Considering the huge material devoted worldwide for the Spitfire - this superb fighter of air history - it has to be said that little, has been written for the Greek Spitfires of WW2 and later. Unlike many other countries,  Greece ,had to go on using them in combat operations, until 1949, 5 years after the country was liberated, by the Axis. The types IX and XVI saw particularly in Greece their longest war operational activity ever for this type .It was a fighter to be cherished by the Greek pilots in most difficult times 

  Note : The following material is not complete . It will be further developed when new information will become available. Any assistance will be highly appreciated , and if so please contact me

 

Read in this article :

   SHORT HISTORY OF THE SPITFIRE FIGHTER PLANE

  THE GREEK SPITFIRES OF THE MIDDLE EAST

  THE GREEK SPITFIRES IN THE HOMELAND

  GREEK SPITFIRE MEMORIES

  THE GREEK HELLDIVERS

 

SHORT HISTORY OF THE SPITFIRE FIGHTER PLANE

     In 1934 , while the biplanes were dominating the skies and still in production , the latest requirements for the RAF fighter of the ‘future’ were : speed above 340 knots (mph) , closed cockpit with oxygen and radio equipment and  8 machine guns. It was Reginald Mitchell , this superb British plane designer who first achieved this ‘futuristic’ plane named ‘Spitfire’ , as a development of a previous experimental speed record smashing hydroplane design . Mitchell died early but his less known assistant Joseph Smith carried on successfully , with the Supermarine manufacturer company, to get the contract from the Air Ministry, under the supervision of Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, although , his speed advantage required very thin wings unsuitable for the volume of 8 guns . Hawker Siddley in parallel was offering this possibility with its Hurricane monoplane fighter . However , the thicker wings introduced important drug that would not allow for an  exceptional speed. RAF gave a go first to the Hurricane that could at least hammer very successfully the slower bombers and kept hoping for further improvements on the Spitfire , whose promise was more speed out of its Rolls Royce engine , named the Merlin . On the 4th Aug 1938 the first Spitfire MkI plane was delivered to the 19 Squadron (squadron code QV) with the s/n K9789. It was able to produce 335 mph with just less than 1000 hp, but good streamlining and a better propeller design could afford a new wing that housed 8 machine guns of 0.303   while the fighters of other countries were fitted with 2 or maximum 4 machine guns. During the Battle of Britain the Spitfires opposed the German Me109E with stunning success and while the slower Hurricanes worked hard to shoot down bombers,  Spitfires got most of the fame for their rather unexpected supremacy against a stronger enemy in the air. In the next months the Spitfire was the main fighter to go on to production as the standard fighter of RAF on all fronts but the geographical extension of the war did not allow for fast replacements. The version Spitfire Mk II appeared soon after , featuring only a new starter and the better Merlin XII engine with just more than 1000 hp.

 

An eternal desire to increase the speed brought the Merlin 20 model with some 1250 hp and a retractable rear wheel to reduce further the drag ; this created the version Spitfire Mk III but then the new German Me109F/G fighters appeared on the west coast of the occupied Europe. This new adversary was better , doing 360 mph and was well armed with 4 machine guns and 2 x 20 mm  cannons ! In an almost panicking state RAF asked to have another version with 6 or even 8 x 20 mm cannons or maybe 12 machine guns ! This was to be the Spitfire Mk IV version which came late in November 1941. At the same time the Merlin engines were getting more improved and the new models 40,45,50 and 55 were available. RAF abandoned the III and IV versions to arrive immediately to the Spitfire Mk V version with a speed of 370 mph , ceiling of 35000 feet and some 1400 hp and larger fuel tanks eventually. The retractable rear wheel was , however, abandoned as during operations if its mechanism was impaired by flak , the landing planes were doomed to brake down. The design was so promising that even older Mk Is were hastily converted into Mk Vs This V version has brought RAF to an equal level with the Luftwaffe and one may consider that this was ‘the’ main Spitfire version to dominate the RAF preference for the largest WW2 duration of 1941-43 . Some differences on the size of the wing and its capacity for weapons evolved the Va , Vb and Vc variants :

§         the Vc type having more space could accept 120 rounds for the 20 mm guns while the Vb only 60

