Captain Tangredi is a frequent contributor to THE SUMBARJNE REVIEW. He is a swface warfare officer with a PhD in International Relations Captain Tangredi is under orders to Defense Attack at the US Embassy in Greece.
In many smaller but technically advanced nations, the Submarine Force is considered among the most elite military units, often receiving a very high proportional share of the national defense budget. This has been true for several NATO nations, one of them being the Hellenic Republic of Greece, which is justifiably proud of its undersea warfare heritage.
Greek historians date the start of this heritage to at least 322BC, when the forces of Alexander the Great utilized diving bells and other submerged chambers to conduct combat swimmer operations against the city of Tiros (Tyre), an event attested to by Aristotle. Impressed by these activities, King Alexander was reported to have later descended to the sea floor in a specially constructed glass barrel, staying there for several hours.
Another point of pride is the fact that a Greek submarine conducted the first recorded wartime submarine torpedo attack against an enemy warship in 1912.
Today the Greek submarine command operates exclusively a force of eight Type-209 diesel-electric submarines designed by Howaldtswerke Oeutche Werft (HOW). Greece has also recently contracted HOW for four Type-214 diesel/fuel cell-electrics with air independent propulsion (AIP) capability. There have been conflicting reports concerning whether the Type-2 l 4s will replace the four oldest 209s, or whether the Hellenic Navy will operate a twelve boat force.
Early Submarine Developments
In the late 1800s, the prospect of developing a practical submarine warship intrigued many of the European states, particular those whose forces could never otherwise challenge the navies of the great powers, especially the Royal Navy. Numerous engineers and would be-inventors developed plans and designs to attract investors and government support. Like John Holland in the ports of New York/New Jersey and Simon Lake off Bridgeport, Connecticut/Long Island Sound, prototype construction and underwater experimentation occurred in a number of European port cities, including Piraeus, the port of Athens.
Greek engineer N. Gryparis is reported to have built an experimental submarine named GRYPARA in 1880 and tested it in the waters off Fartiro (Athens-Piraeus). But as with Holland and Lake, it proved difficult for most European inventors to find the financial backing to bring their plans into fruition. Whether or not that was the case for N. Gryparis, there is no record that he ever went on to develop a full-scale operational submarine.
Yet, the Greek government did have an urgent incentive to pursue submarine development. While remaining on generally good terms with the naval powers of Britain, France and Russia (all of whom fought as allies at the naval battle of Navarino in support of Greek independence), the Ottoman Turkish Empire remained an implacable foe with a numerically superior fleet. In 1885, Anglican clergyman George William Garrett produced a design for a torpedo-firing submarine that was built by the Swedish shipbuilder Thorsten Nordentfelt. When the trials for NORDENFEL T #I were held of Landskrona in Sweden, Nordenfelt invited naval observers from many European and Latin American countries. Although some observers went home unimpressed, the Greek government decided to buy NORDENFELT #1 for 9000 British pounds.
One source states that the infamous Baron Basil Zaharoff played the role of middleman for this purchase. (Fans of the ITV1/PBS series Reilly. Ace of Spies will remember Zaharoff as Sydney Reilly’s initial and persistent opponent.) Reportedly, Zaharoff claimed to be (at least in part) of Greek descent and protestations of his patriotism had some influence over the Greek government’s decision.’ Whatever his origin or patriotism, Zaharoff tuned around. and promptly sold the next two NORDENFEL T submarines to the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan wanted to neutralize any possible Greek advantage, and was willing to pay even more money.
It is difficult to get a true assessment of the actual operational capability and reliability of NORDENFEL T #I. By design, she was steam-powered, 33 meters in length, 160 tons displacement, capable of making 9 knots surfaced, had a crew of three, and carried one torpedo. Presumably the Greek Navy used her as a test and training platform. According to a quasi-official source, she remained in the fleet inventory until 190 l, “without being operational. 2 It is unclear whether such a statement indicates that, as a training platform, the boat was never assigned to the fleet, or whether it indicates that in reality NO RD ENFEL T #I could not get underway and/or submerge.
