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2010 Orthodox Observer Article

Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)


Operation Harling
and Corporal Triantafilos Patsantaras


OPERATION HARLING was a World War II commando mission conducted by British Special Operations Executive (SOE) soldiers and Greek resistance fighters to sabotage Nazi supply lines that led from Germany, through the Balkans, to the Greek port of Piraeus, and ultimately to the famed Afrika Korps in North Africa.

The goal was to destroy the heavily-guarded Gorgopotamos railroad viaduct in Central Greece through which the Nazi supply trains had to pass on their way to the Mediterranean port. It would be one of the first major sabotage acts in Axis-occupied Europe.

The British commandos were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier General) E. C. W. “Eddie” Myers of the Royal Engineers. Second-in-command was Major (later Colonel) Chris Woodhouse.

OPERATION HARLING was also the beginning of a lengthy British involvement with the Greek Resistance. It was complicated by the necessity of functioning cooperatively with the two main rival groups: EDES and ELAS .

Preliminary Operations

Twelve members of the British SOE flew from Alexandria Egypt aboard three B-24 Liberator aircraft, and parachuted into central Greece on September 30, 1942. Local Greek citizens hid the commandos and helped them evade Italian troops.

After spending six weeks reconnoitering three proposed railroad bridges, Colonel Myers decided they would attack the Gorgopótamos span.

Their chosen target was guarded by a garrison of 80 Italian soldiers, but it provided good access, cover, and a line of retreat for the attacking force. The date of the attack was set for November 25, 1942, the Feast of Saint Katherine the Great Martyr.

Gorgopótamos Viaduct
(intelligence photo used to plan the mission)

One Brave Soldier: Corporal Triantáfilos (“Trían”) Patsantáras

Among the Greek resistance fighters on this mission was a young man, Τριαντάφυλλος Πατσαντάρας, known to many Coloradans on the Western Slope simply as Trían (“Tommy”) Patsantáras. He was born in 1916 in the small village of Παύλιανη (Pávliani), 3,444 feet above sea level in the mountains west of the city of Lamía.

The son of a tailor, Trían enlisted in the Greek army in 1938, prior to the war. As hostilities began in the Balkans, Corporal Patsantáras fought on the Bulgarian and Albanian fronts, and was among the Greek patriots who fought the Italian invaders and pushed them out of Greece in 1940. He continued the fight against the Nazis as a soldier until the surrender of Greece in April 1941.

Following the conquest of Greece by the Germans, Trían joined the Greek Resistance fighters, the famed Ἀνδάρτες (Andártes). As a member of EDES, he was introduced to Colonel Myers and the British commandos in the Autumn of 1942.

The Attack

The twelve-man British SOE team, 52 EDES and 86 ELAS Andártes, a total of 150 men, participated in the attack. British demolition teams placed explosives on the railroad bridge while the Greek patriots attacked the Italian garrison, cut the railway and telephone lines, and provided cover for the operation.

Preliminary Operations

Twelve members of the British SOE flew from Alexandria Egypt aboard three B-24 Liberator aircraft, and parachuted into central Greece on September 30, 1942. Local Greek citizens hid the commandos and helped them evade Italian troops. After spending six weeks reconnoitering three proposed railroad bridges, Colonel Myers decided they would attack the Gorgopótamos span.

The first explosion occurred on 1:30 am, heavily damaging the central pier and collapsing two spans. A second explosion went off at 2:21 am destroying another pier and the remaining span.

Gorgopótamos Viaduct after the Attack
(photo by German engineers)

Meanwhile, the Greek Andártes attacked and stopped a train with Italian reinforcements heading to the scene. By 4:30 am the entire attacking force had successfully accomplished their mission and retreated from the area. Remarkably only four men were wounded.

Corporal Trían Patsantáras and his fellow freedom fighters survived this battle, and fought valiantly against the occupying German forces until the end of the war in 1945.

Following the Operation

OPERATION HARLING was a major success for SOE, and it was their biggest mission carried out up to that point in the war. With the changing tides of war, however, the original objective of disrupting supplies destined for Nazi troops in North Africa was rendered unnecessary by the Allied victory at El Alamein a few weeks earlier, and by Royal Navy control of the Mediterranean Sea.

Nonetheless, this operation proved that major guerrilla actions could be coordinated between regular army forces and resistance groups, and it gave impetus to supporting similar efforts elsewhere in occupied Europe.

The Viaduct today (a steel pier replaces the one destroyed in 1942)

OPERATION HARLING was a major morale boost for the beleaguered citizens of Nazi-occupied Greece. Unfortunately, however, it was also the last time that EDES and ELAS cooperated militarily. By the end of 1942 open clashes between the Communist ELAS and democratic EDES began to break out, and these conflicts ultimately erupted into the Greek Civil War.

