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Cyprus, 1955-1973
By Tom Cooper
Oct 26, 2003, 14:13

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Crown Colony

Under Turkish sovereignty since 1570 and until 1867, Cyprus was ceded to Britain in exchange for guarantees that Britain would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire against possible Russian aggression. The British had been offered Cyprus three times (in 1833, 1841, and 1845), before accepting it, in 1878. The island was finally annexed by Britain, in 1914, and became a colony, in 1925.

By the 1950s, Cyprus had a population of about 520.000 of whom between 75 and 80% were Greeks. Through it had never been part of modern Greece, the Greek government claimed the island as its own, and the main political aspiration of Greek Cypriots was for “Enosis” – a union with Greece. This request took hold among ethnic Greeks living in the Ionian and Aegean Sea islands already since Greece had won its independence from the Ottoman Empire, in 1821, and especially after Britain ceded the Ionian islands to Greece, in 1864.

While a single political entity, Cyprus was nevertheless an ethnically divided community: about 18% of the population were Turkish. They looked to Turkey, the legal owner of the island until 1923, as their homeland.

The British had no political, but plenty of military aims in Cyprus. They wished to retain the island as a base for operations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East: the crown colony of Cyprus possessed a strategic importance that led the British government to announce that it could never expect to secure independence.

Outbreak of Trouble

The Cyprus Emergency resulted from the Greek Cypriot attempt to secure Enosis by force of arms, after they recognized the difficulty of getting the British to concede such an important base. The leader of the Greek Cypriot community, Arch-bishop Makarios III, had been the driving force behind the Enosis movement and had set about creating mass support organisations needed to sustain the campaign. In 1951 he contacted a known right-wing extremist, George Grivas, a Cypriot-born colonel in the Greek Army (and a former leader of a successful but banned resistance group during WWII), to organise the military wing of the movement. This became known as EOKA, or National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters. The new organisation was supplied with light weapons and explosives smuggled by sea from Greece.

Trouble began to develop in late 1954, with the arrival of British forces – including the HQ Middle East Command – evacuated from Egypt (thereby turning a “colonial backwater” into a major military strategic base for a foreign power), a British ministerial statement that Cyprus would never be granted independence, and the refusal of the United Nations to consider the Cyprus question. Fierce anti-British riots erupted in March 1955, during the court hearings into a ship caught smuggling arms from Greece to Cyprus. On 1 April 1955 a bombing campaign started with attacks on government buildings at Larnaca, Limassol and Nicosia. After further attacks in the autumn, in which policemen and servicemen were killed, Field Marshal Sir John Harding arrived as Governor, declaring a state of emergency, on 27 November 1955. At that time EOKA sought to gain control over the Greek Cyprus community, harness world opinion and wear down the British until they tired of the struggle. The methods which EOKA used to achieve these aims were a skilful blend of propaganda and military action. On the civil front there were riots, disturbances, boycotts, civil disobedience and strikes. On the military side EOKA fought both an urban and a rural campaign, starting with no more than 100 fighters.

The overall strategy employed by the EOKA insurgents was less strictly military than political: they aimed to mobilise domestic opinion and organise it in a manner that would make government impossible. At the same time they applied gradually increasing pressure through selective paramilitary action. The main weapon of EOKA insurgents became bombs: the Governor, Lord Harding, survived an attempt on his life when his servant, an EOKA agent, placed a bomb in his bed: it was one of 2.976 bombs placed by Cypriot Greeks that either failed to explode or were discovered and rendered ineffective by the security forces. Further 1.782 bombs did explode and accounted for damage to the value of GBP 10 million.

EOKA never expected to achieve a military victory over the British: it sought to neutralise the administration and police and eliminate the Special Branch, thereby depriving the British of vitally needed intelligence. But, the main EOKA method had to be by gun and bomb, the chief targets being British servicemen and installations. Aside from the British, the insurgents were also aiming to eliminate political opponents and manipulate the local population for economic and physical confrontations with the authorities. Violence – mainly in form of sniping and street murder, arson, sabotage and bombings, as well as hit-and-run attacks on isolated police stations and patrols – was the critical element in presenting the insurgent case to the outside world.

British Military on Cyprus

There was already a large British military presence on Cyprus since the times of the WWI. This increased during the WWII, and again following the departure in 1954 from Egypt. Still, after the declaration of state of emergency, the number of British troops was again considerably increased during 1955, and several new units formed. Reinforcements were airlifted by Shackletons from No.42 Squadron RAF, while No.208 Squadron’s Meteor FR.9s flew patrols from Akrotiri and photo-reconnaissance over the Troodos Mountains. The British Army operated Auster AOP.6s of 1910 Flight from Nicosia, Lakatamia and Kermia at the time, while in May 1954, the Search and Rescue (SAR) Flight equipped with Sycamore HC.14 helicopters was formed by RAF in Nicosia. An additional unit, a Flight of the Internal Security force (ISF) was formed in July 1955, and also equipped with Sycamore HR.14s. Helicopters were used to limited extension in autumn 1955, when the British launched operations “Foxhunter”, “Pepperpot”, and “Lucky Alphonse”, with aim of locating Grivas and his supporters. While many of Colonel’s most trusted associates were captured, together with several arms dumps, all these proved vain attempts. Worst yet: the British suffered their worst losses of the whole conflict in a series of “friendly fire” accidents and in a forest fire that swept through the Paphost Forest at a high speed during the later operation.

By 1956, when Arch-bishop Makarios had been deported (only to be released to Athens, in 1957), the British flying services further increased their presence, foremost through addition of light aircraft, helicopters and even some fighter-bombers. The EOKA hit back, perhaps out of protest, and on 3 March a chartered Hermes transport was destroyed while parked in Larnaca. On 12 April 1956, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) started operations from Nicosia with three Gannet AS.1 AEW aircraft from 847 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), to prevent the smuggling of arms by sea and from the air – the air supply being carried out during hours of darkness. Gannets proved useful in directing RAF fighters in interceptions of many smuggling aircraft, but British fighter-pilots never received a permission to open fire. At least one RAF Venom was lost – due to engine failure – during such intercept operations, the pilot barely surviving ejection into the cold sea by night. In addition, on 27 April 1956, the EOKA hit back for the second time, blowing up a Dakota aircraft parked at Nicosia International.

In June 1956 the British mounted another major operation against insurgents in the Troodos Mountains, but only netted a handful of EOKA members. Quite on the contrary, the terrorists kept up the pressure by extending their campaign to additional towns around the island and attacking also families of British servicemen. Given the small number of British troops involved – no more than 17.000 at this time – and the multitude of defensive duties they had to perform, there were never sufficient troops on the ground to gain thorough control of the island. The security forces never had the numbers to control the countryside, and they never had the amount or quality of intelligence that was needed to get to grips with terrorist groups in the towns. Consequently, most counter-insurgency activity took place in the towns, where the EOKA used terrorism, intimidation and infiltration to keep the issue in the headlines. A good example of actions at the time was the “Battle of Nicosia Hospital”, which broke out when the security forced had taken Polykarpos Yorgadjis, a prominent and quite fanatic EOKA-member, to Nicosia General Hospital for X-ray. Four gang members attempted to rescue him, in the process clashing with a British police unit. Two terrorists were killed in exchange for one British constable.

In light of such EOKA activity the demand for light aircraft increased, so that the 1915 Flight of British Army, equipped with Auster AOP.6s was also transferred to Nicosia, with the task of general reconnaissance and liaison work.

A Sycamore seen supporting troops in Troodos Mountains. The RAF and the AAC pioneered the use of helicopters for troop support during the Cyprus Emergency. (Photo: Swansea Museum)

Cyprus and Suez Crisis

In September and October 1956, Cyprus saw an immense influx of troops as well as British and French aircraft prior to the Suez expedition. By 29 October, all main airfields on the island were overcrowded by aircraft.

Although the Egyptian government attempted to establish some contacts to the EOKA, the Greeks failed to launch any kind of significant operations against relatively vulnerable British bases during the expedition to Egypt. On the contrary, in October 1956 the British Army launched another counterinsurgency operation and Sycamore helicopters – now consolidated within the 284 Squadron RAF – were for the first time used to transport troops. This unit was reinforced by a number of Whirlwind HAR.2s from November 1956: it was only then that the EOKA took advantage of the lull to stage no less but 416 attacks.

In response, as soon as troops deployed in Egypt returned, the British Army attempted – with some success – to round up the known EOKA cells. Grivas was forced into hiding and, in January 1957, two EOKA leaders, Drakos and Afxentiou, were killed in clashes with British forces. Their gangs were broken up as well.

Strategy and Tactics

During Cyprus Emergency, the security forces – increased to 40.000 by late 1957 – came to win a large measure of control over the military situation, particularly in rural areas. There the EOKA sought to survive rather than fight, although they did carry out ambushes and laid mines. The rules governing the use of weapons by British forces were much more relaxed in rural areas. A system of identification checks was enforced, but there was no ruthless system of accountability by villages, households and streets that the French adopted with great success in Algiers. On the contrary: British troops were initially bound by the provisions of minimum force and common law. It was only because of the never-ending stream of false allegations made about British troops on searches they were freed from legal accountability for their actions during an operation.

In response to their problems the British used experience and techniques that had proved effective in Malaya and Kenya. In Cyprus it was quite easy to produce an integrated administration-police-army organisation on the Malaya pattern in order to combat EOKA. Intelligence services were quickly formed into a single integrated organisation, but in the absence of widespread support amongst the population and sound information on which to work, the security forces had to rely on patrolling, setting up check points and manning observation posts to gain intelligence and contact the insurgents.

In the mountains, cordons and searches of brigade size were not uncommon. In such operations it was quite common for small patrols to take up advanced reconnaissance positions during the night in order to pass on information to units as they took part in formation-sized operations. Correspondingly, Cyprus was the first major campaign where the British used helicopters on a large scale. In fact, the British helicopter force came into its own during this conflict. Despite the fact that Sycamores had a very limited payload, they were able to place troops quickly in inaccessible parts of the mountainous countryside, thus keeping EOKA units constantly under pressure.

