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The Platean hoplites shield devices


ruins of Platea

Modern view of the Ancient Platea ruins. Courtesy: D. Loykissas-Perseas

Plataia is an ancient town in Beotea mostly known for the battle that took place in its vicinity, during the 5th century BC. Around 510 BC the Plateans, hard-pressed by the Thebans, allied themselves to the Athenians. At 490 BC they aided their allies during the battle of Marathon where they distinguished themselves. They also continued to fight against the Persians until their homeland was liberated after the battle that occurred on their land in 479 BC.

 

According to Pausanins and Strabo in the area of Alkalomenai, near Platea, existed a large forest with huge oak trees. There, the Plateans sacrificed a bull and a cow in honor of Zeus and Hera. Then they hung the pieces of roasted meat on the branches and left, after posting sentries to observe the crows that lived in the woods. If a bird managed to grab a piece of meat, the sentries would observe in which tree it would sit to eat. From this oak tree they built a wooden statue (Daedalon) of Hera and adorned it like a bride. Then they placed it on a carriage, and next to it sat as a bridesmaid, a woman chosen by lot among the inhabitants of Beotea:

The carriage with the sacred Daedalon was led to the top of Kithairon mount, followed by a crowd of Plateans, and stopped at the place that was called Sphragidion. At this place the Plateans built a high, square wooden altar for the goddess, with oak branches. Then they filled it with meat and offered it as a burned offering. It was forbidden this meat to be consumed by humans. Attic pottery is filled with depictions of soldiers who either carry on their shields a raven or a square frame representing the altars of Kithairon.

oenochoe Agora Museum

Detail from an oenochoe that depicts a hoplite that carries the square altar of the Kitheron mountain rituals on its shield. Dated at the end of the 6th century BC, it may be related to the conclusion of the alliance between the Athenians and the Plataeans. Athens Agora Museum. S. Skarmintzos Archive

 

hoplite dancing pyrichius Cleveland Museum

Red Figure Attic Cylix of the 5th century BC, crafted by Psyax with a depiction of hoplites. The hoplite right carries the emblem of the crow that according to Strabo and Pausanias played an important role at Daedala oracle rituals that were held in Plataea. Cleveland Museum

 

Platean shiled device reconstruction

Modern reconstruction of a shield from the re-enacting group “Taxis Plateae” sporting the image of the raven. S. Skarmintzos archive


The flagellation of Historical Re-enactment in Greece Official policy or phobia of a few people?

The flagellation of Historical Re-enactment in Greece Official policy or phobia of a few people

Η φραγγέλωση της Ιστορικής Αναβίωσης στην Ελλάδα. Επίσημη πολιτική ή φοβίες ελαχίστων;

http://www.academia.edu/32438953/fraggelwshgr.pdf

 

 

 

A critical view of Ian Gooderson’s, ‘Shoestring Strategy: The British Campaign in the Aegean, 1943’, Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 25, No. 3 (2002).


The author’s argument

In his introductory summary Gooderson says he will examine the British “offensive return” in the Aegean during 1943 as an example of the British “peripheral strategy”. He explains that its British characteristic to warfare in attempting to grab any given opportunity to strike at where the enemy seems vulnerable, especially in peripheral fronts by concentrating and using limited resources against a point where the enemy is considered weak. He states that while audacity can bring rewards it can also fail badly if the enemy reacts in a determined manner. Gooderson says that he will examine the British aggressive actions in the Aegean as a combination of efforts by various military branches and assistance from other allies or even potential allies. (Joint operation)

The author says that the British who used their naval and amphibious “finite resources” against “major continental powers possessing superior armies” developed large scale aggressive raiding[1]. That means that they had the “know how” for this operation and cannot be blamed for failing because they lacked knowledge or experience on this type of warfare. Gooderson wrote that this operation was the “brain child” of the British Prime Minister, “for whom the Aegean held a powerful, but fatal, fascination”[2]. He says that his aim is to explain why at a time where things were favorable for the Allies in the Mediterranean; the British suffered such a catastrophic defeat.

The British had attempted to engage the Italians in the Dodecanese islands from November 1940 but they failed. Churchill had to secure Turkey allying itself with Britain against Germany in order to achieve proximity to Balkan targets and military bases for assaults against the Axis occupied Aegean islands. The Turks were positive to the idea but very slow moving in its activation. Another positive factor for the Allies was that their assault in Sicily had brought about the collapse of Mussolini’s regime. This fuelled Churchill’s optimism and gave solid ground to the possibility of acquiring the Dodecanese islands without a fight if the Italians surrendered them to the British and turned against the Germans. The capture of the islands would offer both military and political chips to the British[3]. Yet the allied coordination was not good as the Americans were focused on assaulting Europe through the English Channel and viewed the Mediterranean simply as a sideshow.

The main Allied effort in the Mediterranean focused on the Italian front and the resources available for other operations were very limited. The attempt to secure the Dodecanese islands through the diplomatic way and hold them with the support of the existing Italian garrisons stiffened by the limited available British troops failed because of the quick and brutal reaction of the Germans and the overestimation of the Italian resources and abilities by British Intelligence Services[4].

The Germans decided to crush the British forces in the Aegean in order to prevent the Turks siding with the Allies. The British lacked adequate supplies and heavy weapons. The RAF support was limited and the allied ships were at the mercy of the Luftwaffe during daytime and suffered terribly. The Americans did not divert resources from their main efforts described above and the British were trapped on the islands for even their evacuation would cause heavy loses. When the Germans attacked, enjoying full air support, they captured the islands despite the defenders efforts. The author concludes that the British plans failed for lack of allied coordination and insufficient resources in the face of determined enemy opposition.

The article in historiography

Gooderson fails to mention that Rhodes was lost (to a large extent) because of Allied diplomacy shortcomings and not only by German determination and quick reaction. Ehrman points out that the way the negotiations to make Italy defect from the Axis were handled improperly and the delays caused, simply favored the Germans who made short work of the confused Italian forces in the Balkans[5]. Ehrman also points out that the Allies who considered the Balkans a sideshow had managed to persuade Hitler that they would strike their main blow there[6]. A savage German reaction was to be expected in every allied effort in the area but this factor was ignored.

American sources are very critical of the British adventure in the Aegean and usually very harsh on their criticism of Churchill’s policy. For example David T. Zabecki in says that Roosevelt suspected that Churchill wanted to drag him in a Balkan adventure and says that the Italian garrisons were untrained and under-equipped[7] confirming Italian sources who claim that Italian Navy had failed to properly support the islands during the war. So Italians would be of limited value. D. J. Zimmerman in his work “Churchill’s Folly and the Dodecanese Campaign” claims that the British PM did all this rather to secure postwar British interests in the area rather than to aid the Allied war effort. According to Zimmerman the whole affair simply provided Hitler with a much-needed triumph and secured Turkish neutrality instead of Turkish support for the Allies.

Greek sources are largely not translated and focus on the their forces involved and the positive reception and support that the Greek islanders gave to the Allied soldiers. They criticize British policies in the contact of the operation. One of the few Greek works in English namely Panagiotis Gartzonikas “Amphibious and Special Operations in the Aegean Sea” says that the real reason for the Dodecanese Campaign was Churchill’s fear of Britain becoming lesser partner in the Alliance[8] and wanted to prove British strength with an “independent” military action. The British PM’s objective was to “shore up Britain’s post-war position.[9]” and “wanted to prolong operations in a theater where he thought he had leverage.[10]” The fact that Aegean was (and is) a point of friction between Greeks and Turks[11], and this would affect the operation’s execution and outcome was waved away by Churchill[12] and Gooderson is also ignoring it.

The article’s weaknesses

Gooderson mentioned Churchill’s fascination with the Aegean. He could have elaborated on that and mentioned that he had been disappointed very much from his achievements there during his career. He had failed to secure a British naval base in Greece after the Balkan wars[13] and had suffered defeat in the Dardanelles during WWI. His insistence on aggressive policy cost the Royal Navy a defeat in Castelrosso[14]. It would be worth commenting if it was Churchill’s wish to “conquer the Aegean” rather than his strategic judgment the real cause of the British over optimism about this operation. It is my opinion that the author leaves Churchill very easily “of the hook” on that matter.

Gooderson has drawn on John Ehrman’s work, Grand Strategy, and this raises the following questions: Why in the article is not also mentioning that one of the reasons that Turkish support was not secured was their unwillingness to fight the Germans? They wanted: “immunity from German attack” Ehrman writes[15]. Why article’s author fails to mention the eight thousand battle hardened men of Greek brigade who had performed well in El Alamein? They were written off for this operation because they got caught in Greek political factionalism and mutinied two times in spring and summer 1943[16]. This setback added to the shortage of troops available for the operation. Another question is the performance of the British intelligence service in assessing both the true German strength and the real state of the Italian defenses on the islands. In my opinion the author did not want to be very critical towards anyone in this article.

The article’s strength

As Gooderson says in his introduction there is very little examination by historians of the British involvement in the Aegean during 1943, which is true. His attempt to tackle the subject and present it to the English speaking reader is on its own a positive thing. He stresses that harsh negative criticism against the British handling of the affair should take in to account the “fog of war” and the fact that the decisions were made with what information were best available and in many cases taken under the pressure of events and that orders or instructions were subject to communications break downs. Yet the author’s note that the British overestimated their resources and the willingness of the new would be allies (Italians/Turks) to support British efforts is valid. The author justly points out that the lack of British air support was a crucial factor of the German success. He also explains the drawbacks of the allied ships and airplanes without going into much technical detail that could make reading difficult. The argument that a “piratical war” was preferable to holding ground is also justified by the final outcome of the whole affair. He writes in a manner, that if the reader does not want to go into deep detail about what happened, then the article is a well-written peace giving the general description of the events not only to the historian but to the general audience too.

Sources:

Jeffrey Holland The Aegean Mission: Allied Operations in the Dodecanese, 1943 (Contributions in Military Studies) Praeger 1988

David T. Zabecki Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History, ABC-CLIO 2014

Robert Holland Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800 Penguin UK, 2012

A quick summary by D.J. Ζimerman as seen on 11th March 2016

http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/operation-accolade-churchills-folly-and-the-dodecanese-campaign/

Panagiotis Gartzonikas, AMPHIBIOUS AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS IN THE AEGEAN SEA 1943-1945. OPERATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS AND STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS from US Naval Post graduate College website as seen on 11th March 2016

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a420541.pdf

[1] Ian Gooderson (2002) Shoestring strategy page 1

[2] Ibid page 2

[3] ibid page 4

[4] Ian Gooderson (2002) Shoestring strategy pp 7,8,9

[5] John Ehrman, Grand Strategy, Vol.5 (London: HMSO 1956 p 65

[6] ibid p 62

[7] David T. Zabecki Germany at War p 351

[8] Panagiotis Gartzonikas “Amphibious and Special Operations in the Aegean Sea” Executive summary ix

[9] ibid p.1

[10] ibid p.2

[11] Ibid pp 6.7

[12] Robert Holland Blue-Water Empire p 275

[13] Zisis Fotakis Greek Naval Strategy and Policy 1910-1919 Routledge, 2008 pp 51-60

[14] Footnote 3 on Ian Gooderson (2002) Shoestring strategy page 31

[15] John Ehrman, Grand Strategy, Vol.5 (London: HMSO 1956) p.102

[16] ibid p.85

Wehrmacht 125th Border Regiment – The opponents Rupel fort


On April 6th 1941 Hitler attacked Greece in order to save his ill -faring ally Mussolini. The Rupel pass in North Greece was of particular interest to the Germans as it was dominating the only decent road and rail network from Bulgaria to Greece. Any breach of the defenses there, opened the way to Thessaloniki and cut off the Greek Nestos river Brigade from any support thus neutralizing it. The task of forcing the pass was assigned to the 125th Infantry Border Defense Regiment that had been attached to the 72nd Infantry Division.

Greek antitank defenses

Greek antitank defenses in front of Roupel fort

The regiment was formed on November 10th, 1938 by two infantry battalions tasked with guarding the fortifications of the «Siegfried» line. The unit was based in Saarbrücken of the 12th military service region. In 1940 it was restructured into a motorized infantry regiment (Pantzergrenadier Regiment), and acquired a third battalion. Beside the four Panzergrenadier companies a fifth company of combat engineers (Sturmpionier) specializing in explosives, flamethrowers and obstacle elimination was added. In order to assault fortified positions, an assault gun battery, equipped with 6 self-propelled 75mm howitzers was also attached. The unit was fully motorized and even the supporting weapons (mortars, heavy machine guns) were mounted on halftracks and under took rigorous training to punch through organized defensive lines.

sd-kfz-251-9-stummel

German assault howitzers like the ones supporting 125 regiment. Source: warlordgames.com

Colonel Erich Petersen commanded the regiment. Until April 5th, 1941 the unit was concentrated in Tzoumagia (Bulgaria). Although the Germans had studied the map and the fortifications of WWI they were not fully aware of the improvements and modifications that have been made in the meantime. Supported by dive-bombers, the regiment overpowered without difficulty the Greek border guards and arrived at Koula Bridge on river Strymon. The Greek artillery destroyed the bridge but the German assault pioneers repaired it and the advance continued. But when they entered the defensive area of the Ushita-Rupel complex, the machine guns of the fortress decimated the regiment’s motorcyclists. The Grenadiers pressed on mounted on their armored vehicles but were forced to stop in front of the anti-tank obstacles and the mortars and artillery of the Rupel fort destroyed many vehicles. The Germans were saved the worst, thanks to the big misfire rate of the Greek missiles – 3 shots out of 5, according to colonel Petersen-but finally they were forced to retreat.

palaies-fotografias-polemou-21

Petersen with is his staff before the attack on Rupel. Their confident smiles would soon be wiped out. Source: istibeifort.com

 

O Petersen then asked for the assistance of the Luftwaffe and the super heavy artillery of the 18th Corps, but as his forward observers were killed or injured, the Germans shots were «fell blind» and with limited results. On the evening of April 6 with a nocturnal assault, elements of II / 125 battalion found themselves behind the Rupel fort but were left without support because their unit was decimated. The Germans entrenched themselves on Gkoliama hill but the next day all the Greek counterattacks were repulsed, thanks to Luftwaffe support.

German troops in front during a pause of the fighting

Germans during a pause of the bitter fighting. Source Pierre Kosmides

On April 9th, Petersen threw his decimated units again in battle supported by self-propelled guns that the Greek sources mention as tanks. The antitank guns of Rupel destroyed most of them and the attack bogged down. Despite the efforts of anti-aircraft and anti-tank elements of the 125th Regiment who shot at the fort’s gun ports, the Greeks are not cowed and the Germans suffered heavy losses again. The fort surrendered only after the Army capitulation, because the Germans had occupied Thessaloniki behind the Greek defenses.

rupel1941

Col. Petersen congratulating Major Duratzos for his gallant defense. Source Athens War Museum

Upon receiving the surrender of the fort Petersen awarded military honors to the Greek defenders and told Major Douratsos that: «as a soldier he accepts the sacrifice, but as a man grieves for his decimated regiment». The 125th remained in Thessaloniki and did not fight further in the Greek campaign Surviving grenadiers formed the nucleus of the 125th Infantry Regiment and the pioneers along with the gunners were sent as replacements to Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

 

Sources:

AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF THE GREEK-ITALIAN AND GREEK-GERMAN WAR 1940-1941 Hellenic Army History Directorate Athens 1997

Carr J. The defence and fall of Greece 1940-41 Pen and Sword London 2013

Plowman J War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941Pen and Sword, London 2013

http://www.feldgrau.net

 

 

 

Π. Γέροντας «Μεθ’ ορμής ακαθέκτου…»


