In To The Hands Of The Enemy

In 1915, the entente powers opened up a new front against Germany and her allies of Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria intended to relieve the pressure on Serbia. The Allies used Greece as their base to strike north through the Balkans but it would prove too little, too late for Serbia which fell in December 1915. The new front was now aimed at liberating Serbia and also to relieve some of the pressure on the Western and Eastern Fronts. The British contingent, known as the British Salonika Army being named after the second largest city in Greek Macedonia, comprised of two full Army Corps (XII and XVI) as well as a contingent of staff officers and support from the Royal Flying Corps’ 16th Wing.

armstrong whitworth F.K.3.jpg

Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.3 (Aviastar.org)

Within the ranks of the RFC in Greek Macedonia was No.47 Squadron equipped with, among others, the Armstrong-Whitworth FK.3 general-purpose biplane. The FK.3 was designed in response to the perceived obsolescence of the Royal Aircraft Factory’s BE.2 biplane which operated in the artillery spotting role. Early FK.3s offered little improvement however and plans for it to replace the already established BE.2 were shelved with it instead becoming little more than a training tool based in Britain. Perhaps by some oversight, No.47 Squadron took its FK.3s to Greek Macedonia in 1916 to support the British Salonika Army and in doing so become the only squadron to field the aircraft abroad.

Among the new pilots to join the squadron’s ranks at this time was 20-year old 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Stopher. Born in Woolwich, London he joined the Army in 1915 gaining a commission in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers before requesting a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. Completing his training in November 1916 he arrived in Salonika shortly after and was assigned to fly the squadron’s FK.3s on spotter and reconnaissance duties.

armstrong whitworth F.K.3 6219

Stopher’s aircraft (theauxiliaries.com)

A little over three months after joining No.47 Squadron, on February 12th 1917 the now 21-year old 2nd Lieutenant Stopher took off in FK.3 Nr.6219 from a neighbouring French aerodrome to rejoin his squadron at their forward base. There was heavy air activity that day with No.47 Squadron reporting sporadic encounters with German aircraft and so when Stopher was reported overdue it was assumed he had been shot down enroute. However, a few days later the British intercepted a German wireless communication stating that Stopher had in fact gotten lost and mistook the Bulgarian airfield at Demi Hissar in southern Macedonia for his own. Having landed safely he was taken prisoner and his intact aircraft was seized.

Stopher would join over 5,000 British, Serbian and French PoWs at the Bulgarian prison camp at Philippopolis (despite the Greek name the city is actually located in Bulgaria and is known today as Plovdiv). The camp was built on the grounds of a former cholera hospital and prisoners were forced in to labour details helping build canals, bridges and roads in the Bulgarian countryside. Stopher would not be repatriated to Britain until January 1919.

armstrong whitworth F.K.3 6219 Bulgarian markings

6219 in Bulgarian markings (Theauxillaries.com)

As for his aircraft, Nr.6219 was pressed in to Bulgarian service serving with the 1st Aeroplanno Otdelenie Division. Perhaps reflecting on their own machines, Bulgarian pilots were impressed with the aircraft even if the RFC pilots were less so. Having become accustomed to the aircraft the Bulgarians repainted the aircraft with black crosses but retained the 6219 serial number and turned the aircraft on its former owners. In the period between Autumn 1917 and Spring 1918 the aircraft flew a number of offensive operations against the Allies. Official records show 42 missions credited to the aircraft in total that ranged from reconnaissance to strafing and night-bombing.

Then on the night of May 23rd-24th 1918, the aircraft took off with Lieutenant Usunoff at the controls and with Lieutenant P. Atasanoff as observer for a night attack mission. Using small 12.5kg (27lb) bombs and their machine gun they harassed British forces between Gümüsdere and Lake Takhino. During an attack on a British position at Gorasanli the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire forcing the Bulgarians to turn for home however a short while later one of the engine’s cylinders began misfiring before stopping completely. Usunoff managed to glide the aircraft down near Struma, landing it in a boggy field where it began to sink. The two Bulgarians left the aircraft semi-submerged in the bog and began walking back to their lines. The FK.3 was beyond salvageable and never flew again.

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Aiming For The Ark

 

Revolutionary Organisation November 17 rocket mortar attack HMS Ark Royal

The story of how the Greek terrorist group November 17 tried to fire rockets at HMS Ark Royal.

