“LOKFAHRE” Ex British TLC Mark 1 Type

“LOKFAHRE” Ex British TLC Mark 1 Type

During the World War I, the needs of the British army led to the construction of light landing crafts whose main purpose was to transfer tanks and staff to wild and not easily accessible areas. Upon the beginning of the World War II and having already enough experience concerning the landing crafts, the British Admiralty started the construction of a new type of landing craft that was initially named TLC (Tank Landing Craft) and then became more known under the American term LCT (Landing Craft Tank).

Since June 1940 and during the World War II, the British Prime Minister himself, Whinston Churchill, was personally interested in the design, quality and the production pace of the TLCs. The result was the construction of a craft of 226 tones with a total displacement of 372 tones that had the capacity of transferring 3 tanks of 36 tones each and disembarking them to wild and not easily accessible shores. This type was known as TLC Mark 1 and was used during the World War II to the war fronts of the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece. One of the main characteristics of this type was the long ramp of 3,7m that helped the vehicles to disembark directly on the shore while a second steel double hinged protecting door located behind the ramp was protecting even more the vehicles, separating the transfer area from the bow. The general technical characteristics of the British TLC Mark 1 were:

Length: 46m
Width: 8,5m
Draught: 0,91m
Impulsion: 2 Hall-Scoot diesel engines of 350hp (261 kW)
Propellers: 2
Indicative speed: 8 knots
Autonomy: 900 nautical miles
Indicative crew: 12 members (2 officers, 10 sailors)
Indicative armament: 2 anti-air fire guns of 4mm (QF 2-pounder naval gun)

The first TLC Mark 1 was constructed under the reference number 795 at the Vickers-Armstrong’s shipyards, at Barrow of England and was completed in 11.12.1940. In total, 30 TLC Mark 1 were constructed, from which, the 20 first received the code “A”, from the term “A-class lighters” along with the respective serial number and were transferred to North Africa participating in operations that had to do with the front of Cyrenaica.

The history of the ship at the British Royal Navy

In April 1941, after the war report of the rear admiral H.T Baillie-Grohman concerning the development of the war in Greece, the advance of the German army, the front collapse and the retreat of the allied army to the north, the British chief Andrew B. Cunningham ordered the preparation of evacuating the retreating allied forces from the Greek mainland. This operation, called “DEMON Operation”, had as a purpose the embarkation of almost 47.000 soldiers to allied ships in order to move them to the still resisting Crete. In the total of the ships that were scheduled to participate in the withdrawal of the allied army, it was ordered to six British TLC of the “First Tank Landing Craft Flotilla” to participate too, under the orders of the lieutenant Cdr. Peter C. Hutton R.N. These six British TLC were supposed to take care of the transfer of soldiers from the areas where they were gathered to the bigger ships in order for their embarkation and transfer to Souda Port.

The main points of gathering and embarkation of the retreating British forces were: Piraeus, Megara, Porto Rafti, Nafplio, Monemvasia and Kalamata. The five out of six TLC (A.1, A.5, A.6, A.16, A.19), accompanied by the ships SOUTHERN MAID and AUCKLAND, departed from Alexandria to Tobruk on 17.4.1941. At night of the same day the four of them (A.1, A.6, A.16, A.19), accompanied by the antisubmarine ship SKUD V, departed from Tobruk with final destination the port of Souda where they arrived on 21.4.1941. The fifth of them (A.5) was ordered to travel alone towards Nafplio. The sixth (A.15) stayed at Alexandria due to engineering problems and it was sent later directly to Souda.

On April 22nd 1941, three of the four TLC that had arrived to Crete, were ordered to depart with destination to Attica in order to participate in the operation “DEMON” whose startup was set to be on 23.4.1941. The A.1 (Captain Sub Lt. Peters R.N.V.R) and the A.19 (captain Skipper R.S Cooper R.N.R) had final destination Megara, while the A.6 (Captain Sub Lt. Sutton R.N.V.R) was heading to Lavrio.
The A.16 (captain Boatswain E.J Boisell R.N) and while it was located at Souda, underwent some damages by a German air attack and as a result it could not participate in the operation due to an engineering problem that disabled one of the two engines. Despite the fact that the A.16 participated later in the disembarkation of the army that was transferred by the allied ships to Souda, due to its disability to travel autonomously until Alexandria during the evacuation of Crete, it was sank itself by the departing allied army in the bay of Souda. Then, it was floated off by the German occupation army, it was fixed and on February 2nd 1942 it was towed, by the tugboat Irini Vernikou, from Souda to Heraklio where is was used by the German army in order to complete operations at the port of Heraklio [1]. After the war, it was used by the Wreck Floating Organization as a floating winch “Z14” for floating off wrecks.

On 23.4.1941, TLC A.1 and A.19 reached their destination at Megara and A.6 arrived at Porto Rafti. On the same day, A.1 and A.19 were attacked via air by Junkers 87 and as a result A.1 asked for help and went to the island of Pachi, Megara. In the afternoon of the next day, 4 Ju 87 detected A.1 at the island of Pachi and attacked it by striking it with five successful shots. Even though the ship sank, a part of its stern stayed out of the water surface held by the lashing rope. During night, all useful items were taken out of the ship, all documents were destroyed and then A.1 was exploded with explosives [02].

In the night of April 25th to April 26th 1941, and while it was participating in the effort of embarkating soldiers to the ships HMS WRYNECK, DECOY and COVENTRY, first the right propeller of A.19 and then one of the engines were destroyed. As a result, A.19, after having activated the water faucets, was abandoned. The reasons that led to the abandonment of the ship were two: the disability of fixing the engine and of towing it to Crete. At the same time, they considered that the abandoned and quite visible A.19 would be an easy target for the German airplanes and as a result it would be destroyed and not able to finally belong to the German army [03].

From the four British TLC that participated in the “DEMON” operation, only A.5 was saved and managed to return to Souda on April 29th 1941. Later, it was sunk by the German air forces during the operation of evacuating Crete [04].
The six TLC of the “First Tank Landing Craft Flotilla” that had started from Alexandria had the end described below: A.16 and A.6 had the story already mentioned above, A.1 and A.19 were lost in Megara, A.5 was destroyed and sank by a German air attack at Monemvasia and A.15 sank with all the crew on board by Luftwaffe on 28.4.1941 while it was located almost 15 miles east from Monemvasia assisting A.5 that was located over there. The commander of the six British TLC, the lieutenant Peter C. Hutton R.N was on board too and sank with the ship.

The history of the ship at the German Navy (Kriegsmarine)

Immediately after the occupation of Greece by Wehrmacht, the intense lack of ships for transferring army and supplies to the islands and the front of Cyrenaica, led the German navy administration to commandeer and hire ships and to declare that all wrecks within the Greek area belong to the German state. Many of those wrecks were towed, fixed and then integrated the German Navy, the Kriegsmarine. Among those towed ships that operated for the German occupation army, there are the British TLC A.1 and A.19 [05] that sank at Megara and were hit by the German air forces during the DEMON operation as well as A.16 that sank by the allied army at Souda and that after its floating and repair by the German army it was transferred to Heraklion without giving up, according to the archive findings at Crete until today [06].

According to the German records, in October 1941 the two TLC (A.1 and A.19) had already been floated off and while A.1 was already at Piraeus, A.19 was being repaired [07]. After their repair, they started transferring steam engines and wagons between Athens and Thessaloniki during the whole time while Bralos bridge was not constructed yet [08]. This information is enhanced by allied diary records of March 10th 1942 that mention that “two modern train steam engines with their equipment” were transferred by two ex British disembarking crafts from Piraeus to Stilida [09]. It is obvious that this record refers to the two floated British TLC, A.1 and A.19.

This specific operational action of the two ships, that initially at least was about transferring wagon steam engines and railway equipment, led to name them unofficially LOKFAHRE [10], coming from the German words “Lok”, that means Lokomotive (wagon steam engine) and Fahre that means transfer ship [11]. This estimation is enhanced by German sources, such as a telegram from the German Administration of Sea Transfers of Aegean Sea (in german: Seetransportchef Agais) that refers to a transfer of four cargos and five soldiers with one of the two LOKFAHRE from Siros island to Piraeus [12].

Between the transfer of the floated A.16 from Souda to Heraklion (02.02.1942) [13] and the allied diary record that refers to the two British TLC (10.03.1942) [14] and mentions the train transfer as a previous fact (at least three months earlier), there are 35 days during which there is no record at no war diary of Kriegsmarine to make any reference of the transfer of the floated at Souda British TLC from Crete to Piraeus. So, we can safely understand that TLC A.1 and A.19 were floated before A.16, a fact that is also confirmed by the war records, and that they operated as LOKFAHRE apart from A.16 that obviously never received this name. Also, even though there are no records to exactly confirm the differentiation of the two LOKFAHRE by the German occupation forces, it is obviously understood that serial numbers may have been used in order to identify the crafts, such as number 1 and number 2.
The records of the German war diaries, where references to the LOKFAHRE are made, are few. The two last records have to do with Leandros operation (in german Unternehmen LEANDER, September-October 1944) that had as purpose to evacuate the islands of the Aegean Sea by the German army and then to gradually evacuate the Greek mainland. This is the beginnig of the retreat of the German army from the Balkan Peninsula. On 29.9.1944 at 15.27, the war diary of the German Admiralty of the Aegean Sea (in german Kriegstagebuch des kommandierenden Admiral Agais) mentions the below to a record concerning the allied attack to Siros island on 28.9.1944 without specifying for which of the two LOKFAHRE refers to:

“Fire shots the one after the other at the port of the settlement from 10.15 to 11.40, from an angle of 30 degrees coming from a battle cruiser and a destroyer located between Siros and Tinos Island. Small damages to the houses, two successful shots against LOKFAHRE. Small damages were caused to the motor ship Nachtigall at I56 and I77. No losses, three injured.”

Another record of 28.09.1944 in the war diary of the German Admiralty of the Aegean Sea (in german Kriegstagebuch des kommandierenden Admiral Agais) informs us the below:

“During a sea attack at Siros, Lokfahre sank due to the firing and also a battle cruiser and a destroyer as well as SF 292, SF 269, SF 291 and SF 294 were destroyed.   

This last record that mentions that the one of the two LOKFAHRE sank at Syros is probably incorrect; that record could be valid only if the two ships, LOKFAHRE I and II, were at the port of Syros at the same time. According to the claims of the eyewitnesses that were noted by the researcher Dr. Peter Schenk [15], the ship did not sink on the already mentioned date but 11 days later, on 10.10.1944, near Cape of Sounio. According to Dr. Peter Schenk, after the attack and the damages on 28.9.194, LOKFAHRE was repaired and then travelled, loaded with army and equipment, accompanied by GA 01 [16] from Siros to Piraeus; as a result the ship sank at 03.04am on 10.10.1944 near Sounio.

Until now no deep search concerning the afterwar floatings of the Organization of Wreck Floating at Siros has been realized. In the “Melissinos List” though there is a reference concerning an after war floating of n iron disembarking craft of 300 tones at the port of Siros [17], a fact that lets us suppose that the two LOKFAHRE anchored at the same date at the already mentioned area. However, it is still unknown which one of the two LOKFAHRE, A.1 or A.19, sank near Sounio and when and where the second LOKFAHRE sank.

The wreck

During summer and autumn of 2013, the diving group of Antonis Grafas dived in detected targets in order to confirm the existance of wrecks as well as to realize on the spot research, to document the already detected wrecks and to throughly try to identify them. One of these wrecks was identified and documented as being an LCT, a fact that lets us suppose that maybe is one of the British disembarking crafts that sank by the German air forces in April 1941, the period during which the Greek mainland was being evacuated by the British army.

Even though the wreck’s construction and technical characteristics led to a very primary estimation of its history, the further research, and especially the thorough consideration [18], resulted in one more series of divings during spring of 2014.The results of this last research, that was focused on  counting the wreck,estimating and listing the army material that was carrying and identifying the sort of the transferred vehicles, resulted in the safe and documented conclusion that this wreck is one of the two German LOKFAHRE, ex British TLC Mark type 1; obviously is A.1 or A.19.