Balkan Wars and First World War
From 190 l to 1912, Greece does not appear to have operated submarines. But in September 1910, Greece ordered two submarines from France. In 1912, Greece established the Submarine Command of the Hellenic Navy upon the acquisition of the two French-built submarines, HS (Hellenic Ship) DELPHINE (Dolphin) and HS XIFIAS (Swordfish).4 They were radical improvements over the NORDENFELT, benefitting from over 25 years of technological advances. The submarines were rated at 310 tons surface displacement, 460 tons submerged displacement, 13 knots surfaced, 8 knots submerged, with a crew of 24. They were fitted with five 45cm torpedo tubes.
It was HS DELPHINE, under the command of Lieutenant Stephanos Paparigopoulos, which conducted the first wartime torpedo attack in history against the Turkish battle cruiser MECIDIYE. According to the official record, it was unsuccessful. Later in this First Balkan War, the Hellenic fleet scored two victories over the Turkish fleet in major engagements, but the role of submarines in these battles is uncertain.
Sometime during this period, the Greek government decided to contract with a German shipbuilder for a third submarine. However, the First World War broke out shortly before delivery and the German government chose to retain the boat and commission it in the Reichsmarine. She became U-35, the most successful submarine of that war. (In the Second War World, following her attack, U-35 rescued the crew of the Greek freighter DIAMANTES and put them ashore in Ireland.)
Greece did not initially enter the First World War. Although the sympathies of the elected government were with the Allies (and against Gennan-allied Turkey), the King preferred neutrality (the Queen was the Kaiser’s sister). In an incredible series of machinations that greatly damaged Greek society, the King forced the government to resign, but was in tum forced to abdicate by the Allies. French troops occupied Athens in order to suppress the royalists and reinstall the government. During this period, the French seized the Hellenic fleet, demilitarizing the older vessels but recommissioning the newer ones into the French Navy. Thus, DELPHINE and XIFIAS served as French submarines from October 1916 to July 1917. When Greece entered the war on the side of the Allies, the submarines, along with most of the fleet, were returned to her control. Both submarines remained in service until 1920.
What most nations consider the interwar period was a period of strife and eventual military disaster for Greece. Having made initial gains in Asia Minor, Greek forces were defeated by Turkish armies under Kemal Attaturk in 1922. Much of the Greek population in Asia Minor was evacuated. It is understandable that the Submarine Force was considered a low priority during this period, and it was not until December 1927 that Greece began to acquire new submarines-once again from France. The first was HS PAPANIK.OLIS (Y-2), followed by HS KATSONIS (Y-1) in January 1928. Later, Greece acquired four more French submarines, of a slightly more advanced design: HS PROTEUS (Y-3), HS NEREUS (Y-4), HS TRITON (Y-5), and HS GLA VKOS (Y-6). At the start of the Second World War, the Hellenic Navy was operating all six French-built submarines. These were capable of Mediterranean operations, but not designed for long-range patrols.
Second World War
During the Second World War, the Hellenic Navy distinguished itself in combat, and following the German occupation of Greece (1941), became the primary surviving independent Greek armed force.5 In addition to the six submarines, the Hellenic Navy began the war with a surface fleet of 24 combatants and 30 auxiliary ships.
In the initial phase ( 1940-Early 1941 )-the war against Italy-the Greek Anny drove the Italians back, deep into Albania, while Greek submarines sank 18 Italian ships from Adriatic conveys and damaged others. This is a particularly impressive score and contributed greatly to the support of land operations, although PROTEUS (Y-3) was lost off Albania on 29 December 1940, sunk by Italian Torpedo Boat ANTARES.6 But lacking an effective air force to provide air cover, both land and sea forces could not hope to defeat the Wehrmacht once German forces came to the aid of the Italians.
