One of the worst maritime tragedies in history took place in Greece and cost almost four times as many lives as the Titanic; yet the sinking of “Oria” in the Saronic Gulf in February 1944 remains largely unknown.
The background story of Oria begins in September 1943, two years before the end of World War II. Italy had capitulated (September 8, 1943) and the Germans held the Dodecanese. The Italian garrison had surrendered and was in German custody.
In the afternoon of February 11, 1944, 4,046 Italian soldiers were piled in the holds of the Norwegian ship which was in Rhodes after it had been requisitioned by the German authorities. Oria was a 2,127-tons ship built in England in 1920.
The ship departed in the early evening hours from Rhodes under bad weather conditions with destination Piraeus Port. During the journey, Oria was attacked by English ships of a Dutch submarine, but managed to escape with the help of three light destroyers that accompanied it.
On the evening of February 12, the ship collided with the Medina rock near Patroklos (Gaidouronisi) islet (latitude, 37th 39 ‘north, longitude 23rd 59’ east) opposite Legrena beach, just 25 miles SE of the port of Piraeus. The ship began to sink. Almost all Italian prisoners who were crammed in the holds drowned.
In total, 4,074 people lost their lives in the shipwreck (4,025 Italians, 44 Germans and 5 crew members). Only 28 people survived (21 Italians, 6 Germans and the Greek engineer of the ship).
The sinking of Oria was not only due to bad weather and the mismanagement of the Norwegian ship master, but mainly due to the overcrowded, overweight holds and the old age of the ship.
However, this tragic shipwreck with the 4,074 fatalities, which far exceeds that of the Titanic (1,523 dead), was not recorded anywhere at the time. Greek port authorities, the Merchant Marine Ministry and Athens newspapers did not report the Oria shipwreck. Nazi censorship banned any kind of publicity of the event.
In the years that followed, many divers explored the Oria wreck and gave shocking descriptions. The ship’s remains lie at a depth of 28-42 meters.