On a windy December night during World War II, a British submarine was patrolling off the Italian-occupied island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea.
Suddenly, the HMS Perseus was shaken by a blast that ripped a hole in its bow. Minutes later it lay on the seabed, trapping its 60 crewmen.Divers who located the wreck confirmed Tuesday how a single crew member managed to survive while his 59 comrades perished.
An underwater research team led by Greek diver Kostas Thoctarides found the 2,000-ton submarine, named after the son of the Greek god Zeus. It had remained undisturbed since it sank on Dec. 6, 1941.
"It was a feeling of awe because it was the most impressive wreck we have ever seen," said Thoctarides, a veteran of more than 20 shipwreck dives. "Everything was in place. It was as if time had stopped."
The team's findings confirm the report that John Capes, then 31, filed with the British navy, which said he escaped through a hatch as the submarine lay at a depth of 170 feet.
Capes, who died a decade ago, described how the compartment he was in near the submarine's tail flooded last, although the Perseus had already settled on the seabed.
He recounted being with three other crewmen who were injured. After boosting their courage with a bottle of rum, the four used a specialized escape apparatus to exit the sub and float to the surface.
But Capes reported that there were no signs of the others when he surfaced in the cool waters.
After swimming for several hours, Capes managed to reach Cephalonia and collapsed on the shore near the village of Skalla. For the next 18 months, villagers hid Capes from Italian and German forces until he was smuggled by ship to Turkey and freedom.