Despite British support for Greece, the Luftwaffe gradually took apart the Greek Navy. By the time of mainland Greece’s imminent collapse in April 1941, the remaining Greek fleet consisted of I cruiser, 3 destroyers, 5 auxiliary ships, and the 5 remaining submarines.7 The fleet was directed to escape to Alexandria, Egypt, where they remained the prime military assets of the Greek Govern-ment-in-Exile, but under the command of the British Royal Navy. The Greek submarines were individually integrated into British submarine squadrons, with the newest, GLA VKOS, operating with the famed British l01h Submarine Flotilla at Malta in an effort to interdict Rommel’s supplies. HS GLA VKOS was lost by German air attack in La Valletta harbor, Malta, on 4 April 1942. The other subs patrolled Greek waters with both success and loss. Following a successful attack on a German convoy off Euboea, HS TRITON was lost after a six-hour pursuit by German warships on 16 November 1942. In the same month, HS PAPANIKOLIS scored successes in the Dodecanese islands. In February 1943, HS KA TSONIS sunk a German minelayer seeding mines in Greek bays. But on 13 September 1943, KA TSONIS collided with another German warship and was lost with its crew of 32.
In order to make up (in part) for these losses, the Royal Navy turned over to the Hellenic Navy the captured Italian submarine PERLA (Royal Navy designation P712) in January 1943. She was commissioned HS MA TROZOS, and was joined by HS PIPINOS, a recommissioned Royal Navy submarine. In 1944, PIPINOS conducted the last recorded successful Greek submarine attack of the war, sinking CALA T AFIMI, an Italian destroyer sailing under Gennan colors. (Italy had already surrendered.)
Perhaps more important than tonnage sunk was the use of the Greek Submarine Force for special operations-landing Allied commandos throughout the Greek islands and mainland. Besides courage and stealth, this required patience. Today, residents of the island of Meganissi point out a sea cave as ‘Papanikolis cave’ because of its (supposed) periodic use as a hiding place for the submarine prior to both attack and special operations. Presumable other such locations were used by the sub force, necessitating considerable skill at near-shore navigation.
In total, Greece lost four of its initial six submarines in the Second World War, along with 106 crewmembers. On the opposite end of the torpedo wake, Greece also lost 334 merchant ships and over 2000 merchant seamen, with 2500 wounded, from Axis submarine and air attacks. This aspect of the submarine war had a devastating impact on the Aegean islands from where most of the sailors were recruited.
Once again the Greeks faced some of their bloodiest fighting during a so-called period of peace (but one growing colder with each year). The civil war of 1946-1949 was a tragedy for Greece, effects of which are felt even to this day. But following the eventual victory of the democratic government, Greece became a member of NATO in 1951 and committed land and air forces to the war in Korea. Although the acquisition of new submarines was hardly a priority during this period, British subs were loaned to Greece. These subs, all limited-range Second World War veterans, operated in the Hellenic Navy until December 1958, when they were returned to the Royal Navy.
As replacements, the Hellenic Navy received two U.S. Gato-class long-range fleet submarines: HS POSEIDON (ex-USS LA PON SS-260) received 8 August 1957 and HS AMFRITRITI (ex-USS JACK SS-259) received 21 April 1958.9 At over 2400 tons sub-merged displacement and crews of 60, these submarines represented a great increase in range and endurance over their predecessors. This also initiated a thirteen-year period in which the Hellenic Navy exclusively operated ex-U.S. submarines, a period during which strong ties were developed between the Hellenic Navy and the U.S. Navy.
On 26 February 1965, ex-USS SCABBARDFISH (SS-397) was transferred to Greece and commissioned HS TRIANINA. TRIANINA was a Balao-class sub that had been upgraded to a fleet snorkel submarine prior to transfer. In 1968, HS AMFRITRITI was decommissioned and returned to the USN, whereupon it was sunk as a target during Sixth Fleet exercises.
