The folowing article was written by Savvas Vlassis and is published here with his consent. Savvas is a former Greek Army paratrooper and, since 1994, professionally writes about matters of defense, foreign policy and history. Since 2004, he is the publisher, editor and writer of the military magazine, Dourios Ippos (Trojan Horse). In this article he rebukes the claims in the book “1st Commando Battalion in Cyprus in 1974″ (1’nci Komando Taburu 1974 Kibris) of Haluk Üstügen.
Last summer, a retired Turkish Army major, veteran of the 1974 invasion in Cyprus (Operation ATTILA) visited Cyprus and met Greek and Greek-Cypriot veterans. He served with the 1st Commando Battalion as a lieutenant company commander and recently he published a book about his war memories. I respect utterly every war veteran who fought for his country. However, the story of Mr. Haluk Üstügen struck me from the first moment because of the distortion of the truth he gives to his readers about the 1974 military operations.
The Turkish invasion started on the morning of 20 July. The Turkish Commando Brigade landed in Cyprus wave after wave οn Huey helicopters, just north of Nicosia, along with the Parachute Brigade that was dropped in the nearby DZs. Without any particular difficulty from enemy fire (at first, orders from Athens Greece to the Cypriot National Guard were to hold fire in order to clarify the situation on a political level), the commando and para battalions moved north to the Agirta pass.
Their objective was to reinforce the Turkish-Cypriot positions on the Pentadaktylos mountain. The Agirta pass was of strategic importance as it exercised control over the main road from Nicosia to the north coast, where a Turkish amphibious force landed and managed to secure a limited beachhead. In reaction to the landings, three Mires Katadromon* were ordered to attempt the capture of the hills east and west of the pass, clearing the Turkish presence on them.
The goal of the operation was to block the road and prevent the Turkish troops from moving from the beachhead through Pentadaktylos and advancing in the valley south straight to the capital Nicosia. The 31st MK was to attack from the west, having as objective the Kotzakaya hill. The other two units, the 32nd and 33rd MKs, were to attack from the east, to the Aspri Moutti and Petromouthia hills respectively.
The Greek Mires Katadromon entered the fight after five days in alert status, following the 15th July coup d’ etat; an action where they had suffered significant casualties. The 31st Raider squadron had lost its CO (WIA) and second in command (KIA) so a new CO had been posted just the day before the Turkish invasion.
Despite these difficulties, all the Greek Mires Katadromon entered the fight in very high morale and confident about their capabilities. Leaving one platoon behind for security duties in Nicosia, the 31st Raider squadron attacked Kotzakaya at 2300 hours. Three Strike Companies moved unseen through the enemy lines, managed to climb the hill and silently entered the enemy camp. They took the Turks completely by surprise and cleared the barracks, finding inside a mix of Turkish-Cypriots and some Turkish Army commandos resting.
A platoon commander of the 31st Raider squadron, the 2nd Lieutenant Matthaios Economides described: “There was an outer wall damaged in two points. Lieutenant Glentzes entered from one of these openings and fell on the sentry accidentally, managing to shoot him with his Kalashnikov. Luckily no one from the enemy heard the noise because of the forest fire and explosions in the surrounding area. We moved to the barracks.”
“Inside the one I entered, there was pitch-black darkness with the exception of a few storm lamps. The paratroopers were on the floor, beds having been removed outside the buildings. I stepped in alone. My company was of only 22 men. I ordered the Turks to stand up. They didn’t bother. Who is he? They hadn’t realized what was happening. They did when I started kicking them with my feet. They were totally surprised. Then Glentzes came inside and was happy to see that all was alright. One short Turk stepped forward. He was moving close to my captain with bad intension. I didn’t want to take the situation lightly so I fired a burst to his face.”
Lieutenant Elias Glentzes, a Spartan from Elos village and CO of 13th Assault Company, moved quickly to clear the east side of the hill.
Sergeant Ioannis Stefanou wrote later: “The whole side is full of trenches and machine gun positions. The captain orders to launch a surprise attack. We prepared ourselves, and when he shouted we assaulted, firing through the machine guns openings, throwing grenades and shouting “Aera,” the Greek battle-cry. The Turks start abandoning their positions, running left and right like trapped mice. Some throw their weapons and others start begging for surrender. Kotzakaya is now secured. The company makes a general clearing inspection of the enemy positions and we take defensive stations.”
Securing the situation took about 30 minutes for the Greeks. The CO, Major Alexandros Maniatis, who led his men, fired two green flares.
The horrific news shook the Turkish command post on the Saint Hilarion hill, just north of Kotzakaya. The 1st Commando Battalion ordered to counter-attack with two companies in front and a third in support. The Greek commandos on Kotzakaya manned defensive positions and repulsed the Turkish attack until the first light of the 21st July.
