Wreck diving in Greece

Long live Leros

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The small Greek island Leros has gone through a lot in the world wars. This makes the island near the Turkish border particularly exciting for divers - the waters are full of airplane and ship wrecks. Timo Dersch undertook an underwater journey through time.

November 12, 1943: The German leather boots storm ashore. After the military positions of the British have been attacked for weeks from the air, now the short process is to be made. For weeks, the islanders hide in their tunnels. The overpowering battleship "Queen Olga" had already been sunk at the end of September. Now the "Kampftruppe Müller" has good chances to be the strongest on land as well. And that is how it should be. Five days of bitter fighting later, the island defenders capitulate. 357 Britons and 408 Germans fall victim to the fighting. 3,200 Britons and 5,350 Italians are captured. Not a single civilian is injured.

What remains are the countless remains on the seabed. Aircraft, Dropships, Supply Vessels, Warships, Submarine Defense Nets - the waters around Leros are a veritable cemetery for war machinery. And that makes them especially interesting for divers.

Because wreck diving, that is immersion in history. Wrecks are exciting. They are witnesses to the past, preserving history on the day of their demise. But the scrap metal on the seabed is not only a memorial to war and destruction, wrecks also offer a chance for new life. Because for sea creatures they can become the new home. That's why divers like it so much at these sites: life flourishes there. Scrap becomes an artificial reef for its inhabitants in a very short time.

Kostas Kouvas is a humble person. He does not expect much from life. He likes to dive and wants to be able to feed his family. And he loves his homeland, is happy about every visitor who is just as enthusiastic about his waters as he is. That's enough for him to be happy. He does not need more. His son is now at an age where he can take responsibility himself. "It feels like I can hand over the keys to him soon," says the man with the friendly features and white hair. "I'm glad that he wants to follow in my footsteps, and also wants to become a professional diver." And so father and son bring their guests full of motivation and zest for the treasures in their waters. And if it is not enough, yes then also for the local fish farms dipped. Here networks have to be examined and maintained. And in general, make sure everything is alright, and the dolphins do not even try to steal anything from the farms.

The first wreck to bring the two Aquarians to their guests is a "Arado AR 196" swimming plane. It lies at a relaxed 16 meters depth on a slope. The cockpit is well preserved, you recognize the steering wheel and it is too tempting to touch it and for a moment even play the pilot. The covering of the hull fell victim to the salty water. For this purpose, magnificent, yellow cone sponges populate the wreck. The surrounding reef is interesting. Moray eels sit in the crevices. Fire worms crawl over the stones. A curious filefish surveys the unexpected visitors. That leaves you wanting more.

Looking at the history of the island of Leros, especially the Italians play a major role. In the Italian-Turkish War of 1912, they occupied the island, in 1923 it was then officially awarded to them, and remain until the capitulation of Italy in 1943, also. The capital of the island, Lakki, testifies the most. Wide streets, spacious buildings and avenues with eucalyptus trees. The Italian style of the 20s and 30s is particularly present here and stands in contrast to the idyll of the white, narrow streets with the blue shutters and the large windmills - the Greek architecture that characterizes the rest of the island.

Lakki is located at the end of a bay, which is the largest natural port in the Mediterranean - a strategic point in wartime, and still today a haven for hundreds of sailboats in the stormy winter. Here was also the entire Italian fleet - later then under the British flag. That's why the bay is very interesting for divers and the rest of the dive sites are not from the diving school on the other side of the island, but from the old harbor in Lakki.

The fatal would have been if an enemy submarine could invade the bay and attack the fleet from below. That's why there was a defense system. A large net of metal was unceremoniously stretched across the entrance of the bay. A huge winch on a boat helped position the net. Of course, since a metal net weighs a bit, it needed buoyancy bodies. Huge air-filled metal buoys held the net in place. Today the monstrous structures together with the net lie at the bottom of the bay and are slowly overgrown by sponges. The deeper you dive, the better you can see it. At 45 meters depth is the largest ton. Pretty impressive.

Over the next few days follow, a supply ship with rails in the interior, several DropShips and the ship with the winch, with which the net could be brought into position. All deep dives. All pretty exciting. At the wrecks are numerous night snails. A special kind, so-called Flabellinas. They have funny, colorful tentacles on their backs. However, the tentacles are not really proper tentacles, but skin processes in which the nettle capsules of the crayfish they eat are stored. A fascinating sight and the wrecks in 'microscopic' to find 'a few inches tall'.

At the large DropShip of the Germans, near the small island Strogilli, there is still a lot of equipment. A helmet, a handgun and an assault rifle. Are they really real? Somebody put that down there ... "No, it's all real," confirms Kostas. "This is not plastic, but bakelite, a plastic-like material that the Germans had already patented in 1909." Kostas knows his way around. The treasures on the seabed have made him a true history expert. "They are all real. Will we also see in the war museum. "The war museum is located in one of the tunnels where the island population hid at that time. Distributed throughout the island, these tunnel entrances can be found in the rock. They represent a whole system. Only in this way could the inhabitants survive the attacks. So also Kostas father and his grandfather.

On the last day of diving the highlight: the Junkers-52. The popular aircraft was used to drop parachutists. The three-engine machine is upside down on the ocean floor at a demanding depth of 55 meters. During the descent down the buoy line you will not see anything amazing the endless blue. Then slowly the outlines in the gloomy gray-blue are visible. Once at the bottom you can see how beautifully the wings are already completely overgrown by sponges. The aircraft itself is now shrouded in fishing nets. It is possible to dive in but dangerous. Everywhere hanging ropes and sharp edges around, where you could get tangled. At this depth, this is not an aspirational experience. The deep intoxication is hammering in the head and the basic time on the computer is rapidly changing into decompression minutes. A total of 25 minutes requires the ascent to the submersible. Over the last two stages, Kostas has prepared a 50 percent oxygen mixture so the nitrogen can be exhaled faster. What a crowning finale to a gigantic journey through time. And how do you celebrate it the best? Of course, with seafood, wine and Greek delicacies in the restaurant El Greco. Yammas!

Information about the island: www.visitgreece.com
Information about diving and the diving school: www.hydrovius.gr
Bookable at: www.belugareisen.de

  1. Timo, great report. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Don Pedro. I like to listen.

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