By 1971, the Hellenic Navy made the decision that led to its current composition. It was then clear that the United States was not going to be constructing new diesel submarines. Likewise it was clear that nuclear propulsion was not a practical option for the Greeks. Costs were prohibitive, and operating in the Eastern Mediterranean did not require the range and submerged sustainability of nuclear power. Therefore, the Hellenic Navy took delivery of the first of four Type-209/ 1 l 00 diesel-electric coastal submarines built in Kiel by HOW. Commissioned HS GLAVKOS (S-110), in honor of her predecessor, she is rated 1207 tons sub-merged, 22 knots, with a crew of 31. Like the other German-designed subs operated by Greece, she is primarily armed with U.S.-designed weapons, including sub-launched Harpoon.
But it was not the intent to sever close ties with the USN, and in 1972 Greece accepted delivery of ex-USS HARDHEAD (SS-365), a Guppy IIA conversion commissioned as HS PAP ANIKOLIS (S-114). This was followed in 1973 by a Guppy III, ex-USS RAM ORA (SS-487), which was commissioned as HS KATSONIS (S-115). In 1976, HS POSEIDON was decommissioned for spare parts to keep the two Guppys operating.
In 1979-1980, the Hellenic Navy took delivery of four more Type-209s of an advanced version (Type-209/1200), bringing their German-designed force up to eight. In 1980, TRIANINA was decommissioned for use as a pier side trainer. The Hellenic submarine force thereby consisted often boats: 8 German, 2 U.S. But age and lack of parts took their toll on the Guppys. PAP ANIKOLIS and KA TSONIS were decommissioned in 1993, which was much later than their sister ships in the U.S. fleet. (A website operated by veterans of USS RAMORA claims that it was the last WWil boat to be decommissioned.) The Hellenic Submarine Force’s Euro-American period gave way to the purely European, except for certain sensors and weapons.
The future of the Hellenic Submarine Force continues to look decidedly European. With its purchase of the Swedish sub builder Kockums, HDW is now the dominant force in the diesel submarine market, with sales contracts with Germany, Italy, Korea, and Greece. Greece will be the first to take delivery of the Type-214, which, in addition to an air independent propulsion unit, will use fuel cells instead of diesel power to recharge batteries underway (though still equipped with diesel generators). The first sub will be built in Germany and will be commissioned as the third HS KA TSONIS sometime in 2005. The three other subs will be constructed at Hellenic Shipyards in Skaramangas, Greece, which HDW-Ferrostaal Essen purchased in 2002. Greece has negotiated with U.S. companies concerning weapons for these subs. These subs are designed with eight 53.3cm swim-out torpedo tubes of which four are equipped with positive discharge for sub-launched Harpoon. As noted earlier, it is unclear whether older boats, all of which have been subsequently upgraded, will be decommissioned to free up operating funds for the newer. And, of course, there is always the potential for resale, although that has not been a Greek practice in the past.
As a member of the European Union, it is natural that Greece would look towards its European partners in acquiring weapons systems. But it is also apparent that Greece would seriously consider the acquisition of U.S. designed diesel submarines if there were any to buy. U.S. shipyards have hinted in that direction, but common wisdom was that cheap Russian KILOS would be flooding the market. In reality most buyers have rejected the KILOS (most recently South Korea which opted for Type-214s). Now it may be that HDW /Kockums have too great of a design lead in AIP and fuel cell technologies.
Given the geographic realities, Greece will continue to devote considerable resources to the Hellenic Submarine Force. Whereas the surface fleet made considerable effort to provide ships to operate out-of-the Mediterranean in support of the US-led coalition in Operation Enduring Freedom (a first for the Hellenic Navy), the Sub Force will not have that capability. But they are likely to be the most effective force to counter Greece’s own perceived threats. It is important for both the United States and Greece to maintain close relations between their respective submarine communities, no matter the source for Greece’s future Sub Force.