H.P. Lovecraft, "The White Ship"
Following information onbtained by fishermen, an undived and unidentified wreck was spotted at the entrance of Patraikos back in September 2006. It has since been visited and identified by our team as belonging to the Marguerite, a small Spanish cargo steamer taken over by the Germans during WWII. The ship went down after hitting a mine in 1943 with a great loss of life; she was carrying Italian prisoners of war at the time and over 500 of them were lost in the sinking.
Elaborating on the Patraikos project, during the summer of 2006 we were invited to start a joint long-term project with wreck enthusiast and researcher George Karelas. The objective is to work on a number of wrecks in the Gulf of Patras and near by waters. Despite the fact that the project has since been pulled back by various unforeseen circumstances, a number of targets have been prioritized and dived up to this day. Everybody's aim is to continue with their exploration in a more intensive way in the near future.
In the context of pushing forward with the neglected but nonetheless promising exploration of a selected number of wrecks in the Gulf of Patras, a series of dives were conducted during the end of July - beginning of August. They involved mainly targets previously located in cooperation with fellow enthusiast George Karelas. We consider the outcome an important success since two wrecks were identified, one of which - the Marguerite is deemed to have a significant historical importance.
The ship was a steel screw cargo steamer built in 1918 at 'Compañia Euskalduna de Construcción y Reparación de Buques' at Bilbao. Her initial name was San Mames. The 748 grt cargo steamer had a registered length of 55.93 meters, two holds, one forward and one aft with her superstructure in the middle. She was driven by a triple expansion steam engine producing 57 NHP. First owners were stated to be 'Mendiguren y Zaballa'. Around 1930 a change is made with new ownership recorded as 'R. Mendiguren' and in 1931-32 she was sold again to 'J. Restegui Solar' and renamed Maria Amalia. Her port of registry changed from Bilbao to Gijon, still flying the Spanish flag. In 1934-35 her tonnages were changed, gross to 744 and net to 430 (from 423). Upto now her voyages have not been researched, therefore we have no information at hand regarding ports called or cargoes carried. Reconstuction of the ship's story since the outbreak of WWII is also incomplete. Sources at hand suggest that in 1941 she was taken over by 'Compañia Comercial Maritima de Transportes SA' (TRANSCOMAR) of Madrid. She was employed at German service, most probably chartered. In 19 March 1943 she was effectively taken over by the Kriegsmarine, via the German 'Mittelmeer Reederei GmbH' of Hamburg1 and her name was changed to Kertsch. On September 1943 she was again renamed Marguerite. The ship was lost on 13 October 1943 after hitting a mine off Patraikos Gulf and while steaming from Argostoli to Patras. The death toll was particularly heavy; reportedly 569 people were lost. Onboard the ship were 900 Italian prisoners of which only 356 were rescued. In addition 25 Germans lost their lives2.
The wreck of the Marguerite was located at 90 meters of water lying in a general N-S direction. Both her bow and her superstructure are at about 78 meters, meaning she rests on the bottom with a heavy stern trim; her aft hull is completely buried in the bottom silt. Conditions at the site vary. Generally there are times with calm seas in the area, however visibility and current are a different story. During our first ‘acquaintance’ dive back in 2009, conditions were far from ideal as visibility underwater was in the range of a few meters and current was strong. The second time we were treated with excellent visibility and no current at all3.
On closing this short report, for the time being we are evaluating what material has been gathered from our dives and proceeding with the documentary research. Marguerite is a most important wreck from a historical perspective linking to one of the most dark pages of WWII history in Greece, the German clearing operations of the Ionian islands from Italian forces after the former allies became enemies in September 1943. Further dives are on the agenda, however this is possible during the summer months only since local conditions in winter time are not permitting any meaningful dives.
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