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CONTRIBUTION AND SACRIFICE OF THE

GREEK MERCHANT MARINE


IN THE ALLIED EFFORT AGAINST THE AXIS
DURING W.W. II, 1939-45
WITH BRIEF REFERENCE TO THE HELLENIC NAVY
Compiled by Rear Admiral Sotirios Georgiadis H.N. (Ret)
DIAGRAMMATIC VIEW OF GREEK MERCHANT MARINE LOSSES
DUE TO WAR ACTIONS 1939-45 (REF. 4)

Introduction
Both the Greek Merchant Marine (GMM) as well as the
Hellenic Navy (HN), played together very important roles on
the side of the Allies during WW II. The purpose of this short
account is to summarize their substantial contribution to the
allied war effort and associated heavy sacrifice in men and
ships.
In peacetime the roles of the GMM and HN are separate and
different, but in wartime the two of them combine and
operate together in as much as the needs of sea
replenishment and transport are concerned. Additionally,
GMM seamen are the most valued source of manpower for HN
ships, due to their marine qualifications.
Although Greece remained neutral until attacked by
Italy on the 28 t h October 1940, the Greek Government
called upon the GMM to immediately commence serving
the Allies from the first day of WW II, on the 1 s t
September 1939 . Early the following year 1940, the Greek
Prime Minister sent the Greek Minister of Merchant Marine to
London, to formalize the availability of GMM ships to the
Allies. On the very first day of WW II, when Germany
attacked Poland, the GMM cargo ship IOANNIS CARRAS
became the first Greek casualty . She was bombed in the
harbor of Gdynia, where she had arrived the previous day.
Between 1 s t September 1939 and 28 t h October 1940, i.e.
before Greece was drawn into WW II, about 350 allied and
neutral merchant ships were lost, out of which about 100 or
28% were Greek. GMM continued to serve faithfully the
allied cause to the very end of WW II in August 1945.
The HN was also the victim of Italian warplane and
submarine attacks before Greece entered WW II and in
conjunction with the GMM continued to serve effectively its
country during the victorious five-month Greek defence
against invading Italy at first and later on Germany as well.
The latter came to the help of the defeated Italy on 6 t h April
1941, in order to overcome Greece. When, two months later,
the whole of Greece finally came under German occupation,
the King, the Hellenic Government and the remaining ships
of the HN Fleet did not surrender , but sailed to Alexandria
and continued in active service on the side of the Allies until

the end of the war in Europe on 10 t h May 1945. A


substantial portion of the State Budget of the Greek
Government In Exile was funded by the GMM.
Large numbers of GMM men have also served on HN warships
during the whole of the period considered. Greek shipowners
and seamen, of a younger age at that time, volunteered
and manned HN warships. Typical of many such cases is that
of Fotis Lykiardopulo, of the well known shipping family,
born, raised and living in London, who joined the HN in 1943
in England as a volunteer, attended the British Cadet School
and participated in the Normandy Naval Landings in June
1944 on board the British Frigate HMS CHELMER. Stavros
Niarchos at the age of 35 and Nicolas Michalos served on the
Corvette RHS KRIEZIS, under Commander D. Kiosses RHN,
together with about 100 other GMM men. Michael Maris
served on the Corvette RHS TOMBAZIS, under Commander G.
Panagiotopoulos RHN. Stavros Niarchos was later on
transferred and served on the Destroyer RHS SALAMIS. More
names of Greek Merchant Mariners who served on Hellenic
Navy warships can be found in the Lists at the end of this
text.
Together with two HN Corvettes, RHS KRIEZIS and RHS
TOMBAZIS, the following four GMM cargo ships participated
in the allied Normandy operations:2 C/S AGIOS SPYRIDON,
captained by George Samothrakis, C/S GEORGIOS P.,
captained by Dimitrios Parisis, C/S AMERIKI, captained by
Spyridon Theofilatos and C/S HELLAS, captained by George
Trilivas.
Unfortunately WW II GMM records found were not consistent
and consequently some of the data presented here is
necessarily approximate.
Throughout WW II, the GMM lost over 2.000 seamen
and more than 60% of its ocean going ships, while the
HN lost more than 700 men and about 32% of its
fighting ships. The Allies made good HN warships lost and
even increased their number during the war, in recognition of
the HN substantial contribution. At the same time 15 newly
US built Liberty class 10.000 grt cargo ships were made
available to the GMM, to compensate in part for its severe
loses. Shipping losses did not end with WW II in 1945.