The wreck detected by the diving group of Antonis Grafas is sunk in a maximum depth of 108m and minimum 98m at the area of Anavissos. The longwise line of bow-stern has a direction of almost 210 degrees. The findings show that it was carrying five vehicles (small wagons); the remaining of the three of them is located in the wreck and the other outside of it. The wreck of LOKFAHRE has the typical construction line of the British LCT of Mark 1 type [19]. The ship, inside and around it, has remaining of armament [20].

This is actually a very interesting finding that enhances the historic puzzle of the wrecks located in Saronikos Bay, adding one more clue in the historic facts that took place in Greece during the World War II. The particularity of this wreck lays on its strange and mysterious history. It is a ship that stood up to both enemy sides, participating in the most important facts of the World War II in the Greek mainland, in the retreat of the Allies in April 1941 as well as the retreat of the German army during autumn 1944.

DG

References, Extras and Clarifications

01. The information of the researcher Dr. Jung concerning the transfer of A.16 to Piraeus in January 1942 must be considered invalid, as the war diaries of the German Navy Administration of Crete and Attica do not confirm it. Actually, they clearly state that the floated A.16 was towed by the tugboat IRINI VERNIKOU on 2.2.1942 at Souda and they do not mention anywhere its transfer outside Crete. This record concerning the transfer of A.16 to Piraeus (see Schenk, p. 111-112) is based on this invalid information of Mr. Jung.

02. See Heckstall-Smith / Baillie-Grohman, p. 108-111
03. See Heckstall-Smith / Baillie-Grohman, p. 130-133
04. At Falassarna, Crete. For more details see Bendon
05. See “Liste der bereits geborgenen Schiffe”, RW 19/5525
06. See KTB Kommandant der Seeverteidigung Kreta, 02.02.1942. There is no record in this diary for the year 1942 concerning any transfer of a floated British TLC at Piraeus.
07. See “Liste der bereits geborgenen Schiffe”, RW 19/5525
08. See Schenk, p.111-112. It is the “Papadia Bridge” at Bralos, Fthiotida that was destroyed by the allied forces during their retreat in April 1941.
09. See WO 208/3357
10. In Greek it is pronounced as “Lokfere”
11. See Schenk, p. 111-112
12. See “Lagemeldungen Adm. Aegaeis 04.07-28.11.41”
13. See KTB Kommandant der Seeverteidigung Kreta, 02.02.1942
14. See WO 208/3357
15. Dr.Peter Schenk, during a private meeting that he had with Horst Buholz, mentioned that the information for the story and sinking of LOKFAHRE was received by him , member of the Navy Unit of the Anti-air Deck (in german Marinebordflakabteilung), when he gave his personal diary to the German research work group “Arbeitskreis Groner” in 1982.
16. GA 01 was a ship of the Protective Coastal Fleet of Attica (in german Kustenschutzflottille Attika). Before 1.11.1942, when the fleet had still the name 12 Kustenschutzflottille, the ship had the code name 11 V 4. This is probably the tugboat Agios Spiridon, 1467 that was commandeered by Kriegsmarine and sank by the  departed German Army on 12.10.1944 (see Ntounis, volume A, p. 106). Its sinking is confirmed by German sources as well.
17. See Malakassi, volume A, p. 142
18. See “HMS LCT” at “Tithis” (www.scubadive.gr)
19. Despite our estimations concerning the wreck, everything has been also confirmed by the researcher Michael Bendon (Flinders University) with whom we have been in contact.
20. Among other items, war helmets of Wehrmacht were detected and photoshooted. They are obviously coming from the procedures of the anti air fire gun of the ship.  

Archive Sources
ADM 267/129, ADM 199/806, ADM 199/2227, WO 361/116, WO 208/3357
The National Archives, Kew Gardens, London
KTB (Kriegstagebuch) Admiral Agais, KTB Kommandant der Seeverteidigung Attika, KTB Kustenschutzflottille Attika, KTB Kommandant der Seeverteidigung Kreta, KTB Seetransportchef Agais
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. (NARA)
“Handakte”, “Leander”, Sept.-Okt. 1944“, PG-46148, NARA
Lagemeldungen Adm. Agais 04.07-28.11.41“, Heeresakte T312 Roll 460, NARA
“Liste der bereits geborgenen Schiffe“, RW 19/5525, Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Freiburg am Breisgau

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