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Cyprus 1974: Greek Point of View
By Demetrius Stergiou (translation and verbatim by Nicholas Tselepidis)
Oct 28, 2003, 04:36

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The Shooting Down of the Turkish F-102s

By Demetrius Stergiou


In our attempt to get out of the ordinary discussions, we decided to do a small photographic dedication, accompanied by a narrative of an incident that in our opinion is the most important contribution of the F-5 in the modern history of the EPA. This decision fell after dozens of phone-calls and requests by Cockpit readers. And for those that haven't understood yet, or do not know, let us clear that we are talking about the shooting down of a Turkish F-102 by a Greek F-5 on July 21 1974, and the destruction of a second one. The incident which resulted in two Turkish pilots loosing their lives was recalled by one of the two Greek protagonists, then young Pilot Officer and today retired Brigadier General Thomas Skamparthonis.

"...I reported to the Icarus School (Greek Air Force Academy) in October of 1968 and joined the 44th Training Class. The 44th was the first that completed four years in the Academy, since up to that time the years for graduating were three, as was the same in the Army and Navy Academies. The Icari (cadet pilots) of the 43rd Class, been in the transition stage from three to four years, were sworn as Pilot Officers at 3 1/2 years and we were the first to be commissioned at 4 years. So I was sworn in as a Pilot Officer in September of 1972.

The years at the Academy passed relatively fast. In the first year the basic training was conducted, and this included 35 hours on T-6 Texans and Harvards. We soloed at 25 hours, which is considered late by today's standards, as this was attributed the T-6 being pretty difficult for the young cadets. From the next year (1969-1970) things for the cadets at Icarus School changed with the of the T-41D Mescaleros of the 360 MAE (Mira Arhikis Ekpedefsis, Basic Training Squadron). My class, the 44th, was the last to train with the Harvards.

In the second year we continued our training with the T-37. At that time we didn't go to Kalamata for this, but to Elefsis. There, the 361 EMA using the T-37 and the 362 EMA using the T-33A for advanced training were stationed, as wells as the 355MTM. In the second year we concluded our basic training, logging some 70-75 hours, while at the third year, in the advanced stage, we logged 120 hours in the T-33.

Of course at the time my Class was at the advanced stage, Kalamata opened (1970-71), so most T-33 hours were logged there. This change however was not the last for my class. When we reached our fourth year at the Academy, the EPA leadership decided that the Icari should pass another stage of training, called the "operational" and this provided for the conversion on the F-84F and for us to trained in air-to-ground weapons tactics only. We were to use all weapons that the F-84F was capable of using and fire these. At some point the EPA leadership finally decided that this was "risky" – despite our significant flying experience gathered the previous three years, so we logged at Larissa the amount of hours necessary (50-60) using the T-33 again. These were Canadian-built MkIII's, and were used because of their greater weapon carrying capability.

I was sworn in as Pilot Officer in September of 1972 and was transferred to 111 PM (Fighter Wing) at Nea Anchialos. At that time the F-5 was used as an unofficial lead-in-fighter training aircraft (“LIFT”) for newly commissioned pilots that would then transfer to other aircraft, foremost F-104Gs and F-84Fs (the F-104G-units also had two-seaters). I was appointed to 337MAH – a Day Interceptor Squadron, as was the title and the main task of the unit at the time. We had a secondary fighter-bomber role. The operational conversion training for me along with other four of my classmates that were transferred together with me, started immediately, with ground school for the aircraft systems (it was named KEM) and the classes of flight theory, and by the late 1972/early 1973 we started flying the F-5, going solo after seven hours – if I remember correctly.

Young Flt.Lt. Thomas Scampardonis seen in front of an EPA F-5A, in the 1970s. (T. Skampardonis' private collection, via Nicholas Tselepidis)


After 50 hours flown over a span of four to five month, I was declared operational and took part in all the Squadron’s activities. This happened in early summer of 1973. Time passed quickly as that year was full of events, but I have to say that absolutely nothing warned us of what was about to follow in the summer of 1974. Our relations with Turkey seemed – and probably were – quite good. No reason for scrambles, interceptions and things like that. Of course as a fighter squadron we always had readiness, but, as far as I can remember in the one year I was operational in the squadron, we did not do one single interception of Turkish aircraft. Significantly, only four months before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in April of 1974, we visited the THK air base of Bandirma in a squadron-exchange program within the NATO. We remained there for ten days, returning the visit made to us by the Turkish F-5s a few months back. I repeat that nothing – but really nothing – was indicative of what was about to follow in July and August of 1974.

Flt. Lt. Skampardonis (seen to left) together with a colleague from the 111PM at Nea Anchialos (T. Skampardonis' private collection, via Nicholas Tselepidis)


Even as of July of 1974, with all that happened in Cyprus, we didn't have readiness or alerts, at least not in the Air Force. This I know because the day of the Turkish invasion I was on leave. That morning I went to the balcony to drink my morning coffee when a neighbor informed me that a general mobilization was ordered. Without believing her I opened the television and got the first glimpse of the situation. I packed my things, said “goodbye” to my wife and took my car to the road for Anchialos. This took me many more hours than usual since many parts of the Athens-Lamia freeway were closed, so when I finally arrived at my base it was late in the afternoon.

I was ordered to get into my anti-G suit and done the life-west, and head for the shelter that was assigned to me after a short briefing. The last hours of July 20th (**) passed quietly and from what I am in a position to know there were not any Turkish violations over the Aegean the whole day long.

The next day, however, things would change. From early morning we had massive violations of the Athens F.I.R. by Turkish aircraft. Me and my colleagues were all inside our aircrafts and waited. Our readiness were of five and two minutes, so we were sitting inside the F-5 cockpit with seatbelts on, waiting for the order to scramble. About 1:30 in the afternoon, a scramble was sounded and to my surprise, I was in the first pair to take off. My leader was Flt. Lt. Dinopoulos, senior than me in the squadron, serving as an instructor. Without having time to think I started both engines, went out of the shelter, and waited a while to be called by my No.1. This did not happen so I went on the frequency calling my No.1. I haven’t got any answer so I taxied on the taxiway waiting for Dinopoulos to lead me to the holding point.

When he came to the connection point I was in, with a series of hand-signals he explained that he had no radio and could neither transmit nor receive anything. With another signal he told me to lead as No.1 and he would follow watching my moves and covering me as a wingman. Flt. Lt. Dinopoulos should have aborted and return to his shelter actually. This was what our orders provided for in such cases. He didn't do it however and preferred to take-off without me ever knowing the reason for such a decision. I estimate, without being certain, that weighing the situation he followed the unwritten rule that in times of crisis, even with a malfunction, aircraft always take off one way or another. It was certainly a gutsy decision that showed his level of training and professionalism. I went ahead and did exactly what I used to do in training or regular flights without being anxious about anything.

According to Themis Vranas from the Greek magazine Pitsi, the first of the two F-5As claimed to have been involved in the incident on 22nd July is the 66-9137, seen here wearing a red line on the fin. (Ptisi & Themis Vranas, via Nicholas Tselepidis)


In our briefings we were specifically ordered to have our weapons switches in the Off position and to do nothing more than a visual ID of the bogeys we would meet. We had no briefing that would indicate that we should be ready for all instances. Of course our unit (111PM) was combat ready with all anti-aircraft guns armed, manned and in position, high security measures etc. So before we took off I knew we would fly a typical interception, a procedure done many timed before in peacetime.

I followed the instructions of the Mt Pelion Radar station (call-sign “Joker”) and we started climbing heading for the North Aegean. Dinopoulos followed from a relative long distance flying always higher than me (I don't know exactly how much) in order to be able to watch my movements and the surrounding area. I always followed Joker's instructions that constantly changed my heading and altitude.

You see, our "targets" were many that day. After two or three such changes of level and heading I was ordered by Joker to head for the area between the islands of Aghios Efstratios and Limnos at a lever of 20.000ft. While I was still climbing to about 18.000ft with a 350 knots speed, I was warned by Joker to look for bogeys at 20 degrees right. I turned my attention to that area and almost immediately I saw two Turkish F-102s flying in a tight formation to my left, on a distance no greater than 200 meters. Instinctively and without any delay I stopped climbing, broke hard left and started turning to get behind them. Almost immediately I realized they were doing the same, since I had always visual contact seeing them at my left (8 o'clock). I reported to Joker – and to tell you the truth, when I saw them turning behind me I thought they were going to head back east to their base. This, however, did not happen!

They continued turning in order to get at my 'six and this was evident now. I had full throttle and was on maximum turn rate trying to keep visual contact. In this effort my speed dropped to 300 knots so I gradually started lowering my nose since we met at the same level but they were in a better position, because they were flying level while I broke my climb.

After at least four such turns I reported to Joker that I was engaged and continued turning while descending. At a certain point I lost visual contact but I continued turning and looking out my canopy in order to regain visual. Now I was flying at less than 10.000ft and as I was looking in all directions I saw at the rather wavy sea water tower climbing very high and then turning in a big oil spill. Then I realised what happened and turned my attention to Dinopoulos trying to locate him. I asked Joker where he was but got back no specific answer.

The other F-5A involved should have been the 38414, repainted in "Aegean Blue" sheme during the 1980s, and photographed in 1984, in Italy, while on a squadron exchange. According to other sources, the other F-5A from the engagements with THK F-102As was 63-8414, however. (Capt. Nikos Karatzides, via Nicholas Tselepidis)


I was ordered to return to Anchialos and a few moments later I was given a vector for a new bogey that was heading also west like me. I followed Joker's instructions but was unable to find him. Visibility was not that good that day. When I landed, Dinopoulos' aircraft passed over the runway. I stopped at the end of the runway and waited for him to join me. I was surprised to see that both his wingtip Sidewinders were missing. Stoping our aircraft at the apron we got out – and before we could say anything to each other we were surrounded by colleagues and technicians asking all kinds of questions. Almost immediately a jeep came and took us away from this pandemonium. We were both questioned separately and returned to our duties. After a while I found out what had happened.