The success of the helicopter was to have far-reaching results. One of these emerged from resulting problems – of political nature: at the time Cyprus Emergency erupted, the RAF was required to support Army, and had to buy and operate helicopters for this purpose. This was a source of general dissatisfaction for both services. Relief was provided only when the Minister of Defence directed that the Army was to man and operate its own aircraft, under provision that these would not weigh more than 1.814kg and would remain unarmed. A new corps, the Army Air Corps (AAC), was formed on 1 September 1957, taking command over all the light-aircraft and helicopter assets of the RAF that formerly operated under a nominal Army command. Although RAF retained the manning and operation of the large transport helicopters, through the following years both constraints for size and type of aircraft and helicopters operated by the AAC were quietly ignored.

Conventional fighter aircraft were of little value under such circumstances: although the RAF had a number of Venom FB.Mk.4 units on Cyprus in 1956, only very few of fast aircraft were retained subsequently. These included a flight of Meteor NF.13s of No.39 Squadron at Nicosia, used for reconnaissance but also occasional strikes against mountain strongholds. This unit was transferred to Malta already in March 1957, however: exactly at the time the EOKA was involved in making its main effort. Other RAF aircraft based on Cyprus at the time were Hunter F.Mk.6s of No.1 Squadron, and Valetta transports.

A Fighting Retreat

In early 1958, intercommunal strife became severe for the first time, tension mounting between the governments of Greece and Turkey as well. Grivas attempted to enforce an island-wide boycott of British goods and increased the level of sabotage attacks. In March 1958 the RAF established a Tactical Air Control Centre in Nicosia, responsible for control of all light fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Together with several signal units, this proved instrumental in supporting different units during the emergency. By November 1958 the light aircraft presence was increased by addition of No.230 Squadron’s Pioneer CC.1s, also based on Nicosia. They supplemented the Austers, which had re-formed as No.653 Squadron Army Aviation Corps.

The only known use of British fighters during the Cyprus Emergency was the deployment of Sea Venom FAW.21s of 809 NAS, based onboard aircraft carrier HMS Albion, in August 1958. The fighters attacked several hideouts in the Troodos Mountains, using unguided rockets. In response, most of EOKA attacks remained directed against British government property. The best known insurgent operation was the bombing of the British NAAFI at Nicosia, in October 1958. Two people were killed and the 3.800 Greek Cypriots employed by the British authorities were subsequently dismissed. In December, five Chipmunk T.Mk.10s of No.114 Squadron flew counterinsurgency patrols. The type proved unsuccessful and unsuitable and this unit was disbanded already on 14 March 1959.

In January 1959 the Army/RAF Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit (JEHU) was deployed in Cyprus. JEHU was to conduct additional trials into the uses of helicopters in the field. Until 31 December 1959, when it was disbanded, this squadron experimented with different tactical and technical procedures. The work of the JEHU was steady and unspectacular, but highly successful, and resulted in procedures that were put to good use in later years by Royal Navy Commando and RAF Support Helicopter Squadrons. Meanwhile, RAF Sycamores continued supporting ground troops. By the time the emergency ended, in December 1959, the No.284 Squadron had been renumbered No.103 Squadron. In all, this unit flew a total of 9.792 hours in 19.375 sorties during this conflict, dropping 4.000 troops and 120 tons of supplies, while lifting 268 casualties.

In the end, the Cyprus Emergency ended in an irony similar to that in Algeria. Despite sound and innovative performance of the British military, the well-proven British methods did not yield results – mainly because the nationalist organisation was extremely resilient and the security forces were unable to counter widespread public support for the insurgents. Faced with a population that could never be reconciled to British rule and could never be induced to inform on insurgents, the attempt to find a military solution in Cyprus was doomed to failure.

The insurgent movement, while never anywhere near being able to outright challenge British military, was nevertheless able to obtain a grip on the community through persuasion and intimidation that the British found impossible to break.

The End of one – and Begin of another Conflict

Violent sectarian strife erupted already in mid-1958, when 109 were killed. It was this development that prompted Archbishop Makarios, Greece and Turkey to accept reality and agree on the solution of independence. In reaction, British prime minister Harold Macmillan proposed a seven-year partnership scheme of separate communal legislative bodies and separate municipalities, in June 1958. This “Macmillan Plan” was not accepted, but led to discussions of the Cyprus problem between representatives of Greece and Turkey.

During a conference in Zurich, in September 1958, and in London, in September 1958, Makarios announced his abandonment of support for Enosis. The outcome of the Cyprus Emergency was in fact decided when Makarios endorsed a Greek-Turkish plan to make Cyprus an independent state – under international guarantee within the Commonwealth. He was permitted to return to Cyprus, in February 1959, and from that moment all involved parties foremost emphasised attempts to find a political solution. This search became increasingly complicated and urgent as Turkish Cypriots became ever more fearful of seeming British “weakness” in the face of Greek demands. The political issues eventually became important for the British: although Greece had been an ally during the WWII, it not only rejected a NATO mediation in the case of Cyprus, but Turkey – which demanded the return of Cyprus by Britain, or partition – meanwhile proved also a more important strategic partner in NATO, and had the ear of Britain and the United States.

