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~ THE SACRED SQUADRON ~

 

 

 

An elite WW2, Greek military unit operating in North Africa and the islands of the Aegean

 


Background (to the Formation of the Squadron)

In October 1940, Greece was drawn to the vortex of WWII, the most catastrophic struggle the world has ever known. Its participation in hostilities was to last, formally, until October 1944, a period during which Greek troops would fight from the rugged mountains of Albania and the numerous islands of the Aegean, to the inhospitable desert of North Africa and the Italian peninsula. In fact, Greek troops continued to fight against the Axis forces in the Aegean until the last day of the war - 8 May 1945. These troops included parts of the famous Sacred Squadron.

 

[Photo; Colonel Tsigantes in one of the jeeps of the Sacred Squadron during the North African campaign].

The Sacred Squadron made its formal appearance on 6 September 1942, under the name 'Squadron of Select Immortals'. It was created, primarily, because there was a surplus of commissioned and non-commissioned officers in the Hellenic Armed Forces in the Middle East. However, there was also an urgent need for a military unit that would be strictly committed to military duties, abstaining from involvement in political developments that constantly occurred among the ranks of the Hellenic Armed Forces (conservatives vs. leftists; officers discharged after the failed republican coup of 1935 vs. royalists, etc.) - activity that had the detrimental effect of reducing their military capacity and rendering them untrustworthy in the eyes of the Allies. For these reasons, in the summer of 1942, Wing Commander G Alexandris, subsequently a member of the Sacred Squadron and Chief of the Royal Hellenic Air Force, had suggested to Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, vice president of the Greek government in exile in Cairo, the formation of a group of volunteers, mainly from the officers’ ranks, who would be willing to fight as regular soldiers.

Such a unit was formed in August 1942 with Major Antonios Stefanakis, an officer discharged after the 1935 coup, as its provisional commander. There were, initially, 143 low ranking officers, 40 soldiers and 30 assisting troops  comprising cooks, waiters and tent guards, subsequently reinforced with volunteers from the Royal Hellenic Navy, Royal Hellenic Air Force, Police and Gendarmerie.

Desert Training

In September 1942, the unit moved to Egypt where two developments occurred that would determine its nature and operational tasks. The first was the appointment, on 15 September, of Colonel Christodoulos Tsigantes as its commanding officer. He had been dishonourably discharged after the coup of March 1st, 1935. Initially his appointment was not well received by his subordinates due to intense political passions that had developed among the ranks of Greek units in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Tsigantes managed to win his men's trust through persuasive argument and his previous military service and experience.
1 

[Photo; Col Tsigantes].

Tsigantes soon renamed his unit 'Sacred Squadron' and along with the legendary David Stirling, the founder of the famous Special Air Services (SAS), he thoroughly reorganized the Squadron, turning it into an elite commando unit.2 The British Army had always had a long experience in the conduct of successful raids by small units, something which was proven time and again during the battles in North Africa, by both the SAS and the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

Action Against an Elusive Enemy

Soon, two contingents of the Sacred Squadron were given the opportunity to participate in battle for the first time. The first comprised eight men under Wing Commander Alexandris, using three specially adapted jeeps. The Squadron was to participate alongside a commando unit in a harassment operation to the rear of German Afrika Korps in the region of Agedabia in southwest Cyrenaica. This operation took place during the period 19 November to 12 December 1942, but did not involve any hostilities due to the rapid withdrawal of German and Italian forces.

The second planned operation was an amphibious raid in the region of El Agheila, at the southernmost part of the Gulf of Sidra, again to the rear of Afrika Korps. This time, it involved a contingent of 60 men of the Sacred Squadron, under Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Fradellos. The operation, which would have lasted from 4 - 23 December 1942, was also aborted, due to the rapid redeployment of enemy forces. Would the Squadron continue to be thwarted by circumstances beyond their control?

Their next operation started on 25 January 1943 or, according to some accounts, on the 27th. Either way, the Squadron journeyed overland from Egypt to Tripoli, in Libya, to join the SAS for a joint sabotage operation to the rear of Axis forces in Tunisia. However, when the troops of the Squadron in Lybia, were informed of Stirling’s capture, once again, the planned action was cancelled. No doubt, with a degree of mounting frustration, Tsigantes appealed personally to Field Marshal Montgomery, persuading him to place the Sacred Squadron under General Leclerc’s brigade of Free French.
3

Under these circumstances, the Squadron's first engagement with the enemy, on the North African front, took place in Ksar Rillan, in southern Tunisia, during the battles for the Mareth Line. There, the Squadron, together with some French units involved in reconnaissance, were attacked on the morning of 10 March by a strong mechanized column, which was finally repulsed by the RAF but not before the Squadron suffered the loss of three men as missing. Ksar Rillan was finally taken on 19 March by a French led force which included 12 jeeps of the Sacred Squadron. By the end of the action the Squadron lost one dead and one severely wounded.

[Photo; Colonel Tsigantes inspects German prisoners after the battle at Wadi Akarit].

Later the Mareth Line was outflanked by the troops of the Allied 8th Army, and the city of Gabes in southern Tunisia was taken. Gabes became the next stop of the Sacred Squadron. On 3 April, the Squadron was placed under the command of the 2nd New Zealand Division. On 6 April, it participated in the battle of Wadi Akarit, second only, in terms of ferocity, to El Alamein itself. In the course of this battle the Sacred Squadron suffered the loss of one man, Cavalry Captain G. Bourdakos.

Subsequently, the Sacred Squadron participated in the liberation of the cities of Sfax on 9 April and Sous on 12 April, where the Greek units were received to great public acclaim. In the period 13-16 April, the Squadron operated for the last time in North Africa, participating in reconnaissance patrols during the battle for Enfidaville (now Enfida), in the course of which six of its men were taken prisoner. On 17 April, a few weeks before the successful termination of the Battle of Tunisia on 13 May, the Squadron was ordered to return urgently to Egypt in order to participate in operations on other fronts - a cover story by the Greek Government which feared the Sacred Squadron would become embroiled in rebellious activities developing among the ranks of the two divisions of the Hellenic Army in the Middle East.
4

First Operations in the Aegean

From May to October 1943, the Sacred Squadron reorganized in Egypt and Palestine
5 which resulted in an increase in strength to 327 men. With this came a restructuring to include a command unit, base contingent and three raiding squads. Concurrently, training for amphibious and aerial assaults in the Aegean islands was intensified.

Italy’s surrender on 8 September 1943 upset the military status quo in occupied Greece. Suddenly, Italians, until then allies to the Third Reich, became its potential enemies. A chaotic situation soon developed in the occupied territories as the Italian occupation forces gave up the fight, but lacked the means to return home.

British and German forces competed for the considerable prize of filling the void left by the Italians in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. In the case of Samos, the willingness of the occupying Italian 'Cuneo' division to cooperate with the Allies, resulted in small numbers of British forces symbolically reinforcing the Italian garrison. At the same time, under similar circumstances, the Italian garrisons of Icaria, Fournoi, Astypalaia (Stampalia), Leros, Kalymnos, Kos and Symi, also switched sides.

However, the British government was not willing to allow the presence of Greek military forces on the islands, apparently anticipating the possibility of trading some of them in exchange for Turkey's participation in the war on the Allied side. Later, when Turkey’s unwillingness to do this became clear, the British attitude changed. In late October, they allowed troops of the Sacred Squadron onto the 'liberated' Aegean islands. There were two groups involved. The first, comprising 200 paratroopers, landed on Samos on the 30th and 31st of October, while the second group travelled by sea, via Leros, arriving at Samos on the 1st and 5th of November.

The paratroops landing on the island was not without incident. The weather conditions were unfavourable and 21 of them were wounded during their drop, five of them seriously with three suffering life changing injuries. The men took up positions at Mytilinioi and near to Pythagoreion and Karlovasi. Around this time, Emmanuel Sophoulis, Minister of Social Care for the Greek government in exile, representing Greek administration, arrived on the island. However, the liberation of Samos was not to last. The recapture of nearby Leros by the Germans on 16 November, left Samos exposed.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

The following day, the Germans heavily bombed non military targets at Vathy and Pythagoreion, followed by a demand for surrender. While that was not a serious option, the British military commander decided to abandon Samos. The resultant evacuation took place between 19-22 November using a variety of craft for transport to Kusadasi in Turkey. Those transported included the British forces, the Sacred Squadron, 800 Greek guerillas, 12,000 refugees and 8,500 Italians including General Mario Soldarelli, commander of the Italian division and the Metropolitan of Samos (a high ranking religious leader). Troops of the Sacred Squadron assisted in the evacuation until 25 November when, following an agreement with the Turkish government, they travelled to Cairo overland, in civilian clothes.

Reorganization of the Sacred Squadron

Since the British did not open a new front in the Aegean in 1943, and Turkey was not drawn into the conflict on the Allied side, large scale operations in the region were abandoned in favour of hit and run attacks on German garrisons on the Greek islands.

[Photo; A group of men of the Sacred Squadron in 1943].

While the new strategy took hold, the Sacred Squadron continued training, as late as January 1944, in amphibious landings and climbing in readiness for landings on the Greek mainland. It was finally decided to turn the Squadron into a commando unit to serve alongside the Special Service Brigade under Brigadier DST Turnbull.6  

For operational purposes, the Aegean was divided into two sectors, north and south. The former comprising Samos, Icaria and islands further to the north, were assigned to the Sacred Squadron and the latter comprising Dodecanese, Cyclades and Crete to the Special Service Brigade. The Squadron's new duties included the destruction of floating vessels, dry docks, communication/power lines, maintenance facilities, fuel tanks, radio bases, coastal gun positions, searchlights, etc. To meet the new challenges organisational changes were introduced when the Squadron was divided into three raiding squads under Lieutenants Colonel Andreas Kallinskis, Tryphon Triantafyllakos and Major Pavlos Dimopoulos, with the general command still held by Tsigantes.

Operations in 1944

14 February. A detachment of the first raiding squad left for Limassol on a diesel powered sailing boat, accompanied by an anti-submarine vessel. They stayed there from 17 February to the 26th before sailing along the Turkish coast, stopping at various coves along the way. They arrived at their destination of Vromolimano cove, close to Cape Korakas on the Turkish Cesme peninsula.

7-18 March. Their first raid was successfully directed against Samos. At sea, on the evening of 8 March, a two man sea patrol of the Squadron on a reconnaissance mission to Chios, arrested an armed German sailing ship carrying ammunition and food.

29-31 March. A ten man squad raided Psara, an island about 70 kilometres north west of Samos, with the purpose of neutralizing its garrison and destroying a lighthouse and radio. However, this mission was unsuccessful.

