The floating dry dock of St. George and its unfair destruction

Frantsesko DiPierro

War Life Stories

On a summer morning, our 95-year-old friend, Giannis Kourmadias, was narrating the story of the floating dry dock, while I was taking notes on my notebook. “Bacino galleggiante [floating dry dock] was how the Italians used to call it. We called it the floating dock. It was as big as a mountain and more than 100 meters long. It had seven big floodable buoyancy chambers. It was a huge metal construction with the capability to be submerged into the sea for a short period of time, long enough for any vessel to be positioned on its main deck, with the support of tugs and divers. Then, it – I mean the tank, along with the vessel that had been carefully placed on its main deck by the divers- would be slowly resurfaced by pumping out the water from its chambers. Keep in mind that -at the time- there were permanently more than twenty navy ships and around ten submarines in the harbour. I fixed the walls of this tank with my own hands, Franco, and then, they took it, to the long journey of no return.”

Giannis Kourmadias

Indeed, in the 1930s’, a floating dry dock, called “LEROS”, had arrived from Italy for the needs of repairing the navy ships in the harbour. The Italian conquerors at that time, had made sure to have the necessary trained personnel and infrastructure to be able to repair anything! From the boat reefs to the engines of the hydroplanes. The repairs were performed not only by Italian technicians, but also by their Greek apprentices, who were working and learning the trade alongside the Italian craftsmen. All the repairs were performed on this island and in this harbour.

As time passed and repair work evolved, the floating dry dock was moved to Salamina’s naval station right after the liberation of Dodecanese. It was moved to a different naval station from the one it had been built for. It was moved to an island that had a workforce of more than 10.000. Another witness and a friend of mine, Mr. Skilas Christos, used to serve as a sailor at the naval station of Salamina in 1962. That is where he saw the floating dry dock with the name “FLOATING DRY DOCK No2 – LEROS” painted on its side with massive letters. He remembers that it had a submarine and a navy ship on positioned its upper deck. Even after all these years, Christos has a vivid memory of what he witnessed. He can even recall the names of the ship and that of the submarine. They were “P. Georgios” and “Amfitriti”. So, another island’s economy would be heavily dependent on ship repair industry and as a result it would flourish, while our island, after the heavy bombing, was left to languish and its people had no choice but to migrate in order to seek a better future.

As the years passed, this floating dry dock, which historically belonged to the naval station of Leros, was given as a gift to another island, Syros. But this dry dock with the name “LEROS” painted on its side with massive letters, could not bear its long-term abuse anymore. It still had “wounds” caused by the German aircrafts in September 1943. It could not bear being chained and transported yet again to a different location, away from its favourite island, away from the technicians that were taking care of it, so it succumbed and remained for ever in its watery grave.

The Italian conquerors had recognized the worth of this land and its ports and they left behind all these facilities and equipment, which we abandoned to rot. We let others take it all away from our island. The three canopies of the water airport from Lepida, the generators of old D.E.I. from Temenia, the floating crane from St. George and the only floating dry dock in the Dodecanese islands. We let them take away the canons from the artilleries and so much more. If only we had kept, cherished, and used all these facilities and equipment, the history and the development of Leros, would have been completely different. We sold our history for a few pennies. We sold all this equipment that was left behind from our conquerors, after the liberation of our islands. We abandoned a fully functional water airport to be ruined by time, while waiting for the ferry, that used to stop at Leros once a week. We abandoned all these buildings that could have become training facilities and offer employment opportunities to the locals, that could efficiently support more than one the naval stations on the island.

And today, in 2019, this long-suffering island is still counting its wounds. An island that has been unfairly stigmatized as “the island of the psychopaths”, “the island of the exiled”, “the island of the insurgents” and now “the island of the refugees”. And all of this happened because of the incapability of those governing the island, that is called Leros. My writings are based on the documented narrations of the people of Leros, who had witnessed all these events, as well as historical documents, which were hidden on the drawers of the privileged few for years.


  • English

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Fortification of Leros

Among the islands of the Dodecanese, Leros, due to its geographical position in the eastern Mediterranean and its special morphology, was chosen for the creation of Italy's main air and naval base in the Dodecanese.

The purpose was purely strategic: the fortification of Leros and the creation of a large military base ensured the Italians control of an area of ​​vital interest to the Great Powers. This Base, according to the planning, would have facilities for the Navy, the Air Force and the Army, as well as the necessary workshops of private companies manufacturing military equipment.

The main construction projects of the Italians in Leros, for the fortification and defense of the island, were carried out as early as 1923 and were completed at the end of the 1930s.

Among these are:

  • "Gianni Rossetti" Seaplane Base in the area of ​​Lepida 
  • Submarine Base in the adjacent area of ​​Aghios Georgios
  • New town of Portolago (nowadays Lakki), created in order to cover the housing needs created by the construction of the Aeronautical Base
  • Centro Radio Lero – the installation of the Italian telecommunications center in the area of ​​Aghios Nikolaos in Lakki
  • The headquarters of FAM - DICAT, the “FAM -  Fronte A Mare” - Coastal Defense Command and the “DICAT - Difesa Contraerea Territoriale” -  Anti-Aircraft Land Defense Command on Mount Patella, with the unique installation of the Aerophone and the Acoustic - Parabolic Wall

Along with the other defense installations of Leros, the fortification of the island with artillery began already in the mid-1920s, initially mainly for naval defense. Gradually, until the middle and mainly at the end of the 1930s, 103 guns of caliber from 76mm to 152mm were installed on almost all the heights of Leros, most of them from decommissioned battleships and cruisers of the Italian Navy from WW I, composing a network of 25 batteries, responsible for the defense of the island, both from the sea and from the air. Along with the construction of the gun emplacements, other military facilities were developed in each artillery barracks, such as material and ammunition storages, shelters, barracks and logistics buildings, as well as various other facilities. The defense network of Leros is considered a model of interwar fortification architecture (1918 – 1939).

Especially since 1936, when military zones were officially created on the island, fenced with barbed wire, the mountains and heights of Leros acquired a purely military character. The granting of compensation stops, since the cutting of the bushes was first prohibited by decree, and thus the fields were turned into forest land, and by extension they are considered the property of the Italian State. Thus, livestock breeders and farmers, losing their properties, are forced to resort to day labor, since there is indeed a lack of labor force, due to the excessive number of projects in progress. For the construction of the defense and public works of Leros, artisans are transferred from Italy, with a daily wage of 40-50 italian lire, while the Greeks receive 6-10 italian lire.

The outbreak of World War II led to the expansion and improvement, on a large scale, of military installations, but this was opposed to economic criteria and above all the lack of availability of means and the difficulties in maritime transportations. The serious shortcomings of the hasty Italian military preparation led to the dispersion of the scarce available means in many areas, all of them of high importance and therefore did not allow the care imposed on any of them.

Thus, in the Dodecanese, although the level of preparation could be described as satisfactory, in relation to infrastructure and logistics facilities, the field of armaments, and especially that of Artillery, lagged far behind, since the Dodecanese had been sent almost exclusively old-style and dissimilar weapons caliber, which did not allow the organization of defense to develop to a sufficient and satisfactory degree, which will have a huge impact on the events of September - November 1943.

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