Leros is seized by the Germans

Tue, 11/16/1943

IWM BU 5907

The Italian garrison in Leros was strengthened by British forces on 15 September 1943. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers arrived from Malta on 29 September 1943. Initially, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice French, had proposed a defence plan for holding the island by securing the high ground of the island's interior. When Brigadier Robert Tilney arrived on 5 Novemnber to assume command of the by then 3,000 strong force, his preference was for a forward defence on the coastline.

Supported by preparatory Luftwaffe air attacks from 26 September, the German landings began on 0430 hours on 12 November, and as they consolidated their landings the strength of their invasion force increased with air and sea landings.

The Faughs' Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice French, was killed 'with a rifle to his shoulder' during an enemy counterattack on 14 November as he led an assault to capture their position on Mount Apitiki on the small peninsula above Pandeli; it was a sad blow for the Battalion. During the night 15/16 November 1943, the Germans, reinforced by about 1,200 men, pushed vigorously southwards and overran the depleted B, C and D Companies, forcing them to withdraw. The battle was over by 1730 hours on the following day. Most of the surviving Faughs were taken prisoner.

On the day after the capitulation on Leros, the Germans allowed the Faughs to hold a burial service for the Commanding Officer. Major Bill Shepherd led the burial party and then led the survivors of the 2nd Battalion into captivity.

They were moved to mainland Greece on a German destroyer, arriving safely in Athens where the officers and men were then separated. The officers were moved by train through Salonika, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria eventually arriving in Vienna, Austria. They then spent 14 days on a cattle truck, fed only on bread and ersatz coffee. Arriving at Moosburg, Bavaria they were held for a short time in POW Camp Stalag VII-A before moving to Luckenwalde where they arrived on Christmas Day 1943.

Among the many captured by the Germans was a Dubliner named Jack Harte who later became a Senator in Seanad Éireann. He published a memoir of his wartime experiences with the Faughs and attachment to the Special Boat Service. Like many of his fellow Fusiliers, he was humble in defeat and bitter in captivity, but he considered himself lucky to have served in this gallant regiment.

(Above left; A photograph taken covertly at Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, showing British POWs talking to new inmates captured on the Greek island of Leros. (© IWM BU 5907))