H.P. Lovecraft, "The White Ship"
The Monrosa was an Italian cargo steamer torpedoed in 1941 by the British HMS Triumph while transporting troops and material to Crete. Her wreck rests at a depth of 90 meters close to the islet of Arsida in the gulf of Saronikos. The position of the wreck is well known to divers and she is being occasionally visited, however limited research has been done on her.
The 'Saronikos wrecks' project relates to our ongoing effort to explore and document modern wrecks in the greater area of Saronikos gulf. While some of these wrecks remained undiscovered until today, a few have already been located and visited by other divers. The proximity to our main base location makes these wrecks suitable for isolated outings rather than multi-day expeditions. A further advantage is that weather conditions in the Saronikos Gulf are usually mild making the dives less demanding overall. In any case, it is a great way to keep the team sharp and busy in-between major projects.
Monrosa was a steel, screw driven tweendeck steamer built at 'J. Coughlan & Sons Ltd', of Vancouver. The ship was completed and delivered to her first owners, 'AB Svenska Ostasiatiska Kompaniet' in July 1920 under the name of Indus. She was of 5772 gross tons and had a registered length of 125.10 meters. Her propulsion plant consisted of a triple expansion steam engine producing 420 NHP. Her port of registry was Gothenburg and she was flying the Swedish flag. On December 1921 while she was at the port of Valencia, Spain her cargo which consisted of copra, hides, oil and jute caught fire, reportedly due to crew negligence. In order to extinguish the fire the Indus was sunk up to her decks by shelling. In 1923 she was put back in service under the name Indiano, her new owners being Messrs 'Società Anonima Ligure di Navigazione à Vapore' (care of 'E.Cesano & Co'). Unfortunately the ship's history in between is little known. With a word of caution, we speculate that she was declared a constructive total loss and the wreck was sold to 'The European Shipping Co Ltd' care of 'A. Rappaport' of London. However that must have been for only a short time before she was further sold to 'E. Cesano & Co' of Genoa. That must have hapenned sometime in 1922 and the ship appears as registered in Genoa and flying the Italian flag in the Lloyd's Register of 1923-24. We are equally not aware of the extent of repair work and possible modifications done. Her grt appears now to be 6485 tons. In 1925 she was sold once more to 'Società Anonima Navigazione Alta Italia' and renamed Monrosa. Her voyages and cargoes during any of her ownerships have not been yet researched.
In the course of WWII, Monrosa was requisitioned by the Regia Marina at Genoa on 8 November 1940. From then on she was employed in the Albanian convoy service until September 1941. It was then that she was shifted in the Aegean as in 16 September she appears to leave Piraeus for Souda in convoy, carrying Italian & German soldiers and general stores. She sailed again from Piraeus on the 25th of October 1941 for Iraklion and Candia in convoy with the steamer Santagata and escorted by the destroyer Quintino Sella and the torpedo boat Sirio. She was laden with troops, animals and stores of the 'Siena' Division which was being transferred from mainland Greece to the island of Crete. Monrosa would never make it to her destination. She was torpedoed and sunk by the British HMS Triumph on the same day. From the 265 persons onboard, only 117 were rescued1.
HMS Triumph (N18) was a Triton Class large patrol submarine ( T-Class Group I) built by 'Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd'. The boat was completed on 02 May 1939 and made a total of five war patrols in Home Waters. During the fifth one, on 26 December 1939 and while to the NE of Helgoland, it hit a floating mine which completely blew off her bow. However Triumph survived and made it back to safety. After been repaired the boat was sent to the Mediterranean theatre of operations.
On the 25th of October 1941, Triumph was patrolling the area between the islands of San Giorgio and Phleva. On 12:45 the outbound convoy of Santagata and Monrosa was sighted with the two escorts as well as an escorting aircraft2. At the same time a northbound steamer escorted by one destroyer and one aircraft was reported. At 13:16 the submarine fired four torpedoes from a distance of 3500 yards. Upon firing it was spotted by one aircraft which attacked with two bombs falling very close and causing some slight damage3. The boat dived to 120 and later to 150 feet changing courses. Three explosions were heard corresponding to torpedo calculated running times and firing intervals. Italian reports mention one or two (testimonies vary) hits on the Monrosa as well as secondary boilers' explosion and three torpedoes that detonated on the shore of the nearby island of Arsida4. The British in turn report that their boat was depth charged for about an hour and twenty minutes, however with diminishing accuracy and count 60 to 70 drops in total. The counter attack description as drawn from Italian sources is somewhat confusing. It seems that the submarine appeared in multiple places and was attacked by various surface units all of which witnessed '...oil stains...', '...debris...', '...air bubbles...' and even the boat itself appearing on the surface before sinking again for a final time. They conclude that the submarine was destroyed. That contrasts with the British comments of the diminishing accuracy of the attack. Of course Triumph was not destroyed but safely made it back to Alexandria upon ending the patrol. However, she would not survive the war either, she was lost with all hands during her 21st patrol, presumably somewhere in the Aegean, late 1941 or early 1942.
The Germans were evidently much annoyed because of the sinking of the Monrosa. The attack happened on the doorstep of the major port of Piraeus, despite the unfavorable time and weather conditions and despite the heavy escort. The importance of minefields and the lack of resourses (mainly escort ships) was emphasized. Their lack of faith in their allies is also evident as they express their skepticism in the Italians' certainty that the submarine was destroyed. Finally, the fear of continued or even intensifying submarine warfare is expressed.
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Part of the project of the Saronikos wrecks involves doing some limited work with the cargo steamer Monrosa torpedoed in October 1941 off Arsida island. The ship was hit by one torpedo amidships and possibly by one more in her stern area.
In early June 2011, we conducted two dives on the wreck of the Monrosa. The first one was spent in collecting basic information: the wreck stands upright on a sandy bottom, with a maximum depth of 91 meters and is pointing approximately SSE. Most of her deck is at 77 meters. We scootered the whole length of her to get a general idea of the wreck and its condition. Points noted where first, the huge hull breach on her starboard amidships where one of the torpedoes hit and second, her stern that has collapsed. As mentioned in the historical section, this can be due to the alleged second hit, to the fact that she went down stern first or to a combination of these. During the second dive the breach was more closely examined. As per testimonies there was a boiler explosion which is possibly true, since the extent of the damage is too large and the plating around the breach is twisted outwards. After spending a few minutes examining the breach, we penetrated the wreck photographing one of the ship’s boilers at a depth of 88 meters.