By Pierre Kosmidis
On September 14, 1943, the Greek submarine Y1 “Katsonis”, named after the 18th-century Greek admiral Lambros Katsonis, was rammed and sunk by the German submarine chaser UJ-2101.
After depth charging by UJ-2101, Y1 “Katsonis” was forced to surface and continued fighting with her deck gun.
Finally UJ-2101 rammed the submarine, which sank to the seabed, taking down with her 32 men of the crew, including Commander Vasilis Laskos, while 15 crew members were captured by the Germans.
Lt. Elias Tsoukalas, the ship’s XO, and petty officers Antonios Antoniou and Anastasios Tsigros, managed to swim for 9 hours and reach the shore, before returning to Egypt and rejoin the Hellenic Navy, after an epic journey.
Today, 75 years after these events unfolded in the Aegean Sea, a feature length documentary, “Y1: Silence of the Deep”, on the discovery, the exploration and the human stories behind Y1 “Katsonis” is almost ready to hit the screens.
www.ww2wrecks.com reached out to the production team of “Y1: Silence of the Deep”, in order to find out more on the documentary, the actual discovery of the submarine wreck and the exploration and filming of the underwater sequences, which bring back to life the story of the ill-fated Hellenic Navy submarine.
Mr. Stelios Efstathopoulos, executive producer and director of photography of the documentary “Y1: Silence of the Deep”, director Mr. Philippos Vardakas and scriptwriter Mrs. Magda Georgiadou shed light to the process of locating the wreck, the filming techniques and methodology, as well as the production, which is now in its final stages.
“We are Team Faos, a small Athens-based production company. We mainly work for major international TV broadcasters, but in recent years we have started producing our own films.
“Y1: Silence of the Deep” will be our fourth feature-length documentary, after “Emery Tales” (2015), “Argo Navis” (2016, Audience Award at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival) and “Down Time” (to be released soon), Mr. Stelios Efstathopoulos says, adding:
We believe the “Y1: Silence of the Deep” documentary will bring a fascinating, rather unknown WWII story to the world. It will also be a great film of underwater exploration, featuring a wreck that hasn’t been seen before.
Many other people have worked for the documentary along the way, including a second camera team, a drone operator, assistant producers and directors, a “making of” crew and more.”
How did it all start for you, what has been your inspiration?
Philippos Vardakas: “One day, in autumn 2016, we came across an article about legendary Greek WWII submarine “Y1 – Labros Katsonis”.
The article mentioned that the wreck had been found, which later proved to be wrong. Nevertheless, we started doing a bit of research, to see whether the story of the submarine could become a documentary.”
Magda Georgiadou: “Then we found Elias Tsoukalas’s book, “Submarine Y1 – Labros Katsonis”. Tsoukalas was the Second-in-Command on “Y1-Katsonis”, he was one of the few survivors and wrote an excellent book that reads like a novel. That was it! We fell in love with the story and we just had to dive in.”
Why the Y-1? Is it the story behind the sinking, is it personal narratives, or something else that attracted you to this story?
Magda Georgiadou: “The story is fascinating indeed, because it’s about ordinary men who did extraordinary things. Imagine living aboard a submarine built in the 1920s for weeks at a time, that’s amazing by itself! But the crew of “Y1” is really special because of their courage during their final naval battle.
Spotted by a mighty German submarine chaser, they could have surrendered, possibly without casualties. They chose to fight, although they stood no chance. This is an archetypal heroic story, I would say.”
How did you film the wreck, please elaborate on the technical as well as the emotional elements of this task, knowing that the depth was demanding and the wreck is a war grave.
Stelios Efstathopoulos: “First of all, we had to find the wreck! Τhe initial report on its location (2016) quickly proved wrong. We spent about a year discussing possible search and identification operations with the Greek Navy and underwater filming experts.
Along the way, we were lucky to meet Professor Manolis Antonidakis, who had developed a revolutionary material identification method based on long-distance molecular analysis. In October 2017, we accompanied the professor as he found indications of high concentration of explosives in a specific spot within a wider sea area north of Skiathos.
The explosives could be TNT from submarine torpedoes. These data were sufficient for the Greek Navy to organize a first identification mission, in January 2018. Using side scan sonar, they confirmed the co-ordinates of the submarine.”
