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

Part 6
 
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. 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 1]

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.

British Officers and Antartes Greet Us

We were warmly received by 50 Antartes and a four-man British mission. Antartes is a general term for the Greek guerrilla fighters. These Antartes were members of the EAM/ELAS, the most viable and by far the most potent guerrilla force in Greece.

Our first night in Greece we followed the two British officers and two signalmen and two Antarte scouts, walking winding trails until we reached our temporary base on a mountainside. We did not have a clue where in the hell we were. We were at the mercy of the Antarte scouts. The Antartes would always be present whenever we needed them to guide us through the mountains. Until we reached Drama we slept on the ground, usually on the side of a mountain; we never went into the valleys where we would be an easy target for the Axis.

In Greece I was again the last man in the column. Our medic, James Kavourhas, was in front of me. He would periodically hand me half of a pill whenever we were at the point of exhaustion. Later I realized it must have been a Benzedrine tablet. I can only surmise Karvouhas wanted me to be alert if anyone sneaked up behind us. A couple of times when I was "loaded" on a "Bennie" I was reprimanded by Georgalos because I became obnoxious, while the rest of my group was struggling to keep up after many hours of continuous walking in the mountains. Karvouhas asked me not to mention the pill to anyone. My buddies could not believe my energy level.

In Greece, as in Yugoslavia, we were under the British command. (Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at the Teheran Conference, December 1943, agreed Yugoslavia and Greece would be in the British Sphere of Influence.)

Group 4 Base in the Mountains: Our Mission

Our base, and I use the word loosely, was set up in the mountains while we waited for orders from Major Miller, the senior British officer in charge of the mission. The Allies had invaded southern France, and it was imperative for Hitler to move as many troops as possible out of the Balkans that he desperately needed on the Western and Eastern Fronts before their avenue of escape to Germany was closed.

Our mission was to slow down the Nazi retreat. We operated near the Bulgarian border, north of the city of Drama and east of the Nesto River. During our missions only necessary weapons and personal kits were brought from base.

The enlisted men rarely fraternized with the British officers or the Antartes. The Antartes were in no mood to be too cordial. Having spent over four years in the mountains fighting, they co-existed with the British although they knew the British preferred the Royalist party to govern Greece when the Nazis left Athens.

We were ordered not to speak Greek to the Antartes and civilians; we believed this was ridiculous, but as obedient young soldiers we followed the orders, though at times we slipped and spoke Greek. Once in awhile we would come across a small village. We rarely fraternized with the citizens, but Alex slipped and spoke Greek to a woman who grabbed him and asked him to please not destroy enemy camps, railways, etc., because retribution to the nearest village by the Axis is swift and ruthless. This was the terrible downside of our type of warfare. We had no choice but to follow orders; our mission was to halt the Germans' retreat from Greece.


Examples of the Greek/USOG Missions Behind the Lines

National Achives Documents

Orientation to the Documents

A few examples of the warfare of each of the Greek United States Operational Groups (Greek/USOG) in Greece will be presented with reference to documents in the U.S. National Archives. The photographs are from other sources.

The documents are some of the top secret records which were not available for study, not even to us, until the CIA released them to the public in 1989, more than fifty years after the end of WW2.

Just a few are presented in the next pages, just to give a glimpse into the operations. There were many missions by our groups. The many missions were similar to the ones related in these pages.

The Six Groups of the Greek/USOG

You may recall from earlier in these memoirs that the Greek/USOG was founded in 1943, comprised of volunteers for hazardous duty with the OSS. The men had trained together in the Greek Battalion in Camp Carson, Colorado, with a few more weeks of additional training in OSS camps in Maryland.

The six groups of our unit split up in Egypt, January 1944. Three of our groups then operated in Yugoslavia while the other three went directly into Greece. After five months of combat by some in Yugoslavia, our six groups were reunited now in Greece where each group was operating autonomously.

Now, all six of our Greek-American groups of the Greek/USOG were operating behind enemy lines in Greece, disrupting Axis garrisons, convoys, and trains.

We did not discover the great extent of the damage these small groups inflicted on the Germans and Bulgarians in Greece (or on the Germans in Yugoslavia) until our records were opened by the CIA in 1989. Unfortunately, our records remained top secret until then.

Roster of Officers and Men who Entered Greece, 1944

Operations in Greece

The following set of data and quotations from the National Archives tell us when, where, and how each of the Greek United States Operational Groups (Greek/USOG) went into Greece for hazardous duty. The material also indicates the effects on the enemy and indicates the targets in general.

Operational Group Command Greece

The Operational Groups went into the following areas of Greece in 1944 in the order given:

  1. 23 April. Group I. Captain Verghis, commanding. To EPIRUS, which is the region in the Northwest of Greece. Infiltrated by L.C.I.
  2. 16 May. Group VII (Balkan Operational Group). [note 4] Captain Andy Rogers, commanding. To NORTHERN PELOPONNESUS. Inflitrated by parachute drop.
  3. 21 May. Group V. Lieutenant George Papazoglou, commanding. To MOUNT PAIKON. Infiltrated by LCI.
  4. 18 June. Group II. Lieutenant John Giannaris, commanding. To ROUMELI, with a base about 25 miles southwest of Lamia.
  5. 16 July. Group VIII (Balkan Operational Group). [note 5]Captain Ronald Darr, commanding. To MACEDONIA near Vermion. Infiltrated by LCI.
  6. 19 July. Group III. Lieutenant Michael Manusos, commanding. To THESSSALY, east of Elason. Infiltrated by LCI.
  7. 19 July. Group VI. Lieutenant George Chumas, commanding. To OLYMPUS. Infiltrated by LCI.
  8. 8 September. Group IV. Captain Eichler, commanding. To MACEDONIA northeast of Drama. Infiltrated by parachute drop.
Movements to and within Greece

All the amphibious landings into Greece were by LCI manned by the British Navy. The boats left from Monopoli, Italy, and sailing between the islands of Paxos and Anti Paxos straight into shore, landed in a cove where the boat was met by Antartes with mules to unload the boat and move the load into the mountains. The movement was done during the dark of night to avoid detection, but as the boat neared the shore, the Antartes would light huge bonfires to put light on their work. This boat operation was known as bracing or glasshouse. The little boat was usually almost sinking from the heavy load it carried. The boat would touch shore near midnight and by dawn would be back in safe water. Never did any bracing meet with an accident, and the troops were infiltrated without incident.

The groups that parachuted into Greece were flown to their dropping areas by American planes of a troop carrier group. Of the two groups and one individual officer who jumped, no casualties were sustained.

Once on the ground, the troops could move only by walking, and since they stayed generally in the mountains, walking was the most difficult part of any operation and movement. Large strings of mules were available for carrying packs, food, ammunition, and etc. but not for carrying the men.

Effect on the Enemy

The effect upon the enemy of the operations was undoubtedly very detrimental to his spirits. The losses inflicted by the Operational Groups , if sustained at once, could be repaired quickly by the resourceful Germans. But these operations summarized above took place over a great length of time and in many places. They wore roughly on German nerves. In many places it was known to the ordinary German soldiers that Americans were fighting them, which did not improve their spirits, since they had been told that their only enemy was a peasant army. One case is of a B.A.R. belt being brought to a German commander who discovered it was American and hastily ordered it buried. And the man who allowed it to be seen by other soldiers was punished.