§         the landing gear of the Vc type was moved forward by 2 inches to balance the tendency of the earlier types to rotate forward around the gravity center during rough landings

§         both the Vb and Vc variants could carry two 250 lb bombs or one 500 lb in the middle  

The B-armament was 2x 20mm cannon (60 rpg in a drum which was less likely to jam than a belt feed system) plus 4x 0.303" machine guns w/ 350 rpg. and the C-type arm. was 4x 20mm cannon with 120 rpg. The C-type wing could also carry the B-type arm but with 120 rpg for cannon (precisions on B and C wing posted by Aaron James : aaron james <aaronjames23@hotmail.com> Canada)

    This is why the initially designed as pure fighter plane Spitfire was to undertake a totally different role which after 1943 was much obvious : it was the preparation for D-Day and that meant continuous ground assaults on tracks, trains and field guns or flak units.  Some MkI types quickly converted to V types equipped hastily units that were daily operating over the French coast in 1941 including some foreign pilot squadrons - such as the ‘Eagle’ one . Although known to be flown uniquely by Americans, yet very few knew there was a pure Greek citizen among them still carrying a Greek passport, Flying Officer Spiros N. Pisanos from Kolonos Athens (read about him here) : he was a volunteer who was secretly recruited in USA ,not yet at war with Germany at that time. In his memoirs S. Pisanos mentions the superb style of the Spitfire and the extreme low flying training he received that allowed this fighter to penetrate at tree-top level to strafe ground targets.

Spiros N. Pisanos as RAF Officer in front of his Spitfire Vb in Dembden England 1942

The Spitfire Vb flown by Spiros Pisanos 'XR-K' EN783 when in RAF and when later converted to a US plane (then the British serial number and insignia were erased ) 

The accumulation of dust in the desert created the need for an air filter, added to the intake, that produced the ‘Tropical’ versions for Vb and Vc, called Vs - often mistaken however as that been the real Vc type . Due to a strange coincidence the first ace to score highly with the ‘Tropical’ Vb was the Greek Yiannis Agorastos Plagis – a Rhodesian immigrant volunteer to RAF , of Greek nationality  - who was among the very first few pilots to defend Malta with Spitfires

 

Lt. Yiannis Plagi's Spitfire Vb 'Tropical' in Malta , Kendri, June 1942, Squadron 185.  It carried the aircraft identity letter "B" and the serial number BR 329. The letter 'B' is assumed by B/W pictures to have been painted sky/dug-egg-green. Near the cockpit observe his 13 victories on a white ribbon background with swastikas in two rows of 8 and 5 . On top of them the name 'KAY' appears : it is his sister's Kate nick name. The plane 'J',  s/n BR321 was another one in this squadron flown by Plagis.

The spitfire Vb would become almost the standard RAF fighter and the ‘Tropical’ Vb was also delivered to the first American squadrons (USAAF Sq. 31 and Sq. 52) upon landing on North Africa ( operation ‘Torch’ ). To get better results against Rommel's ground troops in the vast desert the spitfires had to increase their range and ground attacking accuracy , this is why racks for the carriage of 30 gal jettisonable tanks were fitted. At the same time for very low altitude flying it was suggested to get rid of the wing tips so as to avoid some unnecessary drag and wing turbulence , very critical for aiming at ground targets. This type named as ‘Low Flying’ or LF created the variant Spitfire LF Mk Vc .

The uniqueness of the Spitfire produced further versions for all practical needs. To intercept the high level flying JU88 bombers against the fleet bases in the northern British coast and act as a high level reconnaissance aircraft . another modification was necessary: the wing tips had to be  extended , the cockpit was sealed with screws before the flight and cameras were to be fitted. This interceptor was to be the  Spitfire Mk VI version while his reconnaissance counterpart is recognized by the PR prefix for the Pursuit and Reconnaissance role . Yet , that was not all ; a longer range was necessary , the planes were disarmed to use the rest of the volume for additional fuel to penetrate far deep into the enemy lines equipped with a new Merlin 61 type to perform better on higher altitudes where oxygen was poor ; this was the Spitfire Mk VII version. At lower levels however the guns were absolutely necessary so another variant had to be designed carrying 4 machine guns and 2 cameras, combining the high fuel capacity tanks. This was to become the Spitfire Mk VIII version with 2 variants the PR/LF and PR/HF for High and Low level flying. The wingtips were at place or cut-off depending on the situation (L or H). Near August 1942 De Havilland offered the 4 bladed propeller as more efficient than the 3 bladed one. This late improvement of engine (Merlin 61) and the 4 bladed propeller was considered as quite important for the existing Mk Vs as well. It was then that the new improved German FW190 appeared and proved to be a dreadful opponent. These faster by 60 kts and 4bladed propeller V types were to become the famous Spitfire Mk IX version that served on the most important theaters of WW2.  This type was favored by the strengthened  E type wing . It was a totally new one and had 2x 20 mm cannon and 2x 0.5" machine guns (precisions on E wing posted by Aaron James : aaron james <aaronjames23@hotmail.com> Canada) . As luck would have it , Yiannis Plagis was one of those selected to try extensively the first IX types .

The Spitfire IX (5J-K) flown by Yiannis Plagis over Europe - a gift of the Muscat emirate to the Commonwealth, thus carrying its name ("Muscat") in Arabic and English letters. He was at this time the Commanding Officer of Sq 126 in Essex , August 1944 and had scored 16 victories. 

The PR version with HF and LF characteristics of this IX version gave birth to the Spitfire Mk X and XI versions but few planes were built ; these X and XI versions passed almost unnoticed.  October 1942 the new Griffon 61 engine gave birth to the Spitfire Mk XII version with an extremely improved speed of 450 mph ! In the meantime the Mk VIII and MK IX types have become very respected and its was decided to update them with the new features , two of them being the tear-drop all view canopy and a 5 bladed propeller while the new Griffons were delivering now above 2000 hp ; thus the Spitfire Mk XIII and Spitfire Mk XIV were born . Some 950 XIVs were sent to the Far East . This was the ‘modern  Spitfire’ that appeared in 1944 with or without the tear-drop canopy , with or without cut-off wingtips according to its role and some with the 5 bladed , while most of the rest with the 4 bladed one.  

 

The cockpit of the legend. It has become the eternal memory of so many pilots ! 

Inside the Legend

 

    Although this XIV type concentrated much of the most modern features , the chase of the V-1 bombs , the evolution of the German FW190D fighters and the possibility to achieve speeds above even 450 mph pressed for new versions. The Spitfire Mk XV and Spitfire Mk XVI types were now powered by American built Packard variants of the Merlin engines  and arrived to a speed of  470 mph ! There had to be some modifications on the length of the fuselage and engine housing as well while the retractable rear wheel was introduced again to gain some more 10 mph, albeit not with all machines produced. The war was coming to an end but the success of the Spitfire was continuing with those modifications that did not have the time to be implemented during the hectic years of the Luftwaffe superiority over Europe.  The British designers have already thought of newer types like the XVII, XVIII the XIX with various combinations of range , armament , speed and other characteristics but the jet era has put almost an end to this production. These types all merged to the Mk XX type with a better supercharger that appeared in 1946 and the Mk XXI  in 1948 , . These last improvement efforts continued with some next versions which from now on were designated not by Latin numbers but with the letter F and an Arabic number : these were the types F22, F23 that stayed, however, at experimental level and led to the last F24 version with 5 bladed propeller and tear-drop canopy that equipped the forces stationed in Germany until 1947 then moved together with the 80 RAF Sq to Hong Kong until the beginning of the 1952. As with all valiant veterans , the real death is oblivion ! When the runway in Hong Kong Kai-Tak was to be extended , the remaining F24s were simply thrown into the sea as useless material. Many Spitfires especially the XVI types were still used until 1952-54 with other air forces in Europe like France, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands and Denmark . 