Ή περίοδος από το 1821 έως το 1945 είναι η πιο σημαντική στην Νεώτερη Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους και η προσφορά του Πολεμικού Ναυτικού υπήρξε καθοριστική. Η χρονική περίοδος είναι μεγάλη και υπάρχει εκτεταμένη βιβλιογραφία όχι μόνο για την κάθε χρονική περίοδο ξεχωριστά αλλά και για την ιδιαίτερη  δράση σκαφών και διακεκριμένων προσωπικοτήτων. Ο υποπλοίαρχος Παναγιώτης Γέροντας στο έργο  του, που τιτλοφορείται «Μεθ’ ορμής ακαθέκτου.» -μια φράση  από σήμα του Ναυάρχου Κουντουριώτη-παρουσιάζει μια επίτομη εξιστόρηση της δράσης του Πολεμικού μας Ναυτικού την συγκεκριμένη περίοδο. Σε έναν όμορφο και καλαίσθητο τόμο ο μέσος αναγνώστης θα βρει την ναυτική ιστορία της περιόδου 1821 – 1945 δοσμένη σε απλή και κατανοητή γλωσσά. Η αφήγηση είναι πλαισιωμένη από συναφείς εικόνες και σχεδιαγράμματα ναυμαχιών που με τη χρήση διχρωμίας γίνονται πολύ εύκολα κατανοητά και από όποιον δεν έχει ιδιαίτερη πείρα σε ναυτικά θέματα. Επεξηγηματικές υποσημειώσεις βοηθούν επίσης την κατανόηση χωρίς να παρεμποδίζουν τη ροή της αφήγησης. Πλην της πιο εντυπωσιακής για τον μέσο αναγνώστη παράθεσης των πολεμικών γεγονότων, ο συγγραφέας εξηγεί συνοπτικά τις πολιτικές και οικονομικές συνθήκες που συνέβαλαν σε πρόοδο ή επιβράδυνση των ναυτικών θεμάτων. Το βιβλίο επίσης αποτελεί μια καλή βάση για κάθε μελετητή της ναυτικής μας ιστορίας καθώς έχει εκτεταμένη βιβλιογραφία και οδηγούς σχετικά με πρωτότυπες πηγές. Η Υπηρεσία Ιστορίας Ναυτικού έχει κάθε λόγο να είναι υπερήφανη για τη έκδοση του εν λόγω βιβλίου.

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Some thoughts on Byzantine 7th century military headgear based on Metropolitan Museum of New York exhibits


Reconstructing Byzantine military gear of 7th century AD is a matter of conventions and educated guesses as the archaeological finds of period items (especially military gear) are rare. The era is considered part of the Second Phase of the Migration Period. That is the time that the later Germanic tribes and early Slavs overran large tracts of Roman territory.The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Army seems to have drawn heavily from military fashions that originated in the Eurasian steppes. Most migration era helmets surviving in museums appear to be constructed from several parts and is accepted by the scholars to be typical of the armies at that time.

180px-spangenhelm-sinj

Spangenhelm (iron), Migration Period – Museum of the Cetinska Krajina Region – Sinj, Croatia. Source: WIKIPEDIA

A good deal of the visual Byzantine Army headgear reconstructions of the 7th century AD, are based on these museum items. But there are a number of reconstructions based on exhibits of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art that are speculative and some times have been dismissed as artistic license. A collection of silver objects showing images from the life of the biblical hero David depict soldier in fancy headgear.Dr. David Nicolle has suggested that the troopers depicted there wear the typical helmets of the period but carry over them very fancy cloth caps typical of the populations living in the Caucasus regions.

byzantiene silver plate David Eliab

David meets his brother Eliab, depicted here as a byzantine elite soldier. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

But a much later exhibit in the same museum can put this theory to the test. A Spanish 16th century straw hat looks surprisingly similar to the headgear depicted in the silver plates of Byzantine origin.

h2_32.132

16th century Spanish straw cap with velvet decoration. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York

While there is a notable 9 centuries time space between the two exhibits, there is nothing to suggest that the Byzantine artisans were not capable of producing similar straw caps if asked to. What is there to suggest that the 7th century silver smith simple copied the off duty headgear of officers or elite troops of his time?

More questions can be raised though. In the Metropolitan Museum’s arms collections exists also a 16th century steel helmet made by the Italian smith Filippo Nergoli that is again remarkably similar to the helmets shown in the above mentioned Byzantine silverware. The helmet is also in the same time space as the above mentioned straw hat but there are known examples of roman helmets made form a single piece of metal.

fc32f20df92bf34674cff41af Nergoli 1543

16th century helmet from Milan or Brescia. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York

While the rank and file of the 7th century Byzantine troops would posses the more affordable and more easily made “spangen helm” it is not unusual for officers and patrician rank commanders to be able to afford helmets of better quality and decoration. Once again the possibility that the silver smith depicts real contemporary helmets is not unlikely. For example on the plate depicting the duel between David and Goliath, the Philistine champion and the depicted warriors may represent Jewish and Philistine royalty that the artist modeled upon contemporary aristocratic warriors.

Sources:

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464376

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/32.132/

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/22634

David Nicolle Romano-Byzantine Armies 4th–9th Centuries Osprey Publishing 1992

 


I feel deeply honored that the «Naftiki Hellas» (Naval Greece) magazine include in his millennial issue my article about the Shield devices of the Thespians. My English speaking friends can read the translation here:

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