Warship Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Archive of the Naval Museum of Greece

Above we see the French-built Protefs-class submarine Υ/Β Τρίτων (Triton) (Υ5) of the Royal Hellenic Navy, part of the “Free Greek” forces in exile in the Second World War, while docked in Port Said in August 1941 following the German occupation of her homeland. Both the Greek Navy and merchant fleet would provide solid service fighting with the Allies during the war and, in this effort, many to the bitter end including the subject of our tale, lost 80 years ago today.

Greek subs, 1886-1940

The Greek Navy began its long love affair with submarines when it bought the Swedish-built Nordenfelt steam-powered submersible in 1886 for £9,000.

Swedish Nordenfelt I normal buoyancy at the Ekenberg shipyard. Tekniska museet submarine

The small 64-foot boat was less than ideal, requiring 12 hours to build up enough steam to sail and without the ability to fully submerge but it was nonetheless equipped with a single 14-inch tube for a Whitehead automobile torpedo (which could only make 10 knots and carried a 40-pound guncotton warhead), sparking the nearby Ottoman Turks to buy their own, larger, 100-foot Nordenfelt. Remaining in service until the 1900s, the Greeks later ordered a pair of more modern subs from France.

In 1910, with their Nordenfelt experiment in the rearview, the Greeks ordered two new subs from the Schneider Shipyards in Toulon– Delfin and Xifias. Some 162 feet overall and 450 tons displacement, they could make 12 knots on the surface and carried five 17.7-inch torpedo tubes.

Loading of torpedo on Greek submarine Xiphias 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Ordered just before the Balkan Wars, Delfin was rushed into action with a green crew and in December 1912 made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the Cramp-built Ottoman light cruiser Mecidiye, an incident commonly regarded as the first recorded launch of a self-propelled torpedo by a submarine in battle. The torpedo reportedly broached and sailed past the cruiser without doing any damage.

Fast forward to the Great War and both Delfin and Xifias were seized by the French in 1916. Returned after the war, they were in such poor shape that the Greeks simply scrapped them in 1919.

They would soon be replaced one-for-one with a new class, also ordered in France in 1925. Built to a Schneider-Laubeuf design based on the French Circé 600t class, they were named Y/B Katsonis (Y1) and Papanikolis (Y2). Some 204 feet overall– which is about perfect for a Mediterranean-sized boat (for reference, modern German Type 209s run 211 feet while Type 214s are 213 footers) — they used Schneider-Carels diesels to make 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged (which proved less in practice). Mounting a 4″/40 Schneider deck gun protected in a shielded barbette built into the leading edge of the conning tower, their torpedo armament consisted of four 21-inch bow tubes (2 internal, 2 externals) and two bow tubes (both external) with stowage for 7 torpedoes and 100 shells for their 4-inch gun. They had a dive depth of 240 feet and were capable of two-week patrols.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

The Greeks then doubled down with the more advanced four-boat Protefs class, ordered from Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire and CNF in 1927 (wait for it) France for £119,000 per hull. Built to a Loire-Simonot design, they were rough copies of the French Sirene-class 600 Series boats with minor changes. They would all carry nautical-tied names drawn from Greek mythology: Y/B Protefs (Y3), Nirefs (Y4), Triton (Y5), and Glafkos (Y6). Just shy of 1,000 tons, they were slightly larger than the Katsonis class and ran 225 feet long overall.

Powered by twin Sulzer diesels and electric motors, they could make a stately 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged. With a dive depth of 275 feet, they were armed with eight 21-inch tubes (6 bows, 2 sterns, with space for 8-10 torpedoes) all inside the pressure hull, along with a topside 4″/40 Schneider shielded tower gun and a 40/39 2-pounder mount oriented over the stern.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

Triton and Glafkos were delivered and commissioned in France in 1930, the last two Greek submarines that would be completed as new construction until 1972– something we will get to in a minute.

War!

The Greek Navy entered the war with two old (circa 1908) Mississippi-class pre-dreadnought battleships (14,000t, 4×12″ guns, 17 knots), Kilkis (ex-Mississippi) and Lemnos (ex-Idaho) that had been largely disarmed and turned to training/barracks hulks, four minelayers, two old cruisers, 10 assorted destroyers, a few torpedo boats, and 6 submarines.

