Defence of Kos – Regiment Diary

The lads are in good heart and full of fight. Motivation is not a problem with these sterling blokes, they are a credit to themselves and the Service. However, even they are now coming to terms with the prospect of defeat here. The Germans have been quiet for the last few days but have returned with a vengeance today.

Map of German landing sites
Map of the German landing sites for the invasion of Kos.

OC 2909 Sqn RAF Regiment Diary

Antimachia, Cos 28th September 1943 Last light

After the first day of air attacks on the 18th, the lads managed to make sure most of the guns were serviceable for the next day, working through the night to be ready for Jerry. He returned the next morning with a mixture of ME109’s and Junkers 88’s and set about Antimachia with anti personnel bombs. 10 of the 12 guns got into action but without luck. They destroyed a Dak on the ground and set on fire our main ammo dump on the strip. We also lost another two lads and had more wounded.

No respite, they returned in the afternoon to cause further damage, 3 more Daks destroyed and another damaged. Once again we managed to engage but because of the loss of our HE / Incendiary ammunition all we had to engage was ball ammo, which is never any great shakes on its own because of the lack of tracer. The Spits of 7 Sqn, the South African Air Force were airborne at the time and took their revenge of the Germans destroying 3 Junkers and 2 ME’s with another Junkers damaged. The sky was crisscrossed with the contrails and the crackle of the Merlin engines. We suspended any further daylight operations and landings at Antimachia and instituted a search of the other possible landing grounds where we could allow the DC3’s in at night and hide them. We learned that night that the Germans were doubling their strength in planes by dragging them in from France and Holland.

This is the plot for alternative landing grounds for the DC3’s. Antimachia was put out of action temporarily on the morning of the 20th when we were attacked again by the same ME and Junkers 88 combo with AP bombs. They finished off the DC3 they had damaged the previous day and destroyed another. The boys has several hits and went some way to driving off the Jerry but sadly we lost another one of our lads with more wounded. Lambia is the selected place and we will he getting everyone who can hold a spade to make sure its ready to receive aircraft by the 21st.

The next day we were visited again by the same mix of ME and Junkers, spiced up for this occasion with Heinkel 111’s. They had done their homework, and despite the arrival of 3 of the RA Bofors guns, the fighters concentrated on these while the bombers cruised with impunity out of range of our 20mm. saturating the airfield with AP bombs and bomblets. Some of the attackers however, later must have been newcomers as the lads nailed an H111 and a Junkers with one of the Cyprus Beaufighters dispatching another. We paid the price though with more wounded. Royal Artillery crews who had taken over 2 of the Hispanos on the strip have named them VC guns because of their exposed position and lack of protection. It says much of the calibre of the men of our Regiment that they scarcely bat an eyelid when the air raid warning sounds and they cluster around their cannon to strike at Jerry.

Much needed reinforcements arrived with 7 spitfires from Cyprus of 74 Sqn and a company of Royal Engineer Bomb disposal men to see if we can clear the airfield of the delayed action anti personnel bomblets which have caused so many casualties.

On the 21st, they didn’t come. No attacks – the calm before the storm? The good WO Payne made sure that we stood to and worked on our cannon and our positions, restocking ammunition from the dump north of Cos town. The gunners stood to and helped fill craters and pits caused by bombs so we could get further reinforcements in.  We were cheered by the arrival of 3 officers and over a hundred men of 2901 squadron. Some good natured banter was exchanged with our field squadron cousins as the marched back down to Cps where they were to be held in a central location to deal with any airborne landings. Word came through that a further 6 Regiment squadrons were to be embarked at Beirut. They didn’t come on the 22nd or the 23rd or the 24th when the rest of the squadron arrived by Dak.

The army had got their Bofors in place now so we had a layered defence of the airfield and we even had some Bofors at Lambia which was serviceable.  All this was good news.  The bad news came from intelligence who indicate that a German Division complete with self propelled guns and scout cars have embarked and were likely to move our way in the next few days.  Large concentrations of JU 52 – Tante Ju transports have been seen in Rhodes and there are unconfirmed reports of 2 regiments of Brandenberger Fallschirmjaeger.

Lambia OC 2909 Sqn Operational Record, Cos 1 October 1943

12 Heinkel He111 aircraft carryout bombing raid on landing ground from a height of 18,000ft due to damage inflicted on the airfield unable to launch Spitfire Air Defence operations. Hispano’s fully manned – weapons tight – as aircraft out of range throughout the day. We are stood to as German Fighters carry out dummy raids and recces of positions – out of range. Some of the sqn have been tasked to assist 625 AMES get up and running this is urgently needed to provide early warning of air attack.

Cos 08:30 2 Oct 1943 2909 Sqn Sitrep. Another runner has arrived with the latest int and they have estimated where the sea borne landings are and the Airborne ones. The enemy’s intention would seem to be clear – to cut the Island in half and seize the landing grounds, pen us into the harbour and mop up piecemeal. We have an air raid red at present. The Stukas are concentrating on our remaining positions – all RA are destroyed. The boys are continuing to reply but now there are only 2 cannon still firing …further contact …wait out.

Cos Dispatch OC 2909 Sqn Antimachia 2 October 1943 23:59hrs Sitrep. The strip is now closed – we spent all last night clearing a path for the 3 remaining Spitfires to take off and fly to Pili. The men are desperately tired and we now know the German Invasion fleet is close. On the strip we have split into 3 sections with 2 and their cannon close to the DLI company and ourselves with the WO Mr Payne. The last 2 German air attacks this afternoon has made the strip impassable. All 30 of us who are left here will stand to half an hour before dawn. Flt Lt Walton and Fg Off Hassel have taken their sections and cannon to cover the left flank of the DLI. My section remains covering the airstrip itself. It has 1 20mm cannon but not a lot of ammunition left. We have 1 revolver, 1 Tommy Gun, 4 Rifles and approx 2 dozen Bakelite grenades (No 69). Our position is about 100m to the western end of the runway with a commanding field of fire to the front and right but to the left and rear it fell away into a ravine covered in Fig trees and undergrowth. It will be an uncomfortable night.

Cos Dispatch 2909 Sqn 3 Oct 0830hrs. A runner arrived from Wing HQ to say that the Germans were landing in 4 different place – Kreigsmarine – some of their best troops. Wing are evacuating back to the Cos Town perimeter. About 30 JU 52’s approached and wheeled SW of the airstrip, dropping full loads of paratroopers. They are in the ravines to our left but have made no moves yet. they seem to be waiting.

COS Dispatch 11:00 hours 3 Oct 1943. The section position is a bit of a shambles but we can still fight. The Stukas did for our cannon first pass. 15 of them, one after the other with those bigger cannon and AP bombs. We have more casualties. The WO is sorting things out and sent me off to visit the other two sections. Despite the casualties they had taken from the Stukas when their guns were destroyed the morale is very high, they said to me that they are determined to kill Germans as long as they can. WE have fixed and emergency RV and HQ in the event of a full withdrawal under fire. Its a cottage on the mountainside about 2 miles south. When I returned to the section the incoming fire was increasing and I guess that the Para’s are beginning their final assault on the strip. Odd how when it comes down to it there is a calmness and a determination amongst the blokes, as if its all down to focus on the attacks. If we ever get out of this I shall be proud to march with them as a brother.

Cos Dispatch 15:10 hrs 3 October 1943 OC 2909 Sqn. We are being hammered, continuous Dive Bombing by the Stukas. German Marines have broken through the right Flank of the DLI cutting us off from the village. we are under almost constant mortar fire and machine gun fire, with the stukas lending a hand. We have lost another lad killed and another seriously wounded with two walking wounded due to blast fragments. I had a splinter from a mortar shell in my back and my hand crushed by rock fragments of a near miss. Every time the attack as long as one of us is able to fire back they go firm and call for the Stukas. We might hold out until dark.

Cos Dispatch 18:00 3 October 1943 Antimachia. We have held although its getting dark and Jerry does not like working at night. lots of flares and some small arms fire but it has eased off significantly since this afternoon. I suppose that they don’t want to get caught amongst these rocks at night. Ammo state is reasonable but we don’t have a lot of food and Mt Payne has instituted a centralised store. Water is the problem and we will need some replenishment tomorrow so we will ration that as well. Spirits are high, despite their tiredness and fear the lads still have their ready with and wide if tired smiles. We were all grinning when about 30 minutes ago the Germans showed they were human, a Stuka dropping a 250 pdr slap in the middle of what looked like a company group of Marines. Almost fully dark and the lads may get some sleep but most are relishing getting stuck into the German.

