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The Turkish invasion of Cyprus revisited July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied, Politics.

Greek distrust of Archbishop Makarios weakened Cypriot forces, making it easier for Turkey to occupy the north area of the Republic of Cyprus 33 years ago

Fifteen minutes after midnight on 20 July 1974, the radar of the Republic of Cyprus National Guard on Apostolos Andreas noted that two groups of ships, one with six vessels and another with eight, later ascertained to be 11, that it had been tracking since nine in the evening were following divergent courses. Both had sailed from the port of Mersina and they were still outside the territorial waters of Cyprus. The smaller group was heading east of the cape of Apostolos Andreas, while the larger group was 30 miles north of the cape heading towards Cape Kormakitis.

By 4am it became clear that the larger group was holding 15 miles north of Kyrenia, and two torpedo boats, T1 and T3, were put on alert and ready-to-go status. However, the existence of the smaller group allowed speculation that an invasion could take place in the bay of Famagusta, Ammohostos in Greek. It was just one of the ruses that the National Guard of Cyprus would fall for.

The coup against Makarios > Turkish forces landed easily and Cypriot defenders reacted slowly because Greek officers and other forces had overthrown the island’s legitimate leader Archbishop Makarios. The coup took place on the orders of the military junta in Athens.

Archbishop Makarios had long been at odds with the government in Athens, even before the first junta took over in April of 1967. For many Greeks he was the impediment that forestalled Enosis, the union of the island with Greece. His flirtations with the eastern bloc and the movement of non-aligned nations had caused US circles to call him the “Red Bishop”. Before the junta, in 1964-65, the government of the elder George Papandreou had secretly moved a Greek Army division to Cyprus, after incidents of ethnic violence and a brief interlude by the Turkish airforce. This force was recalled in 1967 after the junta took power.

Relations between Athens and Makarios had deteriorated significantly by 1974, especially after the fall of the colonels and the rise of Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis to power. EOKA B, the conspiratorial group used by the junta against the Archbishop had often attacked the government and even tried to assassinate Makarios in October 1973. But the Archbishop was no less politically ruthless than his opponents. He had bolstered his own power by posting loyal functionaries in vital posts, creating a police praetorian guard, the so-called Auxiliary Corps or Efedrikon, arming his followers, jailing opponents indiscriminately and isolating Greek officers from their commands.

Ioannidis and his supporters wanted Makarios out and ordered the coup, which they believed the US and its allies supported. The Greeks executed the coup on July 15 but it didn’t go well. Greek officers expected little opposition and were taken aback when Cypriots rebelled. Firefights ensued at the Presidential Palace, the CyBC state radio station, the barracks of the Auxiliary Corps and elsewhere. But the Greeks didn’t kill or capture Makarios, who fled with the help of loyalists to the Monastery of Kykkos and then to Paphos, where he tried to organise a small army. That effort failed, so he took refuge at a Finnish UN post. From there he contacted the British, who flew him to the UK.

cyprus_archbishopric_palace.jpg  A soldier stands beside the Archbishopric Palace, Makarios’ fire-damaged residence in Nicosia after an Athenian-launched coup to kill Makarios was botched on 15 July 1974.

The coup hurt Cyprus’ armed forces and National Guard. Half of the Cypriots supported Makarios, while the others wanted him out. Morale was low. Cypriots worried as internal rivalries tore apart their country while Greek officers had seen many casualties in the coup.

Operation Attila > Safe in exile, Makarios called on the guarantor powers to reinstate the status quo ante. This was all the pretext needed by Ankara. Bulent Ecevit, Turkey’s prime minister at the time, ordered an invasion, codenamed Attila.

Greeks knew about the attack and so did the Cypriots, since rumours had been circulating for some time that the Turks were planning an invasion. At the National Guard Headquarters in Nicosia, a major rushed out to calm spirits and told the assembled officers: “There is nothing to worry about. We were told from above, i.e. Athens, that it’s just a show of force… There is no problem. Gentlemen, you’re going to sleep.”

Six minutes after sunrise on July 20, 1974, Turkish aircraft began pounding targets on the island. Despite earlier reassurances from the National Guard, the commander of the Greek forces situated in Cyprus, ELDYK, spread out his forces and all other Cyprus’ National Guard units did the same. The result obvious, many died in the Turkish attacks.

turkish_tanks_invade.jpg  Turkish tanks advance on Greek-Cypriot positions in July 1974.

The attack was not initially successful. The beachhead was limited to a small area of land west of Kyrenia. The forces came ashore about an hour and a half later than planned and were little more than a regiment, a battalion with no tanks and a handful of M-113 APCs. The Turks stayed put, and when the Cypriots got their wits together and subjected the foothold to fire the scene turned into a slaughter. The Turks could not be dislodged.