In a precursor to the Italian invasion, the elderly protected cruiser Helli/Elli was sunk at anchor off the island of Tinos by the Italian submarine Delfino in August 1940. The hulked Kilkis and Lemnos were sunk at their moorings in Salamis by German Stukas in April 1941, sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Other ships were crippled in Greek waters by Luftwaffe aircraft.

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos Sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

One bright spot was the Greek submarine forces’ efforts to attack Axis merchant shipping, especially Italian during the six-month Greco-Italian War before the Germans got involved.

Protefs bagged the Italian troop transport Sardegna (11,452t) in December 1940 off Brindisi, which was carrying part of the 7th “Lupi di Toscana” (“Wolves of Tuscany”) Infantry division to Albania. Sadly, Proteus was sunk immediately after this attack, rammed, and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Antares. All 48 crew members were lost.

This did not deter Greek dolphins and Papanikolis deep-sixed the freighter Firenze (3945t) and Italian sailing vessel Antonietta before the month was out while Katsonis sank the coaster Quinto (531t) in the Adriatic on New Year’s Eve.

Triton hit the seas hard on six Adriatic/Ionian war patrols from Greek ports, credited by Greek sources as sinking the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli on 19 January 1941 (post-war Allied panels credit the British destroyer HMS Greyhound with her fate, however, as noted by Uboat.net, “the results of the attack were inconclusive and there is no absolute certainty of her fate.”)

Triton underway

Triton would also log two unsuccessful torpedo attacks on Italian freighters off the Albanian coast on 20 March 1941 before sinking the transports Carnia (51541t) and Anna Capano (1216t) on 23 March in the Adriatic Sea about 30 nautical miles east of Cape Galo.

The photo shows the commander of the submarine “Triton” LCDR D. Zepos, HN, together with the Commander of Submarines Captain Ath. Xiros at the Salamina Naval Station. Submarine NCOs stand behind. Naval History Service. Zepos would command the boat through March 1941, a period in which she is sometimes credited with sinking an Italian submarine and two tankers.

Nonetheless, Mussolini’s legions were successfully able to send 400,000 men, another 50,000 beasts, and 500,000 tons of supplies to the Greek front– a full 22 divisions– by April 1941, primarily by sea. They only lost 23,000 tons of shipping to the Greek navy’s submarines, amounting to seven merchant vessels and a submarine. It was a losing game that was finished once the Germans entered the contest.

As the country was being overrun, the Greeks under ADM Epaminondas Kavadias were able to sortie their surviving cruiser and default flagship Georgios Averof, six destroyers, and the five remaining submarines to Alexandria and Malta from where they would continue the struggle.

The fight goes on

While the obsolete Averof spent most of the rest of the war safely in harbor, the Greek subs and tin cans were assigned RN pennant numbers by the British and went on to operate in the Mediterranean under Admiralty control. Triton’s first mission was to carry urgently needed medical supplies to trapped British, Australian, and Greek troops on Crete, then, after a refit in Alexandria, Triton went out again in September 1941. The refit was key as the Greek submarines had reportedly all missed their 10-year mid-life overhauls due to peacetime budgetary constraints in the late 1930s and were mechanically suspect because of this.

September 1941. Triton Submarine in Alexandria

In her first six war patrols from Greece (Oct 1940-April 1941) Triton racked up 1,147 hours underway with about half that submerged, and (by Greek sources) had sunk an Italian submarine (Neghelli) and two merchies (Carnia and Capano). In her 7th-15th war patrols, all under British orders between June 1941 and November 1942, she logged another 2,626 hours (with about two-thirds of that submerged) and was credited with just four small coastal vessels off Thera and failed attacks on two large Italian merchies. This was largely because she was tasked with landing agents and commandos behind Axis lines on most of those patrols or running supplies through the German gauntlet around Malta with offensive anti-shipping activities secondary to those missions.

Heraklion

Triton carried a multinational early SAS raiding party as part of Operation Albumen to German-occupied Crete in June 1941, with the goal of the commandos hitting the Luftwaffe field at Heraklion.

The six-man group was led by French-speaking British Army reserve Major George Jellicoe (yes, ADM Jellicoe’s son), a parliamentarian on loan from the Coldstream Guards to L Detachment, Special Air Service at the invitation of David Stirling himself; four Free French commandos –Maj. Georges Bergé, Jacques Mouhot, Pierre Léostic, and CPL Jack Sibard— and Free Greek Army 2LT Kostis Petrakis, the latter a Cretan officer who would serve as a guide.

The Heraklion attack was timed to coincide with similar efforts at three other Crete airfields at Kasteli, Tympaki, and Maleme, to reduce German bombers available on the eve of an important convoy operation through that part of the Med. Of note, the Maleme team was delivered to Crete by the Greek sub, Papanikolis.

They were heavily loaded with satchels of dozens of Lewes bombs, a specialty incendiary device named for British SAS legend Jock Lewes, but lightly armed with just a Colt .45 each and a single sub gun for the whole patrol. The plan was that they would evade capture for a week or more among the locals and then be recovered by small boat.

Jellicoe, who in 1990 recorded an oral history of his WWII service for the Imperial War Museum described the Triton part of the operation as follows:

We sailed on a Greek submarine– the Triton— bought from the French in the ’20s. She was then getting a bit long in the tooth and was quite small. She was about 15 years old. I don’t think I’d recommend anybody wanting comfortable Aegean travel taking passage in a small Greek French-built submarine…Any case, we took passage in the Triton, which was very well commanded by an absolutely first-rate Greek naval officer [LT Epameinóndas Kontogiánnis], to Crete.

I remember my first sight of Greece was through the periscope of the Greek submarine on the northeast coast of Crete. We came in a bit closer to Heraklion– there was a westerly wind blowing…The submarine surfaced, we had our two or three rubber boats which we paddle in in. We thought we were going to be about a mile offshore, but it was actually about two miles, so we had a very long paddle in, indeed. We then landed– there was nobody on the beach, the beach was clear. Mouhot and I, we undressed and swam out with the rubber boats, loaded with shingle and rock, then we sank them.

After rough going inland and the “dis-imbalance” of an overload of equipment, they evaded a German patrol but nonetheless were able to reach the airfield and, in penetrating the wire outside of the field, were busted by another German patrol. Mouhot hit on the idea of rolling over and loudly snoring to give the impression they were drunken Cretan peasants, which the Jerries bought and moved on, allowing them to proceed with their havoc. Using an RAF air raid by a brace of Blenheim bombers as cover, Jellicoe and company placed their charges on a motor pool filled with 20 trucks as well as a staging area with 23 German Ju-88 bombers and then, as he says, “had the pleasure of marching out in what we thought was good German formation out of the main gate” back to their lay-up hide to wait for the devices to explode.

While not of the Crete operation, this artwork gives a good flavor of a similar operation in Egypt, depicting Robert Blair “Colonel Paddy” Mayne, SAS, shown placing a Lewes bomb on an aircraft in one of the desert airfields raids. The Lewes bomb was a blast-incendiary field expedient explosive device, manufactured by mixing diesel oil and Nobel 808 plastic explosive. Created by LT Jock Lewes, one of the original members of L Detachment SAS in 1941. Via Stirling’s Desert Triumph – The SAS Egyptian Airfield Raids 1942 by Osprey Publishing.

As for Jellico’s team, the Germans executed 62 local Cretans as a reprisal– despite the fact the British had taken pains to leave behind tell-tale objects such as helmets and food wrappers to take credit for the attacks. Betrayed by a local villager, the Germans ambushed the commando patrol, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Free French commando Pierre Léostic being killed, and the other three Frenchmen being arrested after trying to shoot their way out of a German sweep. Interrogated by Luftwaffe officers for a week at Heraklion, they would be sent to German POW camps as they were in uniform, with Bergé ending up at Colditz with David Stirling of all people. Meanwhile, Jellicoe and the Greek officer, Petrakis, escaped back to Egypt with the three other (intact) SAS commando patrols after being exfiltrated 10 days after the raid via a caique run by John Campbell and “Paddy” Leigh Fermor’s operation.