The reasons for such British politics were actually logical. The world of the 1960s was a very dangerous and volatile place: the Cold War was at its highest and could turn “hot” at almost any minute, beginning from the “U-2 Crisis”, in 1960, via the Cuban Missile Crisis, of 1962, the crisis in Congo and Vietnam, etc. Aside from this there were numerous emergencies – especially in British, French and Portuguese colonies - in Africa, but also in into almost all of these hot spots, and the “Communist danger” was omni-present.

To the West, the “Makarios regime” – which was receiving arms shipments from the Communist block – thus appeared not only leftist, but outright “red”. The Cuban experience with a communist enclave at the underbelly of the USA, was alarming: the Enosis movement on Cyprus could eventually be accepted if it was not for the fact that the Greek government was also increasingly turning “leftist”, and seen as a instable.

The situation in Turkey was not much better. The country was bankrupt by 1960, and the military intervened, arresting the government. This was not a planned coup d’etat, but rather an uprising of younger officers, who were in turn expelled by a more senior military committee, which only reluctantly gave power away, over a year later. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted and the Soviet Union threatened with war against the USA if Jupiter surface-to-surface missiles, operated by the US Army from Turkey, would not be removed from the Turkish soil.

Soviet reconnaissance aircraft were penetrating the Turkish airspace, while US U-2s and C-130s were shot down over the USSR: all the available Turkish forces had to be concentrated on the borders in eastern Anatolia, and on the border to Bulgaria. At the same time the Iraqis were at war with Kurdish separatists and numerous violations of border took place. The situation boiled to a point where two Iraqi Ilushin Il-28 bombers were shot down by THK fighters. Finally, the border towards Syria, which claimed the province of Hatay, was constantly infringed upon by so-called “smugglers”. Turkey was therefore surrounded by Communist enemies, or Soviet clients, and under permanent threat. Worse yet: the whole eastern Mediterranean area could turn hostile at any moment. Latin America. The situation in the Middle East was boiling with daily clashes between Arabs and the Israelis. War lingered also between Malaysia and Indonesia, and India took possession of Goa, while increasing amounts of Soviet-made weapons were streaming

After much negotiating, a compromise agreement supporting independence was reached and foundations laid for the Republic of Cyprus. The new nation was to have a parliament and government services with 70:30 Greek-Turkish representation, and a proscription on union with Greece – or any other state. Following this agreement, Cyprus was granted independence from Great Britain, on 16 August 1960.

Despite so many precautions, there was little prospect of a lasting peace, then from 1962 both, Greeks and Turkish Cypriot factions began stockpiling weapons. The political settlement could not last for long as EOKA-B still campaigned underground for enosis, and terrorised the Turkish population, while its government members – like Polykarpos Yorgadjis, were issuing statements like, “There is no place in Cyprus for anyone who is not Greek”. Numerous Cypriot Greek attempts to amend the constitution were seen as a threat to Turkish minority rights as well. In early 1963 armed violence broke out, resulting in several hundred killed.

Although by the time there was a total of 990 Greek and 650 Turkish troops based on the island (while the British were granted the right to retain two sovereign base areas, at Dhekelia, in the east, and Akrotiri/Episkopi, in the west), these could not put the situation under control. Consequently, on 27 March 1963 a UN peacekeeping force was established as United Nations Force In Cyprus (UNFICYP). The HQ of this contingent, comprising at its peak 7.000 troops with air support provided by No. 19 Liaison Flight and No.21 Recce Flight of No.651 Squadron Army (operating Sioux helicopters and Auster AOP.9s), was the Blue Beret Camp, on the edge of Nicosia International Airport. The UNFICYP included contingents from Austria, Canada Denmark, Great Britain, and Sweden. From 1972 also the Whirlwind HAR.10s of B Flight No.84 Squadron RAF were committed in its support.

Old Opponents with New Weapons

During the late 1960s tensions between Greek and Turkish ethnicities on Cyprus slowly increased. The situation further destabilised because of strong antagonism between Greece and Turkey. Since both, Greece and Turkey joined NATO, in 1952, their air forces were completely re-built with US support. Nevertheless, as of the early 1960s, both countries were still in no position to exercise strong military presence on Cyprus.

The Royal Hellenic Air Force received some 200 second-hand Republic F-84G Thunderjets from different sources, during the early 1950s. These were reinforced by addition of 104 North American F-86 Sabres by 1956. In the same year also the first of 50 Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks and RF-84F Thunderflashes arrived, the later of which remained in service until 1991, when they were definitely the last examples of this series in world-wide use.

Deliveries of MiG-21F-13s to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, in 1961, conditioned an upgrade of the RHAF, in the early 1960s, and by 1968 a total of more than 50 Lockheed F-104 Starfighters and 70 Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters, as well as some 40 Convair F-102A/B Delta Dart interceptors were acquired from the USA. The first two types were to build the main strength of the RHAF well into the 1980s, and were reinforced in the early 1970s by additional Starfighters “cascaded” from different NATO countries (mainly Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands), as well as some F-5As purchased from Iran.

In the late 1960s, Greece came under a military rule, and the relationship to the NATO calmed to the point that the country was not considered as a part of the pact, in turn causing a stop of arms deliveries from the USA.

The Turkish Air Force (Turk Havva Kuvvetleri = THK) – one of the oldest air forces of the world (established as a separate arm already in 1911), was reinforced through significant numbers of F-86 Sabre and F-84 Thunderjet fighters, in the early 1950s. Given that until this time the THK was still flying vintage Supermarine Spitfires, Republic P-47D Thunderbolts, DeHavilland Mosquitoes and Douglas B-26 Invaders, purchased during or shortly after the WWII, as well as that most of the newly acquired jet-fighters were “cascaded down” from other NATO air forces and in a pretty poor condition, initially there were considerable problems with the training and maintenance, which were not completely solved until the early 1960s. Nevertheless, in the late 1950s, USA, France, Belgium, and Netherlands delivered additional F-84s and then also first North American F-100 Super Sabres, and by 1966 the THK was also reinforced by over 160 additional F-84Q Thunderstreaks (a more powerful, swept-wing version of the F-85 Thunderjet), so that its fleet of fighter-bombers was well standardized.

THK F-84F Thunderstreaks also flew strikes against CNG targets, in August 1964. This example served with the 193 Filo, which was a "special" Tactical Support Squadron, using a mix of F-84Fs and RF-84Fs, at the time and was photographed while preparing for another mission over Cyprus in 1964. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Despite many similar deliveries for the Turkish Army and Navy, and the Turkish armed forces looking formidable on the paper, Turkey was ill-prepared and deployed for troubles on Cyprus. For reasons described above, the Turkish military was in fact seriously overstretched, and the Air Force and Navy badly in need of modernisation. With all contingencies on its borders, any action on Cyprus required an absolute maximum effort the Turkish military could exercise at the time. Without surprise, there was actually no plan for a Turkish invasion of the island in the early 1960s: Turkey was in no position to launch such an operation.

In the early 1960s, the southern coast of Anatolia was seriously under-developed. There was no modern road along the coast from Silifke to Antalya (this was constructed only in the 1970s), and no road between Antalya and Izmir (constructed only in the 1980s). In fact, the whole Turkish coast opposite to Cyprus was devoid of any military installations between Izmir in the west and Mersin in the east: there were no air bases, but only the civilian airport at Adana. The closest airfield in the area was the US-controlled Incirlik: this had only installations for F-100s, and could not be used by Turkish forces. The THK operated only from Diyarbakir – which was also the only Turkish military airfield in the east of the country. The other airfield in the area, Konya, was at the time still a secondary installation: it was not before the late 1960s that Konya was fully developed as an air base. Finally, the Erhac AB, near Malatya, was too far away, housing only a single F-100 squadron, available for use by the then 3rd Air Force THK. Until arrival of a single squadron of Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, in late 1963, the THK in fact had only three squadrons (reduced in size) of fighters that could be considered “modern” – F-100Ds. The rest of the force consisted of very old and troublesome F-84Gs, few somewhat newer F-84Fs handed down from the French Air Force, and a fleet of vintage F-86Es that was in a very poor condition. The air transport capability consisted of only three C-47-units, and a handful of helicopters. The Army aviation component consisted of some 150 L-18/L-21 Piper Cubs, and the Navy did not operate any aircraft or helicopters until the 1970s. The THK also had not a single radar station between Izmir and Mersin.

The Turkish Navy was in no better position. Construction of the port of Mersin was completed only in 1963, and initially there were no military installations there either. The sole other harbour in the area, the one at Iskenderun, was hopelessly old and there were only plans for its modernisation at the time. Turkey was therefore caught by the onset of a new crisis on Cyprus with a military in no situation to take part.

THK F-100 Super Sabres were very active over Cyprus in 1964. This artwork, reconstructed from several photographs showing different Turkish "Huns" in the 1960s, depicts one of F-100D in service with the THK at the time. The THK received also a sizeable batch of F-100Cs, but only from 1970 onwards. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

The First Cyprus Crisis

Aware of Turkish problems and not content with independence, Greek Cypriots – lead by George Grivas - still sought Enosis, and tensions remained high. In the night from 20 to 21 December 1963, a car carrying weapons for Turkish Cypriots in the Omorfita, a district of Nicosia – where armed resistance was organized – was halted on a police roadblock. After a few minutes a large crowd, mainly consisting of Turkish Cypriots, assembled nearby and the situation heated up, resulting in exchange of fire in which one policeman and two Turks were killed. This mini-uprising of Turkish Cypriots ended by Christmas of the same year, but there more skirmishes followed, as since that time Turkey began systematically organising and arming students and men younger than 30 into small units, equipped with personal weapons, bazookas and mortars. Several loads of food and ammunition were shipped from Turkey to Cyprus during the following winter, mainly by small boats and by night, which were landing in the Kokkina area.

