The Argyll and Sutherland
For seven weeks, starting on the 15th May, 1958, the Battalion took part in an operation against a terrorist group in the Southern foothills of the Troodos mountain range six miles to the north of Limassol. Reliable information had been received that several high-grade terrorists, including possibly Grivas himself, were “hiding up" in that area. Two small Greek villages, Phasula and Mathikoloni, were suspected of either harbouring the terrorists or providing food to a concealed man-hide somewhere in the area.
The aim of the operation was two-fold:—
(a) To establish an effective cordon round the suspected area so that no terrorist could slip out of the net.
(b) To kill or capture the terrorists either by finding their hide or by ambushing them if they tried to break the cordon.
For security reasons no reconnaissance of the area was possible, and although maps and air-photos were carefully studied they gave no real indication of the terrain which consisted of precipitous ridges and valleys, boulder-strewn and covered with low thorn scrub. The only ground communication with three of the Company administrative areas consisted of footpaths and goat tracks impassable to vehicles. Helicopters proved invaluable in the role of supplying rations and water, and much use was made of locally hired donkeys. In the early stages of the operation wireless communications were erratic owning to the intervening hills, but this was overcome by the use of line.
By day the area was kept under observation by O.P.s sited on mutually supporting vantage points. By night the area was ringed by three-man ambushes. In the early stages the cordoned area covered nine square miles, and the three Battalions involved (ourselves, the 40 Marine Commando Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, The Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) were stretched to the limit. Owing to the shortage of troops the effectiveness of the cordon at this stage was only superficial. Ambushes could not be sited in depth, and only the more obvious escape routes could be ambushed. It is felt that a determined terrorist break-out at this stage would have stood a good chance of being successful. However, as the days wore on the searching operations eliminated certain areas, and the net was drawn tighter until the cordon posts were not more than 15 yards from each other. The two villages had been searched and their inhabitants screened without success, and the cordon took up positions on the ridges over-looking a bowl of low ground connected by a deep ravine to the village of Mathikoloni.
Life on the cordon was not without its hard-ships. The long night of watching and waiting would be followed by a day of intensive heat which made sleeping difficult. Company bivouac areas made use of scattered trees which alone afforded precious shade. After the second week of continuous night work the efficiency of the soldier began to suffer. Imagination began to play weird tricks on reasoning, and the crack of cooling rock or the soft thud of a carab leaf dropping to the ground was often mistaken for the presence of a terrorist.
AMBUSHES WITHIN THE CORDON.
During the third week of the operation ambushes were laid inside the cordon, and various combinations of ambushes were employed until the end of the operation. The purpose of these ambushes were: —
(a) To surprise the terrorists during the early stages of any break-out venture when they would be moving with less caution.
(b) To be in a position to hear movement which might indicate the locality of the hide.
Ambushes frequently included "attacker" dogs which would enable them to follow up a contact. A snipe-scope was also used but without much success. As many as twelve ambushes would be operating at one time, any of which might be involved in a pursuit, so this necessitated an elaborate system of control. Each ambush was equipped with a wireless set on centralised control and a system of very light signals would impose a period of "no firing without challenging" whenever an ambush party were on the move.
A terrorist man-hide is a masterpiece of ingenuity, and any hide that has been found in the past has been discovered either by information or by accident. A hide is constructed underground and has been known to accommodate ten men with sleeping accommodation and a supply of food to last for a considerable period of time. The entrance is extremely small and can be concealed by a stone or a small bush. The first stage in the searching was the burning of all scrub and bushes. This was followed by a detailed search of the area, leaving no stone unturned. "Hide dogs," which had been specially trained to detect the presence of a man under-ground, were also employed. Various pieces of clothing, a few rounds of ammunition, and other signs of terrorist activity were found — but no hide. The search for a hide went on relentlessly day after day until the searchers began to realise that this was no ordinary hide they were searching for. On the 23rd May two separate tracks were followed up to a feature which came to be known as the Limestone cave area. On the night of the 23rd May an unexplained light was seen coming from that area, and it was felt that this light had emanated from one of the many cracks in the rock structure. From then on the searching operations were concentrated on this area, and in the fourth week field engineers were called in to take the hillside apart piece by piece with the use of bulldozers and explosives.
USE OF TRACKER DOGS.
Throughout the operation great use was made of tracker dogs. Any contact with the terrorists was followed up at first light in the hopes that the trail would lead to a hide ; however, no tracker team managed to follow a track to its conclusion, although in most cases a general area or direction was indicated. The tracker dogs had the following difficulties to contend with:—
(a) No scent would lie much longer than an hour owing to the intense heat.
(b) Owing to the searchers' activities the whole area had been covered with false trails which tended to confuse the dogs.
(c) It was impossible to follow a scent through parts of the area which had been burnt, and which in some cases were still smouldering.
