Πέμπτη, 11 Αυγούστου 2016

Pilots of the... Abyss: The aircraft salvagers of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF)

Nuggets of WW2 history lay hidden for decades in the Greek seas.

Many secrets are revealed thanks to the salvagers of the Hellenic Air Force, the specially trained scuba divers, who salvage World War II aircraft from the depths. 

Diving under almost any weather conditions, day and night, in order to achieve their mission, these men are a Unit known as the Mobile Maintenance Team of Underwater and Marine Facilities.

"The greatest depth at which we operated was at approximately 960 meters in 2004 when the twin-engine Chinook helicopter carrying the late patriarch of Alexandria  crashed in the sea area of ​​Mount Athos. 

It was an almost impossible task, which with the cooperation of the Hellenic Center for Maritime Research and with the use of an ROV we managed to bring back to the surface large parts of the crashed Chinook for evaluation" says the squadron leader.

These operations, however, above and below sea level require constant alert and vigilance: 

"Apart from operational missions we are also conducting social activities, as the Mobile Disaster Response Team is always ready to assist in the evacuation of citizens because of an earthquake or any other disaster, while we work with the Ministry of Education".

"Each mission requires discipline, perfect synchronization, detailed planning and professionalism in salvage operations. There is not the slightest margin for errors".

Since April 1941 a twin-engine aircraft of the RAF was laying off Crete, close to Rethymnon. 

Shot down by friendly fire, this Blenheim remained forgotten for almost 55 years, until the moment it was raised from the seabed. 

This aircraft was shot down in October 1943, in Rhodes and was found in 2004 at a depth of about 150 meters by a fishing boat, approximately seven miles from the coast. 

Once dragged into shallow waters (approx. 15 meters) the Hellenic Air Force salvagers brought the aircraft back to the surface in 2006. 

The battle of Leros in 1943, was the failed attempt of the Allies (mainly British forces) to occupy the strategically important Dodecanese islands, after the capitulation of Italy. 

German forces, including paratroopers overpowered the Allies and reoccupied the islands, but at a heavy price in human lives and war material. 

Among the "victims" of the battle of Leros was a Junkers 52, which was shot down on November 14 by anti aircraft fire and crashed in the bay of Alinda. 

In 2003, it was brought back to the surface from a depth of 41 meters, in almost perfect condition. It is currently exhibited at the Hellenic Air Force Museum, but the hope of the citizens of Leros is to see it back to their island.

Canadair CL215 and CL415

During the summer season forest fires, Canadair CL215 and CL415 are assisting the ground firefighting forces. 

There have been occasions when an aircraft sinks, during the operations and the Hellenic Air Force salvagers are asked to bring it back to action as soon as possible.

Δευτέρα, 8 Αυγούστου 2016

An Arado AR196 in Herakleia Island, Greece

Lying at a depth of just 11 metres, this Arado wreck is an ideal snorkeling destination
(Photo: Costis Mantzoris)

On September 17, 1943 this specific Arado 196 went on a mission to protect a convoy consisting of three ships (UJ 2104, Paula and Pluto) on their way from Piraeus to Rodos. 

Photo of the Arado196 (CREDIT: Manolis Bardanis

Near Naxos, British Beaufighters attacked the convoy and the Arado was damaged and had to perform a controlled ditching at sea. 

The crew was saved by UJ 2104, but the aircraft sunk shortly afterwards. (See the picture below, shot minutes before the Arado's sinking).

The crew was reported as "rescued". 

The convoy continued on its way to Rodos, but north of Astypalaia, they were attacked again, this time by allied destroyers. 

The two cargo ships sunk, and UJ 2104 was badly damaged. 

This picture of the Arado D1+EH was taken by an officer of UJ 2104 just minutes before sinking. The picture was hidden for 5 years in a foam soap box during time as POW in Egypt.
(Photo: P. Schenk/AK Groener from
Approximately 60 survivors, including the crew of the Arado, managed to reach Astypalaia, which was under Italian control. 

The survivors of the convoy were transferred to the British shortly after and remained POW until 1948.

Crew F Fritz Schaar, POW

BF Herbert Schneider, POW

 The wreck was found by Greek fishermen in 1982 at a depth of 91m and was moved in a bay of the island Herakleia. 

Acclaimed researcher Manolis Bardanis ( is credited with a detailed research on this wreck's history, in cooperation with other historians. 
Another view of the wreck

Παρασκευή, 5 Αυγούστου 2016

The Heinkel He111 of Leros, shot down on 14 November 1943

On 14 November 1943, the crews of two 46 Squadron Beaufighters, Flight Lieutenant D. J. A. Crerar (pilot) with Pilot Officer L. Charles, and Flying Officer B. F. Wild (pilot) together with Flight Sergeant R. W. Gibbons, shared in the destruction of a Heinkel He 111H (8011/6N+EP) of II./K.G. 100. This was shot down north of Leros with the loss of Gefreiter Helmut Grundke (air-gunner).

According to researcher Byron Tesapsides the crew of this ill fated He 111H (6N+EP, W.Nr. 8011) was: Pilot Uffz. Walter Pink, Fw. Kurt Bruder (MIA), BF. Fw. Johann Sonnenschein (wounded), BS. Uffz. Helmut Grundke (KIA)

The fuselage of the He111 at Panteli beach, Leros in 2013. Shortly afterwards the wreck disappeared. Photo Credit: Andrew Clark

READ MORE HERE: WW2 German aircraft shot down in 1943 recovered in Leros

Part of the He111 still remains at a depth of 16 metres and is a popular diving site in Leros.
Photo Credit:

Πέμπτη, 4 Αυγούστου 2016

Paying the ultimate price for freedom: Gliders, the Flying Coffins of World War II

Eight members of an Airborne Division, their faces covered with parachute shrouds, lie dead beside the wreckage of their glider, near Hiesville France. 6 June 1944

Signal Corps Photo #ETO-HQ-44-5112
Photo taken by RUNYAN Photo released 17 June 1944.
[This is the 437th TCG glider #1, 7 June 1944 flight. Glider Pilots were F/O Richard G. Mercer T-60767 Pilot and 1st Lt. George G. Parker O-349331 as Co-Pilot. Lt. Parker later went on to fly a glider into Holland (Market Operation) in September '44 and Germany (Varsity Operation) in March '45.]

"Flying coffins." "Tow targets." Pilots and glider-borne infantry had colorful and well-earned nicknames for their ungainly planes. But according to at least one veteran flight officer, the most common moniker for the combat glider was way off base: "Silent Wings."

Without a doubt, the Normandy invasion was the most important operation in WW2. After invasions in the "soft under belly" of the German Fortress Europe, an attack on the west coast was imminent. The idea of where and how was the biggest secret.

That airborne troops were to be used was no secret. 

Since the development of Airborne operations by the German in 1940, almost all major invasions and campaigns were executed with the use of airborne forces. 

Now, the largest airborne operation up to that time was planned. 

A British Airborne Division was to land on the east side. Their goal was to protect the flank of the invasion beaches, to capture some bridges and German batteries. 

This resulted in one of the best glider landings throughout the war as in the opening stage of the invasion, British gliders landed yards from the bridges that were to be captured by the Glider Infantry carried in by the gliders. 

Today, the Pegasus Bridge is one of the most important historic places in the area of the British landings.

On the other end of the invasion beaches were the landing grounds of the US Airborne Divisions. 

Two divisions were to land on the Cotentin Peninsula. The focus was to capture important bridges and causeways. 

The causeways were the routes for the invasion forces to get out of the beach area and reach the hinterland. Bridges are important as they are needed in offensive operations to advance or in defensive operation to block the enemy from crossing a river.

The first gliders were to arrive in this area in the early hours of June 6, 1944; in two lifts, one flown by the 434th Troop Carrier Group and a second by the 437th Troop Carrier Group. 

These glider missions each had their own code name. The first two were Chicago (434th) and Detroit (437th). 

The gliders all landed in the dark. Without all the Pathfinder beacons set, flying through a cloudbank and enemy fire and the darkness, it was difficult to find the landing zone. 

The presence of trees, hedgerows and Rommel Asparagus made these night landings difficult to carry out. 

The lead glider of the mission crashed into a hedgerow, killing two of the four occupants, including General Pratt of the 101st Airborne Division. 

German reactions, the dark, all contributed to a hectic appearance of the Normandy battlefield where small groups of Airborne roamed around to find their units and objectives. On these first two missions, American CG-4A Waco"s were used.

Later on the same day, more glider missions were flown, (437th,  436th and 435th Troop Carrier Groups). 

These landings were met by stiff German anti-aircraft fire. This, and small fields with hedgerows caused many problems. This was also the first time that the Americans used British Horsa gliders in an airborne operation. 

The wooden Horsas cracked up in hedgerows and trees. With a larger load then the CG-4A Waco, the number of casualties in the Horsa crashes were higher.
"We had dropped down to about 100 feet as we crossed the beach and had climbed to between 400 and 500 feet over our "landing zone" (really no landing zone as it was up to us to pick any field we could get into)...

We made one 90 degree turn to the left, we passed over a glider that had already landed.

It evidently had hit a mine or something; anyway the whole glider was enveloped in flames. It was then, I became aware of the enemy firing at the gliders and tow ships...

The damn trees were about 50 feet tall (as in all the hedgerows) and I was about five feet too low to clear them. A tall limb hit my left wing about the same time as my undercarriage snagged in the tops of the trees.

The left wing, catching as it did, pulled us in a turn of 90 degrees and we stopped at the base of the trees with the left wing still tangled and the tail section twisted upside down. Not one of us got a scratch."

Normandy fields.
Courtesy of the National Archives / NWWIIGPA Collection
This picture back from Northern France shows gliders of the 9th AF initial assault for the liberation of Europe..

"When given the green light, I could see two gliders ablaze on the ground and others that had cracked up.

No suitable LZ's were visible to my left or right. I picked a half-ploughed field half the size of a football field. Upon landing, my glider lost part of its right wing and received damage to the nose section."

On the 7th, missions Galveston (437th and 434th) and Hackensack (439th and 441st) were executed. 

The circumstances of these glider landings were not much different from those of the previous day. 

These last missions were to bring in elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. Again CG-4A and Horsa gliders were used. This was the last time that the US used Horsa gliders in a combat operation.

These glider missions were not the end of glider landings in Normandy. 

Some days after these missions, the 436th Troop Carrier Group executed resupply missions to Normandy with gliders landing on an airstrip. 

Among the glider pilots who flew this resupply mission were also pilots who had landed in Normandy a few days earlier. This was their second trip to Normandy. These later missions were without casualties.

Courtesy National Archives/ NWWIIGPA Collection
ALLIES LAND IN FRANCE.....Gliders loaded with essential supplies land on a partially completed airfield somewhere in northern France. Despite the steady stream of gliders bringing in men and equipment from England, the work on the airfield goes on uninterrupted. 15 June 1944

Τετάρτη, 3 Αυγούστου 2016

A Greek PZL P24 fighter aircraft, 1940-41

The Royal Hellenic Air Force (EVA) is the only air force during WW2 to operate the PZL.24 as its main fighter type. 

Two subtypes, thirty P.24F and six P.24G, were ordered and delivered in 1937-38. 

They were split between three Mirae Dioxeos (Fighter Squadrons): the 21st at Trikala, 22nd at Thessaloniki and 23rd at Larissa. 

The only other operational Greek fighters, stationed further south, were eight Bloch MB.151s and two each Gladiator Mk I and Avia B-534 II, both of which were of limited value. 

When Italy attacked in October 1940, the Polish fighter was the Greeks' only modern type in adequate numbers. 

However, by 1940, the PZL.24 was no longer a front-runner despite a powerful powerplant and satisfactory armament. 

It had no speed advantage over the Fiat Cr.42 nor could it outfly the nimble Italian biplane, while it was much slower than the Macchi MC.200 and the Fiat G.50 it was pitted against. 

Its armament was the only real advantage against the Italian fighters whose reliance on the slow firing Breda-SAFAT 12.7mm machine guns proved detrimental. 

The PZL.24F armed with two 20mm Oerlikon FF cannon and two MGs gave the Greeks a temporary edge in combat until lack of ammunition and spares forced EVA to re-arm all P.24Fs with 4x Colt–Browning 7.7 mm MG40 machine guns. 

Overall, the PZLs performed gallantly during the early period of the conflict, holding their own against impossible numerical odds and despite the fact that their main target were enemy bombers which forced them to fight at a disadvantage against enemy fighters. 

Italian claims of easy superiority over the Albanian front were vastly over-rated and their kill claims even exceeded the total number of operational fighters on the Greek side. 

Total Greek fighter losses -in combat- came to 24 a/c with the Greek fighter pilots claiming 64 confirmed kills and 24 probables (about two third bombers). 

By April 1941, however, lack of spares and attrition had forced EVA to merge the five surviving PZL.24s into one understrength squadron supported by five Gloster Gladiators Mk I and II and the two surviving MB.151s. 

These fought hopelessly against the Luftwaffe onslaught in April 1941 scoring 4 kills (two Hs-126, one Ju-87B and one Do-17) and losing most of their surviving a/c on the ground. None of the Pulawski fighters survived.

FOUND! A WW2 Italian fighter Macchi C202 "Folgore" wreck in Sicily (VIDEO)

The ROV Hercules came across the remains of a downed aircraft in Sicily, Italy. 

The Wing Roundel on this Regia Aeronautica's aircraft is still visible after 70+ years at the bottom of the sea!

This fighter aircraft is a WW2 Italian fighter Macchi C.202 Folgore.

Τρίτη, 2 Αυγούστου 2016

The lost Spitfires: Searching for the aircraft wrecks of the WW2 legends

WW2 Aviation enthusiasts in Greece, members of have initiated a search for the Spitfire wrecks lost between April 4th to August 7th, 1945.

Those three Supermarine Spitfires crashed in the area of Vari (see map below) and belonged to the 335 and 336 Fighter Squadrons of the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF). 

According to official reports, two of them crashed at sea, while the details for the third aircraft do not specify the exact crash site.

The researchers were motivated from the reports presented in "Supermarine Spitfire losses in Greece 1942-1953", edited by respected researcher Manolis Bardanis and the official website of  the Hellenic Air Force. 

An initial assessment of the survey area

In November 1944 the Greek squadrons returned to liberated Greece, where they engaged in operations against the remaining German garrisons in the Aegean islands and Crete.

335 Fighter Squadron emblem

Nikos Karatzas, team leader of the project, said to WW2 Wrecks in Greece

"The detection of aircraft wreckage at sea is difficult and this is mainly due to the size of the Spitfire, as well as because of the absence of information or indications on the exact crash sites. 

The depth at the areas we are conducting our research ranges from 20 to 65 meters." 

Aviation Archaeology experts during a survey expedition

336 Fighter Squadron emblem

No 335 (Greek) Squadron

Formed on 10 October 1941 at Aqir airfield in Palestine.

Initially it was equipped with Hurricane Mk I aircraft. 

The squadron began operations over the Western Desert, where it operated continuously until late 1942, participating in convoy protection,
bomber escort and ground attack roles. 

It remained there on offensive operations until after the Battle of El Alamein when it moved into shipping protection duties along the Libyan coast.

In January 1944 it was re-equipped with the newer Spitfire Mk Vb and Vc aircraft. 

In September 335 Squadron moved to Italy, where it conducted operations over Albania and Yugoslavia. 

In November the squadron returned to its homeland, from where it attacked German forces in the Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete.

On 15 September, the squadron was moved along with its sister unit to the Italian theatre, from where it carried out operations primarily over occupied Yugoslavia.

The letter codes allocated to this squadron were the FG - possibly meaning "Free Greeks".

Operations Record Book with details on P/O Nikolopoulos sorties on 4.4.1945 and his crash. His body was found on the following day.

Official report related to the loss of P/O Georgios Nikolopoulos
No 336 (Greek) Squadron

The second Greek squadron was formed in the Western Desert on 25 February 1943.

From then until February 1944 the squadron was involved in shipping protection and air defense
duties along the Libyan coast. 

Together with 335 sq., both units moved to Italy in September 1944, from where they operated over Albania and Yugoslavia.

In November 1944, 336 returned to its homeland and carried out attacks against German forces in the  Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete.

The squadron moved to Thessaloniki in May 1945.

A Greek Spitfire

The research conducted by respected historian Manolis Bardanis

Greek Spitfires

The survey area

Pilots and ground crew of 336 Fighter Squadron

Members of Aviation Archaeology during a previous survey.
A German Bf109 wreck in Crete