WW2 Submarine Papanikolis: Truth and fiction beneath the waves

WW2, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

The Greek submarine Y-2 “Papanikolis”, named after Dimitris Papanikolis (1790–1855), a naval hero of the Greek Revolution, famous for being the first to successfully employ a fireship to destroy an Ottoman ship, was one of the most successful Greek submarines during the Second World War.

Papanikolis’ conning tower is on display at the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

According to the Hellenic Navy, “Papanikolis” is officially credited with the confirmed sinking of the small Italian motor ship Antonietta, on 22 December 1940 and the 3,952-ton troop carrier Firenze near Sazan Island on 23 December 1940.

Firenze. Credit: http://asso-net.blogspot.gr/2012/11/identificato-ed-esplorato-il-relitto.html
Firenze. Credit: http://asso-net.blogspot.gr/2012/11/identificato-ed-esplorato-il-relitto.html

Despite the fact that these were the only officially confirmed sinkings credited to “Papanikolis” in 1940, many stories about other sinkings surfaced during the Greco-Italian War and are still… floating to this day.

A Greek stamp dated 1978 featuring Papanikolis sub

Obviously, during wartime, propaganda is a powerful tool, but in order to be historically accurate, one has to focus on the facts, rather than on fiction.

Firenze. Source: www.naviearmatori.net

Firenze. Source: www.naviearmatori.net

In order to boost public morale, “Papanikolis” was said to have sunk two Italian troop transports, the 15,000-ton “Liguria” and the 20,000-ton “Lombardia”, a feat which was widely publicised during that period and has become a part of many books related to the events ever since.

After the German invasion of April 1941, together with the rest of the fleet, “Papanikolis” fled to the Middle East, from where she would operate during the next years, carrying out nine war patrols in total.


The submarine participated in two patrols in the Aegean Sea in 1942. During the first, in June 1942, she sank six small sailing vessels between 11 and 14 June, and proceeded to disembark SOE agents in Crete and receive a team of 15 New Zealand commandos.


During the next patrol, from 31 August to 15 September, she unsuccessfully attacked an 8,000-ton oil carrier, and disembarked two mixed British-Greek commando teams at Rhodes, which succeeded in attacking the island’s two airfields and destroying a large number of Axis aircraft in “Operation Anglo”.

Coming under the command of Lieutenant Nikolaos Roussen, the submarine went into another patrol in November, offloading men and equipment at Crete.


On 17 January 1943, after carrying agents and equipment to Hydra, she captured the 200-ton sailing vessel Agios Stefanos and manned her with part of her crew, which sailed her to Alexandria, while the next day, she sank another 150-ton sailer. During subsequent patrols in March and May, she sank further 4 sailers, totaling 450 tons.

Papanikolis survived the war and returned to Greece after liberation in October 1944. However, she was severely outdated, and was decommissioned in 1945.