Tag Archives: Albania

Summer’s lease is over

Representation of the entrance to Khiva, Uzbekistan

The more attentive amongst you will have noticed that there has been a little pause in my blog activity over the summer. I do wish I could attribute this to some sort of long sojourn in a house somewhere in the Tuscan hills that had no internet connection (one can dream!), but that has not been the case. Life has been busy, and I suppose I needed a little break as well.

I did manage a little travel with quite a lot of variety. From the imposing mountains of Scotland (when the temperature was over 30 degrees!) to the deserts of Uzbekistan (where it was even hotter). I managed to achieve a lifetime goal to visit Samarkand and to follow in the footsteps of some of the players of the Great Game. In between, I managed a further trip to Albania, visits to London, and walks in southern England, including some spectacular vistas on the South West Coast Path between Weymouth and Poole. Sleeping out on Lulworth Cove beach was a highlight.

It’s back now, with a line-up of new stories, articles, photographs, and news for you all about Paddy, his friends, the house, and other matters that are directly, and sometimes quite indirectly, related to this great travel writer. Watch out for news about the 2020 World Nomad Games! It’s good to be back.

Advertisements

The Wildest Province

David Smiley (left) and "Billy" McLean in Albania 1944

David Smiley (left) and “Billy” McLean in Albania 1944

The stories of the activities of those who served in SOE are still emerging thanks to the availability of hitherto classified archives, and the release of personal diaries and accounts by those involved, in many cases, after their deaths. We are able to understand so much more of the successes and failures of the country missions, the work of individuals, and the strategic political and military context. Diligent researchers and authors are accessing these materials and writing new accounts which can raise as many questions as they answer, and debunk myths such as the extent of communist infiltration of British operational Staff HQs.

I have just got around to reading Roderick Bailey’s The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle, which charts the story of SOE operations in Albania over the period 1940 to 1945. It is an incredibly well researched book, presenting the story from ill-fated early attempts to overthrow the Italians in 1940-41 by MI6 and SOE, to the commencement of the more organised missions of “Billy” McLean and David Smiley, through to the expansion into well over a dozen different teams spread over all parts of the country.

The hardships experienced by them all, especially during the long and harsh winter of 1943-44 are unimaginable. There are many examples of personal bravery, doggedness, and also treachery by Nationalist elements within Albania. The Partisans, led by this time by Enver Hoxha and his LNC staff were almost wiped out in the north as were the SOE missions there. Further ‘drives’ against the LNC in the south in early 1944 had almost similar results. Bailey’s book argues that the significant efforts put into these eradication attempts by the Germans, and the high quality of troops they deployed, demonstrated the success of the resistance by the LNC and the overall quality of the Partisan Brigades, as well as the positive impact of the SOE mission to Albania. However, the fighting quality of Albanian Partisans was variable resulting in continued debate about whether or not back some Nationalist groups. Growing suspicion of the British by the increasingly communist LNC made SOE’s mission in Albania during 1944 and into 1945 increasingly difficult and towards the end almost impossible.

For those who have an interest in SOE operations and Albania, or who want to understand more about British and Allied operations in the Balkans this is a highly recommended book. You will want to know what happens to the individuals and the story for some did not end in 1945, but continued with the British sponsored MI6 and CIA attempt to overthrow Hoxha’s regime in 1953 which ended in disastrous failure and death for many.

Read more on the Blog about SOE operations in Albania: 

One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

Albanian Assignment

Buy The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle paperback here and the hardback here.

Wartime escapades by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Times Literary Supplement describes this as “The last Renaissance man’s account – until now available only in Greek – of how German bombs wrecked his boat but not his spirit”. Enjoy.

Translated by Adrian Bartlett.

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2013.

Since 1976 my family has been to a small town in the eastern Peloponnese nearly every year. Early on we heard, from the local bus driver and others, how the Germans had sunk an escaping Englishman’s boat in the local harbour in 1941. The Englishman in question was Patrick Leigh Fermor. Later we made friends with Stratis Kounias, a man from the town, a distinguished academic who also returned there every summer. Stratis had embarked on writing a wartime history of the area and on hearing that we knew “Paddy” he asked for an introduction. Leigh Fermor agreed to write an account of the event. I am quite sure he had written and talked about it many times before – some of the phrases are repeated in the biography by Artemis Cooper (reviewed in the TLS, November 16, 2012); but this time he recounted it in Greek for the benefit of Stratis Kounias, although Stratis speaks perfect English. The following is my translation.– Adrian Bartlett

And now over to Paddy …

A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MY ESCAPE

I had arrived in Greece as a lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in November 1940. We were a branch of the Allied Military Mission. After Christmas we drove to Albania and were based at Koritsa as liaison officers to the 80th regiment led by Lieutenant-General [Georgios] Tsolakoglou.

