Unearthing history

Michael Bendon. Picture by Joanne Saad

Michael Bendon. Picture by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • UTS graduate Michael Bendon discovered two unnamed shipwrecks off the coast of Crete
  • The vessels were prototypes developed by Churchill and were instrumental in rescuing Australians and New Zealanders during WWII

When Michael Bendon travelled to Western Crete, Greece in mid-2008 he made the chance discovery of a shipwreck. It was a major find, not only for Bendon, but for Australia as well.

The UTS graduate – Bendon studied a Teaching Diploma, Doctor of Education and Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – is also an English teacher at INSEARCH and an archaeologist.

“I was invited to Crete in the summer of 2008 to help a colleague excavate and interpret the ancient military harbour city of Phalasarna.”

He discovered a wreck nearby in shallow water. His interest was sparked after no one, including the British Ministry of Defence, could tell him anything about it.

“It took me almost a year to actually find out what the wreck was. I had to go back during the spring and go diving to take some more measurements to confirm what I had found.

“Then I spent two weeks in Kew, England in the National Archives and I was able to find documents related to the wreck itself. With the help of an eye-witness, I actually found there were two wrecks in the area and I was later able to locate the second wreck in deeper water.” 

Picture by Michael BendonPicture by Michael Bendon

Bendon concluded the unnamed wrecks were two British tank landing craft that had been redeployed to evacuate Commonwealth troops from Crete in late May 1941. The vessels, says Bendon, had been assisting with operations in mainland Greece, but were sunk by German dive bombers en route to their evacuation mission.

“The 52-metre vessel itself was a prototype proposed and developed by Churchill. It was a secret vessel and no photographs were ever officially taken because this vessel type was the first one of its kind. 

“They were an integral part of saving some 25 000 Australian and New Zealand lives in the Second World War during the Mediterranean campaigns.”

In his research into the wrecks, the archaeologist has spoken to eyewitnesses and even the 93-year-old commander of one of the vessels, who was introduced to him through a mutual contact. 

“This man is amazing; his mind is so sharp. I sent him my 100 000-word monograph on my research thus far and he was thrilled to get the bound copy. He was surprised by the amount of work I’d done and the interest I’d shown. 

“Unfortunately, I can’t get over to England to interview him. It’s unfortunate because he’s a limited resource; I’m afraid I’ll lose him before I can help him tell his story. But this man remembers so much about what he did.” 

Finances permitting, Bendon is hoping to complete his research before revealing more details or uncovering new archaeological sites. 

He credits his UTS degrees with helping him share his finds.

“I believe in a more public archaeology and this is likely due to my teaching background. I really think it is important to inform people about any discoveries in archaeology if they are to see a value in history. My Doctorate in Education has allowed me insight into how to best convey such stories.“ 

If you have photographs or contact details of people who could help with this research, email cheersmichael@hotmail.com