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Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Greece
 
At Last! Group 4 Enters Greece

Group 4 Parachutes In

Group 4 was sent to an airfield in Brindisi in preparation for our jump into Greece. We spent one week in Brindisi and twice we were alerted to take off; twice our mission was aborted. The third time we climbed into two American C-47 troop carriers. Unlike the Wellington we would jump from the conventional door of the airplane.

Captain Robert Eichler in command of Squads 1 and 2, which included Cominos and Perry Phillips, were in the first plane. Lieutenant Paul Pope in command of Squads 3 and 4, which included Georgalos, Alex Phillips, and me, were in the second plane.[note 1] When we were airborne Lieutenant Pope told us we would parachute into northeastern Greece in the area of Oropethion near the Bulgarian border. Lieutenant Pope had orders from Captain Eichler to jump four men at a time, that is four men on each stick, because the drop zone was a small and narrow plateau. If all twelve men jumped on one stick, some of the men would probably miss the plateau and drop into the valley, which was occupied by the Axis.[note 2]

When we arrived at the drop zone, our plane kept circling for what seemed an eternity. Though it was a moonless night, we could see the mountains of Macedonia through the open door. We learned later that the reason we kept circling was that the pilot of the first plane initially refused Captain Eichler's order to drop the men in 4-man sticks. The pilot had to make three trips between two mountain ranges, bring the plane low enough to safely drop 4 men, then climb above the mountain range and repeat the maneuver two more times. The pilot insisted on dropping all 12 at once. No doubt this was a dangerous maneuver for the airmen but unlike most parachute drops there were no enemy planes or ack-ack firing from the ground. Captain Eichler, though not in command of the plane, told the pilot that he would not allow a stick of 12 men to jump at the same time, and if the pilot did not drop us as ordered, he threatened him with a court-martial if we returned to Italy.

Meanwhile our plane continued to circle the rim of the mountains. The anticipation of the parachute jump plus circling over Axis-held territory was nerve wracking. We were worried that the Axis would discover us and send up their fighter planes. Shooting down an unarmed C-47 by fighter planes would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Sweating it out, we were very anxious to get the hell out of the plane.

The red light finally turned on in our plane, signaling us to prepare to jump. The first stick was led by Lt. Pope with three men. The light turned green and the four men jumped into the dark sky. The plane immediately gained altitude, circled the area, and returned to the drop zone, dropping low enough for the second stick to jump. The second stick, led by Sgt. Chris Christie, waited for the green light and the next four men jumped into the dark sky. The third and last stick, led by Tom Georgalos and followed by Alex Phillips, Pete Lewis, and me , hooked up. Meanwhile the C-47 repeated the dangerous maneuver once again, gained altitude to avoid the mountains, and returned to the drop zone. By this time you could cut the tension in the plane with a knife. The light turned green and the third stick jumped. An indescribable experience!!

On a moonless August night in 1944, two C-47 planes each with 12 men and one officer of the Greek-American Operational Group 4 were circling the mountains over Macedonia near the Bulgarian border, waiting for a signal from the Greek guerrillas (Antartes) on a plateau below. The red light next to the exit door was on, the signal for the men to prepare to jump. When the light turned green, as a member of Group 4, I parachuted behind enemy lines and landed onto my parents' homeland, Greece.

The weather was perfect, resulting in a very successful jump with no injuries. Our only casualty was our dog, Piggie. While we were preparing to board the C-47 at Brindisi, a couple of the men overloaded Piggy's small parachute and the shroud lines broke off the parachute. Piggy was the 4th squad's mascot and A. Phillips was particularly distraught when he located Piggy's body. Supplies were likewise dropped in a small area and losses were reduced to a minimum due to the excellent work of the air crews after they decided to drop us four at a time at a low elevation. We immediately gathered our parachutes, loaded our heavy equipment on mules, gathered the rest of our equipment, and walked single file into the unknown of the Macedonia mountains. We were told our location was Oropethion near the Bulgarian border, known for operational purposes as Red Herring.


Notes

  1. The reference is to the squads: Squad 1, Squad 2, Squad 3, and Squad 4 within Group 4. The Greek/USOG was organized into six groups (mine was Group 4). Each of these groups was subdivided into two sections. Each section was then comprised of two squads ~ ~ hence, four squads in Group 4. [Return to the text at note 1]
  2. Axis is used here because the majority of the enemy troops who had occupied this region were Bulgarians (members of the Axis forces). [Return to the text at note 2]


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