Bunker Archaeology: The WW2 underground shelters of the Royal Hellenic Navy in Salamis island, by Konstantinos Kirimis

Bunker Archaeology, Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos and info submitted by Konstantinos Kirimis, used by permission

In the years leading to WW2, Greece ran an extensive modernization project of its armed forces.

From 1936 to 1940, on the eve of the Italian failed invasion of Greece, the Royal Hellenic Navy, acquired new naval units and built a series of bunker complexes and naval fortresses.

Within the main corridor of a 400-man air-raid shelter.
Within the main corridor of a 400-man air-raid shelter.

Naval installations, which were built from 1936 to 1940, on the islands of Fleves and Aegina, are typical of the period.

New air raid shelters were built at the Royal Hellenic Navy’s main naval base, on the island of Salamis.

A 30meter corridor, leads us 12 meters underground.
The main entrance, with a 30 metre long staircase, leading to the underground air raid shelter 12 metres below.

Konstantinos Kirimis, a respected researcher and author visited the Salamis naval base WW2 shelters, which were designed for different purposes.

Some were built exclusively for the protection of personnel, others as ammunition stores, while one served as an underground command center, which saw use post-war as well.

Within the shelter, the personnel was seated at wooden benches, arranged by rank. Note the huge air-vent, on the top.
Within the shelter, the personnel was seated on wooden benches, arranged by rank. Note the ventilation pipe.

All these underground installations share unique characteristics, which distinguish them from other air raid shelters built in the greater Athens area, during the same period.

They were built deep underground, digging through rock in mountains or hills, surrounding the base.

The entrance was usually a superstructure at the top of the hill, which led to the main underground shelter.

Underground facilities, included complex electrical installations
Underground facilities had their own power facilities.

A secondary emergency exit,  at the exact opposite direction of the entrance was mandatory, for obvious reasons. Part of the interior was just carved in the rock, reminding a mine.

One of the biggest shelters, was equipped with a 2-room infirmary.
One of the biggest shelters, was equipped with a 2-room infirmary.

Other parts were elaborately constructed, using concrete.

It was not unusual to see a combination of both techniques at the same shelter.

Ventilation was secured by air purification hardware, while the entrances were secured by heavy-duty armored doors.

The main electricity switch, of the abandoned underground command center.
The main power switch, of the underground command center.

The steel doors were made in Germany by Peltz, while the air purification hardware was made by Siemens.

According to the Hellenic Navy History Department archives, just before WW2, Germany sent, upon a Greek request, an officer specialized in underground fortifications, who acted as a consultant to the Hellenic Royal Navy.

Fire-fightning equipment, within a wooden cabinet.
Fire-fightning equipment, within a wooden cabinet.

It is indeed a historical paradox, that Germany assisted with know-how and hardware in building these installations in 1936 and just in a few years, in 1941, launched air attacks against those very same underground shelters.

Each shelter housed various detachments, in pre-arranged positions. This sign informs that this space is reserved for the detachment that would bury the dead.
Each shelter has designated areas for specific purposes. This sign is for the “burial detachment”, the men who would be responsible to carry this sombre task.

Each shelter had predetermined positions for specific tasks, such as firefighting detachment, security detachment, chemical gas detection detachment, or burial detachment.

These shelters came in a variety of sizes.

The ammunition shelter had railway tracks, as ammo boxes were carried by small wagons. The volume of one of the largest shelters, is 2,000 m3 and could house over 400 men, while the corridors were over 120 meters long.

The main gallery of a personell-protecting shelter. Part of it is properly built with cement walls, while the rest is crudely carved.
The main gallery of a personnel shelter. One side has cement walls, while the opposite side is left as it was when it was dug.

The personnel was seated on wooden benches, while there was a specific seating arrangement by rank (conscripts, NCOs, Officers, etc.)

The set up of the command and control room, was minimal, as we can see in this photo.
The set up of the command and control room, was minimal, as we can see in this photo.

The Greek Royal Navy imported shelter infrastructure from Germany. Each shelter had infirmaries, toilet facilities and command and control areas.  Firefighting equipment, such as shovels, hoses, helmets, etc. were stored in wooden cabinets.

The main pump of an air purification system, built by Siemens.
The main pump of an air purification system, built by Siemens.

Throughout the underground shelter, many warning signs reminded the proper procedures, such as “keep the shelter clean”, “speak low”, “smoking is prohibited”, “after the air-raid, refrain from touching any unexploded ordnance”.

Overlooking the entrance of the shelter, from within the interior.
The main entrance of the shelter, as seen from the staircase.

Today, these underground shelters, remain hidden away, they stand in the shadows, a silent testimony of a long gone era. While they have become obsolete, history buffs appreciate their significance during a turbulent period.

Two consecutive armored doors, protect entry in the underground command center.
Two armored doors guard the entrance to the underground command and control center.