A total of 22500 Spitfires were built ; luckily some are kept, with love and care , airworthy until our days. Some private companies have even restored and sell flying spitfires for the 'few' who still cherish them , at a price , I hear , of around 1 million euros

 

The last Spitfires F24s in Kai-Tak before been thrown into the sea

 

 

THE GREEK SPITFIRES OF THE MIDDLE EAST

 

The Greek fighter force was reborn in the Middle East with the 335 and 336 Fighter Squadrons equipped with Hurricanes - mainly the MK IIc - later replaced by Spitfire Mk V. Originally the planes that were meant to equip the Greek pilots in exile w the American Grumman Wildcat F4F and the P-40 ! 30 Grumman F4F-3a  - ordered by the Greek Purchasing Commission back in August 1940 - reached Port Suez in April 1941 but were then diverted to the Royal Navy under the Lend-Lease law under the designation of Martlet III for the RAF. These aircraft were subsequently involved in convoy patrols under RAF while few months later RAF was organising the first Greek squadron.

 

The Revell 1/72 scale model Hurricane IIc above, depicts the plane flown by the Greek pilots of Sq 336 

 

The true picture from where the above model was inspired : Left to right , Sq Leader Vasilios Voutsas , Wing Commander Stratis Xydis and Sq Leader Fraggias Anastasios in Sidi Barani. 

No 335 (Greek) Squadron

Formed at Aqir on 10 October 1941 and composed of Greek personnel, it was equipped with Hurricane Is and was employed on defensive duties until January 1942. It then moved to the Western Desert and began air defense operations, but in June it returned to Egypt and re-equipped with Hurricane IIc, which it took back to the Western Desert in September. It remained there on offensive operations until after the Battle of El Alamein when it moved into shipping protection duties along the Libyan coast. In January 1944 it was re-equipped with Spitfires types Mk Vb and Vc and in September moved to Italy, where it conducted operations over Albania and Yugoslavia. In November the squadron returned to its homeland, from where it attacked German forces in the Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete. These squadrons on 31 July 1945 were transferred to Greek control. The letter codes allocated to this squadron were the FG - maybe for Free Greeks .

No 336 (Greek) Squadron

The second squadron to be formed from Greek personnel, took place at Landing Ground 219 in the Western Desert on 25 February 1943. From then until February 1944 the squadron was involved in shipping protection and air defense duties along the Libyan coast. Together with its sister unit, No 335, it moved to Italy in September 1944, from where it operated over Albania and Yugoslavia. In November 1944 it returned to its homeland and carried out attacks against German forces in the Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete. The squadron moved to Thessaloniki in May 1945, where on 31 July it was transferred to Greek control. The letter codes allocated to this squadron were the ZP , however they never appeared on the fuselage of aircraft which were carrying only the one  letter aircraft identity. The two squadrons were mostly employed in the role of ground strafing keeping dogfights at a minimum. On 29 October 1942, Lt Anagnostopoulos of 335 Sq claimed the probable destruction of a Me-109 over El Alamein. On 2 November Staff Sgt Soufrillas from the same unit shot down another Me-109 but it will be another one and a half year before the Greek pilots had the chance to claim their last aerial victories in the war: Two Ju-88 over the Mediterranean, by F/Lt Tsotsos and Lt Soufrillas, on 21 April 1944.  

 

THE GREEK SPITFIRES IN THE HOMELAND

 

The Greek squadrons , still under the RAF command , returned for the first time to their homeland flying from Italy to the Araxos airfield ( western Greece , Peloponnesus , near Patras ) in September 1944. They were then re-stationed to the Hellenikon airfield ( ex Athens Intern. airport , 15 Km South of Athens city ) together with the 337 RAF Squadron. From there , RAF ordered them to strike the remaining enclaves of German guards in Milos, Crete and Rodos (Rhodes) . 

The PM Georg. Papandreou visiting the Greek Squadrons in Hellenikon. Capt. Elias Kartalamakis is shown on the far right of the picture. Mr Kartalamakis , a veteran with the Spitfires wrote most of the historic details of the Greek Air Force of those days and his books have been honored by the Academy of Athens. 

The Greek Spitfires when first returned to the homeland kept all their RAF markings. The one displayed here , a Vc type , is depicted behind PM G.Papandreou on his visit to Hellenikon (picture above). It carries the identity "N" and the serial number ER194. It belongs to the Sq 336. The only Greek characteristic is the spinner :  Painted light blue , its  tip carried a small  RHAF roundel. Just below the spinner the identity letter 'N' is painted within a white circle - not easily shown from a side view. A smaller letter X or maybe a cross-out symbol (?) was painted near the leads of the engine oil tabs. 

