WIRELESS OPERATOR / PARATROOPER
ROYAL HELLENIC AIR FORCE
Spendos Dimitrios-Zacharias was born in Athens in 1905. To the exact date of birth, there is a discrepancy between the official documents in the possession of his family. According to the Register of the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RAF), he was born on 1st January 1905, while according to the prisoner's ID card of the POW Camp where he was held, the birthdate is 23rd April 1905, which is probably the most accurate one. His father, George Spendos, was an officer of the Hellenic Gendarmerie. He rose to Lieutenant Colonel and served as Gendarmerie Commander in the Ionian Islands, based in Corfu. His father's probable origin was from Thermos, a village in the region of Aitoloakarnania, where there are still families of that name, while his mother, Zoe Delmouzou, was from Amfissa. Zacharias had two sisters who passed away prematurely, Athanasia (1900-1940) and Euthemia (1902-1919), as well as a brother, Nikolaos Spendos (1897-1972). His brother entered the Evelpidon Military Academy in 1915. After two and a half years of training, he was sent as a Lieutenant with the expeditionary force to Ukraine and then to Asia Minor. Being an experienced soldier, Nikolaos Spendos also participated in World War II, as Commander of the 14th Regiment of the 5th Cretan Division, in the Battle of Trebessina. Their family home was located at 6th Alitsis Street in Athens. Zacharias, after finishing school, chose to attend the new school for radio operators of the Panhellenic Association of Radio Telegraphers & Radio-electricians of the Merchant Navy, located at 94th Filonos Street in Piraeus. He graduated on 21st October 1924 as a Radio-telegrapher, as the Radio Operators were called at the time, and he embarked on the ships when he was only 19 years old. On 5th October 1925, he was drafted for his mandatory military service in the Navy and served until 5th February 1927 with the rank of Leading Seaman Radio Telephone Operator. From his discharge onwards, he embarked on various merchant ships until 25th January 1932, when he was employed as a daytime Radio Operator in the Weather Service. He remained in this position until 1st May 1935 and after a three-year absence, he returned to the same position from 9th May 1938 until 27th January 1940. Because of the expected war and given his many years of experience in his specialization, he was assigned to the Royal Hellenic Air Force as Chief Master Sergeant Ground Radio Operator (with Service Number 3603), even though he had served in the Royal Hellenic Navy.
With the collapse of the front in 1941, he fled to Oropos or Rafina, from where he escaped to the Middle East by fishing boat. There he presented himself at the Gaza airfield (RHAF Gaza) where all those who desired to serve in the ranks of the RHAF would end, whether they were new volunteers, or already enlisted, that had escaped captivity in Greece. There he re-enlisted as a Radio Operator on 27th March 1942. With this qualification, he was chosen to be sent to Sudan, and as he was directed to be an instructor of Radio Operators, he was immediately promoted to Pilot Officer (9th September 1942) to justify the duty of training officers. Zacharias, however, with his fighting spirit, and eagerness to make a more direct contribution to the liberation of his enslaved country, declined the position and asked to join a frontline fighting unit. Following his pleas, he was given a transfer order to the Air Ministry in Cairo, where he presented himself to Wing Commander Emmanuel Kelaidis. Kelaidis referred him to the Chief of the RHAF, Group Captain Panagiotis Vilos, and an English senior officer, who in turn referred him to a Flight Lieutenant surnamed Dylon, about whom no further details are available. After being issued with a new identity card he left for the British airfield at Ramat David, Palestine (now LLRD), to become a paratrooper. He probably received the standard paratrooper training, which he would have used in conjunction with his qualification as a Radio Operator. The training consisted of a "ground training phase" with static harness drops and simulation mechanisms, theoretical lessons, practical lessons in specific skills (as in the case of a drop in the water), and a "jumping phase" with a few drops (5 to 10), at least one of which would happen at night. He was likely trained either by the 2nd P.T.S. (Parachute Training School) or by the 4th Parachute Brigade, which at that time was detached from the 4th METS (Middle East Training School). His son, George Spendos, recalls a joke his father used to tell him from training, indicative of the British sense of humor. When a trainee asked what would happen if the parachute didn't open during the fall, the instructor replied, "It will open next time". The same schools were attended by those training for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), but Zacharias did not join the SOE. Instead, detached from the RHAF, he joined the Inter-Service Liaison Department (ISLD), part of the lesser-known but older SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), which specialized mainly in intelligence gathering behind enemy lines, rather than sabotage. This service reported directly to the Secretary of the Foreign Office which accounts for the limited unclassified correspondence to this day, compared to that of the SOE. Between November 1942 and April 1943, Spendos made 4 daylight training drops and 1 night drop, earning his paratrooper's license and proudly wearing the corresponding badge on his uniform.
Official portrait of Zacharias Spendos, probably after his training as a paratrooper and the awarding of the corresponding badge. (George Spendos)
Zacharias' brother, Nikolaos Spendos, was a highly awarded army officer and veteran of three wars. (George Spendos)
Group photo of the 4th Parachute Squadron, British Engineers of the 1st Airborne Division at Sufrariya near Nazareth, Palestine in April 1943, thus the period when Zacharias Spendos was training in Ramat David. There is no certainty about the unit in which the Greek paratrooper of the RHAF was eventually trained. (www.paradata.org.uk)
Soon he was selected for his first mission in occupied Europe, so on 20th May 1943 he went to Derna (Tripoli) in Libya where he boarded a four-engine plane together with the reserve Pilot Officer Konstantinos Psimmenos and two other paratroopers, RHAF Officer Vassiliadis, and Petty Officer Gounelakis. It is almost certain that the four Greeks boarded one of the Halifax, or Liberators of No.148 Squadron, which was designated as a "Special Duties" Squadron whose mission was to drop supplies, agents, and saboteurs in Axis-occupied countries, thus helping to strengthen the resistance groups operating there. On this day the squadron flew two missions dropping agents in the wider area of Macedonia and southern Yugoslavia. The first flight, as part of Operation SHOULDER IIB, was fulfilled by the B-24 Liberator AL506, FS-X with a take-off time of 20:30 and return at 06:40. The second one was part of the KIDMORE III Mission and involved the Halifax BB335, FS-J with take-off time 21:35 and return at 06:40. Vassiliadis and Gounelakis landed in Macedonia, while Spendos and Psimmenos at 04:00 local time at dawn made their drop in Corfu, landing at the village of Stroggyli, probably to observe the port of Corfu and transmit information to the Allies. It should be noted that in the squadron's operations books, there is no mention of any drops near Corfu, however, there was only one "Special Duties" squadron operating in Derna at the time and that was No.148, so almost certainly, the drops were made by these aircraft. Zacharias himself writes in his report:
"We remained in the area of the village of Stroggyli from the morning of 21st May until the evening of the 22nd to 23rd, to find and hide dropped supplies (radio transmitter, etc.), and because of a slight injury during the drop. We were arrested by the Italian Police and Army, betrayed by the teacher of the village of Stroggyli, and were taken to Italy after 40 days of imprisonment in Corfu".
In Italy, he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, and the most probable place of detention was Campo PG-50 (Caserma MACAO), where mainly senior officers who were to be interrogated by the Italian Intelligence Services ended up, although it is not clear from the prisoner lists so far. It should be noted that underneath his paratrooper's uniform, he wore the suit of an Air Force officer so that in the event of capture, he could be spared the execution reserved for the spy saboteurs. However, the Italians were not convinced and sentenced him to death. His interrogator in prison was a Catholic Captain who had lived in Greece before the war. When Zacharias asked him for a priest to give him communion, given his execution, the Captain, a fanatical Catholic, mocked him for not having an Orthodox priest. Zacharias replied that it didn't matter since he was a Christian after all, and the priest would probably respect his wishes. In the conversation as it developed, Zacharias referred to some Catholic priests - professors he knew at the Leontios School of Athens, who were found to be common acquaintances with the inquisitor. The Leontios School was based in Ano Patissia, an Athens area. Nearby, between the Kypriadou area and the beginning of Patission Street, several Italians lived. There was also an Italian School initially where the Italian Institute is today, then one in the Kypseli area, and after the war in the well-known Italian School of Athens exactly at the Ano Patissia Area. Their mutual acquaintance eventually made the Captain change his mind, and on the day of the execution, he ordered that Zacharias should not be shot, thus saving his life. Of course, he did not tell this to Zacharias, who eventually fell into regular communion with the Catholic Priest.
Halifax JP246, FS-B of No.148 Special Duties Squadron photographed at Brindisi, Italy in 1943. The squadron was formed at Andover Aerodrome on 10 February 1918, transferred to Ford Junction Aerodrome on 1 March 1918 equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b, and moved to France on 25 April 1918. It returned to the UK on 17 February 1919 and disbanded at Tangmere on 4 July 1919. It was reformed at RAF Scampton on 7 June 1937 with the Hawker Audax and the Vickers Wellesley and moved twice before being disbanded and merged into No. 15 OTU on 8 April 1940. With the expansion of the RAF Special Duties Service, the unit was reformed in 1943 as No.148 (SD) Squadron. The unit's Halifaxes dropped supplies to partisans in southern France, Italy, and the Balkans, while its flight of Lysanders did agent pick-up operations to Greece, Yugoslavia, and southern France. It participated in the Warsaw airlift, where it suffered heavy losses. The unit continued its work through the end of the war. (RAF 148 Squadron, Special Duties WW2 Facebook Page, further info from Wikipedia)
148 Sqn "Special Duties" Halifax BB335, FS-J, 1943, Mediterranean. The RAF Special Duties (SD) Service was a secret air service, inspired by Air Marshall Charles Portal, and was responsible for airlifting agents, radio operators, and supplies in support of resistance movements in occupied Europe. It was created precisely to serve SOE and SIS (which included ISLD) operations. For safety reasons, drops were usually made from a very low altitude (about 500-600 feet), at the minimum height required for a static belt parachute to deploy. Unfortunately, this threshold often proved inadequate, resulting in injuries, or even deaths of agents. For safety, it was preferable to use moonlit nights, although several times, to further reduce the risk of detection, darkened nights were chosen, which of course automatically made it harder to locate the correct drop point, and parachute landings more dangerous. The Halifax, nicknamed "Hali", which often undertook these drops, although overshadowed by the Lancaster, was quite a successful aircraft, not only as a bomber but also in many peripheral roles. The total of 6176 Halifaxes built carried out many "special duty" missions, mostly at night. (Copyright Juanita Franzi)
Fate brought unexpected developments for Zacharias, as two days after his near execution, the prison was attacked by Italian anti-fascist Partisans. It is possible that this event was related to the Battle of Porta San Paolo, just 6 kilometers from the prison, which marked the beginning of the Italian Resistance to the Germans, the day after the public announcement of the Cassibile Armistice of 8th September 1943. In a narrative to his son George, Zacharias described how, after hearing a firefight outside the detention facilities, he covered himself with his mattress to avoid being injured by a possible explosion outside his cell, until he saw the Partisans open the door. The Partisans asked him to join their group, but Zacharias preferred to be pointed to the areas south of Rome where the Americans were located (they had already landed and forwarded as part of Operation Husky), hoping they would send him back to his unit. Fate, of course, did not want to fulfill his dream, as in the process he was spotted by a German patrol along with his fellow travelers and all were recaptured. The dates, with some tolerance, match the record of his second capture, listed as 8th September 1943. During his transportation as a prisoner, German reinforcements were passing by the patrol on their way to Anzio, reinforcements composed mainly of very young soldiers, almost children, some of whom were even unarmed.
It was obvious that the Germans were losing the war. He had to be patient a little longer and keep himself alive. Along with other prisoners, they were taken under adverse conditions, and often on foot, first to a prison camp in Bologna (probably Campo OARE PG-136) and later to Stalag Luft III (Luftwaffe-Stammlager), in what is now Żagań, in Poland, the well-known concentration camp intended for captured Allied Air Force personnel (there Zacharias bore prisoner number 2763). In this camp, he met Sotiris Skatzikas and Spyridon Diamantopoulos of the 336 Greek Squadron. He also met the Greek-Australian Diomede Alexandratos (https://www.greeks-in-foreign-cockpits.com/pilots-crews/gunners/diomede-alexandratos-gr/), a radio operator - gunner on Lancaster bombers, George Pappas (https://www.greeks-in-foreign-cockpits.com/pilots-crews/bomber-pilots-copilots/george-j-pappas-gr/), a Greek American pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and perhaps also the other Greek American B-17 pilot, Chris Caraberris. Notably, Diamantopoulos and Pappas mention him in their diaries as well. Life there was difficult. The nostalgia for the homeland and loved ones was unbearable, while the deaths of inmates made hopes for reunification with families seem utopian. The letters from Stalag Luft III prisoners to their families were written in English or French so that the Germans could censor them. As a self-taught French-speaking man, Zacharias wrote mainly in French, while for English he asked for help from colleagues. Part of the family's correspondence survives in the archives of Georgios Spendos. In one of the letters, his mother writes in French:
"Athens, January 3, 1944. Dear Dimitris, Happy New Year. I am glad to hear from you, write to us as soon as you can. We sent a parcel two months ago. Aunt Catherine and Nikos are in good health. Coula sends her regards. Your mother, Zoe."
Zacharias replied some months later, this time in English:
"Dear Mother, On April 25th, 1944, I received your letter of Jan. 3rd, 1944. I haven't yet received the parcel which you mentioned in the letter. I hope I will in the future. But do believe me I do not need anything. Please in the future do not send me again a parcel. In my first letter, I mentioned the same thing. I'm rather convinced that there must be a few letters of yours which I haven't received because of my transfer from Italy. I don't even yet know how you have heard that I was captured. However, the fact is that now I'm alright and anxious to see you, and I hope soon. I'm glad you mentioned in your letter about Aunt Catina, but I'm anxious to hear more. Please send me more details about her. I would like to express my appreciation for Mrs. Coulas' greetings. Give my best greetings to Nico, Coula, and my mother-in-law (The mother-in-law from his first wife Barbara, who perished in 1938). Yours. 5 May 1944".
George Pappas's diary partly captures Zacharias's daily life in the concentration camp, as it seems that they "walked around the circuit"(sic) and "shot the bull"(sic) every day. ("Shooting the bull" in American slang means "to discuss serious matters"):
"This camp contains all nationalities—Polish, Greeks, French, English, S. Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Americans. It has all sorts of sports—a theater with plays and films. Food is furnished by the Red Cross and the rest by Germans. Potatoes, carrots, and cabbage are the only vegetables furnished by the Germans. Also ham, sugar, bread, oatmeal, and barley. Each room has a small garden. All POWs are called ‘Kriegies’. […] After supper I went and met Spiros and Zacharias and we went for a stroll around the circuit. […] Spent a little time with Spiros and Zacharias shooting the bull. I have fun with those two. Raining now. It makes one feel blue. Here we are in this forsaken place with loved ones far away, so one can't help but feel blue. Patience is the greatest obsession now. So, patience it will be. […]"
Coloured photograph of Zacharias Spendos from the prisoner's card of Stalag Luft III. (Georgios Spendos)
The prisoner's ID card of Zacharias Spendos with registration number 2763 at Stalag Luft III. (Georgios Spendos)
Bulletin of the Greek Red Cross certifying the fact that Zacharias Spendos was a prisoner of war. (Georgios Spendos)
George Pappas was a Greek-American B-17 bomber pilot who was shot down on August 6, 1944, at Genshagen, Germany. He was captured and transferred to Stalag Luft III where he came into contact with many Greek and Greek-born aviators who were being held there. The diary he left as a legacy to future generations is an excellent account of his life as a POW of the Germans in the maelstrom of the last months of the war. (Dean Pappas)
Diomede Alexander was a RAAF Lieutenant and a middle gunner of a dorsal turret in a Lancaster of 460 Squadron (RAAF). After his aircraft was shot down he was captured and sent to Stalag Luft III, where he met George Pappas. Their common Greek ancestry acted as a strong bond between them, as it did with Spyros, Zacharias and John. After the war he changed his name to Douglas Alexandra and became one of the most important Australian architects of the 20th century.
Spyros Diamantopoulos was the Squadron Leader of No 336 (RHAF) Squadron. He was shot down while flying Hurricane KZ598 during operation "Sociable", while performing a mission in Crete. He was captured and held at Stalag Luft III taking part in the preparations of the Great Escape but he didn't manage to escape. Spyros was Pappas' roommate and the two of them spent time together with Zacharias Spendos (Air Force).
Spyros Diamantopoulos was the Squadron Leader of No 336 (RHAF) Squadron. He was shot down while flying Hurricane KZ598 during Operation "Sociable" while performing a mission in Crete. He was captured and held at Stalag Luft III taking part in the preparations of the Great Escape but he didn't manage to escape. Spyros was Pappas' roommate and the two of them spent time together with Zacharias Spendos (Hellenic Air Force).
Pappas's diary shows a repetitive daily routine where the prisoners certainly had better living conditions than similar camps intended for civilians, especially of persecuted ethnicities, better food mainly due to Red Cross missions, and some recreational activities for entertainment. Nevertheless, one must consider that these were conditions of long-term isolation from the outside world, with deprivations inadequate health care, and physical and mental fatigue. The food was also not always as good as recorded, since part of the Red Cross shipments and the parcels sent by the relatives were stolen by the Germans. In addition, the impending defeat of Germany was accompanied by a rapid deterioration in the conditions of detention, with the guards taking the opportunity to mistreat the prisoners. In Stalag Luft III in particular, conditions changed radically after the replacement and prosecution (by court-martial) of the previously moderate commandant Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau. In both Italian and German prisons and concentration camps for Allied prisoners of war, there was a difference in the conditions of detention and feeding of Greek, Balkan, and Soviet or colored prisoners of war compared to those of English, American, and French prisoners. Where mistreatment was avoided, this was mainly out of fear that the Allies might treat their prisoners in the same way. But this did not act as a deterrent for long. The mistreatment of the prisoners in the camp, the repression, and oppression are also attested to by the mediated narrative of Captain Spyridon Diamantopoulos, in the book "Eagles of the Desert" written by a veteran war correspondent George Karagiorgas (p.49):
"When he was able to stand up on his feet, he (refers to Diamantopoulos) was sent back to Germany to a concentration camp near Langen where prisoners of war were held. It was "Stalag Luft" (for some reason it is mentioned Langen and not Żagań). There he met his colleagues Tsirikoglou, Skatzikas, and Spendos. Life in the camp showed only its repulsive form. It was a vengeful camp in which the maniacs, who had realized that they would not win, treated their enemies mercilessly. Without bravery, without kindness, with acts of inhumanity that showed the Nazis' contempt for the laws of captivity and international law. But the Air Force is the weapon that will accept only the truly brave in its ranks. Its strength and its main component are men for whom the last thing that counts is their lives. [...] Such men, who voluntarily mixed their lives with the daily risk of death, found themselves gathered in the same spot...[...] They therefore decided to escape."
In 1944, in total secrecy, the captured airmen conceived and put in motion a spectacular escape plan by digging an underground tunnel that would lead outside the barbed wire fence, carrying out what would be known in history as "The Great Escape" (especially after the production of a film on the subject). This escape was not the only one and was preceded by another in 1943, but it was nevertheless the most famous. During the "Great Escape", unfortunately, not everyone could escape. Some voluntarily chose to stay behind, while the rest drew lots. Skatzikas was among those who escaped and unfortunately, he was captured a few days later and executed. Spendos was not drawn, and stayed behind, while Diamantopoulos, who was drawn to come out with the second wave of escapes, eventually missed his chance. His son, George Spendos reports what his father conveyed to him about this great event:
"In 1963 I went to see the film "Great Escape" at the "Pigalle" cinema in St. Loukas Patision. On taking the program I saw that it was based on a true story...Returning home and remembering from my father's papers that he had been in Stalag Luft III, I told my father about the movie, and he replied that it was indeed a true story and told me that they executed them (meaning those they caught), burned them and put their ashes in tin cans. Then the new commander would call the prisoners, call out the name of each executed man, and hand the tin can to his friends as an example. (The killings were carried out on the orders of Arthur Nebe, later convicted for war crimes)."
With the advance of the Soviet Army, the Germans abandoned Stalag Luft III, and after a long, torturous, and sometimes deadly march through the snow, led the prisoners to other camps on German soil. The prisoners were moved in bad weather, traveling up to 20-30 kilometers per day, often with casualties, some of them also due to Allied strafing and bombing. The intermediate camps provided miserable living conditions, and due to the outcome of the war, the dictates of the Geneva Convention were being continuously violated. Spendos ended up in Oflag V/A (Offizierslager) in Weinsberg, a camp specifically reserved for officers, and he likely spent the remaining days there until his liberation. His son remembers his father's description of that day:
"My father had said that the Americans did not liberate them, but the liberation happened as follows: One morning they woke up and it was completely quiet, they opened the doors and all the Germans had disappeared and, in a moment, there was the sound of Scottish pipes. The officer in charge, reaching the door in front, opened it by pushing it open with the stick he was holding."
Spendos's captivity, as recorded, lasted from 22nd May 1943 to 7th May 1945, that would be two entire years! The former prisoners could now return to their liberated homelands. But the health issues were many and the strain on their bodies left irreparable damage to many of them. Zacharias paid this price with a health that continued to decline after the war. From Lubeck on the Baltic coast, he was sent to London (11th May 1945) and presented to the Air Attaché Mr. Cassimatis. For the foreigners, the Consulates, in collaboration with the British Government, had designated assembly points according to their nationality. There were several Clubs in London for Greek Sailors or Soldiers, as well as the Greek National House, a cultural center at 32 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London. Somewhere near there, probably in room 130 of the Cumberland Hotel as a receipt found in his archives states, Zacharias passed some nights awaiting repatriation, a dream that came true as soon as he regained his strength, and his transfer was arranged.
Sotiris Skantzikas was born in 1921 in Athens and enlisted in the RHAF in 1940. After the collapse of the Greek Front, he went to the Middle East, where he continued his training and took part in operations in the Middle East. During the operation "THESIS" against German targets in Crete he was shot down in a Hurricane (HW250) of No.336 Squadron, captured by the Germans, and transferred to Stalag Luft III, where he met Zacharias Spendos. He was in the first group of prisoners in the "Great Escape". Unfortunately, he was captured and executed on 30/3/1944. His lichen with his ashes is in the military cemetery in Poznan, Poland. (http://www.pasoipa.org.gr)
The paratrooper's pin, a medal award by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the metal identity tag of prisoner Zacharias Spendos in Stalag Luft III in a display case. Something that had made a great impression on his son George was that the identity tag consisted of two parts, detachable so that in case of death one could be put into the mouth of the deceased and the other sent to the Red Cross. Once, his father smilingly said that he managed to bring it back in one piece, but his son saw that the smile actually hid a melancholy for those who never came back. (George Spendos)
In 1947 he married his second wife, Elli Gatou (from Amfissa), following an "approval order for marriage" from the Air Force (as at that time its personnel needed approval for marriage), with whom he had two children, George (1948) and Constantine (1950). Until the end of the Greek Civil War, he served in Araxos with his last commander being the well-known RHAF pilot and holder of the Flying Cross, Group Captain Vassilios Kontogiorgos. On 22nd March 1946 he was transferred to the Administrative branch as a general duty officer and on 21 January 1950 he regained the specialty of Radio Operator - Ground Telegrapher. Zacharias was a supporter of the Uncrowned Constitutional Democracy, which, due to his temperament in political discussions, he found it difficult to hide (at that time Greece had something like a Constitutional Monarchy). Just two years before, in 1948, his name was published in a list of 75 enlisted in the Air Force, who were targeted by an extreme right-wing underground mechanism within its ranks. This was done to intensify a climate of terrorism that had spread within the National Defense branches, aiming to discourage the enlisted personnel from voting for parties that were against the King. The list was published on 12th January 1948 in the newspaper "Ethnikos Agon", a "weekly political newspaper of the intransigent nationalists", with Leonidas Vrettakos, a member of the Parliament from the area of Laconia/Peloponnese, as its director. The list included some well-known names such as Konstantinos Chondros (later Karamanlis's pilot), Ioannis Katsaros, Spyridon Diamantopoulos, and Athanasios Toregas, all of them accused of being either communists or friendly to the KKE (Communist Party of Greece). As a follow-up to the case, in November 1950, some unspecified "misconduct" penalized Spendos with a 6-month leave of absence. This "misconduct" was "attributed" during the first post-civil war elections, a period with a high political stake, so it almost certainly had something to do with his political views. During this period the terror by the loyalists to the king, against the republicans within the National Defense branches had intensified, with the centrist and neo-liberal democratic parties being accused by the pro-royalists of being Communist-friendly.
The oxymoron of course is that on 9th June 1949, and while he had already been targeted by the plotters, the service and the Chief of the General Staff, Group Captain Potamianos, had considered him ideal for a position in the intelligence office (A2 in Greece). Specifically, in the folder ΓΕΑ Α4/ΙΓ/ Αρ.Πρωτ. Α1510, it states the following:
"Given a classified memo from the A2 Directorate dated 8 June 1949, we appoint Flying Officer Spendos Dimitrios No. 265 as Cryptographic Officer of the Air Force General Staff to replace Lieutenant Valianos Michael No 5913 who is prevented from attending due to workload."
At the same time, Vassilios Kontogiorgos, in another document confirmed that during the Civil War Zacharias was away from the Front, in Araxos, and was serving excellently and according to the regulations under his direct orders, writing the following in the daily orders of 20th May 1949, attached to the folder ABA/72/PI/972:
"Expression of satisfaction to Flying Officer Spendos Zacharias, who has received today's transfer orders by the Ministry of Air Force. I express my satisfaction because for two years at the Araxos Air Base he has worked with zeal and willingness without ceasing, contributing the most to the general organization, management, and performance of the Air Force base."
The same confirmation was given much later, in 1984, by Brigadier General Theodoros Kleimakis in a statement to ΔΕΠΑΘΑ (Directorate of Victims and Disabled ex-Reserve War Veterans) stating the following:
"Lieutenant Zacharias Spendos was an excellent officer of the Hellenic Air Force in terms of ability and ethos and with great resistance activity. Since 1949 he was discredited because of his democratic convictions and was eventually demobilized. The above is confirmed by my knowledge as his physical supervisor. Athens, 23rd March 1984".
In 1951, according to the Government Gazette 31-3-1951 and No. Bulletin 97/ Issue 3, he received the rank of Lieutenant, with retroactive effect (from 29th March 1944), which was the first recognition of his period of captivity and suspension as a period of service. However, he was discharged on 30 April 1952 "due to stagnation" after his service in Araxos. He remained in the Reserve until the end of 1953 when he was also discharged from the Reserve for "exceeding the age limit". This involuntary retirement was put to effect by the issued Order No.1108/PRS/Y154 19/5/52 RHAF because he had been found stagnant for the second time by the Supreme Council, even though a year earlier he had been praised and suited for an important position. The real reason for his demotion, again, as was attested to several years later, was his political views. Although, since 31st October 1952 and at his request, he had been issued a certificate of his service in the ranks of the Air Force during the Civil War, this certificate was not accepted by the Court of Auditors to assign him the correct Pension Level Rank. He was therefore granted a pension on 15th November 1952, that lacked the benefits to which he was entitled on account of his service rank and health issues caused by the parachute drop and his following captivity. It is worth noting that after the parachute injury, his treatment was neglected due to his captivity, and as a result, over the years his health deteriorated considerably. Despite the constant applications he had made to the Air Force and the assurances he had received, he was never awarded a war disablement pension. The refusal was based because, at the time of his injury, he had not been examined by a doctor to obtain a certificate for his injury. After his discharge, he again served as a Radio Operator. At first, between 10th February 1954 and 6th June 1956, he worked on the OTE (Greek National Telecommunications Organization) ship that laid cables, the well-known "Thales from Miletus", which is now docked as a floating museum at Flisvos Marina. Then, always as a radio operator, he sailed on various merchant navy ships. Unfortunately, on a voyage to the Indian Ocean, he became very ill, and that had a serious impact on his already compromised health from his wartime hardships. Due to this health deterioration, around 1960, he began to experience severe mobility problems and after an investigative surgery, he was paralyzed. Zacharias Dimitrios Spendos passed away on 3rd July 1974, after 14 years of complete paralysis. He was buried in the 1st Cemetery of Athens. In August 1956, shortly before his paralysis, he achieved recognition for his service as a paratrooper, following a request to the Hellenic Air Force Command. Restoration to his rank was delayed until the moment when Vlassis Dedes brought to light evidence of the "Akrivoyannis case" that was part of the plot that framed also Zacharias. As a result of the revelations of the conspiracy and the recommendations of superiors, his patriotic contribution to the National Resistance was recognized. On November 25, 1986, he was awarded the Medal of the National Resistance 1941-1945 as a member of the E.D. Middle East. In 1987, 13 years after his death, following a request submitted by his widow, Elli Gatos, and after a thorough examination of all orders and documents, Zacharias Spendos was fully restored in terms of rank by the Committee for the Rehabilitation of Persecuted Employees and Military Personnel, under Decision No. 3974/1987, with complete integration into Article 20 of Law 1543/85. By Government Gazette 28/08/1987/172, he was retroactively promoted to the ranks of Squadron Leader (19/01/1950), Wing Commander (1/04/54), and Rear Admiral (8/05/57). It was a vindication not only for him but for his family as well. His son, Georgios Spendos, describes his father, Zacharias, with the following words:
"A character unselfish to the point of exaggeration, simple in behavior towards others. He made a companion of the man and not of his rank. His companions ranged from general, and professional to the laborer. He had a great sense of humor. However, what I noticed as a child who saw him constantly in bed, was a permanent melancholy. What struck me was that, despite all the injustices he faced, he never complained, perhaps his greatest flaw - his greatest virtue - was that he could not bear seeing others being wronged, not himself. He always took the side of the wronged and many times came into conflict with his superiors. Living with a paralyzed person is a difficult task with multiple problems every day and special needs. Our mother Ellie, who stood like a rock in the family by playing the role of both parents, managed to keep us together and made us forget the difficult times. We owe her everything and remember her with gratitude."
Post-war photograph of Zacharias Spendos in his air force uniform. (George Spendos)
Letter by Zacharias Spendos from Stalag Luft III, via the Red Cross after the censorship of the German authorities. (George Spendos)
Campaign Medal Award 1940 - 1941. (George Spendos)
Campaign Medal Award 1941 - 1945. (George Spendos)
Medal Award of National Resistance 1941 - 1945. (George Spendos)
GEORGE SPENDOS ARCHIVE
Documents and photographs of Zacharias Spendos from the personal archive of his son, George Spendos.
Zacharias Spendos in a photograph from his school days. (Georgios Spendos)
Zacharias Spendos at a young age as a radio-telegrapher. (Georgios Spendos)
Zacharias Spendos at a young age as a radio-telegrapher. (Georgios Spendos)
Zacharias Spendos during his service in the Royal Hellenic Navy. (Georgios Spendos)
Commemorative photograph of Zacharias Spendos with other colleagues during his service in the Royal Hellenic Navy. Spendos is pictured in the second row, first from the left (Georgios Spendos)
The radio - telegraphist's bulletin dated October 21, 1924. (Georgios Spendos)
Together with friends, at the young age of about 24, somewhere in Athens, third from the right. (Georgios Spendos)
Nikolaos Spendos (left) during an exercise in 1935, at an outpost in Macedonia. (Georgios Spendos)
George (Gendarmerie officer) and Zoe Spendou-Delmouzou, parents of Zacharias Spendou (George Spendos)
The radiotelegraphists diploma of the first class dated 12 March 1931 (Georgios Spendos)
The commemorative diploma granted by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem after the war (1946) to Zacharias Spendos, for his services to the faith and the homeland during the Second World War.
Photo with his colleagues on the cable laying ship of OTE, "Thales the Milesian". (Georgios Spendos)
Φωτογραφία με συναδέλφους του στο πλοίο πόντισης καλωδίων του ΟΤΕ, «Θαλής ο Μιλήσιος». (Γεώργιος Σπένδος)
The uncle of Zacharias, Chieftain Spendos George. The photo on the back reads: "The Hero of Macedonia, Chieftain, sentenced by Turkey to 15 years of imprisonment and released on 11 July 1908 by the Neo-Turks". (George Spendos)
The children of the Spendos-Delmouzou family. From left to right; Euthemia, Nikolaos, Zacharias, Athanasia. (George Spendos)
Identity card of Zacharias Spendos with the stamp of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff. (Georgios Spendos)
Commemorative photograph of the couple Elli Gatos-Spendou and Zacharias Demetrios Spendou. (Georgios Spendos)
The Navy diploma or letter of indefinite leave of absence of Zacharias Spendos, S/N.83655. (Georgios Spendos)
Nikolaos Spendos, veteran of three wars, in a photograph dated 6 October 1935. (Georgios Spendos)
We are particularly grateful for the help and unreserved support in this work, to George and Kostantinos Spendos, sons of Zacharias - Demetrios Spendos. We also thank Mrs.Kelly Spendos (niece of George Spendos and daughter of Konstantinos) who brought us in contact with the family and most importantly for driving our attention to the family's bold history.
1. Personal Corespondence of George Moris, with Zaharias son, George Spendos.
2. Spendos family archive.
3. Kingdom of Greece, Ministry of National Defence, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Greece, Branch B' D/NSIS VI/II/2, No.Prot.32593/1952
4. Zaharias - Dimitrios Spendos RHAF record.
5. Committee for the Rehabilitation of Disappeared Officials and Military Personnel, Decision No 3974/1987
6. Confirmation of Captivity from the Office of Prisoners of War of the Hellenic Red Cross. 4675/β.1725, 6-12-1954
7. HAF, Branch B-B4/Y1190/1/pro/70157 T.G.A.1010 30-8-1956
8. File ABA / 72 / PI/972 with Attached Daily Order from Araxos Airbase dated 20/5/1949
9. RHAF, Air Branch Directorate A4 Envelope GEA A4/IG/A1510. 9/6/49 Kingdom of Greece Ministry of Aviation.
10. Diary of Greek American B-17 pilot, George Pappas regarding his memories from Stalag Luft III.
11. Karagiorgas Georgios (1981), The Desert Eagles, Filippotis Publications, Athens. p.49
12. Eleftherotypia newspaper, 9 January 1983, issue, no. 260.