Found and identified: Two WW2 wrecks lost since April 1941

Interviews, Shipwrecks, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

In the bustling port of Piraeus nowadays, thousands of tourists from all over the world are waiting every day to sail for a holiday to the Aegean islands and dozens of ships of all types are berthed at the docks.

jmc526b

Credit Image:  John H Marsh Maritime, Research Centre, Iziko Museums of Cape Town

75 years ago, however, in the evening of April 6 th,1941, the exact day of the nazi invasion in Greece, codenamed Operation Marita, Luftwaffe bombers turned the port into a pile of rubble, sinking or causing serious damage to most of the ships which were berthed in Piraeus.

According to the communiqué issued by the Greek authorities the next day, “the German air force attacked yesterday, on the first day of the Greek-German war. Piraeus was bombed with a loss of a cargo steamer, a sailboat, causing small damage to the buildings and few casualties among the civilian population” .

One of the ships in Piraeus, the “Clan Cumming” escaped the bombing raid, only to meet her Nemesis just a few miles south, off the coast of Aegina island.

The identification of the wreck 

In 2012, a diving team consisting of Kostas Thoctaridis, Nikolas Vasilatos, Kostas Papastefos and the diving team’s underwater photographer Helen Tsopouropoulou, along with the researcher of Naval History Aris Bilalis, identified the shipwreck:

“The impressive wreck, with an overall length of 141 meters is at a depth  of 94 meters, off Cape Tourlos in Aegina island.

The purpose of the dive was first to identify the wreck and to get a general idea of the ship. Further dives are to be conducted, in order to continue the exploration of the wreck, along with historical research”. says Mr. Vasilatos.

img_9466

The images from the abyss are indeed impressive. The wreck has now been transformed into a welcoming oasis for all sorts of marine life.

“Diving in historical shipwrecks of exceptional interest, as composing the puzzle of maritime history and takes us in a unique way at other times,” observes Mr. Thoctaridis.

The “Clan Cumming” by Aris Bilalis

The Clan Cumming was a cargo steamer, gross tonnage 7,264 tons, which was built in 1938 in the shipyards Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd. . Scotland on behalf of the Scottish company ‘ The Clan Line Steamers Ltd.’ According to the preliminary investigation, the ship had sailed in December 1940 from Liverpool and after a stopover in Gibraltar, arrived on 12 January 1941 in Piraeus with a cargo of ammunitions.

On January 19, 1941 an allied convoy bound for Port Said, Egypt, sailed from Piraeus. Off the island of St. George in southern Saronic, the Clan Cumming was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Neghelli and was forced to return to Piraeus.

img_9461

The ship suffered new hits during the German bombing of  April 6 th 1941.

Clan Fraser,  which was laden with 350 tons of high explosive was directly hit and the horrific explosion which followed scattered havoc.

Dozens of vessels were hit by flaming pieces of the Clan Fraser with many sunk or damaged. After additional repairs, the Clan Cumming managed to sail from Piraeus in the night of 14 to 15 April.

The Clan Cumming immediately became the target of German aircraft and either due to confusion caused by the air strikes or a navigational error, the ship sailed within the limits of the minefield between Tourlos and Fleves.

According to the official records of the Historical Service of the Hellenic Navy, the garrison in Aegina realised the frenzied course of the ship and tried to warn her.

The captain apparently realised what was happening and began to turn the boat but it was already too late. The stern of the Clan Cumming hit a mine causing the ship to sink almost immediately, fortunately without casualties. The garrison  immediately reported to the Navy’s General Staff the sinking of the ship and the Greek destroyer Queen Olga rushed to collect the shipwrecked survivors.

pier2

The “Petalioi” awaits for her official… recognition

A few miles further north, another wreck at a depth of 74 meters is probably the steamboat Petalioi. On April 6 th 1941, Petalioi was hit by flaming debris from the Clan Fraser. The vessel was under tow in order to be taken out of the port of Piraeus, where she sank.

The 6,565 tons ship was built in 1917 at the Doxford & Sons shipyards in Sunderland as Admiral Cochrane. In 1928 the ship was renamed Petalioi .

jmp185b

Credit Image:  John H Marsh Maritime, Research Centre, Iziko Museums of Cape Town