Αντί για απλές σιδηρόβεργες, χρησιμοποιούνται τεράστιες ράβδοι τύπου «Ι» (I-beams)
An auxiliary area, as seen from the gun emplacement pit. The steel tubes on the right served as cabling routes. Note the reinforced concrete construction, with I-beams, which can withstand aerial bombardment.

The 305 mm naval guns were removed from the decommissioned battleship “Lemnos”, the former USS Idaho (BB24), the second ship of the Mississippi-class battleships, commissioned in 1908.

The Battleship "Lemnos" in Greek colours
The Battleship “Lemnos” in Greek colours

Sold to Greece in 1914 she was decommissioned in 1932, docked permanently at the Salamina Naval Base, until she was sunk in a German aerial attack in 1941.

USS Idaho on the Hudson River, while in USN service
USS Idaho on the Hudson River, while in USN service. Note the two 4 × 12 inches (305 mm)/45 caliber Mark 5 guns (2×2)

Built on a strategic point, overlooking the seaways to  Piraeus and with a range of 18 kilometers, this naval guns emplacement was called an “unsinkable battleship”.

The German aerial attack hit “Lemnos” in the background, with “Kilkis” visible in the middle of the photo on April 23, 1941
The German aerial attack hits “Lemnos” in the background, with “Kilkis” visible in the middle of the photo on April 23, 1941

 

Each tower with the twin guns weighed 900 tons. Transporting them from “Lemnos” battleship up on Tourlos hill was a huge challenge, particularly considering the technological means of the period.

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Standing in the gun emplacement pit, the visitor can see the different auxiliary areas, ammo dumps, corridors etc. leading to the main guns.

Ultimately, their dismantling, transport, installation and reassembly were successfully completed, which must be credited to the Greek Navy, which undertook this Herculean task.

Each tower  was positioned in prepared reinforced concrete bases, with a diameter of 10 metres and a depth of 8 metres.

The main guns pit, with a diameter of 10 metres and a depth of 8 meters, as we look at it from the surface.
The main guns pit, with a diameter of 10 metres and a depth of 8 meters, as we look at it from the surface.

Eventually, these guns did not fire a single shot, as the port of Piraeus was only attacked by air and no enemy naval forces dared to venture close to the area controlled by the gun emplacements.
With the capitulation of Greece in April 1941, the fortress came under German control, as part of “Seeverteitigung Attika”, who named it “Tourlos II”, in June 1941.

A German is sitting on one of the 305 mm guns, giving a vivid example of its size.
A German is sitting on one of the 305 mm guns during WW2, giving a vivid example of its size.

Prior to the demobilization of the Fortress though, the Greeks destroyed the guns, therefore it is not entirely clear as to which extent the Germans did make the guns operational again, although several period photographs (ranging from 1941 to 1944) show them manned by the MAA-603 (Marine Artillery Abteilung).

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Bird’s eye view of the naval guns positions. Some surface buildings are visible too, as well as the roads around the bunker complex.

The two towers were 100 meters apart from each other and were able to rotate 360 degrees. The power was supplied by an underground “Central Power Station”, which was located approximately 250 meters from the nearest gun.

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Three different types of steel doors within the underground complex. All have been removed from “Lemnos” Battleship (former USS Idaho) and used in the bunkers.

D2

D3
Around each tower and 10 meters underground, there were several reinforced concrete areas.
The entrance to each “complex” (tower and auxiliary spaces) was first made through a narrow corridor (about 15 meters long), carved on the sides of the mountain. Essentially, the builders had removed a “slice” from the mountain to allow access to the interior.

Heavy duty steel doors were positioned around the main guns pit.
Heavy duty steel doors were positioned around the main guns pit. The round opening at the top served as a ventilation shaft.

The entrance was protected by two heavy-duty, armored doors. Behind these doors, a 20 meter long arcade 20 meters lead to the actual gun tower.

Άποψη από το εσωτερικό του πύργου. Οι δύο σωλήνες αριστερά και δεξιά, χρησίμευαν για την μεταφορά οβίδων, από τις βληματοθήκες στον πύργο.
Standing in the pit, the visitor can observe two large steel shafts, which were used to take the shells from the ammo dumps to the naval guns.

All the areas, such as warehouses and shelters were protected by armored doors, which consisted of at least 5 different types and were removed from the “Lemnos” battleship.

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The entrance, literally carved out from the rock of the mountainside. The visitor can understand the size of the project by comparing the size of the steel door to the height of the bunker complex.

Within the underground areas, there are several ventilation shafts and voice intercom tubes. The complex was made of reinforced concrete, while in some parts the roof was reinforced with steel bars. The height in the internal underground spaces was 2.5 to 3 meters. The area of each complex (entrance arcade, auxiliary spaces, gun emplacement) covered approximately 400 square meters.

Βοηθητικός θάλαμος. Στην πάνω πλευρά του τοίχου διακρίνονται δύο σωλήνες εσωτερικής ενδοσυνεννόησης. Στο πάτωμα κείτονται ανταλλακτικά και αναλώσιμα μηχανών.
One of the auxiliary bunker rooms. Two intercom tubes can be seen, while spare parts and other items are scattered on the floor.

The bunker complex is today in relatively good condition and remains particularly impressive. While the  absence of the towers and the guns, is certainly a minus, the visitor has the opportunity to perceive the sheer size of the bunker complex and to grasp the difficulty the engineers of the time faced in putting it together, as well as the guns’ effectiveness, having an unobstructed 360 degrees line of fire.

Τμήμα της ηλεκτρικής εγκατάστασης φωτισμού. Παρατηρήστε ότι η οροφή είναι θωρακισμένη.
Cabling from the lighting system. Note that the ceiling of the bunker is heavily reinforced with steel sheets and beams.

While the lighting installation is out of order, there are several wall-mounted wiring and shock lights. In several chambers there are remnants of cables, mechanical and electrical installations as well as spare parts and other WW2 items.

Εσωτερικός θάλαμος. Παρατηρήστε τη θωρακισμένη πόρτα, που διατηρεί την έντονη βαφή της, και τα υπολείμματα προστατευτικών καλωδίων στο πάτωμα.
Another underground auxiliary room, with a steel door still retaining its red color. Note the remains of cabling on the floor.

There is few rubble but the area is generally easily accessible. The red painting is preserved, in several armored doors, but also in different parts of the roof. Several of the doors are highly oxidized, and they are opened with difficulty, while others are deformed (probably by an internal explosion to destroy the complex, possibly by the retreating Germans in 1944).

 

Since the bunker complex is located in an area still controlled by the Greek Navy, no graffiti or litter are present, thus giving us a glimpse in the past.
Sources: Naval Review Magazine, No. 594 – Volume 176.

The author and researcher Konstantinos Kirimis wishes to thank the following:

• Hellenic Navy Fund
• Directorate of Customs and Public Relations of the Hellenic Navy
• Aegina Naval Base
Yannis Arseniadis and Marios Michailos, for their assistance in the photo documentation of the Bunker Complex.

 

305 mm Naval Gun specifications

 

Official designation 12″/45 caliber Mark 5
Caliber 305 mm
Origin USA
First introduced 1906
Weight 53 tons
Rate of fire 2-3 rpm
Maximum range 18 kilometers
Shell weight 390 kilograms
Muzzle velocity 820 meters per second