~ GREECE - THE LOST CAUSE ~

In mid-March, at what must have been very short notice, they were caught up in the badly organized and disastrous campaign in Greece. This, as one source puts it, `was lost before we had commenced the opening stages'.

Lost again also were the squadron records for the period from December 1940 to May 1941 so events cannot be officially detailed but at least it is known that during the very short time in Greece 113 was stationed briefly at Menidi, Larissa and finally Niamata.

Corp Norman Say LAC comments on the Squadrons arrival in Greece about March 31st as he and some of the ground crew arrived by ship: "We got into Piraeus harbour and disembarked and because Greece was not at war with Germany, we were told, the Germans were down on the quayside taking note of all the troops as they landed. We went up to Athens airport and they gave us a pay parade............ The next day we moved up, went through Lamia and Larissa, over the mountain passes on to an aerodrome just beyond Larissa, not far from Mount Olympus. The (Germans?) had built this airfield on very swampy ground, so to drain it they had dug a great ditch all around it and heaped the soil up on the drome side of the trench. The ditch was full of water and we discovered that when we tried to dig slit trenches they also filled up with water. The aerodrome had been affected by the earthquake, all the buildings were damaged and were unsafe so we erected tents on the side. The surface of the drome was more like a ploughed field." Prior to the Squadrons arrival in Greece, Larissa had been hit with a severe earthquake causing substantial damage to the town. Sgt Say continues:   ..........."During the night as we lay in our tents we were often shaken by small tremors and a few more bits fell off the buildings. After we have been there a couple of weeks, in Larissa about the only building which was hardly damaged was a concrete built cinema and this was opened up for the troops."

The weather in Greece at the time was appalling and just flying some days was suicidal in itself, yet operations were ordered nonetheless. Adding to the dangers to the 113 was the fact it was now flying in mountainous terrain versus the flat featureless terrain of the desert from which it had come. Almost none of its desert experience would be of any value in this new theater and given carefull thought, one can scarcely imagine two more opposite theaters in climate and terrain. The targets the Squadron was directed against in Greece however were not that unusual for them, these were 'anything and everything' HQ could think of including dreaded anti-shipping strikes for which the Blenheim was poorly suited. Indeed these were no ordinary shipping strikes and Unbelievably, once again, the 113 Squadron can be found in the background of yet another famous battle! The "BATTLE OF MATAPAN"

In this particular case the 113 would find themselves pitted against the cream of the Italian Navy (Regia Marina) led by the 35,000-ton 15 inch gun flagship, Vittorio Veneto in one of the greatest and most important naval battles of the war. Admiral Cunningham in preparations to meet the Italian Navy southeast of Crete & Greece dispatched his fleet with covering arrangements by thirty Blenheim bombers from Squadrons 84, 113, and 221 readied in Greece. The RAF also giving maximum aerial reconnaissance in the south Ionian Sea.  On March 28th the Blenheim bombers find and attack the Vittorio Veneto and are soon joined by three Albacores of 829 Squadron, launched from the aircraft carrier Formidable. During the attacks a huge explosion clipped the stern of the great Italian ship and it soon came to a stop and began listing. One of the Albacores, claimed a torpedo hit but was shot down seconds later. By the end of the day much of the Italian Fleet had been destroyed. Neither the Squadron's participation in this battle or a hit they claimed on one  of the Italian vessels is officially regognized. A very well done paper story on the battle can be found at: http://www.higginsstudios.com/doc/matarticle.htm

F/Sgt Arthur Davis - Obo, recalls this great strike on the Italian fleet shortly after their arrival in Greece: the squadron attacked the Italian Fleet which was running from the British Navy for home. It was a low level raid through heavy AA fire and a number of squadron planes were hit, including ourselves. Referred to as the battle of Matapan, claims were made that we had hit a Destroyer and a Cruiser which had slowed the fleet down enough to allow the Royal Navy to peck at. We couldn't prove it however as the Squadron was posted to a landing ground just North of Larissa at the foot of Mount Olympus. It was a very small field and we operated from it 'but not without incidents'. The pilots found that upon returning from flights that it was difficult to keep within the field area and we lost 3 or 4 aircraft that way. (Note Corp Say's description of the ditches and earth mounds around the airstrip described earlier)

Sgt J. Douglas Woodcock notes the battle of Matapan in his log book as having ocurred on 28/03/1941.

In the initial stages of the campaign in Greece against the Italians it did not go badly, but the tables turned quickly when the Germans finally entered the picture on the 6th April. On the 15th April the Luftwaffe launched heavy successful attacks on the airfields at Larissa, Kalambaka/Vassiliki, Paramythia and Niamata causing ruinous losses to the RAF.  In Niamata this day, all of 113's remaining serviceable aircraft were destroyed on the ground including much of their transportation.