Cos 11:00 hours 4 Oct 1943 2909 Sqn HQ Section Position west of Antimachia. It has been a quiet night with little in the way of probing attacks. Jerry seems to be having a leisurely breakfast before he works himself up. I have a suspicion that he has overestimated the strength of our little band atop our hill. well thats good news and bad news – he will take his time to prepare and then we will get well and truly malleted. Well we will make him pay. Despite now being down to our last tin of M&V we had a rousing breakfast. the WO performed wonders and got all our wounded out down the track to the Italian aid station in Cos and managed to rustle up some water – not a lot but enough for brews. So we await the afternoons events despite being a little isolated as I thing the DLI on our left have gone – withdrawn in the night – we have a small patrol out to check – keep smiling.

Cos 14:00 5 October south of Antimachia. We have broken out after being surrounded late last night. The DLI pulled back and took our other two sections with them down the road back to Cos Harbour. We decided to pull back and break out in the dark which we did after a brief firefight. Our Intention is to feint to the south and then make out way to the North coast and rig a boat across to Turkey as its only 10 miles by sea. Food is now just what we can forage and water is again our biggest worry There is a farmhouse close which appears to have a well akthough we think there might be Germans there. We will recce tonight wait out.

Cos 17:00 hrs 6th October 1943 Hq Flt 2909 Sqn. A lot has happened in the last 24 hours we had to crawl for over a mile to evade the germans but we got out. There are 5 of us left and all except the WO are wounded. NO food or water was left so we decided to make for the ERV we had designated with the other two sections.

Cos 17:00 hours 6 October. En-route to the RV yesterday morning we saw another section of our flight and they waved to us obviously we had been recognised – wrong – Germans, they thought we were some of their men We were quicker to the draw we got away, they left at least 1 dead. We got to the well and despite a section of Germans in the house we filled our two remaining water bottles, we decided to build a raft as there seemed to be no sign of any organized resistance . we cut down the only two trees in the area with bayonets and pocket knives. Fig trees then humped to a ravine about a mile away . We lashed it together and it was ready about dawn. Puttees, bootlaces, braces, anything we had to keep it together. We decided to wait until tonight to launch it. No food no water so we decided to raid the only well we knew of – the Germans had posted a sentry on the well. We got him! -filled the bottles and did a runner back to firm base. We go tonight.

BBC News 21:00 hrs 6 October 1943 Read by Alvar Lidell. Good evening, it appears that the situation for British Forces in The Dodecanese is now critical. There have been claims by German Propaganda that the Island of Cos had fallen to a German airborne attack “Operation Polar Bear” The British and Italian Garrison have been overwhelmed and those not captured have taken to the hills to fight on. It has also been reported by Turkish sources that the men of the German 22nd Infantry Division have massacred 104 Italian Officers for “Treason” after they had surrendered. We will update you on these and other stories in the Ten O’clock news…

Cos 14:00 7 October 1943 HQ Section 2909 Sqn. We are done In almost all hope gone, weak and suffering from lack of food and water(and in some cases loss of blood) we recovered our raft from the bracken where we had hidden it and with an effort that almost drained all of our remaining strength we launched it after avoiding the criss crossing flares of the German search parties. It floated and we slipped off our clothes and entered the water which was very very cold. WE got about 10 yards and two men scrambled aboard to test it. Our hearts sank to our boots when the raft almost immediately sank. Too heavy, wood too wet or the tree too heavy, but it went down. we recovered it and hid it amongst the bracken again although in my befuddled state I cannot understand why? We lay down much disheartened.

After a few hours of fitful sleep we set off to recce the area NO British Troops at all – only Jerry. We were so hungry and thirsty we decided to ambush a patrol and take their rats and water. Our exertions must have taken a greater toll for despite having complete surprise on a German 3 man patrol and scoring hits we could not put them down and they fled across the rough ground. We did not have the strength to follow. For some of the blokes it is nearly 4 days since a decent meal.

The only thing left was the well again, but Jerry was waiting for us and a few rounds from us was greeted by a number of Spandaus from a lot of locations. We got out quick and went back to the hills to search for the essentials of life. The men are exhausted and we are getting towards the end of our tether. We shall have a good sleep tonight in a small ravine and tomorrow make a further plan.

The last elements of 2909 Sqn were taken by a German Patrol at dawn on the 8th October 1943.  Of the total of 229 RAF Regiment Personnel who stood to on the 3rd October 1943 – 17 escaped by raft to Cyprus.

Of the 124 men of 2909 Sqn only 5 left the island alive and unwounded.