Terror by night - The official history of SBS and the Greek sacred squadron in the Aegean (1943-1945), by Alan Ogden

Written by Nikos Nikoloudis

Official military reports of field action do not usually constitute an epitome of elegant or pleasant reading, as far as ordinary readers are concerned; in fact, even less so, when they relate to lesser known events. On the other hand, they often have the benefit of allowing for firsthand information on events which at times even war correspondents would find difficult to understand. On some more rare occasions, such reports reveal the vivid feelings of their authors on events they describe, thus making up for invaluable source material for historians.

Such is the case with “Terror by Night”, the official report of the main operations of Raiding Forces Aegean, issued in July 1945 (approximately two months after VE Day), while the war was still raging in the Far East. Raiding Forces Aegean was formed at the time of Italy’s surrender (9 September 1943) in the context of Middle East Command, as part of Churchill’s broader plan to create an additional front in the Southern Balkans that might have brought the end of the war closer by drawing Turkey into it on the side of the Allies. However, the necessary forces for this venture were wanting, since the main Allied effort at the time was concentrated in Italy, and Raiding Forces Aegean (consisting of the SBS, the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the Greek Sacred Squadron and smaller units, such as the Levant Schooner Flotilla and the Second Anglo-Hellenic Flotilla) soon turned out to be the only battle-worthy units available for the task. The Battle of Leros (autumn 1943) soon proved the futility of facing superior German forces in pitched battles, thus forcing a shift into classic commando operations throughout the Aegean, often under the cover of darkness (thus the book’s title).

Early operations of Raiding Forces Aegean were undertaken mainly by the battle

Alan Ogden
hardened SBS. Gradually however, the transfer of more experienced Allied troops to the Western front, at the expense of the Italian front (following the Normandy landings), necessitated their substitution by experienced forces active in the Aegean, such as the SBS and the LRDG. This in turn led to the gradual rise of the Sacred Squadron into prominence, leveling the odds in the Aegean as a result of a combination of the gradual withdrawal of more experienced German troops from it and the Squadron’s increase in strength and battle experience.

The difficulties arising from the shifting pattern of the war in the Aegean are described vividly in the report, in a mode strongly resembling newsreel of the period. The time of the report’s publication would not allow for a detailed presentation of operations and their protagonists, since some of the units active in the Aegean were moved after VE Day to the Far East, to continue fighting against Japan. However, the names of Brigadier D.J.T. Turnbull, Colonel Christodoulos Tsigantes and Lord George Jellicoe (commanders of Raiding Forces Aegean, the Sacred Squadron and the SBS, respectively) appear whenever necessary to underline the importance of a particular set of circumstances and the seriousness of difficulties encountered. Likewise, the fairly limited extent of the report did not allow for a detailed recording of all operations undertaken in the span of a year and a half (autumn 1943 to May 1945). Thus, only raids on larger islands or the most serious engagements are described in a rather detailed manner. However, raids conducted by the Sacred Squadron are listed in detail in the context of the last of three appendices.

Alan Ogden, a well known military historian and travel author, is to be credited with the editing of this valuable report on a little known small scale warfare that has been overshadowed by larger military operations of WW2 but certainly deserved to be brought back to public attention.

Nine Elms Books, London 2020 (2nd revised edition), 109 pp. 


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