Operation Group V

'Group V' was a US special forces operation to land a 24-man Office of Strategic Services party, all of Greek ethnic origins, for operations in the northern part of German-occupied Greece to aid local resistance forces (21 May/early October 1944).

Commanded by 1st Lieutenant George Papazoglou with 1st Lieutenant Lou Payton as second in command, the party landed from the sea on on 21 May 21 at Parga cove on the east coast and moved overland to the north-east across Greece to the area of Mt Paikon, to the north-west of Thessaloníki and about 30 miles (48 km) from the border with German-occupied Yugoslavia. Papazoglou was injured by a fall in July and evacuated from Greece, whereupon Payton became the commander.

In its operational area, the US party established links with the local Andarte guerrilla fighters and with the British units of the Raiding Support Regiment working in the area, and generally worked with these and the Geeks had good local knowledge and the British provided the support of heavier weapons.

In the group’s first operation, which began on 6 August, the target selected was the railway line linking Athens and Thessaloníki, the group took up position to ambush a train at 01.30 with Andartes providing flank security. Explosive charges were placed to blow the track, and a train was derailed by the explosion at 05.30. The Allied forces then placed heavy fire on the wreck for 10 minutes before slackening this to a lighter fire aimed at specific German survivors. The Germans' return fire was ineffective, and after 15 minutes the Germans surrendered. The train had 52 carriages and wagons loaded with medical supplies, mules, weapons, ammunition and some trucks. Out of some 200 Germans on the train, the dead and wounded totalled 126, and 80 were taken prisoner. The Andartes stripped the carriage and wagons of anything useful and then fire them.

On 10 August the US party returned to Mt Paikon after initially remaining at a forward assembly area in Kerasios.

The target for the second operation, on 18/19 August, was a school and three nearly buildings in Yannitsa which the Germans had turned into a strongpoint inside a cleared area surrounded by mines and barbed wire. The Allied forces took up positions within 100 yards of the area, and between 23.00 and 05.30 fired 384 rounds from each M1 rifle as well as 62 bazooka rounds and 5,800 rounds from their Browning Automatic Rifles. A major fire was created when the fuel supply ignited and burned down the personnel buildings. Of the 300 Germans in this compound, 97 were killed, others died in the burning buildings, and those who escaped were caught later by the Andartes. The Andartes lost three men killed and 19 wounded, but the operational group suffered no casualties.

These next two operations were directed against the railway at Ghevohili using basically the same forces as the first operation. On 22 August the target was a train with troops and supplies which ran each morning. This was to be ambushed as it reached a blown trestle, but the Andarte responsible for blowing this was asleep and the train proceeded unhindered. On 25 August a second attempt was organised, but this too failed as the Andartes were sighted by a German patrol, which sent a warning, and the Allied force withdrew.

Failures such as these represented a significant waste of the effort required to move men and equipment from a forward assembly area to the target area, with the men loaded with ammunition and the mules carrying the weapons. All the trails were rocky and rough, and in the dark the men found it impossible to see those in front of them, so halts had to be made to ensure that everyone was present and on the right trail.

The same personnel were used in the fifth operation, probably on 27 August. The Americans, Andartes and British moved to positions in the area of a mine at Phanas. Encircled with barbed wire and trip-wired mines, the area accommodated the mine shafts and a electrical powerplant whose turbines were driven by dammed water.

At 05.45 on the operation’s second day, the Allied forces poured a heavy fire into the mining compound, and Payton then led six men to assault the mine under cover of rest of operational group. Accompanied by Corporals John P. Minogianis and Tasos J. Gianiotis, Payton descended a ravine, eliminated a machine gun position and crossed a minefield, as Corporals Angelos Lyzigos and Peter Photis silenced another machine gun position. Some 75 Germans were killed and 28 captured. The buildings were assaulted, and two more machine gun positions were destroyed. Demolition charges were then used to destroy the buildings, dam and mine shafts.

To protect troops coming to join Payton’s force, a four-man guard was placed on a crossing used by the Germans. This was the group’s sixth operation, and required a two-day march from base. The crossing was successfully accomplished.

The seventh operation, which began on 7 September, used the same US, Greek and British force and was intended to destroy the Phanas bridges. Payton, Andartes and British officers undertook a reconnaissance of the area, in which no fewer than seven bridges were to be blown. Payton and a British officer cleared a path through the trip-wired minefield to a railway line extending to the pillbox which controlled access to all the bridges. At 05.00 on 8 September, the assault team, comprising Payton, T/Sgt Walter E. Gates and Corporals Spero Psarakis, Harry T. Ameredes and James Papavassiliou, crept down to the railway tracks, and the rest of the team moved into its assigned positions. At 06.00, bazooka rounds were fired and the assault party ran down the track past the pillbox and crossed over the bridge to the house occupied by the German garrison. All Germans coming out of the house were shot down. Payton threw grenades into rooms and sprayed them with sub-machine gun fire as the other men protected him. An initial demand for a German surrender resulted only in further rifle fire, and after more grenades had been hurled into the building two wounded Germans crawled out. The assault team took the pillbox with grenades and sub-machine gun fire, and demolition team destroyed all seven bridges. The whole undertaking had lasted only five minutes.

The eighth operation again targeted the Yannitsa school garrison, and used the same team as had made the first assault on this target. Undertaken on 18 September, this was a daylight effort. Payton, T/Sergeant Walter E. Gates and Sergeant John Bichekas and their details opened sealed windows, but the Andartes failed to accomplish their objective of blowing their targets and German fire shattered the ammunition supply. On withdrawal, three wounded Americans were able to ride mules, but Bichekas had to be carried. The number of German casualties was not known, and in a reprisal the Germans burned part of the town.

The ninth and tenth operations were directed against the Ghevohili railway and the Phanas mine once again. The Germans had improved their defences, and the Americans considered a sniping attack by small parties. No Germans were spotted in two days' observation at the railway and mine, however, so the Americans returned to Paikon.

After a pause occasioned by 10 days of rain, the Americans moved from Polikarpi to Apsolos, where the Germans had a post guarding the road, for their eleventh operation. At 12.15, the Americans opened fire and continued until they had exhausted their ammunition, and then withdrew under ineffective German fire and returned to Polikarpi. It was later learned that the Germans had evacuated all their posts and that the area was almost entirely free of Germans.

For his group’s twelfth operation, Payton planned to ambush a patrol at Phanos, but before he could launch this effort the group was ordered to return to Ardea for evacuation.