Greece: Event on Sunday to commemorate deaths of 4,100 Italian POWs on ORIA steamship

An event commemorating the deaths of 4,100 captive Italian WWII soldiers on the Norwegian steamship “ORIA” will be held this Sunday at 11:00, 76 years after the major naval tragedy, at the 60th km of Athens-Sounio coastal road.

The event is jointly organised by the municipalites of the Saronic Gulf and Lavreotiki, the association “Chryssi Tomi” of Keratea, the Italian Embassy and is held under the auspices of President of Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos. The Catholic Archbishop of Athens, Sevastianos Rossolatos, will officiate a memorial service followed by the laying of wreaths.

The sinking of the Norwegian steamship “ORIA” is considered one of the greatest naval tragedies in world history, claiming three times as many victims as the Titanic, but one which is not widely known. It occurred on the night of February 12, 1944 near the islet Patroklos in the Saronic Gulf, during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

Germans take Italians prisoner after Italy’s surrender

In the fall of 1943, after the German invasion of the Dodecanese, the Germans had to transfer tens of thousands of Italian prisoners of war over the sea. These transfers were often carried out in unseaworthy vessels, with prisoners crammed into the hull of the ships, and without any safety standards. Several ships sank, by allied attack or by accident, causing the death of thousands of prisoners.

The Oria was one of the vessels chosen to transport Italian prisoners. On 11 February 1944, it sailed from Rhodes bound for Piraeus, carrying 4,116 Italian prisoners (43 officers, 118 non-commissioned officers and 3,955 soldiers), 21 Germans soldiers and a crew of 22 Greeks.

More than 4,000 Italians drown

Few people know that more than 4,000 Italian prisoners were tragically drowned in the Saronic Gulf, very close to Athens, when the steamer requisitioned by the Germans collided with the islet Patroklos, also known as Gaidouronisi, due to a combination of mistaken handling and bad weather conditions, near Cape Sounion in southeast Attica.

According to Italian sources, 21 prisoners, six German soldiers, the Norwegian captain and one Greek sailor were the only people saved, with the bodies of drowned Italian soldiers washing up on the surrounding shores for months afterward.

The remains of the wreck were discovered in 1999 by Greek diver Aristotelis Zervoudis, who was awarded a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy (Cavaliere del’ Ordine della Stella d’ Italia) medal for his services by the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella.