The lost British submarine “H.M.S. Triumph”, whose true fate had been shrouded in mystery ever since the vessel and its entire crew disappeared in 1942, has finally been discovered on the bed of the Aegean Sea by Greek researcher Kostas Thoktaridis and his team, after a search lasting roughly 25 years.
The submarine had disappeared without a trace, with all 64 crew members on board, some 81 years earlier, in the midst of World War II. Various attempts to find it had been mounted at various times by teams from the United Kingdom, Malta and Russia, all without success.
It finally fell to Thoktaridis and his team to solve the mystery of its disappearance, after a search that first started in 1998.
“It was the hardest and most expensive mission I have ever carried out in my life,” Thoktaridis told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
“The history of the submarine is multi-aspected and unique in naval chronicles, as it is inseparably connected with the national resistance and secret services of the time, which operated during the occupation,” he added.
The key to unlocking the secret that had remained hidden for more than eight decades, he said, was “research using primary historical sources. There had to be an extensive study of the archives, both in the UK and in Germany, as well as in Italy and in Greece.”
The ‘H.M.S. Triumph’ in the waters of the Aegean
First launched in 1938, the “Triumph” joined the war in earnest in May 1939 and carried out 20 military missions in total. It first sailed to the Aegean at the end of March 1941 to scout the shores of the Dodecanese islands and land officers on Greek shores. She notched up a number of successes, sinking a large number of enemy ships, including the Italian submarine “Salpa”. She also undertook difficult missions to land Special Operations Executives (S.O.E.) and MI9 agents and rescue trapped soldiers who needed to escape to Alexandria in Egypt.
On December 26, 1941 the “Triumph” would set sail from Alexandria for its 21st and last mission before it was due to return to England for a general repair and maintenance. It had orders to carry out two special operations and, in the meantime, to patrol the specific section of the Aegean.
On board the vessel were some very unusual crew members – S.O.E. and MI9 Agent, Lieutenant George Atkinson, Greek S.O.E. wireless expert, Diamantes Arvanitopoulos (codename DIAMOND), New Zealand liaison officer, Captain Craig, two British Army commandos from the Northamptonshire Regiment and Royal Artillery and five tonnes of emergency supplies. Atkinson’s mission (codename ISINGLASS) was to meet up with a Greek resistance cell in Athens and then liberate 18 selected Allied soldiers who had been held prisoner by the Italians.
Atkinson carried substantial quantities of money in cash and gold coins, destined as MI9 and S.O.E. assistance to specific individuals in occupied Athens, as well as two sets of radio transmitters for communication with Cairo. Captain Craig was in charge of the second secret mission codenamed “Coney Island”, which was to coordinate the liberation of 30 British fugitives who were on the island of Antiparos.
In Atkinson’s pocket was his Operation paper with typed heading ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN ASHORE’. With his mission complicated by dual S.O.E. & MI9 instructions, he was to overlook this warning.
During the night between December 29 and December 30, 1941 the “Triumph” sailed into the bay of Despotikos, where it let off the special team and supplies. The captain, John S. Huddart, told the 30 fugitives that he had orders to carry out a patrol of the Aegean and would return to collect them on January 9-10 in order to take them to Alexandria. He also radioed the successful conclusion of the first leg of the mission. This was the last communication ever received from the vessel.
All members of the S.O.E. team were arrested on Antiparos and Atkinson’s Operation paper, which contained the names of 37 members of the Greek resistance in Athens, with their aliases and code numbers, fell into enemy hands. The information was passed on to German authorities and all 37 were rounded up and executed, along with Atkinson. The others were taken to concentration camps.
The last attack south of Sounio
The “Triumph” continued its patrol, making its presence felt near the islands of Milos and Naxos. On January 9, 1942 at 11:45 it attacked the cement freighter “Rea” as it was being towed by “Taxiarchis” south of Sounion, with the torpedo exploding on the rocks.
“Recently, in the same part of the deep, we identified another three British Mk VIII torpedoes of the same type as that carried by the “Triumph”…this fact makes us believe that the “Triumph” launched more than one torpedo during its last attack,” Thoktaridis said.
The last time the submarine was sighted in motion was by an Italian pilot flying in the area, about four nautical miles southeast of Sounion, he added, noting that this hitherto lost piece of information helped complete the “puzzle” of the submarine’s history.
After this, all traces of the vessel disappear and on January 23, 1942 the British Admiralty declared that the submarine must be considered lost, all hands.
Discovery of the H.M.S. Triumph in the deeps
The missing submarine was found, 81 years later, by Thoktaridis and his team, who described it as “a watery grave for 64 heroes that inspires awe.”
It lies on the seabed under open water, with an eight degree starboard list, dozens of kilometres from the shore. The periscopes and hatches are down, indicating that it was in a deep dive during its last moments, while its depth and directional rudders indicate that it was moving at a steady depth.
On its turret are the wooden helm, compass and a four-inch cannon that is slightly raised. The hatches on either side of the cannon leading to the interior are also shut. On the fore side of the bridge, the door leading to the gunnery is open…all hatches are closed. The right torpedo tube has opened and an MK VIII torpedo is half-out of the submarine.
The submarine appears to have sunk due to a powerful explosion in the fore section but the cause of the explosion is still unclear:
“Our research continues, chiefly on a historical level as new evidence and facts come to light, which combined with the information that we now have from the wreck and the assistance of naval experts specialising in submarines and torpedoes will unlock the secrets of the H.M.S. Triumph,” Thoktaridis said.