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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 October 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 OCTOBER 2019 7 On the condition of Athens left by the Germans, U.S. Military Intelligence states that; “The enemy reportedly has carried out-extensive demolitions to ground installations in Athens-Piraeus area before withdrawing, although the main electric supply and Marathon dam is unharmed.” A further report made on the following day explains that; “E.L.A.S. claim capture of enemy party returning to Athens to try to wreck central power station.” It seems that in their haste to leave, the Germans had forgotten to turn out the lights! Elsewhere, Greek resistance was harassing enemy communication lines and retreat routes in Macedonia and Thessaly “with good effect,” according to U.S. Military Intelligence. Wrecked bridges and mines planted by the resistance hampered the German withdrawal. “The Germans are apparently determined to keep Volos-Larissa road open; E.L.A.S. report a successful raid on a large enemy column advancing up this road. Other Greek units are active against AthensSalonika railroad, reporting several successful forays recently.” On 14 October, the resistance began the liberation of Ioannina, the largest city in north western Greece. It would only take them a day. On 15 October, an Allied task force comprising four British cruisers and four Allied destroyers along with other British and Greek naval vessels anchored off Piraeus at 17:30 hrs. They were transporting the British III Corps and troops of the loyalist remnants of the Greek Army who had been exiled since 1941. Disembarkation was delayed by the minefields and scuttled wrecks left by the Germans. However, the next day saw Lieutenant General Ronald Scobie of the British Armed Forces assume his role as the Allied High Commander in Greece. His primary mission was to maintain order now that the Germans had gone. It was to prove a much more difficult task than anyone could possibly have imagined. Although German garrisons still remained on many significant islands, including Crete and Rhodes, by the end of October 1944, the expulsion of Germans from the mainland was more or less complete. The Greeks were finally free of their oppressors. It was four years - almost to the day - after Premier Ioannis Metaxas had refused to capitulate to the Italians on the 28th of October 1940. Justifiably, there was flag-waving jubilation in the streets as each town was liberated in turn from south to north. It was both a success and a milestone. But if history is to teach us anything, there is always a bigger moment... MORE TO FOLLOW Although the Nazis had finally been expunged, the country found itself teetering dangerously on the precipice of civil war. Learn the circumstances of Greece’s fate in the next and final part of this special 75th anniversary series. The ‘blessed Liberty Ships’: The ‘yeast’ that caused the Greek fleet to rise ALEXANDER BILLINIS Airborne troops of C Company, 4th battalion, 2nd parachute brigade, descending on Megara in Greece, October 1944. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA COMMONS. I grew up in a family of Greek merchant sailors. My father, from Hydra, served in the Greek Navy and then the merchant marines, as did his father, grandfather, brother, cousins, and most of his friends. His father, my grandfather, lost his life in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War Two, along with thousands of other Greek sailors and almost two thirds of the Greek merchant fleet. The German U-Boat Submarines devastated the Allied fleets, even sinking ships within sight of the American coasts. To make up for the horrific losses, the American industry began a shipbuilding program on a scale never seen before or since. The key to this program was the Liberty Ship, originally a British design for a simple, mass-produced cargo ship. At a time when ships were built with rivets, the Liberties were to be welded, a sacrilege to many traditional mariners. Indeed, some of the first Liberty Ships cracked at these seams, but the cold hard logic of war production prevailed; if the ships made one or two trips, they were considered as a success. Possessing an abundance of land, capital, labour (increasingly female and minority), and most of all, American ingenuity, these ships could be produced at huge sites around the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf Coasts. While the record production time for a Liberty Ship was five days [!], the average was about one month, and in 1943 the United Sates produced more ships in one year than in the three decades from 1915 to 1945. At the same time, the British and American navies took the hunt to the U-Boats, and cargo ship losses plummeted. Without the supplies brought in the hulls of these ships, there would have been no victory over Germany or Japan. As the war ended, the US was a victim of its own success both on the field of battle and in production, with a massive surplus of ships and other equipment. Here too, a very American "enlightened self-interest" took over. The US needed to offload ships, and her Allies, such as Greece and Norway had suffered horrific shipping losses. The solution was to offer Allied nations these ships at the same cut-rate prices and financing as for American companies. The Greeks were by far the largest purchasers, with over 500 ships. Without the supplies brought in the hulls of these ships, there would have been no victory over “ Germany or Japan. The importance of this trans- fer cannot be exaggerated. Greece lost over two thirds of its fleet, a vital source of employment and foreign exchange, and the country was devastated by years of occupation and a looming civil war. Suddenly, a whole new generation of Greek sailors, many, like my late father and uncle, orphans of Greek sailors, took to the sea in a huge fleet of Liberty Ships. These sailors, earning wages far higher than in Greece, and with tax and other perks from a Greek government desperate for foreign exchange, helped to rebuild their families and their country shattered by the wars of the 1940s, and set the stage for Greece's emer- gence, however unsteady, as a modern middle class state. Some, like my father and uncle, jumped from their Liberty Ships to start a new life as proud (Greek)-Americans, but others, countless uncles and cousins, remained in Greece. I spoke to one cousin a few months ago, a retired captain, Velissarios ("Veli") Theodorou. He started his merchant marine career on a Liberty Ship, in the mid-1960s, and recalls them fondly as solid ships, "particularly when remembering that they were built for one voyage!" By the 1960s these ships were outclassed by newer ships with more electric and hydraulic systems, and faster speeds, but they remained profitable and serviceable ships after over twenty years' service. He called the Liberty Ships the "yeast" which caused the Greek merchant marine to rise after the disasters of the Battle of the Atlantic. Today of course, the Greek merchant fleet is the world's largest, carrying nearly 20 per cent of global trade. My father always spoke in reverent terms about the Liberty Ships. My cousin, of the next generation, echoed his nostalgic affection for these freighters President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called "the ugly ducklings." These ships helped to win the war, and for Greeks, to secure the piece. Like my late father, these ships conjure a sense of dual pride—for the Americans who built them and who provided them to their Allies, and for the Greeks who sailed them to fortune thereafter. Liberty Ships were welded, a sacrilege to many traditional mariners.
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