Until the 11th June frequent attempts were made by single terrorists or groups of two or three to break the cordon. At least five attempts were made in the southern half of the area which was the Argylls' responsibility. In each case, they were fired upon by cordon posts but no hits were scored. This was due to the soldiers' inaccurate night-firing, and also an inability to hold fire until the right moment. The standard of the terrorists' field craft was of a very high order. On approaching the cordon their progress was painstakingly slow, crawling on hands and feet, and pausing to remove the smallest stones and twigs which might make a noise and give away their presence. A favourite ruse was to lob small stones in the direction of the cordon posts in order to draw fire and locate their positions. When fired upon the terrorist would act with surprising coolness. In most cases he would drop back for about ten yards and move slowly on a course parallel to the line of the cordon with a view of making another attempt in a different place.
Whether any terrorists succeeded in slipping through the net is not known, but right up to the end of the operation source reports from outside still stated that they had not been heard of in the outside world. Athens radio announced that Grivas was seriously ill and it was thought that he might have been wounded in one of the earlier breakout attempts. During the night of the 6th June an unknown person attempted to break into the cordoned area; this person might have been carrying medical aid or might have been sent for by Grivas as a guide with local knowledge to assist him to escape. [The same thing had happened on a previous operation, " Lucky Mac," when Grivas sent for Karcus Drakos who led him out of the area and was subsequently killed.]
THE LIMESTONE CAVES AREA.
On the northern edge of the bowl was a steep slope honeycombed with limestone caves, owing to the strata and the fractured nature of the rock. The combined evidence of tracking and sound of movement pointed towards this feature as being the most probable area for a hide to be concealed. It was now clear that the hide, wherever it was, was of a most unconventional construction, and that it was, perhaps, the "impregnable bastion" of which Grivas had often boasted in his diaries. After an intensive search many tunnels and caves were discovered, but they did not lead to anything of interest and it was decided to call in the field engineers. Their task would be to uncover the hillside layer by layer by use of explosive charges. The first demolition took place on the 10th June, and the rock face was altered to a large extent. After that explosion no further terrorist movement was seen or heard, and it was presumed that the terrorists had either been killed or buried as a result. From then on until 1st July the cordon stayed in position, although no contacts were experienced, and the searching operations consisted of more demolitions and the clearing of rubble in hopes of finding the bodies. The limestone cave area had now taken on the appearance of having been struck by an atomic bomb. and the search was abandoned on the 1st July. A concealed "stay behind party" remained for a further five days, but nothing untoward was seen or heard, and the last elements of the operational forces pulled out on the 5th July.
Everyone involved in Operation "Kingfisher" will agree that this was a rather unsatisfactory conclusion to seven weeks of hard work. Since the operation, Grivas made his reappearance on the political scene—whether it is he himself or someone acting under his name, one cannot tell. However, many lessons were learned, and the following points
came out of it:—
(a) The suspected area must be pinpointed more accurately at the beginning of a similar operation, and if this is not possible more troops must be available
to cordon a large area effectively.
(b) Troops cannot be expected to maintain night vigilance for periods exceeding two weeks without relief, especially if they have to take part in searching operations during part of the daytime.
(c) It must be decided at the beginning of an operation whether to concentrate on finding a hide by intensive searching in the area, or by leaving the area
clear and finding the hide by tracking. The two are not compatible.
(d) Greater emphasis must be placed on training for night firing and fire control.
Published during Operation " Kingfisher."
1. Pte. Watson has made a bright suggestion to hasten the capture of the terrorists. He suggests that a tin of mutton, Greek style, be left at the entrance to a cave with an ambush party waiting for the terrorists. (2nd June.)
2. C Coy. have suggested a new march past for A Coy.—"Me and My Shadow." (5th June.)
3. The Padre has inspected Lady Bottom's beach and has declared it safe for swimming and for Kebab parties. (6th June.)
4. From Battalion H.Q.— The mules they hee haw all day long, The mare she is in heat. One of them has disappeared— To-day there is fresh meat. (6th June.)
5. It is rumoured that A. Echelon is in need of a rest and is joining the cordon. (9th June.)
6. Katering Kapers (Extracts). From Supply Coy.:—
(1) Compo comes in boxes Marked from A to G. The contents are various, Let's have a look and see.
(2) A is number one box, Worthy of some praise, Salmon, fruit, and bully beef, And lots of mayonnaise.
(3) B is ever popular, Stewed steak is held within, Carrots, peas, and Danish cheese, With porridge in a tin.
(4) C is always longed for, The contents being good. There is regimental vegetables, Plus steak and kidney pud.
(5) E comes up just once a week With Paddy Boylan's stew, Ginger pudding, ham and beef— Excuse me while I spew.
(6) Type H is now invented For Echelon areas only, Designed to feed good folks indeed, The ones that are so homely.
(7) This box contains some "Loverly Grub," Fresh steak and fresh eggs too, Tomatoes, lettuce and new spuds, With milk straight from the " coo." (15th June.)
7. To-night's the Night. (In nearly all issues.)
Source - Thin Red Line Magazines
Return to Cyprus 1958 -1959
Updated: 10 October 2014