They continued beyond that period, due to sea mines laid


during the war.
German Submarines menaced GMM ships and caused most of
their losses mainly in the Atlantic, but also in other seas.
The fact that at least during the first year of WW II
over 25% of German Submarine torpedoes fired failed
due to technical problems, came as an advantage to the
Allied ships . It is remarkable, that in the first year of the
war, an average of only 6 U-Boats at sea at any time, sank
more than 1.000 allied merchant ships, loaded with over 4
million tons of valuable materials. German predictions (Ref.
5, Vol. II, page 48) claim their U-Boats could have sank
twice as many ships, in case they did not have such
persistent and serious torpedo failures. According to the
assessment of the then Commodore Karl Doenitz, Senior
Officer of German U-Boats, later Admiral Commander in Chief
of the German Navy and finally successor of Hitler (Ref. 5,
Vol. I, page 3), neither the German Government nor the
Navy had until the end of 1938 considered Britain as a
possible enemy. Consequently at WW II outbreak the
German Navy possessed the very limited number of 57
commissioned Submarines, out of 300 needed at the time ,
of which only 45 were operational. German Submarine
tonnage was then about 45% that of Great Britain. Neither
the existing German Naval Forces, nor those expected
from a vast WW II building program, were considered
by Admiral K. Doenitz to be sufficient to obtain decisive
results against British shipping . The stupendous German
Submarine construction program launched and implemented
during WW II, resulted in the commissioning of about 1.153
new U-Boats, while the number constructed, but not
commissioned, was much higher.
The contribution of Greece in the WW II allied effort,
as asserted by Hitler, was as follows: The entrance of
Italy into the war proved catastrophic for us. Had the
Italians not attacked Greece and had they not needed
our help, the war would have taken a different course.
We would have had the time to capture Leningrad and
Moscow, before the Russian cold weather had set in.
Hitler uttered words to this effect on March 30, 1944 to
his guest and trusted friend Leni Riefenstahl, the world
famous film director, as she writes in her

autobiography. On the other hand the Soviet Marshal


Zhukov notes in his Memoirs: If the Russian people
were able to raise their tired bodies in front of
Moscows gates, to hold and turn back the German
torrent, they owe it to the Greek people, who delayed
the German Divisions for as long as it would have taken
to drive us to our knees.
The contribution of the Greek Merchant Marine
At the year 2000 Greek owned merchant shipping is a world
leader, holding more than 15% of the total available
capacity, with over 5.000 ocean going ships, of more than
115 million gross tons in total. At the outbreak of WW II the
GMM held about 2,6% of the world capacity in gross tons
(grt), with about 600 ocean going steam ships and about 700
small diesel engined sailing cargo vessels. Some 90% of the
GMM steamship capacity consisted of cargo ships. However,
Greek tonnage was then larger then that of Sweden,
the USSR, Canada, Denmark or Spain .
The British in particular, in spite the United Kingdoms top
merchant shipping position, with a capacity of 26,11%, could
be supplied and fed only by sea and therefore required all
the tonnage they could get, to cover not only home
requirements, but also their world wide increased war needs
as well. GMM shipping came immediately from the
outbreak of WW II to support these requirements, with
the implementation of a relevant Greek Government
policy and the co-operation of shipowners and crews . It
is noted that by mid-1940, the British Royal Navy had only a
two-month reserve of fuel. Little more than a year later, in
September 1941, a quarter of the entire British merchant
fleet lay on the bottom of the sea. An agonized Sir Dudley
Pound, the British First Sea Lord, put it starkly by saying: If
we loose the war at sea, we loose the war8
Most GMM cargo ships were coal-burning and very slow,
while crew living conditions onboard were very austere and
in fact gruelling. Navigational aids were minimal. With many
Light Houses shut down during WW II, navigation was
hazardous and very much dependent on a simple compass
and the sights of the stars by night and coasts by day.

