German paratroopers attack island of Leros

German bombs falling on the island of Leros

German bombs falling on the island of Leros

Following the Italian surrender the Germans moved swiftly to occupy the Greek islands that had been previously garrisoned by the Italians. They were to show extraordinary barbarity to their former former allies, after Hitler ordered Italian officers to be shot for treason.

The British sought to intervene on the outermost Greek islands, the Dodecanese, joining the remaining Italians forces in an attempt to prevent the Germans occupying them. They suffered from a lack of air cover, which seriously handicapped the Naval support of the occupation. After the Germans retook Kos they subjected the next major island, Leros, to sustained bombing. Then on 12th November they mounted an invasion led by paratroopers.

William Moss was amongst the men of the King’s Own Royal Regiment who suddenly found themselves facing German parachute troops that day. His account gives a good sense of the confusion of battle on a day when he lost a number of his comrades, was taken prisoner and escaped:

(Our section) While on the way to attack an enemy position, we had to go in forward, suddenly our Section came under small arms fire, which I presumed to be snipers. Para-troops had descended by now, and were getting organised, at about 14 50 hours this attack got more severe. We took up firing positions. Our weapons were hand grenades, one Bren Gun, one Boyes Anti-Tank Rifle and Tommy Guns and Lee Enfield Rifles. With us, at the time was Lieutenant Tiplady, I often wonder if he recovered – he ran into the fire and was wounded, he fell like a log.

After a while, all was quite eerie, it was ‘take cover’ and ‘keep a sharp look-out!’ It must have been 100 yards away when in the sky were blobs of men falling, many were hit. We decided to make an attempt on this position, which we had previously been briefed on. It was a small hill, rising sharply. So we moved on slowly, and cautiously, when suddenly out of the blue came shots, from, I am not certain, a sniper, who was able to pick us off one by one.

I was moving on steadily when our Corporal, named, ‘Hicklin’, got shot in his leg; that left myself to take Command of the remainder of my section. We took up our positions again, for any attack, while doing so Private J Woodward, of Salford, was mortally wounded in his forehead, there was little we could do. So I gave the orders to the remainder of my section to stay with me for orders. At that moment Private Vines was wounded, he was a South Wales Borderer originally.

Now I was left with Private D Hibbert, of Hyde, Cheshire, who was a South Lancashire soldier, a very brave man indeed, Private McDougal from Warrington, Cheshire, [and] Private H Acton (Motor Transport platoon). In the distance was Private Robinson of Bradford, near Belle Vue, Manchester, [who] spotted a transport on the ground which was off-loading supplies and men, it seemed to be in difficulty. So I gave the order to my Bren gunner to fire a few bursts of automatic fire, while the remainder of my Section returned to their own trenches on Mount Clidi under this covering fire.

It was like an ambush, but luckily we got back safe and sound after losing some very brave pals of my section.

The next time I escaped was after Major Tilly gave an order to counter attack to the forward positions on ‘Fortress’. Our positions had now changed hands, but we took it back again. Sergeant Lea was capable now of turning the enemy’s weapons on them. This man had a first class training on weaponry. Staff Sergeant Johnson, of the South Wales Borderers, was now getting worried with all the Stuka Dive Bombers, he was surprised to see us back and we reinforced his section, capturing a few prisoners.

I was given an order to take my section around the perimeter of Mount Clidi; we had no sooner got dug in when the enemy attacked in force. We were taken prisoners, and searched, and our steel helmets were snatched from our heads. Then we got escorted back to the German positions, where my section was put in a pigsty on a lonely road running through the village.

Time went by, when we had to form up in single file, and were made to carry mortar bombs for the enemy and now we were being treated as ‘human shields’ amidst the fire of our own Troops.

We had now gone about a couple of miles, stopping for a breath, and trying to delay the action of the enemy. There was rifle fire, small arms and Bren now being fired on us. Going down a small path we came across a house, it seemed to be unoccupied, so in we all went, including the escort who also was now getting worried by all this action around.

We placed a red cloth, which draped the mantelpiece, and took a white table cloth, to give the impression of a first aid post. No sooner had we got in this house, our young sentry, or escort, called us out to carry on down the track. This narrow track was very familiar to me now, I knew we were heading towards the Bay and we were only a few minutes away to our relief. When we got to our destination, I found that the building we were going to be taken in now, was a base hospital, and it was surrounded with armed German troops.

Inside this hospital in the Bay of Alinda, we sheltered for a while tending to the wounded, and a Surgeon was operating on a casualty on a table. A War Correspondent came up to me in a suit of brand new khaki, he looked like he had just come out of a tailor’s shop. We were weary now, no food or drink. I decided to go to the door of this building, it was getting dark and very windy, in the near distance I could vaguely see the silhouettes of a few British Tommies, they were rushing towards the caves. I believe the War Correspondent was none other, but Marland Jander, he wrote a book I am told, and then was killed later in another war zone.

It must have been very near 2100 hours, when all at once, without any warning, a huge loud explosion occurred. It was a naval shell, which came from one of our ships in the Bay. Private Viner, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then said to me, “The next salvo and I’m away, how about you?” I answered, “Yes, I’m off too.”

The first salvo had scored a direct hit – it left a gaping hole in the side of this building. This is where the two of us made our dramatic escape once again. After a moment, we had gone just 50 to 100 yards, when a voice in the darkness shouted “Halt! Who goes there?” A great relief seemed to come over me. “Go to the front of the column!” When we reached the front we were escorted to a cave, where a Lieutenant Colonel, or maybe a higher ranking officer, gave us a good interrogation.

“What have you two been up to”, he said, but before I could speak he said, “Stand to attention when you speak to me.” I was now the appointed spokesman, so I said, in a good military-like fashion, “You will excuse me Sir, but we have just escaped, we were taken POW. Your patrol, or reinforcements, have just passed about 500 Germans.”

“Quartermaster,” he shouted, “Give these men two blankets and some soup and put them up for the night.”

We didn’t get much sleep, but the rest did a world of good, thanks to this Officer.

Read the whole of his account at the King’s Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster

'Fallschirmjäger für Legos!' German paratroopers on Crete about to embark for the attack on Leros.

‘Fallschirmjäger für Legos!’ German paratroopers on Crete about to embark for the attack on Leros.

German paratroopers climbing onto their Ju 52 transport planes on Crete.

German paratroopers climbing onto their Ju 52 transport planes on Crete.

German newsreel of their attack:

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