August 15 1940: The torpedoing of the Greek cruiser “Elli”
The torpedoing of Greek light cruiser (warship) Elli is actually considered as the first action of World War II in Greece. Elli was purchased by the Greek government in 1914, right after the Balkan Wars, where the country had won.
Elli saw action in the First World War and during the Asia Minor Expedition, where she had lead the Greek fleet in victory. In 1920, along with Greek warship Averof, she went under reconstruction in France and obtained modern technology.
Although cruiser Elli had so many victories at war, it sunk in times of peace. On August 15th, 1940, Elli had anchored in the port of Tinos to participate in the celebrations for the biggest religious festival on the island, the Dormition of the Virgin. As the church of Tinos is considered as the protector of all Greece, this festival was very important for the nation.
At 8.25 am, while 10,000 pilgrims were concentrated at the church of the Dormition of the Virgin, close to the port, a torpedo hit the operating boiler of Elli and caused fire. This upset the pilgrims and the crew of the ship, who were getting ready to get off the vessel and participate in the celebrations.
Nine officers and sailors were killed and 24 were wounded. Other torpedoes tried to hit passenger ships Elsi and Esperos which had also anchored in the port, but luckily with no result. Elli sunk in the port of Tinos after about 2 hours.
Although an investigation held next day in the vessel showed that the torpedo was from an Italian warship, the Greek government didn’t at first reveal it to the people, so that to continue the neutrality against World War II, which had started since September 1939.
Therefore, the torpedoing of Elli in peacetime was a provocative action of the Italian army to make Greece enter the war. In fact, the torpedo was launched by the Italian submarine Delfino which had its base in Leros, as the Dodecanese islands were under the Italian occupation that time.
After the Second World War, Italy compensated Greece for the sinking of Elli donating to the country the cruiser Eugenio di Savoia. This ship was renamed Elli and served the Greek Royal Army till 1973. To commemorate the torpedoing of this glorious vessel, the locals have constructed a monument on the port of Tinos. It represents the front side of the warship and the name Elli in written on it in Greek letters.
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