This Spitfire Vb was parked in front of the aerodrome Tower of the 'old' Hellenikon Athens aerodrome (facing Agios Kosmas) in November 1944 few day after the first celebration of the '28th October' - anniversary of the day of the Italian invasion to Greece and beginning of WW2 for the country . It belonged to the Sq 335. The markings are those of the RAF where the yellow rings on the fuselage markings were freshly painted dark blue contrasting with the withered blue of the R. Hellenic AF replacing elsewhere the RAF red/blue colors. The registration JK102 of RAF was maintained , as well as the aircraft identity ( letter "B" ). On the fore cockpit area the eagle , symbol of the RHAF,  appears with the royal crown most probably below. The spinner was painted with the blue-white national colors. The 2 Greek Squadrons seemed to have been using different RAF camouflage patterns. 

A rare profile of a Greek Spitfire Vc  in Thessalonica , 1945 , the JK782. Most of the Spitfires that flew from Italy by Australian and Greek squadrons were delivered without camouflage in 1944 and were painted at a later time.  This particular plane may have been the first ever to land alone in Thessalonika after the retreat of the Germans 

 

     

Late in 1944 Greece was faced with a new war of invasion from the Communist Balkan states. The reasons had to do with their 'old' dream to find an exit to the Mediterranean. In the Balkan wars against Turkey, Bulgaria rushed to get the city of Thessalonika , a major port in the Aegean Sea, but was stopped just few kilometers before the city by the Greek Army . In WW1 Bulgaria sided again with Germany and together attacked the same route along the Axios river valley to get to the city but where stopped by the joined forces of England, France and Greece some 50 Km to the NW , an area that became known as the SE front of WW1. In WW2 Bulgaria and Albania sided with Hitler and when Greece has fallen to the Axis they were given the privilege to enter to areas of their interest in this region as a pro-Nazi occupation force. At the end of WW2 it was the time of  'world sharing' at Yalta and the post WW2 confrontation between East and West. It was Stalin and Tito now that in  their 'new' communist era decided to redraw the lines of the Yalta agreement just after 1945 and together published a map by which a new 'state' was formed arriving from Skopje to Thessalonika under communist control , a copy of the plans in WW1 and WW2. The leadership of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) , on their behalf, thought it was the time for them to come to power and released their forces against the official Greek state that has just been liberated with most of its troops recently fighting in Egypt. 

This war , although known as the Greek Civil War, was actually a national war for the integrity of the country since Stalin has ordered the communist regimes of Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to provide supplies and troops to the insurgents and more than often violated the Greek border and  helped the partisans attempt a treacherous secession of the Northern Greece. At this time the country had very weak forces in the North while the partisans were well armed with guns taken from Germans and Italians during their retreat. Often some 1000 of them were attacking with machine guns and mortars small villages  defended only by some 200 soldiers and gendarmes with their rifles. Greece asked for help from RAF to replace the Spitfire V types with the newer and faster IX and XVI types. The 335 and 336 squadrons were repositioned to Thessalonika , Ioannina, Larissa and Kozani to get closer to the attacked areas and it so happened that they were the only supportive fire to arrive to these remote mountainous areas. 

    These planes were designed , however , as fighter interceptors and not as bombers. The Greek pilots had to invent new tactics to be able to hit ground troops positioned in deep ravines and on steep mountain cliffs while they were exposed easily to flak and light arm fire able to penetrate the glycol tanks or other sensitive areas - many were so lost. Until the Helldiver American dive bombers arrived , the Greek Spitfires have become the unique air workhorse of Greece having saved the day on numerous situations. The strafing Spitfires have thwarted the attacks of long partisan lines encircling villages , blown up their transport , put in flames the mountains with napalms and stopped Albanian, Yugoslavian and Bulgarian Communist columns penetrating into the land heading against Greek villages.

    In 1947 , however , Stalin wanted to abandon this plan fearing a strong confrontation with the West , which in the meantime have resisted well during the Berlin siege. Tito nevertheless continued his expansion dreams and at some time may have even negotiated with USA to maintain his plan at the expense of Greece future - as diplomatic reports of those days indicate.. In an attempt to have an ally in the communist world , USA hoped to find a 'friend' in the person of Tito who in the mean time was internally opposing Stalin's dominance in Eastern Europe. But this was only until some American military advisors have been massacred on the Greek mountains by partisans. At this point it was obvious that if the communists could arrive to the Aegean Sea they could later threaten the eastern Mediterranean basin and eventually the sea navigation to Suez - again a copy of the intentions of the Germans during WW1 and WW2. On many occasions , however, Tito and the Albanians accused Greece as the menace of free people in the Balkans (!)  and protested to the UN for the 'presence of the Greek Spitfires' to indicate they were on the ....defensive ! USA was finally convinced about the real intentions of the communists. The entire communist block then decided to retreat diplomatically but at this point the leadership of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) lied to their supporters by concealing the fact that they have been abandoned and decided to keep on a purely civil war this time. The communist followers were not aware of the reality and many fought on the illusion of a political change in the post war Greece while their leader , the ominous Zachariades, was promising a huge military help from the eastern states and their will to recognize a separate Greek 'free state' - meaning a communist state - especially if a major city was to be captured and claimed as their official capital. The Spitfires attacked and attacked again all these assaulting troops that put on siege repeatedly those cities, . By 1949 the Greek partisans have been chased by the Spitfires deeply beyond the Greek border where they still maintained training camps and ammunition stores. At the end , however , the communists retreated behind the 'Iron Curtain' when it was obvious there was nothing they could still fight for. It was admitted very often by the Greek troops that many battles had been won by the mere presence of the few IXs and XVIs supporting them. The Spitfires had won another battle at a time when this type of plane was actually ending its career worldwide. 

GREEK SPITFIRES MEMORIES

 

An historic picture featuring Lt Stambouzos ready to climb on his Spitfire type IX. It inspired the artist who created a large painting in front of the Hellenic Air force public relations office on Amerikis and Panepistimiou Streets corner in Athens with the slogan "The skies belong to us" supposedly encouraging the youngsters to enlist as air cadets

Greek Spitfires were very often carrying the name of the pilot's origin like the one above : MYSTRAS flown by  Lt Georgios Smyrniotopoulos , a veteran of the PZLs . The shark teeth ( one raw ) and eye were often encountered in a number of Spitfire pictures - the eye is painted quite in the haste without any artistic element. The above profile is a typical IXc Low Flying. Watch the cut tips and the curved engine cowling that housed the new Merlin engine larger than the one carried by the V types. The IX had a retractable rear wheel . The spinners where painted in various blue , light blue and white configurations. (Note : The serial number MH558 is assumed to be the correct one but was not yet verified by existing pictures) 

(1)

 

(2)

 

The Greek movie "Oi ouranoi einai dikoi mas' ( 'The skies belong to us' ) (B/W) of Finos Film, in the 1950s , was the only one where a Greek spitfire was used . Starring Lambros Konstandaras , Antigonee Valakou and Alekos Alexandrakis (2) . The role of the pilot of a Greek spitfire was played by Alekos Alexandrakis (1) just landing from a mission. The film shows a full landing and taxiing of a Spitfire XVI possibly in the Dekelia aerodrome. It is the RW380  ( verified by the Tower Controller's call '3-8-0', the unique 380 in serial numbers for the greek spitfires) carrying on the rudder the number 3 which may indicate that it was used by the Air Cadets as a trainer at that time.

 

The TE284 Greek Spitfire XVIc : a 'forgotten' veteran , dead in oblivion - the area seems to be the Elefsina (LGEL) aerodrome (60 Km west of Athens) around 1955

The only Spitfire preserved in Greece today, a IXc

We have traced the historic path of one of the ex Greek Spitfires the TE356 , that is still existing in USA under the registration N356TE. Its serial number does exist into the Geek inventory of those days.