I went along the whole front – Pogradec, Krystallopigi, Argirocastro, Tepeleniou, Leskovik, Ioannina and so on. I stayed two months there and after the German invasion I was asked to come down to Athens with the personnel intelligence unit, under the regiment commander Peter Smith-Dorrien (son of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien who fought in the First World War).

After the slow retreat from Perdika, Ptolemaida and so on we were for a time as if in the pass at Thermopylae, but eventually got to barracks in Athens. With the rapid advance of the Germans, Field Marshal Maitland-Wilson gave the order to prepare a second escape route from Greece, if a somewhat unorthodox one.

The Greek authorities had requisitioned for us a lovely sailing caïque. She was called Ayia Barbara, anchored at Sounion and belonging to Paulo Mela. She had a renowned captain in Michaelis Mistho from the Demon of Sparta. Apart from myself and P. Smith-Dorrien there was a wireless-operating sergeant, a very nice corporal who I think was called Costas Varthis, and six soldiers.

Our orders were to take possession of the caïque and proceed to a meeting with Field Marshal Wilson at Mili, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. We left Sounion on the afternoon of the April 24, 1941, the sergeant and I having previously destroyed our truck by pushing it into a gully at Sounion. We went past Hydra and moored off the island of Dokos.

In the morning there were many enemy aircraft, the thud of bombing, and trails of smoke in the direction of Nauplion. Later we heard they had set on fire the English ship the Ulster Prince; many British were either killed or captured. We waited till late afternoon to weigh anchor and it was night when we moored at the quay at Mili. It was very crowded there, hundreds of trucks and Greek and British soldiers in retreat. I called out repeatedly the name of the motorcyclist, Matthew, who was to wait for me there and take me to the Field Marshal, whom I finally found.

He had come from Athens with Prince Peter who was liaison officer to our mission, Field Marshal Wilson having come in another car. Also there was the government Deputy President, Vice-Admiral Sakellariou. These were going to Crete in a Sunderland aircraft. Our own aim in our present circumstances was to work our way south along the coast of the Peloponnese, to help other British and Greek military stragglers who wanted to get to Crete and had missed a ship.

Admiral Baillie-Grohman and Brigadier General Galloway joined the Ayia Barbara, and also some more men. We weighed anchor and headed south. After half an hour we pulled alongside an English battle cruiser, the HMS Bahram [Edit: Should HMS Bahram read HMS Barham which was lost at sea on the 25th November 1941?], which took all these men on board. We, with our original company from Sounion, P. Smith-Dorrien, Lieutenant Philip Scott, consul to Field Marshal Wilson, and six soldiers stayed on the Ayia Barbara and we set off at 1.30 am. Smith-Dorrien appointed Philip Scott responsible for the British personnel and me for the Greeks as I knew Greek fairly well, having travelled a lot around Greece before the war.

On the way we had some engine trouble, a blade of the propeller broke which compelled us to reach shore before sunrise. Our intention had been to head for Ieraka and hide the caïque, but in the morning of April 27, at 5.30, we arrived at Leonidion and moored at the quay in Plaka.

We hid the radio under some olive trees, took our weapons, had some breakfast. Our orders were to let no one board the caïqe during the day. Soon we would be taking up our headquarters in Crete.

At 1.30 pm a reconnaissance Fiesler-Stork plane flew over, at 2 another came and dropped four aerial torpedoes on the beach and did little damage, and then came some bursts of machine gun fire. At 2.15 they dropped another bomb close to the quay and at 2.30 a depth charge fell beside the Ayia Barbara, breaching her below decks and sinking her, with just half the mast showing above water. Luckily our boat had saved some important documents.

From then until 7pm the bombardment and dive bombing didn’t stop. One of the bombs fell close to us and wounded Captain Michaelis in the leg and damaged the radio, but to our surprise we repaired it enough to take with us, but not sufficiently to send our news to headquarters.

Some local people appeared, with bread, eggs, one or two chickens, wine and so on, and showed us much kindness, although it had been a terrible day.

P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy one of the other small caïques in the harbour, but all had been damaged in the bombardment and were not fit for sea. We tried mules but failed again. We hoped to find a caïque further south. We passed the night there, in two convenient caves at the end of the beach. We went very early into Leonidion for provisions. The enemy were firing all around, but stopped at midday. I tried to salvage some things from the sunken caïque but without success. At 7 pm the Leonidion police brought and placed at our disposal a boat from a nearby village. It belonged to Panayioti Nikos Moschoviti, or Tsana, from Poulithra. The crew was the son of Nikos and another four of his relations. We agreed that they would take us to Kyparissia. Whether or not we could find a way to make progress, we had taken a decision to go for it, come what may. The local people were very keen to help us. We all boarded the boat, twenty-three of us together with the six crew, packed in like sardines, and we set off south under oar. Meanwhile the Greek crew of the Ayia Barbara set off to their respective homes while we stayed with Captain Michaelis, without whom we would have perished, Smith-Dorrien said.

The crew rowed for about six hours and at 5.30 am on April 29 we arrived at Kyparissia, coming to a dry river bed, 3–4 kilometres from the village. P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy a caïque and in the evening we found one: Ayio Nikolao, 40 tons, which belonged to Pericles Meneksi, for 300,000 drachmas. After a moment we heard that the Germans had reached the village, and as luck would have it, eleven New Zealanders arrived by rowing from Porto Heli.

Many British troops had arrived in Kalamata by road in trucks and armoured vehicles. Many went to Crete on the Greek warships which were there, the others who stayed put up a fierce resistance to the advancing Germans, making an assault with bayonets, and many died or were taken prisoner. This year they are erecting a memorial in Kalamata in their honour.

The eleven New Zealanders were in a bad state of fatigue; we took them into our company and all left together at 9 pm. On April 30, we arrived at Velanidion and all had a day on the beach to recover. At 9 pm we tried to set off to Crete but the engine wouldn’t go into forward drive and broke down. P. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I made the steep climb to the high village, hoping to find someone to mend the engine or to find another caïque, without any success.

Meanwhile we learnt that the Germans had reached Monemvasia, Neapoli and Kalamata. The New Zealanders wanted to put to sea immediately but Smith-Dorrien forbade it. Then five more New Zealanders arrived and an Australian. A good mechanic from Velanidion, Nikolaos Kostakos, a relation of Captain Michaelis, patched up the damaged engine after many hours. We also found three Cretan soldiers who were trying to find a way to get home so we took these too. At 9 pm we set off for Cape Spatha on the north of Crete with the mechanic, N. Kostakos.

On May 2 we had extremely strong headwinds and violent storms. We were losing oil and a bearing was overheating; the engine died. We did the unthinkable and turned back with an improvised rig for the sails and got to Antikythera at 12. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I went to the village of Potamos and found there a very large caïque, the Despina, which belonged to Captain Nikolaos Manika from Chios and it was agreed that he would take us to Crete in exchange for 45,000 drachmas. He took all of us, leaving the following night, another four Australians having arrived there by various means. We now had 150 men, British and Greek, of all ranks. There was another caïque there which went to Crete with us. N. Kostakos stayed with the Ayio Nikolao in order to take care of the repairs and then take it on to Crete.

We weighed our anchors at 10.30 pm on May the 3rd and arrived on the 4th, mooring at Kastelli Kissamou at 5.30 am, where we organized a wonderful feast in a taverna. We were all quite ravenous, and then found a truck to take us to Chania.

P. Smith-Dorrien wrote warmly of Philip Scott and with much praise for Captain Michaelis Mistho, who later played a role in the secret transport of caïques in the Middle East, and I met him later in the war. Also we had the finest impressions of Corporal Costas Varthis and the wireless operators, always willing and with good humour in difficult moments. Lastly we felt grateful to all the Greeks who took care of us and helped us warm-heartedly in difficult times.

After sixteen days the war came to Crete in one part or another. A few months later Philip Scott was killed in battle in a western invasion, and Smith-Dorrien was killed towards the end of the war by a bomb falling on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

***

These notes are based on my own recollections, much helped by the account written by P. Smith-Dorrien on our eventual arrival at Chania in Crete. Following the death of Philip Scott, his father Sir Samuel Scott collected his letters and published them as a small book. One letter describes our flight and it is around this that I have written. About the night we left Leonidion he writes: “We all got into the boat, eleven English, six Greeks and the others that stayed on after the loss of the Ayia Barbara. The Greeks rowed for six hours with hardly a break. They were absolutely wonderful. We covered 15 miles and arrived at a fishing village further south”.

On our turning back after our first attempt to reach Crete, he writes:

“The caïque travelled badly and the mainsail was torn.”

He was about 20 years old, I was 26 and Smith-Dorrien between 30 and 40.

I love Leonidion and the whole of Tsakonia.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
Kardamili, August 2, 1995

Post-operation interrogation of Patrick Leigh Fermor

A very revealing file from Paddy’s debrief upon his return from Crete. He operated under the cover name of Michaelis Frangielakis. It is very extensive discussing day-to-day operations and organisation in Crete. An interesting conclusion is that Italian interrogations of prisoners were less brutal than those of the Germans, and were more successful being psychologically more sophisticated: “The Italians understood the Mediterranean mind and methods much better than the Germans.”

Walking back to Byzantium along the Via Egnatia

Have you ever fancied going to Albania? Would you like to walk the route of a famous – and in places intact – Roman road to Byzantium? Visit the Byzantine marvels at Ohrid and experience the sheer romanticism of Lake Ohrid? Then your luck is in as the Via Egnatia Foundation are in the early stages of planning a walk in May 2011.

The likely route is from Elbasan in Albania to Ohrid in Macedonia. There is the possibility of doing the walk in reverse as well, giving a couple of date options.

Full details have yet to be finalised but you can at least register your interest with them by visiting the Via Egnatia Foundation website and telling them you would like to know more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you know that I made this walk in 2009. You can read an account of my journey here. I hope to make the walk again this year. It will be of interest to those with an interest in Byzantium and those who like Patrick Leigh Fermor: he was a liaison officer in Albania at the start of WW2 and visited Ohrid and its Byzantine churches and chapels in the 1960’s.

Some video of our adventure in 2009:

Dancing in Dardhe

A composite video of the route to Ohrid

Some fool singing The Lumberjack Song

Related article:

Walking to Find Byzantium

Related category:

Via Egnatia

Alan Hare MC – Obituary from The Independent

Alan Hare was one of the SOE colleagues of Paddy who passed through Cairo and is mentioned as being an occupant of Tara.

by Richard Bassett

First published in the Independent Thursday, 13 April 1995

After a distinguished career in the service of his country first as a soldier, then in what he referred to always as the “Foreign Office so called” both during and after the Second World War, Alan Hare became chairman of the Financial Times in 1978, overseeing the paper’s all-important decision to print in Frankfurt and become “Europe’s Business Paper”.

Throughout his very varied career, Hare discharged his duties with a patrician, almost languid, charm which belied a sharp intellect and remarkable courage. During the war he was parachuted into Albania as a member of Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies’s mission. Betrayed by partisans and ambushed by the Germans, Hare only escaped after a grim chase across snow-bound mountains. Ravaged by frost-bite, he was the sole survivor of Davies’s ill-fated attempt to bring the discipline and turn-out of the parade ground to the isolated valleys of the Balkans. He remained far longer than either reason or compassion would have dictated, tending to the wounds of a fellow British officer. He was later awarded a Military Cross.

Characteristically, Hare took an optimistic line and another British officer in Special Operations Executive (SOE) found him in a half-submerged cowshed, recovering quite cheerfully, his unmistakable voice bringing back memories of Oxford dinners, tours of Burgundy and heated political discussion in London night-clubs.

Alan Hare was born in 1919, a son of the fourth Earl of Listowel, the head of an Anglo-Irish family burnt out in the troubles. Hare’s conventional education at Eton and then New College, Oxford, imparted little of the stuffiness which invested some of his contemporaries. Commissioned in the Irish Guards on the outbreak of war, he transferred as technical officer to the Life Guards. Here he derived satisfaction from the discovery that members of the Household Cavalry jumped into their unfamiliar new tanks more readily if the order shouted was “Mount” rather than a more modern command.

After his distinguished service with SOE in Albania, he found his knowledge of that country in demand. Today it is easy to forget how pertinent the eastern Mediterranean was to Britain’s interests immediately after the war. Significant colonies still existed east of Suez; Albania stood almost at Britain’s imperial jugular. The failure of the British SOE missions during the war to influence or prevent Communist regimes which took over in the Balkans directly affected British and then Nato foreign policy. In this Cold War world Hare’s knowledge was invaluable. In the Balkans and elsewhere, Hare brought his considerable intellectual gifts to bear on a range of security issues. While others developed an almost constipated approach to security, Hare mastered an opaque conversational style which a colleague at the Financial Times later, with some sense of frustration, described as “producing the most fascinating convoluted sentences, to which one had to pay close attention in order not to get lost”. Continue reading

Colonel David Smiley: Blues officer and MC recipient

The Times’ Obituary of David Smiley. Times’ content is now subscription only so no link I am afraid. Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s book Albanian Assignment.

First published in The Times January 2009.

When Lieutenant David Smiley was ordered to Palestine with the 1st Cavalry Division in January 1940 his immediate concern was how to dispose of his private aeroplane, two racehorses and Bentley. The next five years were to bring him more exacting problems, but he completed the war as a three-times decorated lieutenant-colonel.

The Life Guards and Smiley’s regiment, the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), each provided two squadrons to make up the 1st Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR), which, together with two other horsed cavalry regiments already in Palestine and several mobilised Yeomanry regiments, provided the 1st Cavalry Division with the capability to relieve an infantry division in Palestine for service in the Western Desert. Smiley found Palestine interesting but, seeking more active duty, he volunteered to join No 52 (Middle East) Commando under training at Geneifa, Egypt, in November 1940. Continue reading