Endgame

Returning to the tale of Triton, sailing on her 15th war patrol, her 9th under British control, the boat was tasked with landing five Greek agents and 750 pounds of war material on the southeastern coast of Evia then, once free of her passengers and cargo, proceed to look for targets of opportunity. Spotted while stalking a German convoy at Kafireas on the evening of 16 November 1942 and attempting an attack on the 5,700-ton Romanian freighter Alba Julia, our submarine became locked in a six-hour/49 depth charge nighttime running battle with the German destroyer ZG3/Hermes (former Greek British G-class destroyer, Y/B Vassilefs Georgios) and the auxiliary subchaser (U-Jäger) UJ-2102 (converted ex-yacht Brigitta, owned by Evgenios Evgenidis) that ended with Triton dead in the water and slugging it out on the surface, Kontogiannis reportedly ordering his crew to abandon ship while he fired at the Germans from the fairwater with a revolver.

At least 20 of her crew and two Allied officers (LT. Andrew Carter, from the South African Naval Forces, and an RN LT Cole, likely as commo/liaison officers) were killed in the action, their bodies carried to the bottom after UJ-2102 rammed her.

Among the fallen:

Vice-Captain A. DANIOLOS
Vice-Captain K. ANNINOS
Ensign Eng. I. STARAKIS Kelefstis
Tor. P. BINDERIS Kelefstis
Mech. N. PAVLAKIS
Petty Officer Second Arm. A. KOUSOULAS
Petty Officer Second Fire. T. BAGIOS Under-
Secretary Second Elector S. SCHOINAS
Under-Secretary Second Elector P. PAPATHANASIOU
Under-Secretary Second Elector D. KAKANDRIS
Diopos Arm. H. BAKIRTZIS
Diopos Tor. N. MERETZIS
Diopos Tor. C. CHARITOS
Diopos Note. I. KYVELOS
Diopos Tel. B. PALOURIS
Diopos Mech. E. PATRIARCHEAS
Diopos Mech. A. TSITSAKOS
Sailor Electrician M. GEDEON
Sailor Electrician I. GEDEON
Sailor TH. MASTROGIANNIS

Two men, Nikolaos Maroulas (Chief electrician) and Dimitros Papadimitriou (electrician mate), escaped by swimming three miles to nearby Evia where they found refuge in the village of Thymiani, then to Allied lines in the Middle East.

The Germans captured at least 17 Greek submariners (some sources say 27, some 28), including Kontogiannis and LT Christos Soliotis, and sent them to the Marlag-Milag Nord, a site near Bremen that housed mainly British Merchant Navy and Royal Navy personnel.

Kontogiannis

They were liberated in late April 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.

She is remembered by a seaside monument at Karystos.

Epilogue

Of Triton’s two Protefs -class sisters that escaped Greece, Nereus would finish the war with the Italian freighter Fiume (662 GRT) to her credit and was decommissioned on 3 May 1947.

Glavkos, credited with sinking two small vessels in 1941 and damaging the German merchant Norburg (2392 GRT) off Crete, was bombed, and sunk by German Ju-88s of II./KG77 in Malta on 4 April 1942.

Glavkos

As for the older Katsonis and Papanikolis, they would account for at least 15 small vessels including the shifty Spanish/German merchant San Isidro/Labrador (322 GRT) while under British control. Like Triton, they would also land assorted agents and commandos as needed. It was on one such mission that Katsonis was sighted by German submarine chaser UJ 2101 on 14 September 1943 and sent to the bottom, taking down 32 men with her while UJ 2101 rescued 14 survivors, including the British W/T operator. Papanikolis outlived her sister and was decommissioned post-VE Day.

Greek submarine Y1 Katsonis

All told, of the six Greek subs that started WWII in 1940, four would be lost in combat and of her small corps of ~300 prewar professional submariners, fully half would perish.

