An untold footnote to World War II

In 2005, Europe has been commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. For Greece, of course, direct involvement in the Second World War came to an end in October 1944 with the German withdrawal, although the horrors of the Dekemvriana and the subsequent civil war lay ahead. But the German retreat from Greece did not signify the end of Nazi ambitions to continue to wage war in the country. This is demonstrated by a curious incident: the parachuting into the Peloponnese in February 1945 of a sabotage mission to exploit the post-Dekemvriana political crisis to Germany’s advantage. The mission, pathetic in its irrelevance and absurdity, was made up of Greek-speaking Vlachs drawn from those who had migrated from Greece to Romania after World War I. A number of these newly arrived Vlach migrants had been attracted by the mystical, religiously based Romanian variant of fascism known as the «Iron Guard.» This was by far the largest and most dynamic fascist party in the Balkans and, by the late 1930s, had become a considerable force in Romanian politics. So much so that in 1940, a «National Legionary State» was established, with the authoritarian nationalist leader Marshal Ion Antonescu collaborating in an uneasy partnership with the Iron Guard under Horia Sima, the leader of the movement. Although the Iron Guard constituted the natural ideological ally of the Nazis, the movement was too unpredictable for the Germans, who, early in 1941, backed Antonescu in a showdown with the Guard. But the Nazis hedged their bets by rounding up Sima and several hundred Guardists and interning them in camps in Germany for possible future use. Among these interned Guardists were a number of Vlachs originating from Greece. Sure enough, Horia Sima and his followers were put to use following King Michael’s coup of August 23, 1944, against Antonescu. This resulted in Romania switching sides in the war and joining the anti-fascist coalition. The Germans forthwith proclaimed Sima the leader of a puppet pro-Nazi Romanian government based in Vienna, to which the interned Iron Guardists were moved in a state of some confusion. Training in Austria Just before Christmas 1944, as the Dekemvriana raged in Athens, the Germans called for Greek-speaking volunteers from among these Iron Guardists for a mission to Greece. Three Greek-speaking Vlach volunteers were dispatched to Guntramsdorf near Vienna. Here they were billeted with 11 Vlachs who had retreated from Greece alongside the German forces. These 11 may well have been involved with the Vlach «Roman Legion» created by the Italians in Thessaly and Epirus. The 14 were then trained for the mission by an Oberleutnant Prinz and a Lieutenant Lorre. This lasted for less than three weeks and involved the use of machine guns, automatic pistols and pistols, along with camouflage and sabotage techniques, including the use of time fuses and booby traps. Two of the party were sent to Murau for training as wireless operators. The entire group was trained for parachute landings, although in the turmoil of the rapidly disintegrating Third Reich they never completed a practice jump. The mission team was initially scheduled to be parachuted into Greece on the night of January 30-31, 1945, when there was a full moon, but the flight was called off due to bad weather. A fortnight later, however, on February 13, the party was hauled out of a cinema and told they would be flying that night. They were given last-minute instructions by Lieutenant Lorre. As they subsequently told their British interrogators, the mission was given í700 in pounds sterling and dollar bills, along with 50 gold sovereigns. Two radio transmitters, with appropriate codes, two light machine guns, two automatic pistols, together with explosives, detonators, fuses and timing mechanisms were packed into four containers which were to be dropped with them. The party was dressed in civilian clothes for they were not part of any military unit, neither German or Romanian, and each member was given a revolver before embarking on a Junkers 52 at Wiener Neustadt airfield base. Their mission was to radio information three times a week on the political situation in Greece, with particular reference to EAM/ELAS; on the strength and location of British forces; and on the strength and popularity of the Greek government and of the forces at its disposal. Through intrigue and propaganda they were to foment civil strife and bad blood wherever possible. At a later stage, they were to sabotage roads and bridges. They would be supplied by parachute drops. It was intended that some members of the mission should, if possible, actually join ELAS. They were given no contacts in Greece and no arrangements were made for their evacuation. Instead, bizarrely, they were told to await the return of German forces to Greece. Presumably in their internment camps they had been so cut off from accurate information that they had little idea as to how badly the war was going for the Germans. Upon parachuting into Greece at 3 a.m. on February 14, the party, as often happened with such missions, was widely scattered. A group of seven was unable to link up with the other members of the team. Nor were they able to recover the crates containing their supplies, which appear to have been collected by local villagers. The seven soon became aware of the hopelessness of their situation and decided to embark on the perilous journey from the Peloponnese overland to Romania. They did not get very far before being captured. They had been dropped near Kerpini. After lying up for a day, they gradually made their way northward, via Valtesinikon, Karvouni and Kato Klitoria to Kalavryta, which they reached at midday on February 17. Here they took the train to Diakopton, where they arrived on the evening of the same day. That same evening, two members of the party went into a kafeneio in Diakopton where they made the mistake of offering a gold sovereign in payment. The cafe owner was unable to offer change for such a valuable coin, whereupon they proffered a dollar bill. They seemingly had no Greek money with them. Their behavior aroused suspicion and they were arrested by two members of the Greek armed forces. The arrested men revealed where the other five members of the party were staying. One of the members of the second group was also arrested on February 17 in hiding in Dafni, while there were reports of another member being held captive in Kalivia. Yet another member of this second group had parachuted into a tree and was reported to have been captured in Mouria. A «top secret» account of their abortive mission is contained in a report compiled in Corinth on February 20, 1945, by a British officer, Captain P.M. Gardner. He took part in the interrogation of the leader of the party, Ion Adanucu, and of one of the wireless operators, George Varduli. The other members are listed as George Geagea, the deputy leader; Vasile Ciunga; Nicolae Anagnosta, the second wireless operator; Achile Gulea; Anton Janculi; Miltiadi Zeana; George and Vasile Dica (presumably related, perhaps brothers); Panaiot Simu; Sterie Cutova; Naum Colimitra and Spiru Hasioti. This mission party, which may not have been the only one despatched to Greece at the time, was launched two months to the day before Vienna was liberated by Soviet troops. The subsequent fate of the party is not clear. Were they repatriated to Romania? Here their fate in a country where the Communists, bitterly hostile to the Iron Guard, were remorselessly tightening their grip would have been harsh, just as it would have been had they found themselves in Russian-occupied Vienna. Did they disappear into the sea of displaced persons in a Europe freed from Nazi tyranny? Or did they, like a number of Iron Guardists, end up in Franco’s Spain or in South America? What is clear, however, was that this must surely have been one of the last German special operations missions mounted during the Second World War and was certainly one of the most pointless. It achieved no military purpose whatsoever. Nevertheless, the mission does demonstrate that, even in the last chaotic days of the Third Reich, the Nazis were determined to wreak havoc and destruction even in countries from which they had long withdrawn. (1) Richard Clogg is an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford.