By Pierre Kosmidis
During the Second World War, although being severely outnumbered, counting only 79 aircraft against the 380 fighters and bombers available to the Italian Regia Aeronautica, the Royal Hellenic Air Force managed to successfully resist the Italian invasion in 1940.
On November 2, 1940, a Breguet 19 intercepted the 3 Alpine Division Julia while it was penetrating Pindos mountain range and moving on to occupy Metsovo.
On the same day, Second Lieutenant Marinos Mitralexis, being out of ammunition, aimed the nose of his PZL P.24 right into an enemy Cant Z1007bis tail, smashing the rudder and sending the bomber to the ground, spiralling out of control.
However, after 65 days of war, the RHAF had lost 31 officers killed and seven wounded, plus four NCOs killed and five wounded. Meanwhile, the number of combat aircraft had dropped to 28 fighters and seven battleworthy bombers.
Still, on March 1941 the Italian invasion was confronted successfully. During the Greco-Italian War the Hellenic Air Force shot down 64 enemy aircraft (confirmed) and claimed another 24.
Actually, according to other sources, Italians lost 65 aircraft during the whole campaign, against Greeks and British, getting 495 more aircraft damaged.
In April 1941 the Germans invaded Greece to assist their Italian allies.
READ: The last dogfight of the Hellenic Royal Air Force vs the Luftwaffe on April 15, 1941
Some aircraft managed to escape in the Middle East. The top ace of Hellenic Air Force was Andreas Antoniou with 5.5 victories.
Five Avro Anson, one Dornier Do 22 and three Avro 626 escaped.
Hellenic aviation was rebuilt under the Air Force Ministry based in Cairo.
Three Hellenic squadrons were built, which were operating under the command of the British RAF. These squadrons were the 13th Light Bombing Squadron, with Avro Ansons, Bristol Blenheims and Martin Baltimores, and the 335 and 336 Fighting Squadrons, with Hawker Hurricane I and IIs and Spitfire V types.
The Hellenic Squadrons in the Middle East took over a variety of missions, such as convoy patrols, antisubmarine search, offensive patrols, reconnaissance, attacks and interceptions of enemy aircraft. In summer 1943 the Greek Squadrons participated in the attack against the German Wehrmacht on the island of Crete. From May to November 1944 the Greek squadrons continued in Italy. Greek pilots operated with great success.
Two of those pilots were Pilot Officer G. Tsotsos and Master Sergeant D. Soufrillas flying Spitfires credited with shooting down German Junkers 88 bombers. Seventy men were lost.
During World War II Greek pilots who were flying with the RAF achieved many victories. Rhodesian-born Wing Commander John Agorastos Plagis shot down 16 enemy aircraft over Malta and Western Europe.
Flying Lieutenant Vasilios Michael Vassiliadis was credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft over Western Europe before he was killed in action on March 15, 1945 over Germany.
Steve Pisanos, an immigrant to USA in 1938, joined an Eagle Squadron of American volunteers in the RAF and fought over Western Europe. He later joined the USAF and took US citizenship to continue fighting with the same squadron, now part of the USAF 4th FG. He achieved 10 victories with USAF by 1944.
After Greece’s liberation in 1944, RHAF returned home and subsequently played a decisive role in the Greek Civil War, which lasted until 1949, re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, Spitfire Mk XVI fighters and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver bombers.
Avro 504 N-O
Avro 621 Tutor
Avro Anson Mk I
Breguet 19 A2/B2
Bristol Blenheim MkIV
Fairey Battle B.1
Fairey IIIF Mk I-III-IIIM
Gloster Gladiator MkI
Gloster Mars VI Nighthawk
Hawker Horsley II
Jungers Ju 52-3m
Potez 25 TOE
Potez 633 B2 Grec
Bristol Blenheim MkI
Gloster Gladiator MkII
Savoia Marchetti S.M.97-I. Sparviero