3-4 April. A contingent of 30 troops of the Squadron successfully raided Mytilini, with the purpose of “killing or arresting the members of Gestapo, seizing its archive and liberating those held in its prisons and the building of the city’s school, also used as prison” (GES/DIS, 175). The mission was deemed successful, resulting in the killing or wounding of 13 Germans with one Squadron soldier wounded.

27-29 April. Following a request from the Special Boat Service (SBS), a group of six men of the Squadron assisted them in a raid on Ios and Amorgos. Also, three men of the Squadron joined a group of 11 British commandos that successfully raided Paros, where a German airstrip was under construction. This operation ended on 18 May with serious material damage for the Germans and the loss of 6-7 of their men. During April, the Sacred Squadron was upgraded to a regiment with an increase in strength to 1,000 men and modifications to its organization.

 [Photo; Monument in honour of the Sacred Squadron, in Samos].

17 May. In the course of the night, a contingent of 13 men of the Squadron, assisted by two British officers and two civilians, landed on the island of Samos. Their original plan was to destroy a fuel depot and an outpost near Karlovasi. However, they discovered that the fuel had been transferred elsewhere, and later successfully attacked the weak garrison of Marathokampos. The operation ended with the withdrawal of the men of the Squadron late in May.

28 May. At night, a force of 49 men, under the commander of the 1st raiding squad, landed on the west coast of Chios. Their purpose was to raid the city of Chios and nearby locations to destroy wiring installations and the dry dock near the port. The enemy was taken by surprise and after the successful attack, the commando groups withdrew without loss.
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18/19 June. A detachment of eight men of the Sacred Squadron neutralized a German outpost in the village of Langadia, in Chios.

20 June. The same detachment attacked a German outpost by the Bay of Gera, in Lesbos, destroying three enemy vessels, the dry dock and the adjoining storehouse. These operations were the last of the 1st raiding squad in the Aegean when it was gradually replaced by the 2nd.

29 June. The first operation of the 2nd raiding squad, which during this period was renamed the “Aegean Contingent”, was directed against the German garrison at Vathy, on the east side of Kalymnos. Accompanied by 14 British troops, the men of the Sacred Squadron attacked the Germans killing nine and wounding ten, including their commander. The British detachment suffered one dead and two wounded.

13-14 July. A particularly important operation, codenamed
Tenement, took place against a mixed German and Italian garrison of Symi. Starting from the neighbouring Turkish coast, the “Aegean Contingent” was divided into three groups. The first, Northern Group, comprised 91 men of the Squadron and 23 men from the SBS; their target was the city itself. The second, Southern Group, comprised 36 men of the Squadron and 22 British. They attacked the village of Panormitis. The third, Western Group, comprised 31 men of the Squadron and 21 British. They operated in the area of Hagios Phanourios.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

The operation commenced at 6.45 on the morning of 14 July with an attack by the Northern Group on the fortress and the port of the city, This resulted in the surrender of the German garrison by 12.30. At the same time, the Southern Group attacked the monastery of Panormitis, held by another German contingent, which, also surrendered. Finally, the Western Group surprised the Italian garrison at Hagios Phanourios, arresting it. Subsequently, all three groups withdrew by sea. Despite the loss of nine troops of the Squadron and three British in the course of the fight, the operation was crowned by success.8

7th August. A landing craft, carrying men of the Sacred Squadron, launched a successful attack on the German garrison in the area of Perama, at the entrance of the Bay of Gera, in Lesbos. The target was three sailing boats carrying sugar, olive oil and wheat for the Germans. Eventually, a 35-ton sailing boat loaded with 20 tons of sugar was captured and taken to the unit's base in the area of Deremen, on the Turkish coast.

20th of August. The 3rd raiding squad started replacing the 2nd raiding squad, but before that was completed, the men of the latter raided various islands of the central and southern Aegean. One of them was Tilos which resulted in the destruction of telephone installations and the underwater telecommunications wire, connecting Tilos with the other islands of the Dodecanese.

The Wehrmacht Withdraws

Towards the end of August, the 3rd raiding squad completed its transfer to the Deremen base and the German withdrawal from the Aegean islands to the Greek mainland, was fully under way. It was the first stage of the evacuation of Greece by Axis forces. A group of five men of the Sacred Squadron reconnoitred the islands of Karpathos and Kasos. Unfortunately, the operation on Karpathos ended tragically on 25 August, when one trooper was killed and all the others were wounded crossing a minefield. Subsequently, while the wounded were waiting for a doctor, they were arrested by the Germans. During their transport to Germany one of the men died; however, two others managed to escape near the Greek-Yugoslav border.

29 August. A unit of 12 men of the Sacred Squadron successfully raided Santorini. There was no enemy resistance as they destroyed the telephone and other installations in the area of Thermes Piges -“Thermal Springs”.

7 September. Another unit, headed by Lieutenant Erselman, landed on the south-eastern coast of Kos and attacked an outpost at Thermiano, neutralizing the small German-Italian garrison and blowing up the installations.

Around the same time, the commander of the Sacred Squadron, received intelligence on the simultaneous withdrawal of occupation forces from several Aegean islands. Detachments were dispatched to Chios, Lesbos and Samos and the base of the “Aegean contingent” was moved from Deremen to liberated Chios. ELAS guerilla forces were operating in the same areas, so it was decided that only small detachments of 10 Sacred Squadron troops would be present on each island and they were to be accompanied by British liaison officers. Moreover, large scale engagements against withdrawing Germans, should be avoided.

