Operation Manna (i)

This was a British combined operation to stabilise the position in Greece as the divisions of Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Heeresgruppe ‘E’ began to pull out of the country to avoid the probability of being cut off by the Soviet forces advancing into Yugoslavia and Austria (4 October 1944).

Covered by 'Undercut' and 'Second Undercut', this undertaking was planned and implemented within the context of the British programme to occupy the island groups of the Aegean Sea and the parts of the Greek mainland evacuated by the Germans. Rear Admiral J. M. Mansfield’s Aegean Force was based on Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s carrier task group 1. There were many actions between the British ships and small German vessels, and British gunfire bombardments of German coastal positions, airfields and batteries before and during the several landings.

The 1st Submarine Flotilla was strengthened with the arrival of Upstart, Untiring and Free French Curie. Upstart gained no success in a number of attacks. Between 30 September and 3 October, as the Germans evacuated most of the Greek islands and the southern part of mainland Greece, a German convoy passaged from Piraeus to Thessaloníki with two freighters escorted by the torpedo boat TA 18, submarine chasers UJ 2102 and UJ 2144, and two harbour patrol vessels.

On 2 October Curie sank the 1,994-ton Zar Ferdinand and on 3 October the British Unswerving sank the 1,810-ton Berta. During the evening of 3 October Curie sank a patrol vessel. In addition, on 4 October Untiring missed TA 18 and on the following day sank sank a caique but missed freighter Burgas. On 7 October Untiring attacked landing craft and was damaged in a depth-charge attack by UJ 2102. The Free Greek Matrozos missed the 1,150-ton freighter Achilles on 8 October, but Vivid then sank this vessel together with the tugs Horst and Paul. The Free Greek Nereus and Pipinos had uneventful patrols and visited Greek islands. Virtue sank six small craft between 9 and 11 October. TA 38 and TA 39 carried out a defensive mining operation off Piraeus on 5/6 October and sank ML-1227. On 15 October the Free Greek minesweepers Kasos and Kos, ML-870 and a tanker were sunk in this minefield.

Between 6 to 13 October the last German ships in the Aegean were transferred from Piraeus to Thessaloníki, and in the process, the torpedo boat TA 37, submarine chaser UJ 2102 and a harbour patrol boat were sunk on 7 October during an engagement to the south-west of Kassandra-Huk with the destroyers Termagant and Tuscan, although the minelayer Zeus escaped. On 9 October TA 38 went aground near Makronisi and, after being towed by TA 39 to Volos, was sunk by aircraft of No. 809 Squadron from the escort carrier Stalker on 12 October, together with a freighter, two supply vessels, one submarine chaser, one naval ferry barge, one Siebel ferry, and a number of other craft including several motor sailing boats. The last operational ships (the freighter Lola, TA 39 and three motor minesweepers) were despatched to Thessaloníki after Piraeus was evacuated on 12 October.

The unserviceable TA 15 and TA 17, together with a number of small craft, were scuttled. On 19 October the torpedo boat TA 18 was sunk off Volos during an engagement with the destroyers Termagant and Tuscan.

On 28 October the submarine Vampire intercepted the 13,870-ton German hospital ship Gradisca and, suspecting that she was carrying German troops, escorted her to Chios, where she was seized by the destroyer Kimberley on the following day.

On 31 October, following of the departure of the last German troops from Thessaloníki, the final German vessels (including S 54, R 185, R 195, R 210, R 211 and the auxiliary minesweepers Alula, Otranto and Gallipoli) were scuttled, TA 39 and Lola having succumbed to mines on 16 October.

Under the overall control of Lieutenant General R. M. Scobie’s III Corps (gathered at Alexandria as Force 140), the ‘Manna’ operation proper had the difficult dual tasks of supporting the royalist administration from any attempts by the communist ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army) to overthrow it, and of preventing the communist regime in Bulgaria from keeping its hold on the Greek provinces of western Thrace and eastern Macedonia, given to King Boris by Hitler in 1941 and still wanted by the new regime despite an agreement that Bulgaria would return to its borders of 6 April 1941.

As indicated above, since September Force 120 (Aegean Force), a comparatively small but potent Royal Navy detachment, had been operating in the Aegean Sea to intercept German efforts to evacuate their island garrisons by sea, and a precursor to land operations was the arrival of two reconnaissance forces in the Peloponnese, one of them being composed of Special Boat Squadron personnel who landed at Patras and took the airfield at Araxos before spearheading the liberation of the rest of the Peloponnese.

'Manna' proper began with the amphibious landing of one battalion of Brigadier C. H. V. Pritchard’s 2nd Airborne Brigade at Patras on 4 October, continued with the airdrop of additional airborne units of this brigade at Eleusis and Megara on 12/14 October (2nd Independent Parachute Brigade delivered by Brigadier General Timothy J. Manning’s US 51st Troop Carrier Wing) to move on Athens, which the airborne soldiers reached on 14 October, and finally witnessed the arrival of Scobie’s ground forces, including Brigadier R. H. E. Arkwright’s 23rd Armoured Brigade, at Piraeus on 16 October in British and Greek ships led by Troubridge and including the cruisers Ajax, Aurora, Black Prince, Orion and Sirius, and landing ships Bruiser, Thruster and Canadian Prince David and Prince Henry.

The British moved quickly and did manage to impose a kind of order, as witnessed by the 18 October arrival of Giorgios Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, to establish a new administration. But the evacuation of the Germans marked the beginning of the Greek Civil War that continued up to 1948 before the communists were beaten.

It is worth noting that the exit of the Germans from Greece was greatly facilitated by a number of agreements with ELAS and its political leadership, EAM (Greek Liberation Committee), whereby German formations were given unimpeded passage on condition they left their heavy weapons for use by the forces of ELAS against the royalists.

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This comprised the escort carriers Hunter, Stalker, Emperor, Attacker, Searcher, Pursuer and Khedive, light cruisers Ajax, Aurora and Orion, light anti-aircraft cruisers Argonaut, Black Prince, Colombo and Royalist, Captain C. L. Firth’s 24th Destroyer Flotilla (Teazer, Termagant, Terpsichore, Troubridge, Tuscan, Tumult, Greek Navarinon and Polish Garland), and escort destroyers Brecon, Calpe, Catterick, Cleveland, Liddesdale, Zetland and Free Greek Kriti, Pindos, Kanaris, Miaoulis and Themistokles.