Dinopoulos was following from a distance and being higher was not seen by the two Turkish pilots. He watched all the engagement descending and closing. Before he could do anything he saw the bay of the leader F-102 open and an AIM-4 Phalcon been fired at me. The missile missed since we were both in a tight sustained turn so they were out of parameters. Without been noticed Dinopoulos closed in range. Let me add here that the target was clearly identified visually. As you know the F-5A had no radar. When you had a visual on the target, you turned the weapons switch on, in the “ARM” position, selecting guns or missiles. At that time we had only the early AIM-9Bs on our F-5A. A lock-on on the target was achieved when – after selecting the missile, and after its seeker head was warmed up and establishing a contact with the hot exhaust gas of the target – you heard a screeching sound that was sharper as the seeker head was turning closer to the target. Then you were ready to fire. Distance was calculated visualy also through the gunsight. For example, when the surface of the target was covering all the gunsight, you were 1200 meters away; if the surface was covering half the gunsight, distance was also half etc. If I remember correctly the optimal distance for the AIM-9B was about 800 meters. Having these parameters, Dinopoulos turned the weapon switch “ON” and fired immediately one Sidewinder.

The missile was, however, was not ready yet and – lacking the time to "warm-up" - missed. The second Sidewinder in the meantime was ready to fire and gave a loud sound signal. Dinopoulos fired the second missile without hesitation. The missile hit dead-center and he had to brake hard right in order to avoid being hit by the debris of the F-102 that was burning while crashing into the sea.

THK F-102A Delta Dagger seen in the 1970s, and looking the same as the two examples engaged by the Greek fighters on 22nd July 1974. (Tom Cooper collection)


The same night we learned that in Turkish television it was reported that two Turkish fighters had shot down two Greek ones. The Greek side did not announce (and did not confirm or deny) anything. Long time after that we learned that the second Turkish pilot (we do not know if he was the No.1 or No.2 of their formation) lost his direction probably due to shock. He was panicked, thought that we were on his tail and made extensive and unnecessary use of his afterburner, thus going “bingo fuel” and finally crash-landing on a highway. His aircraft was destroyed and he died of his injuries later at the hospital.

We also learned that the Turkish pilots were probably high ranking ones and we got word that the leader was a Lieutenant Colonel, and his wingman a Major. After this, nothing happened: there were no news. We returned to normal pace and the Turks did not show up over the Aegean even at the second phase of the Cyprus invasion in August 1974. What changed that day was that from now on Greek fighters always took off with the weapons switches in the “ON” position and that the Turks did not show up over the Aegean for years. And when I say years, I mean years. From what I am in a position to know, their first hesitant attempts to fly over the area were done in 1976-77.

Many years later I was serving in Naples, at “Air-South” Command, when a Turkish pilot approached me and we started to talk. When he stared to tell me about the capabilities of his country's Air Force, he mentioned that the Turkish F-102's shot down two Greek F-5's. When I asked him if I look like a zombie he changed colour. I have never seen a more embarrassed man in my life..."

Brig. Gen. Thomas Skampardonis describing the head-on pass during the engagement with two THK F-102As while bieng interviewed by Demetrius Stergiou. (Savvas Vlassis, via Nicholas Tselepidis)


Even if some say that the Greek pilots involved in this incident were mistreated by PA General Staff, and were not given the proper promotions, Thomas Skamparthonis denied this strongly. He did not deny however that both he and Dinopoulos were not given any medal or commendation for their combat. From our point of view we believe that not going public and recognizing this incident is not the right way, especially since the Turkish side still claims - foremost through the internet – that their F-102s shot down the Greek F-5's!

That the "other side" has always maintained an affection for propaganda and winning the last impression, is well known, even if some Greeks in key positions cannot or are not willing to understand it. It is almost certain that the same tactic will be continued in the future. Is it not time for PA to end its silence and state the facts? Twenty seven years have passed and we believe this should be done soon!




Note

The AIM-4 carried by the Turkish F-102's were probably of the -D version, fielded in 1963 for use against fighter aircraft. However, we can only be sure that the missile was practically useless in air combat within the visual distances, especially under the specific conditions that the Turkish pilot used it in: sustained turn at maximum degrees and high G's. It is certain that despite the improvements of this version, kinetically it was almost the same missile as the -C version, intended for use against the Soviet bombers, not in manoeuvring combat against enemy fighters.




(*) Ikarus is the name of the cadet in theHellenic Air Force Academy, the "Sholi Ikaron"

(**) The date has been confirmed now as the 22nd by numerous other PA pilots who were in the air that day, especially 339 Mira F-4E pilots, Air Vice Marshalls (Ret.):
- Panagiotis Mpalles
- Stephen Skrekas,
- George Skarlatos
- Panagiotis Manousos,
- Member of Parliament, Ministerof Defence and Colonel (Ret.) Spilios Spiliotopoulos.

Also we have the report by the then Colonel P. Semertzakis who studied all official PA reports during the invasion of Cyprus and was submitted in December 1974 to the PA General Staff, and which analysed all aspects of the aerial operations.

The Greek MoD George Averoff, member of the civilian Government that lead the Country to free democratic elections in the fall of 1974, during his meeting with State Departments Undersecretary of State Hartman, also mentioned the 22nd July as the date of this engagement.





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