It is well known and obvious for anyone looking at a map, that Kefalonia had a pivotal location and role on the marine traffic in antiquity, from early Greek to late Roman and Byzantine times. However, this same location of Kefalonia at the exit of Gulf of Corinth and in proximity with Patras created the setting of many less or well-known wartime tragedies during both World Wars, not only in land but also in the seas around the island. And whilst for stories like the Massacre of the Acqui Division there are books, documentaries and films, there are many maritime war tragedies yet to be told, and sea graves to be discovered. The material could already fill books and much more valuable information from surveys and archives fills gaps and expands our knowledge, and hopefully will find its way to the public soon. But for now, the focus will be on WWII wrecks that lay in depths accessible by divers.
Two of them are closely related to the Massacre of the Acqui Division, also known as the Cephalonia Massacre. That was the mass execution of the men of the Italian 33rd Infantry Division Acqui by the Germans on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, in September 1943, following the Italian armistice with the Allies during WWII. More than 9000 Italian soldiers were killed in action, massacred or drowned when the commandeered ships taking the survivors to concentration camps were sunk. The story takes place in 1943.
Following the decision of the Italian government to negotiate a surrender to the Allies, the armistice went public on September 8, 1943 and there was a thin and fragile balance between peace and war on Kefalonia. The Acqui Division had been the Italian garrison of Kefalonia since May 1943 and consisted of 11,500 soldiers and 525 officersunder General Antonio Gadin. However German forces had a 2000 men strong presence on the island, mainly in Lixouri area under Lt Colonel Johannes Barge. In the days between 8-13 of September, Gadin had nothing but controversial orders and directions by his senior commander in Greece, General Vecchiarelli and the Italian government under General Badoglio on what to do, either surrendering to the German former allies or fighting back if attacked. To make things worse, on September 11, Colonel Barge handed Gandin an ultimatumto either fight alongside with the Germans, or hand over arms peacefully.
General Gadin was facing this dilemma until the early hours of September 13 when a German convoy including two landing crafts carrying vehicles, spare parts and fuel, attempted to enter the harbor of Lixouri. Italian artillery officers, on their own initiative, ordered the batteries on the hills around Argostoli to open fire, scoring direct hits on F494 “Tinos” and F495 “Naxos”, resulting the sinking of F495. F494 was apparently heavily damaged and almost sunk but salvaged and repaired.
In the incident five German soldiers were killed and General Gadin came under pressure to take a decision and presented his troops the options presented to him by Barge. Italian troops were in favour of resisting the German forces so on September 14, Gadin refused to surrender. As a result, in the morning of 15 September, the German Luftwaffe began bombarding the Italian positionsand the hostilities resulted in the Italian defeat. On September 22 the last Italians surrendered, and the events of the Massacre of Acqui Division followed.
So, hostilities of this chapter of WWII started with the sinking of F495 “Naxos” Landing Craft. Little was known about this until was discovered and identified by local divers in 2007. It is severely damaged and rests in shallow waters of 9-15 m. The seabed composition is sea grass and sand with wreck debris scattered over a huge area approximately 250 long and 40 m wide, with fuel barrels, jerry cans, few motorcycles, vehicle spare parts, antisubmarine nets, artillery parts, ammunition and other cargo.
Whilst most of the surrendered Italians were executed, an estimated 2-3000 according to some sources, were to embarke in ships and taken in concentration camps. Some of them made it to their destinations and others drowned when the ships were sunk in various locations in the Adriatic, by the Allies. But the tragedy of the prisoners onboard SS Ardena was to take place before the eyes of the locals.
Originally built for British Royal Navy in 1915 as HMS Peony, the vessel was a sloop minesweeper of Azalea-class. After WW I was acquired by London & South West Railway and later by Southern Railway, renamed SS Ardena and used on the routes of Southampton and Cherbourg/Caen until sold to on 1934 to Toyias Shipping Company in Piraeus, Greece.
