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On the night of 6 December, 1941, HMS Perseus, a British Parthian class submarine on patrol in the Ionian Sea, hit a mine and sank. All the listed crew were lost. And another Kefalonia legend was born.

Local fishermen from Mavrata rescued a British sailor, 31 year old stoker John Capes, just off the coast near Katelios. At great risk, the local population hid him from Italian and Nazi occupying forces, in various village houses around Kefalonia, for eighteen months until he was able to escape back to the UK.

A Parthian class submarine at launch

john capes
John Capes, via navy.gr
On return to the UK many contemporaries considered that, although submarines were equipped with escape apparatus, the escape he made from the sunken sub to be impossible. He wasn't on the crew list for the Perseus and hence he was regarded by some as a deserter. According to Capes, he had missed his ship in  Malta and was hitching a lift on the Perseus to re-join it.

Accounts about John Capes and HMS Perseus vary. According to some sources he was later awarded the British Empire Medal but I can't find any verification. Although quite possibly he deserved a medal, the truth seems to have remained unresolved at the time of his death, aged 75, in 1985.
In 1997 a team of Greek divers led by Kostas Thoktarides discovered the wreck of the Perseus on the seabed, some 52m down, between Kefalonia and Zakynthos. The description Capes had provided matched the wreck, down to the rum flask he dropped at the bottom of the escape hatch, having taken one last swig before attempting his escape.

Following Captain Corelli’s Mandolin there was talk of a Perseus film but, to date, nothing seems to have come of it.

The wreck of HMS Perseus has been declared an official war grave, a memorial stands in Poros near the Hotel Anastazia.

It's now possible for experienced divers to undertake organised dives to the wreck, contact the local dive schools.

There's more information about John Capes and HMS Perseus on
Kostas Thoktarides' website, navy,gr, also on  divernetxtra.com, and there's a very interesting video clip of a dive to the wreck of HMS Perseus.

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