Of particular importance was role of the Sacred Squadron in the town of Mykonos. The German garrison, totalling 37, was fortified in the Choremis mansion on the north-eastern edges of the town. The Squadron's mission was to neutralise the garrison before it could withdrew from the area. Twenty-three men of the Sacred Squadron landed on the island’s south-eastern shores under the leadership of the commander of the 2nd raiding squad. Following a careful and extensive reconnaissance, they attacked the garrison during the night of 28th September. Despite strong resistance, the Germans were forced to retreat to the fortified outposts of their defense perimeter allowing the destruction of ammunition depots, food supplies and radio. German losses amounted to six prisoners, six dead and seven wounded. On the 20th September, her surviving compatriots withdrew by boat, dispatched from Syros. It was the day Mykonos was liberated.

Liberation of Athens

While the Sacred Squadron was still active in the Aegean islands, the Greek government in exile upgrade it to a Commando Regiment, under the name “Greek Sacred Regiment”. The recruitment of the additional men it needed and the implementation of organisational changes, was undertaken between June and September 1944, when the Squadron numbered 1,084 men. It was later divided into two expeditionary forces, designated Force B and Force C and a Rear Guard Detachment. Force C formed part of the British "Fox Forces" about to land on the Greek mainland after the German withdrawal, while Force B assumed new clearing operations in the Aegean.

Other significant actions were taking place elsewhere. On 4 October 1944, 16 men of the Sacred Squadron, sent to Samos to prevent the withdrawal of the Italian rearguard of the occupation forces, took the peaceful surrender of approximately 1,000 Italians with their war supplies. On 9 October, a detachment of 48 men of the Squadron under Major Kazakopoulos, the “Tinos Detachment”, established a base on the Bay of Panormos, in Tinos to conduct further reconnaissance patrols on neighbouring Cycladic islands.

Force C, as part of Fox Forces, made for Kythera, escorted by the destroyer “Themistocles”. They disembarked on 26 September 1944 to find that the  German garrison had left. On arrival at the port of Kapsali, the local population enthusiastically welcomed the liberators, under the auspices of the Metropolitan (religious leader). On 30 September, the detachment left for Poros, where it landed on 2 October. Further attacks were planned on German pill boxes in Aegina but the withdrawal of the German Forces from the wider region of Athens, rendered this unnecessary. Instead, on the morning of 14 October, they landed in Piraeus and onward to the centre of Athens via Pireos Street.
9 The Sacred Squadron’s march in the streets of
Athens to the tumultuous acclaim of its citizens, recognised their appreciation of the Squadron's sacrifices and achievements in the war to date.

Renewed operations in the Aegean

Elsewhere on Greek territory, the fighting continued. In Naxos, Force B struggled hard to neutralise the German garrison. On the night of 13 October, starting from Chios, 51 men of Force B landed on the north-western coast of Naxos to stop the withdrawal of the Germans, who had fortified themselves in the city’s castle pending their escape to the Greek mainland. 

Photo above; A scene from the liberation of Lemnos by the Sacred Squadron].

It should have been a relatively easy task to force them to surrender, but due to poor coordination among the men of the Squadron, the landing boats accompanying them and local guerrilla groups supporting them, the operation lasted until the afternoon of 15 October, despite the earlier arrest of the commander of the German contingent. In the end, it was the arrival of Colonel Kallinskis from Chios, together with a much needed mortar, that broke the deadlock when the German garrison was forced to surrender. The Sacred Squadron took 69 prisoners; a mortar; 13 machine guns and a large number of rifles and ammunition. The Squadron suffered the loss of just one man.

Meanwhile, a similar operation was taking place on Lemnos. The German garrison was preparing to withdraw and to stop them, Force B organized a contingent of 133 men under the Sacred Squadron’s second in command. Attached were a demolition squad, a signals unit and Colonel Tsigantes with staff from the Special Service Brigade.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

On 15 October, they left in convoy for the port of Myrina, on Lemnos, arriving there the following day only to find that the 350 Germans and 60 Italians had gathered at Moudros Bay, where their ships were anchored. The Squadron lost no time in moving on Moudros from three directions, engaging with the enemy on the same day.

The enemy defended their position until the following morning, when the garrison surrendered, no doubt influenced by the activities of five British war planes and the destroyer “Themistocles”. During this operation, the Sacred Squadron suffered one dead and one wounded, but took rich booty and a large quantity of food supplies.

With Lemnos secured, the British command decided to focus on the island of Melos. It was heavily fortified with a strong contingent of 650 men due to its strategic location and the sheltered Bay of Adamas. The morale of the German troops was low and their commander had expressed a wish to surrender. Even so, with only 150 men of the Squadron available for what would be a landing operation as opposed to a simple raid, there were reservations and concerns. However, the operation started on 28 October with 177 men of the Squadron under the command of Colonel Kallinskis. They landed on the 25th on nearby Kimolos, which was to serve as their base. At 1.30 am on 26 October, a commando platoon landed at Tria Pigadia and before daybreak they attacked the German outposts at Pollonia and Voudia, facing the shores of Kimolos. Having neutralized their garrisons, the platoon advanced to the interior creating a bridgehead and repelling an attack by a 35 strong German detachment.