During the days of German invasion in Greece, on April 6, 1941, was sunk by Luftwaffe in Piraeus but later raised and used by the German Navy. The final act came on September 28, 1943, when SS Ardena was sailing from the island of Kefalonia to the mainland Greece with some 840 Italian prisoners. At the exit of the bay of Argostoli probably hit an unmarked sea-mine of the minefield Italians have laid earlier and sank with great loss of life.
The vessel was in the middle of the shipping lanes and in water shallow enough for the masts to reaching the surface. Although being a war grave, in the grim years after the war, the top deck parts and superstructure were salvaged and what remains today is the bottom part of the keel, still keeping its ship line, along with scattered debris around at the seafloor, and at a depth of 29 m. The visibility on the site is often limited by currents stirring the sediment. However, divers visiting the site with the outmost respect, can see personal items such as boots, shaving razors, tin plates and flasks and sometimes even human remains. Every year on the day of the sinking, a ceremony is held by Italian and Greek officials. On 2009, Italian Navy divers laid on the site a commemorative plaque to the memory of the souls lost.
Roughly at the same time another boat was lost to enemy action just off the coast of Poros. On May 23, 1943, Captain Miltiadis Houmas, agent of the Greek branch of MI9, arrived in Poros, Kefalonia, with orders by Major Michael W.Parish to help John Capes, the sole survivor of HMS Perseus to escape, after spending 18 months in Axis occupied Kefalonia, hidden by the heroic locals. The above information as well as the following abstract is by Kostas Thoctarides book, who discovered the submarine wreck in 1997:
“At 13:30 in the afternoon, five English planes and one American, flying low, almost at sea level, made their appearance. A caique had left Zakynthos. Strafed from above, the caique caught fire. The Italians immediately came on board our caique and asked us to head for the wreck in order to collect the shipwreck survivor”.
As indicated by the recent research, this same caique wreck lies off shore Kapros Cape in Skala at a depth of 40 m. Divers approaching the wreck encounter a pile of war supplies in the shape of a vessel that its wooden parts have long rotted away, in a dive into history for WWII enthusiasts. A worth-reading extensive article with all recent findings and historical research can be found here:
As Kefalonia was occupied by Axis forces during WWII providing harbour for their ships, there is no surprise that there were many Allied air raids around the island. Many Allied airplanes have shot and crashed around Kefalonia, some laying in extremely deep waters and some awaiting to be discovered. One of them is rumored to lay in the bottom of Argostoli bay but has not been found yet.
On the north of the island, near Fiskardo, there is a known airplane crash site. A SAAF Bristol Beaufighter raiding Fiskardo harbour was shot by German anti-aircraft defences and crashed at Kimilia bay, having its navigator killed and the pilot surviving to be captured. After the war the plane was towed closer to the shore and salvaged due to its precious metals and nowadays few pieces remain scattered on the seabed and can be seen by divers, along with a commemorative plaque, at a depth of 8-10m.
Very little, if at all, is known for the wreckage of a Luftwaffe Ju 88 at the southeastern tip of Ithaca on the crest of a sloping reef that shortly reaches the contour line of 100 meters.
The aircraft met its fate as it ditched a short distance offshore reportedly hit by allied fire. It is shocking to imagine the force of the crash as the two engines can be found far apart at 22 and 28 meters of depth and the tail sits at 36m much further away. Probably parts of fuselage have rolled deep down the slope, off limits for recreational divers but pieces of the wings are found and positively identified around the top of the reef.
Beyond any doubt, the most known WWII wreck in Kefalonia and probably among the most known in the world is the British Overseas Patrol submarine HMS/M Perseus, (N36) that lies virtually intact on the sandy bottom, at 52 meters depth, about a mile off the south coast of Kefalonia. HMS Perseus was a Parthian class submarine built by Vickers-Armstrongs at Barrow in Furness in 1929.
