Sunday, 30 May 2010

(1940-1941) Ski Troops

Greek Ski troops (1940-41)In November 1940, the Greek High Command ordered the formation of the 1st Ski Battalion for alpine raiding and reconnaissance. Here, we have the immense privilege of publishing an article written by Thanos Koutsikopoulos, who at the age of 96 is possibly the last surviving member of the 1st Ski Battalion:
The Greek Ski Battalion (1940-41)

Skiing itself was introduced to Greece in 1930-31 by the Alpine Club and its branches in various towns. Before the war there were talks to introduce it in mountain villages to help the inhabitants. This is why a few days after the Italian invasion through Albania (28th October 1940), the army set up the original Ski Thanos Koutsikopoulos (August 2009, Newcastle, UK)Battalion made up of skiers from the Alpine Club who were either already serving in other units or were members of the Alpine Club who volunteered. 130 experienced skiers, bringing their own skis and ski boots, formed the first company which, after a short period of military training at Metsovo, were sent to the highest point of the front at Mount Kamia (Mnema tis Grias) which has an altitude of 2100 metres. For the 2nd and 3rd companies, five divisions from mountainous regions sent 50 soldiers (non-skiers) to be trained in skiing and alpine conditions by 6 men from the 1st company. Their skis were donated by the Alpine Club and individuals. Major Ioannis Paparrodou, himself a champion cross-country skier, was appointed as C.O. of the Battalion.

The men of the 1st company were equipped with sleeping bags and, instead of heavy military overcoats, with anoraks and trousers, white for camouflage. One of the army’s problems in the Albanian mountains was frostbite to the toes and heels, the men of the 1st company had no such problem, even though the men lived in the snow, because of the better equipment, training and experience in alpine conditions. Major Paparrodou’s plans for the immediate future were, until more experienced skiers were available, as well as a short period of ski-training, to introduce snow-shoes for the 2nd and 3rd companies. These did not need extensive training to use and provided better stability for carrying loads and weapons.

After the end of the war, when the army organised a directorate of “Special Forces”, including mountain units (LOK), General Kallinsky, their first organiser, asked for and was provided with, oral and written information from members of the former Ski Battalion.

A Modern King Leonidas

Major I Paparrodou became the Greek hero of the war. Like a modern King Leonidas he sacrificed himself fighting a motorised German column single-handedly. The Germans had invaded Greece through the unprotected Yugoslavian border to the rear of the Greek Forces and his personal sacrifice gave the Greek soldiers, withdrawing to a new line, time to avoid capture or worse. Hitler, praising the gallantry of the Greeks, ordered Greek soldiers not to be taken prisoner.

- Thanos Koutsikopoulos (First Company), August 2009


Operational History
A call to the various mountaineering clubs to participate in the war effort (in Greek, Nov.-Dec. 1940)

Nov. 1940 - Ioannis Paparrodou forms the 1st Ski Battalion with personal invitations to members of mountaineering clubs. The clubs respond with the majority of eligible men enlisting and with all clubs' money and equipment offered to the army.
April 1941 - Greece falls to the Germans.
Greek Ski troops (1940-41)

Paparrodou with his staff officers at the Battalion's Headquarters in Moschopol, Albania