The National Guard was engaged on all fronts with operations against the Turkish-Cypriot home guard reinforced by paratroopers holding out in various pockets throughout the island.

Lesvos and Kotzadeppe > The landing ship Lesvos was to take around 500 fresh troops to ELDYK from Loutraki, Greece. It left the town on July 13 and was scheduled to arrive two days later. But while approaching, the ship’s captain, Commander E. Handrinos, learned of the coup and decided to wait it out, cruising for a couple of days around the island. The ship finally docked at Famagusta on July 19 and began taking troops that were being discharged or relocated from ELDYK to Greece. The transport ship was well away from the harbour and ready to depart Cyprus waters. Lesvos made a rapid turnaround and anchored in the small harbour of Paphos. Soldiers who had been picked up got off and headed for Nicosia aboard buses.

Handrinos resolved to fight, even though his was not really a combat ship. It did, however, have two quadruple 40mm Bofors mounts for anti-aircraft duties. In Paphos the Turks had holed up in the castle by the sea. Lesvos opened fire with all of its guns. The Turks surrendered but they told their central command that the Greek navy had attacked them. Handrinos knew delay meant suicide. In the dark, he guided the ship away and headed due south towards Africa. The Turkish airforce never found them.

After intensive searches between Cyprus and Rhodes, Turkish aircraft spotted three destroyers near Paphos at around 2pm. As Mehmet Ali Birand recounts in his book Decision: Invasion, the Turkish pilots that rushed to the scene 10 minutes later thought the Turkish flags flying there were set up by cunning Greeks. Groups of three to four aircraft would dive on the ships every 10 minutes. They immediately began pouring hundreds of rounds of cannon fire and all of their rockets on the ships. Even when the officers aboard the ships went on the radio explaining they were Turks, the pilots dismissed it. As a result the destroyer Kotzadepe sank and the other two vessels suffered extensive damage. Of the destroyer’s crew of 270 less than 100 survived.

Fated flight > Meanwhile back in Athens, the junta had dispatched aircraft to Crete and submarines towards Cyprus. But the fear of war with Turkey, despite a very advantageous Greek arsenal, at the time precluded any use of these assets. So it was decided to send the First Paratrooper Battalion to Cyprus using 15 available Noratlas transport aircraft. The flight was to take place at night, on July 21. The aircraft were old and the mission was more or less a flight into disaster. The mission took place under extreme secrecy, since it was feared that any hint of it would reach the allies, who would then tell the Turks. Other problems included the airfield in Nicosia, which was littered with the debris of destroyed commercial aircraft and full of craters from bombs and rockets. The general staff at Athens gave orders to the National Guard to patch the holes and remove the main obstacles under total secrecy.

The aircraft went to Crete and picked up the commandos. One of them, Athanasios Zafiriou, barely made it back to his unit as he was out with a truck on chores. He later recalled the soldiers’ enthusiasm when they were told they would be going to Cyprus. None of the men had parachutes, as they were to disembark after landing. Before heading out, Zafiriou scooped up a handful of dirt from Crete and dropped it in his pocket. The aircraft took off at 11pm. The flight to Cyprus was carried out at an altitude of 500 feet above the dark sea to avoid radar detection, at a speed of 140 knots and at five minute intervals. Each plane had around 30 commandos aboard. The aircraft had enforced radio silence and had turned off their navigation lights. Two aircraft lost their way and landed on Rhodes, something which many hold against their crews to this day.

The aircraft reached Nicosia around 2am and those aboard could see the fires burning around the city and on the rest of the island. Two anti-aircraft batteries situated close to the airport disregarded orders to “bind” their guns and fired onto the aircraft, thinking it was Turkish. The fire hit the third Noratlas coming in to land. Zafiriou was on board. According to his recollections, the aircraft was hit by a large shell that started a fire and probably killed the crew as it spun out of control. Zafiriou recalls that the ammunition boxes he was resting his feet on caught fire. Most of his comrades had been killed and he was on fire. As he made his way to the door, he opened it and jumped. The Noratlas crashed 160m away. Zafiriou suffered severe wounds and has since been confined to a wheelchair. The aircraft was carrying 28 commandos and a crew of four. Another Noratlas was also hit. This time two died and another nine were wounded.

Four aircraft never left Cyprus: The two aircraft hit, another because of engine failure and still another because of lack of fuel. The disabled aircraft were cut up and the pieces removed in order to hide any Greek intervention.

Epilogue > The end of these events is more or less known. A ceasefire was brokered a few days later. In Athens the junta fell and the government of National Unity under Constantine Karamanlis took power. Makarios returned to Cyprus.

But the Turks continued to flex military muscle in the area. They sent soldiers, vehicles and supplies to their beachhead, which they had linked with the Nicosia Turkish-Cypriot pocket. On August 15, 1974, they executed Attila II, the operation that resulted in the occupation of the northern third of Cyprus that remains to this day.

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