Corp Norman Lamb explains: "70 plus bombers and attendant ME 109's attacked the area and the 109's flew up and down the airfield untill 7 of our Blenheims were on fire. Four times during the day they came back and by evening all aircraft were destroyed along with a few of the squadron Lorries". On this same incident, Corp Norman Say states,  "at about ten oíclock the Messerschmidts came over and started strafing the drome. They had white painted noses and someone said that was Goeringís own squadron, but whether they were or not I donít know. As we hadnít any slit trenches we managed to lie up against the side of the banks around the drome and fired at the planes as they came towards us, then we went over the bank to face them coming the other way. We shot down four of them by concentrated rifle fire, as we only had one machine gun in defence of the drome".  (Note: Corp E Stanley Harrison believes they had yellow painted noses)

Sgt Ewan Brooking RNZAF: On the 1st. of April, I was temporarily crewed up with P/O Pengelly, and flew in one of our Blenheims from Menidi airfield [near Tatoi ] to Larissa, 1 hr. 10 m. to the north. After landing we were informed that the surface, apart from the landing strips, was too corrugated from earth quakes for taxi-ing the Blenheims. So, on the 3rd. we took off for Niamata, an airfield 10 minutes to the East of Larissa.

There was a tented encampment already established, and we were told to find and share the 4 man tents. Harry (Sgt. Harry Duignan) and I shared with a part crew of an R.A.F. observer and gunner. One instruction we were given was to dig a "slit trench" by our tent for our protection, which Harry and I proceeded to do.The R.A.F. duo didn"t think much of the idea, so lay on their stretchers instead. Who do you think was first into it,  when the bullets began to fly. That was on Tuesday the 22nd April.  We hadn't been up that long when the Luftwaffe struck. The camp was on the South side of the  road that led to the airfield, and the approach path of the two M.E. 109's was on the North side parallel to the road, but not too close. The gun fire that scrambled us into the slit trench, was the 109"s opening up on the planes on the airfield. About every half hour, another pair of 109"s would arrive, make their strafing run and depart, back to their base. There were our 16 planes as targets.  12 were bombed up ready for an "op" later that day, and 4 were in the workshops.Though the camp was not that close to the airfield, we had a reasonable view of the damage  that was being inflicted on the Blenheims. As the attack developed , another plane would be set on fire, with a column of smoke rising up, and the 109"s doing victory rolls through the  plumes. The bombed-up planes eventually blew up. The only anti-aircraft fire seem to be coming from a red -headed Syrian Jew airman, in a slit trench on the other side of the road, opposite the Sgts. mess , firing a 303 rifle at the 109"s.  Without much luck it seemed, until, in the mid afternoon, he appeared to hit one. This evidently annoyed the 109 pilots, so the next and last run was at the camp. This resulted in what was possibly our only casualty. An airman dived under the petrol tanker for shelter, but the tanker was a prime target,  and he was killed.  When the 109's left,  one of them was trailing a thin streamer of white smoke.

During the day, 3 flights of 80 plus German planes passed overhead, but fortunately for us their target was Larissa. Later in the after noon, a little R.A.F. Auster type highwing monoplane flew over at low level. It dropped what was evidently a message, in a ball with streamers attached. {W.W.1 stuff } It appeared that the message was to evacuate immediately. Orders were given to pack the kitbags and throw them and ourselves onto the back of our trucks, and be ready to move off .The camp and all gear and equipment was to be left as it was. Not long afterwards we moved off.

The 113 was out of the picture but the following day the carnage continued for the Allies, both on the ground and in the air. The Allies drew back in recoil and by the 20th April the Luftwaffe bombers and fighters were bombing and strafing with almost no opposition.  At this point continued operations by the RAF in Greece was doomed. 113 had taken a terrible beating losing all its aircraft both in combat and on the ground. According to the story handed down during the later life of the squadron it was at this time that all the aircraft of `B' Flight failed to return from an operation and in memory of the crews the letter `B' was never used again, the squadron thereafter comprising `A' and `C' Flights. This however has yet to be proved and it appears that B flight may have actually been a detachment lost during the battle of Crete.

