WWII ‘Safe’ Ships Went Down To Save Soldiers

Thousands of Fallschirmjager were dropped onto Crete.

Australian archaeologist Michael Bendon was working in north-west Crete, in 2008. He was helping excavate an ancient 67BC town, destroyed by the Romans and which was only recently rediscovered, in the 19th century.

While the Cretan sun was burning hot on the clear sky, Bendon decided to take a break and go for a dip in the sea where he found nothing else but a WWII shipwreck of about 52 metres long. Shortly after wandering around a little longer, the Australian archaeologist stumbles upon a second unknown ship, hiding at about 20 metres in the deep.

This is how it all began and five-years later, the investigation would still be going on.

The only information that Bendon had was that the ships arrived in May 1941 and went straight down into the ocean, under the daylight bombing showers of the German Stuka fighters. Both the ships were hit directly by the bombs and sank. Nobody seemed to have died in the attack, the Herald reports.

He then moved his investigation to London where he looked through war records and diaries, trying to find more information about the ships’ identities and put together clues that would help him solve the mystery of the wrecks. Later on he return to Crete to interview the villagers and dived at the sites he found to take measurements.

In 2010 he finally discovered that the ships were both British and were supposedly lost “somewhere in the Middle East’’. They were just what was left of Landing Craft Tank A6 and Landing Craft Tank A20 (LCT A6 / LCT A20).

“The vessels were prototypes proposed by and developed by Winston Churchill. These were British tank landing craft Mark 1,” Bendon said.

The LCT crafts were able to load up to 900 soldiers, more than the usual expected, and they were the ones that saved thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the Mediterranean campaign, taking them from Greece to Souda Bay in Crete. All this was happening in April 1941.

Bendon is now willing to find a World War II vet from Newcastle, who is likely to be in his 90s today, and who was part of the Australia’s 2/4th Battalion, to interview him about what happened during the evacuation from Greece.

The archaeologist said there is also a World War II Stuka hiding in the sands of the sea in Phalasarna, but he hadn’t had time to dig up anything yet. The governor of Crete, invited Bendon to be the key-speaker during the 2014 ceremony, in May.

He also wants to write a book about all these years of research on the WWII Mediterranean mysteries he’s been studying so closely.

“It’s to be called The Forgotten Flotilla, with a subtitle something like ‘Anzacs and their landing craft of WWII’ and meant for a general audience,” said Michael Bendon.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE