Sub-hunter tracks down HMS Triumph off Greece

Closed engine-room hatch on HMS Triumph (ROV Services)
Closed engine-room hatch on HMS Triumph (ROV Services)

A 25-year search has ended for a Greek diver who has succeeded in locating the 200m-deep wreck of HMS Triumph, a British submarine that had vanished in the Aegean Sea in 1942.

Triumph had been engaged in covert operations involving Britain's secret services and the resistance movement in occupied Greece during World War Two.

This was not the first British submarine to be found by Kostas Thoctarides, who also discovered the wreck of the iconic HMS Perseus in 1997. He has also discovered three other submarines off the Greek coast, including last year the Italian Jantina, which was torpedoed by another British submarine, HMS Torbay, off Mykonos in 1941.

Kostas Thoctarides
Kostas Thoctarides

The wreck-researcher and his team started looking for HMS Triumph in 1998, a quest he has described as “the hardest and most expensive mission I have ever carried out in my life”. It had called for comprehensive archival research in the UK as well as Germany, Italy and Greece, and Thoctarides eventually found the wreck through sonar-scanning at an undisclosed site 10km off the Greek mainland, before conducting ROV investigations.

Special operations

HMS Triumph (Imperial War Museums)
HMS Triumph (Imperial War Museums)

Launched in 1938, the 84m T-class submarine had completed 20 missions. She operated in the Aegean Sea from late March 1941, sinking a number of enemy ships and the Italian submarine Salpa. She landed troops in Greece and evacuated others from Alexandria in Egypt.

On 26 December Triumph left Alexandria under the command of Lt John S Huddart for her 21st patrol before returning to Britain for maintenance. She had been assigned two missions involving Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Military Intelligence MI19 agents.

The first of these involved delivering cash support to resistance fighters in Athens; the second to effect the escape of 30 British subjects from the island of Antiparos.

Triumph transmitted her last encrypted message on 30 December, signalling completion of the first phase of the mission. However, the second phase ended in disaster when she was unable to pick up the special operations team and the Britons. They were arrested, leading to a further rounding-up of Greek freedom fighters.

What is thought to have been Triumph‘s last assault was on an Axis cement-carrier on 9 January, and the last sighting of the submarine was recorded by an Italian aircraft pilot off Cape Sounion near Athens.

Missing vessel cypher (ROV Services)
(ROV Services)

The submarine was officially declared missing on 23 January, 1942, with the loss of 64 personnel – seven officers, 55 crew and two commandos.

Periscopes and hatches down

Thoctarides reported that he had found the submarine wreck with its periscopes and hatches down, suggesting that she had been hit while at depth, though proceeding at a set depth rather than in the act of diving. A powerful explosion appeared to have occurred in the fore section. 

Retracted periscope (ROV Services)
Periscope (ROV Services)
4in Mk VII deck-gun (ROV Services)
4in Mk VII deck-gun (ROV Services)
Cap of the starboard torpedo tube, with Mk VIII torpedo is halfway out (ROV Services)
Starboard torpedo tube, with Mk VIII torpedo halfway out (ROV Services)

The submarine was found to be tilted 8° to starboard. The wooden wheel and compass could be seen on the tower, with a slightly raised 4in gun. 

HMS Triumph was the only T-class submarine not to carry external primary torpedo tubes – these had been removed in 1940 following mine damage sustained the previous year. The starboard torpedo tube had opened but with a Mk VIII torpedo only halfway out.

Characteristic curved turret (ROV Services)
Characteristic curved turret (ROV Services)
Propeller with depth and direction rudders (ROV Services)
Propeller with depth and direction rudders (ROV Services)
(ROV Services)

In the vicinity of the wreck the team identified three more Mk VIII torpedoes, believed to have been fired by HMS Triumph during her final engagement.

Since Kostas Thoctarides started working as a commercial diver in 1987, he says he has clocked up the equivalent of two full years under water. The former pilot and manager of the manned submersible Thetis, he started the company ROV Services and also the Planet Blue scuba centre, which he runs at Lavrio, south of Athens.

Also on Divernet: Greek wreck-hunter solves 1959 mystery, The O2 Rebreather Miracle, First freedivers visit ‘Great Escape' sub, Tech divers untangle Perseus sub

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