Δευτέρα, 28 Μαρτίου 2016

The Hellenic Navy vessel that fought on D-Day and became a WW2 floating museum

After the Second World War, many ships that were not sold for scrap metal, were transferred to allied countries.

One of those vessels, the LST-325 (Landing Ship Tank), which was built in 1943, was given to Greece in 1964 and remained until decommissioning in 1993 in the ranks of the Hellenic Navy. 

Vessels of the Greek Navy at Salamis, August 31, 1979
From left to right:
Ex- USS LSM-399 - Lieutenant Roussen (L-164)
Ex- USS LSM-45 - Lieutenant Grigoropoulos (L-161)
Ex- USS LSM-102 - Lieutenant Tournas(L-162)
Ex- USS Potter County (LST-1086) - Ikaria (L-154)
Ex- USS Page County (LST-1076) - Crete (L-171)
Ex- USS Boone County (LST-389) - Lesvos (L-172)
Ex- USS Bowman County (LST-391) - Rhodes(L-157)
Ex- USS LST-325 - Syros (L-144)

The ship was purchased in 2000 by The USS Ship Memorial, Inc.

This specific type of vessels is extremely rare, as only two of her type are surviving in the US, although some are still in service with various... contemporary navies of the world.

LST-325 was again reactivated in 1963 and transferred to Greece in May 1964. Named Syros (L-144) she served in the Greek Navy until December 1999 when she was decommissioned for the third time. 

In 2000 she was acquired by The USS Ship Memorial, Inc., and sailed back across the Atlantic for the final time, arriving in Mobile, Alabama on 10 January 2001. 

One of only two World War II LSTs to be preserved in the United States, LST-325 is currently docked in Evansville, In. She has become a museum and memorial ship to the men who bravely served their country aboard LSTs.

LST-325 was launched on 27 October 1942, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

The ship operated in the North Africa area and participated in the invasions at Gela, Sicily and Salerno, Italy. On 6 June 1944, LST-325 was part of the largest armada in history by participating in the Normandy Landings at Omaha Beach. 

She carried 59 vehicles, 31 officers and a total of 408 enlisted men on that first trip. On her first trip back to England from France, LST-325 hauled 38 casualties back to a friendly port. 

Over the next nine months, Navy records show LST-325 made more than 40 trips back and forth across the English Channel, carrying thousands of men and pieces of equipment needed by troops to successfully complete the liberation of Europe. 

The ship continued to run supply trips between England and France before returning to the United States in March 1945. LST-325 was decommissioned on 2 July 1946, at Green Cove Springs, Florida, and laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.

The ship was placed in service with the Military Sea Transportation Service in 1951 as USNS T-LST-325, and took part in "Operation SUNAC" (Support of North Atlantic Construction), venturing into the Labrador Sea, Davis Strait, and Baffin Bay to assist in the building of radar outposts along the eastern shore of Canada and western Greenland.

Struck from the Naval Vessel Register, on 1 September 1961, T-LST-325 was transferred to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

LST-325 was sent to Greece on 1 September 1964, as part of the grant-in-aid program. She served in the Hellenic Navy as RHS Syros (L-144) from 1964 to 1999.

Sources: 1 2 3

Πέμπτη, 24 Μαρτίου 2016

Greece 1941

A column of Greek soldiers, following the capitulation of the Greek Army in northern Greece, April 1941

Greek soldiers were not rounded up as prisoners of war and were allowed instead to go home after the demobilisation of their units, while their officers were permitted to retain their side arms.
The seizure of Thessaloniki by the 2nd Panzer Division and the advance of the XVIII Mountain Corps across the Metaxas Line led to the collapse of Greek resistance. 

On 9 April the Greek Second Army capitulated unconditionally. 

The number of prisoners of war was not established because the Germans released all Greek soldiers after disarming them.

Τετάρτη, 23 Μαρτίου 2016

Χ127 wreck, the "black beatle" bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1942

Photos and text: Leonidas Stavrou, Scuba Instructor, Technical Diver & Underwater Photographer

In February 1915, Walter Pollock of James Pollock and Sons was sent for by Lord Fisher on behalf of the Admiralty. 

Walter Pollock was asked to design and oversee the construction of 200 motor landing craft (support vessels) built for the 1915 Dardanelles landings in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I these were designated ‘X Lighters’.

Still employed as a water carrier, she was then converted to carry fuel oil, carrying shale oil for the Tenth Submarine Flotilla, HMS Talbot, Manoel Island, Marsamxett harbour, Malta.

Nicknamed ‘black beatles’, these vessels were designed to enable landing at steep shelving beaches. Each one weighed 135 tons, was 35m in length with a beam of 6.5m and had accommodation for 12 men.

At Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula, two reservoirs were constructed by the Royal engineers, at the top of a high cliff. 

The man-made harbour at Cape Helles is mainly where X127 would have operated from. The water was brought by tanker from Egypt and ferried by X127.

At an average cost of £8,747.0s.0d and conversion cost of £2,888.0s.0d (total £11,632) (excluding the pumping set supplied by the Admiralty) the water lighter X127 (L9) after serving and taking part in the withdraw of troops was taken to Constantinople early 1916, to be kept in reserve until closing of base (report 30.8.22).

To be towed to Malta as evacuation progresses (report 30.7.23). Towed to Malta Sept 1923, propose to sell, then to be retained by Victualling Yard (report 31.10.24). 

Last report of the Navy list 1939, X127 Water Lighter Malta.

At the time of her sinking 6.3.42, X127 was being used as a fuel lighter, carrying Shale Oil for the Tenth Submarine Flotilla, Marsamxette Harbour, Malta called HMS Talbot on Manoel Island, it is not known if modifications were required to pump fuel oil. 

The war diary report dated 6.3.42 (Friday) - “a continuous alert from dusk to dawn was kept up last night by 18 raiders, and slight damage caused at Luqa and Ta-Kali. 

Today attacks were renewed on the submarine base and aerodromes Talbot (S/M Dept) and the submarine trot were twice attacked, and in the second attack P.39 and P.36 were damaged by near misses, and a Fuel Lighter was sunk.”

10.5.42 Captain S10 to Captain S1 HMS MEDWAY, subject: review of conditions in Malta:

The following day (6th March) dive bombers approaching from the south eastward, near missed the UNA and P36 which necessitated patching P36 in two places and changing the bi-focal periscope due to splinter perforation. 

Half an hour later a second wave of bombers hit the fuelling lighter, forty feet from P39 and the lighter caught fire and sunk. The whole establishment was dowsed in shale oil, P39 received extensive damage.”

On 6 March Manoel Island took a further battering from the Luftwaffe. Once again, all electricity and telephone lines were cut. 

The boats themselves were being attacked. The log of our spare crew telegraphist, still with P39, describes one raid on that day:

“6 March. Three bombs dropped alongside, one sinking the oil lighter that was tied up alongside. I was sitting in the wardroom of P39. 

One ‘bang’ sounded as if the S/M had been hit for’ard. It must have been the bomb hitting the lighter. There was a shower of broken glass as all the wardroom and control room fittings were torn from the bulkhead by blast. 

A list to starboard had developed and water was pouring down the conning tower hatch. Thinking that the boat was sinking, we climbed to the bridge. 

Arriving on the bridge, we could see nothing. It was like a thick, thick fog in London. The oiler was on fire and gradually sinking. 

The S/M was gradually reverting to an even keel. Except for loose fittings and a strong smell of battery gases, nothing seemed to matter.”

P39 had been very seriously damaged and had to be towed into dock: 172 of her vital battery cells were cracked; warheads were wrenched from her torpedoes; machinery bedplates were fractured. 

The fueling lighter sank shortly afterwards, covering the entire harbour in shale oil.

From its arrival in Malta, until the sinking X127 (L9) was operated by the victualing dept., Malta. The “X” and “L” numbers were retained throughout its life and was never given a “C” (dockyard) number.

Owned and operated at all times by the Royal Navy (not merchant), the lighter's only name was given to it by “Shrimp” Simpson in 1941 “Talbot”, this was totally unofficial and only local to Malta.