Ioannis Paparrodou (Athens). Cross country skiing national champion, who became the first commander of the newly-formed 1st Ski Battalion. When the Germans invaded he was transferred to an artillery unit in Argos Orestikon. Having refused to surrender, he died fighting alone on a hill, surrounded by several German troops. The Germans burried him as a hero and his death became a legend. Today, the barracks of the Raider Forces in Olympos is named after him.
Angelos Angelousis (Serres): When he returned to his native Serres, he was exiled by the Bulgarians to Volos, where he took part in the "Apollon" resistance group. He fought against the communists during the civil war and later became member of the parliament and minister. He was exiled by the military Junta for 5 years and then resumed his political career until 1990.
Georgios Dimitriadis (Athens). Downhill national champion.
Thanos Koutsikopoulos (Athens). Cross country skier.
Emmanuel Bamieros Commander of the 1st company.
Konstantinos Talios (Thessaloniki). Commander of the 2nd company.
Giorgos Pappas (Volos). Champion from the Volos club. He was killed in action.
Plouton Loggidis (Volos). He was seriously wounded in action.
Aleksis Karrer. Communist journalist, who was sent to exile in 1947 and in 1967. He died in 2004.
Neilos Mastrantwnis "Klearxos". Resistance fighter (with EPON). Killed in Lamia, in 1 Sep. 1944.
Renos Frangoudis. Cypriot volunteer. Balkan champion in track & field.
Konstantinos Adamopoulos of Georgios (born 1919 in Smyrna – served as volunteer, survived the war. Died in 2007)< /br>Alexandros Vouksinos. The youngest (17 years).
Spyros Tsiklitiras (Patras). National champion in 200m breaststroke swimming. He also served in the navy. He was the nephew of Greek Olympic champion, K. Tsiklitiras. Also from the Patras club: Andreas Antonopoulos, Ioannis Tassopoulos, Vasilis Antonopoulos, Alekos Antonopoulos, Kostas Kaggelaris, Andreas Asimakopoulos

Saturday, 1 May 2010

(1939-1943) Destroyer "Vasilissa Olga"

Destroyer Vasilissa Olga in pre-war disruptive camoA modified version of the British G-class of destroyers, Vasilissa Olga was the most modern ship of the Royal Hellenic Navy at the outbreak of World War 2. Together with her sister, Vasilefs Georgios, she was built by Yarrow, but was fitted with German-made 127mm (5 inch) guns and 37mm AA guns. The installation of the armament was carried out in Greece as the Germans refused to ship the weapons to Britain. Two further ships of the same class, the Vasilefs Konstantinos and Vasilissa Sofia, were to be built in Greece, but construction halted due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Until September 1943, when she was sunk by German bombers, The momument erected in Laki, Leros.Vasilissa Olga had distinguished herself as the most successful Greek ship in the war. Ironically, before she was sunk, she was known as the phantom ship of the Mediterranean destroyer flotillas, because of the several times she had escaped damage. A monument has been erected in Leros in honour of the ship.

You can watch a documentary (in Greek) of Vasilissa Olga from the archives.

