This week 67 years ago, Hitler was planning a Cyprus invasion
By Nathan Morley
Last Sunday I paid a visit to Othellos Tower in Famagusta,
the ancient tower over looks the once busy port, which now
is host to less than a dozen ships.
As I sat basking in the early glow of another long hot summer,
my imagination wandered back in time to the Cyprus of the
Second World War, and the ebbs and flows of fortune that
brought the island so close to the brink.
Despite little physical change, the Famagusta of 1941 was
a very different place.
Sixty-seven years ago, this harbour was in a state of panic
as the war moved inexorably towards these shores.
Everyone expected Adolf
Hitlers storm troopers to attack the island blitzkrieg-style.
Yet, what transpired during the summer of that year surprised
even the gloomiest of commentators.
It is known that the future of Cyprus figured high on the
list of plans discussed by Hitler
and Mussolini as they conferred at the Brenner Pass.
The fall of Crete, and the alignment through aggression
of France with the Axis powers had effectively ruled out
the Mediterranean as a link between Britain and the Middle
More worrying for the population here, was a series of radio
reports that were picked up in Nicosia, suggesting that
German motorised infantry troops had landed just a stones-throw
away at the nearby port of Latakia in Syria.
These reports were backed-up by credible dispatches from
Ankara which stated that Nazi troops landed on the Syrian
coast on May 29th, arriving by freighters and carrying troops,
tanks and trucks.
There is little doubt that the devastating news seriously
shook-up the British rulers of Cyprus, who quickly resigned
themselves to the fact that the island might become the
latest addition to Hitlers
In early May, a regiment of Australian troops arrived in
Cyprus to bolster the scant allied presence on the island.
The Seventh Australian Division Cavalry Regiment disembarked
at Famagusta and despite everyone being on a war footing,
the newly arrived troops quickly found a way to let off
The antics of the men were the subject of their first Regimental
Bulletin in Cyprus.
The men headed straight for the night-spots of Famagusta.
This sortie was to have grave short-term consequences for
the physical well-being of the men, the report said.
Over-indulgence in the local brews had a devastating
effect on even the most hardened and impervious drinker.
It was not more than two hours before the first survivors
returned staggering to the encampment, much the worse for
wear, and the rest of the night was spent by those on duty
retrieving sodden wrecks from all over the town.
At a subsequent Court of Enquiry it was proved beyond reasonable
doubt that no blame was attachable to any member of the
regiment for the events which occurred on that night in
Evidence proved conclusively that the real culprit - the
real fifth columnist - the true snake in the grass was:
- KAMANDERIA! (A reference to the potent wine dating back
to medieval times, Kommandaria).
Those troops, recovering from their hangovers, knew that
the Mediterranean Sea which surrounded them had already
become virtually an "Axis sea" and the days of
blighty ruling these waves were well and truly over.
There is little doubt that many of the soldiers expected
to be prisoners of war in the coming weeks, thats
if they survived the expected German onslaught.
The island had already experienced a small taste of enemy
action in 1940, when Italian aircraft bombed the mining
port of Xero, causing extensive damage and injuring several
Much to the dismay of British leaders in Cyprus, Prime Minister
Winston Churchill had frequently said that a force of only
1500 men was all that was needed to deter the Germans from
an invasion of the island.
Leaders here knew that figure was ridiculous and would be
barely able to defend a town, let alone the whole island.
Once they had sobered up, the newly-installed Australian
Regiments main job was to show the flag, and make
the Germans believe that there was at least a brigade on
the island, which it was hoped would deter them from invading.
Within days of news of the German landing in Syria, the
British authorities in Nicosia announced the immediate evacuation
of all British women and children.
Plans were hastily drawn up to transport allied troops out
of Cyprus, should the Nazis mount an attack leaving no room
Fears grew in early June when German and Italian warplanes
directed violent, continuous air assaults on Famagusta,
Nicosia and Larnaca that killed a dozen people.
German U-boats stalked the waters off Famagusta and Cape
Greko, dropping sea-mines and keeping allied shipping at
The steamboat Alliance hit a mine when leaving
Famagusta, killing the captain and two crewmen.
Against a backdrop of air raids, u-boats stalking the coast
and just a small force of defenders, all that people in
Cyprus could do was sit and wait, hoping for the best.
Here it was that those ebbs and flows of fortune came into
play. Warfare, like nature, is unpredictable.
As events unravelled, the airborne invasion of the neighbouring
Greek island of Crete proved so costly to the Germans in
terms of casualties as to rule out any further use of parachute
and airborne troops in that arena.
Result: the widely-feared invasion of Cyprus failed to materialise.
Waking up back in the present, and historians will proffer
different opinions on how the seizure of this island might
have aided the Axis powers push towards the near-east and
help their campaign in North Africa.
Yet, whatever the military retrospective, the rapidly-changing
elements of war presented a frantic scare for the people
of this island one that happily did not result in
With events tumbling over one another in quick succession,
uncertainty ruled and produced a constant climate of fear.
Happily for Cyprus, the enemy at the gate had to pull back
at the last minute. Such was the long hot Cyprus summer
Other: WWII News
Copyright © Nathan Morley.
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