Tragic Sinking of St. Didier..
The year was 1942, August . The name of the ship was St.Didier. There was a fierce battle going on in North Africa between the German and the Allied forces. The German North African Army under the command of General Rommel had growing needs of supply in order to pursue its objectives in its bloody war campaign. It was a time when the British Commander Montgomery was well aware of the importance of cutting the supply lines of the German Army. Therefore there was a fierce struggle in the Mediterranean sea among the Allied and German forces. The French ship named "St Didier" was forced to serve the German Army since France was under the German occupation at the time. Under the disguise of a hospital ship (a common wartime trick that resulted in the sinking of many "real" hospital ships), St. Didier was carrying jeeps, ammunitions, guns and many other war supplies in its cargo bays.
One of the desert jeeps that survived numerous salvage operations.
St. Didier with its escort destroyer was trying to reach Africa through the Eastern Mediterranean sea while under heavy air attack from the British war planes taking off from Cyprus. Unable to proceed any further towards Africa, St. Didier and its escort ship steered toward the Turkish coast to evade the attacks. Under constant air attacks, both ships made it until Adrasan (around 40 miles south of Antalya) where it became clear that St. Didier was unable to continue any further due to the damage inflicted by the warplanes. The escorting destroyer had to leave the "slow moving" St. Didier in order to save itself. The only option for St. Didier to survive was to seek asylum in Antalya. While approaching the old harbor of Antalya, St. Didier had already been given permission for asylum by Turkey. The French officers and personnel on board were throwing off their uniforms and changing the name of the ship to "Societe" in order to survive the attacks. Unfortunately the allied mustang warplanes didn't care about it much as they didn't care about being only a few hundred meters from a neutral country's harbor. Despite the anti-aircraft gunfire from Hıdırlık tower on the ancient castle and from the bow of St. Didier, the planes kept on bombing. The people of Antalya had already gathered around the harbor and watching the desperate struggle of St. Didier. There were several torpedos missing their target and exploding around the harbor. One of the torpedoes went straight into the harbor and exploded inside killing one Turkish citizen. Finally a low flying mustang dropped its torpedo on the right course and scored a hit. The torpedo had hit the ship near the stern cargo bay which was full of explosives and caused a massive explosion that resulted in a huge hole on the hull of St. Didier. The severity of the explosion and the rapid sinking of the ship had resulted in the loss of many lives. The survivors and injured personnel floating on the surface were rescued by the local fishermen. According to international treaties the survivors had to be detained (not imprisoned) in Isparta, Turkey . Turkish authorities at the time was not able to show their protest and anger for fear of dragging Turkey into the war.
Penetration of the wreck needed to be carefully conducted due to silt and sharp objects.
Today, St. Didier rests upright in 90 feet of water. She has a length of 210 feet and a width of 36 feet. She is covered with fishing nets, fishing lines, sponges and sea weeds.. There is a profusion of sea life in and around her. We can say that it was her cargo that didn't let her sail in peace in wartime and also it was her cargo that wasn't going to let her rest in peace underwater. In 1946 a salvage boat named "Tacettin" was moored over the wreck of St. Didier. For a couple of months there was an intense salvage operation during which explosives were used to access the cargo bays of the wreck. It is rumored that extensive amount of damage was inflicted on the hull by the explosives and there were lives lost during the salvage operations. The second large scale salvage operation was conducted in 1974 together with American divers. In this operation, a lot of explosives were used again to gain access to the wreck. Guns, powder, ammunition, bullets and also some desert jeeps were salvaged in 1974. It is said that some of these desert jeeps were repaired and could be seen in the streets of Antalya until recently. Until today there had been many other "minor" salvage attempts.
Here you can see the piles of guns and detonators still intact.
Unfortunately the sewer of ever growing Antalya is depositing silt and sediment over the wreck. Inside the wreck, the thickness of the silt reaches several feet in some places. The visibility around the wreck is around 10-20 feet on average. Depending on the weather, sometimes there is a strong and cleaning bottom current which improves the visibility and removes some of the deposited silt. So far I haven't been lucky enough to dive during such clear conditions. During the three dives I made to the wreck, the visibility was down to 10 to 15 feet. We had to be very careful of the sharp and rusty metal hull fragments and fishing nets. During our penetration we tried to avoid kicking our fins carelessly because of the silt inside the wreck.
Inside the chimney there is a lobster ready to escape into the unknown parts of the wreck. In the middle, the piers are still waiting to be moored. Far right, the buoy marking the wreck could be seen.
Many thanks to my friends... : I would like to express my gratitude to Turkdive Diving Institution in obtaining necessary diving permits and in guiding me during the dives. I would like to thank Mr. Uner Bekoz, Mrs. Figen Bekoz and Mr. Omer Baklavaci in letting me use their extensive research on the history of St. Didier wreck. Without their support, we wouldn't be aware of the tragic struggle and the death of the people on board St. Didier.