Burdigala: 100 years since the sinking of the second largest shipwreck of the Greek Seas

Interviews, Shipwrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis


PHOTOS BY DIMITRIS GALONOn November 14, 1916 the luxury liner S/S Burdigala, formerly known as “Kaiser Friedrich” struck a mine and sunk between Kea and Makronissos islands.
2016 marks the centenary of this shipwreck, the second largest in the Greek Seas, after the “Brittanic”, which was lost  in 1916 too.

Just two nautical miles from the wreck of “Burdigala” there is another important shipwreck of the Greek Seas, that of the “Brittanic” sister ship of the infamous “Titanic”, after hitting a mine on November 21, 1916 just one week after the sinking of the “Burdigala”.

In December 1915 the “Burdigala” was requisitioned by the French State as an auxiliary cruiser and until her sinking, the elegant ship was serving as a troop and war material carrier to the ill fated “Gallipoli campaign” in the Dardanelles and to Thessaloniki.

The ship started her voyage from the naval base of Toulon, briefly stopped in Malta, before passing Maleas Cape  and arriving to Piraeus.

From Piraeus she sailed through the Straits of Kea to Thessaloniki where on September 16, 1916 the Greek provisional government with the “pro-Entente” Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos was based, after the fall out with the King of Greece who wanted Greece to become allies with the Germans and not the British and the French.

On November 13, 1916 the ship started her return voyage from Thessaloniki to Toulon, in order to bring in more troops and war material.

On the next day, November 14, at 10:45 in the morning, while the ship was about two nautical miles southwest of Cape St. Nicholas of Kea island,  a huge explosion rattled “Burdigala”.

The ship was struck on the right side amidships and the engine room started to flood.

While the ship initially listed slightly, 20 minutes later the situation changed dramatically, as the water rushed into the front of the engines’ second boiler room.

The listing increased and the captain gave the order to “Abandon Ship!” Immediately the crew launched the lifeboats and abandoned the doomed ship.

Just after 15 minutes, Burdigala broke in two by a second explosion and quickly disappeared beneath the waves, sinking off the northwest coast of Kea at a depth of 75 meters, where she remained forgotten until her discovery in 2008 in a research mission approved and licensed by the Department of Underwater Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture, by a team of Greek divers.

As reported by eyewitnesses, just one unlucky sailor was lost, a 22-year old engineer, who died from burns caused by the rupture of a steam pipe in the boiler room at the time of the explosion.

The ocean liner “Burdigala” was built in 1897 under the name “Kaiser Friedrich” for the shipping company Nord Deutscher Lloyd. She was 183 m long, 19 m wide and was equipped with two five-cylinder engines and  two bronze propellers, with a diameter of 6.19 meters each.

The Imperial German submarine U-73, is credited with the sinking of both the “Burdigala” and the “Brittanic”.

Although it was initially thought that the ocean liner was torpedoed, it has been ultimately proved beyond any doubt that the “Burdigala” was a victim of the minefield that was laid by the German submarine U-73, while the same minefield claimed  the “Brittanic” a week later.

The complete story of the wreck of “Burdigala”, can be found at www.keadive.gr

Text by Dimitris Galon, historical researcher

When our diving team first visited the then “unknown wreck of Kea”, in September 2008 , we saw a particularly beautiful and well-preserved wreck of an unknown large ship.

The shipwreck survey was conducted with the simultaneous research in libraries, files and museums and led to a fully documented identification of the wreck, as the ocean liner “S/S Burdigala”, formerly known as “S/S Kaiser Friedrich”.

This is a ship which was historically connected with the development of transatlantic maritime transport during the second half of the 19th century, the race of large shipping companies to lead the great migration from Europe to the USA, but also the agony and death of the early 20th century, expressed through military operations of World War I.

The sinking of the “Burdigala”, 183 meters in length and with a displacement of 20,100 tons is the second largest preserved shipwreck in modern history that has been discovered in the Greek seas, following the sinking of the “Brittanic”, with both ships eternally resting in proximity.