Targets General

The main targets of all groups were highways and railroads, as examination of the detailed reports will show. The main railroad in Greece is that which runs North-South from ATHENS to SALONIKA. The Germans maintained large numbers of troops in Athens, and Athens was important to them not only for itself but because it was the headquarters and focal point for all occupation administration of the PELOPONNESUS and the AEGEAN Islands.

Ordinarily as many as fifty trains per day passed a given point along this railroad. Groups II, III, V and VI were all within striking distance of the railroad.

A highway of importance was the IANNINA-LARISSA road, which ran east-west and could be struck by Groups II and VII. In Macedonia where Group IV was, a railroad leading to DRAMA , a great enemy stronghold held by the Bulgars, was the main target. The original plan of impeding the German exit from Greece contemplated striking these lines of communication. The object was to make the withdrawal costly. There was never any intention to keep them in Greece, however. The main plan envisaged a general striking of these targets on a given date all over Greece. Prior to such a concerted drive, the troops carried on against targets which presented themselves : trains, pillboxes, garrisons, convoys and so on.

Casualties among Americans

Despite great number of engagements with the enemy, Company C. sustained very light casualties. One enlisted man was killed during an attempted attack on a rail line; one officer was wounded in the same engagement; twenty four enlisted men were wounded; one officer was injured by a fall; one enlisted man was injured by a fall. The two officers Lt. John Giannaris who was wounded and Lt. George Papazaglou, who fell, were evacuated to Bari. The enlisted man was likewise evacuated. No others were evacuated for wounds, but all received treatment in the country and recovered.

Group 1 Operation and Personnel
June 23 - July 6, 1944

The following quotation from the National Archives provides some examples of the missions/raids by Group 1, these over just a few days, June 23 to July 6, 1944, as reported by First Lieutenant George W. Verghis, the Group Leader of Group 1.

Group 1 was the only OG Group to operate with General Zervas' Antartes; the other five groups operated with EAM/ELAS.

Group 1

June 23. Ordered off the block at 0600. Had dinner at Souli and made Radovizi that afternoon. Missed the 2nd Group.

June 24. received orders to proceed North to Radovizi to take up operations on the Igumanitsa-Ioannina road. 12 mules and 14 days rations.

June 25. Left Romanon at 1400 for Elesna, arrived 1830 and bivouacked. Lt. Mackey preceded as quartering party.

June 26. Left Elesna 0700 and arrived at bivouac area 1145, Agios Dimitrios. Arranged for food in local towns.

June 27. Worked on the bivouac area. Met Major Zotos, Antartes Regimental CO whose men the Group would work with.

June 28. A reconnaissance was made by officers and section sergeants of Road and Tiria bridge. Major Le Brog, British army, was the officer in charge of the operations.

June 29. Food situation bad-trouble with Mission HQ.

June 30. No Change.

July 1. Group alerted.

July 2. Dry Run on a road ambush. 1st Section went to the road. 2nd Section went to Butsara. A German Infantry Battalion was on the Road.

July 3. The 1st Section returned to the bivouac area 0700. Prepared for road ambush again. Met 2nd Section at Radovizi and proceeded to the Horeshoe to ambush the German Battalion on the road. The Horeshoe is a sharp curve that affords excellent field of fire.

July 4. No action. Meals were few and poor. Returned to the bivouac Area at 0800. Rested and celebrated Independence Day.

July 5. Prepared to ambush anything on the road. Hit 8 trucks with the Antartes. 20 Germans killed, 7 captured, all material destroyed. No OG casualties.

July 6. Returned to the bivouac area at 0300 and rested.

Officers and Men of Group I
[Skip the list of personnel]
  • 1st Lt.George W. Verghis, Group Leader
  • T/Sgt. Victor L. Miller, Group Sec. Sgt.
  • Sgt. Jerry Apostolatos, Sq. Leader
  • Sgt. George Papastrat, Sq. Leader
  • Cpl. Gus Kraras
  • PFC James Drake
  • PFC William Leonardos
  • PFC Gregory Pahules
  • Pvt. Armando Sanches, Medic
  • Pvt. Demetrius Frangis
  • Pvt. John Pirpos
  • 2nd Lt. Paul J. Mackey, Sect. Leader
  • Sgt. Sam Poulos Sec. Sgt.
  • Sgt. George Boosalis, Sq. Leader
  • Sgt. George Efstathiou, Sq. Leader
  • Cpl. William Johnson
  • PFC George Kutulas
  • PFC Constantine Bertakis, Medic
  • PFC Trifon Lefakis
  • Pvt. Constantine Stiakakis
  • Pvt. Minas Kavallieros
  • Pvt. Gewlas Andrews

Submitted by 1st Lt. George W. Verghis

Group 5 Operation and Personnel
August 27, 1944

One of the many operations by Group 5 is described in this report from the National Archives. It was recorded by their commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Lon Peyton.

Lt. Peyton assumed command of Group 5 when First Lieutenant George Papazoglou injured his back during a July 17, 1944 reconnaissance. The officers and men of Group 5 who participated in this mission are listed.

Group 5

We camped in a hollow near a stream about an hour from Phanas and rested for a couple of days. We were still browned off about two train ambushes which failed to come off. We had previously been told of a mine the Germans were operating and decided this would be a good time to hit as long as we were still in the area. This mine was located at (50-90) Ghevghelli map, and is surrounded by hills, some heavily wooded and some bare. Barbed wire entanglements and tri-wire minefields encircled the entire area. A large dam stored the water used to operate the turbines, which were enclosed in large concrete structures.

The plan was to divide the mine area into two sections. The Antartes were to assault and take one section, and the OGs the other. We were to blow the dam, the power plants, and mine shafts.

I left on a recon of the mine with three RSR (British) officers and left my group under Sergeant Paidas with instructions to meet me at 2330 hours that night, and I would take them into position; we would lie down and get some sleep and forget the damn thing until time to attack. The men were very tired and after getting into position, they all lay down and slept.

At the first crack of dawn, the men were aroused and got ready for the attack. The attack began at 0545, and all hell broke loose. We caught the bastards with their pants down and really gave them hell for awhile. Following the plan, I took 8 men with me (1 bazooka, Browning automatic rifle (BAR), 2 M1 rifles, and two Thomson machine guns (TG)) to assault the mine (our half). The rest of the OGs were covering us.

We went down a ravine and kept undercover as well as we could until we came to the mine proper. I placed the bazooka and, with one shot (Corporal Minogianis and Corporal Gianotis) took out a machine gun (MG) nest that was in our way. As soon as MG was finished, we dashed forward to that point. We had to go through a minefield, and it was a little touchy at times due to the fact that you didn't know if you had seen all the wires or not.

Prior to our assault, my BAR team (and it's the best), consisting of Corporal Lygizos and Corporal Photis, took out another MG nest, and that left only two more to go. We could see the Hun running around and realized they were quite frightened and, of course, that gave us the chance we wanted. We hit them hard and fast, and they didn't stand a chance.

We knocked off 75 and captured 28 Hun who decided they would rather surrender than die. It was a little rough for awhile, but once again the good Lord was with us and watched over us. We assaulted the buildings, and the two remaining MG emplacements with TGs and grenades, and in a few minutes we had things going our way.

We decided, upon completion of our mission, to help the Antartes take their half of the mine. The situation was such, however, that after three attempts to link up with them, we decided to withdraw.

The prisoners were herded in front of us, and we left the mine. As soon as we got to our original position, the prisoners were turned over to the Antartes. I was told by the Antarte chief that it was impossible for them to fulfill their mission, and there was nothing to do on the other side of the mine.

As soon as we had taken our half of the mine, demolitions were laid for the destruction of the dam and powerhouses. This was accomplished and, as a parting gesture, we blew two mine shafts.

Once again, the Antartes killed themselves by going through the minefield like a herd of sheep. Instead of following us, they took a shortcut and got themselves killed and wounded.

The number of Huns wounded was unknown as they were scattered over a huge area. The killed counted to 75, the prisoners 28. Our casualties, none.

The RSR Vickers and mortar sections on the west side of the mine used the 2nd section of the OGs and supported the Antartes who were supposed to make an attack. They failed in their mission.

The RSR sustained only one casualty. The Antartes I'm not sure, I think it was 12.

The operation was very successful inasmuch as we put the mine out of commission for several months.

The strength of the garrison was over 300 Germans and Italians. If our force had been larger, we could have made a better showing.

Submitted by 2nd Lt. Lon Peyton

[Officers and Men in this Mission]
[Skip the list of personnel]
  • Lieutenant George Papazoglo
  • Technical Sergeant Walter Gates
  • Staff Sergeant Bichekas
  • Staff Sergeant Lyle Schneeberger
  • Corporal Harry Ameredes
  • Corporal Tasos Gianotis
  • Corporal Angelo Lygizos
  • Corporal Gust Mukanos
  • Corporal Peter Photis
  • Corporal Alexander Psomas
  • Corporal Gus Vellios
  • Corporal Paul Zarras
  • Lieutenant Lon Payton
  • Technical Sergeant Paidas
  • Staff Sergeant Loudermilk
  • Staff Sergeant James Thomas
  • Corporal Anargyros Antonopoulos
  • Corporal Mihail Kondos
  • Corporal John Minogiannis
  • Corporal James Papavassiliou
  • Corporal Spiro Psarakis
  • Corporal Peter Stamates
  • Corporal Constantine Zahariades

Group 2 Operation and Personnel
September 8, 1944

The following quotation from the National Archives describes one of the many operations by Group 2. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Giannaris, was seriously wounded in this operation.[note 8]

Group 2

On September 8, at 1100 hours, Lieutenant Giannaris and the entire group set out from Pappas (base) on a mission to blow part of the Salonika-Athens Railroad line north of Lamia at a point located 2 south of Develi. This portion of the track was heavily guarded. On the left flank was a pillbox about 250 yards away, and on the right flank German barracks about 250 yards guarding the approaches to the line from a 600-meter slope. These defenses had machine guns of heaviest caliber, heavy mortars, 20 mm AA guns, and a 105 mm Howitzer, the area heavily patrolled day and night, and all approaches already zeroed in for the event of attack. Participated in Operation:

The reconnaissance party, which consisted of Captain Ford and one enlisted man, left earlier in the day to reconnoiter the terrain surrounding the target area and later met the main party in an advanced assembly area. This operation was in conjunction with another party consisting of Antartes who would demolish a very large portion of railroad line, north of where Lieutenant Giannaris' party would strike. Our part in this operation was to mainly harass the enemy and draw attention away from the main demolition group working away from the party. In view of this, it was necessary for our party to make an early attack. So the hour of our operation was set for 2045. The main Antarte demolition party to the north would move in to place their charges after that time. At 1940, the entire party moved in and proceeded to cautiously move down the high slope to approach the railroad line.

As the patrol was approaching the line, an enemy machine gun opened fire at point blank range, hitting one man with an entire burst. Simultaneously, flares went up, and other machine gun emplacements opened fire. Lieutenant Giannaris gave the order to withdraw and attempted to reach the man who was hit with the first burst, but before he took more than a few steps, he had detonated a mine and was seriously injured and unconscious. In the meantime, the pillbox to the left and the emplacements to the right had commenced firing, and the barrage was terrific. The party was pinned down and unable to move, due mostly to the direct fire in front which was a grazing fire covering the immediate area with vision from flares. In view of this predicament, a corporal without personal safety took a few steps toward the machine gun emplacement and opened fire from 15 yards. This action silenced the machine gun and enabled the men to withdraw to safer positions and eventually retreat over the mountaintop to the rendezvous point.

From here, the party took off for a mountain hideout. Upon arriving there, the men found orders to move immediately to another area for another operation.

Officers and Men who participated in the operation:
[Skip the list of personnel]
  • Captain Bob Ford
  • Lieutenant John Giannaris
  • Tech Sergeant James Apostolopoulos
  • Staff Sergeant Mike Kountouris
  • Sergeant Peter Moshopoulos
  • Sergeant Stephanos Philippides
  • Sergeant SpirosTaflambas
  • Sergeant James Zonas
  • Corporal Lenares
  • Corporal Angelo Kaleyias
  • Corporal Steve Marthiakis
  • Corporal Theodore Markides
  • Corporal Alekos Orkoulos
  • Corporal Gus Palans
  • Corporal Hercules Sembrakis
  • Corporal CostasTheodorou
  • Corporal MichalisTsirmoulas

Group 6 Operation and Personnel
September 7-8, 1944

Following is just one of the many missions by Group 6 as reported in the National Archives documents.

Group 6

This mission was to be a railroad ambush, the destruction of a small culvert, and blowing up of the rail for several meters. It was to take place on the Athens-Salonica Railroad south of Katerini.

This group left its base in Ano Melia September 7, 1944, at 1900 hours. Arrived at the rendezvous point 0130 on September 8.

The group was briefed by Lieutenant Chumas on the plan and purpose of the operation. The plan was to have the second section of OGs under Sergeant Strimenos with Major MacAdam in charge of demolition blow up the first train coming south from the town of Katerini. The OGs were to provide security for Major MacAdam's demolition crew while they put the charges on the track. The OGs were to take positions 100 meters from the track and open fire on it.

The first section under Lt. Chumas was to blow up several yards of rail and a small culvert to stop any reinforcements from coming to the aid of the Germans on the train that the second section was to attack. If all went successfully, both sections would withdraw independently to the rendezvous point four hours away in the foothills.

After a short briefing both sections moved out under cover of darkness to the points of attack.

The operation went along as planned until 2325. At this time as the 1st section under Lt. Chumas was 200 meters from the track unloading the demolitions from their mules, a train was heard coming from the north. When it reached this point where the second section had laid their demolitions, the explosives went off. This made it very difficult for the first section to accomplish its job because as soon as the explosives went off, all the German outposts opened fire with machine guns, mortar, and artillery. The first section proceeded on to the track and with Major Hill, British Army, and the OGs managed to lay demolitions, but before all the charges could be laid, an armored car was heard approaching from the north. As soon as it was 200 meters from the OGs and the rest of the demolition party, it opened up on us. Lt. Chumas gave the order to withdraw and to blow up what charges had been laid. The demolition was blown causing damage to the rail for several meters and the small culvert. The artillery was very heavy, and the armored car poured a steady fire of 20 mm cannon on the plain where the OGs were withdrawing.

As soon as the train had stopped where the second section had planted their demolition, all OGs opened fire. For 5 minutes, there was no return fire from the train; then from both ends of the train, the Germans opened up with 20 mm guns, 5-pounders, and small arms fire. After several minutes of exchanging fire in which the OGs silenced a 20 mm and a Spando machine gun, Sgt. Strimenos gave the order to withdraw. The heavy firing of the OGs set afire 6 cars containing fuel. At 0700 the next morning, both sections met at the rendezvous point and at 1600 proceeded to their base at Ano Melia.

Two days later, the civilians living in the vicinity of the operation reported that 7 cars of the train had been destroyed and the engine damaged. Thirteen dead and two wounded Germans were accounted for.

Participated in operation:
[Skip the list of personnel]
  • Lieutenant George Chumas
  • 1st Sergeant Theophanes Strimenos
  • Tech Sergeant Richard Daigle, Jr.
  • Tech Sergeant Alvin Psinas
  • Tech Sergeant Peter Mihopoulos
  • Staff Sergeant Peter Laris
  • Staff Sergeant Harry Fergadiotis
  • Staff Sergeant Thomas Andrews
  • Corporal Nick Ramoundos
  • Corporal Spiros Drakos
  • Corporal Photios Doukas
  • Corporal James Laubs
  • Corporal Alex Haritakis
  • Corporal Demetrios Kamvouris
  • Corporal Antones Loukas
  • Corporal Christ Lulas
  • Corporal Lambros Makris
  • Corporal Nicholas Papapanu
  • Corporal Eleftherios Pipinias
  • Corporal Bill Portolos
  • Corporal Harry Pulos
  • Corporal Soteros Vakakas
  • Corporal Harris Mill

Group 4 Operation and Personnel
September 10-12, 1944

Group 4 was my group. Following is just one of the many missions by Group 4 as reported in the National Archives documents.

Group 4

On 10 September, Captain Robert E. Eichler received word that there was a target on a railroad near the town of Polyneri and he, with Lieutenant Skinner, British Army, and one native guide set out to join Major Miller, British Army, at Kastanies. Captain Eichler arranged radio contact with Lieutenant Pope before departing.

Leaving Oropedion:

At 0800, Captain Eichler with SCR-536 contacted Lieutenant Pope at 1000, giving orders to leave two men to guard equipment left behind and bring the remainder of the men with weapons, toilet articles, two bazookas, two Bren guns, ammunition, and basic weapons and food for two days and join him at Kastanies. With six Antartes and four mules to carry equipment, Lt. Pope and the group departed Oropedion at 1300, joining Capt. Eichler at Kastanies at 1700. The men were bedded down, and Captain Eichler and Lieutenant Pope conferred with the British officer about the target which was a bridge to be struck the next night. The group was to lay an ambush for a train and, at the same time, furnish security for the demolition party.

On 11 September, Captain Eichler and Captain McElroy, British officer, had reconnoitered the bridge before. Captain Eichler wanted to make a personal reconnaissance before his group participated, but due to the urgency of the operation, he left orders with Lieutenant Pope to follow in four hours. Accordingly, Lieutenant Pope with the group, Lt. Skinner, eight Antartes, including demolitions on the mules, additional equipment, departed from Kastanies at 1400. They moved along cautiously to Pastrova where they were met by a guide sent back by Captain Eichler to bring Lieutenant Pope and Sergeant Christie to observe the target in daylight and assist in selecting positions for the security on each side of the bridge on the railroad. Lieutenant Pope left orders with the remainder of the group to follow in two hours time and that radio contact would be each half hour. He then proceeded with Lieutenant Skinner and Sergeant Christis and joined Captain Eichler and Captain McElroy at Polyneri at 1800 hours. They then proceeded with an able guide to the target area and made their observations, picking the various positions for the group and, at the same time, noting any movements. When the entire group was assembled at the observation point at 2230, Captain Eichler gave them a short but thorough briefing. The security parties then moved out and took their positions on the railroad track on each side of the bridge. This was done to cover each approach to the bridge and protect the demolition crews.

With the aid of three SCR 536 radios, Captain Eichler could easily control the group, and as a supplement, he had arranged a whistle signal.

All parties moved into position quietly as no noise was heard by either party. The derailing charge was then set on the railroad. This completed the security and Captain Eichler then notified the demolition crew to move in and place their previously prepared charges for blowing the bridge, which was done at 0030. Captain Eichler ordered the security parties to withdraw back 300 yards as previously arranged for the safety of the personnel. The order was carried out promptly, and the bridge was blown up at 0045, 12 September. After the explosion, the security parties went back into position, and Captain McElroy observed the destruction of the bridge at a close interval.

Five to seven trains carrying troops and supplies for the Bulgarians passed over this bridge daily. The bridge was a two-span 35-foot steel girder span. In the operation one span was completely destroyed, and the pier was shattered.

It took the Bulgarians 14 days to repair the bridge. On this, we have the official word from the Bulgars who capitulated 13 September.

Captain Eichler, after the operation, ordered all parties to the rendezvous point. We regrouped at Polyneri at 0145, 12 September and returned to Kastanies at 1000 hours of the same day.

The mission was completed in complete surprise without a shot being fired, although there was a guard consisting of 20 Bulgars at a tunnel 500 yards northeast of the bridge, and the railroad was frequently patrolled.

Men on Operation
[Skip the list of personnel]
  • T/Sgt. Christ Christie
  • S/Sgt. Nick Cominos
  • S/Sgt. Bill Kirtatas
  • S/Sgt. David Christ
  • S/Sgt. Tom Georgalos
  • Cpl. Steve Voulgarakis
  • Cpl. Alexander Phillip
  • Cpl. Perecles Phillips
  • Cpl. Andrew Mousalimas
  • Cpl. Pete Lewis
  • Cpl.John Bitsikas
  • T/4 James Karvouhas
  • T/5 George Kalliavas
  • T/5 Alexander Gewlas
  • T/5 Andrew Grevis
  • T/5 Andrew Karabatsos
  • Captain Robert E. Eichler
  • 1st Lieutenant Paul Pope
  • T/5 James Antonakis
  • T/5 Dionisios Fotinatos
  • T/5 Nick Amigdalitsis

Submitted by Captain Robert E. Eichler


Greece: Drama, Macedonia *

The Bulgarians Capitulate

The Bulgarians capitulated to the Allies September 13, 1944, and Major Miller was in conference with General Zirakoft, the Bulgarian commander in the Drama area. September 15, 1944, we received orders to move to Makros Gutas; yet no specific operations had been mentioned. Finding no one at Makros we moved to Taksiarkhis.

September 16, we walked to the outskirts of Drama where we were quartered in an uncompleted hospital . Movements were restricted to the immediate area and we were under what can be called protective custody by Bulgarian guards. The curious crowds were not allowed to visit us.

We were confused; our exact status with the Bulgarians and the Greek controllers of Drama, the EAM/ELAS, was ambivalent to say the least. Major Miller had gone to Sofia, Bulgaria, and after establishing the Allied mission there he returned to Drama. However due to the Greek political situation and the undefined Bulgarian situation, we were in a fog.

September 18, we moved to the heart of Drama into a house formerly occupied by German headquarters. Our status was still unchanged.

Lieutenant Pope and the Mules

Meanwhile Lt Pope and three men, including Georgalos, left Drama to secure the supplies from our original base, 36 miles northeast. The supplies were moved by oxcart and mules.

An interesting and comical sidelight while we were in the mountains related to Lt. Pope. He was a rawboned Texan, a fine officer albeit a little naïve and something of a braggart. He mentioned numerous times how he packed mules in Texas as a young boy. Packing mules was a difficult chore, so one day a few of the enlisted men argued, loud enough for Lt. Pope to hear, that no one man could load the mules by himself. The argument was staged on purpose to set up Lt. Pope, and we hoped he would take the bait. Yes indeed, we conned Lt. Pope into loading the mules by himself. We warmly congratulated him, and of course never mentioned the betting. This was one of the rare times enlisted men took advantage of an officer and got away without any recriminations.

We always kept ourselves amused despite our circumstances.

Major Miller and Captain Pike Evacuated

October 6, Major Miller and Captain Paul Pike, both previously wounded by the Bulgarians, were evacuated by plane. Landings and evacuations by Allied planes were dangerous because enemy planes were still lurking in the Balkans. As in movies that depict night landings behind enemy lines, we would line up in two parallel lines, wide and long enough for a plane to land, with amateurish makeshift kerosene lamps positioned every 30 feet on both sides of the runway. Just before the rescue plane was prepared to land, we simultaneously lit the lamps. After two unsuccessful attempts the third time was the charm and the officers were finally evacuated.

The EAM to the Rescue

October 12, a confrontation between the Bulgarians and the EAM/ELAS was brewing and we were caught in the middle. The Bulgarians did not believe we were Americans and asked Captain Eichler for credentials. He refused to negotiate, and the Bulgars threatened to take the law into their own hands.

The British Major Kit Kat, now in charge of our mission, finally contacted the local provost. Colonel Radoff, the leader of the Bulgarian Partisans, called Major Kit Kat to his office to discuss the old question that he brought up in many conferences with the British, namely where was the mission's authorization to be in Drama and where were our credentials? Radoff then demanded that unless some authority was produced within one hour he would take the law into his own hands. Major Kit Kat returned to our billet and divulged the facts of his meeting to Captain Eichler.

We took up defensive positions and waited for Radoff's threat to be put into operation. Hell, we were only 26 Americans and three or four Brits, and the Bulgarians encircled our billet with infantry troops and artillery.

Major Kit Kat immediately contacted the provost marshall again, who in turn saw Colonel Radoff and told him that our presence was a question for the Greeks to decide, not the Bulgarians. We were ordered to stand by and protect the mission in case of an attack ~ ridiculous, considering there were thousands of Bulgarians in the Drama vicinity, and the only weapons we had were our rifles, a couple of Browning automatic rifles, one light machine gun and a bazooka.

The EAM ordered the Bulgarians to relinquish protective custody. The Bulgarians retreated after the EAM told them not to fire on our mission. We were elated that we did not have to fight against long odds, and even more pleased the EAM supported us; we were only a handful and we would have been annihilated by the Bulgarians. The only shots that we fired during the negotiations were shots against a German Messerschmitt fighter plane that flew very close to our billet. Fortunately the Bulgarians and the EAM realized we were firing at the German plane.

The Bulgarians Pull Out

The Bulgarians moved out of Macedonia and Thrace, one of the requirements of the armistice.

October 16, Colonel Keoun Boyd, British Army, arrived with his mission (his group) to Drama. The Greek authorities also arrived, representing both the Nationals and the ELAS, along with Colonel Procos in charge of all Antartes.

They arrived in two planes on October 16 and three planes on October 17 along with their equipment including two jeeps. Lt. Pope with a few of our men received the planes at night. Our men did an excellent job receiving the planes, which was acknowledged by both crews and members of the mission.

German Intransigence and British Propaganda

Germans remained active in northern Greece, despite the Bulgarian withdrawl.

To weaken the German resolve, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) dropped propaganda leaflets. Here is a copy of one. It is typical of propaganda flyers used by both the Allies and the Axis during the war.

Propaganda Leaflet
Dropped by the RAF in Northern Greece
November, 1944
[Original in German] [Translation into English]

[Skip the German text]

VERTRIEB . . . . . . . . . . DIE RAF

OFFIZIERE DEUTSCHE!

Für Euch und Eure Soldaten ist der Krieg vorbei.

Überlegt Eure Lage: Als das deutsche Heer in Griechenland einmarschierte, war Jugoslawien überrannt. Italien, Bulgarien und Rumänien waren Eure Verbündeten. Die noch mächtige Luftwaffe schützten Euch vom Himmel, und U-Boote hielten entlang der Küste wache.

Aber jetzt: Wiederbewaffnet streben Jugoslawen und Griechen nach Rache, und durchschneiden Eure Verbindungslinien. Italien ist verloren. Der lange Rückzug zum Brenner ist fast zu Ende. Rumanien und Bulgarien wenden sich gegen Euch. Die Russen haben die Verbindung mit der Nationalen Befreiungsarmee Jugoslawiens hergestellt, und Euer letzter Heimweg zu Lande ist dahin.

Die Luftwaffe ist machtlos, Euch zu schützen. Wir wissen genau, wieviele Flugzeuge Euch in Griechenland geblieben sind. Ihr wisst es auch: Zur See sind die Alliierten Herren der Adria, des Agaischen- und des Mittelmeeres.

Als Soldaten wisst Ihr, was das bedeutet.

Das deutsche Heer in Griechenland ist abgeschnitten.

Der Schwerpunkt des Krieges hat sich nach anderen Schauplatzen verlagert ~ durch Frankreich, Belgien, Holland und durch Polen nach Deutschland selbst.

In drei Monaten hat dies Deutschland 3 Armeen und 1 Million Soldaten gekostet.

Das OKH konnte nicht die Soldaten und den Nachschub abgeben, um Euch zu erlösen, selbst wenn es sie zu Euch schaffen könnte. Ihr seid abgeschnitten.

DEUTSCHE OFFIZIERE! Britische Offiziere, die das Aliierte Oberkommando im Mittelmeerraum vertreten, befinden sich in Griechenland und sind bevollmächtigt, die Übergabe deutscher Truppen gemäss den anerkannten Bestimmungen des Kriegsrechtes zu vereinbaren.

In einem unheilvollen Krieg habt Ihr Eure Pflicht als deutsche Offiziere getan. Ihr halt Eure Stellungen nachdem alle Hoffnung geschwunden ist. Eine Fortsetzung des Kampfes wird nur zur nutzlosen Vernichtung Eurer selbst und Eurer Soldaten fuhren, für die Ihr verantwortlich seid.

Euer Tod kann Eurem Vaterland nicht helfen. Deutschland und Eure Lieben werden Euch nötig haben.

[Skip the English translation]

DISTRIBUTION . . . . . . . . . . RAF

GERMAN OFFICERS!

For you and your soldiers the war is lost.

Think about your situation: when the German army marched into Greece, Yugoslavia was overrun. Italy, Bulgaria and Rumania were your allies. The still powerful Luftwaffe protected you from heaven, and U-Boats stood watch along the coast.

