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Escape from Kefalonia: commemoration of submarine tragedy and MI9 rescue

When the family of Trustee Paul McCue settled on a September holiday on the Greek island of Kefalonia, they hadn’t expected their luggage to have to include a commemorative wreath.

But such was the case when Paul discovered, just three weeks before departure, that his hotel stood next to a memorial commemorating the sinking of HM Submarine Perseus (N36). The submarine had sailed from Malta for Alexandria on 26 November 1941 with instructions to patrol waters to the east of Greece during her passage. She apparently torpedoed a ship on 3 December, but at 22:00 hours on 6 December, off the island of Kefalonia, she suffered a devastating explosion and rapidly sank to the seabed.

Only one man out of the sixty on board survived, 31-year-old Leading Stoker John Capes, one of two non-crew members taking passage aboard the Perseus to Alexandria. Capes and three others were reported to have escaped from the submarine using the escape hatch in the engine room and wearing Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus.

Only Capes, however, survived the journey to the surface and then swam some 8 kilometres to Kefalonia where he was found, exhausted, by local people. He was hidden by islanders and the Greek Resistance for eighteen months, eventually in Poros (where the McCue family were to stay), before being smuggled to Çeşme (Turkey) in the caïque Evangelistria, commanded by Captain Miltiades Houmas, of the Levant Schooner Flotilla, Force A, MI9.

Force A was the British secret organisation based in Cairo that was responsible for military deception in the region and acted as the local base for MI9 which supported the evasion and escape of Allied personnel from enemy-occupied territory. For his service with MI9, Captain Houmas was deservedly awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1946.

Thanks to the involvement of MI9, Paul McCue decided that this tale fell within the remit of the SWW2LN and was determined that the rescue should be recognised, along with the tragic loss of the crew, the courage of the islanders and the extraordinary escape of Capes.

Paul quickly made contact with Mike McCarthy of the organisation We Remember Submariners and a submariners’ wreath was jointly purchased, taken to the island by Paul and placed on the memorial. He also produced a SWW2LN framed account of the tragedy, escape and rescue which is now proudly displayed in the Hotel Anastazia, only two hundred metres away from the memorial.


We Remember Submariners

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