H.P. Lovecraft, "The White Ship"
The Artemis Pitta was the first wreck to be visited during the MDP expedition. She was a Greek owned cargo which was taken over by the Germans and used for their transport needs within the Aegean. The ship was sunk during a British air raid against shipping in the Adamas harbor of Melos on the 21st of February 1943.
MDP - initials for the Milos Dive Project - was an eleven days long diving expedition to the island of Melos, with the goal of exploring and documenting a handful of WWII wrecks after permission was obtained from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture. The project took place in September 2007. Various divers were called in to participate. The wrecks of the cargo steamers Artemis Pitta, Sifnos and Maria Stathatos were explored and documented. The project was the first of its kind in Greece and enjoyed the support of 'Tethys', an Athens based recreational diving association and of various local organisations and authorities of the island of Melos. We were posting on a blog daily as the project progressed and this information together with the project members and acknowledgments is still available online in Greek and English language here.
The team regarded Artemis Pitta to carry a somewhat bigger historical interest than the other wrecks of the project mainly because of the events that took place with her sinking. That and the fact that during the first days of the expedition the weather made it harder to dive both the Sifnos and the Maria Stathatos, made us spend relatively more time exploring and researching her than the other wrecks.
The Artemis Pitta was built in 'Stettiner Oderwerke AG' of Stettin, under yard No 562. She was launched on the 28th of July 1906 and completed in September of the same year. She was a 1363 grt steel screw steamer of a well deck design, with a raised quarter deck, accommodation amidships, and two masts. She had a triple expansion steam engine producing 104 NHP made also by Stettiner Oderwerke1. Her first owners appear to be 'Vereinigte Bugsir & Frachtschiffahrt Gesellschaft' of Hamburg2. The ship, initially named Herold, was registered in Hamburg and was flying the German flag. In 1919 probably in the context of WWI reparations she was surrendered to the United Kingdom and placed under the management of 'John Ridley, Son & Tully' of Newcastle-Upon-Tune by the Shipping Controller. In 1920 management was transferred to 'Ellerman's Wilson Line Ltd' but not for long. In 1921 she was sold to 'Byron SS Co', a company controlled by members of the Greek shipowning Embiricos family. The ship was renamed Maid of Athens, was put under British flag and was registered in London. Her grt is now recorded as 1433 tons. She was mainly employed tramping between various UK, Continent and Meditteranean ports, ocassionally calling Black Sea ports as well. In 1930 she was sold once more, this time to 'G.N. Pittas, Bros & Co'. Her new owners named her Artemis Pitta and transferred her to the Greek flag and Chios registry. Records suggest that she was mainly tramping in the Mediterranean with a lot of trading between Greek and Turkish ports. Occasional calls to Continent ports are recorded as well. Around the time of Greece's entry into the war, the ship was under intermittent requisition from the Greek authorities between October 1940 and April 1941; it seems that she was a regular straggler, as there are at least two mentions of her falling behind the convoy she was in. Like so many other Greek merchant ships she was sunk during the German invasion of Greece. However Artemis Pitta was refloated and used by the Germans as a transport mostly between Suda, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. That would not be for long though, as she was torpedoed by RAF aircraft and sunk on the 21st of February 1943 while in Adamas harbor, Melos.
The ship's last voyage commenced with her sailing from Thessaloniki on the 18th of February, around 16:00 hrs. She was laden with various materials, fuel in drums and ammunition. Her destination was Suda, in the island of Crete. She passed Trikeri the next day at 07:00 hrs and continued southwards arriving at Chalkis on the same afternoon. She arrived at Melos on 06:10 hrs on the morning of the 21st and anchored inside the sheltered horse shoe shaped bay of Adamas. Except her in the harbor there was another steamer, the Olympos and after a short time a third one, the Thisbe arrived as well. On the same day, the 14th Squadron of the Royal Air Force, based in Berka mounted an opeartion against Adamas harbor and the shipping lying in it. The Squadron had recently converted to the Martin Marauder aircraft and even more recently had added naval 18in torpedoes to their arsenal. A total of nine aircraft flying in three formations participated in the raid. Three of them carried torpedoes and six were armed with bombs. The finer details of the action are outside the scope of this essay, however it is worth reproducing the words of one of the pilots, Pilot Officer Wally Clarke-Hall: "...We let down to dropping height of 100 feet and made our run for it. For the few seconds it took Jerry to wake up, all seemed to be too good to be true, but then the tracer from the ships began whipping past. Release distance of 800 yards quickly came up and I fired my torpedo aimed at the larger ship3 and counted off the five seconds necessary for the piano wires holding the torpedo tail horizontal to run off, ensuring straight tracking. This was without doubt the longest five seconds of my life. Stuck there flying straight and level at 80 feet, closing at 180 mph with more rapid firing guns joining in. Sitting ducks well aware that between the visible tracers were nasty solid stuff we couldn't see - wishing we were flying a smaller target and cursing the antiquated naval torpedoes we were using..." The British attacked the ships as well as the shore installations and reported two ships being hit. That is wrong however, only Artemis Pitta was hit at her starboard aft and blew up due to her cargo of fuel and ammunition. Olympos and Thisbe survived the attack. Shore installations were not heavily damaged. Sixteen Greeks and eleven Germans lost their lives4. The British did not escape unscathed either; two aircraft were shot down and their crews were killed. They did raid a heavily fortified place with significant anti aircraft defences5. The Germans had always given much attention to keep Adamas - a valuable midway stop - well defended. The importance of this is stressed agaain and again in the relevant reports produced after the attack.
The attack on the Artemis Pitta affected the island and its people in two major ways. Firstly, the sight of the Allied aircraft strengthened their hopes that the country's liberation was approaching. On the opposite side, the events that unfolded can be classified as the island's darkest hour during the years 1941-1945. Briefly, some of the cargo, especially drums filled with petrol, as well as debris from the stricken ship were washed ashore on the south side of the bay. People living under difficult conditions had in the past taken advantage of such situations in order to survive6. Many tried to salvage whatever they could use for food, clothing and heating. The Germans arrested around twenty five people on charges of pilferage and executed fourteen of them.
The ship's wreck lies just in front of the Adamas port in 45 meters of water with least depth over her of about 34 meters. Her bow points approximately to the North. The ship's superstructures are in a quite degraded state and so is her aft part. At some point in time, parts of her have been salvaged for scrap, notably in way of her engine room. It is therefore almost impossible to differentiate if the observed damage is from the torpedo and subsequent explosions or from the salvage works. That said, the rest of her hull remains pretty much intact and her forward hold is full with cargo with much to explore. As explained above, due to her particular historical significance we dedicated proportionately more time exploring her, spending four full days plus doing some supplementary dives throughout the duration of the expedition.
wreckDiving team members that participated:
Bibliography and Sources: