By Pierre Kosmidis
Captioned photos by Lt. (GM) Nikolaos Christofilis HN, Author and Independent Researcher
Wartime propaganda mechanisms are generally inflating the numbers of enemy aircraft shot down, while downgrading the numbers of their own losses.
This general rule applies to every nation at war and as time goes by, many myths are shrouding the truth and actual events with inaccurate information.
Tales of “heroic deeds”, grossly exaggerated claims, descriptions that would be more appropriate to a Hollywood movie, rather than an accurate account of losses and successes are surviving to these days, obstructing a clear view of what really happened in the skies in 1940-41.
Seven plus decades after the end of WW2, many myths still survive to this day, to a point where many think that a wartime propaganda report, is true and accurate.
For the first time, www.ww2wrecks.com will attempt to clarify the facts, find the truth behind the myths and set the record straight regarding the losses and successes of the Royal Hellenic Air Force and the Regia Aeronautica during the Greco-Italian War of 1940-41 and of the Luftwaffe during the German invasion of Greece in April 1941.
For this reason, www.ww2wrecks.com contacted acclaimed author and researcher Lt. (GM) Nikolaos Christofilis HN, who wrote the book “Guns and aerial victories of the Greek Air Force, 1940-41”
Lt. (GM) Nikolaos Christofilis HN, after thorough research which lasted well over a decade, reached the conclusion that the Royal Hellenic Air Force successes amounted to 68 confirmed and 23 likely aerial victories (both Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe), while losing 24 aircraft due to enemy action.
Here is what Lt. (GM) Nikolaos Christofilis HN has to say about the Air Battles of 1940-41 over Greece and Albania:
How many aircraft losses are confirmed during 1940-41, according to your research?
It would be wrong to try to answer this question, just by throwing in some numbers, without being absolutely certain whether we have found all available information or not.
During 1940-41, the Royal Hellenic Air Force did not observe official daily tables of victories against enemy aircraft, as the RAF did during the Battle of Britain for example, with news bulletins announcing those victories on a daily basis.
The bigger part of information that survives to this day on this subject, comes from official documents which can be found at the Hellenic Air Force Museum. For example, there are official Reports for which we do not know whether they have been rescued in their entirety, or if all victories were eventually noted down.
We also draw important information from Official Reports of Squadrons, however the names of the pilots credited with shooting down an enemy aircraft are not included.
We should stress however that the Royal Hellenic Air Force (EBA) had very strict criteria in confirming an aerial victory. According to post war assessments , with the then available official information, confirmed RHAF (EBA) kills of enemy aircraft were between 63 and 67, while 23 or 24 kills were unconfirmed, including both Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe aircraft.
My personal estimate, after more than a decade of research, is that the above mentioned claims deviate very little from the actual numbers and amount to 68 confirmed and 23 likely kills of Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe aircraft.
Why do all sides “inflate” the number of their kills?
“White Propaganda” constitutes a constant tactic of every nation in war.
Each side tries to “inflate” their kills and downgrade the number and gravity of their own losses.
The purpose is to raise morale, both of the fighting forces, as well as of the general public. However, apart from the deliberate differentiation in numbers of victories or losses, there are many cases when this happens simply due to miscalculations, because of two main causes:
The first parameter is how easily each country is adopting the statements of the fighter pilots, while the second cause is the perception that the pilot has himself credited for the kill, intentionally submitting a false post-battle report.
As an example of the first case we can see the “Air combat of Trikala”, as it has gone down in History:
This air battle took place between Greek and German aircraft on 15 April 1941 and we know with absolute precision the Greek losses: 1 Bloch 151, 1 PZL 24 and 1 Gladiator, with their operators Pty Off G. Mokkas, Sg L. Katsarelis and Flg L. I. Kellas.
The German side though in their official reports that survived the war claimed 6 kills: 1 Bloch 151 that initially had been recognized as a Hurricane, 1 PZL 24 and 1 Gladiator that are credited to Oblt Gustav Rödel, 1 PZL 24 to Ofw Otto Schulz, while Lt Ernst Borngen and Oblt Wilhelm Wiesinger are credited with 1 Gladiator each.
