NEWS

Tale of WWII survival recounted

Diving aficionados and those who just wanted to hear a remarkable story from the Second World War gathered in Thessaloniki yesterday when a group that has been researching the wreckage of a Royal Navy submarine off the Ionian island of Cephalonia presented their findings. Diver Costas Thoktaridis and his team have conducted 17 missions since 1997 to study the hulk of the HMS Perseus, a British Parthian-class submarine built in 1929 that sank in 1941 after hitting an Italian mine. Sixty of the 61 sailors on board died but Thoktaridis was inspired to begin researching the wreckage after hearing the story of the sole survivor, leading stoker John Capes, who was 31 at the time. «It is a compelling experience, like traveling back in time,» said Thoktaridis. «Everything is there, 52 meters beneath the surface, just like Capes described.» Capes was one of two non-crew members on board and was hitching a lift to Alexandria, as the Perseus used to ferry supplies between Egypt and Malta. He and three others escaped from the submarine using devices known as Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus. The other sailors, however, were injured and did not survive the journey to the surface. «I didn’t want to believe that I was the only survivor of the 60 crew members of Perseus, a British submarine whose tragic fate was now indicated only by the air bubbles that were still coming up from the wreck to the surface,» Capes wrote years later. After reaching the surface, Capes swam 8 kilometers to Cephalonia where he collapsed on a beach and was found by locals the next morning. Islanders hid the British sailor for 18 months before he was smuggled to Izmir, Turkey, in a fishing boat by a Greek wartime hero, Miltiades Houmas. Capes was awarded a British Empire Medal for his efforts. Thoktaridis, who presented his findings at an event organized by the Thessaloniki Divers’ Association, said that all but eight of the bodies of those who died have been found and that, during the last dive, he was able to confirm that there are still 100 tons of fuel in the submarine’s tanks.