It was the developments on Cyprus – together with the sorrow state of the Turkish military – that resulted in acquisition of significant reinforcements for the THK, in 1963. During the emergency in 1963, the THK was able to deploy only a single squadron (161. Filo) of F-84Gs to Adana. These were tasked with “skip-bombing”, which was a form of low-level anti-ship operations of the time. Certainly, this “demonstration” did not impress anybody. Late in that year the THK received its first squadron of F-104Gs and TF-104Gs arrived. These were the first out of 55 F-104Gs and eight TF-104Gs: additional Starfighter deliveries from different NATO countries (foremost Italy) were to follow, bringing the number of F-104s in THK to almost 90 by the early 1970s. Simultaneously, however, the complement of the F-100s was reduced to two active squadrons, due to the lack of flyable airframes.

The THK was therefore in no better position when the next emergency followed. On 7 March 1964, Turkish Cypriot insurgents opened fire into a crowd of unsuspecting civilians in the busy street of Pafos, killing seven and injuring 34. Over 200 Greeks were subsequently arrested by Turkish Cypriot authorities. In attempt to restore order, the Greek Cypriot National Guard (CNG) deployed a battalion from Nicosia to Pafos. Following several incidents of similar scale, Athens decided to deploy experienced combat veteran officers as commanders of the – still inexperienced - CNG to Cyprus. The Greek officers were mainly to concentrate on operations in rural areas. Also, in April 1964, George Grivas was posted as commander of the CNG.

By June 1964, the Greeks estimated that more than 1.000 of boat-loads of arms, food and ammunition arrived from Turkey. As the condition of Greek military forces was no better than that of the Turkey (in fact, it was probably even worse), Athens could do little, but Makarios acted nevertheless. He abrogated the Treaty of Guarantees, in turn causing more violence. By 9 July, the situation was so tense that the Lorovouno Mountain was occupied by the Turkish Cypriots, who also cut off several Greek villages nearby. Given that Athens saw this move as setting up of a bridgehead for a Turkish invasion, in July, Grivas was re-called to Athens for consultations about actions that were to be taken against the Turkish Cypriot community. Upon his return, on 6 August 1964, the CNG was advised to establish positions on the opposite side, deploying the 12th Tactical Group, including 206th Infantry Battalion, 31st Raider Squadron, and various Scout and artillery units to counterattack on Lorovouno Mountain, as well as against several Turkish villages in the Kokkina area. The CNG counterattack was launched on 8 August; to Ankara it was obvious that Athens was behind this development and major elements of the Turkish armed forces went on alert.

THK in Combat

The battle of Kokkina was well underway when, around 17:00hrs, two THK F-100 Super Sabres made two passes over the battlefield. Several minutes later, additional Turkish four-ship formations followed. This time, the Super Sabres attacked. According to Greek sources, the THK F-100s made between 50 and 60 strafing passes, most of which were ineffective. Nevertheless, at 18:40hrs the local CNG units were ordered to stop the offensive and stabilize their lines: their attacks ceased.

According to Turkish accounts, not only F-100Cs and F-100Ds of the 111 and 181 Filos participated in these strikes, but also F-84Gs from 161 Filo.

They not only strafed but also dropped napalm, and several formations also attacked two Cypriot patrol boats near the port of Gemikonagi, on the northern coast of Cyprus. The leader of this attack was Maj. Hüseyin Capaoglu: his and the following section scored numerous hits on both CNG vessels, setting them afire. Because of thick smoke the third formation – led by Capt. Cengiz Topel - approached at a very low level, and was thus exposed to heavy anti-aircraft fire. The leading F-100D – “55-2766” – was hit and shot down, forcing the pilot to eject.

According to contemporary British and Turkish reports Capt. Topel was captured and burned alive by CNG fighters. According to Greek accounts he was badly injured when his aircraft blew up, but landed – still alive – only to be captured by Capt. Kalenterides and 1st Lt. Tsertos. According to Greek reports, Topel died in a hospital. An examination of Topel's body by a Danish specialists and his team on behalf of the UN, and their report, however, are rather damning in their conclusions.

Interestingly, according to Greek sources, in Topel's suit – which was later sent to Athens for examination – the CNG officers should have found also a tactical pilotage chart, with a plotted course to Souda Bay, on Crete. Before dying, Topel supposedly stated that Souda Bay was his “secondary” target during that mission. What kind of purpose should any such action have had at the time, or how should have THK F-100Ds - assigned to attack Cypriot patrol boats near Cyprus - eventually change their mission to strike Souda Bay AB, not to talk about reaching that place after flying a route via Cyprus, however, was never reasonably explained by any Greek sources.

Dramatic sequence showing a THK F-100 Super Sabre attacking a Greek patrol boat (T1 or T2?) off the coast of northern Cyprus, on 9 August 1964. The attack occurred near the port of Gemikonagi, on northern Cyprus, and the leader of the THK F-100-formation should have been Capt. Capaoglu. During this short but sharp air-to-sea clash, a THK F-100D flown by Capt. Cengiz Topal - who was participating in the second Turkish wave - was shot down. The pilot ejected and was captured by CNG - only to be burned alive by Greeks. (Tom Cooper collection)

RHAF Response

In fact, THK attacks ceased only after Makarios requested a ceasefire, however, the Greek Defence Minister Garufalias then ordered the continuation of Grivas' operation by night, in order to secure the area. Simultaneously, the RHAF was ordered in action as well – even if in a clandestine way.

