Tired of the weather in Poland and the pandemic situation, we (me and my family) decided to set off on a journey to the south of Europe. We went (to quote a Croatian border policeman) on a "Balkan Trip". Due to the changing epidemic situation, we were able to reach Albania and got stuck here. However, it was not a bad experience. On the contrary, Albania has turned out to be a fascinating and unknown land for us. We were welcomed by breathtaking views. On one hand, coasts stretching from the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea with a few littered beaches and lovely sunshine morning, and on the other hand, snow on the peaks of the mountains and a lot of rain afternoon. This country is full of surprises. However, the most interesting things can be found here under the water. The very big piece of history is submerged under the surface of both seas.
The wreck of the Italian cargo ship SS Probitas was one of the most interesting discoveries for me. It was found by a research vessel of The RPM Nautical Foundation's Hercules, inside the Bay of Saranda in Albania.
The ship was built in 1918 and sank in at the end of WWII in the year 1943.
This is a very turbulent period in the history of Europe. During World War I, Albania was occupied by the army of Italy, Greece, France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Austria-Hungary. After the outbreak of World War I, the south-western and western parts of the Principality of Albania came under the influence of Italians, who tried to play an important role in the reconstructed structures of the Albanian state. The seizure of the port in the city of Vlorë and the island of Sazan could provide control over the Adriatic Sea. Additionally, access from the Ionian Sea, around Sarande and Gjirokaster, made the territory of Albania a perfect base conquest the entire Balkans.
Post-war plans of dividing Albania between Italy, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and also Greece have failed. The London Ambassadors' Conference of 1920 approved Albania's independence. The development of statehood in the new country took place in an atmosphere of conflicts, power struggles, religious influence, or for other similar reasons. The Albanians managed to create a republic and in the later period even a kingdom where Ahmed Zogu was nominated for a king. It was a period when Albania strengthened its position in Europe and, most importantly, was able to resist pressure from neighboring countries. In this case, from the mid-1920s, Italians tightened their economic relations with Albania, invested in this region, emigrated, extracted Albanian resources, and exported to Italy. The cooperation was even stronger in the field of national defense. From 1927 onwards, the Albanian army was trained and supplied by the Italians as the countries entered into a military alliance.
Unfortunately, the situation in Europe changed in the 1930s. The German Reich grew in strength. Benito Mussolini, who was in power, in Italy, at the time, supported the fascist ideology. However, when the Germans entered Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mussolini felt underappreciated as an ally. He decided to act on his own and invaded first Albania and with that gain control over the Balkans.
After Italy's capitulation in World War II in 1943, Germany took over the protectorate of Albania. Power on behalf of the Germans was ruled by the High Regency Council, and the government was entrusted to the Albanian conservatives. The Germans withdrew from Albania in the year 1944. In July 1943, the first brigades of the National Liberation Army were established. In the beginning, they focused on the battles with the Italian invader. After the entry of the III Reich, the partisans continued their military campaign, only the goal changed. By November 1944, the Liberation Army, on its own, had led to the complete withdrawal of the Germans from the country.
The First World War was mostly colossal land battles on the continent of Europe, but then the power flowing from the sea was realized, opportunities opened by shipping but it also reviled new challenges. To understand how important a navy was at that time we have to realize how dependent Europeans had become on overseas supplies of basic materials, including food. Already, before 1914, a majority of European imports traveled on ships.
Whatever civilian or military actions were taken, the countries needed supplies and these had to be delivered. In those days, during both World Wars, countries competed in an armed race, part of which was the construction of cargo ships, that determined their ability to win (or at least survive) the conflict. Most vessels had massive steel structures. A major innovation of the Italian navy, for example, was the construction of a very large number of motor anti-submarine boats that were employed on patrol duty. Steel replaced earlier wooden constructions since they were not able to withstand the stresses that arose during the new types of engines. After steam technology, the time has come for petrol and diesel engines. That is one of the inventions used also in SS Probitas.
According to Ansaldo G. & Co. - Societa Nazionale Di Navigazione Ansaldo Read (wrecksite.eu) these are the technical specification of the ship.
type: cargo ship
propulsion: motor vessel (diesel)
date built: 1918
is the nickname: no
tonnage: 5084 grt
dimensions: 115.2 x 15.7 x 8.4 m
engine: 2 x 4 cyl. Fiat diesel engines 2 S.C.S.A, dual shaft, 2 screws
power: 862 n.h.p.
speed: 10 knots
yard no.: 162
IMO/Off. no.: 870
SS PROBITAS was built in the shipyard of the same name, at Muggiano. Completed in March 1919, with construction number 162, it had a tonnage of 5084 tons, a length of 115.2 meters and a width of 15.7 meters."
It was sunk in 1943. German Bombers were on their way back from an attack on the Balkans. One of them, Ju 87 aircraft, bombed the coast of Santi Quaranta, where Probitas was docked in the port.
Traces of the bombs can still be seen on the sides of the ship!
An archeologist from Albania Diving Federation claims that:
" The previous day, due to a breakdown, she (the ship) was forced to remain in port in the Saranda harbor (Porto Edda as it was called at the time), leaving the convoy to which she belonged together with two other Italian units the motor ship Salvore and the ship from Dubac transport. The latter two, although under attack by the German Stukas, albeit with a lot of damage and almost 300 victims in total, managed to return to Italy. The ship “Probitas”, moored at the dock, was instead sunk, in the afternoon of the 25th, by the German Ju 87 aircraft."
Today, buried beneath Albania’s coastal water, inside the Bay of Sarande, lies a monument of past events. The wreck is at a maximum depth of 20m just 300m away from the shore. At the shallowest point, the ship is just 3m from the surface and is marked with a bouy.
The most unusual is the way of visiting this underwater museum. Equipment and diving skills are essential. In my research, I also used underwater photography equipment.
The Mediterranean Sea is a crucial crossroad of three continents, an important transport route, and a battleground from ancient times to WWII. Coastal waters, seas, and oceans for years have been subjected to stress from human activities leading to increasing environmental degradation. Such solutions can be used as a tool for the assessment, protection, and preservation of both marine ecosystems and underwater archaeological sites. As part of the governmental program to protect the underwater national heritage, the wreck was cleaned of all substances harmful to the environment. The engine and other elements that may have a negative impact on the underwater world have been removed from it. All the elements of equipment such as portholes, spare steering wheel, valves, etc. have been preserved on it. While exploring the interior of the wreck, we can come across several archaeological treasures. There are barrels, crates strewn with ship parts. Several things flew out during the crash. The remaining structure is an ideal substrate for the development of a coral reef. It is also a haven for many species of fish, crabs, snails, and other creatures. The wreck has become a tourist attraction and a refuge for the fauna and flora of the Ionian Sea.
On a sandy beach, submerged under the azure water, SS Probitas waits to tell the next generation his story.