The restored ex-Greek Spitfire XIVc TE356 (DD-E)

We read the following text associated to the above picture :

Built at Castle Bromwich. To 29 MU on 23rd June 1945, to 695 Sqn (later 34 Sqn) on July 11th. With 2 CAACU from August 20th 1951 until September 1st 1952, then instructional airframe 6709M and 7001M at Bicester. Taxied in ' The Battle of Britain' film in 1968, then to 4 Sqn detachment of CFS at Kemble for restoration to flying condition, but work halted. To CFS Little Rissington on December 4th 1970, displayed on pylon. To Cranwell with CFS on April 20th 1976 then to Leeming in 1978. Exchanged for a P-47D and joined Doug Arnold's Warbirds of GB collection in 1986, stored at Bitteswell. Registered G-SXVI on February 25th 1987, rebuilt by Trent Aero East Midlands, first flight on December 16th 1987. At Biggin Hill until 1990. To Evergreen Ventures of Oregon, USA as N356EV in January 1990, to 747 Inc of Oregon as N356TE March 1991.
(photo by Tim Clark)
- Note : The TE356 seems to had a short life with the RHAF.. We may assume it was early returned to RAF due to technical problems. 

 


THE GREEK HELLDIVERS

It would have been unfair not to mention few things about the Helldiver dive bomber , firstly because it flew together with the Spitfires during the 1949 operations on the Greek mountains and secondly because it was piloted mainly by the same aviators.   

SHORT HISTORY OF THE HELLDIVER

            One of the few controversial American designs, the Helldiver , was a unique American design , actually the first ever dive-bomber in history , dated back to the end of WW1. The German 'Stuka' JU87 has kept a very prominent position in aviation history and created strong impressions during the 'Blitzkrieg' period 1939-40. Although considered as the forerunner of the dive-bombers it was just a late copy of an American type 

Dive-Bombing

 It was conceived in 1919 by American navy pilots who have seen that a steep angle of 70o degree inclination over a ship gives more accuracy than level bombing during sea maneuvers and moving targets. The dive bombing dogma became official in US Navy in 1928 and Curtis designed a biplane prototype called FBC-4 that was to be nicknamed 'Helldiver'. 25 such planes became operational over the USS Saratoga, in 1931 while in 1933 some of them attacked the 'sandinistas' during a local rebellion in Nicaragua. In 1937 the official type known as Helldiver SBD-3 was regularly appearing on the decks of the US carriers. It was the German WW1 ace Ernst Udet , on these days flying as a demo pilot in US , that was impressed by this design and advised Herm. Göring to buy two such planes in 1934 for testing with the Luftwaffe. The result was the JU87A and the B,C variants that appeared on the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the D used mainly during the German invasion on Europe and the Battle of England. The Germans were extremely impressed by the dive bombing possibilities up to the extreme point to worship the 'Stuka' , an otherwise weak plane standing no chance against enemy fighters. The Battle of Britain experiences led to the removal of the 'Stuka' from the important battlefronts.  

            Evolution of the Helldiver

             In the mean time the Helldiver reputation went through a long crisis. In 1939 the new monoplane version of the Helldiver known as the SB2C was adopted by the Navy hoping to represent the latest in bombing technology ; it did not prove to be so ,though. In 1940 Curtis was fully in fever to replace the older obsolete navy types and had no time to study in detail the Helldiver ; the tests proved, after many crashes, that the stalling speed was very high for a precision bomber operating from carriers and the rest of the surfaces needed much reconsideration. The US Navy was about to abort the Helldiver project for ever but then Pearl Harbor came and all plane projects were reactivated. The modifications , however,  demanded by the new experiences coming from the European Air War were to produce more headaches as every new change was destabilizing the plane even further. In 1942 , the latest version Helldiver was tested to replace the Midway veteran Douglas SBD Dauntless on the USS carrier Yorktown but it was rejected as having a 'buggy' performance and there  received its second nickname : The Beast ! Pilots did not like it but in 1943 it became operational over Rabaul only to prove that the veteran Dauntless it has replaced was actually better in performance except it did not have folding wings. However , many Helldivers would not even take-off from a carrier's deck ! The same plane offered for the British Navy was rejected as well when tested in one squadron , never to reappear with British colors. Middle 1944 during the battle for the Philippines 70% of the SB2Cs were lost due to … accidents ! By the end of the war the SB2C Helldiver was armed with 8 of the new 'Tiny Tim' rockets with a  500 lb. load and its importance was slightly upgraded but no future was ever considered for this type in US. 