On the same evening, the main body of the Sacred Squadron landed at Melos. The following day the commandos neutralized an outpost in Theiorychia, “Sulfur Mines” but with strong fortifications at Trahila and Korfos, including trenches, pillboxes and mines, which controlled access to the centre of the island and the Bay of Adamas, the Squadron petitioned for the operation to be cancelled or reinforced with infantry and artillery units. Although 200 Royal Marines had landed on the south side of the island, an attack by the Sacred Squadron on 2 November failed due to the lack of British support.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

Colonel Tsigantes and the commander of the Special Service Brigade, who had arrived in Melos in a haste, then decided it was impossible to break through the German defensive position and that the operation was terminated. On the night of the 4th of November, the men of the Sacred Squadron withdrew from Melos, leaving behind a detachment of 82 troops at Kimolos for the purpose of launching surprise attacks on the garrison of Melos. Despite its failure and the wounding of one Squadron soldier, the operation against Melos had caused 100 losses to the Germans and the destruction or damage of three machine guns.

While the battle for Melos was under way, another detachment of Force B, comprising 47 men of the Sacred Squadron, was operating at Tilos (or Episkopi), with the aim of neutralizing its garrison of 73 Germans and 89 unarmed Italians and using the island as a base to launch further operations. The detachment, accompanied by a small force of seven Britons, landed at the south side of the island at midnight on 26-27 October. The following morning, they advanced northwards. Under cover of fire from the British cruiser “HMS Sirius”, it secured the surrender of the garrison in the region of Livadia, in the central-eastern side of the island. Fifty Germans and 70 Italians, were subsequently picked up by the British cruiser.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

However, in the meantime, the German defences had been reinforced with around 100 German troops from Rhodes who had landed at the south-eastern side of Tilos. On the morning of 28 October they launched a surprise attack on the Sacred Squadron. The commandos split into two groups, taking defensive positions north of Livadia. They repelled the first German attack with ease but, with the support of gunfire from two small German boats, the  balance of power shifted. Thus, in the evening, while waiting for reinforcements, they were forced to withdraw further to the north in small groups. Following a night march in the rain, they reached the north-eastern side of the island. They were met by the destroyer “Navarino”, carrying reinforcements in the form of a further platoon of the Sacred Squadron. Its commander, Major Flengas, decided that there was still little chance of success against a stronger enemy and decided to abort the mission. Thus, on the morning of 30 October, the men of the Sacred Squadron withdrew, leaving behind ten colleagues and four Britons, including two officers who had got lost during the withdrawal from Livadia and were arrested. Further losses of the Sacred Squadron included two dead and ten wounded. The Germans suffered 26 dead and 36 wounded.

Subsequently, a significant part of the activities of the Sacred Squadron focused on the continuous harassment of the strong German garrison of Melos. For this purpose the island had been placed under constant surveillance and became the target of repeated raids. On 4 November, an English detachment of 27 Royal Marines, under captain Arnold Bell, attacked unsuccessfully the outpost at Kleftiko. This failure resulted in the death of four men (captain Bell and marines RG Bachelor, HI Bowkett and WA Brown) and the arrest of marine Harry Barber.

[Photo left; Men of the Sacred Squadron are heading towards a beach in Tilos, after the early, successful stage of their raid on the island. In the background, the HMS Sirius].

On the 5th of December, during an ambush set by men of the Sacred Squadron, the German officer in charge of Melos, Commander Bernhard Kuhn, and four other persons (including the philhellene doctor Hans Loeber and a Greek nurse were killed.

On the 10th of December, two men of the Squadron blew up a damaged German car, terrorizing its passengers who had been awaiting a service crew and on the 23rd of December there was an assault on a German patrol in the area of Theiorycheia. The ensuing struggle resulted in the death of its commander and the arrest of its men. These actions forced the German garrison to evacuate most of the island to concentrate on their defense perimeter at Kaminia.

6 May 1945. Eventually, continual harassments by the Sacred Squadron and the RAF, the German garrison negotiated its surrender on Easter Sunday. The surrender of the garrison totalling 552 men, started on 8 May.10

Despite the worsening situation of the Third Reich, early in 1945, significant German forces remained on several Aegean islands, ostensibly to guard them but, in reality, because of their increasing isolation from the receding main war fronts. They still held the region of Canea on Crete, Melos, Rhodes, Leros, Tilos, Kos and Kalymnos. Allied Headquarters Middle East, provided a base in Symi for all available Sacred Squadron Forces operating in the South Aegean. Their mission was to blockade the occupied islands, harass German forces on them and wear them down with unpredictable small scale raids. The policy of avoiding large scale operations still prevailed to avoid unnecessary losses as the surrender of the German garrisons became more certain by the day.

According to the plan, a raid took place on 12 February 1945 against Nisyros, with the participation of a detachment of 110 men of the Squadron and four Britons. The island was guarded by approximately 70 Germans. The Squadron assaulted the village of Emporio, where, after a short resistance, they arrested twenty Germans, three of whom attempted to escape by boat but were captured later. Their own losses amounted to one dead, Lieutenant Evangelos Hadjievangelou and one wounded, while the Germans lost seven dead and eight wounded.

[Photo right; Men of the Sacred Squadron relaxing on a caique (fishing boat)].

Later, the plan for the conquest of Tilos was activated for the second time under the codename “Operation Cave”. For this purpose, a “Symi contingent” was put together, comprising 513 men including two Indian companies. The island’s garrison comprised 180-190 Germans and a few Italians under the command of Lieutenant Hainemann, their only officer. Most took up fortified positions in the center of the island, around Livadia and its port of Skala.