Operational History
8 Vasilissa Olga in trials, 1937 (painting by V. Germenis)Feb. 1937 - Laid down (Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd., Scotstoun, Scotland).
2 Jun 1938 - Launched.
14 Feb 1939 - Commissioned. Under Captain Zarokostas she sails towards Salamina, Greece, where she arrives on the 1st of March 1939. She will participate in several missions until 1943 in convoy escort duty.
15 Aug. 1940 - Sails to Tinos to escort the pilgrims
14 - 15 Nov. 1940 - Participates in the 1st Otranto Straight raid
4 - 5 Jan. 1941 - Participates in the 3rd Otranto Straight raid
Feb 1941 - With defeat against the Germans seeming imminent, Vasilissa Olga carries the gold from the Bank of Greece to the island of Crete.
25 April 1941 - Cmdr Georgios BlessasThree days before Greece falls to the Germans, Vasilissa Olga escapes to Alexandria, where she is assigned pennant number H 86 by the British. New captain is Georgios Blessas (photo).
Nov. - Dec. 1941 - Undergoes modernisation in Calcutta and returns to active duty in the Mediterranean Sea.
Feb. 1942 - Back in the Mediterranean. Joins a British squadron and participates in the Tobruk operations
26 Mar. 1942 - Picks up 20 survivors from the British tanker RFA Slavol that was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-205 off Sidi Barrani, Egypt.
10 Jun. 1942 - Picks up 53 men from the British tanker RFA Brambleleaf that was torpedoed and damaged by the German submarine U-559 off Ras Alem, Egypt.
15 Dec. 1942 - Together with the British destroyer HMS Petard, Vasilissa Olga sinks the Italian Adua-class submarine Uarsciek (620 tons) south off Malta.
19 Jan. 1943 - Together with the British destroyers HMS Pakenham and HMS Nubian, Vasilissa Olga sinks the German transport ship Stromboli (475 tons) off the Libyan coast.Italian torpedo boat Castore
2 Jun. 1943 - Together with the British destroyer HMS Jervis, Vasilissa Olga opens fire from 2km against the Italian Spica-class torpedo boat Castore (652 tons, see photo) and the Italian merchant ships Postumia (595 GRT) and Vragnizza (1592 GRT). Castore was sunk (at 03:15), while Postumia and Vragnizza were damaged. According to the war diaries of the Seekriegsleitung, both merchant vessels are reported to have arrived in Messina at 1630 hours on 3 June. Other sources give that Postumia went ashore and was later raised and repaired.
10 Sep. 1943 - As a recognition of the Greek Navy's contribution to the war, Vasilissa Olga leads the Allied fleet (HMS Warspite, HMS Valliant, HMS Faulknor, HMS Fury, HMS Echo, HMS Intrepid, HMS Raider, Le Terrible) that receives the surrendering German submarine chaser UJ 2104. Photo from Peter Schenks´ book 'Kampf um die Ägäis', page 39.Italian fleet.
17 Sep. 1943 - Together with British destroyers HMS Faulknor and Eclipse, she sinks a German convoy, consisting of the transport ships Pluto (2,000 tons), Paolo (4,000 tons) and the German submarine chaser UJ 2104 (see photo), near Astypalea.
Sep. 1943 - During the Battle of Leros, she transports members of the Long Range Desert Group to the island. Vasilissa Olga sinking
26 Sep. 1943 - Lost to an attack of 25 Ju-88 bomber aircraft while anchored in Lakki Bay, Leros. Cmdr Blessas, 6 officers and 65 other members of the crew perished with the ship. Cmdr Blessas was the first to fall during the attack. During the final moments of the ship, just before it disappears, someone cries "Zito i Olga" (Hail, Olga). All surviving members of the crew repeat it.

Modified G-class destroyer "Vasilissa Olga"
Displacement: (Standard) 1,414 tons
Length: 98 m
Beam: 10.2 m
Destroyer Vasilissa Olga on a stampDraft: 2.59 m
Range: 4,800 nautical miles (8,890 km) at 19 knots (35 km/h)
Speed: 36 knots
Engine: 3 Admiralty 3-Drum Type Boilers, 2 Parsons Geared Turbines, 34,000 HP
Complement: 145
Armament: (original) 4×5 in, 4×37 mm A/A, 2×4 21 in T/T
(after 1941 refit) 4×5 in, 1×4 21 in T/T, 1×3 in A/A, 6×20 mm A/A, A/S device added

For gamers and game designersAs the most modern and Destroyer Vasilissa Olga paintingmost successful Greek ship in World War 2, Vasilissa Olga has a special place in Hellenic Navy wargaming. Notice that after the 1941 refit, four torpedo tubes were removed, but she was improved considerably in terms of Anti-aircraft and Anti-submarine capabilities.

For modellers
Destroyer Vasilissa Olga - scale model from the National Maritime Museum Destroyer Vasilissa Olga - scale model from the National Maritime Museum
The ship's camo differed a lot before and during the war, depending on the season and the area where it operated. It is very difficult to find reliable details. There are two scale models of the ship in the Hellenic Maritime Museum. Vasilissa Olga has also appeared in 1/1800 in the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game. The model below is from IPMS Hellas 2007:
Destroyer Vasilissa Olga - scale model from IPMS Hellas 2007
One more below by D. Georgiadis:
Destroyer Vasilissa Olga - scale model by D. Georgiadis

And a profile from unknown source: