BLENHEIM MkIV / OXFORD / HARVARD PILOT
ROYAL HELLENIC AIR FORCE
32 Mira (Squadron) / Rhodesia RHAF Training Group
Above: Aviation Cadet George Marcou poses as Chief of the First Class at the Hellenic Air Force Academy in 1931. The rank of Sergeant stands out of his sleeves while on his shoulders he bears the number 1 denoting that he was in the first year of his training as a pilot. (Diana Hale)
Below: Aviation Cadets of the First Class of the Hellenic Air Force Academy in a group photo after their taking their oath in February 1932. Marcou poses fifth from the left with the rank of Sergeant. (ΠΑ.ΣΥ.ΒΕΤ.Α)
Right: Another group photo of the First Class Aviation Cadets. Sitting second from the left is the first Commander of the Hellenic Air Force Academy, Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos. Standing second from the left is Panagiotis Robotis who was deemed unfit for flights and transferred to the RHAF Department of Economics. During the Greek-Italian war, he served as an administrator in the 32nd Bomb Squadron. In April 1941, during a German Me109 attack on Hasani Airport, he came out of his trench and began firing at enemy fighters with his revolver. Behind him, third from the left is Rallis Kiourtsis. George Marcou poses sixth from the left and Angelos Portalis ninth from the left and Petros Marinatos on the far right. All, three, Kiourtsis, Portalis, and Marinatos were killed during training accidents (ΠΑ.ΣΥ.ΒΕΤ.Α)
Wing Commander George Marcou was born in Alexandria, Egypt on June 17, 1914. His parents were Dimitrios Marcou, a lawyer from Corfu, Greece, and Ida Rossi who was born in Malta. Shortly after their wedding, the couple settled permanently in Alexandria. In the following years, Dimitrios and Ida were blessed with six children, four girls, and two boys. Alice was born first, who later immigrated permanently to the United States, unlike her other siblings who settled in Greece and South Rhodesia. The twins, Helen and Lucy followed, along with another daughter Mary and then George and Nolly. Unfortunately, the youngest child in the family, Nolly, died a few years later from an unknown cause. This fact greatly saddened George Marcou who always, even in his old age, spoke with sorrow and pain, about the loss of his younger brother! Another unpleasant event that disturbed their family's peace, was the failure of Dimitrios Marcou, in the courtroom. He lost a very important trial, and as a result, he fell into a deep depression for a long time! In the early 1920s, the family moved permanently to Athens. During his student years, young George was a diligent and excellent student. His father, seeing in the face of his only son, the continuation of himself, was very proud of him and hope that he would study law. So, after his successful graduation from high school, he entered the Leontios School, in order to pursue lawyer studies. However, it seems that the young teenager had already begun to be fascinated by airplanes and the idea of flight. The World War One aviators, as well as the famous interwar pilots who set up many records, had become the heroes and idols for all the young men in Greece and all over the world.
In 1931 the establishment of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) Academy and the announcement of exams for entering its classes was the chance for George to try to make his dream come true and become an aviator. Until then, the Greek pilots were Navy and Army Officers. The heterogeneous origin of those Officers, with a different training background (because each branch had a different training system and operational role), created a competitive spirit between them. The rivalries regarding the skills of each one, but also their evolution in the hierarchy, was a common phenomenon. Hundreds of aspiring young people volunteered to become pilots of warplanes however they should pass first the very strict written examinations, and also the athletic and physical examinations. On October 22, 1931, those who succeed were called to present themselves in Tatoi Air Base, Athens on November 23. Of the 250 candidates who took part in the exams, only 11 entered HAF Academy, George Marcou was one of them who had not yet completed the 18th year of his age however he managed to get the highest grades during the exams. The young aviation cadets started the theory lessons with enthusiasm, on December 2, while a few weeks later they took their first flights with their flight instructors, in AVRO 504 biplanes. The traditional hazing (military ritual humiliation) that took place in military schools, was known in aviation slang as "Nila", and could not be absent from HAF Academy. According to the testimonies of Officers of that time, the situation often went out of limits. However, the "Nila" that was applied in the first year of the 1st Class was relatively painless, compared to the ones that followed in the next Classes of the Academy. In February 1932, Marcou was named Chief of his Class and was therefore awarded the rank of Sergeant. A few days later he sent his father his first photo, wearing proudly his uniform.
By May 1932, nine of the 11 candidate pilots had flown their first solo after 10 to 18 hours of training with an instructor in the back seat. According to the regulation, those who could not fly solo after 20 hours, changed their specialty and became ground Officers or were transferred to the Officers Candidate School of Greek Army. As an inexperienced aviator, George was fortunate to have as his instructor Flt/Lt Linos, an excellent connoisseur of the psychology of the Aviation Cadets, with great transmissibility, who, seeing any weaknesses of his student, helped him to overcome them in the best way. Marcou belonged to a rare group of trainees whose progress, although slower compared to their other colleagues, was nevertheless steady and constantly improving. Such pilots usually became excellent professionals. The retired Wing Commander Zisis Linos narrated:
"I remember the case of Marcou. Ιt was very difficult for him to fly alone. I was his instructor and we flew together for about 18 hours. Because he was the Chief of his Class and had the highest grades in theoretical lessons, he had to fly solo by all means. And indeed, he flew and evolved into an excellent pilot. But this is a very rare case that belongs to the rule, - Slow beginners, make the best pilots".
As the young pilots began to perform their first solo flights their self-confidence began to increase. The discussions between them about their performance and their progress in the various training sorties created a climate of intense rivalry. Soon two of them, in order to stand out from the rest of their colleagues while seeking an exciting flight experience decided to make a low flight, which was forbidden by the regulations. The well-known axiom concerning flight safety, which tells that "the offense kills", was not able to prevent Georgios Marcou, one summer morning, from flying low over Athens. Taking-off from Tatoi Air Base with an AVRO 504, the young pilot reached over the Patisia area and woke up the locals with the noise of his engine. Performing successively low passes over the Leontios School, where she had studied, he offered an impressive air show to the students. He then headed to his paternal home nearby. He wanted to gives his family the opportunity to see him, with his plane! As it flew 50 meters above the ground, the code E-12 stood out clearly on the lower surface of the wings. At about the same time, another Aviation Cadet, Dimitrios Skaltsogiannis, with the E-32, gave a similar show, flying low over the Kolonaki area, Rigillis Square, and Kifisias Avenue. As a result of all this, someone called the Headquarters of Hellenic Air Force Academy asking for their punishment. With the adrenaline flowing in their veins, the two pilots returned to the airfield in a state of euphoria and landed with a little time difference between them. Skaltsogiannis landed first and was immediately approached by the S/Sgt Spyridon Kyladinos. The non-commissioned officer, who was in charge of the telephone and radio messages in the Academy that day, became the recipient of some angry phone calls from the HAF HQs and the Air Ministry and said angrily to him:
"If you have any contact or connection to the higher levels call him now! Go ahead to save yourself, because I received many phone calls from the Air Ministry and I do not think that you'll get over it."
The RHAF Academy Officials referred the two offenders to the Disciplinary Council with the question of dismissal, in order for their actions to be severely punished and to not find imitators. Especially Marcou who was also the leader of the Class! In the end, however, in order not to weaken the small number of the pilots of HAF Academy, but also due to some political pressures that were exerted, both were punished only with monthly imprisonment.
Above: AVRO 504 was used for basic flight training from the HAF in the early '30s. Piloting such an aircraft, coded E-12, Marcou committed his first flight offense by flying low over Athens. (www.haf.gr)
Below: Ensign Zisis Linos of the Hellenic Navy Air Force flew the last mission of the Asia Minor Campaign, a reconnaissance mission with Cpt. Vlachos as his observer, over Kazamir, Kasamina, and Salichlion on August 25, 1922. Later he became an instructor and was one of the two pilots who took additional training in Britain. Flt/Lt Stefanos Filippas (January - May 1925) was the first followed by Linos (May-August 1925). After their return to Greece, they assumed Flight Instructor duties at Tatoi and Faliro Air Bases in Athens. Both implemented a modern air training system according to European standards. (HAF History Volume B')
Right: The sailing ship "ARIS" was a Greek Navy ship, built in France. It was launched on January 28, 1927, in the shipyards "Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranee, La Seyene" and specialized in the training of Greek Naval Cadets. The cost of its construction was covered almost entirely by the late George Mintakis, a Greek expatriate living in Egypt. The ship sailed to Greece in May 1928 while the first training voyage began on June 26, 1928. The ship proudly carried the Greek flag to the ports of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. During World War II it was used as a hospital ship. After the occupation of Greece, it was captured by the Germans who changed its name to "Graz" and also used it as a hospital ship able to carry 300 wounded along with 38 Officers and sailors. On December 5, 1942, it sank near the island of Kani, 10 nautical miles NE of Bizerta, Tunisia. (Wikipedia)
Above & Middle: The legendary Dimitrios Kamberos was the first Greek military pilot and is one of the most emblematic figures in the history of the Hellenic Air Force. After his resignation in 1917, he returned to the newly formed HAF in 1932 and became an instructor at the Tatoi Air Base in Athens. The happiest of all for this development was the Commanding Officer of the Hellenic Air Force Academy, Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos, who saw in his face a valuable collaborator with undisputed prestige, a great experience, and excellent theoretical training.
Bottom: The Breguet XIX was one of the most important aircraft of the Greek Air Force for ten years from 1925 to 1935. The first 30 were acquired in 1925 with additional deliveries to follow until 1928 in the reconnaissance (A2) and bomber (B2) versions. In 1931, 41 Breguet XIX served in the Hellenic Air Force, while 12 more were ceded by Yugoslavia in 1935. Some aircraft were converted into training aircraft with dual controls. At the beginning of the Greek-Italian war, they undertook bombing missions equipped with 230- and 300-pound bombs, but they were an easy target for Italian fighters. As a result, they quickly withdrew from the battles due to age and low performance. (www.haf.gr)
Right: Group photo of the candidate aviation officers of the 1st Class of the Hellenic Air Force Academy. Marcou poses ahead from them all, with the rank of Sergeant. (Nikos Christophilis Archive)
At the end of the first training year, which ended without an accident for the Aviation Cadets of the First Class, the young pilots boarded the sailboat "ARIS" in order to make an educational trip within the Aegean Sea along with the Naval Cadets. During the trip, Marcou and Skaltsogiannis were informed that they had been sentenced to one month in prison, which they would serve in the Academy's jail as soon as they returned. Indeed upon their return to the Tatoi Airbase and while their colleagues had taken leave, until the beginning of the next training period, Skaltsogiannis entered the jail to serve a month in prison. On the contrary, Marcou was "lucky" as an appendicitis attack rushed him to the hospital for surgery. This resulted in him taking a sick leave which could not be stopped by any order. In any case, the two friends felt relieved to have been avoided the rejection from the Hellenic Air Force Academy. But what gave them greater joy was the fact that they would have the opportunity to fly again! During the new period of training course 1932-1933, a big surprise awaited Marcou and his classmates. The legendary pilot Major Dimitrios Kamperos, who had resigned many years ago for political reasons, requested and succeeded in returning to active service in order to complete the retirement years he was missing. By Presidential Decree of April 20, 1932, the veteran aviator was recalled and transferred to the Hellenic Air Force, registering as a "Reserve Officer" with the rank of Squadron Leader. Using his prestige and acquaintances, he achieved his placement in the Air Force Academy as an instructor. The training with Kamperos was delightful and useful for Marcou and all the other Aviation Cadets, who wanted to make the most of his experience and knowledge. Sqn/Ldr Kamperos was a very skillful pilot. He believed that the stick in the cockpit needed soft moves and, in his opinion, the young Aviation Cadets were "hard in the stick" making awkward moves. Sometimes during the training, he called them affectionally with the nickname "kicking stick's pilots". In the next two years, Marcou completed the Basic and Advanced Training, flying mainly with Morane - Saulnier MS.147 and MS.230 aircraft, as well as BREGUET-19. During these two years, he also got trained as an Observer like the other Cadets. This system was applied only for the First Class, while for the next ones the observer training took place immediately after graduation. During the third year of training in HAF Academy (1933-1934) the Aviation Cadets had number 3 on their epaulets. Marcou promoted also to the rank of Staff Sergeant and became the Leader of all Aviation Cadets of the Academy. Now on his right sleeve, in addition to the rank of S/Sgt on his arm, an embroidered star stood out lower, at wrist height, enclosed by a laurel wreath. The first half of the 1930s was a politically turbulent period in Greece with frequent changes of government and a major economic downturn. These events greatly affected the smooth operation of the Air Force Academy, due to the lack of funds and suitable aircraft, fuel restrictions, Officers' rejections, delays in the flight training program, etc. Nevertheless, the training of the Aviation Cadets proceeded, and aside any problems produced the first fliers for the unified Air Force. On October 12, 1934, at the graduation ceremony at Tatoi Air Base, in the presence of the political and military leadership, George Marcou received "Wings" and the rank of Pilot Officer. With him graduated also, Angelos Portalis, Rallis Kiourtsis, Dionysios Georgiopoulos, Konstantinos Hondros, Theofanis Metaxas, Georgios Pangalos, and Dimitrios Skaltsogiannis. Swords were not given, as each of the pilots was brought with him as part of his uniform. Sword delivery to the graduates was introduced in the next Classes, as was flag delivery. Another paradox that characterized the First Class of George Marcou and the rest of his colleagues was the fact that, while the Legislative Decree of October 16, 1931, determined that the training of the Aviation Cadets was for three years, they were forced to study for one more year. Although they were named Pilot Officers after the completion of the three years, their commanders considered that their professional training should be completed, as it was considered that not all the subjects had been sufficiently covered within the three years, due to the problems mentioned above.
Marcou was still serving at the Tatoi Air Base, on March 1, 1935, when a mutiny of Eleftherios Venizelos loyal Officers emerged, against the government of Panagis Tsaldaris. It was the largest of the 14 major mutinies that plagued Greece in the period 1924-1935. During the air offensive against the ships of the Fleet which were manned by Hellenic Navy personnel loyal to Venizelos and especially against the battleship HS AVEROF, the Tatoi Air Base supported the operations with continuous flights of HORSLEY and BREGUET aircraft. These events resulted in the complete cessation of training. While the newer Classes of the Aviation Cadets were doing only precision exercises and study, the young Lieutenants suddenly found themselves without something to do! So, they spent their time in the hangars, watching the preparations and equipment of the planes, as well as the take-offs and landings of the formations that participated in the operations against the Fleet. The intention of the Commander of the Air Force Academy was not to involve the new Officers in the political dispute that had broken out between the two factions. The young Lieutenants, however, influenced by the general climate of the war preparations, envied their colleagues who flew combat missions and asked for permission to take part in the operations, mostly for the thrill of the adventure than for reasons of political ideology. One night outside the Officers' Club, Marcou met the Wg/Cdr Vlasios Choremis by chance, and as the leader of the First Class, he took the opportunity to speak to him on behalf of them all:
"Sir, we also want to take part in the missions against revolutionaries".
But Choremis became angry because he thought that all the new Officers sympathized Venizelos mutiny and said sternly to him:
"Aren't you ashamed? Look at your duties and your lessons"!
Eventually, the mutiny failed within 12 days and by April 14, 1935, 1.130 Officers and civilians had been trialed and imprisoned, and many others discharged, including Choremis. In the next months that followed, Marcou was trained at the FAIREY III F seaplanes in naval cooperation role, at Phaleron Air Base, Athens, for 120 days however the exact date is not known. In 1937 he was promoted to Flying Officer and during 1939 he was sent to England for further training in order to attend an Armament School. After his return, he served as an instructor of the now called Royal Hellenic Air Force Academy at the Tatoi Air Base, until the outbreak of the war and the Italian invasion in Greece on October 28, 1940. In terms of his professional qualifications, it is worth noting that he was considered an excellent Officer with high education and an excellent instructor. Those young Aviation Cadets who were his students had only good words to say about his skills as a pilot and how good an instructor he was. In addition, in the consciousness of all Aviation Cadets, he had been established as "the best of the best" since he was the leader of the First Class and later, as a third-year student, he became the first in history Chief of all Aviation Cadets in Royal Hellenic Air Force Academy. This title added an extra prestige to him.
Above: Hawker Horsley Mk II was impressive aircraft during the 20s, mainly due to its dimensions. Six Horsleys were ordered in 1929 by the Naval Flying Corps and received painted in aluminum color, coded BB1 to BB6. Later codes were changed from B1 to B6. They sported Greek roundels on the wings and stripes on the rudder as well as a small anchor in the vertical stabilizer. In July 1934, a few months after the signing of the Balkan Pact of Understanding, three Horsleys visited most of the Balkan capitals, as a demonstration of goodwill. During the last years of their service, the Horsleys were used as trainers. They were all destroyed in April 1941, without being used against the Italian invasion in Greece. (www.haf.gr)
Below: The battleship Averoff took part in the 1935 mutiny and this resulted in its bombing as well as the bombing of other ships of the Fleet that had revolted, by the Air Force which for the most part consisted of pro-government officials. The Averoff was constantly bombed but did not sink. This is due to two factors. Firstly in the reduced capabilities of the planes and secondly, in the lack of training on moving floating targets. Regarding the effectiveness of the aerial bombardment, someone should consider the fact that many of the pilots reacted negatively to the official orders, and dropped their bombs near the ships and not on them. That is confirmed by the narration of an incident with pilot Potamianos, who stated that they dropped the bombs in the sea, near the battleship Averoff, refusing to hit the legendary ship. In any case, the weaknesses of the Air Force became apparent in the twelve days that the operations lasted. It is worth mentioning that the Air Force Academy did not participate in the operations, although many flights sortied from Tatoi against the Fleet. The Officers and instructors of the Academy kept the students away from any political interference, in order to continue their education, which in those days was limited to ground training. (Topalidis Konstantinos)
Left: P/O George Marcou posing next to a FAIREY III F seaplane at Phaleron Air Base, Athens, during his training, circa 1935. In the mid-1920s, Naval Aviation Command, as part of its modernization program, commissioned a Fairey IIIF MkI. The aircraft was reinforced by another ten which were delivered on July 23, 1931, and another four (used) received in 1937. In October 1940 there were nine aircraft operational and belonged to the 11th Maritime Cooperation Squadron. They wore N1 to N14 codes and Greek roundels. During the Greek-Italian war, this type of aircraft was used mainly for reconnaissance and escort missions for Navy operations. All the seaplanes destroyed during the hostilities. (Diana Hale)
Above: Photos and digital painting by Anastasios Polychronis regarding Greek Blenheim of No.32 Squadron during the 1940-41 operations. It is noteworthy that in 1940 the courage of the Greek pilots compensated for the lack of satisfactory training, however, it led to great losses. But from the first moment that these pilots were introduced to correct training practices, the operational image of the No.32 Squadron changed drastically. Characteristic is what George Sakkis, wrote in his report regarding the Squadron actions:
"While our former Colonel (Charalambos Potamianos) inspired us with enthusiasm, his replacement (Lieutenant Commander Mr. Averof Nikolaos) during the two-month period January-February in which he assumed the Squadron Command he taught us and trained us in advanced bombing tactics. This had such an effect on the completion of our training that I personally considered myself capable of undertaking and carrying out any kind of mission leading all its planes against the enemy, although my rank duties were limited to carrying out a mission by only one airplane. Thus, in January 1941, although a month of inactivity for our Squadron due to the lack of a sufficient number of aircraft, was not a waste of time but a benefit for the crews and the Squadron. The usefulness of these courses is explained by the fact that our Squadron during the rest of the time until the end of operations in Greece, while it had carried out approximately the same number of missions in the first two months of the war, and faced increased pressure from anti-aircraft artillery and the enemy persecution, however, the losses were kept to a minimum". (Themis Serbis, copyright Anastasios Polychronis)
Right: Τhe Commander of the 32nd Bombing Squadron poses with some from his pilots and crews probably in November 1940, shortly after the start of the Greek-Italian War. (Diana Hale)
On the first day of the war, on October 28, F/O George Marcou was transferred to the No.32 Bomb Squadron, which had been deployed in the landing ground in Voevoda, Trikala, where he reported the same day. There were no buildings in the area, only a few tents where the pilots and ground crews were camped in campaign conditions and of course there was no electricity or water. On November 3, the Squadron moved to the landing ground of Ampelonas (Kazaklar) near Larissa, where it would be based for the rest of the war. In this unit also served as Administrator F/O Panagiotis Robotis, an old friend from the Air Force Academy and the two friends had a lot to remember and talk about. During the months of November-December 1940, Marcou manned the cockpit of a Bristol Blenheim MKIV, and carried out a series of reconnaissance and bombing missions of Italian targets, over the Albanian front. At 08:05 on the morning of November 27, he took off with the B259 with Flt/Sgt George Sakis as his Bombardier and Flt/Sgt Economou as his Observer/Gunner. Reaching above the area of the front, they bombed infantry units of the Italian army in the area of Pogradec - Lyn and then returned to the landing area of Kazaklar after 1 hour and 40 minutes. Despite the lack of adequate equipment, the Blenheims crews usually completed all their assigned missions successfully. From the first days of the war, they assisted in the defensive struggle but also in the counterattack of the Greek Army, which by the end of November had pushed the Italians deep into Albania, to Pogradec. The liberation of cities such as Korytsa, Premeti, and Argyrokastro had spread shivers of enthusiasm to the army and the entire Greek people both in Greece and North Epirus! During November, the No.32 Squadron lost three planes and nine pilots, but morale remained high. In December, the Italians continued to retreat in the Tepeleni-Kleisoura sector, and in the air-raids carried out by the Squadron, they lost two more Blenheims, with a total loss of the 6 men from the crews. On December 4, F/O Marcou flew again with the B259 and the same crew and strike a bridge in the area of Tepeleni in a mission that lasted more than 2 hours. The target areas on the Lynn-Elvasan-Tepeleni axis were reported by Squadron's flyers as the "flak alley". On December 7, another mission is recorded when he took off with B252 along with Economou and Sakis in order to bomb the port of Avlona. However, when they reached over the border, they were forced to abort and return back to the base, due to the failure of one of the two engines. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find further details for more of his missions, as his flight logbook has been lost, while the Action Reports of the No. 32 Bomb Squadron were destroyed in April 1941 during the German invasion in Greece.
At the end of December 1940, F/O George Marcou and F/O Constantinos Margaritis ceased their action and deleted from the roster of the No.32 Bomb Squadron, as they were transferred to assume new duties as instructors. For the new year (1941), the commanders of the then Royal Air Force had decided, with the approval of the RAF, to send a team of about 35 candidate pilots to a British base in Iraq, to be trained according to the British standards. These were mostly Aviation Cadets, Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers, who were at their advanced stage of training. Everyone would be trained at the No.4 Special Flying Training School (No.4 SFTS) in Habbaniya, Iraq, under the auspices of the RAF. Marcou and Margaritis together with Flt/Lt Constantinos Platsis departed by air for Iraq on January 1, 1941, in order to prepare the training there. On January 10, they were followed by the members of the Greek group of candidate pilots led by Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos. At Habbaniya Air Base, the relations between the Greeks and their English colleagues were excellent, as were the living conditions. The stifling heat was the only problem as the trained pilots lived in well-furnished rooms, with an Iraqi servant at their disposal to take care of their needs. The food was also excellent while the evenings were spent pleasantly at the Officers' Club talking to their colleagues. On January 23, 1941, their training began and continued uninterruptedly for about three months.
F/O Marcou flew at least in one combat mission during the Greek-Italian War over Northern Epirus with Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV P4911, code number '252'. On December 7, 1940, he took off from the ground landing field in Ambelonas, Larissa, for a bombing mission against the port of Avlona in Albania. The mission was canceled near the front line due to engine failure. The Greek Bristol Blenheims Mk.IVs were received shortly before the beginning of the Second World War. Six aircraft of the first production model, the Bristol Blenheim Mk.Is were delivered as British aid in February 1941 to the No.32 Bomb Squadron. Four of them came from British No.211 and No.39 Squadron surplus. The configuration of the equipment was very different from the corresponding British one. The aircraft were delivered without bombsights, intercom systems, radios, and the appropriate bomb hangers. Apparently, these types of equipment were not delivered on time by the suppliers because confiscated in the producing countries due to the outbreak of the war. The above shortcomings resulted in the appearance of many inventions in the Νο.32 Bomb Squadron that was called to use the aircraft operationally. All the ingenuity of the technicians and ground crews was mobilized and create substitutes for bombing sights. In the matter of intercom, the pilot and the observer had their legs tied with a rope and the communication code between them was simple: “If I pull you once it means the appearance of "enemy fighters". If I pull you twice it means "anti-aircraft fire", and if I pull you three times it means "bail-out".” As for the bombs, the solution was given by modifying their mounting points. Nine bombers were received (according to others 12), while the order for another 12 was not executed. The Blenheims of RHAF remained in service until their destruction during the German invasion in April 1941. (Copyright Bertrand Brown, further information http://www.sair.gr/)
On March 31, 1941, Amir Abdul Illah, the commissioner of the four-year-old king of the country, who was aligned with the British interest, was overthrown in a coup by Rashid Ali el Gailani, who was friendly to the Axis cause. As Anglo-Iraqi relations continued to deteriorate, the British worried about the fate of the Mosul oil wells they were exploiting. In late March, Iraqis began to encircle the Habbaniya. The British formed two large air formations of 45 and 54 aircraft, respectively, carrying out show of force flights over the heads of the Iraqis. Greek training Officers participated in these flights, including Marcou, but also several students of the School who were in an advanced stage of training. When it became clear on April 6 that the conflict was imminent, the British Headquarters sent an official letter to Wing Commander Vilos asking whether the Greek pilots were determined to participate in military operations on their side. But Vilos was unable to order his men to take part in the war, as Greece was not at war with Iraq unless he received orders from his superiors. On the other hand, however, it was not possible for the Greek pilots to remain inactive since the future of the unit that hosted them was at stake. A meeting was immediately convened between the four instructors, Flt/Lt Georgios Marcou, Flt/Lt Constantinos Platsis, F/O Constantinos Margaritis, and P/O Leonidas Drenas. In the discussion that followed, it was decided by a majority, following a proposal by Drenas and radical disagreement of Marcou, that the Greek instructors will take part in the British operations for a 48-hour period, pending order from their superiors’ Officers in Greece. Regarding the aviation cadets of the Greek group, the decision was made to be used only in auxiliary services. The objections of Marcou regarding participation in the operations were not unfounded. From an International Law point of view, Greece was in a peculiar position to be called upon to engage in a conflict, without having previously officially declared war. In addition, he was called upon to clash with a country whose people, as the Greek aviators had found out, treated Greece with particular sympathy and its unequal struggle against the Axis powers. Also, if the Air Base was occupied, the British would be treated as prisoners of war, under international conventions, while the Greeks would be considered mercenaries and would be executed!
On May 1, the Iraqis issued an ultimatum to the Commander of Habbaniya Air Base demanding immediate surrender, claiming that any plane attempting to take off from the runway would be hit. On May 2, the British, surrounded by 7,000 Iraqis with heavy artillery, decided to surprise them by attacking first. Since dawn, that day, 33 aircraft, most of them Hawker Audax and Hawker Hart single-engine aircraft, along with eight Wellington twin-engine bombers, have been relentlessly bombing their targets in a total of 193 combat sorties. As soon as they recovered from the surprise, the Iraqis retaliated, bombarding the airbase with their artillery, but at the same time, they hesitated to launch an attack against Habbaniya. The result was a hell of a fire at the airport, with Markou and his colleagues risking their lives to get on their planes. Margaritis narrated:
"As we trying to go to our aircraft we looked like grasshoppers, jumping from trench to trench, and then inside the cockpit for take-off."
Flt/Lt Platsis (who flew 30 missions) in at least one case escaped certain death. During the refuel of his aircraft, the airport was hit by Iraqi artillery and his Audax exploded, killing the ground crew who were serving it. Fortunately, he happened not to be close at the time of the explosion. From the first day of the hostilities, the four Greek instructors participated in a series of successful combat sorties. The pilots Platsis, Margaritis, and Drenas, flew with Hawker Audax, while Marcou, flew with a twin-engine Airspeed AS10 Oxford, spotted the positions of the Iraqi cannons, giving their location to his colleagues, who dived-bombed and firing the enemy positions. The Iraqi Air Force tried to react but succumbed to the superiority of British pilots, who prevailed in the air battles. The British soon began hitting targets outside the Habbaniya area in order to hit Iraqi supply routes and communications. In the days that followed, the Greek pilots flew incessantly, participated in dozens of missions, returning many times with their aircraft pierced by enemy fire. Within 14 days, Marcou had carried out 30 combat missions, including bombing and strafing Iraqi troops, fuel tanks, barracks, and vehicles. In at least one case he bombed successfully a column of vehicles that were destroyed. Later, towards the end of the operations, he submitted a personal report and ended his combat flight, for reasons that are not specified. Equally brilliant was the action of the rest of his colleagues, especially Margaritis (45 missions) and Drenas (35 missions), who, among other things, set fire to a fuel depot with 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline and a column of cars carrying ammunition! Drenas in one case was hit and made a forced landing on the enemy lines but eventually returned safely. In the vortex of the war, the Greek aviators, in addition to the stress created by the danger of battle, had to face their anxiety about the fate of their loved ones back home, after the news of the occupation of Greece by the Germans. Eventually, after days of fighting, the Iraqis were forced to end the siege and the British took full control. For their excellent action, the four Greek pilots were awarded the British DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), accepting the congratulations and thanks of Air Marshal Sir John Henry D'Albiac, who had just returned from Greece, from where he left, on May 28, 1941, shortly before the fall of Crete.
Above: Panagiotis Vilos (1899-1986), coming from the Hellenic Naval Academy was utilized in the Naval Air Force and then joined the united Hellenic Air Force. Due to his experience, he was the main contributor to the organization of the Hellenic Air Force Academy. He served as Senior Commander of the Air Force in the Middle East and Undersecretary of Aviation from January to March 1945, in the Government of Nicholas Plastiras. He was retired with the rank of Air Commodore. (Hellenic Navy)
Middle: P1940 was one of the Oxfords belonged to No 4 SFTS in 1941. The 27 Oxfords could carry 8 x 9 lb smoke-puffs semi-internally. Although the racks were identical to those for the 20 lb bombs, these would not fit into the recess - yet the 20 pounders carried as much explosive as a 6-inch shell. Sqn Ldr Tony Dudgeon proposed a simple modification that would make them fit, but, again the staff refused to authorize this, and Wg Cdr Ling was ordered, in writing, not to allow him to try it. In the bar, Ling and Dudgeon decided that if he had not seen the order, what he did was his own business. Father modified the prototype bomb rack himself, loaded the eight bombs, and got airborne just before the air staff caught him. Again the flight was trouble-free and the remaining 26 aircraft were modified. By its own efforts, the school had more than doubled its striking power. (Wg Cdr Mike Dudgeon – RAF Historical Society Journal 48)
Below: The citation document accompanying the Distinguished Flying Cross, also known as the DFC, relates to George Marcou's successful action against Iraqi forces during his duty at No. 4 SFTS in May 1941 in Habbaniya. (National Archives via Andrew Phedonos)
Left: Excellent painting by artist Frank Wootton depicting an air bombing scene from the Battle of Habbaniya. Details about this relatively unknown aspect of air warfare to the general public can be found in the excellent book Hidden Victory: The Battle of Habbaniya, May 1941 by A.G. Dudgeon.
The Airspeed Oxford, or “Ox-box” as it was affectionately known, was the military development of Airspeed’s commercial Envoy and the first twin-engined monoplane trainer to serve in the RAF. The maiden flight took place at Portsmouth on 19th June 1937 with the first production machines entering service in November of that year. Some 400 aircraft had been delivered when war broke out in 1939, at which point production was stepped up with sub-contracts being awarded to de Havilland, Percival, and Standard Motors.The Oxford Mk1 was used for bombing and gunnery training and, as such featured a dorsal turret mounting one .303in Vickers K gun, the only variant to be so equipped. The Mk II and subsequent variants leading to the final Mk V were used for pilot, navigator, and radio operator training. The aircraft also undertook communications, anti-submarine, air experience, and radar calibration duties and served as an air ambulance. A few operated as light bombers during the Iraqi rebellion at Habbaniya in May 1941 and machines operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force were modified to carry 250lb bombs for defense against a possible Japanese invasion. After the Second World War, a few were acquired by the Hellenic Air Force and used in the Greek Civil War of 1946-49. In excess of 500 Oxfords were operated in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in association with the Empire Training Scheme and, in addition to the RAF, the aircraft also served with the Royal Navy and eight other national air forces. A grand total of 8,751 were built. Some 6 Oxfords have been preserved in various museums with excellent examples on display at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, and RAF Museum, Hendon. (Copyright Bertrand Brown, επιπλέον στοιχεία http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/)
Above: George Marcou and his wife Mary Littlejohn Schonberg pose happily on their wedding day on December 19, 1942. (Diana Hale)
Middle: Mary Littlejohn Schonberg in military uniform during her service in the Rhodesian Air Force. The rank of Pilot Officer stands out on her epaulets. (Diana Hale)
Below: Squadron Leader Constantinos Exarhakos was a close friend and became the best man of George Marcou. He entered the Air Force Academy in 1934 and graduated in 1937 as a Pilot Officer. During the Greek-Italian War, he served in a combat squadron but no further details are known about his action. He later fled to the Middle East and was sent to Rhodesia as an instructor. He was one of the officers involved in the "Rhodesian Revolt" and was later acquitted. In the second half of the 1950s, he served as Commander of Greek Air Training Command and retired in 1959 as an Air Commodore. (Diana Hale)
Right: RHAF Aviation Cadets during training at Cranborne in Southern Rhodesia. Flt/Lt George Marcou sitting in the back seat of Harvard Mk. I AJ681, '99' as instructor watching the landing attempt of his student. (Diana Hale)
After the occupation of Greece by the Germans, thousands of Greeks fled to the Middle East in order to continue the fight against the Axis, fighting on the side of their British allies. The then Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) was reborn from its ashes, under the auspices of the RAF, with two Fighter Squadrons and one Bomber Squadron. Greek pilots would now be trained in the Schools of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. The British Air Marshal Sir Charles W Meredith, Commander of RAF Rhodesia (RTAG) and a good friend of Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos, willingly responded to the requests of his old classmate to admit Greeks to RAF Schools. So, he met with Platsis as well as Marcou, Drenas and Margaritis, in order to arrange the details of the training. Marcou narrates:
"Apart from the training of the Aviation Cadets that would start from scratch with the English system, priority was also given to those pilots whose training had been interrupted in Habbaniya due to the war there. Their additional training would be with American T-6 Harvard aircraft for those destined for fighter Squadrons, and the rests soon began training at the Oxford twin engines. The initial air training took place with Gipsy Moth and later with American-made Cornell. The British offered us our integration and assimilation into the RAF (salary, uniform, ranks), but we stated that we preferred to keep the Greek entity".
During the period 1941-42, Marcou was placed as an instructor at 20 SFTS at Cranborne Air Base near Salisbury. As soon as the approval was given, the first 16 Aviation Cadets were sent and the lessons started. In the meantime, other instructors from Greece were added, such as Michalis Savellos, Spyridon Diamantopoulos, and Constantinos Exarhakos. Platsis was appointed Commander of the Rhodesia Training Detachment. Everyone was enthusiastic about the quality and the abundant means of training and took the opportunity to give the maximum of their potential and energy. Now they were flying having time comfort with their students, something unusual for Greece, where due to austerity and lack of means the flights were limited to 20-25 minutes per hour. Platsis remembered:
"Never before in the Hellenic Air Force has been such an ideal collaboration like this, with colleagues George Marcou, Constantinos Margaritis, and Speros Diamantopoulos, during the period I was in charge of training in Rhodesia. I contacted Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos only with personal letters for quick response and confidentiality, outside the RAF channels. Everything was going well until one day I learned from a document that Wg/Cdr Nikolaos Averoff had been appointed as my replacement."
During these first months of training, when everything went smoothly, a human event took place, which, however, was to have a negative effect on the hitherto exemplary calm that reigned in the circles of RHAF in Rhodesia. Flt/Lt George Marcou, given the good testimony of a model of discipline and legitimacy, fell in love with an Anglican woman. It was Mary Littlejohn Schonberg who served as a clerk in the Rhodesian Air Force. She was a very noble girl, educated, and from a good family. When Marcou told Platsis that he wanted to marry her, Platsis drew his attention, saying that the law forbids the marriage of Greek officers with foreign women. Platsis advised him to do his wedding silently, without mentioning it to the Air Force. It was at this stage that Wg/Cdr Nikolaos Averoff arrived to replace Platsis. It took many days for the administration to take over, since all the Training Centers and Units, 12 or 13 in total, in which existed Greek fliers, had to come for briefing. During those briefings, the request of Flt/Lt Marcou for his marriage submitted. Averoff became furious, as he was absolutely strict in matters of discipline and did not tolerate the slightest deviation from the law.
"Let the wedding take place", said Platsis "so that I can take the responsibility and you will take the command in a few days after the wedding". "No!". Averoff answered furiously. "I will take now the command and take action". Without wasting time and with somewhat unjustified excessive zeal, he hurried to meet the Anglican Bishop of Rhodesia and by explaining that this marriage is against Greek law, he demanded not to bless him. The bishop gave him his promise. This move of Averoff provoked the anger of Marcou as he considered it as an insult and unacceptable intervention in his personal life and happiness.
The T-6 Harvard Mk.II AJ681, was one of the many Harvards used in Cranborne, Rhodesia by the No.20 SFTS and with which Marcou flew several times. It is painted with a bright yellow color that was used in the training aircraft to make it easy for both instructors and Aviation Cadets to identify them. There were also some airplanes that bore the natural color of their aluminum construction. Although not as fast as a fighter, the T-6 was reliable, easy to maintain, quite flexible, and easy to operate. It was what the British called "a pilot's airplane" as it was able to comfortably perform a series of maneuvers such as spins, loops, and Immelmann. It was designed to be able to train pilots in all sorts of tactics, from shooting at targets on the ground to air combat. It had a range of features such as bomb-carrying ability, instrument flight equipment, machine guns, cameras as well as flexible machine guns in the rear for machine gun training as well as any other equipment that pilots would be required to use in combat. (Copyright Gaetan Marie).
Meanwhile, some of his old classmates from the Air Force Academy, led by Flt/Lt Theofanis Metaxas, organized a rebellion against Averoff, in order to remove him and take over the leadership positions in RHAF, with the ridiculous argument that they were graduates of the Hellenic Air Force Academy and not Army or Navy Officers. In order to satisfy their vanity for promotions and rapid ascent to the hierarchy, they revolted on April 28, 1942. At that time the origin of Greek pilots was from the Greek Army, the Greek Navy, and the Hellenic Air Force Academy (today it is commonly known as the Icarus School but officially is known as Hellenic Air Force Academy). The training system was different because the Army and Navy had different roles in a war. The different backgrounds of the pilots created competition between them about who are the most capable pilots and who deserves a promotion. This rival lasted from the 1920s till the 1940s. Anyway, Marcou, blinded by his anger joined with them. He felt that he now had disputes with Averoff on a personal level. Metaxas, acting arbitrarily as the supposed representative of all the Officers who came from the Hellenic Air Force Academy demanded the removal of all the flying officers who came from the branch of the Army and the Navy. So, five Officers including Theofanis Metaxas, G. Georgakopoulos, G. Pitsilis, G. Pangalos, and C. Hondros, presented themselves to Platsis and asked him to resign from his position, together with Averoff. Platsis went to Averoff's room and informed him about everything. Averoff calmly replied that as a Commander he would take appropriate action to resolve the issue. While trying to contact the British Commander by phone to ask permission for action, Sqn/Ldr Gerasimos Pitsilis entered the room and as a representative of Theofanis Metaxas and his mates, gave him an ultimatum:
"You will resign and leave from Rhodesia or else tomorrow we will stop the training"!
The strike on the flights and especially during wartime was something unacceptable for the British and in addition, they could not understand the reasons for this move.
Marcou was law-abiding and professional. His evolution was a given and he had no reason to pursue it by sideways means, rebellions, etc. Many believe that if Averoff had not denied him the marriage license, there would have been no rebellion, since Marcou, as head of the Air Force Academy, a law-abiding and disciplined Officer, not only was not to associate with the rebels but with the prestige he had surrounded by the title of the First Class Captain and leader cadet of the Air Force Academy, he would manage to calm things down and thwart the insurgency. The same conclusion is reached by Air Marshal Constantinos Exarhakos who lived the events very closely and had very friendly relations with George Marcou and his fiancée and became the best men in their wedding when the circumstances allowed it:
"I believe that, if Averoff had not treated him harshly in order to deny him approval for his marriage, the movement might not have taken place. Averoff was an excellent officer but he had a sense of superiority over others. He was cold and distant with his subordinates and very strict in matters of discipline ".
The British involved in the crisis that ensued, and arrested more than 28 Greek Officers that engaged in the rebellion, including Marcou, pending the completion of investigations and the establishment of a Court Martial. The detainees were transferred to Cairo where they remained in custody for a month, while Averoff resigned in order not to aggravate the situation. The Greek government in Cairo, Egypt, tried to calm the spirits and in order to face the crisis, the Chief of RHAF Wg/Cdr Panagiotis Vilos, intervened personally, because was a respectful Officer and common acceptable among the staff. In the interrogations that followed, moderation prevailed. Although military tribunals were set up, all trials were eventually adjourned. There was an insurmountable need for calm to prevail and for everyone to return to their duties. The war continued relentlessly, and in the North African desert, General Erwin Rommel's Africa Corps continued his march. The Minister of National Defense, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, ordered that an acquittal committee be formed, so that most of them return to the service, as they did. In order to alleviate the situation, the leader of the riot, Squadron Leader Theofanis Metaxas, was appointed Chief of Staff to the General Headquarters, while a general amnesty was granted and the imposition of sanctions was lifted. At the same time, the command of two squadrons was assigned to Officers who participated in the events, such as Hondros and Papapanagiotou.
Above: Pictured with his beloved wife Mary in front of their family car. (Diana Hale)
Middle: This photo was probably taken at Mount Hampden in Rhodesia in early 1945. Standing first from the right is George Marcou smiling, while the name of the pilot next to him with his hand on the belt is unknown. Standing to the left is his wife, Mary, holding their newborn daughter Diana in her arms. Sitting first from the left is their best man Sqn/Ldr Constantinos Exarhakos. (Diana Hale)
Below: George Marcou with his back turned to the camera is getting ready to board a seaplane of Imperial Airways with code letters G-ADUW. Most likely the photo concerns his departure from Alexandria for Rhodesia during a leave. The company's seaplanes had a water aerodrome on the Nile river, Egypt, performing civilian flights to Europe and Africa. The Imperial Airways seaplane with code G-ADUW and the name CASTOR in an older photo. (Diana Hale)
Left: Another photo from the personal archive of George Marcou where pictured, fourth from the left, showing a Harvard Mk.I to Greek candidate pilots. (Diana Hale)
Above: Lieutenant General George Pleionis, a veteran of the Second World War, is a living legend for the Hellenic Air Force, with exceptional combat action! He was a good friend of Lieutenant Colonel George Marcou and in a communication that the authors had with him, he said the following: "George Marcou was my instructor in 1940 in Tatoi Air Base, Athens, and in 1941 in Habbaniya, Iraq, and in Southern Rhodesia. He remained as an instructor in South Africa throughout the war. I met him again in Cairo, Egypt, where he was Chief of Staff of the RHAF Detachment, after the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945. I served with him until his resignation, he left for South Africa, which was his family. Why he resigned is a big story. He regretted it, but it was too late. He was a very good officer and a good colleague."
Middle Up: George Marcou and his wife in happy moments during a trip, probably to Greece, in the '50s. (Diana Hale)
Middle Down: To the right of the photo, George Marcou with his wife, in a family photo with their children and grandchildren. (Diana Hale)
Bellow: On the left, Mrs. Diana Hale, George Marcou's daughter, poses with her mother Mary Littlejohn Schonberg, in front of the fireplace, where the sword of the Greek aviator can be seen hanging. Unfortunately, this precious heirloom has been lost today! According to Ms. Hale, in the 1970s, various political and racial riots broke out in Rhodesia and South Africa, resulting in various invasions on the family home from time to time, during which various valuables were looted!
George Marcou was promoted to Squadron Leader and returned to service as Commanding Officer of the Rhodesian Schools. At the beginning of 1943, he was placed in the Hellenic School of Primary Training in No.28 EFTS based in Mount Hampden near Salisbury, where he continued to train new pilots until the end of WWII. In May 1945, after the capitulation of Germany and as the war in Europe was over, Marcou was transferred and served in Cairo, Egypt as Commander of the RHAF Detachment. His adjutant was the F/O George Pleonis who while preparing to leave for Rhodesia where he would go to the Instructors Training School, closed due to the end of the war and the reduction of the need for pilots. So, he accepted the offer of Marcou to become his adjutant, who had been his instructor in the past and there was a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation between them. At the beginning of 1946, Marcou traveled to Athens and visited the General Staff of the Hellenic Air Force in order to discuss with the Chief of Staff, Wg/Cdr Elias Koutsoukos, about Officer's promotions issues. There may have been animosity or envy between the two men as they were old acquaintances (Koutsoukos originated from Greek Army). In 1939 they were sent together to England for armament training. However, the criteria that had been established for the two positions required a good knowledge of English but Koutsoukos couldn't speak a word! Having relative a General (his father-in-law) who belonged to the circle of the dictator Ioannis Metaxas, he had won the position by other means. The British, however, later sent him back to Greece due to his inability to communicate satisfactory with them. This, of course, did not prevent Koutsoukos from later showing brilliant action in the Greek-Italian war of 1940-41, as commander of a Reconnaissance Squadron. The two Officers strongly disagreed on the promotions issues discussed. Marcou, a fan of the idea of promoting Officers who were graduates from the Air Force Academy, came into sharp conflict with Koutsoukos and did not agree with the names he proposed to him. Marcou, in the midst of the debate, wanted to blackmail situations, and, believing that the RHAF leaders needed him, he submitted his resignation, believing that it would not be accepted. Nevertheless, Koutsoukos didn't want anything else! He immediately forwarded the resignation which was signed by the then Minister of Aviation. Anxious, Marcou returned to Cairo a short time later where he met with Pleonis to say goodbye and told him what had happened. As he confessed, he had regretted that his aviation career had ended in such an inglorious way, but now it was too late. In 1946 he was discharged with the rank of Wing Commander.
After all this, he and his wife Mary Littlejohn Schonberg, whom he had married on December 19, 1942, moved to Southern Rhodesia. There they bought a farm in the Mount Hampden area where they settled permanently. They were blessed with a daughter Diana who was born in 1945 and a son who was born in 1952. Initially adapting to civilian life was a bit difficult. Full of memories of a tumultuous aviation career and learning to live a certain way of life, he had to rediscover himself. Although he was forced to live in an English-speaking country and coexist with different people from another culture, he always tried to keep in touch with the Greek community in the area. George Marcou was a poultry farmer and lived in Mount Hampden until his death in 1983. The eulogy at his funeral was by a good friend of his, Leonidas Lampiris, but it has not been determined whether he is the well-known pilot of the No.13 Bomb Squadron of RHAF or someone else. According to Diana Hale, her father suffered from cancer in the last years of his life and make treatment by radiation. Nevertheless, he never lost his dignity, courage, and pride! May his memory be eternal!
Above: The uniform of George Marcou which his daughter keeps as precious memorabilia. The insignia of the Wing Commander can be seen on the epaulets, while under the Wings the following medals can be seen. From left to right we see the War Cross 2nd Class, the British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the Military Value Medal 2nd Class, the Commemorative War Medal 1940-41, and the Commemorative War Medal 1941-44. The last two medals finally were not eventually adopted in this form. Marcou’s great-grandson Benjamin poses smiling with his sister Zoe, wearing his grandfather's uniform that covers him all over! (Diana Hale)
Left: The wedding gift given to the Sqn/Ldr George Marcou by his flying staff, in view of his impending wedding, in April 1942. It is a silver-plated gong that is framed by two ivories in the form of an arch. Just below the gong's hammer is a metal sign screwed to the wooden base with the names of the newlyweds. See the enlargement of the sign in the next photo. Initially, the couple's wedding was postponed due to the ban of Wg Cdr Nicholas Averoff and the events of the uprising that followed but finally took place eight months later, in December 1942.
Right: 1941 in Southern Rhodesia Greek instructors and pilots under training. Standing l to r: Zafeiropoulos El., Tzouvalis G., Germanos V., Margaritis K., Marcou G., Plionis G., Loukopoulos K. & Tsotsos G. In civilian clothes Leonidas Drenas poses kneeling in the middle of the series.
THE HEROES OF HABBANIYA
Biographical Data of the rest of the RHAF instructors at Νο.4 SFTS
The three Greek instructors, who together with Markos, fought in Habbaniya. From left to right, Constantinos Margaritis, (then Flying Officer) later retired after reaching the top of the hierarchy, in 1962, with the rank of Air Chief Marshal as Chief of RHAF's Headquarter Staff. He entered the Hellenic Air Force Academy in 1933 and graduated as a Pilot Officer in 1936. During the Greek-Italian War, he flew as a Blenheim pilot with the No.32 Bomb Squadron, while in Habbaniya he took part in 45 missions flying with a Hawker Audax. Probably the number of his missions was bigger than the British pilots! Second is Flight Lieutenant Constantinos Platsis (1908-1983), who came from the Navy and had graduated as a pilot in 1931. He was dismissed in 1935 due to his involvement in the Venizelos revolt. By 1939 it was recalled three times in service (for short periods) for retraining and to maintain his flight skills. He returned to active action with the outbreak of the Greek-Italian war. He participated in 30 missions in Habbaniya. In at least one case, he escaped death when his aircraft was hit by an artillery shell and exploded while refueling. In another case, it was hit into the oil tank but returned safely. During the German occupation, he was sent to Greece by the Middle East Headquarters to help create resistance groups. He was captured but later managed to escape! He was retired in 1945 as Wing Commander and has since lived in the United States where he acquired property. He was an excellent card player who had international renown! He was considered one of the best bridge players in the world, having participated in dozens of international tournaments. He was a member of the famous Regency Bridge Club of New York and coached the Greek national bridge team in the '60s, in the Pan-European Championship, and in the Olympiad Bridge. The third instructor who fought in Habbaniya was the then-Pilot Officer Leonidas Drenas. He was born in Loggos, Aigialeia, Greece, and was come from Greek Army having obtained a pilot's license in 1929. He was retired in 1935 due to his involvement in the Venizelos revolt and was recalled to active action with the outbreak of the Greek-Italian War. In Habbaniya he distinguished himself with 35 missions. In at least two cases his aircraft was hit in the oil tank, while in a third case it was hit in the water cooler, by a machine gun burst, performing a forced landing behind the enemy lines, due to engine overheating. After many adventures, he managed to return to the friendly lines with his machine gunner, crossing the Euphrates River in a boat, carrying the Vickers machine gun, which they snatched from the plane and took with them for protection. Later, during the German occupation of Greece, he parachuted into the Peloponnese, sent by the Middle East Headquarters to cooperate with the guerrilla groups in the area. It is not known if they were parachuted with Platsis in the same mission or if they arrived at different times, having undertaken different missions.
Contrary to his colleagues, who had fought together in Habbaniya, Drenas took a different path. As evidenced by the events, this particular aviator was of leftist political beliefs and as soon as the December 1944 incidents in Athens broke out, he joined fully with the communists. From this point on, Drenas was a "prisoner" of his choices, and was he forced to pay the price for his actions, as the road he had taken had no return. Escaping in the mountains with the EAM - ELAS communist guerrillas, he was outlawed and fired in absentia by the military court, having reached the rank of Wing Commander. He was later sent to Poland by the leadership of the Greek Communist party, along with other aviators who belonged to the Party, to be trained in the creation of the Greek Communist Air Force. However, the events prevented the developments after the crushing of the communist guerrillas in Greece by the government forces and forced Drenas to remain permanently in Poland as a political refugee. In 1966 some thoughts were made by the then short-lived government of Stephanos Stephanopoulos (September 1965 - December 1966) to grant him amnesty and return to Greece. Unfortunately, he suffered from cancer and died a little later in a Warsaw hospital. Unfortunately, he was never able to see again his homeland and his loved ones.
Special thanks to Diana Hale, daughter of George Marcou, for her great contribution and support during my research, and also to Air-Vice Marshall George Plionis, Andrew Phedonos, Yangos Voutsinas president of Hellenic Air Force Veterans Association (ΠΑ.ΣΥ.ΒΕΤ.Α), Themis Serbis, Nikos Christophilis, Leonidas Tsiantoulas, and Dimitris Vassilopoulos for their contribution and help!
1. Personal correspondence of George Chalkiadopoulos with Diana Hale, daughter of George
2. Icarus Generation (Η Γενιά των Ικάρων), Elias Kartalamakis
3. The Air Force during the 1940 War (Η Αεροπορία τον Πόλεμο του ’40), Elias Kartalamakis
4. Flying over Foreign Skies (Πετώντας σε Ξένους Ουρανούς), Elias Kartalamakis
5. Official Hellenic Air Force History, Volume Β'
6. Official Hellenic Air Force History, Volume C'
7. Official Hellenic Air Force History, Volume D'
8. The Path towards the Unified Air Force, Hellenic Air Force Museum
9. Wartime Operational Report of 32 Bombing Squadron by Major George Sakis
10. Hidden Victory: The Battle of Habbaniya, May 1941, Air Vice Marshall A. G. Dudgeon, Tempus Pub Ltd, May 1, 2000, isbn:978-0752420011
11. Nikos Christophilis, Themis Serbis, and Yangos Voutsinas Archives
12. No.4 SFTS and Raschid Ali's War -Iraq 1941, Wg Cdr Mike Dudgeon, Royal Air Force Journal 48,