Operation Tenement

This was a British special forces attack on the island of Simi in the German-occupied Dodecanese islands group of the south-western Aegean Sea (13/14 July 1944).

During September and October 1943, during the Dodecanese islands campaign, the Germans ousted the British from the Italian-held Dodecanese islands group. In the course of these operations, the island of Simi was occupied by German troops on 12 October.

In April 1944, the 1st Special Air Service had been divided into two, with 250 men of the SAS and the Small Scale Raiding Force forming the Special Boat Squadron under the command of Major the Earl Jellicoe. The SBS moved to Haifa in Palestine and trained with the Greek Sacred Band in preparations for operations in the Aegean Sea. The Allied force hid in Turkey, for while officially neutral, Turkey turned a blind eye on these operations, and the Allied force used the small offshore islands as bases.

The force allocated to ‘Tenement’ comprised 100 men of the SBS led by Major Ian ‘Jock’ Lapraik and 224 men of the Greek Sacred Band, trained and armed by the British, and led by Syntagmatárches Christodoulos Tzigantes. The 324-man unit was divided into three groups, and among its several objectives was the island’s strongly defended castle.

The raid was launched on the orders Brigadier D. J. T. Turnbull, the senior British officer in the area, and the combined British and Greek force was delivered in 10 motor launches, as well as schooners and caïques of the Anglo-Hellenic Schooner Flotilla, and landed without opposition on 13 July. By dawn all three groups were overlooking their respective targets. As soon as light was sufficient, the three groups began their attacks, firstly on the harbour defences with mortar and machine gun fire. The German garrison was taken completely by surprise, and as they entered the harbour following the British craft, two German ferry barges were overwhelmed by gunfire and sunk.

The second objective was the high point known as Molo Point. The SBS group took this hill without encountering much in the way of initial opposition, but was quickly counterattacked by a German force retreating from the main town. Charging up the hill, the Germans ran into heavy small arms fire and a hail of grenades. A Greek platoon farther down the hill then cut off the Germans, who then surrendered.

The last objective was the castle just above the harbour, and the Allies opened a brisk fire on the castle’s battlements with Vickers machine guns and mortars. As they crossed a bridge, a party of the SBS was pinned down, and had to take whatever cover its men could find. The fighting in this little area was bitter, and it was here that most of the casualties were taken, but as heavy mortar fire and a short-range bombardment by the guns of the motor launch flotilla were concentrated on the castle a captured German officer and a Royal Navy lieutenant seconded to the SBS called out for the surrender of the castle’s garrison and, following another three hours of fighting, an Italian carabinieri unit walked out and surrendered.

Further inland, the other German position in the Panormitis monastery was attacked, and after its garrison had been driven out the Germans surrendered only as they were driven onto a promontory over the sea. The island was thus secured, and mopping-up ensured that all other possible strongpoints on the island were clear of German troops.

With their positions consolidated, the SBS men started to plant demolition charges on objectives including gun emplacements and ammunition, fuel and explosive dumps. The harbour was also targeted, and here 19 German caïques, some displacing as much as 150 tons, were destroyed. During this time the Luftwaffe made a number of attacks on the island, but these attacks had little effect.

With all the objectives taken and demolitions effected, Lapraik and Tzigantes decided that the time had come for the Allied force to evacuate the island. The British and Greeks then withdrew with booty and prisoners. A small section of SBS remained on the island until the last possible moment. Two German motor launches attempted to land men, but the SBS opened fire and set both craft on fire as they tried to withdraw. The last of the Allied troops to leave dud so on a barge, and even though this encountered an S-boot, they had so much weaponry that they were able to open fire and sink the German craft for no loss.

‘Tenement’ was thus wholly successful, and in fact achieved somewhat more than its designed objectives. The Allied losses were eight men wounded and two men drowned, the latter in the form of a pair of officers of the Greek Sacred Band, who were drowned when they attempted to land in deep water, while the Axis forces lost 21 men killed, 151 men taken prisoner, and one S-boot, two ferry barges and 19 caïques sunk. For the Germans, the implications of the raid indicated the need for larger garrisons in the entire area, and indeed a considerably larger garrison was deployed to Simi.

The raid was the last of its kind in the Aegean Sea for the SBS, and as a result the Greek Sacred Band took over the role of raiding in the Aegean as they were now fully trained and deemed to be politically reliable. In August 1944 the SBS joined the Long Range Desert Group for operations in the Adriatic Sea, on the Peloponnese, in Albania and, finally, in Istria. So effective were they that by 1944 a force of some 200 to 300 SBS and men of the Greek Sacred Band was pinning six German divisions.

At the end of World War II the surrender of German forces in the region, under the command of Generalmajor Otto Wagener, took place on Simi, and the island was occupied by the British for two years until reunited with Greece in 1948.