By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos © Giannis Liontis and used by permission
The dramatic events, which led to the conquest of Kos island by the German forces in October 1943, come to light again, thanks to the combined efforts of locals Giannis Liontis, Antonis Togrou and Minas Kasiou.
The three Kos island natives, managed to find the remains of a German aircraft, shot down and destroyed upon impact, killing its two crew members on the spot and with the assistance of the leading WW2 aircraft history in Greece Ioannis Mylonas, positively identified it.
With the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, German forces in the Balkans and the Mediterranean moved to take over the Italian-held areas. At the same time, the Allies, under the instigation of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, endeavoured to occupy the Dodecanese island chain. The Dodecanese islands, under Italian control since 1912, were strategically located in the southeastern Aegean Sea, and Churchill hoped to use them as a base against German positions in the Balkans, and as a means to pressure neutral Turkey into the war on the Allied side.
On 1st October 1943, a concentration of shipping was observed in the ports of Crete, and early on the following morning a convoy steaming in a north-north-easterly direction south-east of Milos island was sighted by British aircraft. Urgent supplies were landed on Kos island by five Dakotas, and during their unloading the news came that a small German invasion fleet of 10 vessels was at sea. This flotilla carried a task force composed of a battle group (“Kampfgruppe”) from the 22nd Infantry Division in Crete, as well as “Brandenburg” special forces from the mainland, namely the 1st Amphibious Battalion and the 5th Paratrooper Battalion, part of the entire Regiment of Brandenburger assigned to the attack, all under the command of Lt Gen Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller.
At 04.30 hours on 3 October the invasion of Kos began. By midday, 1,200 Germans, well-armed with light artillery and armoured cars, were ashore and in action. Dive-bombing by Junkers 87, known as “Stuka”, added to the difficulties of the defence, and in the afternoon Antimachia was overrun.
Mr. Giannis Liontis, told the story of the discovery of the ill-fated Stuka and its crew to www.ww2wrecks.com, for our worldwide audience:
“On October 3rd, 1943, Stuka dive bombers coming from Rhodes island, flew through the ravine of Aragi in Kos island, in order to bomb the airport of Kos. Their course demonstrated that they wanted to surprise the British and Italian anti aircraft crews, flying low and through the ravine.
Among the losses of the German forces from the battle of that day, the Luftwaffe has recorded in its official records the loss of three Junkers Ju-87 D Stuka dive bombers. The first crashed on the islet of Syrna, west of Tilos island, the second crashed in the sea and the third on the island of Kos.
It is probable that the third Stuka was shot down by either an Italian or British A/A gun, as Breda (Italian) or Hispano (British) guns were located at Evriokastro in the area, protecting the airfield in Kos.
With persistent research and a lot of walking, we managed to find what remained of this Stuka aircraft’s wreck, scattered in various parts of the area.
We also succeeded in finding the details of the crew killed in the crash and the details of the aircraft, thanks to the valuable help of expert Mr. Ioannis Mylonas. The Ju 87 D-4 aircraft, W. Nr.1113, SU + FH belonged to the 1st Squadron / 3rd Wing (1/StG-3) of dive attack bombers. The details of the two KIA crew members are Pilot, Jordan Stifter and Radio Operator Arthur Achenbach.
While the precise location of the crash has not yet been identified, we managed to find lots of debris scattered around, as well as larger pieces, used by locals in the nearby farmhouses, as war material was reused, even during WW2 for their needs.”
The main German convoy, which had been attacked from air was estimated to have consisted of seven transports, seven landing craft, three destroyers and numerous caiques (fishing craft) and other small craft. The principal landings took place at Marmari and Tingachi (in the north central part of the island) and at Camare Bay (south-west) with subsidiary landings at Forbici and Capo Foco (on the north-east and south-east tips of the island).
Paratroops were dropped west and south of Antimachia. By 12.00 hours the Germans were reported as having landed 1,500 men. At about 13.30 hours a further small German paratroop landing of a company from the Brandenburg Division was made in the centre of the island, and more troops arrived by sea. For the British forces the situation was reported as confused, but by 18.00 it was further reported as critical.
The Durham Light Infantry, SBS and paratroopers fought gallantly but in the face of superior numbers and heavier equipment were forced to withdraw to positions covering the town and port of Kos and the airfield. That evening the Germans attacked the British positions in strength reducing the British position to a small area around the town of Kos. The German strength had been reinforced to an estimated 4,000 men by the evening of 3 October.
The Italian and British forces had ceased organised resistance by 06.00 on 4 October. 1,388 British and 3,145 Italians were taken prisoners, while the captured Italian commander of the island, Col. Felice Leggio, and nearly 100 of his officers were shot in a major war crime by the Germans.
A German communiqué of 5 October reporting the cessation of hostilities on Kos gave the number of prisoners taken as 600 British and 2,500 Italians, with more Italians coming in. A number of the British force escaped to neighbouring islands and were rescued by the Special Boat Service operating at night.
The capture of Kos would have disastrous consequences for British operations in the Dodecanese Islands.
Deprived of air cover, the Allies were in the long run unable to hold the other islands, while the Germans pressed their advantage, capturing Leros island a month later and completing their conquest of the Dodecanese by the end of November. In the conclusion of the official despatch covering these operations, it is remarked that:
We failed because we were unable to establish airfields in the area of operations. […]
The enemy’s command of the air enabled him so to limit the operations and impair the efficiency of land, sea and air forces that by picking his time he could deploy his comparatively small forces with decisive results. […]
Had more aircraft been available, especially modern long-range fighters, and given more luck, the operations might have been prolonged, but after the loss of Kos, if the enemy were prepared to divert the necessary effort, it is doubtful if Leros could have been held indefinitely without our embarking on a major operation for which no forces were available.
A further consequence of the German occupation of Kos was the deportation of the small long established Jewish congregation to the European death camps. None of the Jews survived the war