The attackers divided into three groups, named “Northern Force”, “Main Force”, consisting mostly of Indians and “Southern Force”. After a delay of three days due to bad weather, the three groups landed on 1st of March. “Northern Force” landed at the Bay of Zoumboudi on the north-eastern side of the island, “Main Force” at the Bay of Hagios Antonios on its north-western side and “Southern Force” at the Bay of Hagios Stergios in the south. The three groups converged on the centre, putting the garrison under pressure. The main coordinated assault took place at 4.00 p.m. and an hour later naval fire was brought to bear on the German positions. All resistance ceased by 6.00 p.m. The attackers’ losses were two dead Indians and two wounded men of the Sacred Squadron. The Germans suffered twenty dead and 142 prisoners.

Sacred Squadron patrols and skirmishes in the islands of the Dodecanese continued throughout March and April 1945. Their next planned targets were Rhodes, to assault and destroy various outposts, and the neighbouring small island of Alimnia. Enemy forces were estimated at 54 Germans and 43 Italians, while 217 men, including 28 British troops, divided into five detachments would oppose them. Four detachments were assigned to raiding and one serving as combined Greek-British staff. The operation was backed by four destroyers, two British, one Greek and one French, and nine landing craft. The first detachment, under Major Mandouvalos, landed in the area of the Bay of Pyrgos in the evening of the 1st of May. On the night of the 2nd it attacked the outpost at the village of Heimarasi, surprising its garrison, killing 12 men capturing 13 and eventually withdrawing to Symi. The second detachment, under Captain Tsepapadakis, split into two groups for their assault on the outposts at Foka and Steli. Both attacks successfully resulting in destroyed war material and they also took two prisoners. The third detachment, under Lieutenant Kantas, landed in the area of Alyki, on the southwestern side of Rhodes. They also split into two groups in order to attack the outposts in Noti and Vounara. The two simultaneous attacks were a complete success with losses amounting to one wounded.

The Alimnia operation was an assault on multiple targets on the night of 1-2 May. In charge of the fourth detachment was Major Kyriakos Papageorgopoulos. The assault caught the enemy garrison by surprise resulting in the sinking of one boat and the destruction of a radio and other war material. The enemy losses were eight dead, three wounded and 27 prisoners. Squadron losses were limited to two wounded.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

In recognition of the successful operations in Rhodes and Alimnia, the commander of the Special Service Brigade issued a commendatory order. The operations also convinced General Otto Wagener, military commander of Rhodes, that there was no hope of escape for his troops. After receiving permission from the commander of “Fortress Crete”, he surrendered on the 8 May to Brigadier James Moffat. Colonel Tsigantes was also present and in recognition of the Sacred Squadron’s contribution to the liberation of the Aegean islands, the British officer handed him the German general’s pistol.

With the imminent disbandment of the Sacred Squadron, its last official appearance in Egypt was on 5 July 1945. The Sacred Squadron, alongside the  Special Service Brigade, marched on the grounds of the El Alamein Club in Cairo, in front of C-in-C Middle East Forces, General sir Bernard Paget. Afterwards, he addressed the Sacred Squadron with the following words: “You have proved yourselves worthy of your motto “Victory or Death”. 2,000 years ago the first Sacred Regiment established that motto, and died to save Thebes from the Spartans. 120 years ago the second Sacred Regiment did likewise, and preferred death to surrender. You of the third Sacred Regiment will return to your homes as victors… I wish you all good fortune and God Speed” (Paget, pp. 134-5).

[Photo right; The signing of the German surrender at the Dodecanese by Brigadier Moffat and Colonel Tsigantes (at the far right)].

On the 12 of July 1945, the process of returning the Squadron's armaments to British military authorities in Alexandria, started. The Squadron retained only 500 rifles for those of its men returning to Greece. Troops residing abroad in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, etc., were decommissioned in Cairo. On 18 July, those men returning to Greece, boarded a steamship which arrived in Piraeus two days later. On the 7th of August 1945, the Squadron’s flag was decorated, along with Brigadier Turnbull, by the Greek regent, Archbishop Damaskinos. The ceremony also included the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on a monument honouring the Squadron which had been erected in Pedion tou Areos in the centre of Athens.

[Photo left; Inspection of the Sacred Squadron by General Bernard Padget].

Bibliography & Further Reading

A) Greek (English translations of the titles are given in brackets)

1. Army General Staff – Army History Directorate (GES/DIS), Ο Ελληνικός Στρατός στη Μέση Ανατολή (1941-1945) (Ελ Αλαμέιν –Ρϊμινι – Αιγαίο) [The Hellenic Army in the Middle East (1941-1945) (El Alamein - Rimini)], Athens 1995.

2. Grigoris Belivanakis (1), «Η Μήλος και ο Β’ Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος» [“Melos in World War II”], in the collective volume Ιστορία της Μήλου [A History of Melos] (ed. by Gr. Belivanakis), Athens 2001, pp. 420-33 (the same text, with abbreviations, under the title «Μήλος, 1941-45. Ένα προκεχωρημένο φυλάκιο του Ράιχ στο Αιγαίο» [“Melos, 1941-45. An outpost of the Reich in the Aegean”], see also in the journal Ιστορικά Θέματα [Historical Themes], issue no. 38, March 2005, pp. 86-104).

3. Grigoris Belivanakis (2), Οι Γερμανοί στη Μήλο, 1941-45 [The Germans in Melos, 1941-45], Athens 2011.

4. Ilias Iliopoulos, Σελίδες στρατιωτικής ιστορίας. Οι επιχειρήσεις του Ιερού Λόχου κατά τον Β΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο [Military History
Pages. Operations of the Sacred Squadron during World War II], Herodotos Publications, Athens 2013.

5. Pantelis Karykas, Ιερός Λόχος, 1942-1945. Από την έρημο στο Αιγαίο [Sacred Squadron, 1942-1945. From the Desert to the Aegean], Defence net media Pubications, Athens.

6. Nikolaos Kastrenopoulos, «Ο Ιερός Λόχος στο Αιγαίο» [“The Sacred Squadron in the Aegean”], in the websitehttp://astypalaia.wordpress.com

7. Dimitris A. Katsikostas, Ο Ελληνικός Στρατός στην εξορία, 1941-1944 [The Hellenic Army in Exile, 1941-1944], Alpheios Publications, Athens 2015, pp. 291-325.

8. Ioannis Manetas, Ιερός Λόχος, 1942-1945 [Sacred Squadron, 1942-1945], Logothetis Publications, Athens 1996.

9. Mihail Oikonomakos, Από την Αφρική στον Έβρο [From Africa to Evros ], Eleftheri Skepsis Publications, Athens 1979.

10. Mihail Oikonomakos, Πόλεμος στο Αιγαίο, 1941-1945 [War in the Aegean, 1941-1945], Eleftheri Skepsis Publications, Athens 2006.

11. Christos Photopoulos, Υποστράτηγος Χριστόδουλος Τσιγάντες, 1897-1970 [Major-General Christodoulos Tsigantes, 1897-1970], Published by the 7th Bureau of the Army General Staff, Athens 2002.

12. John Rigos, «Ο Ιερός Λόχος στα Δωδεκάνησα» [“The Sacred Squadron in the Dodecanese”], in the volume, Οι ανυπότακτοι της Σύμης. Βρετανική κατοχή στα Δωδεκάνησα [The Insubodrinates of Symi. The British Occupation of the Dodecanese], Proskinio –Angelos Sideratos Publications, Athens 2005, pp. 286-93.

13. Anastasios Vlachistathopoulos, Ιερός Λόχος, 1942-1945 [Sacred Squadron, 1942-1945], Eleftheri Skepsis Publications, Athens 2006.

B) English

1. Philip P. Argenti, The Occupation of Chios by the Germans and their Administration of the Island, Cambridge University Press 1966 (p. 102 ff.).

2. Panagiotis Gartzonikas, Amphibious and special Operations in the Aegean Sea, 1943-1945. Operational Effectiveness and strategic Implication, MA Thesis submitted to the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, CA (December 2003) (on the Internet).

3. Julian Paget, The crusading General. The Life of General Sir Bernard Paget GCB, DSO, MC, Pen and Sword Military, 2008.

4. David Sutherland, He who dares. Recollections of Service in the SAS, SBS and MI5, Leo Cooper publ. 1998 (chapters 11-13). Men of the Sacred Squadron holding a swastika captured during one of their
operations

Websites (indicative)

1. «Η περίπολος Ζαχαράκη» [“The Zaharakis Patrol”], in http://tolmwnnika.blogspot.gr/2011/11/blog-post_13.html

2. Greek Sacred Squadron (forum), in http://forum.commandoveterans.org/cdoForum/posts/list/3220.page

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type in, or copy and paste the title of your choice, or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords.

Acknowledgements.

Researched and written by Nikos Nikoloudis, PhD Modern Greek Studies, King’s College, London. Redrafted for website presentation by Geoff Slee and approved by the author before publication.

Photo Credits. Copyright of period photos accompanying the text, belong to the Archive of the Directorate of Special Forces (Διεύθυνση Ειδικών Δυνάμεων) of the Hellenic Army General Staff and Dr. Haris Koutelakis. The author wishes to thank the “Club of Commandos and Veterans of the Sacred Squadron” (Λέσχη Καταδρομέων και Ιερολοχιτών) for its assistance.

Footnotes.

While the Sacred Squadron did not wear the Combined Operations patch, their training, organisation and association with David Stirling and British Special Forces, as well as the nature and purpose of the raids they took part in, make them part of the Combined Operations story. Their distinguished raiding history is very much in keeping with the spirit of the dedication plaque on the Combined Operations Command memorial. [Photo below].

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature1. According to Vlachostathopoulos (p. 24): 'Following a heated discussion with them on 12 September, three days before the official assumption of his duties, he convinced them that he wanted to lead them to war, was more than capable of doing so and that he would protect them from the disruptive influence of other Greek Army military units. His words, combined with his formerly distinguished career in the Army; medals of valour, repeated wounds in battle, knowledge of several foreign languages, as well as his participation in the Foreign Legion, resulted in his acceptance by all. Thus began the glorious history of this Squadron'. Photopoulos adds (p. 27): 'This smart move by Tsigantes, along with his honesty and persuasion, a successful diplomatic manoeuvre, though contrary to military regulations… Subsequently, for three whole years (1942-1945)… he diligently kept his promise to the end, leading his elite special unit along the difficult path of honour and duty, and earning for it the unique and praiseworthy title of 'Legend”.