After sinking and when conditions permitted, archive material suggest X127 (L9) was to be lifted and repaired and continue its dockyard duties, but in Nov ’46, X127 (L9) was classed as a war loss and struck off the Royal Navy register.

Lloyds wreck register have no archive material on X127 (L9) or any other war losses of X Lighters in Malta except X131 (Water Lighter) sunk no 3 dock, 21.4.42. Archive material states that X131 (L10) had a re-fit in ’47 and sold to the Greek Government in 1951.

The Wreck of X127

Manoel Island, Marsamxett Harbour, Malta.

Water Lighter X127 (L9)

Designed by Walter Pollock, 3 Lloyds Avenue, London EC3 in February 1915.

Built by Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Co, Goole, Yorkshire.

Shipyard, River Humber.

X127 Yard No 189.

Δευτέρα, 21 Μαρτίου 2016

Η ιστορία μιας σπάνιας φωτογραφίας: Τα γαλλικά Renault AGR του Ελληνικού Στρατού το 1940

Γαλλικά φορτηγά Renault AGR των 3-4,5 τόνων εκφορτώνονται σε κάποιο λιμάνι από φορτηγό πλοίο που έχει ζωγραφισμένη την ελληνική σημαία (Επιχρωματισμός φωτογραφίας: Μάρκος Δανέζης)

Επιχρωματισμός φωτογραφίας: Μάρκος Δανέζης

Κάθε φωτογραφία κρύβει πολλές πληροφορίες, οι οποίες αναμένουν την... αποκωδικοποίησή τους.

Μια από αυτές, η οποία προέρχεται από το φωτογραφικό αρχείο ειδησεογραφικού πρακτορείου ειδήσεων, απεικονίζει την εκφόρτωση γαλλικών φορτηγών Renault AGR σε κάποιο λιμάνι, από ένα πλοίο που έχει την ελληνική σημαία ζωγραφισμένη στο πλάι. 

Ο λόγος; 

Η Ελλάδα, ούσα ακόμα ουδέτερη χώρα την 11η Ιουλίου 1940, (αν θεωρήσουμε σωστή την ημερομηνία στην οπίσθια όψη της φωτογραφίας, η οποία σημειωτέον είναι γραμμένη με τον "αμερικάνικο" τρόπο, δηλαδή πρώτα ο μήνας "7", μετά η ημέρα "11" και τέλος το έτος "1940") με τον εμπορικό της στόλο της εποχής συμμετείχε στον Πόλεμο, μεταφέροντας προμήθειες και πολεμικό υλικό, κυρίως για λογαριασμό της Βρετανίας.

Προκειμένου να φαίνεται η εθνικότητα του πλοίου, έτσι ώστε να μη χτυπηθεί από κάποιο υποβρύχιο, η σημαία έπρεπε να είσαι όσο το δυνατόν περισσότερο εμφανής.

Σήμερα, δυστυχώς, δεν επιζεί κανένα από αυτά τα ιστορικά οχήματα του ΕΣ στη χώρα μας. 

Ο Τάσος Τσιπλάκοςιστορικός ερευνητής και συγγραφέας, αναλύει και αποκρυπτογραφεί τη φωτογραφία και θέτει μερικά ερωτήματα:

Κείμενο: Τάσος Τσιπλάκος, ιστορικός ερευνητής και συγγραφέας

Για να ερμηνευτεί με ακρίβεια μια ιστορική φωτογραφία, εκτός από γνώσεις και παρατηρητικότητα χρειάζεται εμπειρία και κυρίως φαντασία…

Η φωτογραφία εικονίζει ένα ελληνικό εμπορικό πλοίο να ξεφορτώνει τα γαλλικά φορτηγά Renault AGR των 3-4,5 τόνων. 

Πράγματι ο ΕΣ είχε παραγγείλει και παρέλαβε 50 φορτηγά αυτού του τύπου το 1939 λίγο πριν τον πόλεμο. 

Η αξία των Renault ήταν 10.000.000 γαλλικά φράγκα από τις γαλλικές πιστώσεις. Μέχρι την 28η Οκτωβρίου 1940 αυτό το ποσό δεν είχε αποπληρωθεί.

Όπως φαίνεται και στη λεζάντα στο πίσω μέρος της φωτογραφίας δεν αφήνει καμία αμφιβολία για την ερμηνεία της φωτογραφίας και για το πού λαμβάνει χώρα (Πειραιάς) η εκφόρτωση των φορτηγών. 

Και όμως, υπάρχουν 2 στοιχεία που ανατρέπουν όλο το παραπάνω συλλογισμό:

1. Ο προσεκτικός παρατηρητής θα δει ότι η πινακίδα είναι του γαλλικού στρατού, επομένως εκ πρώτης όψεως φαίνεται λίγο δύσκολο να είναι ελληνικά τα εικονιζόμενα φορτηγά.

2. Το πιο καταλυτικό, όμως, στοιχείο είναι ότι η λεζάντα της φωτογραφίας αναφέρει ότι πρόκειται για τις πολεμικές προετοιμασίες της Ελλάδας για τον επικείμενο πόλεμο και δίνει ως ημερομηνία την 11η Ιουλίου του 1940. 

Όμως, γνωρίζουμε (βλ. επίμετρο «Αυτοκίνηση εν Πολέμω» στο «Ελληνική Αυτοκίνηση 1900-1940» Ηλίας Καφάογλου εκδόσεις Ύψιλον) ότι τα 50 Renault είχαν παραληφθεί από το 1939. 


Τι μπορεί να έχει συμβεί και παρατηρείται αυτή η ανακολουθία; Εάν δεν είχα εργασθεί ως δημοσιογράφος και δε γνώριζα πώς λειτουργούν οι εφημερίδες, δε θα μπορούσα να καταλήξω στο παρακάτω πολύ πιθανό σενάριο.

Οι περισσότεροι δημοσιογράφοι δεν γνωρίζουν σχεδόν τίποτα από στρατιωτικά θέματα και στρατιωτικό υλικό, επομένως εμπιστεύονται το φωτογραφικό αρχείο της εφημερίδας το οποίο οργανώνει επίσης ένας ή περισσότεροι δημοσιογράφοι που δεν γνωρίζουν σχεδόν τίποτα από στρατιωτικά θέματα και στρατιωτικό υλικό!

Πιθανά Σενάρια:

1. Είτε η φωτογραφία έχει τραβηχτεί κατά το 1939 κατά τη διάρκεια της παράδοσης των φορτηγών και εκ παραδρομής χρονολογήθηκε με μεταγενέστερη ημερομηνία

Πώς εξηγείται όμως η γαλλική πινακίδα στα οχήματα;

2. Είτε η φωτογραφία έχει όντως τη σωστή ημερομηνία κι έχει τραβηχτεί οπουδήποτε (με σατανική σύμπτωση να εκφορτώνονται από ελληνικό φορτηγό πλοίο), αλλά για τις ανάγκες της πλαισίωσης ενός άρθρου για τις επιχειρήσεις στην Ελλάδα, επιλέχθηκε από το φωτογραφικό αρχείο χωρίς να δοθεί προσοχή στην ημερομηνία.

Προσωπικά είμαι υπέρ της πρώτης εκδοχής. Πώς εξηγείται, όμως, η γαλλική πινακίδα; 

Μια πιθανή εξήγηση θα μπορούσε να είναι ότι επειδή η ελληνική παραγγελία έγινε το 1939 και τότε η γαλλική πολεμική βιομηχανία είχε ως προτεραιότητα να καλύψει τις ανάγκες των γαλλικών Ενόπλων Δυνάμεων, τα 50 Renault AGR που πωλήθηκαν στην Ελλάδα, παραδόθηκαν από τα ήδη υπάρχοντα αποθέματα του γαλλικού στρατού, όπως ακριβώς ήταν με τις πινακίδες τους.

Εάν υπάρχει άλλη πιθανή εξήγηση ή/και στοιχεία για την ακριβέστερη ερμηνεία, θα χαρώ να τα μάθω.

Σάββατο, 19 Μαρτίου 2016

Battlefield Archaeology: Inside the "forgotten bunkers" of Usita fortress in Greece

Text and photos: Lt. Colonel (ret.) Ilias Kotridis

Fortress "Usita" is located on the west side of Rupel Bunkers Complex, near the Strymonas (Struma) River and is one of its six defensive positions.

Usita consisted of eleven machine gun emplacements, two searchlight positions, a mortar emplacement, two observatories, an optical wireless location, an antiaircraft position and an anti-tank bunker.

"The nazi Germans attack Greece! Our troops are defending the borders. We will fight and live free!" says the newspaper on April 6, 1941, the day Hitler's troops started their assault against Greece.
Commanded by Captain Kopitsas and with fortress "224" on the opposite side and the "Pumping Station" defensive position they blocked the road crossing from Bulgaria to Serres town in Macedonia, Greece.

Coordinated fire from Usita fortress, Company "D" of Paliouriones fortress and from the "Pumping Station" not only decimated the Germans, but it also did not allow the nazis to even set foot on them, up until the armistice was signed.

The German infantry was dealt blows to such an extent that a German officer who took part in the fierce fighting described the situation in his memories as follows:

"... Up here, just below the top, in the center of Rupel, we are left speechless. It is impossible to move forward. Anyone who dares to lift his head is razed by machine gun fire..." (Wolfgang Kapp, excerpt from Ilias Kotridis' book).

Continuous efforts to break the defensive positions are fruitless and have no effect, other than to fill the place with dead and wounded nazis.

"Our team is now completely cut off."

The tank now pulls all fire on him. The lieutenant commands:

"There is no other way, we must move on, we can not stay here."

An anti-tank shell hits very close to our positions and covers us with rocks and dirt.

After a while an antitank round hits the tank. The commander of the company is wounded. He gets injured by a fragment on his thigh and yet he continues to exercise command. We can not stay here because before long there will be nobody left alive.

The lieutenant tries to get cover. An automatic weapon burst riddles him with bullets. Heavily wounded he later dies. The commander of the company runs on the road and receives a shot in the head, leaving him dead on the spot.

From the Germans' first pioneer platoon only three were not injured, and from the nazi antitank crew just four remain alive..."

Ventilation hole
The tanks launched in support of the infantry had no better luck either: 

"The Greeks unleash a terrible barrage. My God, where is their antitank gun hidden?"

"They used to throw grenades to the Germans out of this hole..."
Suddenly, we hear a terrible "bang". Sparks and debris are thrown around. What happened now? Our motorized gun is hit... "(page 395 of Ilias Kotridis' book).

The nazis try to cross Strymonas (Struma) river, to no avail: The first rubber rafts to appear are blown to pieces, along with their crew and soldiers and the rest are quickly dissapearing out of the Greeks' range of fire." 

Greeks are firing with every kind of gun they got and force our infantry to return behind the hill. For several minutes we can not see anything.

Our guns are covered by dust and dirt. We will not see again any of our "kameraden". Unprotected and at the mercy of the Greeks..."

Days and nights of fierce fighting continue.

The Germans are furious.

The defenders, with their resistance and their determination to defend their positions enrage the nazis. 

Goliath is raging. David hits back. 

On April 9th 1941, capitulation is agreed in Thessaloniki, but Usita is still fighting.

The Greeks are forced to lay their weapons after the capitulation and leave Usita behind. 


Usita is an integral part of Rupel Bunkers Complex, but is not accessible to visitors, as it has been reconstructed in its largest part post-war, as the Bulgarians - allies of the nazis- who occupied large parts of northern Greece after the capitulation of Greece destroy most of the bunkers in the period between 1941 and 1944.

"The coward, he shot me!" (As described by private Savvas Politis, a soldier who fought at Usita)

"The Greeks are magnanimous. So in a lull of the battle we came out of Usita, Sergeant Konstantopoulos and two soldiers, in order to collect wounded Germans and provide them with medical aid.

A wounded German lifted his gun to shoot the first (Greek) soldier. 

The sergeant jumped in front of him to protect him.

He got shot instead and shortly afterwards he died there. 

The nazi didn't shoot again."