For those curious, George Patrick John Rushworth Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, Baron Jellicoe of Southampton, KBE, DSO, MC, PC, FRS, FRGS, FRSGS, ended the war as commander of the Special Boat Regiment and eventually hung up his uniform as a brigadier. He passed in 2007, aged 88, having served 68 years in Parliament and having an assault boat (“Jellicoe Inflatable Intruder Mark One”) named in his honor.

An informative book on the junior Jellicoe is Windmill’s “A British Achilles” with a foreword by Paddy Fermor no less, the officer who took him off the beach in Crete after the Heraklion operation.

In the Historical Museum of Crete, in the WWII section, there is a special tribute to the Heraklion airfield raid and the “62 martyrs” that followed the op. The portraits of those executed are displayed.

The Greek submarine force 1942-present

The British made up Greek losses after 1942 and by the end of the conflict, the Greek exile Navy consisted of no less than 26 warships and auxiliaries.

This would include seven submarines starting with the captured Italian submarine Perla, which was turned over to the Greeks in 1943 and renamed Y/B Matrozos (Υ-7). The new V-class boat HMS Veldt was transferred to the Greek Navy upon completion on 1 November 1943 and renamed Pipinos (P-71). Sistership HMS Vengeful would become Y/B Delfin in April 1945, while HMS Untiring would become Y/B Xifias and HMS Upstart would switch colors as Y/B Amfitriti in July 1945. Two further V-class boats, HMS Virulent and HMS Volatile, would become Y/B Argonaftis and Y/B Triaina in 1946.

Greek submarine RHS Pipinos at a quay WWII IWM FL17464

The six British boats would make up the post-war Greek submarine program, as shown by this 1946 Jane’s entry.

The current Greek submarine service badge emulates one of these late-war British boats.

Hellenic (Greek) Navy’s current submarine badge

Post-war, the Americans stepped in as the British boats were retroceded and transferred several Gato, Tench and Balao-class GUPPY’d diesel subs, including USS Hardhead (transferred to Greece as Papanikolis 26 July 1972; sold for scrap 1993), USS Jack (transferred to Greece as Amfitriti 21 April 1958; sunk as target 5 September 1967), USS Lapon (transferred to Greece as Poseidon 10 August 1957; retired April 1976), USS Scabbardfish (transferred to Greece as Triaina 26 February 1965; stricken 1980). and USS Remora (transferred to Greece as Katsonis on 29 October 1973; stricken 1993).

Protefs (S-78) (Greek Navy), ex USS Lapon (SS-260) in 1961

Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Katsonis (S-115) in the Corinth Canal. She is the former Tench-class Guppy III updated USS Remora (SS-487)

In the late 1960s, Greece decided it had enough of the GUPPY life and ordered a series of new Type 209/1100 diesel boats from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in West Germany. One of these advanced SSKs was named Y/B Triton (S112) and commissioned in 1972.

The current Triton is part of a four-boat class that includes Y/B Glaukos (S110), Nireus (S111), and Protefs (S113), all very familiar names indeed. In addition, the Greeks have purchased the three-boat Poseidon class (Type 209/1200), the one-off Y/B Okeanos (Type 209/1500AIP), and the four Papanikolis class (Type 214) from Germany as well, showing just how important Athens considers a strong submarine force.

And they know how to use them. 

Transport ex-Evros (A-415), sunk by SST-4 torpedo from the Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Pipinos (S-121) off Karpathos island.

Triton’s WWII colors endure. They had been saved by Oberleutnant zu See (der Reserve) Gero Kleiner, the skipper of the subchaser that sank her. He had been presented with the wrecked banner by a German sailor snatched who them down before the submarine went to the bottom in 1942. Holding on to his trophy for 30 years, he handed it over to Greek naval representatives in a short service in 1972 at the Naval School of Murwik in Kiel when her Type 209 replacement was launched.

They are preserved in a Greek museum at Salamis.

Kleiner, aged 67 at the time, had to make do with just the DKiG he was decorated with for sinking Triton, handing over her flag in 1972 to Greek ADM Ioannis Maniatis with a simple “this belongs to you.” Notably, the Greeks were the first to order the Type 209, picking up four of the original 209/1100s followed by another four 209/1200s.


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