On March 31st 1994, HMS Ark Royal steamed in to the Greek port of Piraeus located south-west of the centre of the capital city of Athens. The Invincible-class aircraft carrier, known to her crew as simply “The Ark”, was the fifth vessel in the Royal Navy’s history to carry the proud name which has long held an important place in the hearts of the British people. Commissioned in 1985, she was a great deal smaller than her predecessor operating a mix of helicopters and the revolutionary Sea Harrier Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) combat aircraft. Nevertheless, she still carried 1,200 British sailors as they exercised British foreign policy around the world.

In 1994 that meant operations in the Adriatic to support NATO and UN peacekeeping operations over the former Yugoslavia. Operating under the banner of Operation Grapple (not to be confused with Operation Grapple; the British nuclear tests carried out in the mid-1950s) and then Operation Hamden, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm provided logistical and fast-jet support to British troops on the ground in Bosnia via its helicopters and Sea Harriers respectively.

On January 28th 1994, HMS Ark Royal set sail from Portsmouth under the command of Captain Terry Loughran to rendezvous with her sister-ship, HMS Invincible. The two aircraft carriers met up on February 4th at Gibraltar where they completed a handover of duties before the Ark set sail for the Adriatic to assume her station.

The following interview was given by Captain Loughran during the operation and outlines the vessel’s mission as well as a brief glimpse of life aboard the carrier.

For the next two months the tempo of operations was high. The Ark proved so valuable that port visits to Naples and Toulon were cancelled to keep the vessel at sea. By the end of March, the carrier was given a reprieve from her duties and set sail for Piraeus where many of her crew were looking forward to shore leave. It was also an opportunity for the ship’s engineers to fully inspect the machinery that powered the vessel before they returned to the Adriatic. The visit to Piraeus was to be more than just a break for the crew with the customary tours for British and Greek delegates having been arranged during the stay. As the Ark steamed in to the picturesque Greek port her crew didn’t know of the plan that was being hatched against them on shore.

Greece’s post-World War II period was far more turbulent than most other western European countries. In 1967, the country was rocked by a military coup ‘d’état that would see seven years of dictatorship under the Juntas. In 1973, the general population and especially the Greek youth had become so frustrated with the Junta that they rose up in a mass demonstration of opposition. The Junta reacted harshly and on November 17th 1973 tanks burst through the gates of the National Technical University of Athens where a number of students and staff were on strike. 24 people were killed in the incident many of whom were young students.

The military dictatorship had survived the incident but their days were already numbered and the following year, as a result of pressure from members of the European Economic Community (European Union), the United States and as a result of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Juntas fell. However, the legacy of the tragedy at the university remained. Many of the students protesting were advocates of socialism and were displeased with the pro-capitalist government that formed in the wake of the Juntas. They were especially unhappy about the influence foreigners were having on Greece’s internal policies especially regarding the United States and the UK; Britain had a significant military presence on Cyprus in the 1970s. With the Greek political establishment still rocky they formed themselves in to their own army in an attempt to seize power and they named themselves in honour of those who had fallen at the university. Thus, Revolutionary Organization 17 November (often referred to as simply “November 17” or “17N”) was born in 1975.

November 17 flag

Flag of November 17 (commons.wikimedia)

They immediately made a name for themselves by attacking the American Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) station chief in Athens, Richard Welch, gunning him down outside his Greek home in full view of his wife. The Greek government tried to downplay the group’s involvement and this resulted in November 17 leaving calling cards with many of their victims’ bodies in the future often outlining why they had targeted that individual. Over the next 27 years the group would conduct a number of high profile assassinations and attacks on government and foreign officials. In the late 1980s these attacks became more sophisticated as the group seized a number of obsolete yet still effective anti-tank weapons from a Greek army depot and configured them to fire from homemade launchers. These were then used to attack foreign businesses and government vehicles including an attack on an armoured riot police bus in 1991 killing one officer and injuring 14 others.

Despite the apparent escalation of the group’s activities, the early- to mid-1990s saw a decline in November 17’s fortunes. The popularity they had enjoyed in the late 1970s and 1980s amongst the Greek population was quickly evaporating thanks to a number of incidents where innocent bystanders were killed or maimed in their operations resulting in their activities becoming more sporadic and with fewer successes. By 1994, morale amongst the group was at an all-time low with members abandoning it in droves. The hardcore remnants therefore planned a series of spectacular and high profile rocket attacks aimed at restoring morale and bringing the group back to the attention of the world’s media. They would be carried out in relatively quick succession and be primarily aimed at foreign targets in Greece. So when Ark Royal, the most well-known warship in the British fleet, docked at Piraeus on March 31st it proved too tempting a target to pass up.

