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Cyprus, 1974
By Tom Cooper & Nicholas Tselepidis
Oct 28, 2003, 04:30

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Although tensions between Turkey and Greece over the issue of Cyprus subdued during the late 1960s and in the early 1970s, the situation was soon to change. In November 1973, a coup d’état in Athens brought a military junta, led by Brig.Gen. Dimitrios Ioannides, on power. Ioannides was one of Greek officers that served on Cyprus in the 1960s: rigidly anti-communist, he considered that Makarios should be removed from his office and immediately established connection to EOKA B, to plan a coup. His intentions became known to Cypriot intelligence, in spring of 1974: Makarios had no other choice but to ban EOKA B, and demand the remaining 650 Greek Army officers assigned to the Cypriot National Guard (CNG) to be withdrawn. His demands were published in a letter to the Greek president, on 2 July 1974. A reply came 13 days later – in the form of an order from Athens the CNG to overthrow its commander in chief.

Narrowly escaping the death in CNG attack, on 15 July 1974, Makarios was evacuated by a British helicopter to RAF Akrotiri, from where he went to London and, few days later, to New York, to address the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, on 17 July, the notorious EOKA terrorist Nicos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new government.

To Turkey, it was once again obvious that Athens was behind the coup, as well as that there was an imminent threat for the security of the Turkish minority on Cyprus. The Turkish Prime Minisster Bülent Ecevit, flew to London to elicit British aid in a joint effort on Cyprus, as ascertained by the 1959 Treaty of Guarantee, but the British were neither willing nor ready to take action. The USA were not interested in bolstering Makarios government because of his connections to communist countries in eastern Europe: nevertheless, Washington attempted to stave off the impeding Turkish invasion by sending an envoy to Ankara. The Turkish demands were clear: Nicos Sampson had to be removed and the Greek Army officers had to leave, while Cyprus was to remain independent. The American envoy managed only to get a Greek agreement for the 650 Greek officers to be reassigned.

While negotiations were still going on, the Turkish military was mobilized and preparations for a military intervention began. This time the Turks were ready and equipped sufficiently enough to intervene.

The Opposing Air Forces

By 1974, the Turkish military was in a considerably better position to operate on Cyprus than during the 1960s. Especially the air force, which was to play the dominant role in the following intervention, was equipped sufficiently enough to transport and support an invading force. By the spring of 1974, the THK boasted 17 squadrons of fighter-bombers, having acquired its original complement of Northrop F-5A/Bs and F-104G Starfighters, and including a new large batch of North American F-100C Super Sabres, acquired in the early 1970s. The THK was also short of launching the next modernisation phase, which was to include the purchase of 40 McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs, the deliveries of which went under the Project “Peace Diamond III”.

THK in 1974
1. Taktik Havva Kuvveti (1st Tactical Air Force)

1 AJÜ, Eskisehir
- 111. Filo: F-100D/F
- 112. Filo: F-4E (in training)
- 113. Filo: RF-84F

3 AJÜ, Konya
- 131. Filo: F-100F/C
- 132. Filo: F-100C/D

4 AJÜ, Mürted
- 141. Filo: F-104G, temporarily deployed to Balikesir
- 142. Filo: F-102A, temporarily deployed to Balikesir

6 AJÜ, Bandirma
- 161. Filo: F-5A
- 162. Filo: RF-5A/F-5A

9 AJÜ, Balikesir
- 191. Filo: F-104G, temporarily deployed to Cumaovassi
- 192. Filo: F-104S

2. Taktik Havva Kuvveti (2nd Tactical Air Force)
5 AJÜ, Merzifon
- 151. Filo: F-5A/B, temporarily deployed to Cumaovassi
- 152. Filo: F-5A/B

7 AJÜ, Erhac
- 171. Filo: F-100D
- 172. Filo: F-100D

8 AJÜ, Diyarbakir
- 182. Filo: F-102A
- 184. Filo: RF-5A

Havva Ulattyrma Komutanlygy (Tactical Transport Command)
12 AJÜ

- 221. Filo: C.160D
- 222. Filo: C-130E
- 223. Filo: C-47
- 224. Filo: Viscount

Havva Egitim Komutanligi (Training Command)

- 121. Filo: T-33A
- 122. Filo: T-37C
- 123. Filo: T-41D/T-34A, based at Gaziemir
- 124. Filo: T-33A

THK F-100D as seen in 1974. The North American F-100 Super Sabre was the principal Turkish fighter-bomber at the time, and large numbers participated in the campaign on Cyprus, in 1974. (Tom Cooper collection)

Most important development in THK’s capability when compared to the times of earlier tensions around Cyprus, was the fact that by 1974 it could lift up to 5.000 armed troops at once. The helicopter fleet of the Turkish Army could lift additional 1.000 men, together with their equipment and supplies. Finally, the Turkish Navy obtained capability to handle 5.000 troops with heavy equipment and supplies. The THK had also massively improved its capability to provide close-air-support to ground forces. It was obvious that the Turkish chiefs of staff were learning from earlier contingencies.

Order of battle for Turkish Army and Navy units involved in the coming operation was as follows:

6. Kolordu Komutanligi (6th Army, C-in-C Lt.Gen. Ersin)
* 2nd Ordu Hava Alayi (2nd Army Aviation Regiment, with a total of about 70 AB.204s, AB.205s, and UH-1s)

* Hava Indirme Tugayi (Airborne Brigade, Brig.Gen. Everen), including
- 1 Parasut Taburu (1st Parachute Battalion)
- 2. Parasut Taburu (2nd Parachute Battalion)
- 3. Parasut Taburu (3rd Parachute Battalion)
- 4. Parasut Taburu (4th Parachute Battalion)

*Komando Tugayi (Commando Brigade, Brig.Gen. Demirbag)
- Brigade HQ Company
- 1. Komando Taburu (1st Commando Battalion)
- 2. Komando Taburu (2nd Commando Battalion)
- 3. Komando Taburu (3rd Commando Battalion)
- 230 Piyade Alayi/1. Taburu (230th Infantry Regiment/1st Battalion Air-mobile)
- Jendarma Komando Taburu (Special Police Comando Battalion)

* Cakmak Özel Görev Kuvveti – Cikarma Tugayi (Special Strike Force Landing Brigade, Brig.Gen. Tuncer)
- 6. Deniz Piyade Alayi (6th Amphibious Infantry Regiment, Lt.Cdr. Ikiz), with three marine battalions
- 50. Piyade Alayi (50th Infantry Regiment, Col. Karaoglanoglu, from the 39th Infantry Division)
- 39. Bölügü (39th Divisional Tank Battalion/Reinforced Company, from 39th Infantry Division)

* 39. Piyade Tümeni (39th Infantry Division, Maj.Gen. Demirel)
- 14. Piyade Alayi (14th Infantry Regiment)
- 39. Tank Taburu (39th Divisional Tank Battalion)
- 39. Kesif Bölügü (39th Divisional Reconnaissance Company)
- 39. Tocu Alayi (39th Divisional Artillery Regiment)
- 39. Istihk. Taburu (39th Divisional Engineer Battalion)