The War Veteran: “Trían” Patsantáras Comes to Colorado

Having fought in numerous battles for the defense and liberation of his countrymen and his nation, Trían was captured and wounded by Communist forces during the Civil War. Once freed, and after experiencing a decade of brutal warfare, he immigrated to America in 1951 to join his uncle and other family members as peaceful shepherds in the serene mountains and valleys of Colorado.

Greek Commemorative War Medal

On August 19, 1947 the Kingdom of Greece instituted a Greek Commemorative War Medal recognizing the actions of the Royal Greek Armed Forces who took part in the war efforts from the outbreak of the war in Greece in 1940 until the fall of Crete in 1941. It was awarded in two versions, one for land (army) forces and one for sea (naval) forces. It was also awarded to foreign forces that fought on Greek soil.

The Medal is a bronze medallion, the obverse (front) of which depicts the head of King George II, surrounded with a laurel wreath. The reverse bears the inscription in Greek, “1940-41 Eprius, Albania, Macedonia, Thrace, Crete” for Army medals or “1940-41 Aegean, Ionian, Myrtoum, Adriatic” for Navy medals. The Medal is pendent on a ribbon of dark blue with a pale blue center stripe and two narrow white edge stripes.

Medal of National Resistance

On December 22, 1948 the Kingdom of Greece instituted a Medal of National Resistance recognizing the bitter hardships and valiant struggles of the Andártes during the Second World War.

It was awarded in one class and bestowed upon those who had actively served in, or had been of assistance to, Greek National Resistance Organizations in their struggle against occupying Italo-German forces between 1941 and 1945.

The Medal is a bronze medallion, the obverse (front) of which depicts an armed Greek Resistance Fighter planting the National Flag on a rock. The reverse bears the inscription “National Resistance, 1941 - 1945” in Greek. The Medal is pendent on a ribbon of dark blue with a wide grey center stripe.

In the chaos following World War II and the Greek Civil War, Corporal Triantáfilos Patsantáras of Pávliani and Grand Junction never received these highly-respected awards.

Through the personal efforts of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, his participation in the fight for freedom has been recognized by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Greece. The Greek Commemorative War Medal as well as the Medal of National Resistance were forwarded to Metropolitan Isaiah from the Embassy of Greece in Washington, DC.

The awards were finally presented to Corporal Triantáfilos Patsantáras from a grateful Greek nation by Metropolitan Isaiah at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Grand Junction, Colorado on August 11, 2012.

Greek war hero awarded medals
By Charles Ashby
Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Greeks are famous for their gyros, but little is known about their heroes.

One such hero lives right here in Grand Junction, and now, after 70 years, has the medals to prove it.

When Trian (Tommy) Patsantaras was 24 years old and a corporal in the Greek army at the start of World War II, he was in the resistance fighting Italian and German troops who had invaded his country.

He also took part in one of the resistance’s more well-known missions known as Operation Harling, which involved British officers helping Greek resistance fighters destroying a major railroad supply line from Germany to the Mediterranean Sea.

But it would take years, a lot of record searching and many letters to the Greek government before the now 96-year-old’s involvement during the war would be acknowledged officially by the Greek government.

That happened on Saturday when Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, a kind of bishop who oversees Greek Orthodox Church parishes in 14 midwestern states, awarded Patsantaras two Greek medals.

“Because Greece refused to surrender to Italy, the German forces went into Greece and Crete, it delayed the (German) attack on Russia,” the Metropolitan said. “The German military were defeated by the Russian winter. So by Greece resisting the Italian and German troops, the second world war was ultimately won by the Allied forces.”

For his part, Patsantaras was given two medals of National Resistance honoring two different phases of his service, first against the Italians in 1940-41, and then the Germans from 1941-45.

Father Luke Uhl of St. Nicholas Church in Grand Junction helped in the effort to get Patsantaras the honor he deserved, but it took some time to wortk through the Greek bureaucracy, he said.

“Many records had burned up or were destroyed, but they found enough to be able to award him these two medals,” Uhl said. “He was in the army before the war. He fought on the Bulgarian front, he fought on the Albanian front, he fought against the Italians, he fought against the Germans.”

After the war, the fighting wasn’t over for Patsantaras.

Shortly after Germany’s surrender, Greece entered into a civil war between two factions of the resistance, the National Republican Greek League and the communist partisans, the Greek People’s Liberation Army.

PPatsantaras, who served with the League, ultimately was wounded and captured by the partisans, but later released when the civil war ended.

He soon came to the United States with the help of his uncle and other family members, who were working as sheep herders in the Colorado mountains.

Credit: GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel©

Triantáfilos Patsantáras, 96, of Grand Junction waves and salutes the congregation of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church after the Rev. Luke Uhl, left, and His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah present him with a pair of medals recognizing his service to his native Greece as a corporal in the Greek Army and member of the Andártes, the Greek Resistance fighters, during World War II.

Article Source: The Daily Sentinel©, Grand Junction, Colorado
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
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