November 17’s operatives began scouting around the dock for a suitable place to launch the attack and spotted a desolate area near a timber yard approximately 200 yards away from where the ship was docked. Two 2.75in rockets were loaded in to metal tubes angled in the direction of the moored 22,000ton British warship which were to be triggered by a timer set to give the terrorists enough time to get a safe distance away from the area which no doubt would become swarmed by police and security services in the wake of an attack. Having returned to their safe houses the terrorists must have waited patiently for the news channels to start pouring out reports of a rocket attack on a British aircraft carrier. They knew the small rockets had little chance of inflicting serious damage on the warship by themselves but if they were lucky enough to have them ignite some of the aviation fuel for the vessel’s air wing or even detonate some of the weapons on-board the result could be catastrophic.

USS FOrrestal Fire 1967

The Forrestal fire in 1967 (insensitivemunitions.org)

In July 1967, the US Navy carrier USS Forrestal was engaged in combat operations over Vietnam. Sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin, a strike mission was being prepared when a single Zuni 5.0in rocket inadvertently fired from its launcher beneath the wing of an F-4B Phantom II striking the external fuel tank of an A-4 Skyhawk getting ready for launch. The destruction of the Skyhawk resulted in a series of explosions aboard the vessel as fuel and weapons were ignited. By the time the resulting fire was brought under control 134 sailors were dead, 161 more were injured and US$72 million (equivalent to $511 million today) of damage had been inflicted. The threat posed to Ark Royal in 1994 from the two rockets was therefore very real.

Much to the terrorists’ frustration however, the news channels were not reporting an attack on the carrier. As the hours continued to tick by it was becoming increasingly obvious that the rockets had failed to fire either because of a malfunction or because they had been found by police and defused. Either way it was yet another blow to the group’s morale but undeterred they continued on with the attacks they had planned. On April 11th, the day Captain Loughran and his crew left the Greek port behind, November 17 detonated two bombs that exploded about three minutes apart in the northern suburb of Maroussi. The blasts damaged the offices of the American Life Insurance Company (Alico) and the Dutch insurance company Nationale Nederlande.

At around noon the local police in Piraeus received an anonymous phone call from a man claiming that he was passing the timber yard and had seen two strange tube-like objects inside. It has long been suspected that the caller was actually a member of November 17 because just a short while later a local radio station received a call claiming to be from November 17 taking credit for the bombings and an attempted rocket attack on the British aircraft carrier.

Police swooped in on the timber yard and located the two weapons before beginning the process of defusing them. An inspection of the two launchers showed that the triggering mechanism had failed as a result of shorting out during heavy rainfall. It is unclear exactly when the group had set the rockets to fire but the phone call to the radio station said that it had been planned for earlier in the week. In the end, bad luck on the part of November 17 had saved the Ark from attack.

HMS Ark Royal 1994 Adriatic

 

 

NEWS: British bases offered to Cyprus in event of peace deal

During a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides on Friday July 17th British defence secretary Phillip Hammond revealed that the UK would be willing to turn over Britain’s two major bases in Cyprus providing a peace deal with the Turkish controlled north of the country is reached. Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus during 1974 when an Athens-inspired coup sought union with Greece. The situation has remained hostile ever since. The offer comes in the wake of renewed negotiations and builds on a previous offer made by the British in 2004 that was rejected in a Cypriot referendum.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference he said;

“We have made clear that in the context of a settlement, Britain is willing to offer to surrender a significant proportion of the land-surface of the bases to the Republic of Cyprus to allow development. That offer remains on the table, and we hope that it will add to the economic benefits of a settlement being concluded and help to stimulate economic growth in Cyprus in the future.”

In unrelated news there were demonstrations outside one of the bases this week in the wake of a pair of Brimstone missiles falling off a Tornado GR.4 as it returned RAF Akrotiri (see Fighter Jet News). Protesters demanded to know why the incident occurred and whether the RAF were taking adequate safety measures to protect the civilian population around the base.