The entire Greek maritime services - both the then flourishing merchant marine as well as the sparsely equipped Royal Navy - lost most of their ships during the Second World War. The merchant marine was especially hard hit by the loss of about 1,400,000 GRT, representing 72 percent of their total capacity. In addition to the sinking by torpedoes and mines, the charter contracts, requisitions and confiscations by both the Axis and the Allies, contributed also. A particularly important factor, which accounted for most of the losses of the Greek merchant fleet during World War II, was the highly profitable series of contracts the Greek shipping companies had made primarily with the Allied governments. Greek merchant ships and their crews in the transatlantic service were, therefore, particularly prone to the danger of becoming targets for German torpedoes.
This project, as the title indicates, has as its goal to become not a mere listing of Greek ships lost in the Second World War, but to provide the interested reader also with important technical details and to explain the events in their historical context. Like most projects of this type, this presentation is in the form of a database, which will be up-dated with recent data for the duration of the project, some of which may arise from the discourses in the “Forum Marinearchiv”.
The project is open to all members of the “Forum Marinearchiv”, who wish to contribute information, photos, documents, and engage in discussions.
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The assets of the Greek Royal Navy in 1940 consisted of the three battleships, one cruiser, ten destroyers, thirteen torpedo boats, one fast-attack craft, six submarines, five minesweepers, and fifteen auxiliary boats. After the German attack on Greece in April 1941, only one battleship, six destroyers, five submarines, and three auxiliary boats remained and subsequently sought and found refuge in Egypt. The main reasons for this military catastrophe are the historical circumstances of the country, summarized in the following four points.
1. The end of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) sealed the defeat of Greece. It brought not only the end of the so-called "Megali Idea" (English "Big Idea") - the motto of Greek nationalism, whose goal was the unification of all parts of the former Greek World, but ended the presence of the Greek-speaking population in Asia Minor. The 1.25 million Greeks who were designated by the Ottomans as "Rum" had lived in Asia Minor for centuries, were driven out of the country by the Turkish army and had to seek shelter as refugees on the Greek mainland. This resettlement – under the auspices of the Entente Powers - plunged Greece into a major economic crisis that lasted until the end of the Second World War. The ensuing economic bottlenecks led, among other things, to an inadequately equipped Greek Navy, regarded by many government officials as a "luxury item" with limited usefulness.
2. The massive resettlement of the Greek population from Asia Minor and the impact on the global economic crisis that began with the crash of 1929, provided during the 1930s enormous political, social and economic instabilities in the country. Successive military interventions exacerbated the political and social situation and led Greece into a long-lasting crisis.
3. Constant attempts by political parties to win control of the ailing economy and the unstable politics with the help of the army, led to countless coups, in which the military was always involved. Perhaps, the most far-reaching coup of 1935 (led by "democratic" officers of the Royal Navy under the command of General Nikolaos Plastiras whose attempt to return the former Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos back to power) ended with the defeat of the insurgents. Consequently, half of the professional naval officers were, and some were banished. Thus, the Greek navy and army suffered a decisive weakening of the military leadership; it also caused deep splits between democratic and royalist units.
4. After the death of Prime Minister Georgios Kondylis, Ioannis Metaxas, who later became dictator, was appointed on 13 April 1936 by King George II as Greek Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Metaxas succeeded to establish an authoritarian regime based on the models of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. After the bloody suppression of a strike in Thessaloniki, Metaxas dismissed the parliament on 4 August 1936 and suspended the constitution. Thus, a dictatorship began that was to last until 1941. Although the army benefited from the Metaxas dictatorship, the navy remained understaffed due to the consequences of "democratic" coup d’état of 1935. Only two destroyers, the VASILEFS GEORGIOS and VASILISSA OLGA were on order during this time. Even well into the post-war years there was a deep division in entire Greek population between pro-democrats and royalists.
The points enumerated above led to personnel and material shortages in the Greek war machine - most of their ships were outdated and unsuitable for combat; therefore, the Greek military was unable to defend itself in April 1941 against the massive assault by the German air force.
After the remnants of the Greek Royal Navy had found refuge in Alexandria, the Greek government in exile decided to lead the fight against the Axis powers from Egypt, on side of the Allies. The British received assistance from the Greek navy in the form of material, ships, submarines, and repair service support.
In 1942, the Greeks received four destroyers, KANARIS, MIAOULIS, PINDOS and ADRIAS, the cruiser SACHTOURIS and the captured submarine MATROZOS. These ships formed the backbone of the Greek fleet well into the postwar period.
During Allied combat operations in the Aegean Sea in the autumn of 1943, the Greek Navy lost two of their illustrious ships along with their legendary commander: the submarine KATSONIS (Lt. Vasilis Laskos ) and the destroyer VASILISSA OLGA (Lt. Georgios Blessas ). The KATSONIS was sunk north of the Island of Skiathos on 14.09.1943, by UJ 2101 (Kptlt. Fritz Vollheim ). The VASILISSA OLGA, together with the British destroyer HMS INTREPID sank in the Bay of Portolago (now Lakki) at the Island of Leros on 26.09.1943, after a heavy bombardment by 25 Junker Ju 88 aircraft.
In contrast to the navy, the Greek merchant marine experienced a “Golden Age” in the 1930s. Although it had lost two thirds of its capacity during the First World War and then in the Thirties, the Great Depression caused to violent trade slumps, the Greek merchant marine succeeded during this time not only by making a profit, but significantly expanding, and enabling Greece to become one of the ten leading maritime nations. In addition, the allocation policy with the two international activity centers, Piraeus and London, provided success for the Greek shipping companies by facilitating the ship purchase and sale strategies, together with the so-called MRS (Minimum Rate Scheme).
In 1938, a year before the beginning of World War II, with 638 ships of and 1.9 million GRT, the Greek merchant fleet found itself in third place, behind England and Norway in the world rankings. Most of the ships of the merchant fleet were freighters and made up 96 percent of the capacity. The main reasons of the great international success of the Greek merchant marine in the 1930s, are summarized as follows:
1. The Greek ship owners and trading companies had financial and trading bases not only in Piraeus and London, but also in all major trading centers of Europe, from the Black Sea to the Baltic. The management of the shipping companies consisted predominantly of interconnections of family members who viewed trade as a highly private matter. These tight, clan-dominated bonds fostered a work ethic that blew away the usual European labor negotiations, and made the Greek merchant fleet unrivaled.
2. The purchase of ships during the global economic crisis, when the prices of ships had plummeted to a record low, led to a fundamental modernization and expansion of the fleet. Numerous ships were sold primarily to Germany for high profit (and circumventing the applicable prohibition in the Treaty of Versailles) after their planned usefulness. Particular high profits, however, accrued in connection with the Italian-Ethiopian war (1935-1936) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
3. Seventeen Greek maritime merchant and ship-owning companies had their headquarters in London and merged in 1938 to acquire 48 percent (almost one million GRT) the entire Greek merchant fleet. This enabled the Greek merchant marine to engage in international commerce and to realize large profits.
4. In 1935, the Greek shipping companies realized that they had, as far as cargo ships were concerned, the second largest merchant fleet in the world and they established in collaboration with the British the "minimum rate scheme", the so-called "Minimum Rate Scheme" ("MRS") for commercial transportation tariffs. After the introduction of MRS on 14.01.1935, and its immediate acceptance by Norway, Holland, France, and Italy, it was internationally recognized, and it lasted until the beginning of World War II. The MRS prevented a further reduction in the price of cargo transport by the international free merchant marine, in the economic crises of the 1930s.
Immediately after the outbreak of the Greek-Italian war on 28.10.1940, much of the Greek merchant fleet was requisitioned by the Greek Government and used by the army until the end of the Greco-Italian war in April 1941. Moreover, a large portion of these ships and their crews, chartered by the British government served as convoy ships in the Atlantic. Most of these ships and their crews never came back.
After the German invasion of Greece in April 1941 and the loss of most of the Greek Royal Navy, a group of freighters and motor sailors of the Greek merchant marine, loaded with refugees, civilians and soldiers, as well as the remnants of the Greek navy, sailed to Egypt. Many of these freighters and motor-sailors later became armed transport ships of the Allies and were lost during the war years.
The Greek merchant fleet ships that remained in Greece were confiscated by the German Wehrmacht to be as armed transporters, submarine hunters, minesweepers, minefield-clearing boats, and hospital ships.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Greek merchant fleet consisted of 607 freighters (1.8 million GRT), one of the top three places among the fleets of the world. By war's end, it had lost 486 freighter, 1.408 million GRT, which amounted to 72 percent of their total capacity; as a matter of fact, 52 percent were lost during the first two years of the war. The losses of the Greek merchant fleet were the highest of any participant in the war - even higher than the British Merchant Navy, which reported a casualty of 63 percent. A look at the overall losses of the Allies shows that 4,834 ships (19,700,000 GRT) were lost during the war and this demonstrates that the losses of the Greeks were clearly disproportionately greater.
Of the approximately 19,000 Greek sailors serving during the war, about 4,000 died on all oceans, primarily due to torpedo attacks. Approximately 2,500 men survived as disabled veterans. There were also about 200 sailors returning severely traumatized from their terrible war experiences.
After the collapse of the Greek northern front in April 1941, the subsequent surrender the Greek army and the retreat of the Greek and British troops to the South, numerous ships of the merchant marine were engaged in transporting of troops to Crete and for the general evacuation of the country. Many of them, loaded with soldiers and fleeing civilians were sunk by German Luftwaffe, which controlled the Aegean Sea airspace. During this time, all shipping in the Aegean was under attack by the Axis Powers; within one month the Greek merchant fleet lost about 18 percent of its total capacity.
Immediately after the complete occupation of Greece in late May 1941, a sizable number of ships belonging to both of the Greek Merchant Marine and the Royal Navy were seized by the Wehrmacht and integrated into the German Navy - including their predominantly Greek crews. Another edict by the Wehrmacht, after the occupation Athens on April 27, 1941 declared that all wrecks within the Greek territory were property of the German Reich. Under the supervision of the German Navy, companies were immediately established in collaboration with Greek salvage firms, such as Vernikos–Matsas, to raise and repair all wrecks that were within reachable depths and to integrate them into the German Kriegsmarine (almost always with Greek crews). Most of these ships, which were part of the Greek merchant fleet, served until the end of the war in various regions, and most were sunk with their crews onboard by the Allies. The war diaries of the German Kriegsmarine are replete with reports of Greek sailors fighting alongside German crews.
A part of the Greek Royal Navy, however, fought on the side of the Allies and the British Royal Navy, and there are countless entries in war diaries with reports of Greek sailors, fighting against the Axis powers on the side of the Allies and who had sacrificed their lives. This apparent discrepancy clearly shows that at that time there were political and social divisions in Greek society. It had its roots in the pre-war history of Greece. This split continued after the war, culminating in the Greek Civil War, which lasted from June 1946 to October 1949 when over 150,000 citizens lost their lives.
The losses of the Greek Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy can be divided into four chronological segments:
1. From the Beginning of the Second World War (01.09.1939) to the Beginning of the Greek-Italian War (28.10.1940)
In this first phase of the war, numerous ships of the Greek merchant fleet with Greek crews, sailing for the Allies, were sunk in the Atlantic, primarily by German U-boats. Some ships were seized in ports of the Axis powers. Single covert actions, such as the sinking of the Greek cruiser ELLI in the harbor of the Island of Tinos on 15.8.1940 by the Italian submarine DELFINO, as well as some accidental losses, should also be included. The total ship losses during this period amounted to about 368,621 tons.
2. From the Beginning of the Greek-Italian War (28.10.1940) to the German Invasion of Greece (04.06.1941), the Balkan Campaign.