Stefanou wrote: “Turkish troops appear. The firing starts for good. They are moving up to 50 meters from our positions and then they return back. They have bigger firing capability but they are moving without cover, while we are fully covered.”
Economides gives a similar picture: “We were letting them come close. Myself and one other, Kostas Mallikides of 12th Assault Company, were manning a machine gun, fighting among ourselves over who would fire it, because one of us had to hold the ammunition belt. We were letting them come close so they could not spot our positions. At about 10 meters we were opening fire and smashed them. We are talking about .50 cal.”
Maniatis told about his men: “I was hearing my men to shout one to another, “Leave this one for me! No leave him to me! Courage and self-sacrifice characterized those 18-years old boys. Morale was high.”
The Greek commandos held their positions, but by daylight they started taking heavy mortar and recoilless rifles fire, now that the enemy had the opportunity to observe clearly their movements and positions. A few hours later, bad news reached the Greek commandos. Colonel Konstantinos Kombokis, CO of the Commando Command, radioed to Maniatis that the Infantry battalions that, according to plans were to relieve the commandos, were unable to reach Pentadaktylos.
With low ammo and heavily outnumbered, the position of the commandos became grave. So Kombokis had no other option but to order his three Commando units to withdraw from the ground they held.
The 31 MK had met with full success in taking Kotzakaya. The 32 MK was not so lucky. The unit failed to reach the time schedule and attacked late, against a fully alerted enemy on Aspri Moutti, and so had limited success. The 33 MK cleared Petromouthia and was preparing to reach the next objective, the Kamila hill, when the CO, Major George Katsanis, was killed while leading his men by example. Disappointed but victorious, the men of 31 MK started to evacuate Kotzakaya.
Captain Eleftherios Stamatis, in charge of the heavy weapons base at Aetofolia, wrote: “Unfortunately, although we had the proper weapons and ammo, the fire base was unable to support the withdrawal as well as to assist counter the previous night Turkish counter-attacks. The complete lack of communication between the support weapons and the CO with the assault element didn’t allow supportive firing calls. Fortunately for the 31 MK, the Turks didn’t dare to move and try to recapture the defensive positions on the west side of Kotzakaya.”
Only sporadic fire was laid by the Turks on the top of Kotzakaya. Company after company, the Greeks followed back the same route they used to infiltrate. Lieutenant Glentzes with Economides were the last to leave, laying booby traps all around the barracks on their way out. All this time they kept a watchful eye on the approaching enemy, observing as they climbed slowly and carefully the northern ridge. It was already midday when the last Greeks left Kotzakaya.
According to Mr Üstügen’s book, the bold move of the 31 MK was a major blow to the Turks. The staff personnel in the Saint Hilarion castle started to burn documents, and the officers removed their rank insignia. Üstügen says that he led the two attacking companies who came in hand to hand fighting with the Greeks in a 10-hour battle. Finally, the Greeks were overthrown from Kotzakaya.
With a strength of about 280 men for the three Turkish companies, Üstügen says that 19 where KIA and 56 WIA. He estimates that Kotzakaya was defended by about 700 Greeks! In reality, the rather thin ranks of the Greek units didn’t allow more than 80 men to take part in the raid. The rest of the 31 MK, a number of approximately another 80 men, manned the forward position on the Aetofolia (Eagle’s Nest) hill, west of Kotzakaya, with the support weapons base. Over the top of Kotzakaya, the Greek commandos left about 60 enemy dead (various sources give a significantly higher number) for the cost of 1 KIA (private Christoforos Crhistoforou was shot during the evacuation of Kotzakaya) and 3-4 lightly wounded that walked easily back to the friendly lines.
I do not know the real reason why Mr Üstügen wants to meet his old enemies, especially since he gives a false picture of the way that the battles were fought. A retired Lt-General of the Greek Army who fought with the 31 MK at Kotzakaya (then a captain) gave me a silent smile when he heard about what Mr Üstügen has written, and that Kotzakaya hill has since 1974 been renamed in honor of the heroic Turkish officer that recaptured it.
*Mira Katadromon (MK)= Raiders squadron, a light infantry battalion-sized unit.
- Lt-Gen Eleftherios Stamatis, “Gentlemen, go to sleep“(“Κύριοι πάτε για ύπνο”), Doureios Ippos Athens 2007
- Brigadier Georgios Seryis, “The battle of Cyprus” (“Η μάχη της Κύπρου”), Athens 1996
- Interviews from Lt-Col (Ret) Alexandros Maniatis, Lt-Gen (Ret) Eleftherios Stamatis, (Major-Gen) Elias Glentzes, Captain (Res) Makis Economides