GMM crews, manning those slow cargo ships, were easy


targets for enemy Submarines and Surface warships.
International Law and War Rules were scarcely observed, at
the expense of the lives of GMM crews. These stipulated that
a neutral merchant ship had at first to be stopped, its cargo
searched and only if found carrying war materials could
legitimately be sunk, provided her crew was disembarked
beforehand and taken to safety. In real life, however, and in
most instances, enemy Submarines operating particularly in
the Atlantic, used to sink cargo ships on sight. These were
the prevailing harsh conditions, which accounted for the very
large numbers of GMM crew losses. It is noted that German
orders issued to their Submarines on 30th September 1939
(Ref. 5, Vol. I, page 44), stressed amongst other things that :
. Since the Greeks have sold and chartered numerous
ships to England, Greek ships are to be regarded as
hostile .. U-Boats must remain unobserved while
attacking .
There were even cases where enemy ships brutally killed
surviving crews, to remove all traces. Victims of such wanton
murders were crewmembers of the GMM cargo ship PELEUS,
to mention just one case, who survived and boarded their
life boats, after their ship was torpedoed and sank by U-852
in the Atlantic at the Equator, near West Africa. U-852
machine-gunned and killed the the survivors. Only her
Second Officer Antonis Liosis and two others of her crew
escaped, to tell the tale. At the Nuremberg Trial after WW II
the U-852 Commander E. H. Wilhelm was found guilty,
sentenced to death and executed.
Out of a total of about 500 GMM ocean going steam
cargo ships, approximately 211 were lost as a result of
WW II direct actions. Additionally 107 more cargo
ships were lost due to other causes. Furthermore, out
of 55 passenger ships, 52 were lost. Finally, out of over
700 diesel engined small sailing cargo vessels, of more
than 30 grt each, about 500 were also lost . The largest
GMM steam cargo ship annual losses occurred in the Atlantic
in the year 1941. Until that time cargo ships were crossing
the Atlantic singly and unprotected or under weak convoy
coverage. Enhanced warship escort and cargo ship convoy
protection applied for the remainder of WW II, reduced
annual losses appreciably.

The above GMM losses should be compared with the overall


allied shipping losses for the whole duration of WW II, as
recorded by the British and disclosed after the war (Ref. 5,
Vol. III, page 101), according to which about 2.600
merchant ships were sunk, about 95% of which, in the
Atlantic. GMM losses, therefore, amount to about 14% of
worldwide allied losses, in numbers of cargo and
passenger ships.
Weapons against shipping included primarily torpedoes, but
also mines and bombs. Sea mines were widely used in all
parts of the world and especially in straights and port
approaches, playing havoc to all shipping. It is estimated
that a total of over 700.000 mines were laid throughout WW
II. About 70% of them were laid by England and Germany.
These mines caused grave losses to shipping not only during
WW II, but also long after its end.
During the Italian attempt to invade Greece, launched from
inside Albanian territory then occupied by Italy, GMM ships
under HN protection, transported successfully about 80% of
Hellenic Army materials and personnel from various ports
throughout the country to the main ports near the fighting
Front, with the loss of only two small GMM cargo ships
bombed while at anchor at their destinations. About 140
cargo and 47 passenger ships, with the help of 56 tugs,
carried out these tasks.
It is not possible to refer here to individual cases of ship
dramas, sufferings and accomplishments during WW II, but
at least two deeds stand out and deserve particular mention.
The first concerns the ship NICHOLAOS G. KULUKUNDIS,
captained by Constantine Panorios, which in spite of
difficulties and in the face of immense dangers entered the
port of Tripoli in Libya and, on 2 n d February, 1943 brought
much needed fuel to the British 8 t h Army fighting in North
Africa. Winston Churchill greeted and marked the daring
feat, by visiting the ship in person on 4 t h February
1943. The second similar achievement was accomplished by
the cargoship ELPIS, captained by Nicolaos Kouvalias, which
under heavy bombardment approached Libya and unloaded
valuable fuel for the British Army there, drawing the praise
of the King of England .
The contribution of the Hellenic Navy

