R-194, the German Navy minesweeper sunk by Allied aircraft in 1944, off Corfu in Greece

Shipwrecks, WW2, WW2 in Greece, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos and research submitted by George Karelas and used by permission

CLICK THE LINK TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE WRECK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le3Y_TSC-Y8

At a depth of approximately 55 metres, a WW2 wreck was located by a group of experienced Greek scuba divers, in 2015.

The position of the wreck
The position of the wreck

The scuba diving expedition team consisting of Nikos Vasilatos, Eleni Tsopouropoulou, Prodromos Daglaroglou and George Karelas,  visited the wreck off Corfu (Kerkyra) island and managed to find crucial information leading to the boat’s positive identification, over 70 years since it was sunk by an Allied air attack.

Map with the approximate position of the wreck
Map of the island of Corfu (Kerkyra) and the Albanian coast

The scuba diving group saw a wreck, approximately 40 meters long, which had obvious signs of destruction.

Her bow was cut and a piece of about 10 meters that had been separated was found parallel to the main part of the wreck.

For more than a year it had not been possible to positively identify the wreck, mainly because no one expected a wooden wreck to remain in such good condition, after 70 years in salt water.

As it turned out, the Germans had processed the wood so well that it is still in excellent condition.

Another reason was the actual location of the shipwreck, which according to the records, should have been located about 4 km further north and near Cape Stilos in Albania.

Eventually, as it turned out, the ship managed to sail to Corfu until an explosion in her fuel tank sank it at the point where it was finally found by the scuba diving team.

Raumboot of 12. Räumbootflottille during the landing operations in Kefalonia island, September 1943.


The fuel tank, as it can be clearly seen in the video of the wreck, was blown up.

The positive identification of the wreck was made thanks to the video recording of the entire ship.

CLICK THE LINK TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE WRECK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le3Y_TSC-Y8

The ship’s deck with the armored door, the positions of the two 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, her square stern and other elements helped to identify the wreck.

The R -194 was a wooden minesweeper (Räumboot), built for the German Navy (Kriegsmarine).

During her operation in the Greek seas it belonged to the 12 Räumbootflottille.

Profile and plan of the minesweeper. The fuel tank is located right amidships, right next to the engine room.

These boats had wooden hulls in order not to activate the magnetic mines since they were minesweepers, but they were also used as patrol boats, troop carriers and even as landing crafts.

The R-Boot was essentially a light and flexible minesweeper, with the following general construction characteristics (referring to the latest construction type, to which R 194 also belonged.

3D imagery of the minesweeper

Speed:19 knots

Crew: 31-33 men

Length: 39.5 meters

Width: 5.73 meters

Displacement: 131.4 t.

Shipyard: Burmeister und Abeking & Rasmussen

Armament: 2 x 20 mm anti-aircraft FLAK


Tuesday, 29 February 1944

At the base of the 1435 RAF Squadron in Brindisi, Italy, preparations for an offensive reconnaissance flight over the coasts of Albania and Corfu had already begun before dawn.

No. 1435 (Night Fighter) Flight was first formed at Malta as a night fighter unit on 4 December 1941, by re-designating the Malta Night Fighter Unit.

In July 1942, personnel from No. 603 Squadron were equipped with the Spitfire V to form the unit.

After a brief period as No.1435 (Fighter) Flight, at RAF Luqa, due to its size it was raised to No. 1435 Squadron on 2 August 1942 at RAF Luqa, Malta.

It converted to fighter-bomber activities in January 1943 and operated over Sicily and in Italy.

It was assigned to the Balkan Air Force, carrying out operations over Albania and Yugoslavia until the end of the war.

Haunting images from the wreck, as this image is the breakwater, which helped in the identification of the minesweeper.

The command of the formation for that operation was assigned to the experienced New Zealand squadron leader Warren E. Schrader, who undertook to explain the details of the flight plan to the three other pilots who formed his team, RH Richards and SC Stephens as well as Lieutenant Commander AW Smith.

Everything was ready. The four Spitfire IX aircraft took off at 0630 hrs. and the clock for  the destruction of R-194 started ticking away.

The position of one of the two 2-mm antiaircraft guns can be clearly seen on this image.
The position of one of the two 2-mm antiaircraft guns can be clearly seen on this image.

The four aircraft were flying only a few meters above sea level and as they crossed from north to south, the canal between Corfu and Albania, Schrader spotted several miles south, a boat sailing at full speed in the opposite direction.

From that moment on, R-194’s destiny was sealed.

The four aircraft initiated their attacks, spraying the German minesweeper with dozens of hits.

Aboard the ship, it was as if hell had broken loose.

Dead and injured men were laying on the deck, her a/a guns were silenced and R-194 started drifting, losing her speed. The surviving crew abandoned ship and got into a life raft.

It was all a matter of a few minutes, during which the full scale of the attack unfolded. The four Allied aircraft examined the boat, which was now unmanned and left to sink and then flew back to their base. A second flight, a couple of hours later, confirmed the sinking, by seeing an oil slick on the surface, without any trace of R-194.

The armoured door of the command post is another identifying element.
The armoured door of the command post is another identifying element.

Seven crew members of R-194 were killed in action and this research and underwater expedition brought to light yet another unknown story from the depths of WW2.

Mr. Bjoern Bittner, the grandson of one of the German KIA crew, contacted Mr. George Karelas, in order to find more about the final resting place of his ancestor.

12. Räumbootflottille boat in Igoumenitsa, Greece, prior to the operations leading to the conquest of Corfu island, September 1943.


CLICK THE LINK TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE WRECK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le3Y_TSC-Y8


General map of the area of the sinking of R-194

George Karelas would like to acknowledge the historical research by Manolis Bardanis and Dimitris Galon