By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos and video: Stelios Demertzis – Alexandros Malagaris
A unique find, a nearly intact Martin Baltimore that was ditched at sea close to Ikaria island, was photographed by Greek scuba diver Stelios Demertzis, whose uncle was a member of the aircrew of this specific WW2 bomber when it was lost at sea, while Alexandros Malagaris shot a wonderful underwater video of the doomed aircraft.
Dubbed the “forgotten bomber” because none of the 1,574 Baltimores built by Martin survive today, this Baltimore is possibly the only one worldwide that is preserved to this day at a depth of just 18 metres in the sea where, according to Greek mythology, Icarus, the son of Daedalus, the first man to ever fly, was lost.
“It is a unique experience diving at the aircraft wreck my uncle was flying with”, Stelios Demertzis says to www.ww2wrecks.com and adds:
“While my uncle and another crew member survived the ditching, unfortunately the two other aircrew were sadly lost.
This aircraft wreck is not only a significant WW2 relic, but is also a sacred place, as two airmen lost their lives there.
We have to approach the wreck with respect to the lives lost and having in mind that it is probably the only Martin Baltimore in the world today”.
The Martin Baltimore FW401 of the Royal Hellenic Air Force’s 13 Squadron has been resting at the seabed for 72 years, since it was lost on April 20, 1945.
The four-member crew, pilot A. Dimopoulos, radio operator Sotirios Vathis, navigator Vassilios Demertzis and Ioannis Zacharopoulos, was flying the Martin Baltimore on a training mission.
According to the Hellenic Air Force Museum the aircraft encountered adverse weather conditions, but the pilot decided to continue the mission in an area to the south of the initially planned one, where weather conditions were better.
Approximately one hour after take off, the right engine seized, the aircraft started losing altitude and the pilot decided to make an emergency landing in Ikaria island.
However, reaching the coast of Ikaria island and finding no such place, he attempted ditching the aircraft at sea close to the village of Manganitis.
While Demertzis and Dimopoulos were eventually rescued by locals at the island of Ikaria who rushed at the scene, Vathis and Zacharopoulos sadly went down with the aircraft.
The Royal Hellenic Air Force received the first Baltimores from the British Royal Air Force on 13 September 1943 and joined the 13th Light Bombardment Squadron.
Initially the 13 Squadron Baltimores were based in North African bases and carried missions of convoy escorts, anti-submarine patrols and reconaissance in the Aegean Sea. In May 1944 the squadron moved to Italy, with bombing missions in Yugoslavia and northern Italy.
In the autumn of 1944, 13 Squadron, with 16 Baltimore Mk V, returned to Greece and undertook missions against German targets on the Aegean islands. 79 Baltimore aircraft saw service with the Royal Hellenic Air Force.
The diving mission
On 11 July 2017, a diving team consisting of Dimitris Lesses guide, photographer Stelios Demertzis and Alexandros Malagaris, diving coordinator and videographer, visited the spot where the ditched Martin Baltimore is located.
Using information from the Hellenic Air Force, the oral testimonies of inhabitants of Ikaria island collected by Dimitris Lessses and underwater photographs from an earlier dive by Nikos Tsarnas, Dimitris Lesses and George Frangos, the divers soon located the aircraft.
The aim of the divers was to capture the lost Martin Baltimore on video and photos and pay tribute to the crew. Stelios Demertzis‘ uncle was Vassilios Demertzis, one of the two survivors of the ditching and his godfather too.
The dive took place under ideal weather conditions, with a maximum depth of 18 meters and its duration was 45 minutes.
The divers had the opportunity to admire the unique sight of the aircraft at the bottom and how it has become part of it.
The divers left a laurel wreath at the aircraft wreck, commemorating the sad loss of the two airmen.