On July 15, 1974, with the support of the Ioannides  junta in Athens, a coup d’état  against the Cypriot government of the archbishop Makarios, took place. The reason for that were Makarios’ efforts to reduce the junta’s influence by expelling all Greek military personnel from Cyprus. This would have meant the loss of military control over Cyprus on the part of Greece, and the humiliation and probable downfall of Ioannides. The situation not only created hostility among the Greeks, but also the chance for Turkey to take advantage of its status as guarantor and invade the island on July 20. As Cyprus had not requested the intervention of the guarantor countries, Turkey’s actions were, in one word, illegal.

The response of the Greek military junta was uncoordinated, passive and sometimes blatantly treacherous. The same can be said for the reaction of the subsequent Greek government appointed before the second part of the Turkey’s invasion. The motives behind the lack of effectiveness remain unrevealed and can only be speculated upon, as the Cyprus File, a collection of documents from any government agency involved, has yet to be opened. Theories range from simple incompetence to full submission to foreign influences, mainly from the USA and their Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who supposedly was always in favor of the Turkish invasion.

At 05:00 on 20 July 1974, the invasion on Cyprus began with the code name “Attila,” when Turkish forces landed on Pentemili beach of Kyrenia. The first resistance they encountered were the Greek-Cypriot navy torpedo boats T1 and T3. T1 went ashore after it was hit by the Turkish Air Force, with six wounded. T3 managed to reach the Turkish landing fleet before it was destroyed completely, with only one survivor. At the same time, the camp of the Greek Force of Cyprus was being bombarded by the Turkish Air Force, while Turkish paratroopers were dropped on Kioneli.

The reaction of Athens was that of utter panic. The military actions decided upon were the general mobilization of the army reserves, the reinforcement of units in the Aegean and the northern border with Turkey, the preparation of reinforcement to Cyprus and the dispersion of the Air Force and Navy. Although the units that were to be sent to Cyprus were predetermined by the plan “K” (a plan created in 1968 in order to defend Cyprus against possible invasion), and those were Air Force and Navy units with the mission of attacking the Turkish beachhead, the junta leadership chose to send a raiders squadron, a unit unsuitable to the needs of the fight at hand.

Even though its main purpose was to offer an excuse for the junta and it could do little to change the outcome of the invasion, the Alpha Raiders Squadron, along with a platoon of Gama Amphibious Raiders Squadron, managed to defend the Nicosia airport and, on August 16, they stopped an attempt to encircle the city.

Nord Noatlas

The future remains uncertain after the failed Cyprus unification talks

Read Next: The future remains uncertain after the failed Cyprus unification talks

Operation Victory

Alfa Raiders Squardron CO Major George Papameletiou

Initially, the Beta Raiders Squadron was to be deployed to Cyprus on Boeing 707 aircrafts. A mission cancelled due to technical problems. Instead, the Alpha Raiders Squadron was sent on Nord 250 1D-Noratlas. In the afternoon of July 21st, the Alpha Raiders Squadron, who up to that moment had been prepared to deploy in the Aegean, received the order to move to the airfield of Suda, Crete. Almost simultaneously, the Noratlas crews were ordered to move in the same direction. One of the major problems the raiders had to face was the decision of who to leave behind, as no one wanted to miss such an important mission. One distinguished case was that of Andreas Pantelis, who was to be discharged two days later and was to remain in the camp. He climbed the small ladder in the back of his unit’s bus, only to be discovered and sent back 4 kilometres later.

The Noratlas crews’ mission was to fly at a height of 500ft, speed of 150 miles/hour, with total radio silence, without navigation lights and with the flight course being along the FIR Athens-Cairo, in order to avoid detection. They would then land in Nicosia airfield, unload the Raiders and their equipment, and return to Crete. The objective was to complete the mission during the nighttime, and so, only fifteen of the twenty available aircrafts were used.

Because of the poor communication between Cypriot and Greek forces, the fear of Turkish night operations, and the incompetence of people acting as liaisons between the two forces, the aircraft encountered heavy anti-air fire, resulting in the shooting down of Victory 4, with 31 dead. Heavy damage to Victory 6 caused it to land without engines, and the death of 2 Raiders and 9 wounded. Victory 3 and 12 were also damaged, but had no casualties. The rest of the aircraft, with the exception of Victory 13, which was lost and landed on Rhodes, unloaded the Raiders and returned to Greece.

Operation Victory was a display of skill on the part of the Greek Air Force, as it was conducted with aging aircraft, in an airspace totally dominated by enemy forces, and despite the heavy fire they took during the landing, they proceeded with the mission.

Battle of Nicosia Airport

On July 22, the Alpha Raiders Squadron, with the attached platoon of Gama Amphibious Raiders Squadron, was at the Theological School of Nicosia. That same noon, the Cypriot national radio station announced a foiled Turkish assault on the airport the previous night (which were the Greek reinforcements). So, you get the extent of the confusion in the area at the time. The next morning, the Cypriot military command contacted the Alpha’s CO, Major George Papameletiou, with the request that a company be sent to Nicosia airport to reinforce the existing forces, as the ceasefire that was declared in the meantime was not upheld in all parts of the island. The orders were changed in quick succession and eventually all three Assault Companies of the Alpha Squadron were moved to the airport.

