Now It Can Be Told! - The Navy Landed 'Cloak and Dagger' Men
Hiding, camouflaged, in remote island creeks by day and sailing at night on privateering raids against enemy shipping and shore installations, seven 70-ft. Naval launches sapped Germany's hold on the strategic Mediterranean islands of the Dodecanese. Their part in clearing the Mediterranean was not revealed until September 1945.
Although they knew they were always somewhere near, the Germans never caught any of these small raiding ships, the smallest and slowest vessels in Britain's Coastal Forces. These 14-knot Harbour Defence Motor Launches – originally intended only for anti-submarine patrol in sheltered waters – also ran a "Raiders Ferry Service" for British Commandos and men of the famous Greek Sacred Regiment, whose "cloak and dagger" tactics smashed enemy strong points and communications and kept enemy garrisons in a state of terror.
The German headache started in February 1944, when Captain H. C. Legge, D.S.C., R.N., who between the wars worked as a London stockbroker, established his Naval H.Q. on the tiny island of Castellorizo, a few miles from the Turkish coast and the only island in the group not under German domination. With a strategy all their own the Navy and the raiders so completely surprised the enemy that the neighbouring islands of Piskopi and Nisero also soon fell into our hands.
From these striking bases the raids continued. While British destroyers patrolled the outer seas, the H.D.M.L.s maintained ceaseless vigil in the island approaches. Only in sheer desperation did an occasional German schooner, caique or lighter attempt the hazard of a passage by night. Pouncing from hiding-places in remote creeks where, almost under the noses of the enemy, they lay by day concealed under camouflage nets, the H.D.M.L.s with their 40-mm Bofors and 20-mm Oerlikons played havoc with the blockade-runners.
After one such engagement Intelligence revealed that the German Chief of Naval Staff for the occupied islands and several important military personages had been sent to the bottom. Not all the German vessels intercepted were sunk. Said Leading Seaman T. Roberts, of Llanelly, Caernarvonshire, coxswain of H.D.M.L. 1252, commanded by Lieut. C. A. G. Dyer, R.N.V.R., of Tiverton, Devon: "After we had opened fire on one schooner, her German crew jumped overboard and we captured the vessel intact, complete with cargo of ammunition and mines. We also rescued the Germans out of the sea and took them back to Symi as prisoners of war."
In April of 1945 alone the "little ships" landed 45 raiding parties on the various islands. The campaign was not without its humours. Provocative messages were frequently exchanged between Royal Navy signallers and the German look-out posts as the H.D.M.L.s nightly plied between the islands. A German signaller at Cos used to flash, "Why don't you come closer?" to which the Navy's signallers replied, "Why don't you pack up? You've had it!" The inevitable triumphant end to the campaign, which had been carried on for more than a year, came on May 9, 1945, when General Wagner, with his staff officers, was brought to Symi in the British destroyer H.M.S. Active to sign the surrender terms.
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