Perseus submarine is perhaps the the top WW II wreck dive in Mediterraneanand probably the best submarine dive in the world but beyond being among the most impressive wreck dives a diver can experience, also has an amazing history as well. The vessel was on combat patrol in December 1941, and while cruising at the surface at night hit an Italian naval mine and sunk. From the crew of 59 only one, the Royal Navy leading stoker John Capes managed a daredevil escape from a depth no one has attempted before. In fact, during the whole of the war there were only four escapes from stricken British submarines. Capes swam his way to Katelios and with the aid of locals escaped capture from Italian and German occupation forces and finally transferred in Turkey. While legendary in Royal Navy, almost nobody believed his adventure until in 1997 the team of Greek diver and u/w explorer Kostas Thoctarides located the submarine and verified details of his described escape.
The divers approaching the submarine encounter a magnificent vessel 88 meters long, with a large conning tower, the ship’s gun and the rear hutch still open indicating the escape route of John Capes, while a look in the interior is possible. Among other things, the torpedo tubes and the ship’s propellers and rudder are visible, as well as the damage caused by the sea mine. The anchor of the mine still can be seen few meters from the aft of the submarine. Much is said about this magnificent wreck and its tragic story and more details on the story of John Capes can be found here:
These wrecks are just the few that lay in depths that can be accessed by divers and can fill many WWII history pages. But as monuments of wartime tragedies and war graves, should be treated with outmost respect. Just like the many more around Kefalonia, from both World Wars that lay in deep waters or still waiting to be discovered.
This article couldn’t be written without the research of
Kostas Thoctarides, Tilemanchos Beriatos and Steve Worthington
On January 5, 2016, a fire destroyed two luxury yachts at the Marmaris Marina in Turkey. The news were with no significance to all but those familiar with the world and history of the Superyachts. These knew it was a real disaster: One of the two yachts destroyed was “The One”, that is considered probably the most beautiful Superyacht of all time, and beyond argument the one with the greatest influence on the design of these vessels. But in reality it was a reproduction of the original, and history could have been different, had it not been for a severe storm many years ago in southwestern Kefalonia! But let’s start from the beginning ..
This story begins in 1961 when Austrian billionaire Helmut Horten, passionate about sea and the yachts (when other tycoons of this era such as Aristolelis Onassis prioritized luxury), after owning Carinthia I and II earlier, had delivered from the French shipyard Chantiers Navals de l’Esterel the 25m Carinthia III, a classic yacht (as if starring in a James Bond movie!) that still sails in Greek seas under another name and owner. The 42 meter Carinthia IV from the same shipyard would follow, a beautiful and fast boat that would perished due to a fire in 1981 in Greece! These two yachts enhanced Horten’s desire for a unique boat, well ahead of its time. He trusted for the overall design the person that would influence the modern superyacht design more than any man, the legendary Jon Bannenberg!
Thousands of texts have been written and not only from nautical magazines, about this charismatic designer, called by Vanity Fair in 2018 “The Godfather of Modern Yacht Design”. For decades he was considered the most important designer of superyachts, being responsible for over 200 designs (including the Carinthias and his masterpiece Limitless which also belongs to the 10 most beautiful superyachts of all time ..). Bannenberg changed the world of mega yachts forever with his designs and influence. Until its time, yacht design was essentially a refinement and improvement of older models and an attempt to fit into the designs of the yachts the luxuries demanded by the owners as well as their ideas and expectations for the appearance of the boats. Ever since Horten commissioned Bannemberg to design Carinthia V, things would never be the same again!
Until the moment Bannenberg lifted the pencil to draw the lines of Carinthia V,yacht design did not really exist as a distinct occupation. Naval architects designed what they hoped were efficient and good-looking hulls and left the shipyard to complete the interior. Bannenberg made art his starting point, and sought to design every feature of a yacht from the exterior down to the doorknobs to achieve a completely consistent result. “Jon was building palaces,” said Dick van Lent of the Feadship Yard in the Netherlands. “Others were building boats.” Bannenberg himself put it less regally: “If you cannot make love in comfort on a boat that cost millions, what the hell is the point?” he told Vogue in 1970.