 The Helldivers in Greece

  After the return of the then Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) on the liberated homeland , RAF disbanded the unique bomber team flown by the Greeks, the Sq No 13 , with Martin Baltimores while the only other war plane existing in its ranks was the Spitfire. The guerilla type war of 1946-49 over the steep mountains of the Northern Greece exposed these fighters to many losses due to light arm fire. The Greeks then converted a C-47 to a bomb-carrying plane but it was actually a 'sitting duck' not designed for this role. When the guerillas have retreated to the higher mountain peaks any bomber attacking slow on a level flight would stand no chance against flack from the ground. As RAF refused to supply bombers to RHAF , Greece turned to USA already from 1947 but got a promise that was delayed by almost 2 years. Beginning of 1948 it was decided that the only type available to attack vertically and from such a height so as to protect the plane from flak was the Helldiver. The USS carrier Sicily entered the Faliron Bay , in August 1948, with 49 Helldivers on board and half of them flew immediately to the Larissa air base to start operations. The Americans were amazed to see them flying into battle after 8 days of training only !  

A Greek Helldiver SBC2-5 in Larissa , August 1949. It was hastily painted blue all over and carried ,under the wings, the American registration number 9209 while the number 92 , probably for the American squadron it was taken from, is displayed after the rear fuselage national roundel. Over the vertical stabilizer above the national insignia a Greek ID number was painted , the 4 for this plane. A number of these Helldivers were kept under their original blue-gray American camouflage and were used for providing extra maintenance parts for the rest. Near 1958-60 a number of them , completely wrecked , were shown on this 'The skies are yours' Finos film , in an airplane graveyard , together with some pieces of Oxford and Avro Anson liaison planes. 

The Helldivers did finally prove themselves on the Greek mountains rather than the Pacific. Not having to take-off from short decks did not suffer from their improper aerodynamic properties . As they were single engined proved to be more maneuverable and less costly as well. Yet they were able to carry heavy bombs similar to the ones used by the  larger bombers. Dropping their loads ,bombs and napalms, from higher altitudes , smashed the well defended guerilla hideouts considered to be impregnable by the communists within just a week.  A journalist war reporter would then call them in one of his articles : ‘The Archangels of Wrath ‘ , a term close to the nickname Helldiver. The ‘Beast’ had really found the character it was meant to posses ; it was a great attacker  albeit for ground targets only. The Americans have used extensively the P-47s and their light bi-motor bombers for this purpose but could not imagine that it was their navy that had the proper solution for them.

The Greek pilots that flew the Helldivers in Larissa , 1949 & 1951

Surprisingly no important accidents occurred with the Greek pilots in the Helldivers who ended up respecting and loving the 'Beast' . The Helldivers , however ,  were to be abandoned early after the end of the guerilla war and were scraped , all but  one of them preserved until today.

 

The unique Greek Helldiver SBC2-5 maintained today. It carries the American 9021 serial number below the wings

 

 


REFERENCES :

On the Spitfires :

1. One of the best Greek Aviation History web page ( Greek & English languages) , contributed by Michael Solanakis - contains , among others, the Greek Spitfires serial numbers: http://koti.welho.com/msolanak/istoria.html 

2. "The Greek Aviation during the Civil War" Vol I & II : by Elias Kartalamakis (in Greek language)

3. The RAF squadrons page http://www.rafweb.org/Sqn330-352.htm

4. http://homepage.eircom.net/~steven/hellenic_air_force.htm

5. http://www.qdg.org.uk/maintext/worldwar2page4.htm

   On the Helldivers :

1. Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War : Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
http://www.angelfire.com/fm/compass/SB2C.htm

2. SB2C Helldiver, Curtiss dive bomber, "Son of a Bitch, Second Class"
http://www.acepilots.com/planes/helldiver.html

3. SBC2 History
http://www.sb2chelldiver.org/sb2c_history.htm

4. Curtiss SB2C Helldiver 
http://www.microworks.net/pacific/aviation/sb2c_helldiver.htm

On the war in Greece , 1944-49

1.  Containing as well some aircraft profiles of those days :http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_294.shtml

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Civil_War

3. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/greek.htm