But now: rearmed Yugoslavians and Greeks seek revenge, and your lines of communications are cut off. Italy is lost. The long retreat to the Brenner is nearly to end. Rumania and Bulgaria are turning against you. The Russians built the connection with the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, and your last overland route is gone.

The Luftwaffe is powerless to protect you. We know exactly how many airplanes are left for you in Greece; you also know that at sea the Allies are the masters of the Adriatic-Aegean-- and Mediterranean.

As soldiers you know what that means.

The German army in Greece is cut off.

The emphasis or the war has shifted to other theaters ~ through France, Belgium, and Holland and through Poland to Germany itself.

Within three months this cost Germany three armies and one million soldiers.

The OKH cannot risk sending soldiers and supplies to save you, even if they could. You are cut off.

GERMAN OFFICERS! British Officers, who represent the Allied top command in the area of the Mediterranean, are also located in Greece and have been given the power to arrange the surrender of German troops according to the accepted rules of the laws of war.

In a disastrous war you did your duty as German Officers. You are holding your positions after all hope has evaporated. A continuation of the fighting will only achieve the useless destruction of yourself and your soldiers, for whom you are responsible.

Your death will not help your fatherland. Germany and your loved ones are going to need you.

Captain Eichler and a Trek to Serres

Captain Eichler, Sargeant Chris Christie, George Kalliavas, and I went to Seres, southwest of Drama, to meet with the British mission and the Antartes to discuss a future operation against the Germans, planned to take place west of the Strymon River. Lieutenant Pope was left in command of Group 4 in Drama. An Antarte guide and interpreter joined us.

It was a trek of more than twenty miles in each direction. Though walking/hiking is never welcomed, it becomes second nature to an infantryman. The area was mountainous while lush in many places, and the water flowing from the mountains was absolutely refreshing; no matter how much water I drank, I never felt bloated, always light.

I was pleased Kalliavas joined us because of his terrific personality and wonderful dry wit. A heavyset young man from Brookline, Massachusetts, he was the Cyrano of our group. His attitude was always cool. He was in Nick Cominos's squad with P. Phillips from California and Kirtatas from Piraeus. The three of them were the jokers of Group 4, and Nick Cominos was the perfect foil to control these outstanding personalities.

Captain Eichler rarely communicated with the enlisted men of our group ~ although his survival depended on them. He had not been in the Greek Battalion. He joined our unit at Area "F", during OSS training in Maryland. Former Captain George Verghis recently informed me Eichler had been assigned to Group 4. Both he and Pope were not of Greek origins; they were probably assigned to our group because the great majority of men in our group were Greek-Americans.

It is important to note Captain Robert Houlihan, Lieutenant Lon Payton and Lieutenant Paul Pope, who we anointed as honorary Greeks, were proud to be officers in the Greek/USOG, and exhibited great empathy for the Greek people and for the Antartes. Eichler never exhibited such empathy.

I had yet another reason to be suspicious of Eichler's attitude when an American pilot was rescued and turned over to our group in Drama. Although saved by the Antartes, who turned him over to us instead of leaving him to the Nazis, the pilot blatantly criticized the Greeks. Eichler never reprimanded him and allowed him to continue criticizing the Greeks. (The fly boy was fortunate never to be on one of our missions where there was always the risk of friendly fire.)

10,000 Greeks Massacred

One of the most devastating of my war experiences was discovering a mass grave in Drama. When the Nazis pulled out of Macedonia we came out of our mountain hideout and spent two weeks in Drama. The grave, approximately 100 to 150 yards long, was shown to us by the Antartes; 10,000 poor souls of Drama had been executed and buried by the Axis in 1941. The executions happened during a three-week period of the first anniversary of OHI Day.[note 12] For years afterward I heard not one word nor read any stories of this atrocity. None of the veterans remember seeing the grave, nor do recent Greek immigrants recall the incident. Sometimes I'd wondered if the story was true or if it had been a dream.

In October 1994, after the Greek/USOG reunion in Athens, my wife Mary, our son Soter, and I visited Drama. Soter had made arrangements to meet the editor of the Drama newspaper, Mr. Tselemahos Tselembilis. Mr. Tselembilis was kind enough to be our guide during our stay in Drama. During the tour of the city, I mentioned the story of the massacre to Mr. Tselembilis. He drove us to a knoll overlooking Drama and showed us the monument honoring the 10,000 Drama citizens who were massacred. Though I was hoping I was mistaken, the monument validated what I had seen 50 years ago.

Mr. Tselembilis had been 7 years old in 1944 and was living with his parents in a village a few miles from the area where we parachuted onto Oropethian near the Bulgarian border. He recalls the citizens of his village discussing the Americans and the parachute jump.

We asked Mr. Tselembilis, if it was convenient, to please show us the area into which my Group 4 parachuted. He was more than willing, but because of inclement weather, we were not able to travel on the narrow and muddy mountain roads.

We also visited the uncompleted hospital building in which our unit stayed in 1944, which has since been completed and is presently the main hospital of Drama. I have photos of both the monument and the hospital.

The Volta and the Young Men of the EAM

We settled in Drama for a couple more weeks. Initially we did not fraternize with the Drama citizens, but the enlisted men broke down the barriers and began speaking in Greek. We visited the kafenia (coffee shops) and tavernas. Every evening there was the traditional "volta" when families would walk back and forth in the Platia, the town square. Many marriage proposals were initiated during the volta. We often joined the citizens in the volta.

The Greek-Americans were very happy the Nazis had pulled out of Greece, and we prayed the Greek people would finally have some peace and quiet after four terrible years under the Nazi yoke, not realizing a fierce civil war was in their future.

The young men of the EAM, who knew us from our stint in the mountains, would join us in the volta and complain that their group, the EAM/ELAS, was not being allowed to participate in forming the government in Drama. They directed us to the building where the meetings were held by the British and the pro-Royalist Greeks. Most of us Greek Americans were 19 and 20 years old, and unfortunately we were very ignorant of the politics in the Balkans. What the hell did we know? More importantly, we had no political power or know-how to help these young men who had fought courageously against the Nazis for four years.

Since the end of WW2, I have been haunted by the events of the Greek civil war and often wonder if that bloody war could have been prevented. Our group, mercifully, was not allowed to stay in Athens after we left the mountains of Macedonia. Had we remained in Athens, we would have been forced to join the British against our former allies the EAM/ELAS. It would have been a cruel blow to us Greek-Americans. Even the British soldiers who fought with the EAM/ELAS were saddened when they took arms against their former ally.

When we operated in Greece we neither witnessed nor heard of any atrocities by the EAM/ELAS. In many villages they were hailed as heroes and were warmly greeted. Five of our six groups operated with the EAM/ELAS. I did not hear a single negative report from any of my fellow comrades about them. Since then, some of the veterans have developed amnesia and are now uncomfortable in supporting a so-called Communist group. How soon they have forgotten the EAM/ELAS was loyal to our Operational Groups. Not one American was betrayed by them.

