By Pierre Kosmidis
Underwater photos by Milonakis Kostas www.wetklik.gr
Other photos as credited
Nearly 75 years have passed since the sinking of Aldebaran (code AL), an Italian warship, which met her fate at 9:40 in the morning of October 20, 1941 and was discovered and positively identified by the diving team of Antonis Grafas in 2014.
Link of the original article, published in 2014 (in Greek):
The spectacle that the divers saw, the first people who set their eyes upon the once majestic “Torpediniera”, a 82-metre long wreck, for the first time since her sinking, has brought again to the surface the tragic events that unfolded on this fateful morning of 1941, a forgotten episode of World War 2, that remained lost at a depth of 107 meters below sea level near the islet of San Georgio.
Map of the Saronic Gulf. San Georgio island is located in the entrance of the Gulf.
“Every shipwreck is a window into history” Antonis Grafas, an experienced deep diver and the leader of the research group says and adds:
“From the first moment I saw the wreck I realized that this is a ship with great historical significance. The satisfaction and pleasure that I felt were unique emotions.”
RT Aldebaran (© Archivio Aldo Cherini)
Discovery and identification of the wreck
The cause of the sinking of “Torpediniera” (roughly equivalent to a Destroyer) Aldebaran (AL) was a mine laid by the British Submarine HMS Rorqual.
The minefield did not only destroy Aldebaran but also sunk her sister ship Altair, which also struck a mine in the same minefield a day before at 19:28 on October 19, 1941 and sank while she was being towed towards the port of Piraeus, at the southeast of the island of Patroklos Island the spot of one of the biggest naval tragedies, with 4,000 Italian POWs drowned in 1944.
According to British archives the deadly trap, the laying of the minefield that would sink the two Italian ships twelve days later, the Aldebaran and the Altair, was set up on 8 October 1941.
The experienced deep scuba diver and underwater photographer Kostas Milonakis describes the moment of this historical discovery:
“The sonar had shown a little “lift” on the bottom and I was quite skeptical about what we would see at a depth of 107 meters.
When I began to see the wreck, I took a deep breath of satisfaction and immediately after I saw the big guns of the ship at the stern.
It was the ship we were looking for!
I immediately prepared my underwater camera and made a sign to my fellow diver Yannis Liardakis to enjoy this unique spectacle!
I enjoyed it more than any other dive in my life so far!
We found a warship lost in time and we were the first people to see her after 73 years at the seabed.”
Italian Naval cannon of 100/47 mm. O.T.O. 31 exactly like the three guns of ALDEBARAN
(© Aldo Farccaroli)
Dimitri Galon, historical researcher
The field research proved that this is the wreck of a torpedo ship (Torpediniera), of the Italian Royal Navy, (SPICA class, PERSEO type).
This assessment, combined with historical and photographic sources further indicated that this is obviously the wreck of the Aldebaran, which, according to the Italian Navy Directorate of History, sank at 9:40 in the morning of 20 October 1941, approximately three nautical miles north-northwest of the island of San Georgio, after hitting the allied minefield in that region, laid on October 8, 1941 by the British submarine HMS RORQUAL.
HMS Rorqual (Imperial War Museum)
According to the Italian Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare, “the ship had sailed at midnight on October 20, 1941 from the port of Piraeus, with orders to assist Lupo to tow Altair, which struck a mine on the previous day.
Moreover Aldebaran had the order to investigate for any survivors aboard the bow of Altair and during this research Aldebaran struck a mine, which exploded beneath the hull.
The ship, partly flooded and with a broken keel, floated for more than half an hour before it capsized and sank.”
There are conflicting reports about the number of victims of the sinking of the Aldebaran.
The Italian sources mention that out of her 150 crew, seven were killed and three died due to their injuries.
German sources indicate that 14 were lost and 140 crew members were rescued, including fifteen injured.
Construction and technical characteristics
Distinctive code: AL
Type: Torpedo Boat (Torpediniera)
Regia Marina Italiana
Displacement: Standard, 630 tons / Full load 1,020 tons
Length: 82 meters
Width: 8.2 meters
Propulsion: Two steam turbines power 19,000 hp
Indicative speed: 34 knots
Range: 1,910 nautical miles at a speed of 15 knots / 1,700 nm with a speed of 16 knots / 60 miles a speed of 30 knots
Armament: Three naval guns of 100/47 mm. Eight Italian machine guns of 13.2 mm., Four torpedo tubes 450 mm., Two depth charges mechanisms, 20 mines.
Indicative crew: 119 persons (7 officers and 112 petty officers and sailors)
The diving team
Antonis Grafas, filmmaker, team leader
Kostas Milonakis, underwater photographer
Yannis Liardakis, diver
Tasos Tsalavoutas, safety diver
Dive team Partners
Dimitri Galon, historical researcher
Dimitris Damigos, boatmaster
Useful resources and further info:
The diving mission was sponsored by www.dakoutros.gr