Immediately after the occupation of Greece, the German army of occupation faced a particularly intractable problem: the lack of floating means to settle its operations in the Aegean Sea. Although this problem was initially solved by requisitioning, hauling, and repairing shipwrecks, and on the other hand, by requisitioning or purchasing wooden motorsailers, the lack of cargo ships necessary in the German army remained a problem during most of the occupation. One proposed solution to this problem was the construction of small vessels made of reinforced concrete, the so-called “Concrete Ships” like those built in Greece during 1941-1944.
Oberstleutnant Adolph Götze led the project for the construction of the concrete ships in Greece. These ships were built according to French plans by Greek companies, mainly in Perama. By 1944, seven ships were brought into service; five had been launched without being completed, while eleven were under construction. Among these ships was the “PIONIER I,” whose shipwreck is fount on the island of Stroggili in Lichadonisia, Evia.
The “PIONIER I” was the first concrete ship to be built and launched in Greece. It was launched in Perama by GETE (General Company of Technical Executions) of the Argyropoulos brothers and was launched on August 1st, 1942. The contractor was Generalmajor Walter Kuntze, Höherer Pionierführer Südost of the Supreme Command of the 12th Army (AOK 12). The ship was built according to the specifications of the “Muster 2” and had the following technical characteristics.
Length (m): 38,50
Width (m): 8,50
Depth (m): 2,80
Propulsion: Diesel engine
Speed: 3 knots
Portability: 260 tonnes
Armament: 2 machine guns
The ship was put into service for the German Wehrmacht on March 17th, 1943, to transport ore and bulk cargo.
According to the War Diary of the Commander of Maritime Transport of the Admiralty of the Aegean (Kriegstagebuch des Seetransportchefs des Admiral Ägäis), Fregattenkapitän Kolbe, the PIONIER I, laden with 200 tons of coal, departed at noon on July 7th, 1944, together with his brother ship PIONIER II from Chalkis to Stratoni in Chalikidiki, via Volos, to load iron ore. Οn July 13th, the ship did not appear in Volos, the Naval Administration of Volos initiated, in consultation with the Directorate of Maritime Transport of Piraeus, a marine survey with a view to his identification, which however did not bear fruit. As it became known later and as it is mentioned in the registration 5987/44 of Quartiermeister VI, in the list of losses of the Supreme Command of the Navy (OKM-Verlustliste), the ship was attacked by Greek rebels on July 9th, 1944, near Limni Evia, resulting in its occupation and later sinking.
The Piraeus Maritime Transport Command, in a telegram dated July 22nd, 1944, to the Supreme Military Commander of Greece (Befehlshaber Griechenland), refers in more detail to the incident, precisely specifying the date, the manner, and the place of occupation of the ship:
«On 8.7.44, the concrete ship, which was leading from Piraeus to Volos, loaded with 200 tons of coal for the army, was attacked by two sailboats of the rebels near to the island Stroggili [Lichadonisia of Evia] and was occupied. The Greek captain and the five crew members, all Greeks, were arrested and later released. Two onboard soldiers of the German army were arrested »
Identifying the concrete ship “PIONIER I” in Lichadonisia was difficult. A second cement ship, “GENERAL MEISE IV,” was also sunk in October 1944 in the same area.
According to the entries of the War Diary of the Admiralty of the Aegean (Kriegstagebuch des Kommandierenden Admiral Ägäis), the “GENERAL MEISE IV”, integrated with a convoy, was attacked by allied aircrafts at noon on October 8th, 1944, on the “Channel of Evia,” resulting in its sinking with eight dead, two seriously injured, and eight missings. “GENERAL MEISE IV” was a cement ship of 500 GRT and a length of 45 meters, cargo transporter with a capacity of 400 tonnes, brought into service on July 7th, 1943.
The fieldwork and the measurements taken have shown whether the sinking of the cement ship in Lichadonisia is exactly 38.5 meters long; moreover, the fact that the report of the German Maritime Transport Administration of Piraeus mentions the place of occupation of the ship, the island of Stroggili, contributes directly to the fact that this must be the wreck of the German cement ship “PIONIER I.”
The area keeps its precious secret, a breath away from Lichada of Northern Evia and opposite Kamena Vourla. Lichadonisia is a cluster of 7 small islets due to volcanic activity and is a single volcanic formation placed in 426 BC.
According to mythology, their name came from Lychas, the slave of Hercules, who handed him the poisoned tunic of Deianira. Hercules held him responsible and hurled him into the sea, around cape Tineo. Poseidon transformed these into small islands and thus formed the known today as Lichadonisia.
The concrete Ship “Pionier I” is located between Monolia and Megali Stroggili islands, just opposite Lichadonisia. The shipwreck is at 10m. depth, sitting upright on a sandy seabed with its bow heading northwest.
The shipwreck today is an artificial reef with benthic cover. Its relatively small size allows many passages along its entire length and width. Flocks of small fish usually surround it.
The three holds of the ship are open and easily accessible, offering penetration inside. There, one can admire different species of sponges, bivalves, polychaetes, and crabs.
In all shipwrecked penetration, excellent buoyancy control is imperative as with the slightest misplaced movement, a significant amount of sediment is shaken.
On the left side of the stern, the diver can clearly distinguish the crack created in the hold, probably from the placement of explosive material that resulted in the ship’s sinking.
Despite its shallow depth, the currents in the area are intense most of the time due to the junction of the Northern Evian Gulf with the Maliakos Gulf and needs the required attention.
We would like to warmly thank Spyros Tapas and the UpStories team for their trust and cooperation in completing this project, the Regina paper company for the kind sponsorship, and the Poseidon Daily Cruises for the shipping.
Warm thanks to Dimitris Galon for the historical research and the content writing, Vassilis Gerovassiliou, ass. Professor of Marine Ecology for his scientific advice to marine life and finally to our good friend Damianos Veropoulos owner of the VDiveClub Diving Center in Kamena Vourla, for the field investigation and the measurement of the wreck for its final identification.