As the years have passed, I have researched the Greek experience and discovered that prior to WW2 the large majority of the people who eventually joined the EAM/ELAS were from the rural areas and were disenchanted with the elitist Royalist and Metaxas regimes. A few had been political prisoners during the Metaxas era. Unquestionably the Communists infiltrated into the leadership of the EAM/ELAS, but the huge majority were loyal Greeks who fought bravely in the mountains and expected to participate in forming a new government in Greece after the end of the war.[note 13]

Greeks who waited out the war in the safe sanctuaries of Egypt, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, along with some who had remained in Greece and collaborated with the Nazi occupation were recruited by the British to form the new government of Greece, while the brave EAM/ELAS were left out of the loop.[note 14] I have often wondered if the British had allowed the EAM/ELAS to participate in forming the new Greek government, could the civil war in Greece have been averted?

The Girl from Argirokastro

At one of the voltas I had a chance meeting with a beautiful young girl. She was from Argirokastro, a village near Drama, and was visiting her aunt's family in Drama. We enjoyed each other's company and I told her, if it was okay with her, we would meet the next evening. I was a little puzzled because she was dressed sharply and had silk stockings unlike the girls in Drama. The next evening she and I took off by ourselves toward the Drama high school which was on the outskirts of town. I had seen the buildings and she suggested that we visit the school. As I mentioned previously in these memoirs, most Greek-American boys would not violate a Greek girl; and I had no ulterior motive except to socialize with this Greek beauty. She reminded me of the Greek-American girls in the States.

We were walking when all of a sudden a young Greek man, sharply dressed in a suit and a few years older than I, confronted us and began to angrily lash out at me. He told me that his cousin was visiting his family, he was responsible for her, and he would not become a ruffiano (pimp) for her. Of course I was surprised with his diatribe and I told him that he was mistaken. In retrospect I admired the young man. Physically he was a little guy, and I was in prime physical condition with a 45 pistol on my hip. We were in a secluded area. If I had been a different person he would have been in deep trouble. The young girl was crying. I said goodbye to her and took off.

The next night during the volta, the cousin sought me out, apologized, and introduced me to his mother (the girl's aunt). There was no reason for me to continue the relationship and string the young lady along, especially when I detected the aunt was acting like a match-maker. I bade them goodbye, never to meet up with the beautiful girl again.

Bouzoukee and Macedonian Dancing

The music and dancing in Macedonia was foreign to us Greek-Americans whose parents came from other parts of Greek and from an earlier generation. (My own came from Arcadia in the Peloponnese at the turn of the century).

One morning in front of our billet, a man serenaded us with an instrument resembling a guitar. It was the first time we had seen or heard the bouzoukee. Perry, who eventually became one of the founders of the Greek dance groups in America after the war, was especially interested. The bouzoukee player told us that on Sunday there would be a dance festival on the high school grounds. Most of us attended. The dancers were teenagers and young adolescents and the dances were intricate. We joined them, but we had trouble learning their dances. Perry, of course, continued in the line. Later he added the Macedonian dances to his first dance festival in Oakland in 1955. We did not socialize with the young people that afternoon; we returned to our billet.

Group 4 Departure:
The Finest Argument Captain Houlihan Ever Lost

Captain Houlihan arrived in Drama by plane, landing between the lighted makeshift kerosene lamps. He told Captain Eichler that all of the other Greek/USOGs had been evacuated, and since our mission was completed, Group 4 should join our unit in Bari.

Group 4 was the last to leave Greece, on November 20, 1944.

A C-47 with an American crew landed at our makeshift airport in Drama and we loaded up with all of our equipment. We loaded onto the C-47 and flew down the east coast of Greece, low enough to see the beautiful country, and landed at Tatoi Airport in Athens. British and OSS officers in charge of Allied operations in Athens ordered us not to debark from the airplane. Captain Robert Houlihan, who was with us, argued strongly to allow his men to visit Athens, believing it would be a shot in the arm for the morale of the Greek/USOG and especially for the Greek people, who would discover that Greek-Americans had fought in Greece. He did not win the argument. We were disappointed.

Since then, Major Houlihan (Ret.) has mentioned numerous times that it was the finest argument he has ever lost. The Greek civil war was brewing, and because the Americans were under British command, we would have been ordered into battle against the same Antartes (EAM/ELAS) with whom we had fought side by side in the mountains of Macedonia.

We flew on to Bari, Italy, where the six Greek-American Operational Groups were reunited once again.


Summary of Greek Operations
 
National Archives Documents

Orientation to the Documents

The following quotations from the U.S. National Archives provide a summary of the Greek United States Operational Groups (Greek/USOG) missions and their results in Greece.

The Greek United States Operational Groups (Greek/USOG) operated with the EAM/ELAS Antartes in Greece, with the exception of Group 1 who was with Zervas' Antartes.

General Report about Greek Operations

1. General

During a period of 219 days from 23 April until 20 November 1944, troops of Co. C., 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion were continuously in occupied Greece. The type of warfare they engaged in was unique in the history of the American Army. The record they made is of some interest and bears close examination.

The table of statistics [...] shows a large toll taken in enemy personnel, communication, and material. It is appropriate at this point to make it clear that much of this destruction was accomplished in conjunction with British Raider Support Regiment detachments and Greek Antartes working in concert. To say that the Operational Groups alone are responsible for all the results shown would not be fair; on the other hand, the Groups were the close assault troops in nearly all of these actions. The Antartes, lacking in any real military training, were usually a doubtful quantity, and it can be stated without fear of contradiction that the Americans were an inspiration to them to carry out assaults they would not otherwise complete. The British RSR detachments, with their mortars and machine guns, were highly skilled and tremendously effective in the support of the Operational Groups and Antartes. And were likewise a fine example of aggressive and competent soldiering.

2. Results of Operations

The number of the enemy killed and wounded has been estimated at 2,000. This appears to be a great number of casualties to be inflicted by such small a number of men, especially when it is considered that American casualties were extremely light by comparison. The explanation for this is that in nearly all of the operations, complete surprise was achieved, and the enemy was struck while unprepared. In cases where crowded trains or trucks were targeted, it can readily be seen that pouring bullets and Bazooka shells into vehicles or cars would result in carnage. The real problem was getting into position to strike the train or convoy. If successful in this, the officers skillfully placed their weapons to do the most damage. For instance, usually Bazookas were so placed that when a train was halted by electrically blowing a rail, a Bazooka was opposite both the front and rear locomotives, which were also the armored cars. In many cases, Bazooka and automatic weapons were spaced along a road at the same interval as trucks en route were spaced. This information was known to the troops from a captured German order prescribing distance by day, by night, by moonlight, and so on. Thus, by careful planning and placing of weapons, surprise was achieved and tremendous fire brought to bear on the enemy. The result was utter confusion on his part, which explains the few American casualties.

National archives
SECRET

Vital Statistics

Group VII (Unit A) participated in several convoy ambush operations with Group I, and there is an indefinite amount of destruction of life and property, which should be credited to this group in addition to that which this report shows.

Troops in Greece 219 days continuously from 23 April to November, 1944.

Officers, 15
Enlisted Men, 159
[note 17]

Areas of Operations Group 1. Epirus, 2. Roumeli, 3. Thessaly, 4. Macedonia, 5. Paikov, 6. Pierias, 7.  Macedonia, 8. Vermion, Pelope. End of summary of Greek/USOG operations in Greece.