Philippos Vardakas: “The next step was to organize the filming operation, which was very challenging; it was probably also the first of its kind in Greece. The submarine sat at a depth of 253 meters.
Of course, no human can dive so deep, so we needed to deploy an R.O.V (Remotely Operated Vehicle), with the camera mounted on top.
Moreover, there’s absolutely no light at such depths, which means we needed two additional R.O.V.s carrying lights in order to have usable images of the submarine. All of the equipment was operated remotely, from the control room of Greek Navy hydrographic ship Nautilus and an auxiliary vessel.”
“The emotional aspect you mentioned was also very hard to manage at times. Imagine sitting in front of the screens, waiting for the first pictures of the wreck, next to a survivor’s daughter (Greek journalist Bilio Tsoukala, daughter of Elias Tsoukalas).
We were in charge of a very demanding filming operation but at the same time we had a feeling of greater responsibility, primarily to the crew’s descendants, such as Bilio, who helped us so much, but also to the general public, for discovering and bringing such an important wreck to light after 75 years.”
Tell us about your feature documentary; what would make you happy, to make the Y-1 story widely known, to keep the memories alive, to serve as a memorial to the crew which did not make it out of the submarine?
Magda Georgiadou: “We feel it is our duty to make this story as widely known as possible. The history of World War II is a vast subject and we are well aware that we’re only covering a tiny part of it that took place in our small country.
But we believe “Y1: Silence of the Deep” can appeal to a global audience, because, as I said before, it is a story of real heroes; and they can be an inspiration to all of us, regardless of nationality.”
Commander Laskos, a larger than life personality, is widely considered to be a war hero, while reports from both the British as well as the German archives also shed light to a different element of wrong judgement and reckless actions that largely contributed to the submarine’s loss. What are your reflections on these and how did you choose to approach this side of the story?
Magda Georgiadou: “Vassilis Laskos was indeed a legendary Commander. It is true that some sources question his judgement, especially his decisions during the last hours of “Y1”, on September 14, 1943. First of all, he chose to ignore (or delay the execution of) an HQ order to leave the area of Skiathos, because he believed he could successfully attack another Axis ship. He relied on information provided by fishermen concerning a German vessel.
They spoke of a passenger ship carrying German soldiers, so Laskos was preparing to attack a rather easy target and was caught off guard when spotted by the UJ-2101 submarine chaser.
We chose to present all available sources, including German and English reports, in order to let the viewer form his own opinion on Laskos.
In any case, the fact that he is a war hero can’t be denied; he chose to die honorably, fearlessly, among his fellow seamen, standing up for Greece, the Allies and his beloved “Y1” until the last moment.”
Speaking on a personal level, what is the individual story related to Y-1 that mostly struck you while you were researching and actually shooting your documentary?
Philippos Vardakas: “When you’ve read the personal stories of the crew members, it’s really hard to choose.
I mean, you already mentioned fearless Commander Laskos; then there’s XO Elias Tsoukalas, who swam for 9 hours to reach the shores of Skiathos after the submarine sank, and then went through an incredible adventure to return to the Submarine Base in the Middle East and keep fighting for the Allies.
Or Stefanos Troupakis, who was one of the first men to go up on deck and start shooting at the German ship with the small-caliber deck gun. His grandson best summarized it for us: “they were all legends”.”
How may someone assist you in your crowdfunding campaign and please provide us with all links to your website, campaign etc.
Stelios Efstathopoulos: “The “Y1” documentary has cost around 65,000 € to produce until now. Maybe international readers won’t find this amount impressive, but it is huge for Greek standards, especially during these times of crisis.
We have almost completed filming but we now need an additional 36,000 € for post-production.”
That’s why we are turning to the public with a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which goes live on Tuesday, 18 December.
“All funds will go towards freelance post-production fees: video editing, an impressive 3D animation of the final naval battle of “Y1”, original music by Galan Trio, voice acting, subtitling and so on.
We will be grateful for any contribution and, needless to say, we will be offering unique perks, including some collectors’ items!
According to our current planning, we expect to deliver both the film and all perks by September 2019.”
Follow the “Y1” documentary on