H.P. Lovecraft, "The White Ship"
The Retriever, a small cable layer was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the German invasion of Greece and sunk off Phleves island in April 1941. The wreck was explored back in 2007 in cooperation with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, Ministry of Culture.
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.
The cable ship Retriever was built by 'Goole Shipbuilding and Repair Co' on account of 'West Coast of America Telegraph Co Ltd' in 1909. She was a little ship of 674 gross tons and 57.97 meters registered length. She was fitted with a two cylinder compound steam engine giving 91 RHP and driving a single screw propeller. During her early years the ship was based at the port of Callao, Peru effecting repairs on the Valparaiso-Lima cable. In 1928 'West Coast of America Telegraph Co Ltd' became part of 'Imperial and International Communications Ltd' (which was subsequently renamed as 'Cable & Wireless'). The ship joined the unified fleet in 1929 and saw service in West Indies, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. In 1934 she laid the Delos-Mykonos cable for account of the Greek Government. In June 1940 she moved from Brazil to Gibraltar and cut Italy's cables to Spain. During the 6th of April 1941 she is reported working in Thermaikos, escorted by the Greek torpedo boat Arethousa. A few days later she was en route from Lemnos to Piraeus when she was attacked by a German aircraft in the vicinity of Phleves island and was sunk with a loss of 11 lives.
The events of the attack have been documented to some detail. On the night of the 11th of April 1941 after a Combined Signals Board operation, the Retriever was steaming from Lemnos to Piraeus in the gulf of Athens. She was part of a convoy consisting of one more cargo ship and escorted by two Greek destroyers (probably Psara and Kountouriotis). Nearing Piraeus roads there were news of an impending air raid. The escorts left the convoy and Retriever was ordered to proceed to the area between Piraeus and the island of Phleves. Shortly before midnight she was spotted by a German aircraft which strafed the ship and dropped four bombs. Two of the bombs missed, one hit the port side life boat and one penetrated the ship and detonated inside the forward cargo hold blowing up the ship's bottom. The Retriever started to sink fast. Crew had time to lower all three remaining lifeboats, one of which had been destroyed by bullets. The Master (Cptn Foy) returned to seek the steward who did not know how to swim and went on the bridge to collect the ship's documents. They both drowned however as the ship suddenly went down, bow first. The weather was rough making the rescue work difficult; the Chief Officer was rescued by the Greek destroyer Thyella after being in the water for a whole three hours. Eleven of the crew which was comprised of British, Egyptians, Maltese and Greeks were lost.
The wreck rests on a sand bottom in a general N-S direction with her bow facing to the north. Maximum depth is 52 and minimum 44 meters. As she is very close to the shore and the densely populated city of Athens there are literally tons of fishing line and netting on her. In addition, after the war the wreck was located (and identified by its bell). Somewhere around 1959-1960 she was auctioned and parts of her salvaged. Except for her cargo which contained large amounts of copper, her bow and stern were cut and raised, as well as her propeller, shaft, engine and many of her fittings that had some value. As a result the image that the wreck presents today is seriously degraded. That is unfortunate since both her type - a cable ship - and the fact that she had a compound engine make her some sort of a rarity in our waters.
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