During this period, Greek ships were lost in the Mediterranean primarily due to attacks by the "Regia Marina Italiana". Among the ships sunk were both freighters and motor-sailors, which came from the merchant fleet and deployed by the Greek Royal Navy as transports or hospital ships. At this stage of the war, it included also those ships, the Regia Marina in Italian seized in ports immediately after Emanuelle Grazzi, Italian ambassador in Athens, handed the Greek Prime Minister Metaxas Mussolini’s ultimatum, which demanded unimpeded transit through Greece by the Italian armed forces. The total ship losses during this period amounted to about 135,162 tons.
3. From the Start of the German Attack (06.04.1941) up to the complete Occupation of Greece (31.05.1941)
In this phase of the war, the Greek Royal Navy lost 25 ships and the merchant fleet 220,581 BRT due to immediate belligerent actions by the Germans. The main objective of the German Air Force was Piraeus, Greece's most important port; yet, all the other ports of the country and the entire region of Aegean Sea were under constant fire. In April 1941, the Greek Royal Navy lost most of their assets and fled to Alexandria with the old armored cruiser GEORGIOS AVEROFF, six destroyers, and five submarines under the command of Admiral Alexandros Sakellariou. The losses of Greek naval ships in connection with the Operation MERKUR on Crete, was about 39,700 tons.
From Total Occupation of Greek Territories (31.05.1941) to the End of the Second World War (15.8.1945)
During this last phase of the war, the Greek Navy lost most of its GRT. Most of the ships sunk by the Axis powers on the world’s oceans had mostly Greek crews. Numerous ships, under German or Italian command were, sunk by the Allies. Not only steamers had become scarce, but motor-sailors transiting the Mediterranean under the flag of the Kriegsmarine, were attacked by Allied submarines, warships, and aircraft. Among the losses during this period also included the impounding of Greek steamers in China and Japan, carried out by the Japanese authorities. The losses during this last phase of the war amounted to about 535 280 BRT for the Merchant Marine alone.
Because of problems of transliteration of ship’s names from Greek to English, the names of ships are also shown in Greek.
As a consequence of the modern Greek language, peculiarities arise. The Greek diphthongs such as “EI” (Epsilon Yiota) and “OI” (Omicron Yiota) are pronounced as letter “I” as in “impossible”, “AI” (Alpha Yiota) as letter “E” as in “evolution”, but “OY” (Omikron Ipsilon) as “U” as in “Pooh”.
The Greek “H” (Eta) is pronounced as “I” as in India and the Greek “Ω” (Omega) an “O” as in Obama.
A peculiarity is the Greek “Y” (Ipsilon). Together with “E” (Epsilon) e.g. „ΕΥΓΕΝΙΑ“ (EUGENIE) is pronounced as “EV” like "evacuation", but with an “A” (Alpha) as in “ΑΥΤΟΝΟΜΟΣ” (AUTONOMOS) as “AF” like “after”. In all other cases, the “Y” is an “I”.
The Greek „Z“ (Zeta) is always pronounced as a soft „S“.
The combination of „TΣ“ (Taf Sigma) is pronounced “Tse“ like in “Tsetse fly”.
The Greek ”Θ“ (Thita) is pronounced as in “thick” or “thin”.
The Greek “OY“ (OU) is the genitive suffix, but is transliterated in English as „OS“ in the nominative form e.g. “ELENI STATHATOU” becomes occasionally “ELENI STATHATOS”
KIOS edited on 29.04.2016 22:30
by Dimitris Galon
LEON II (D-50) edited on 17.03.2016 21:59
by Dimitris Galon
AIKATERINI edited on 23.03.2017 14:15
by Dimitris Galon
AGHIOS GEORGIOS edited on 21.03.2017 12:09
by Dimitris Galon
AGHIA TRIAS edited on 26.07.2016 22:48
by Dimitris Galon
FILIA P. edited on 25.07.2016 23:51
by Dimitris Galon