Notes

[Skip the Notes]

1
Axis is used in the first part of this section of the memoirs, because the majority of the enemy troops who had occupied this territory of Greece (the Drama sector) were Bulgarians, members of the Axis forces.
2
U.S. National Archives, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, pp. 188-192 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 1944).

Compare, National Archives, ibid., pp. 1, 11-12 (cited at note 17 here below: it is a report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944).

The monument to be erected in Greece in honor of the Greek/USOGs will display the number of Greek/USOGs who landed in Egypt January 23, 1944, and who intended to serve in Greece.

** The double-asterisks have been added into the quoted list in order to identify members of the Yugoslavian Operational groups ~ to differentiate them from the members of the Greek Operational groups ~ and to present a clearer tally of the members of the Greek Operational groups.

3
U.S. National Archives, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, pp. 14-17 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944).
4
Six groups (Groups 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) comprised the Greek/USOG, also known officially as Unit B, Third Contingent (Co. C., 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion). See, for example, U.S. National Archives, Formation of Unit [Unit B, 3rd Contigent], Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 18: the unit was organized into six combat groups. Also see Final Organization of Unit, ibid.: six groups.

Group 7 in the report (as quoted) was comprised of men from the Yugoslavian/USOG who entered the missions in Greece.

The Yugoslavian/USOG and the Greek/USOG were separate units within the 3rd Contingent. The Yugoslavian/USOG was Unit A. The Greek/USOG was Unit B.

There were some OSS officers, such as Major Lovell, who wished to merge the units during our stay on Vis. Captain Houlihan strongly opposed the merger and insisted our units maintain their autonomous status. Colonel Russell Livermore, the CO of the 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion, concurred with Captain Houlihan, and agreed that we should maintain our units' respective names. The units were not merged.

A number of reports were written by Major Lovell who projected his own preference by using the phrases Balkan Operational Group and Balkan Groups. A few recent publications have been influenced by his sort of (unofficial) nomenclature. They go so far as to call all of these operational groups collectively the Balkan Group, instead of referring to the officially distinct units.

5
Group 7 (comprised of Yugoslavian/USOG) entered the Peloponnese on 16 May, as shown in the report. They operated there for a while, and then returned to Bari, Italy.

Now re-entering Greece, into Macedonia near Vermion on 16 July, they are referred to as Group 8. In northern Greece, this group co-operated with our Group 1, who had entered Epirus on 23 April.

The specification of a (so-called) Group 8 in this report makes it appear as if there were another group. Contrast the specification of them in this report with the more proper specification for them as Group 7 (Unit A) in, for example, National Archives, [General Report about Greek Operations] Vital Statistics, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 11, which states, Group VII (Unit A) participated in several convoy ambush operations with Group I.

6
U.S. National Archives, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 51 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944), reported by First Lieutenant George W. Verghis, the Group Leader of Group 1.
7
Ibid., p. 151, reported by commanding officer, 2nd Lt. Lon Peyton.
8
A Greek doctor initially treated Lt. Giannaris' serious wounds. (The OGs in Greece had only medics with limited medical knowledge.) Lt. Giannaris was evacuated to Italy by a British fighter plane. He was then sent to America for a lengthy recuperation.

I find it interesting that the corporal whose courageous actions are described in the report is not named in the report. Only the officers are normally mentioned by name in the official records in the archives. I was a member of Group 4, not Group 2; so, I had no personal knowledge of this corporal in Group 2; I cannot give him credit by name. He is the one in the report who without personal safety took a few steps toward the machine gun emplacement and opened fire from 15 yards. This action silenced the machine gun and enabled the men to withdraw to safer positions and eventually retreat over the mountaintop to the rendezvous point.

Nor do we find a name in the report for the enlisted man of Group 2 who was hit with an entire burst of enemy machine gun fire.

9
Ibid., Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 130. There is no name at the end of this report to tell us who wrote it. Lt. Giannaris was wounded, and evidently one of the men produced the report.
10
Ibid., p. 189.
11
Ibid., p. 157.
12
OHI Day was the day when the Greek goverment answered with a resounding NO to the ultimatum put to them by Mussolini's Fascists. The refusal set Greece in resistance against the Axis, instead of collaboration. The massacre in the Drama region a year later marked the anniversary of the refusal. OHI (transliterated here) is the word for NO in the Greek language. It is spelled as follows in the Greek alphabet: ΟΧΙ.
13
The first-hand perceptions here about the motivation of the resistance members in general do coincide with an analysis of the origins of the resistance in Greece by Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler's Greece:The Experience of Occupation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
14
Costas Couvaras, an OSS officer who parachuted behind the lines in Greece, came to the same conclusion in his memoirs.

There was a further tragic paradox in the British command during the formation of new governments in the British sphere of influence in the Balkans at the end of WW2. While a unilateral "right-wing" government was established in Greece, resulting in the civil war there, something diametrically opposite occurred in Yugoslavia. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) were instrumental in bringing Tito's Communist Party into power, to the tragic exclusion of the Yugoslav Royalists led by Mihailovich who had bravely fought in resistance against the Naxi occupation. An exposé of the Yugoslav tragedy has been carefully brought forward by one of the British laison officers who was dropped into Yugoslavia in 1943, Michael Lees, The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power 1943-1944 (San Deigo: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1990).

15
U.S. National Archives, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, pp. 11-12 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944). The Greek/USOG operations, raids, and reconnaissance missions in Yugoslavia are summarized in other documents in the National Archives.
16
Ibid., p. 1.
17
The tally (ibid.) says 174 (fifteen officers and 159 enlisted men), as quoted here above. However, a tally in another National Archives document, ibid., pp. 188-192 (quoted and cited at note 2) shows the names of 142 (twelve officers and 130 enlisted men) who entered Greece in 1944.

The tallies in both of these documents include members of the Yugoslavian/USOG. They are referred to as Group 7 in the document quoted here just above. Similarly, members of the Yugoslavian/USOG, referred to as Group 7, are counted into a list in a web-site about the OSS at www.ossog.org/balkans/greek_07.html (retrieved on-line February 14, 2004).

Among the total number of 174 in the document quoted here just above, there were 145 Greek/USOG members and 29 Yugoslavian/USOG members as I discovered by checking and comparing the data. The majority of these men in the Yugoslavian/USOG were Greek-Americans. Likewise, the majority of the men in the Greek/USOG were Greek-Americans.

We can be certain enough about the number of the Greek/USOG volunteers into the OSS who landed in Egypt, January 23, 1944:

  • Sixteen officers and 169 enlisted men of the Greek/USOG volunteers into the OSS landed in Egypt, January 23, 1944, according to the report titled Headquarters, Third Contingent, Unit B, Operational Group, filed in the National Archives.

    At the time of our arrival in Egypt, our unit was known as Third Contingent, Unit B. The official name, Company C 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion, name was established later, in August 1944.

  • All of these men had volunteered for hazardous duty behind the lines in Greece, although some were unable to fulfill their intent because of subsequent factors beyond their control, such as casualities or reassignments before deployment into Greece.
  • This total number 185 from the roster at arrival in Egypt will be inscribed in a monument that is being erected in Athens to honor our unit: the total number because all the men were volunteers for hazardous duty to liberate Greece; each and every one intended to serve in Greece.

* Publisher's Note


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