At Tatoi AB, in Greece, five RHAF North American T-6 Harvards under Maj. K. Vasilakis, were ordered to deploy to Cyprus, to provide close air support to CNG. Because of the RAF interceptors and Turkish air superiority over Cyprus, they were to fly via Rhodes and by night. All five pilots were night-qualified, and consequently they could deploy by the morning of 9 August. Although their aircraft already had CNG markings applied (these consisted of the standard Greek roundel, in blue-white-blue, but also the Cypriot national flag instead of the fin flash – and codes C-1 thru C-10), and were armed with 2.75in unguided rockets and refuelled, they were ordered to return upon reaching Rhodes. Instead flying back to Tatoi, however, they were then ordered to Kastelli, where they were held in readiness for the following month.

The second RHAF Harvard flight, including aircraft flown by Capt. V. Kottas (with 2nd Lt. P. Lymperopoulos as navigator), Capt. G. Roussos, 1st Lt. K. Avgerinidis (with Warr.Off. P. Vountidis in the rear), 2nd Lt. E. Mponzos, 2nd Lt. G. Kakaris and 2nd. Lt. G. Katsigiannis (with Warr.Off. Kapsomenakos in the rear), reached Rhodes, nevertheless. They set off for Cyprus at 21:30hrs, and proceeded at a very low level. Avegerinidis almost hit the coast while approaching Cyprus, and made a hard landing. After burning their aircraft, he and Vountidis walked for three hours to Lakatamia airfield – surprising the rest of their flight, who considered them dead. No specific details about eventual operations of the surviving four Texans in support of the CNG are known yet.

On the morning of 9 August, the 338 Mira from Souda Bay AB, was ordered to scramble four F-84Fs – flown by Capt. T. Louloudakis, 1st. Lt. D. Termoulis, 1st Lt. K. Theodoropopulos, and 1st Lt. D. Klitorakis, and send them over Cyprus. In order for Thunderjets to reach that far, technicians first had to dismount all the 5in rockets from them. Climbing to 28.000ft at an economic speed of 400kts, they approached Cyprus without any reaction from the THK – or even the RAF. Then the formation split, with one pair turning towards Nicosia and the other to Mansoura, to make two low-level and high-speed passes each. Without knowing this, Louloudakis and Tremoulis were fired upon by CNG troops, which failed to recognize them as Greek. In addition, Louloudakis experienced problems with one of drop tanks, which did not transfer fuel properly, and had to abort to Kasteli. The other three F-84Fs returned to Souda with almost completely empty tanks.

RAF Intervention

The THK launched new air raids on the morning of 9 August, hitting CNG positions with napalm and machine-gun fire to cover a ship dispatched to evacuate the injured Turkish Cypriots.

After additional – but inconclusive – fighting, on 11 August 1964 the UN ordered a ceasefire. This was not broken, even if THK F-100s continued flying over Cyprus, and four Turkish Navy destroyers arrived off the coast, to evacuate casualties and unload food and ammunition.

Despite the ceasefire, both air forces continued operating over Cyprus. In late August, six RHAF RF-84Fs were deployed to Souda, and then ordered to undertake reconnaissance missions over different parts of the island. The flight leader was XO 348 Mira, Maj. E. Roulias, while other members of his flight were 1st Lt. T. Dimopoulos, N. Papadopoulos, S. Dranias, I. Printzios, and S. Papasis. Approaching Cyprus at 28.000ft, and separated by between three and five minutes, they descended to photograph their targets from a level of 10.000ft with vertical cameras.

Papadopoulos aborted due to a problem with drop tank, while other members of the formation continued. Approaching his target in the Morfou area at 10.000ft, 1st. Lt. Printzios observed two fighters approaching. Assuming they were THK interceptors, he jettisoned both drop tanks and turned for Souda at low altitude. Seconds later, Maj. Roulias was intercepted by two RAF Lightnings, which approached in a close formation, taking position on both of his sides. Using hand signals the British pilots instructed him to leave the area, however, the Greek flight-leader refused and continued on the course towards his target. Therefore, the RAF pilots went in front of him, causing his RF-84F to shudder under their jetstream: the severe turbulence made all the photographs Roulias made useless.

1st Lt. Dranias was underway behind Maj. Roulias. Upon hearing about the interception of his leader, he jettisoned his drop tanks and continued towards his target area. However, underway there he was also intercepted by two Lightnings and then decided to return to Souda.

The last two Thunderflashes followed a few minutes later. Dimopoulos was intercepted as first: after forcing him to turn away, the Lightnings then jumped on 1st. Lt. Papasis, using their jetstream to prevent him from taking useful reconnaissance photographs. Turning around, the young Greek pilot set a course for a second pass over St. Hilarion, before continuing for Souda Bay. The two Lightnings were still with him, but this time Papasis had a surprise for them: he deployed airbrakes, forcing both RAF interceptors to overshoot. Thanks to this manoeuvre he was able to take photographs as required, even if the two British fighters subsequently “escorted” him for 15 minutes.

