Saturday, August 31, 2019
LRDG & SAS Traces On Rhodes
Could there really be traces of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Air Service (SAS) on the island of Rhodes, not far from the old town? Yes there are such traces but you will not learn about them from most Rhodes guides.
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is not just a Gothic castle inside the old town on Rhodes. During the Italian period on Rhodes (1912-1943) the castle was extensively restored and became a holiday residence first for the Italian king and later for Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whose name can actually still be seen on a wall by the castle entrance. That wall and the The Rhodes Jewish Museum would to many visitors seem to be the only traces of WWII on the island, but there is actually much, much more to see, especially if you venture outside the old town.
In this old blog post I presented my first tips where to look for traces of the Italian and German occupation periods. Some days ago I returned from our latest Rhodes holiday, during which I found rather intact WWII trenches and the ruins of an Italian WWII workshop, and visited two sites connected to the LRDG and SAS.
Why on earth is there a Long Range Desert Group trooper in the Commonwealth war cemetery on Rhodes? Surely there are no deserts on Rhodes? Well, let me first explain that after the North African campaign ended in May 1943 the LRDG became more like the SAS/SBS and was used mainly for raids/sabotage on various Mediterranean islands and in Italy and Yugoslavia. New Zealand LRDG Trooper Hector Mallett died from wounds he sustained during an assault against the Germans on the small island of Levita (now Levitha), more than 100 kilometers from Rhodes. The cemetery is not only for those who lost their lives on Rhodes but also on many other islands in the region, some quite isolated. The Rhodes cemetery is located in the southern outskirts of the city of Rhodes, by the old coastal road to Lindos, opposite the Italian, Jewish and Turkish cemeteries.
What about traces of the SAS then? Well, first find Mandraki Port. Just north of it stands a war memorial not far from the water, topped with a winged bronze figure representing Victory. It is located in Pl. Antinavarchou Perikli Ioannidi. One of the units specifically named on the memorial and also represented by its insignia is the Sacred Band (or Sacred Squadron). This Greek special forces unit was attached to the SAS from March 1942 and below is a close up of their insignia including the motto "Return Victorious or Dead" (in Greek), said to be the words with which Greek wives once saw their men off to battle.
By conducting literally hundreds of island raids together with the SBS, the Sacred Band pinned down thousands of German troops on many islands, thus preventing them from reinforcing the German troops in Italy or France. There are two images of the Sacred Band in action on the war memorial, the better preserved one can be seen below.
In the modern Greek Army, the Sacred Band's traditions are carried on by the 1st Raider/Paratrooper Brigade, that sports both the band´s sword and the motto of the SAS "Who Dares Wins" in Greek: O Tolmon Nika. If you are a bit of a patch collector you might want to know that the below one was purchased in an army store a short walk from the memorial.
What about the WWII trenches and ruins of an Italian workshop that I also found? Well, I need some more input before blogging about them - but don't worry, I will eventually get that and then blog some more about Rhodes.