The coming outbreak of war, the decision to prepare the


countrys defence , and if Greece were forced to abandon
her neutrality, to enter the war on the side of the Allies
in the ensuing conflict, were announced to the Board of
Admirals in a secret session as early as Autumn 1936 by the
then Prime Minister John Metaxas (Ref. 6).
All preparations were carried out on time between
1937-40, within the limitations of the meager Greek funds
and to a large extent by Greek hands. The HN ordered two
Destroyers in England, their guns in Germany, and
simultaneously placed orders for material packages for two
sister ships to be built in Greece, at the newly established
HN Shipyard at Skaramanga , which was intended to cover
GMM needs as well. The 1939 edition of Janes Fighting
Ships states that the HN had a newbuilding program
consisting of 12 Destroyers and 2 Submarines .
It may be of interest to note that only Germany at the time
was accepting barter payment (clearing) for military orders,
while France England and the US required payment in foreign
exchange only, which was very hard for Greece to come by.
Furthermore, Germany, in an effort to entice Greece, was
absorbing most of the Greeces agricultural produce.
As an extension of the Metaxas Line of 20 large permanent
border fortifications, the HN constructed and manned 8
shore gun batteries, covering strategic sea passages and
permitting the safe transportation of war materials by ships
to the fighting Front in the north of the country. The HN was
also made responsible for the operation of about 400 sea and
air lookouts throughout the country, as well as for the air
defence of Athens and most of Greece, save the Front.
The 34 HN fighting ships that took part in the battle of
Greece from 28 t h October 1940 to 31 s t May 1941, were in
general old and no match for the 45 times larger and newer
Italian Fleet. However, all HN missions were accomplished
successfully and without losses during the first five-month
defence against Italy. The Greek Fleet lost 28 fighting
ships and over 700 men throughout WW II. As soon as
Greece came under German occupation, the HN Fleet sailed
to Alexandria in Egypt and operated on the side of the Allies
till the end of WW II in Europe. In this respect Greece was

the only member of the Allies, whose Fleet did not


surrender, but continued in its e n t i r e t y to fight the
Axis, while the country itself was under enemy
occupation.
Due to the replacement by the Allies during WW II of ships
sunk, the HN Fleet by the end of 1944 numbered 43 fighting
ships, overbalancing its losses. At the same time the HN
manpower had risen from about 6.500 in 1940 in
Greece, to about 8.500 in 1944 abroad.
The main missions of the HN Fleet during the battle of
Greece and the remainder of WW II, while by then operating
from its main Base abroad in Alexandria, Egypt, were the
safe escort of merchant ship convoys, which were
transporting men and materials for the war effort . It is
indicative of the substantial contribution of the HN
Fleet that in 1943, out of 41 warships used then by the
Allies as convoy escorts, 27 were British, 11 Greek and
3 French. (Ref. 6)
In accomplishing allied war missions between 1941-44, the
HN warships covered in sum total about 2 million nautical
miles, i.e. they were about 185.000 hours under way. On an
average, each HN warship covered about 20.000 nautical
miles under war conditions.
Epilogue
Greece, the GMM and the HN all played their roles in WW II
and made their contributions on the side of the Allies to the
very best of their abilities, paying dearly in, sweat blood and
material losses.
The only Greek Shipyard, capable of building ships, founded
between 1937-39, was bombed and destroyed by the Allies
during the spring of the last year of the German occupation
of Greece (1944) and thus was rendered useless and
incapable of contributing in the construction Naval and/or
Marine ships after the end of the war.
The GMM licked its war wounds and made a new start after
the end of WW II, to conquer a leading position in this
worldwide, most competitive and harsh market. The US
Government, having built during the war about 2.742 Liberty

class cargo ships, which became surplus at the end of WW II,


sold in total about 100 of them to Greek Shipowners, under
guarantees provided by the Greek Government. These ships
constituted the backbone of the GMM, at the start of the post
war era. These 100 Liberty ships, included those 15 made
available to the GMM during WW II. Soon after that, in 1948,
the US sold to Greek shipowners 7 T2 class Oil Tankers,
which formed the nucleus of the famous Greek owned Tanker
Fleets developed in the following years.
The rehabilitation of some large war devastated
German Shipyards, soon after WW II, was helped by
Greek Shipowners orders. Greek shipping magnate
Aristotle Onassis, followed by Stravros Niarchos, Lyras
Brothers, Diamantis Pateras and others, placed merchant
ship newbuilding orders from 1948 onwards with the ruined
Shipyards in northern Germany (Kiel, Hamburg and Bremen),
helping substantially with their re-operation.
Much later, in 1955, Stavros Niarchos bought the remains
from the 1944 Allied bombing of the 1937 established HN
Shipyard at Skaramanga and turned it into the very
successful Hellenic Shipyards SA, which is building and
repairing successfully Merchant as well as Naval ships. The
Shipyard became State owned in 1985 and remains so to
date.
Greece was not as fortunate as all other European allied
countries liberated in 1944 from German occupation that
immediately made their way forward. Greece, sharing very
extended borders with Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria,
which at the end of WW II were fully controlled by the
totalitarian USSR, suffered further severe bloodshed and
destruction till 1949, in resisting repeated armed efforts to
be drawn forcefully behind the Iron Curtain. The US
Presidents Truman Doctrine in March 1947, concerning
military and financial grant aid to Greece and Turkey and the
US Marshal Plan soon after, handing out financial aid for
the rehabilitation of European Nations, helped Greece remain
in the free and democratic world and start its reconstruction
and upgrade from 1950 onward. When NATO was established
in 1949, Greece, which had helped the Allies substantially in
winning WW II, was not immediately accepted as a member.

Greece had to wait for Turkey to become ready, so that both


Greece and Turkey could join NATO together.
It is reminded that Turkey in WW I was on the side of the
Central Powers and not the Allies. In WW II Turkey remained
neutrally pro German and was of course totally unharmed
by the war. On the contrary, Greece in both World Wars
was on the side of the Allies and in particular between
1940-49 suffered the largest losses in relation to its
size and population . Nevertheless, the Allies placed
Greece and Turkey on the same footing immediately
after WW II. The balanced treatment of Greece and
Turkey with respect to the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall
Plan and their simultaneous NATO admittance, are some,
but very marked examples of allied mentality and policy.
REFERENCES
1. VICE ADMIRAL E. P. KAVADIAS H.N.(Ret), CHIEF OF THE
HELLENIC NAVY FLEET 1939-42 AND DEPUTY DEFENCE
MINISTER 1942-43 THE NAVAL WAR OF 1940 AS I HAVE
LIVED IT - MEMORIES BETWEEN 2-3-35 AND 25-3-45
2. COAST GUARD VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS. DOUNIS (Ret)
ARTICLE IN HN NAVAL REVIEW SEPT-OCT 1996 THE
GREAT SILENT: THE GREEK MERCHANT MARINE IN WW
II
3. SPYROS ARMENIAKOS ARTICLE IN HN NAVAL REVIEW,
SEPT-OCT 1999 THE GREEK MERCHANT MARINE
CONTRIBUTION IN THE BATTLES OF THE ATLANTIC AND
THE MEDITERRANEAN
4. ALBUM ON THE SACRIFICES OF GREECE IN THE SECOND
WORD WAR, BY THE HELLENIC MINISTRY OF
RECONSTRUCTION, 1946
5. UK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE (NAVY), GERMAN NAVAL
HISTORY THE U-BOAT WAR IN THE ATLANTIC 1939-45
6. VICE ADMIRAL D. FOKAS HN REPORT ON THE ACTION OF
THE HN 1940-44
7. ROGER JORDAN, THE PARTICULARS AND WARTIME FATES
OF 6.000 SHIPS - THE WORLDS MERCHANT FLEETS
1939 EDITION 1999
8. US NAVAL INSTITUTE MAGAZINE NAVAL HISTORY, JUNE
2000, ARTICLE BY JEROME OCONNOR