Book Review Target Corinth Canal 1940 - 1944 by Platon Alexiades

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Jonathan Ball, Oct 13, 2019.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    It was just 4 miles long yet assumed a strategic importance wholly disproportionate to its size. The Corinth Canal was and remains a spectacle of civil engineering which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, arguably making the peninsula an island, which proved so invaluable to the retreating Commonwealth forces in April 1941.

    In this well illustrated book, written with obvious passion by Platon Alexiades, the wartime history of the canal is examined in at times forensic detail. In 1941 the bridge over the canal was both the route to safety for the retreating Allied troops during the ill-fated Greece campaign and as a consequence a choke point. The Germans knowing this landed 800 troops, by Parachute and Glider during Operation Hannibal to seize the crossing and quickly overwhelmed the defenders. However, the bridge itself soon ended up hundreds of feet below in the waters of the canal thanks to the quick thinking of two officers, Lieutenant Tyson of the Royal Engineers and Captain Phillips of the Devonshire Regiment. Tyson had wired the bridge for demolition but with the speed and surprise of the German attack the fuse was out of reach. Tyson suggested that since he’d used gelignite an accurate rifle shot would detonate the explosives. Phillips, who excelled with a rifle took up the challenge and with his second shot hit the target. The Fallschirmjäger were thwarted and those on the southern bank of the canal could escape towards the coast and evacuation.

    The wrecked Bridge blocked the now enemy occupied Canal but this was only a temporary solution. The Canal meant that oil from the Black Sea could reach Italy and in theory, Germany and the Tankers would not have to enter the Aegean and a possible confrontation with the Royal Navy. The canal had to be blocked in such a way to render it impassable and force the shipping southwards.

    Enter SOE and in particular Mike Cumberlege DSO and Bar, a man who had spent his life at sea and considered by many who met him as a modern day Buccaneer. It was an image the gold earring in his right ear did little to dispel. Cumberlege was a man who had spent years sailing both the Mediterranean and Aegean in Caiques and was the ideal choice to lead such a blocking mission. Magnetic Mines were the weapon of choice and towing a cutter laden with Mines and Depth Charges he sailed in to the canal right under the noses of the German Garrison. When out of site they scuttled the cutter and then it was just a case of waiting for a ship big enough to detonate the mines.

    Nothing happened. Why the Mines or Depth Charges with 7 day fuses never exploded has never been established. Cumberlege was not to be deterred and Operation Locksmith came in to being. This time, the mines were specifically designed for the job and Cumberlege went in to the canal and again laid the charges. Alas once again nothing happened and from then on things went from bad to worse for Cumberlege and his men. Signals had flown back and forth between the Peloponnese and Cairo trying to arrange an extraction for the Locksmith team. The Abwehr, so often charged with incompetence were anything but when it came to radio direction finding and the net closed in. The men were nearly picked up and had to shoot their way out, leaving radios and codebooks behind. The Germans used the knowledge from the codes to arrange a fake RV out at sea for the party with what they believed to be a British Submarine. They instead went out to sea and straight in to the arms of the Germans. Cumberlege and his men were taken to Germany and were among the first men to be picked up following Hitlers infamous Kommandobefehl of October 1942. Their fate was horrific and Alexiades doesn’t shy away from it. Repeatedly tortured they were finally executed at Sachsenhausen in February 1945.

    As for the canal, the war had moved away from Greece and the strategic value of blocking the canal plummeted as the Red Army moved westwards. In the end it was the Germans who blocked the canal and did so thoroughly it was not until 1948 that shipping started to pass through the canal again.

    The book is well researched with excellent maps and whilst the narrative doesn’t flow smoothly to absorb the casual reader the detail is to be commended. For anyone with more than a passing interest in the Greece and Crete campaigns this is a welcome addition to the literature of that period.

    Target Corinth Canal 1940–1944

    Chris C likes this.

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