This happened because the Luftwaffe recognized kills, simply with the testimony of another pilot who participated in the same air combat.
Regarding the second parameter, on the involuntarily “alteration” of the number of kills, we should take into account sociologist Raymond Aron’s “Common Fallacy” (Illusion De La Multitude), which justifies the cases where an enemy aircraft shot down is credited to three or four pilots.
We should not overlook Social Psychology and the “Theory of Social Output” (“Attribution Theory”), according to which “People tend to see cause and effect relationships, even where there is none!” (Heider, 1958)
In the case of claimed kills from the Italian side (Regia Aeronautica), we can say that the “inflated” kill numbers and downgrading their own losses, are a combination of all the above mentioned causes.
According to the international bibliography on the subject, the losses the Italians suffered, from Greek fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft batteries and RAF aircraft stationed in Greece, amount to 65 shot down and 495 damaged, while Italian sources mention 97 shot down and 71 damaged.
None of these two versions actually correspond to the accurate numbers.
While Greek anti-aircraft fire claims 30 Italian aircraft shot down, Royal Hellenic Air Force claims more than 60 Italian aircraft shot down and the RAF claims the excessive number of 150 Regia Aeronautica aircraft destroyed,we should be very cautious and approach those claims with absolute reserve, for the same reasons.
The Italians claim that the Regia Aeronautica had 218 Greek aircraft confirmed shot down and another 55 as “possibly shot down”.
Those numbers are obviously unrealistic, as the total number of aircraft the Royal Hellenic Air Force lost due to enemy action in air combats or destroyed, is hardly 24 aircraft.
If we were to accept those Italian claims as correct, that would mean that Greece would have no aircraft left by December 1940, i.e. after just a couple of months after the Greco-Italian war started.
Was the Royal Hellenic Air Force’s role decisive during the Greco-Italian war of 1940-41?
A direct answer to this question would be:
“Absolutely! The role of the RHAF was absolutely decisive, as their actions helped to a great extent the Battles fought on the mountains by the Greek Army”.
A clear example, which demonstrates the importance of the RHAF in land operations and positively influenced the development of the war, is the incident of an outdated reconnaissance Breguet 19 aircraft, which on the 6th day of war (on November 4, 1940) while flying in adverse weather conditions, managed to detect the positions and movement of the Italian “Julia” Division and transmitted the information to the land forces which reacted immediately and effectively against this threat.
We should also note that, contrary to what many people think, the Greek aircraft were equipped with guns and cannons which were qualitatively superior and more effective than the Italian ones, as I reported in my book “Guns and aerial victories of the Greek Air Force, 1940-41”.
One third of the PZL 24 fighters were equipped with two Skoda 7,92mm machine-guns and two deadly 20mm Oerlikon cannons.
This configuration was revolutionary for that period, as Greece took this decision in 1936, while Germany used the same configuration of armament three years later with the Messerschmitt Bf109E-3 and Britain used cannons in the RAF fighter aircraft after the Battle of Britain!
Greek Armed forces chief, General Alexandros Papagos in cooperation with the leadership of the Royal Hellenic Air Force, used the Greek Air Force Fleet very successfully, both in an operational level for the support of his land forces, as well as in a strategic level against the Italian supply lines, even against the British doctrine, which opted for the exclusive use of the Air Force against strategic interest objectives.
Another important aspect is the training of Greek fighter pilots, which is among the subjects of my next book “War preparations of the Royal Hellenic Air Force 1936-1940” . My findings actually reverse the typical idea of the qualitative superiority of Italian pilots as compared to the Greek pilots.
Italian fighter aircraft pilots who entered service at the Regia Aeronautica in 1936, had roughly recorded 170 flight hours during training, while the Greek pilots had up to 440 flight hours on average. This shows a lot about the level of preparedness of pilots that would meet in the skies above Greece and Albania.
What led to the choice of many different models of aircraft by the Royal Hellenic Air Force? Did this fact affect operations?
According to the official History of Greek Military Aviation, the aircraft procurement programme involved the purchase of 284 military aircraft, starting in 1935.
Eventually, the governmental programme after 1936, modified the number to 275 planes and it appears that this process was set in two stages:
In the first, from 1936 to 1937, with the acquisition of Polish-made PZL 24 fighter aircraft and Bristol Blenheim bombers and the second, from 1938 to 1939, with the acquisition of Supermarine Spitfire fighters and LeO 451 medium bombers.
These objectives however were not achieved. At the same time, other projects were in the process of materialisation: The rearmament of Military and Naval Cooperation squadrons and the modernisation of the air fleet used for training. In 1936 – 37, the more serious obstacle was the dire financial condition of Greece, a problem that was dealt with, to a certain extent, with the public Lottery for the Aviation, as well as the “clearing” method, which amounted to paying the aircraft with agricultural goods or mineral ore and other products, instead of cash.
Thus, it was possible to purchase aircraft and equipment, but as time passed and we got closer to WW2 there were serious difficulties.
From 1938, European industries began to slow down deliveries to their overseas customers and progressively stopped them entirely.
Greece had placed orders but the aircraft were either no more available, or their suppliers simply refused to deliver.
The preparations for WW2, had led many if not all of the countries with aircraft industries to keep the aircraft for their own use. Thus, other orders remained unfinished, certain were modified while others were cancelled.
In order to deal with the danger of not acquiring aircraft, the Greek Ministry of Aviation contacted various suppliers. The split of orders aimed at the increase of possibilities for obtaining aircraft, even if some of the aircraft industries would be forced to interrupt the deliveries.
However the rapid developments in the European continent, forced the Royal Hellenic Air Force to seek “any plane from any source”. The final outcome was the acquisition of various types of planes, a fact that later caused adverse criticism from politicians and veteran pilots.
Because of the political and economic conditions that prevailed in Europe during 1937 – 38, the Aviation Ministry was forced to order both French Potez 633 and British Blenheim bombers, trying to ensure that some of these orders in bombers would eventually materialise. The fluidity of the situation, did not allow anyone to know which countries in Europe would be neutral or free the day after.
In October 1940, Greece had managed to acquire 121 modern military aircraft, while another 56 obsolete models were also available, without however having purchased the desirable number of aircraft. Another 127 aircraft that had been ordered were never delivered, even in cases where advance payments were made.
The Royal Hellenic Air Force had two main types of fighter aircraft, PZL 24 and Bloch 151, 3 types of bombers, Potez 633B2, Bristol Blenheim MkIV and Fairey Battle MkI, 3 types of army cooperation aircraft, Potez 25, Breguet 19 and Henschel 126K6, as well as 3 types of naval cooperation aircraft, Fairey IIIF, Dornier Do22 and Avro Anson MkI.
The Fairey Battle were not a high selection purchase but just an emergency solution , in order to cater for the delay in delivery and ultimately the non-arrival of all Bristol Blenheim ordered in a first place.
Potez 25 and Breguet 19, were obsolete by 1940 and were necessarily kept in flying condition until the arrival of the new Henschel 126K6.
For the same reason, the small number of Fairey IIIF floatplanes that were bought in 1937, would cover the needs until the arrival of the modern Dornier Do22.
Avro Anson, that was initially used for the training of pilots in twin-engined aircraft, was during the period the main aircraft used for the coastal defence of Britain, where it has proved to be reliable and durable.
Finally, Bloch MB151 fighter aircraft were not on top of the list, but were purchased when it became obvious that theSupermarine Spitfire MkI ordered by Greece would never reach the country.
All of the above vividly demonstrate that it would be a mistake to attribute responsibilities to the Greek government during that period. Different types of aircraft are always a huge logistics and training problem for any Air Force.
Regarding the period examined, we can say that it created many problems. If however Greece had not chosen to go with different types of aircraft, there would be less types but less aircraft too.
Which incident would you choose from the 1940-41 Air Battles over Greece and Albania?
I would go on and select an incident which is related to the human factor, as my choice would reflect the moral values and the bravery of Greek pilots, who lacked figures against their opponents.
Incidents where Greek fighter pilots rammed Italian aircraft are well known, such as Flg Off Marinos Mitralexis and Pty Off Grigoris Balkanas.
I dare to distinguish the death of Flg Off Anastasios Mpardavilias, on 11 February 1941, at the Katsikas airport base.
According to an eyewitness I found, Mpardavilias with Sgt Nikolaos Kostorrizos started running towards their aircraft, while Italian Fiat G50 were strafing the airport in a surprise attack.
While both men were aware that their chances to survive were minimal, they nevertheless took-off with their Gladiators.
Kostorrizos’ Gladiator was hit during take-off and he was miraculously saved, while Mpardavilias in his effort to bring down one of the attacking G50, was mortally hit by the combined fire of four Italian fighters.
I chose this event for personal reasons, as from a very young age I was moved by the sacrifice of this pilot.
How easy is to search for historical files and and look at the investigation of historical truth, far from solidified perceptions, “fables” and “myths”?
It is not easy in Greece to look into files and archives, because you find yourself confronted with the indifference of “responsible” persons or authorities, or the regulations, something that a researcher will not experience in other institutions around the world.
It is quite typical in Greece not to be able to make copies of files, apart from a few pages. On the contrary in the British Archives the researcher is even given the supporting equipment in order to photograph the content of all files he wants, with almost no restriction.
So my question is: Can anyone do serious research with just 5 photocopies, when the file in question has thousands of documents? How many visits should the researcher make in order to keep notes, when the Archives Office is only open during morning hours?
I will never forget when I asked the copy of a 1930s photograph, in which a pilot was standing in front of his aircraft.
After many deliberations, I received a negative answer, while the Archives official who pointed out that I would not be able to copy the photo, due to personal data protection laws!
Another way to get information, apart from state archives and official institutions are private individuals who possess valuable information, collectors, or relatives of veteran pilots.
Relatives are usually very helpful, while collectors, in certain cases, ask for compensation.
Real research is done through primary sources and not via a quick search on the internet. Most of the information on the internet is full of inaccurate information and errors that complicate the research for the historical truth, perpetuating “fables” and “easy” truths.
The researcher can approach the historical truth by connecting dots that create the bigger picture.
When for a lot of decades “myths” are being repeated and have come to be thought as “truths”, it is with great difficulty you can reverse those “myths” even if a researcher comes across documents that prove the opposite.
As an example, an “easy” truth is what many people believe as true, that the opponents, Greeks and Italians were like “David and Goliath”. While it is true that in the Air War the Italian Air Force surpassed the Greek Air Force in numbers, it did not have the same quality of training and personnel, as the Greeks had.
The Greek aircraft were less in number but qualitative superior and they were used with exceptional way. Another “myth” is related to the numerical supremacy of Italians in the ground operations. How many are aware that the Greek Army Divisions allocated more Battalions compared to the Italian ones?
Summing up, I would like to say what comes out of my twenty years of research:
The History of Greek Air Force during 1940-41 is far more important, compared to what we have believed to this day.
GUNS AND AERIAL VICTORIES OF THE GREEK AIR FORCE 1940 – 1941
With the anniversary of 80 years of the Greek Air Force, this is the first presentation of machine guns and cannons, that equipped the Greek aircraft during 1940-41.
The writer, after more than 10 years of research lights up a void in the almost non-existent Greek and international bibliography on this subject.
It is a unique work that presents the armament, the munitions and the aiming systems, with unknown until recently information and with exceptional photographic material, part of which is published for the first time.
The first part of book covers the historical period of the procurement of air armament, in detail analysis of arms and arming systems per type of aircraft, as well as a research with regards to the result, their qualitative and quantitative value.
In the second part, there is a detailed recording of kills achieved by the Greek fighter pilots, based on file reports and cross checked with several credible sources.
For more info contact the Publisher of the book at “DOUREIOS IPPOS”
e- mail:[email protected]
Tel: (+30) 215 5100500