The Sacred Squadron - an
Elite Greek Commando Unit
the islands of the Aegean
the Formation of the Squadron)
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
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
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
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.
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
[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).
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Monument in honour of the Sacred Squadron, in Samos.]
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.7
18/19 June. A detachment of eight men of the Sacred Squadron neutralized
a German outpost in the village of Langadia, in Chios.
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.
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.
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
[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
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
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
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
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”.
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
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
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
divided into two expeditionary forces, designated Force B and Force C and a Rear
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.
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
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.
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
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.]
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
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.
courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
Colonel Tsigantes and the commander of the Special Service
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.
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,
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
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
men (captain Bell and marines RG Bachelor, HI Bowkett and WA Brown) and
the arrest of marine Harry Barber.
[Photo right; Men of the Sacred Squadron are heading towards a beach in Tilos, after the
successful stage of their raid on the island. In the background, the HMS
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
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.
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
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.
[Photo right; The signing of the German surrender at the Dodecanese by Brigadier Moffat
Colonel Tsigantes (at the far right).]
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).
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
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
[Photo left; Inspection of the Sacred Squadron by General Bernard Padget.]
& 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)],
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 website http://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.
1. The German conquest of the Dodecanese
Anthony Rogers. ISBN PB 978 1 472835116
2. Philip P. Argenti, The Occupation of Chios by the Germans and their
Administration of the Island, Cambridge University Press 1966 (p. 102
3. 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).
4. Julian Paget, The crusading General. The Life of General Sir Bernard
Paget GCB, DSO, MC, Pen and Sword Military, 2008.
5. 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
1. «Η περίπολος
Ζαχαράκη» [“The Zaharakis Patrol”]
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.
Researched and written by
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.
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.]
1. 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
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”.
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'.
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).
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).
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).
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
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
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”.