Piraeus in Modern History (ΙΙ): During WWII

The “Casualties” of the Greek Shipping

The Nation’s involvement in World War II left its marks on both the city and the port of Piraeus. Especially for the latter, the impact was direct, the war exerting an overly devastating influence over its, till then, steady progress.

The Greek Royal Navy

Poorly equipped and understaffed, already before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Navy was in no position to stand its ground against the consecutive attacks of Luftwaffe Air Force, in April 1941 and more than half of that feeble fleet was destroyed.

The Greek Merchant Marine

Luftwaffe Air Force Attack, in April 1941In contrast to the Royal Navy and despite the adversities – repercussions of WWI and global economic crisis in the 30s, the Greek Merchant Marine was going through a period of growth and prosperity; only a year before WWII, the Greek-owned merchant fleet was third on a global scale, consisting of nearly 650 ships.

Right after the beginning of the Greek-Italian War, on October 28, 1940 and up until April, 1941, a significant part of the merchant fleet was commandeered by the Greek government to cover the pressing needs of the war. Furthermore, an equally large number of the Greek merchant ships, manned primarily by Greek crews, was chartered by the British government and joined the Allied convoys in the Atlantic in order to convey the necessary provisions to the United Kingdom; most of those ships, along with their crews, never returned to the port of Piraeus.

The merchant fleet remaining in Greece was commandeered by Wehrmacht and incorporated in the German Navy; almost all of those ships were sunk during the war.

“Clan Fraser” & the Bombardment in 1941

Clan Fraser Monument

“Clan Fraser” Monument in Tinanios Garden

During WWII, the merchant ship SS Clan Fraser was used in Allied operations, mostly as a part of supply convoys, in the Mediterranean.

The last time “Clan Fraser” entered the port of Piraeus was on April 4, 1941, loaded with military equipment. On the night of April 6 – the first day of the German invasion in Greece – Luftwaffe Stukas started bombing Piraeus. “Clan Fraser” was hit by three bombs during the first two air raids and, almost immediately caught fire. The vessel was burning for five whole hours and all efforts made to put out the fire were vain. Towing the ship was also out of the question since a possible removal would be extremely dangerous due to the magnetic mine field.

Having no other option than letting it get burned, the citizens of Piraeus witnessed the port turning into a real hell on April 7, when the TNT stored aboard “Clan Fraser” exploded, the powerful blast causing extensive damage to the port installations and the ships anchored nearby.

Pieces of the vessel were found all over the port’s broader area, while a part of sheet metal got jammed in a tree located inside Tinaneios Garden where it had been left as a monument, for many years. Today, that very piece can be seen at the Municipal Art Gallery of Piraeus.

The “Allies” Bombardment in 1944

Piraeus bombardment in 1944On January 11, 1944 the city of Piraeus was almost totally destroyed by three successive bombardments, carried out by the Allied Anglo-American Powers. This brutal and unjustified attack followed – by only a few days – the withdrawal of German troops from the country.

At noon, an American bomber aircraft unleashed an unexpected attack on the city. Apart from the immeasurable material damages, approximately 5.500 innocent civilians met a horrible death getting blown up, burned alive or suffocating beneath the ruins. The electricity grid collapse resulted in Piraeus getting cut off from the rest of the country.

Later that same night, two more unjustified bombardments conducted by British bomber aircrafts this time, followed the first, almost leveling the remainder of the city.

Piraeus in Modern History (ΙΙ): During WWII
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