RHAF RF-84F as of cca. 1964, when Greek Thunderflashes were active over Cyprus. At the time, NATO air forces were still not camouflaging their aircraft. This measure was introduced only in 1967, when the "standard" NATO camouflage pattern - consisting of dark grey and dark olive - was applied to most, if not all, NATO F-84Fs and RF-84Fs. The EPA followed this pattern, introducing the same colours on its RF-84Fs, some 20 of which were delivered to 348 Mira by the time (and which remained in service until 1991 at least). The NATO camouflage was replaced by the US-pattern "SEA"-camouflage, in 1971. Characteristic for EPA Thunderflashes was that they wore only two roundels on the fuselage and sometimes the Squadron badge on the fin- and no national markings on wings.

Claims and Counter-Claims

Although most Greek reports state that the CNG suffered minimal losses during the battle of Kokkina, or in Turkish air attacks, at least 53 Greek fighters were killed. The number of Turkish Cypriot casualties remains unknown, but Greek reports about the THK suffering a loss of at least four fighter-bombers over Cyprus, in 1964, are known.

This figure should include the RF-84F “52-8871”, supposedly shot down over Cyprus already on 5 June 1964, as well as a Lockheed T-33A serialled “4059”, downed at an unknown date. The THK admitted the loss of one RF-84F on 5 June, but stated that the plane crashed near Finike while on return from a reconnaissance mission, and that there are no reports of it being actually shoot down. Also lost in 1964, was the T-33A “4050”, but in a crash during flight from Ankara to Diyarbakir, already on 15 May. If this accident stood in any connection with the situation on Cyprus is at best arguable, then while this aircraft was underway on a courier duty from Ankara to Diyarbakir, with orders related to Cyprus, its route was well away from the island. Therefore, except for the F-100D shot down while flown by Capt. Topel, no other THK losses over Cyprus were ever confirmed.

The exact reasons why were the RAF Lightnings intercepting RHAF RF-84s, but none of THK fighter-bombers active over Cyprus remain unknown, but are likely related to the history of the Cyprus Emergency. Bitter over this, however, the Greek government ordered the Army to secretly deploy a whole infantry division to Cyprus. Using regular ferries, in the following weeks no less but 8.000 soldiers wearing civilian clothes and disguised as “tourists” or “students” arrived to from the “Cyprus Division”. To remind the Greeks about their command of the air over Cyprus, Turkish F-100s again flew low over Nicosia, on Christmas Day, in 1964. Eventually, the Greek situation was even poorer than that of Turkey: under the strong Turkish threat of an invasion, the CNG pulled back from frontal confrontation with Turkish Cypriots, and the fighting died down for some years.

Although eastern Turkey experienced a devastating earthquake that seriously drained the fragile economy and used up all available medical facilities, in August 1966, with over 2.400 dead, the THK remained active over Cyprus. On 25 November 1967, an RF-84F crashed near Incirlik due to technical malfunction, after returning from a reconnaissance sortie over the island. The Greek “Cyprus Division” remained on Cyprus until autumn 1967, when during the next crisis the CNG claimed to have shot down a THK TF-84F.

Eventually, tensions were lessened through international mediation. The Turkish politicians and military were at least satisfied by shows of force and shipments of armament to para-military forces on Cyprus. However, much more than token presence was not possible at the time. Therefore, Turkey began a significant modernisation of its military, in the late 1960s. While the Army started receiving transport helicopters, between 1965 and 1968 the THK received 75 Northrop F-5As and 13 F-5B Freedom Fighters – including ten examples purchased from Libya, after the USA cancelled their alliance with that country in the wake of the coup against the King Idriz, in 1968, and simultaneously also a number of Republic F-102A/B Delta Dart interceptors was purchased from the USA.

At least two THK RF-84Fs were claimed shot down by CNG over Cyprus: "52-8871", on 5 June 1964 and another example on 25 November 1967. Neither of these claims proved true, however, even if one of Turkish Thunderfalshes crashed due to mechanical problems after a recce sortie over Cyprus. This example, "51-1854", was operated by 184 "Akrep" ("Scorpion") Filo, from Diyarbakir, at the time: this unit was involved in Cyprus oprations. Most of its RF-84Fs wore a prominent unit insignia on the forward fuselage. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Sources & Bibliography

- WAR IN PEACE; AN ANALYSIS OF WARFARE SINCE 1945, edited by Sir Robert Thompson, Orbis Publishing, London, 1981 (ISBN: 0-85613-341-8)

- AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989 (ISBN: 0-85368-779-X)

- THE 1964 HARVARD MISSION TO CYPRUS; Savvas Vlassis and Kyriakos Paloulian, War & History Magazine No75, June 2004 (in Greek)

- HELLENIC WINGS OVER CYPRUS; First hand accounts of the operations 1964-1974, by Lt.General George Mitsainas, (ISBN: 960-630-182-6, also in Greek)

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