Horten wanted a much bigger fast yacht this time and went to Lürssen of Bremen shipyards, which at the time built mainly warships such as the 42 meter Jaguar Class patrol boats, capable of 40 knots. These were not planing hulls but slim, semi-displacement ones with high-powered diesel engines. It was no surprise, therefore, that the yacht Lürssen proposed was long and slim and looked rather like a fast warship. With a narrow beam, a lot of length was needed to provide enough accommodation space, and the overall length came to an impressive 68 meters. Bannenberg’s contribution was to integrate the whole design so that the drama of the long, slim hull was emphasized to the maximum. The sheer line runs the full length of the hull without interruption, and bow and stern slope forward to give an impression of urgency. The front of the superstructure is drawn as a sweeping curve. All the design elements of Carinthia V are simple and strong, and distracting details are avoided. Satellite domes, for instance, are placed well aft on an arch rather than on top of the wheelhouse or on the mast. As soon as you look at Carinthia, it is obvious that one hand has been responsible for the whole vessel from overall concept down to the smallest detail. Bannenberg was not given full responsibility for the interior because the owner’s wife, Heidi, favored using blond timbers and strongly colored rugs to create the Norwegian wood look that was popular at the time.
Carinthia V was a boat really coming out of a futuristic fairy tale: The most modern, fashionable and impressive of a line of yachts, owned by a yacht-passionate billionaire, designed perhaps by the greatest superyacht designer of all time, with a concept and lines unseen by yacht world until it launched, seen a beautiful boat with an interior that would embarrass Manhattan’s most chic penthouse! In a manner, one could say that Carinthia V was the Titanic of superyachts. In fact, its fate was similar and strange, though fortunately less tragic: on her maiden cruise in the Mediterranean encountered a severe thunderstorm near the southwestern coast of Kefalonia. Modern navigation aids were not available at that time, and bad weather wasn’t making things easier to navigate the boat with the available maps safely around the infamous Kakava Shoals. Like countless other boats over the centuries, Carinthia V hit an uncharted reef and sank just off the coast of Skala Kefalonia, on November 1, 1971, fortunately without casualties.
Perhaps the most beautiful superyacht of all time, and arguably the most influential in naval design, is resting since on the Kefalonian seabed. Carithia V had come so close to perfection that when Horten called Bannenberg next morning he asked him to build exactly an identical replacement that would become Carinthia VI. The only change Bannemberg made was to increase the overall length by two meters and put in extra watertight bulkheads to prevent a recurrence of the sinking. Even to this detail the siblings Carinthia V and VI have almost a similar story to RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic, that was slightly larger and with more watertight bulkheadsthan the tragically famous Titanic.So Carinthia VI was mend to steal the glory of V, but as it had a long career, immortalized the fame of its creators. The flames ended Carinthia’s VI career under the new name The One and one would say met the fate of Carinthia IV and V in the same corner of the Mediterranean. Since then, Carinthia V wreck, the last specimen of this naval era rests in the sea of Kefalonia.
Following down the shot line, eyes try to distinguish Carinthia’s silhouette in the endless blue. Astonishingly, the 70 m vessel blends very efficiency with the seabed! However, soon the elegant, slim lines of the vessel make their appearance and the sense of awe and admiration cannot be easily described. Unfortunately the vessel is turned upside down. The elegant superstructure has been crushed under the weight of the hull but much of it can be seen on the right side, with the typical “grille” of the frond lounge visible. Same thing for the speedboat that was nested on the upper aft deck. The rudders of the boat as well as the propeller, although partially covered with nets, bare the signs of impact to the reefs of the area. The devastating impact to the reef along the hull that the blow that caused the sinking can be seen. Moving on to the bow it is amazing how “sharp” the bottom of the hull looks but also the excellent condition of the wreck considering it spent nearly 50 years at the bottom of the sea. A huge spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) is next to one of the bow thrusters close to the stem that descents at a sharp angle to the bottom ten meters deeper.
Limited bottom time at this depth brings dive to an end. Reaching the shot line we take another look at this historic shipwreck before we start ascent and switching gasses. We did carry only a small action camera as the main objective was to investigate the wreck so photos are not that good. However the entire Blue Manta Diving Team is looking forward to the next visit to explore of this magnificent shipwreck with the impressive story that rests in the blue waters of Kefalonia.
“At 13:30 in the afternoon, five English planes and one American, flying low, almost at sea level, made their appearance. A caique had left Zakynthos. Strafed from above, the caique caught fire. The Italians immediately came on board our caique and asked us to head for the wreck in order to collect the shipwreck survivors”.
This is what Captain Houmas, an agent of the Greek branch of MI9 that helped the sole survivor or HMS Perseus John Capes in his escape from Kefalonia, logged on May 23, 1943, referring to the commandeered by Germans vessel that lies at -39 m just off Cape Kapros in Skala, south-east Kefalonia.
Divers approaching the wreck encounter a pile of war supplies in the shape of a vessel that its wooden parts have long rotted away, in a dive into history for WWII enthusiasts. The main cargo of artillery shells (apart from the ammunition and medical equipment) was most probably destined for the coastal defense batteries of cape Mounda. Among the 150mm cells, the cordite propellant, bullets and fuses boxes, barrels and metal parts of the boat, numerous small crustaceans, fish and other creatures, such as hermit crabs, shrimps, morays, saddled seabreams, gobbies, tube worms and more, making the wreck a heaven for macro u/w photographers. A large white grouper usually dominates the wreck whilst red snappers often are preying in the cloud of damselfish inhabiting this artificial reef.
The average depth or the dive is 38 m, while the max is 42 m, for experienced and deep divers. The usual visibility is 20 m and temperature ranges between 19-25 C in summer months. Occasionally there might be medium currents. Boat ride duration 6’.
On a stormy night on November 1, 1971 iconic superyacht Carinthia V on its maiden cruise, ran aground at the Kavava Shoals just off Skala at the southwest coast of Kefalonia, and sunk roughly one mile further. Carinthia V was owned by Austrian billionaire Helmut Horten, designed by the famous naval architect Jon Bannenberg and built by Lurssen Bremen shipyard. The origins of the boat are to the fast patrol boats the shipyard was building at the time. It is considered to be the first concept of a true superyacht, the first ever designed to the last detail by a single designer rather than a shipyard and influenced yacht designs ever since. As short lived, the glory of the most influential and most beautiful superyacht of all times belongs to its identical sibling launched on 1973, Carinthia VI. But in reality the first and most beautiful superyacht ever rests in the sea of Kefalonia.
Divers approaching the 68 m long wreck can see the sleek lines of the vessel’s hull as it lies upside down. The elegant superstructure has been crushed under the weight of the hull but much of it can be seen on the right side, with the typical “grille” of the front lounge visible. Same thing for the speedboat that was nested on the upper aft deck. The rudders of the boat and the propellers bare the signs of impact to the reef and evidence of the devastating blow that caused the sinking can be seen along the “sharp” hull. The superyacht wreck is in an excellent condition considering it spent nearly 50 years at the bottom of the sea. Towards the stem that descents at a sharp angle to the bottom, the bow thrusters are visible.
The vessel has formed an artificial reef and big fish and aquatic creatures find shelter around it making wreck diving there a great opportunity to observe large pelagic species.
The average depth or the dive is 50 m, while the max is 64, reserving the wreck for experienced technical divers. The visibility is usually greater than 25m while temperature ranges between 18-24 C in summer months, depending on depth. Occasionally there may be currents close to the surface. Boat ride duration to the dive site 10′.