When 544 Italian Prisoners drowned in 1943: The tragedy of the “Marguerite” unveiled

Shipwrecks, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

On October 13, 1943 a tragedy unfolded in the Gulf of Patras, which took nearly 65 years to come back to the surface, thanks to a thorough historical research and on-site diving.

The wreck of the cargo ship Marguerite is one of many that occurred at that time with ships carrying Italian prisoners of war, following the capitulation of Italy in the Autumn of 1943.

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“The wreck was finally identified after several attempts by Nikos Vasilatos and me,” says George Karelas and adds:

“It’s a wreck which I think is of great historical importance and linked to one of the darkest aspects of war here in Greece.”

Nikos Vasilatos points out the difficulties of diving:

“In most dives we encountered difficult conditions, very limited visibility which makes the task of identifying the shipwreck very difficult .

“A cargo ship, the Marguerite, loaded with 900 Italian prisoners from Acqui Division, along with  25 German guards sailed from Kefalonia towards Patras harbour.

On the evening of October 13, the ship hit a mine, probably due to a navigational error.

Fate is cruel towards the losers of the Greek-Italian war. The ship is swiftly sinking taking with her 544 Italians and 5 Germans and the story is lost in the haze of war.

“The wreck presents a curious spectacle, as the stern is completely buried in the muddy bottom of the sea, while the bow is not even touching the seabed,” says Lena Tsopouropoulou, the underwater photographer of the diving team.

marguerite

The history of the ship

Marguerite was built in Bilbao, Spain in 1918 and changed owners and names several times before it came into German hands when requisitioned in March 1943 to help the German Navy to meet the needs of personnel transport, supplies and equipment in Greece.

The wreck and diving team

Marguerite is located at a depth of 90 meters and her identification was achieved from the historical references of the event and thanks to the ship’s plans identified at the Maritime Museum of Bilbao.

The diving team that identified the wreck consisted of Lena Tsopouropoulou, Nikolas Vasilatos, George Karelas and Kostas Milionis.

“The wreck is covered by marine life; Sponges, microorganisms and hundreds of fish have found protection in the rusty wreck,  the last witness of the tragedy that happened on October 13, 1943,” says Kostas Milionis.

Korfu, italienische Soldaten

Human stories

The lucky:

Bragança Giovanni Giovanni before sailing with Marguerite, had boarded the passenger Ardena which sank shortly after departure from the port of Argostoli on September 27, 1943 with about 1,000 Italian prisoners onboard.

Having survived this tragedy he then boarded the Marguerite. Later he will talk about the dramatic moments when prisoners fell into the sea after the explosion and the sinking of the ship.

“Within 10 to 12 hours I was in the water I saw shipwrecked groups, some trying to keep from others and eventually disappear under water. I felt despair, that my destiny was to follow those who were lost beneath the waves… ”

The unlucky:

Pascal Vito

Pascal was celebrating his 20th birthday on the day of the wreck. The war was over for him but fate had reserved a very nasty game. His friend and compatriot Francesco Da Luca, who survived, took on the difficult role to convey the bad news to Pascal’s family.

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