* 28. Piyade Tümeni (28th Infantry Division, Maj.Gen. Polat)
- 230. Piyade Alayi (230th Mechanized Infantry Regiment, minus one battalion)
- 61. Piyade Alayi (61st Infantry Regiment)
- 28. Tank Taburu (28th Divisional Tank Battalion, minus one company)
- 28. Kesif Bölügü (28th Divisional Reconnaissance Company)
- 28. Topcu Alayi (28th Divisional Artillery Regiment, with one battalion 105mm How, and one Battalion 75mm How)
- 28. Istihk. Taburu (28th Divisional Engineer Battalion)
- 28 Tanksavar Bölügü (28th Divisional Anti-Tank Company, with 15 jeep-mounted Cobra ATGMs)

Aside from regular Turkish military units, the Turks also organized the “Kibris Türk Alayi” (Cyprus Turkish Forces Regiment), which was actually a battalion of 650 troops, organized as follows:

* Gönyeli Grubu (Gönyeli Group), based in the town of Kioneli, some four kilometres NW of Nicosia, with:
- 2. Piyade Bolugu (2nd Infantry Company)
- 3. Piyade Bolugu (3rd Infantry Company)
- Agir Silah Bolugu (Heavy Weapons Company)

* Ortakoy Grubu (Ortakoy Group), based in the town of Ortakiol, some two kilometres NW of Nicosia, with:
- 1. Piyade Bolugu (1st Infantry Company)
- 4. Piyade Bolugu (4th Infantry Company)
- Alay Kh. Srv. Bolugu (Regimental HQ Company)

Another armed Turkish organization was “TMT” – standing for “Turk Mukavement Teskilati”, or “Turkish Resistance Organisation. The TMT was organized in ten districts (or “Sancaklar”), each of which had one armed unit, varying in size from company to battalion. Every battalion was led by an officer from mainland Turkey, while smaller units were led by local Turks. Total TMT strength was some 9.000 men, with 9.000 in reserve. TMT had four battalions in Lefkose, three in Bogaz and three in Serdarli, as well as (probably) one each in Mogosa, Larnaka, Limassol, Baf, Lefke, Erenkoy, and Yesilirmak.

The Turkish Navy deployed one amphibious group, with over 30 landing craft, and a Task Force consisting of destroyers:
- Adatepe, D-353 (former USS Forrest Royal, DD-872, transferred to Turkey on 27 March 1970)
- Cakmak
- Kocatepe, D-354 (former USS ? DD-861)
- Tinaztepe, D-355 (former USS Keppler, of the Gearing FRAM-2 class)

(E)PA in 1974
While under a military rule, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Greek relationship to the NATO calmed to the point that the country was not considered as a member of the pact. This resulted with a stop of arms deliveries from the USA. It was not before 1971 that the relationship between Athens and Washington improved: the Greeks were then swift to order 36 F-4E Phantom IIs, which were planned to become the main interceptor and fighter-bomber asset of the air force.

Relationship to the USA remained insecure, however, especially after the coup in 1973. Therefore, in April 1974 the (E)PA issued an order for 40 Dassault Mirage F.1CG interceptors from France. Most of these new fighters could not arrive in time to be of use when the Greeks needed them badly: only six Phantoms were delivered by June 1974. Therefore, at the time of the Turkish invasion on Cyprus, the (E)PA was still depending on F-5As, F-84Fs and F-102s delivered in the late 1960s.

C-in-C: Gen. Papanicolau

110 Pterix Mahis
- 347 Mira: F-84F
- 348 Mira: RF-84F, based at Larisa
- 349 Mira: RF-5A, based at Larisa
- 370 Mira: T-33A Mk.III

111 Pterix Mahis
- 337 Mira: F-5A/Bs (to be replaced by F-4Es in 1974)
- 341 Mira: F-5A/Bs
- 343 Mira: F-5A/B

113 Pterix Mahis
- 343 Mira: F-5A (deployed there after 20 July 1974)

114 Pterix Mahis
- 335 Mira: F-104G
- 342 Mira: F/TF-102A

115 Pterix Mahis, Souda Bay
- 340 Mira: F-84F
- 340/II F-84F (forward deployed at Kastelli)

116 Pterix Mahis
- 336 Mira: F-104G

117 Pterix Mahis
- 338 Mira: F-4E/F-84F
- 339 Mira: F-4E and F-84F (deployed at Souda)

In addition to EPA assets in Greece, the Cypriot National Guard (CNG) was a relatively well-developed force, certainly far better equipped and stronger than the TMT, and reinforced by elements of the Greek Army based in Cyprus (ELDYK). Its order of battle in 1974 was as follows:

* ELDYK (Greek Forces Cyprus)
-- ELDYK I (1st Infantry Battalion)
-- ELDYK replacements (return to Paphos on Greek Landing Ship “Lesbos” 20 Jul 1974)
-- A’ Monada Katadromon (MK – A’ Raider Battalion: arrives at Nicosia IAP 22 Jul 1974)
-- 573 TP (on Greek Landing Ship “Rethymnos”, diverted to Rhodes)

* GEEF (General HQ, Greek Cypriot National Guard)
-- SA (Military Police Coy.)
-- 241 Tagma Pezikou (TP – 241st Infantry Battalion)
-- 301 TP (301st Infantry Battalion)
-- 286 MTP (286th Mechanized Infantry Battalion)
-- Tagma Mihaniko (Engineer Battalion)
-- 23 EMA (23rd Tank Battalion)
-- 21 EAN (21st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion)
-- 120 LBO (120th Heavy Mortar Battery)
-- Pantazi TP (Pantazi Infantry Battalion)

* DPB HQ (Artillery Command? HQ)
-- 183 MP (183rd Artillery Battalion)
-- 195 MEAAP (195th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion)
-- 198 POP (198th Infantry Gun Battery)
-- 191 POP (191st Infantry Gun Battery)
-- 190 MATP (190th Anti-Tank Battalion)
-- 184 PPP (184th Artillery Battery)
-- 189 MP (189th Artillery Battalion)
-- 187 MP (187th Artillery Battalion)
-- 182 MP (182nd Artillery Battalion)
-- 185 MP (185th Artillery Battalion)

* I ATD HQ (?) – Amochostos
-- 201 TP (201st Infantry Battalion)
-- 291 TP (291st Infantry Battalion)
-- 398 TP (398th Infantry Battalion)
-- 399 TP (399th Infantry Battalion)
-- 341 Tagma Efedrias (TE – 341st Reserve Battalion)
-- 386 TE (386th Reserve Battalion)
-- 336 TE (336th Reserve Battalion)
-- 376 TE (376th Reserve Battalion)
-- 199 PPP (199th Artillery Battery)
-- 181 MP (181st Artillery Battalion)
-- 173 MATP (173rd Anti-Tank Battalion)

* II ATD HQ – Morphou
-- 256 TP (256th Infantry Battalion)
-- 281 TP (281st Infantry Battalion)
-- 276 TP (276th Infantry Battalion)
-- 261 TE (261st Reserve Battalion)
-- 316 TE (316th Reserve Battalion)
-- 321 TE (321st Reserve Battalion)

* III ATD HQ – Lefkosia
-- 211 TP (211th Infantry Battalion)
-- 231 TP (231st Infantry Battalion)
-- 331 TE (331st Reserve Battalion)

* II TS / III ATD HQ – Kyrenia
-- 361 TP (361st Infantry Battalion)
-- 251 TP (251st Infantry Battalion)
-- 306 TE (306th Reserve Battalion)
-- 326 TE (326th Reserve Battalion)

* IV ATD HQ – Limassol
-- 226 TP (226th Infantry Battalion)
-- 216 TP (216th Infantry Battalion)
-- 346 TE (346th Reserve Battalion)
-- 203 TE (203rd Reserve Battalion)

* V ATD HQ – Paphos
-- 356 TP (356th Infantry Battalion)
-- 304 TE (304th Reserve Battalion)
-- 397 TE (397th Reserve Battalion)

* DKD (Raiders Command)
-- 31 Monada Katadromon (MK - 31st Raider Battalion)
-- 32 MK (32nd Raider Battalion)
-- 33 MK (33rd Raider Battalion)
-- 34 MK (34th Raider Battalion)

In total, this force had some 20.000 troops, 32 tanks, 50 armoured vehicles, 463 guns and howitzers, and 382 anti-tank weapons. Furthermore, the CNG included the “Home Guard” force, consisting of 25 battalions.

Cypriot Coup and Turkish Plans

On 15 July 1974, elements of the CNG staged a coup against the President Makarios. Two days later the leader of the pro-Enosis movement, EOKA-B, Sampson. At the time in prison, and usually described as a “rather naïve person of limited political ability…that happened to be in the right place at the right time” by Greek sources, Sampson was known as fierce Greek nationalist full of hatred for Turks.

Without surprise, the Turks saw this development as a threat for their minority living on Cyprus, and – on 16 July – the Turkish military was put to alert for an invasion of the island. The THK, the Army and the Navy required only three days for completing their preparations: isolated and under massive international pressure, the Greek military regime was very slow to respond and could not make up its mind about what to do. Even if the EPA and the Greek navy were to become ready within two days as well, they were never clearly ordered into the battle, while CNG fortifications at the Salamis beach (north of Famagusta), Lapta and beaches west of Güzelyurt were in the wrong place.

Turkish plans for a contingency of this kind were relatively simple. The military authority for Cyprus, 6th Army Command, was within the shortest period of time assigned needed units and equipment. It planned to drop airborne commandos behind the enemy lines, and then support them by heliborne-special forces. The task of these units was to advance towards the northern coast of Cyprus and strike from the rear any CNG or ELDYK units they might encounter underway. Meanwhile, the “Strike Special Operation Landing Force” (SSOLF), consisting of a battalion of Marines, reinforced by elements from Army’s 28th and 39th Divisions, would deliver an amphibious landing on the northern coast.

The beaches the SSOLF was to use were small, but they were kilometres away from the point at which the CNG-Command expected a possible Turkish landing: Famagusta. Nevertheless, in order to keep the Greek-Cypriots convinced that the landing was to happen in the later area, the Turkish Navy dispatched six large bulk-carriers towards this port. Both beaches were also blocked by high cliffs, and then Besparmak mountains, and the Greeks probably did not expect anybody to use them for a landing of a larger amphibious force.


After a long and dangerous flight, at the dawn of 20 July 1974, the first UH-1 and AB.204 helicopters landed troops of the 1st and 2nd Commando Brigades near Kyrenia. While Turkish commandos were underway through the streets of the city, the first wave of F-100s of the 111, 132, and 181 Filo, as well as some F-104Gs flew a series of strikes against the CNG barracks in Nicosia, the concentration of CNG units near Famagusta, and the Nicosia international airport (IAP), where they destroyed an empty Hawker-Siddeley HS-121 Trident 1E airliner (5B-DAE), and one Trident 2E (5B-DAB) of the Cyprus Airways. Only minutes later, the C.160 Transall and C-47 transports of the 221 and 231. Filo arrived over Nicosia to drop parasucu-commando battalions (paratroopers) of the 1st and 2nd Turkish Commando Brigades.

Turkish paras deployed by UH-1 helicopters on Cyprus, on the morning of 20 July 1974: weeks of savage fighting were in front of them. (all photographs via authors, unless otherwise stated)

Dramatic photographs showing a trio of THK C-47s disgorging paras over Cyprus. (Kypros.org)

In general, the Turkish landing operations went on without major problems. Well supported from the air, the paras operated in well-integrated battle groups, supported by jeep-mounted recoilless guns, then some artillery and even armour – and always in close cooperation with the THK. The coordination was not perfect: a company of paras landed in the middle of the CNG’s advance from Nicosia to Kyrenia, and was swiftly neutralized. The paras also failed to build a coherent bridgehead or secure Turkish-Cypriot enclaves in the north and became capable of launching offensive operations. Nevertheless, overall, Turkish losses during the landing were minimal: the CNG was not only taken by surprise by Turkish selection of landing sites on the northern coast, and caught with its best units concentrated in the Famagust area – where they were exposed to merciless air strikes by Turkish fighter-bombers – but also very much suffered from infighting between different fractions following the coup in Nicosia.

Two and a half hours after the landing of paras, the third Turkish battle group, the SSOLF, arrived over the sea. Under command of Gen. Suleyman Tuncer, and led by special forces, the amphibious force hit the beach at two points on the northern coast of Cyprus – “Pladini” and “Karaoglanoglu” – some ten kilometres apart. Both beaches were only some 200m deep, and blocked by Besparmak cliffs. Facing no major resistance, the naval landing operation was completed within only three hours: the sole point of CNG resistance were two jeeps mounting recoilless rifles calibre 106mm, spotted and destroyed barely one hour after the landing began. By the noon the Turks considered their bridgehead secure and began moving towards south, encountering only sporadic resistance from few scattered CNG artillery and armoured units. These were tackled with help of fierce THK air strikes. Around the noon, when the Greek-Cypriot mechanized units moved along the road to Girne and Pontemili, they were fiercely pounded by Turkish fighter-bombers, which marked the beginning of the fiercest fighting. Experiencing the same fate like German armoured divisions rushed to counter Allied landings in Normandy, 30 years before: without air cover, the Greeks lost a better part of their Armoured Battalion, as well a most of their Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion to rolling Turkish air strikes.

By the afternoon, the road from Girne to Lefkosia was secured, but not without several Turkish losses. During the strikes against different targets in Cyprus on that day, the THK lost three fighters – all to anti-aircraft fire put up by the CNG: an F-100D of the 171. Filo, an F-100C of the 132. Filo (both pilots ejected), and an RF-84F of the 184 Filo (pilot KIA).

Turkish Navy landing craft unloading supplies near Kyrenia.

Map showing main action during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in 1974. Main targets of Turkish air strikes are marked by F-104-sillhouettes; landing areas for airborne troops and paras north of Nicosia are marked by C-130 and UH-1-sillhouettes. Arrows point at main targets of Turkish advance. Shown are also - in Black - two main British bases, RAF Akrotiri, and Dekhelia, as well as the area where Turkish Starfighters attacked three Turkish Navy destroyers, on 22 July 1974. (Map by Tom Cooper, based on Encarta 2003 software)

Disputed Air-to-Air Battle

Although both sides made many exaggerated claims regarding the fighting on the ground during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, n 1974, probably there is no more controversy in the history of the clashes between the Turks and the Greeks on Cyprus then about what exactly happened when Turkish and Greek fighters started to meet in the air. Both sides, namely, claimed to have shot down at least one enemy fighter, and ever since, fierce discussions to this topic rage on the internet and even in the media. A careful research of currently available accounts, however, shows that there not only one, or two – but several – engagements between the THK and (E)PA interceptors occurred between 21 and 28 July 1974, and that apparently both sides are likely to have the right to make some claims, even if officially nothing happened at all.