Beginning around the 20th April the RAF started evacuating their few remaining aircraft and personnel from mainland Greece to Crete. The scheme for the evacuation of R.A.F. personnel aimed at the removal of air crews and certain key personnel by air in Squadron and transport aircraft and flying boats. The remainder were to be evacuated by sea with other British and Imperial Forces. Surviving Blenheims of several squadrons were making the trip to Crete with up to nine passengers apiece in order to get as many aircrews and their ground crews out as possible. The remaining aircraft of Nos.11, 84, 113 ??? and 211 (B) Squadrons and 208 (A.C.) Squadron, amounting to 24 Blenheims and 4 Lysanders, flew to Egypt on 22nd and 23rd April. On the 24th April 1,700 R.A.F. personnel were at Argos awaiting evacuation by sea but by the next day the majority of these had moved to Kalamata and Gytheon. Of these, three Sunderland loads were taken off from the former, and one from the latter and flown to Crete. The rest leaving however they could.

Corp Norman Say LAC, 113 Squadron comments on how he and others of the Squadron escaped: ..............."a sergeant came along and asked each of us what our trade was, and sorted us out. Tradesmen on the left and clerks, cooks and aircrafthands on the right. Then he counted us and called to the adjutant that he had one hundred and fifty. The adjutant told us to get on some lorries which had just arrived. We had no idea what was happening and there was speculation as to whether we were going back to the front. Well, we drove off and went back down the road we had just come in by. All along the road the Greeks were standing at their doors clapping and giving us the thumbs up. Then the air raid sirens sounded and they all made for the shelters. We just carried on, and I now believe that it was a false alarm to get rid of the spectators because we turned off onto the road down to the docks and stopped on the quay. The sergeant said, ĎYouíre going back to get some more planes, 75 of you on the refugee ship and 75 on the destroyer, HMS Flamingo. I was in the latter group; twenty minutes later we were out at sea. We didnít believe the story about the planes because they would have sent pilots back for them. What we didnít know was that it was the start of the evacuation of Greece. We were the first ones out from there".

After getting underway Corp Say continues: ......... Suddenly the siren sounded and all the sailors dashed out locking the bulkhead doors behind them; we had no way of getting out if anything happened. They went to action stations and picked up a submarine, they cruised around for a while and dropped some depth charges but I donít know if they got anything as they had to return to guard the convoy. That was the only incident we had and we sailed into Alex about three days later. We disembarked, the Flamingo turned round and was sunk on the return to Greece". (error HMS Flamingo survived the war and was sold to Germany in 1959 and became the Graf Spee! source: Jim Newton)

Apparently some of the aircrew were lucky enough to escape by aircraft, Sgt J Douglas Woodcock being one of them, his log book notes he flew out in a Blenheim Mk1 piloted by Sgt McPherson and undoubtedly the aircraft was packed with other souls.

The few remaining Hurricanes left in Greece attempted to provide cover for the ships evacuating troops but there were too few to be effective. Even this modest protection was lost when on the evening of the 23rd Argos was attacked by Bf110's and 13 of the precious Hurricanes were destroyed. On the 24th the few remaining aircraft left Greece for Maleme to operate from there while at the same time the full scale evacuation of ground troops was well under way from six beaches in southern Greece; Raphin, Raphtis, Megara, Nauplia, Monemvasia and Kalamata. Flt. Lt. Rixson of 113 Squadron was one of those being evacuated from Nauplia and comments; "The Navy looked after us very well, although the RAF was not all that popular as naturally the German air force had control of the air, and there was very little protection for the Naval ships."

The evacuation convoys steamed between Greece and Crete, and from there on to Egypt, with the only protection from German dive bombers being a few Gladiators from 112 sqdn and a few others at Maleme including a half dozen Blenheim 1F's of 30 sqdn. As a result of this meager protection, the convoys were subjected to constant enemy air attacks causing heavy losses. "Operation Demon" as it was called was officially ended the 1st of May with an estimated 50,700 troops out of approx 62,500 deployed to Greece having been evacuated.  Of the 12,000 who could not be taken off it is estimated some 3,000 were killed and 9,000 taken prisoner. The saga of terror would continue for many of those left on Crete.

The total aircraft losses amounted to 209 of which 72 were in combat and 82 had to be destroyed and abandoned during the withdrawal and subsequent evacuation. Many of the latter had been damaged during enemy attacks on their aerodromes and in normal circumstances might have been repaired. By comparison, the losses inflicted on the enemy totalled 259 aircraft destroyed and 99 probably destroyed, with several others damaged. Of 'these, 231 were destroyed and 94 probably destroyed in combat with our aircraft. Our personnel losses amounted to 148 killed and missing and 15 taken prisoner. Of the total, 130 were aircrews.

(In this book: `Operation Mercury' (J & K H Publishing) Marcel Comeau MM describes this event and says that among RAF airmen in Greece 113 was known as the `unlucky squadron').

For greater detail of RAF participation in the Greek campaign see the LONGMORE REPORT and Sgt Norman Say's memoirs, Chapter five.

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