2. Emmanuel Perissakis mentions the event that marked this transformation of the Sacred Squadron (GES/DIS, p. 34): 'On 25 December 1942, the commander of the 1st British Raiding Regiment, Colonel Stirling, also commanding the Sacred Squadron, returned to Cairo from Libya and visited the seat of the Sacre Squadron… Colonel Stirling asked the commander of the Sacred Squadron whether it would be possible to reorganize and train his unit, within a month, as a mechanized commando unit, using jeeps and armoured vehicles. They would be equipped to undertake operations at great depth behind enemy lines, using desert bases or the mountains separating Tripolitania from Sahara proper. This proposal was accepted immediately, on condition that the Sacred Squadron would be timely supplied with the equipment necessary for its reorganization and training; its deficiencies in various critical specialties would be taken care of; and that he would be given a free hand, with no interference during the course of its training and preparation'.

3. Perissakis mentions respectively: 'Influenced by the recent accident of the British commando regiment [i.e. the SAS] and believing that the width of the front did not allow for the conduct of commando raids of the type for which the Sacred Squadron had trained and reorganized, General [sic] Montgomery ordered its immediate return to Egypt. This decision by the commander of the 8th Army naturally caused great disappointment among the men of the Squadron. Colonel Tsigantes and his escorts tried to persuade General Montgomery with a series of arguments. They claimed that the Squadron’s return to Egypt for the second time without participating in operations for which it had prepared itself could have significant and unpredictable consequences to the men’s morale, most of whom were officers; also, that impressions of the Allies among the Greek public opinion, both abroad and in occupied Greece, would be very negative, especially in association with the fact that approximately around the same time the Greek 1st Brigade was also moved away from the front. In the end, the incorporation of the Sacred Squadron to the French Brigade was suggested as a compromise… This suggestion was based on the view that, after its incorporation to Leclerc’s Brigade, the Sacred Squadron could be used for operations aiming at outflanking the German right in Tunisia” (GES/DIS, 87).

4.. Vlachostathopoulos, 26, 98; Photopoulos, note in p. 30.

5. According to Vlachostathopoulos (p. 26), 'after the Tunisian campaign, the Squadron’s commander removed half its personnel, those who did not manage to accept the new spirit he envisaged for the unit, including others in their place who were willing to serve under him'.

6. According to Dimitrios Palaiologos: “Raiding forces would meet at a deserted, always different coast, in the southwest of Turkey, where they would create a “raiding base”, with a staff by British and Greek officers; as well as units of the Special Service Brigade, the Sacred Squadron and the Navy. The latter would provide landing and escort ships, armed sailing boats and other vessels of various types, to be used for billeting of troops and storing food. This peculiar way of forming a base was due to the need to avoid protests and frictions with the Turkish government, which continued to be neutral, not tolerating the presence of foreign troops on its soil” (GES/DIS, 163).

7. According to Palaiologos: “The raid at Chios resulted in the blowing up of the dry dock and the destruction (or serious damage) of 13 small ships; also, the blowing up of the small building housing the cable heads, the destruction of four of them and the death of an unknown number of men from the crews of the blown up German ships” (GES/DIS 188).

8. According to Palaiologos, “in the Northern sector a mixed Greek and British unit destroyed vessels under repair at the dry dock of Symi, as well as defense installations at the fortress and ammunition depots. It also destroyed quite a few automatic and other heavy weapons, as well as a significant number of rifles and ammunition. In the Southern sector a demolition squad of three men of the Squadron destroyed defense installations in the Panormitis peninsula; the underwater wire connecting Symi with Rhodes; the telephone line between Panormitis and Symi; a number of submachine guns, machine guns and mortars; and ammunition. In the Western sector, a unit consisting of two men of the Squadron destroyed all the fortifications; a number of heavy guns, as well as ammunition depots” (GES/DIS, 195). Vlachostathopoulso adds: “Regarding the Symi operation, King George II sent a telegram to the commander of the Sacred Squadron on 24 July, expressing his gratification for this unit’s achievement. Moreover, the prestige of the Sacred Squadron had been elevated vis-à-vis assisting British forces, and the former had become their equal, if not better”.

9. According to Palaiologos: “Soon after [their landing] the men of the Sacred Squadron headed to the city center in order to march in front of Major General Panagiotis Spiliotopoulos, military commander of Attica. The cities of Piraeus and Athens received the first men of the Squadron decorated with flags. The enthusiasm of the inhabitants of both cities, celebrating their liberation, is hard to describe. The presence of this first detachment of the Sacred Squadron in the Greek capital caused a stream of emotions by the inhabitants, raising their moral which had dropped significantly as a result of deprivations suffered during the Occupation. After the end of the parade, Lieutenant Colonel Messinopoulos, commander of Force C, lay a wreath on the Monument of the Unknown Soldier and the troops of the Squadron were given barracks in the mansion of the Hellenic Army Pension Fund (presently Attica departmental store). After two days, Force C moved to the Athens College building (in Psychiko) and, subsequently, to Iosifogleio orphanage, in Syngrou boulevard”.

10. D. Palaiologos, “on the same day the commander of the detachment of Kimolos and all his men boarded small vessels and sailed to the Bay of Apollonia (Pollonia), where they were joined by the men of the Squadron who were on constant patrol in Melos, subsequently landing at Adamas. The islanders received them with great joy and enthusiasm, and the men of the Squadron marched to Plakes (sic), the capital of Melos. Throughout the route, German guards presented arms… Until 12 May the Germans had surrendered and left the island…. The surrender of the German garrison of Melos was of particular importance, since small scale raids by small forces of the Sacred Squadron had caused the cutting off of a significant German force for six whole months”.

News & Information

 

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.

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The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

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