Despite obvious interests in the affair, the Greek government was slow to respond to the Turkish action, even if the military forces were immediately placed on alert and readied for action. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus came as a complete surprise not only for the Greek government, but also almost all the members of the armed forces – many of which were on a summer leave. Therefore, quite some time was lost after the general mobilization was declared, around noon of 20 July. Initially, this was not very important: on the morning of 20 July no THK aircraft flew over the Aegean Sea, and therefore the (E)PA was not alerted, while there was obviously no threat of a Turkish invasion of Greek Macedonia, or any of the islands in the Aegean Sea. Besides, at the time there were no such continuous stand-offs between Greece and Turkey as there are now, and the relationship between the two countries was actually pretty good.

Besides, the US government also exercised heavy pressure upon Athens: a task force of the US 6th Fleet – centred on the USS Forrestal - operated in the area, and on 20 July two of USN F-4J Phantoms supposedly engaged two (E)PA F-5As over the Milos Island. The USN records for the cruise of the USS Forrestal in the Mediterranean Sea in 1974 show no reports about this engagement, while according to Greek sources the Phantoms threatened the F-5s (one of them was an RF-5A), and then the Greek pilots – one of which was Lt. Pantelis Mitsenas (later CO of the 349 Mira) gained favorable position behind the Americans, albeit, neither side had a permission to fire.

By the morning of 21 July, however, the situation changed and now the (E)PA was put on air defense alert, while the rest of the military was trying to concentrate and mobilize. Right from the dawn of that day there were – according to Greek reports – intensive operations of the THK, which fighters patrolled deep into the Athens F.I.R., and also inside the Greek airspace over the Aegean Sea. A number of (E)PA interceptors were scrambled to escort the Turks away, but no weapons were fired. Finally, around 1130hrs, two F-5As of the 111PM, based at Nea Anchialos AB – flown by Flt. Lt. Giannis Dinopoulos and Flg. Off. Thomas Skamparthonis – were advised to start immediately. The following account about their engagement with Turkish interceptors was compiled on the basis of the few reports published in the Greek media so far, none of which was ever confirmed by the official Greek authorities.

Dinopoulos was to lead, but during the roll to take-off his radio failed, so he signaled Skamparthonis to take over. While climbing towards the north Aegean, lead by the ground control (call-sign “Joker”) Skamparthonis was followed by Dinopoulos at some distance: the two pilots had no means of communication with each other, but hand signals. For this, however, they would have to fly in a very tight formation, which was not a very sound idea. Instead, Dinopoulos followed Skamparthonis at a distance of more than a mile, offering him a better protection.

Once at a level of 20.000ft the pair of F-5s was vectored towards their first target: before closing enough to identify it, they were sent into a new direction and started a new intercept – albeit at a different level. Two more times Skamparthonis – followed by Dinopoulos from a distance – has got a new vector and flight level for interception of unidentified aircraft that penetrated Athens F.I.R., before finally – while reaching the area between the islands Aghios Efstratios and Limnos at a speed of 300kts, and climbing through 18.000ft towards 20.000ft – he was advised by the “Joker” that bogeys should now be some 20° right. Skamparthonis looked around and – to his surprise – saw two THK F-102A Delta Darts flying parallel and level with him only 200m away to his left side. Acting instinctively, the Greek pilot broke into the opponents, which followed him in his turn. Due to his low speed and despite the opening throttles, through the turn Skamparthonis started to slowly descend: he actually wanted to get behind the Turkish Darts, but making four full turns in a tight descending spirale he dropped to 10.000ft before losing the sight of his opponents....

Meanwhlie, Flt. Lt. Dinopoulos was tensely monitoring the development of the engagement in front of him. He flew higher and far behind Skamparthonis and was by the time not detected by the Turkish pilots, but now positioned well behind them, in a perfect position for an attack. His master-arm switch was off – as ordered during the briefing before the flight. But then, he noticed one of the Turkish fighters opening its weapons bay while flying behind Skamparthonis, and recognized this as a sign of an imminent attack (some Greek sources explain outright that one of the Turkish fighters launched an AIM-4D against Skamparthonis). There was no time to waste: Dinopoulos switched his master-arm on, selected the first AIM-9B Sidewinder and fired from a range of around 800m. Due to insufficient time left for the missile to fully power up after it was activated, the Sidewinder flew straight and passed by the target without any reaction. Selecting the second AIM-9B, Flt.Lt. Dinopoulos waited few moments to hear the characteristic sound in his earphones, and then fired again. This time the missile immediately connected and flew right up the tailpipe of one of Turkish Delta Darts: the plane exploded in a brilliant ball of flame – forcing Dinopoulos to break hard right in order to evade debris – and then crashed into the sea bellow.

Finally, Flt. Lt. Skamparthonis has got an order from Joker to disengage: he has not witnessed Dinopoulos firing Sidewinders, but only saw a large splash in the water and oily debris on the sea surface. Only after the landing in Nea Anchialos AB did he notice that Dinopoulos’ F-5A came back without both Sidewinders....Later in the day, the two (E)PA pilots were to learn that the other Turkish F-102A was also lost: as reported to them, it crashed out of fuel after the pilot got disoriented and then used too much afterburner in order to get away...

Ever since the story about this engagement became known in the public, the Greek sources boast that their F-5As have shot down one, and caused the loss of another THK F-102A. Probably their strongest argument was the interview with – now Brigadier – Skamparthonis in the Greek magazine “Cockpit”, published in May 2001, which offered details of the account, mentioning names, ranks, dates, and times. There are some discrepancies with the Turkish and NATO/USAF reports, however, which do not mention any engagements on 21 July. Furthermore, the Greeks report the involved THK F-102As to have been the “55-3413”, flown by Lt.Col. Vasif Sayin, and “54-1403”, flown by Maj. Ibrahim Cinar, for either of which there is no firm confirmation to have been lost on the given day. Simultaneously, Greek sources frequently indicate the F-5A flown by Dinopoulos to have been the 22550 – which is actually an example acquired from Iran via Jordan, only in 1975! This mistake was caused by a Greek “Modelling” magazine, which brought illustrations of this F-5A with two kill markings. Actually the publication in question failed to mention that while carrying the kill markings for other reasons, this plane definitely could not have been involved in this incident, and thus created a confusion, which leads many people to believe this was the case until today.

In fact, Greek claims are stubbornly denied by the Turks, even if these admit to have lost one F-102A at around this time in July 1974: a plane flown by Maj. Ibrahim Cinar crashed during take-off from the Balikesir AB, on the morning of 23 July 1974. The strong points in the Greek version are definitely the details, foremost about at least one of the pilots involved. The weak points are that the Greek sources claim the leader of their section to have acted in an especially irresponsible manner, and continued the mission despite the failure of his radio. Even if in the case of a war certain rules can often be ignored, it is interesting to note that according to the account by Brig. Skamparthonis he and Dinopoulos were put under an official inquiry after landing and an inquiry against them opened, “obviously” for Dinopoulos not reporting his radio to have failed and thus putting his wingman and himself at great risk, and then shooting down fighters of an – at least in theory – allied nation. Furthermore, so the story, this mission was supposedly even removed from the log-books of Dinopoulos and Skamparthonis, and neither of them ever credited with a kill.

Consequently, it might be problematic to confirm the Greek version on the basis of official documents; on the contrary, both the available Turkish and NATO/US documents do not mention anything about any engagement on 21 July 1974, and describe a completely different air-to-air battle to have developed on the following day. More about this later.

(E)PA F-5A in camouflage pattern as used in the early 1970s. The example here was photographed in 1983. (Kostas Kavvathas via authors)

THK F-102A seen sometimes in the 1970s.

According to Greek accounts, the F-5A 63-8414 was the second Freedom Fighter to participate in the clash with THK F-102As, on 21 July 1974. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

False Air-to-Sea Clash

On the same day, 21 July 1974, also a catastrophic case of fratricide fire happened to the Turks. The THK was informed – according to Greeks this was a disinformation purposedly spread by the Greek Army Signals 2nd Directorate (Greek Army Intelligence) – about the Greek Navy LST Lesvos L-172 (former USN 511-1152/LST-class, initially called USS Boone Country, LST-389, and transferred to the Greek Navy in June 1960) was underway somewhere around Cyprus. Lesvos was known to have brought replacement contingent for “ELDYK” – a Greek Army Battalion stationed at Cyprus – day before the invasion, and was now underway back towards Greece with the replaced contingent of troops aboard. Also, there was a report about a convoy of Greek warships moving from Rhodes towards Cyprus, but the THK lost the contact with this formation, and then also lost the trace of Lesvos.

The Turkish Navy’s Task Force in the Cypriot waters, consisting of the destroyers Adatepe, Kocatepe, and Tinaztepe was underway towards the point where Greek Navy vessels were expected, but the THK seems not to have been informed about this fact, nor were any identification signals agreed between the THK and the Turkish Navy: as NATO-members, both navies were supplied by numerous destroyers of the Gearing FRAM 1 and FRAM 2 classes, and identification of these from the air was extremely problematic – even if the Turkish Navy ships were ordered to wave large Turkish flags This proved a very dangerous failure, especially as the destroyers of the Turkish and Greek Navy were all of US origin and looked very similar, and – even more so – there was also a Task Force of the USN in the area, in which several USN destroyers of the same class were underway!

In the end, an order was issued for the THK to find and destroy the Greek ships: however, as the Greek convoy from Rhodes pulled away from Cyprus, and Lesvos escaped as well, the only ships remaining in the area were three Turkish destroyers. When the appearance of three destroyers near the Cypriot port of Paphos was reported to the THK, nobody in the High Command realized the mistake and a strike package consisting of F-104Gs and F-100Ds was dispatched to attack.

The fighters had no particular problem finding their targets, and attacked immediately. Obviously not noticing large Turkish flags on the ships, THK pilots delivered a tremendous attack, hitting all three Turkish destroyers with bombs calibre 454kg, and damaging them heavily. While the crews of the other two ships managed to save their ships, the Kocatepe was hit by a bomb into the ammunition magazine and exploded: 80 crewmembers were killed immediately, and from the rest of the crew that went overboard only 42 were later rescued by an Israeli merchant, which brought them to Haifa.

There are reports, that the defensive fire from Turkish warships also brought down one of the attacking THK F-104Gs, but such rumours were never confirmed, even if the THK did report a loss of a single Starfighter – but on 22 July. The sunken Turkish destroyer was afterwards replaced by another former USN destroyer, the USS Norris, and so a new Kocatepe, D-354, came into existence, which remained in service well into the 1980s.

Despite this tragic mistake, the THK fighters did found several smaller Greek ships near the coast of Cyprus on this day, and attacked them – albeit with unknown results.

Nicosia under THK air strikes; during the fierce fighting on the ground the Turkish paras were heavily depending on the air support from the THK.

Wreckage of a THK F-100D (54-2238 of 172.Filo) shot down over Cyprus in 1974.

F-100-units were the mainstay of the THK at the time of invasion. Togetehr with F-104G Starfighters they provided close air support to Turkish ground troops and bombed targets around Nicosia. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

The Spoiled “Victory”

While the (E)PA and THK fighters were engaging – at least in mock air battles – over the Aegean Sea, and the THK was attacking warships of the Turkish Navy, by the evening of 21 July the Greek government finally make up its mind about what to do regarding Cyprus. A decision was taken to deploy the 1st Commando Battalion to the island, in order to reinforce the CNG, which lacked the firepower and training to stop the Turkish onslaught.

The plan for deployment of commandos to Cyprus – code-named “Operation Niki” (Victory), was relatively simple: they were to be loaded into 20 Noratlas and ten C-47 Dakotas of the 354th TTS “Pegasus”/112th PM, and then flown out to Nicosia International Airport by night and in total radio-silence. Top cover was to be provided by F-102 Delta Darts, operating out of Heraklion AB. Due to the need to keep the operation secret, the take-offs were to commence at 22.30 hrs of July 21, with single aircraft starting at intervals of five minutes, and all being airborne by midnight. This would assure that all would arrive in Nicosia under the cover of darkness.

The take-off plan was kept by the first five Noratlas’, but then several delays occurred, and by the time the tenth aircraft finally started it was already so late that the order was issued for the remaining five Noratlas and all the Dakotas to stay on the ground. The final plane that came away was “Niki 15”, carrying the heavy equipment and ammunition of the 1st Commando Battalion: even this Noratlas was already badly behind the schedule, but the crew ignored the order to abort: apparently, they too off with their radio out of order.

Following a flight to the point 34°N and 27°E at an average level between 300 and 500ft (100-160m), the aircraft turned one by one in direction of Cyprus, knowing that the area ahead was monitored by Turkish radars, and there was a distinct danger of interception by THK fighters while the transports were slow and had no protection at all. Approaching Cyprus without any navigational reference points, flying at hardly more than 40 to 50ft (12-15m) in total darkness, the crews performed brilliantly, with only one aircraft, Niki 13, losing the course and having to divert to Rhodes. Flying at such low levels by night was not without some other dangers either: the crew of another Noratlas later reported that it passed very close to an US Navy aircraft carrier. The 6th US Fleet was already in the area and very active, preparing to support an evacuation of foreign nationals from Cyprus. Several (E)PA Noratlas’ also passed low over the British air base Akrotiri, which was already at alert, and the commander of which immediately warned the Greek officials that any additional aircraft would be intercepted by the British forces.

Then came the last phase of the flight: the landing in Nicosia. The airfield was defended by several anti-aircraft guns, manned by nervous CNG gunners, but there were also numerous armed civilians in the area. These all were to hold back the fire, but in the end such order was obviously not issued in the confusion, and as the first aircraft approached it flew straight into a hail of fire from several directions. The Niki 1, 2, and 3 somehow managed to land and unload commandos and equipment, but Niki 4 received several direct hits and crashed two miles short of the runway. Except for one passenger, everybody onboard was killed. The Niki 7 then got hit in both engines, and had two commandos killed and eleven injured, but managed to make an emergency landing. In a desperate effort to make clear those on the ground who is arriving, several crews turned all their lights on, with the effect that these Noratlas’ were “only” damaged, but not shot down. By the time the last transport – Niki 15 – landed, two were shot down and 33 killed. The last aircraft arriving did not land: Niki 14 arrived only after the first light and was ordered to return back to Souda Bay.

With a “ceasefire” agreed between the (E)PA crews and the CNG, and after unloading, all the Noratlas’ took off for the return flight – except the badly damaged Niki 7, and Niki 12 (the later was found to lack fuel for the return trip). Both aircraft were destroyed by the CNG in order to erase traces of direct Greek involvement in the fighting: as always, nothing should reveal that Greece and Turkey were at war. Besides, early in the morning, the THK fighter-bombers returned to bomb the Nicosia IAP, so the two transports would probably be destroyed any way. The surviving commandos of the 1st Battalion then took positions along the defence perimeter of the airfield, and were to fight several pitched battles against the Turks in the following days. Their efforts were in vain, however: eventually the Greeks were forced to leave this airfield under the control of the UN.

