THERE IS COMPLETE DARKNESS. For a few seconds the deafening murmur of the water seems to cease as John feels Perseus falling, then a devastating bump throws him back to the terrible reality.
Perseus lies on the seabed but, by some miracle, the rear section has not yet flooded.
John feels a sharp pain over his right thigh, but acts fast. He tries to snap on the flashlight that’s normally placed next to an emergency hatch, and it’s there and works! He heads for the engine-room, and the light beam slicing through the toxic air reveals a terrible sight.
Everywhere is a tangle of burned and bloodied bodies, but somehow he finds three living though badly injured sailors.
The door to the engine-room has been closed, not by human hands but by the explosion, but water is spraying through the rubber seal so it is clearly under heavy pressure.
Helping the three injured men to the emergency escape hatch takes John half an hour. By now the water level has risen significantly and bodies are floating all around him.
The cold penetrates the bones as the water goes on rising. Everyone is in the emergency room, but before the hatch can be opened the chamber must be flooded, because the surrounding water is now putting 10 tons of pressure on the hatch. What if the explosion has deformed the ship and the hatch won’t open?
The men are kitted up in the Davis Apparatus, a simple oxygen rebreather consisting of breathing hose, oxygen bottle and a breathing bag. John checks the pressure gauge: it reads -82m.
Their chances of survival appear to be zero, because a pure oxygen-supplying device is not designed to be used at such great depth, but there is no other option. The men put on the goggles and nose-clips to prevent leakage of gas from the loop.
John finds a valve to equalise the pressure in the chamber, but the handle is bent. He needs to finds a solution fast, and realises that he has to flood the chamber using a system that sends smoke signals to the surface.
When the oily water is swirling around them, the men all start breathing oxygen.
The pressure equalises, leaving only a small amount of compressed air under the hatch-seal. In severe pain, John forces open the hatch and pushes the other sailors outside one by one before passing through the opening himself.
The Davis apparatus carries him to the surface. He is breathing, but there is searing pain throughout his body.
On his way up he finds himself next to another floating mine and, scared, he holds his breath for as long as he can.
Finally, he reaches the surface and smells fresh air. He looks around for the other men amid the noxious bubbles escaping from the submarine, but it seems he is the only survivor.
In the distance John can see the lights of what he believes to be Kefalonia. It takes him eight gruelling hours to swim some five miles before he falls exhausted on the beach. Good-hearted Greeks help him to recover in secret, as the island is under Italian occupation, and the Greek branch of MI9, the British Military Intelligence service, gets involved too.
Eighteen months in hiding in various locations ends on the last day of May 1943, when John leaves Kefalonia on a ship named Evangelistria.