Alpha Squadron’s senior officer at the airport was Major Vasilis Manouras, the unit’s S3, who acted as commander until the arrival of the CO. It was he who decided the placement of the companies, which were to prevent the Turkish attack from the northwest, and whose formation was that of an oversized, reversed “L” ambush. It is widely accepted that the Turks were unaware of the last minute arrival of the Alpha. Their initial attack that consisted of 300 men was repulsed with a small part managing to escape to a nearby coppice, and harassing the 41st and 42nd Assault Companies with small arms fire from there. At the same time, a 4.2” mortar began to fire against the Greek position. As reported by 1st Lt Stavros Benos, it managed to fire only three rounds, as it was silenced by counter-artillery fire.

Raider George Hroniaris

At the second assault of the Turkish forces, the two Marmon-Herrington that were part of the small force defending the airport before the arrival of the raiders reentered the battle. The attack was once again repulsed, with even more Turks seeking refuge in the coppice that was then set ablaze by white phosphorus mortar rounds. A round from a M67 recoilless rifle was also fired in the direction of a suspected observation post in a house on the northern edge of the airport, forcing it to be abandoned. Before the Canadian UN forces arrived, two Turkish M47 tanks attempted a diversionary attack to the eastern terminal. Defenders subsequently destroyed both with an M20 Super Bazooka.

The reports here vary as to who destroyed the tanks – the Alpha Raiders Squadron, or the Greek Cypriot force present at the airfield. The battle ended with the control of the airport passed to the Canadian UN troops, with one dead and two wounded on the Greek side. The man who lost his life was Sergeant First Class Athanasios Fotopoulos, killed during an attempt to rescue the pinned-down CO of the Alpha, George Papameletiou, at the entrance of the airport. Fotopoulos is also credited with defending the airport during the days before the arrival of the Greek reinforcements.  No clear account of the casualties on the Turkish side is available.

At the time of the Nicosia airport battle, in Athens the military junta was collapsing and consequently, so was the after-the-coup government of Nick Sampson in Cyprus. Konstadinos Karamanlis was appointed prime-minister in the newly formed government of Greece, while Glafkos Kliridis was named president of Cyprus. The political shift, however, did not enhance the defensive stance of the Greek side on the island, as during the ceasefire period, not a single move was made to reinforce it. The Alpha Raiders Squadron was stationed in the south of Nicosia for a period of ten days, until, on August 5, it was moved to Stavrovouni, essentially to act as bodyguards to the Cypriot National Guard higher command. The reason for that was the escalation of the rivalries among the Cypriots (the supporters of the Cypriot independence and the campaigners of annexation with Greece) after the coup and so a Greek unit, being a politically neutral party, was considered a safer bet.

Erdogan throws down the gauntlet in the Med, claims natural gas reserve near Cyprus belongs to Turkey

Read Next: Erdogan throws down the gauntlet in the Med, claims natural gas reserve near Cyprus belongs to Turkey

The Defense of Nicosia

On the morning of August 16 and with the second phase of the Turkish invasion already in progress, the Alpha received orders to send sections of M67 recoilless rifles to the south of Nicosia to boost the defenders’ anti-armor capabilities. 2nd Lt Nikos Kointzoglou and 1st Lt Nikolaos Douvas, in command of three sections each, set off towards Nicosia. While on their way, Douvas was commanded to redirect to Pyroi and Kointzoglou was to link up with a Major of the Cypriot National Guard on the outskirts of the city to receive further orders.

Raider Mpikakis participated in the Battle 180

One section, under the command of Raider Bikakis, was stationed at hill 180 and the other two, under the command of Kointzoglou, moved to the crossroad of Democracy Highway and Gregory Afxentiou Str. As nothing had happened until 3pm, Kointzoglou was ordered to return. Upon reaching the Kolokasidis roundabout, mortar fire had started, so he was ordered to take position on the adjacent hill 180. At 5pm the Turkish attack began, consisting of tanks and infantry, with the apparent objective of cutting off the Nicosia-Limassol road and encircling the city. In the brief but intense engagement that followed, the small force defending the hills managed to destroy two Turkish tanks and hence stop the attack, as the remaining enemy forces began to retreat.

Despite the tactical victories achieved by the Alpha Raiders Squadron, the Greek Force of Cyprus (ΕΛΔΥΚ) and the Cypriot National Guard, the failure to implement the plan “K” and send naval and air units to hit the Turkish beachhead in the early phases of the operation “Attila” allowed the Turks to reinforce their presence on the island during the ceasefire, which was the decisive factor for the illegal occupation of the 37% of the Cypriot territory.

The Alpha Raiders Squadron remained in Cyprus and was renamed to 35th Raiders Squadron, which still serves under the command of the Cypriot Raiding Regiment, and is manned by Greek volunteers. I consider it my honor to have served in that unit.