The Operation “Niki” was obviously to be supported by the EPA fighter-bombers. Namely, already two days before, the EPA was on alert and preparing itself for fighting. All the available F-84F airframes were serviced and by 21 June the air force reported to have brought 96 of them into flying status. Most were soon underway to bases closer to Cyprus, including Souda Bay and Kasteli.

A detachment of the 338 Mira, equipped with 26 F-84Fs and under command of Sqn.Ldr. Athanassios Mpourolias, was deployed to Kastelli AB, and ordered to ready for flying strikes against Turkish Army positions on the island. For this purpose, each F-84Fs was armed with two rocket launchers calibre 2.5in, two M-64 bombs calibre 500lbs (250kg), full load of 20mm ammunition for guns, and equipped with four JATO rockets for assisted take-off. Their objective was to become the Turkish bridgehead near Pentemili. Reportedly, there was a secret treaty between Greece and Lebanon according to which these planes would be permitted to land in Lebanon after flying a strike against Turks on Cyprus, then re-arm and re-fuel and fly another strike while returning to Greece.

At 05:10hrs of 22 July, the crews of the II/340M were sitting in their cockpits and the green flare – a signal for take-off – was shot into the skies. The first aircraft rolled to the runway, followed by the others. The final permission for take off was never issued, however: barely five minutes later, a red flare was fired cancelling the strike against Pentemili.

No less but 26 F-84Fs of the 338 Mira were to support the Operation "Niki". Their take off was cancelled in the last moment, however. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Additional “Mysterious” Engagements

We have already discussed the Greek claims for (E)PA F-5As shooting down one and causing the loss of a second THK F-102, for 21 July 1974. As we move towards describing what happened on 22 July 1974, it’s about the time to discuss the Turkish version of the same – or, more likely – a completely different engagement that happened on this day. According to Turkish sources (and these include official THK records), no F-102As were lost on 21 July 1974, although one was damaged in non-combat related accident. During the fighting on Cyprus, again three THK fighters were shot down by CNG anti-aircraft fire, including an F-100D of the 171. Filo, and an F-100D of the 172. Filo (both pilots ejected), as well as an F-104G of the 191. Filo (“64-17783”, the pilot of which ejected as well). But, two THK F-102As of the 142. Filo should have been involved in a successful air combat with EPA THK fighters. The heavy loss definitely illustrates the intensity of the THK commitment and the ferocity of the Greek anti-aircraft defences: it was the THK which made the difference and enable the Turks to continue their advance in the face of the fierce resistance over a very problematic terrain.

The 142. Filo was at the time forward deployed at Balikesir AB, and flew air-defence missions over the northern Aegean. At 1355hrs on this day, so the Turkish version, two F-102As – serialled 55-3401 and 55-3413) were scrambled to intercept an unidentified aircraft that was jamming the radar site at Canakkale. Upon reaching the designated area the pilots of the THK fighters – Lt. Col. Vasif Sayin and Capt. Sitki Onur – found an (E)PA Albatross amphibious aircraft. Only moments later, however, they were advised to leave the Albatross and turn into two EPA F-5As, which were closing from the West. The visibility on that day was pretty poor, and while approaching towards the Greek fighters, the two Turkish pilots noticed the F-5s passing by; they turned around and positioned themselves behind the two Greeks. What happened afterwards is the only point where there is inconsistence between different Turkish accounts: according to one version, while passing by one of the Greek fighters fired an air-to-air missile – and missed. The Greeks counter this by pointing at the fact that at the time their pilots were strictly ordered to leave the “master arm” switch in “off” position, and that it is therefore very unlikely for any of their pilots to open fire if not ordered to do so. According to the same Turkish version, after reporting that he was under fire, Capt. Onur was granted permission to fire: he acquired one of the F-5s with his AIM-4Ds and launched a single air-to-air missile, scoring a hit which resulted in a brilliant ball of flame and the ejection of the Greek pilot. The brilliant explosion and ejection of the Greek pilot were confirmed visually by Lt. Col. Sayin as well, which meanwhile started to pursuit the other F-5A. However, he lost the contact and then suffered the failure of his gyro compass, losing orientation in the process and flying towards Athens. Only after some consultations with the ground station could Sayin take a course back towards Turkey, but then he ran out of fuel and was finally forced to make an emergency landing on a highway near Soke after an engine flame-out. His aircraft was excessively damaged in the process, but was subsequently repaired.

As indicated already while discussing the Greek claim from 21 July, until today fierce argument between the Greeks and the Turks continues, with both sides claiming to have shot down at least one enemy aircraft – but the Greeks stating this happened on 21 July, while the Turkish documents all show this engagement to have happened on 22 July.

The main problem with the Turkish version of what should have happened on 22 July is that there is no report for a loss of any other Greek F-5A during this period of time except for 343MAH/114PM’s serial “64-13361”, flown by 2nd Lt. Hatziantoniou Dimitrios. According to most of the Greek reports, this aircraft indeed crashed on 22 July 1974. While this accident should have happened due to fuel starvation after an engagement with several Turkish fighters, the plane reportedly crashed during attempted emergency landing at Tanagra AB. The 26 years old Hatziantoniou was killed and his F-5A written off in the crash.

Theoretically, both the (E)PA and the THK have to report any accidents involving their aircraft to the NATO. This is an obligation, and the failure to do so could result in certain negative consequences. Yet, the NATO depends on the two air forces for such reports being correctly done, and containing proper information. Consequently, little – if any – indications of actual air battles can be found in official documents, and the only available sources that could be considered as authoritative should be the pilots involved.

Understanding the – meanwhile obvious - predilection of both the Greece and Turkey to either completely ignore or try to cover-up engagements in the air over the Aegean, or declare wrong dates and reasons not only for losses suffered during mutual engagements (a fact confirmed by several officers from both the (E)PA and THK on condition of anonymity), but also in the case of certain kind of mishaps, it should not be surprising if both sides have lied – or left only parts of the full story to be published – so far, and that there were indeed two different engagements ending with some of the participants going down in flames.

If nothing else, the completely different accounts offered by the two sides about what should have been a single engagement indicate that there were indeed two different battles. After all, it is easily possible that the Greeks have indeed hit one THK F-102A on 21 July, and that this was the plane, which then crash-landed near Soke, but that the incident was put into the records as having happened on 22 July – and due to fuel starvation. Equally, it is possible that the Greek F-5A, which – interestingly – also crashed due to “fuel starvation” on 22 July, was actually damaged in an air combat with THK F-102A.

Namely, after intensive research to this topic the authors are sure that there were more engagements in which something happened than only one (either on 21 or 22 July), as usually claimed by the Greeks and the Turks. For example, while going through different NATO records, a report from the NATO radar station at Cigli was found, which described an engagement that happened on 28 July 1974.

At the height of the Cyprus crisis, the F-5As from the 5th AJÜ, Merzifon AB, were also forward deployed – to Cumaovassi AB, for duty as clear-weather interceptors. This task was important, as at the time most of the Turkish air defence weapons consisted from different WWII weapons, and the number of modern SAMs was very limited. At 0900hrs of 28 July the radar station near the Cigli AB detected two unidentified aircraft, moving over a group of very islands claimed by both the Greeks and the Turks. The HQ of the THK immediately ordered two F-5As that stood on alert to be scrambled and identify the two unknown aircraft. The leader of the pair was Capt. Z. Torumtay (flying F-5A “13346”), and both aircraft were armed only with their two fixed 20mm cannons. On the take-off, however, Torumtay’s wingman reported he could not retract his left landing gear, and had to abort the mission.

Remaining alone, Capt. Torumtay continued the mission, constantly under the direct control from the HQs of the 1st Hava Kuvvetleri Komutanligi (1st Tactical Air Force THK). After reaching a point some 200km from the base, the Turkish pilot found himself alone and confronted with two (E)PA F-102As. He reported the identity of the two fighters to his command and then took a position behind the two Delta Darts. Over the next ten minutes Capt. Torumtay manoeuvred his fighter three times to maintain a position at six o’clock behind the Greeks: then one of the F-102As opened the weapons bay while turning towards the lonesome F-5A, which was understood as a hostile gesture. Readying for an eventual air combat, the Turkish pilot reported this to his ground control, but then both Delta Darts did a turn back towards West and left the area at a high speed.

Only moments later, namely, two THK F-100Ds – each armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinders – arrived in the area to reinforce Capt. Torumtay, and assure his safe return back to Cumaovassi AB, where the pilot was surprised to get a hero’s-welcome: confronting two (E)PA F-102As and remaining in a favourable position for ten minutes was certainly not a small feat.

It remains unknown why had this engagement been mentioned explicitly in western records: it is almost sure that the THK and EPA fighters meet each other in the skies over the Aegean several times between the 20 and 28 July, apparently without opening fire. If nothing else, it is certain that not only EPA F-102s and F-5s, but also F-4Es flew permanent combat air patrols over the Aegean Sea, and that at least some kind of confrontations with Turkish fighters were unavoidable. Torumtay’s engagement was thus no exception but rather the rule – down to the point that in this case a single F-5A engaged and outmanoeuvred two F-102As, and that neither side fired any missiles. Namely, Greek sources cite another similar engagement, this time between one of their F-5A (flown by an unknown Lieutenant-Colonel), and two THK F-102s, in which the Greek fighter fired two Sidewinders and caused some damage to at least one of Turkish fighters – but without scoring any kills. Much additional “digging” will be needed to find out all the details about these air battles, then it is obvious that not only both sides are hiding details about such encounters, but also the NATO and the USA.

Rare photograph of an EPA F-102A, with serial 0-61106. Note the similarity of markings and serials with the THK example above, as well as the fact that by 1974 all EPA aircraft - including F-102As - were camouflaged in the USAF's "SE Asia" camouflage pattern. (Tom Cooper collection)

An EPA HU-16 Albatross like one the Turks claim was involved in the engagement on 22 July 1974. The Greek versions about the engagement on 21 July do not mention the involvement of any HU-16s, but do not deny them for the Turkish claims for 22 July either! (Tom Cooper collection)

Action from Heraklion

Meanwhile, on Cyprus the fierce Turkish air strikes caused a great concern for the safety of foreign nationals caught up in the fighting. The RAF contingent at Nicosia Airport was evacuated to Dheklia, flying out the families of troops living in the east of the Island. The civilians were flown out from King’s Field airstrip by RAF Hercules, although 500 US citizens were evacuated by Sixth Fleet CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters to the USS Inchon on the 24th July. Cover for the USMC helicopters was provided by F-4 Phantoms of the VF-11 and VF-74 from USS Forrestal (CV-59). Holidaymakers in the Kyrenia/Nicosia area were transferred to the British carrier HMS Hermes from the beach at Kyrenia, on the 23rd, by Wessex HU-5s of 845 NAS and Sea Kind HAS.1 of 814 NAS, aided by HMS Devonshire’s Wessex HAS.3. By the end of the day, 1.630 people had been evacuated. In order to ease the traffic between different bases four Puma HC.1s of the 33 Sqn were flown to Cyprus. When the evacuation was complete - on 8 August 1974 – 13.430 people had been returned in a well-organized operations, especially in respect of reception in England. The aircraft involved included Hercules, Belfasts, Comets, Britannias and VC.10s.

Meanwhile, another EPA unit was short of engaging in the fighting. At the start of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the (E)PA already had a detachment of ten F-5As of the 111PM dispersed to Heraklion AB, on Crete: these arrived since 18 July in a move which was initially not connected with the Turkish operation. On the morning of 21 July, the F-5s were reinforced by the first three F-4Es of the 117PM/338M from Andravida, and two F-102As from Tanagra. In the same afternoon eight additional F-4Es were to arrive.

The EPA originally deployed 18 crews plus three instructor crews (i.e. a total of 42 pilots) to Homestead AFB, in the USA, to be trained on F-4Es. Two thirds of them were back in Greece in May and June 1974, the final third being recalled to Greece on 20 July 1974. After 80 hours of both air-to-ground and air-air training by USAF pilots with combat experience from Vietnam, all the Greek F-4 crews were declared fully qualified on the F-4E.

Usually, it was reported that there were seven F-4Es delivered to EPA by July 1974. Such reports, however, are wrong. By June of that year actually no less but 23 Phantoms were already delivered to Andravida, and already in service, with the 339 Mira being earmarked as the first to receive Phantoms, and the 338 following shortly. By the time of the Cyprus emergency the 338 Mira had only 50% of the aircraft and crews officially assigned to it. Even if neither unit was officially declared operational, all that was left to be done was the "formal" evaluation of the squadron by EPA Staff officers. Officially, however, the NATO documents were showing both units still equipped with F-84Fs.

The decision to deploy eleven Phantoms to Heraklion and held the remaining 12 aircraft back at Andravida was taken already on 20 July, but the order to do so arrived at the units only in the last moments. In a rush the assigned F-4E-crews were strapped inside their cockpits: the commanders of the 339 and 338 Mira, Lt.Col. Sotirios Kontogiannis and Lt.Col. Harilaos Aggelopoulos, respectively, remained in Andravida, however.

After being prepared with the help of the Mr. Pitioulis, a Greek employee at the McDonnell Douglas, the first section – at the time already forward deployed to Tanagra for air defense duties - consisted of three Phantoms, flown by Maj. Kontomaris S. and 1st Lt. Liagouridis K., Capt. Spiliotopoulos S. and 2nd Lt. Rallis Z., and Capt. Georgoulis C. with an unknown WSO. The aircraft were tasked with the air-to-air role and were to act as cover for the eight bomb-laden Phantoms that were to follow. After refuelling at Tanagra, the Phantoms transferred to Heraklion without any problems.

The second section took off directly from Andravida and consisted of four Phantoms, flown by Lt. Col. Skrekas S. and 1st Lt. Mourelatos D., Maj. Kolovos I. with an unknown WSO, Maj. Koukolas N. and 1st Lt. Manousos P., and Capt. Sampanis E. with 2nd Lt. Garonis G. in the rear cockpit. These aircraft also arrived without any problems at Heraklion, already loaded by Rockeye CBUs and Mk.82s, as well as drop tanks.

The third section also took off from Andravida and flew straight to Heraklion. It consisted again of four Phantoms, all armed with six Mk.82s and carrying three drop tanks, flown by Lt. Col. Mpalles P. and 1st Lt. Vidakis D., Cpt. Skarlatos G. and 1st Lt. Kostakos M., Capt. Poulakos N. and 1st Lt. Shortsinaitis Th., and Maj. Papadopoulos E. with 1st Lt. Papoudis K. Lt.Col. Mpalles later recalled that while on the way to Heraklion, the radio-frequencies he monitored were busy because of the engagement between EPA F-5As and THK F-102s. He also recalled that he knew Flt. Lt. Dinopoulos, who was trained by him years ago, while both were flying Freedom Fighters.

Since the operation was started under such a rush, the technicians at Andravida found no time to remove safety pins from all the bombs carried by these eight Phantoms: in fact, the safety pins were removed only from the bombs carried by the Phantom flow by Capt. Skarlatos. As there was an order to make the bombs safe again before transfer, the technicians returned the safety pins to the weapons under his aircraft, and this caused a postponement of some four or five minutes, so he had to transfer to Heraklion flying alone and far behind his formation. In order to catch up, Skarlatos therefore picked a short-cut route towards Souda and then Heraklion, while the rest of the formation flew via Peloponesos Peninsula. After passing the island of Kythera, the whole formation jettisoned their bombs and two drop tanks each into the sea: the centerline drop-tanks were held under the aircraft, as these were to be empty on arrival at Heraklion and there would be no problems to land aircraft loaded with them.

While approaching to some ten miles from Heraklion, Lt. Col. Mpalles finally sighted Skarlatos’ Phantom: at the time Skarlatos was requesting to go around the airport and land after an approach from the east. Mpalles ordered him to land as first and ordered the rest of his section to line-up behind Skarlatos, on the axis 90-270 degrees. While landing, Mpalles noticed that there were strong downwinds, and he had some problems with stopping his Phantom due to his high speed. Papadopoulos, who had not flown any Greek Phantoms – equipped with LES - before, but only the USAF “hard wing” examples at Homestead, followed the “by the book” landing procedures, in turn failing to re-calculate the landing speed – especially under downwind conditions, and landed at a very high speed, bursting one tire in the process. The aircraft veered of the runway and cached fire, causing the crew to eject: the pilot and the WSO both landed safely and without any injuries.

As this drama was developing a radio-message from the tower caused some additional confusion: the tower called, “No. 3, you have smoke…”, attempting to warn Papadopoulos about the problems with the burst tire. Skarlatos, who was the actual number 3 of the formation, however, was already on the ground. Consequently, he responded with, “Ok, roger!”, and the tower then screamed, “No. 3, you are afire!”. Lt. Col. Mpalles, understanding what is actually going on, then interrupted the exchange, calling Skarlatos, “George, hold to the left!” Skarlatos turned his aircraft on the taxyway, clearing the runway for the rest of the formation, and then – just as the tower was screaming, “Fire, fire, fire!” - did an emergency evacuation of the aircraft, together with his WSO!

In fact, this was the moment at which Papadopoulos and Papaoudis ejected.

Noticing the chaos in front of him, Poulakos aborted the landing attempt and diverted to Souda Bay, where his aircraft remained for two hours – until the runway at Heraklion was cleared again.

An early F-4E in EPA markings, seen during pre-delivery test flight in the USA. (McDonnell Douglas)

Despite the mishaps, the Phantoms were designated to fly one strike against Turks on Cyprus on the following morning. The first order for take-off was given at 1107hrs, but recalled only two minutes later. The second order for take off was issued at 1224hrs, and then finally six Phantoms – out of a total of 14 planned to participate (including at least six armed with bombs and four with air-to-air missiles) – started towards Cyprus. Some of the weapons these F-4Es carried were taken from the NATO ammunition dump in Souda Bay.

At noon of 23 July, the seven Phantoms were again ordered to start towards Cyprus, but this time the movement was detected by the USN warships in the area and US immediately intervened in the Athens: the mission was aborted and the F-4s of the 117PM had to return back to Heraklion. While landing there, one of the Phantoms made a heavy landing and the aircraft was subsequently written off (both, this and the example lost day earlier, were replaced by F-4E-60-MCs 74-1618 and 74-1619, delivered to Greece in June 1976, free of charge).

The same early EPA F-4E as above, seen from the other side. (McDonnell Douglas)

Greek Indecisiveness

By the time, the fate of Cyprus – but also that of the junta in Athens - was sealed. When the Turks began landing their reinforcements – including main bodies of the 28th and 39th Infantry Divisions, supported by some 150 M47 Patton tanks – on 23rd July, Brig.Gen. Dimitrios Ioannides’ regime in Athens collapsed. Sampson simultaneously resigned in Nicosia, and was replaced by Clerides. The Greek junta could simply not decide whether or not to become involved on Cyprus: Brig.Gen. Ioannides trusted Kissinger that the USA would prevent a Turkish invasion, and thus failed to alert the armed forces in time. Gen. Bonanos, Chief of the General Staff, could not make up his mind should the Greek forces fight or not; Army Commander Gen. Galatsanos explained that it would take days for Greek forces to get to the border to Turkey, and then it would be too late; Admiral Arapakis, C-in-C Greek Navy would not release any of the two advanced, German-built Type 209 submarines to intercept the Turkish naval forces; while the C-in-C EPA, Papanicolau, ordered the fighter-bombers to be deployed to Crete and Rhodes, but would not order them into combat.

With this the threat of the war between two NATO allies was over, but the Turkish Army was now on Cyprus and tensions were still increasing over the Aegean Sea as well. In fact, while the Cypriot, Greek and Turkish foreign ministers, as well as foreign ministers of the guarantor powers met in Geneva, on 25 July, to discuss the military situation on the island, and Prime Minister Ecevit publicly welcomed the change of government in Greece, Turkish forces continued taking territory and improving their positions. Broken and demoralized, isolated from supply bases in Greece, the CNG retreated: by the end of July, the Turks had most of northern Cyprus in their hands.

The second conference about Cyprus began on 10 August, again in Geneva, and saw participation of Clerides and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Denktas. The later proposed a federation, with Turks controlling 34% of island. When this proposal, and several other Turkish proposals were rejected, while Clerides asked for between 36 and 48 hours to consult with the government in Nicosia, on 14 August the Turks launched a new offensive. Thus began the second phase of the Turkish intervention, about which quite little is known, except that it was supported by new F-100-strikes, and that within two days it resulted in Turks controlling no less but 37% of Cyprus.

Having brought their forces in favourable positions, the Turks then declared the “Atilla Line”, which ran from Morphou Bay in northwest to Famagusta (Gazimagusa) in the east, and then ordered a ceasefire. Cyprus remains partitioned until today and a large Turkish Army contingent is stationed on the island ever since.

Turkish paras seen later during the fighting on Cyprus; note another UH-1 in the rear. The helicopters of the Turkish Army contributed considerably to the final Turkish success of the invasion.

One of the Turkish M-47 Patton MBTs was captured by the CNG and used against its previous owners. (Kypros.org)

Sources & Bibliography

Except for own research and materials kindly supplied by contributors on ACIG.org forum, foremost Mr. Tom N. (details about specific air-to-air engagements), Mr. M.I.T. and Mr. S. Stevens (orders of battle), the following sources of reference were used:

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989

- OPERATION "NIKI" (Nike), 1974; A suicide mission to Cyprus Detailled description of the sole EPA operation over Cyprus, in 1974.

- Photographs from attack on Kocatepe

© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

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