Milos Harbour Raid 21 February 1943


Milos Harbour Raid:

Just before 1 p.m. on 21 February 1943 nine Marauders from 14 Squadron led by Major Eric Lewis of the South African Air Force set off from Shallufah in Egypt to attack Axis shipping in the harbour at the Aegean island of Melos.  The first three aircraft were armed with torpedoes and were briefed to attack ships; the remaining six aircraft, armed with bombs, were to “mop up” any ships that had not been hit by the torpedo aircraft and to attack the port installations.  Arriving just before sunset, the first formation achieved complete surprise and found three ships in the harbour.  They attacked two of these vessels and claimed hits on both.  Unfortunately, by the time that the second formation reached the harbour - though only a few seconds after the first wave had departed from the target area - the defences were awake and two aircraft, flown by Sgt Raymond Barton and Sgt Basil Yarwood, were shot down almost immediately.  However the one remaining Marauder in that wave  flown by F/O Ted Donovan bombed the third ship in the harbour.  The final wave of three aircraft attacked the port installations and managed to escape unscathed.

Artemis Pitta - archive Dimitris Galon – Milos Dive Project 2007

There is an account of this raid in Winged Promises, but it leaves many questions unanswered.  I was recently contacted via the Association website by a Greek underwater researcher who is researching a number of wartime shipwrecks and who has been able to provide a lot more information about the raid.  Apart from having surveyed the sea-bed in the harbour and having obtained eye-witness accounts from the Greek side, he has also been able to locate some documents in the German Bundes Archiv.  We still don’t yet have the full story, but continued research on the island itself, in the UK National Archives and the Bundes Archiv should get us there eventually.

Thanks to files held at the UK NA, and contrary to the account in Winged Promises, we now know that the raid was tasked and planned a few days ahead of the actual day of the raid and that there was a debate about the aircraft weapon loads.  We also now know that the three ships in Melos at the time of the raid were the Artemis Pitta the Olympos and the Thisbe, but although hits were claimed on all three vessels, only the wreck of Artemis Pitta  is on the seabed today. 

photo-mosaic courtesy Helen Tsopouropoulou

The photos of Artemis Pitta, above, show her before and after her visitation by 14 Squadron with clear evidence of a massive explosion astern.  As yet we haven’t found out how much damage was done to the other two ships, though it appears certain that they were not in fact sunk; additionally the German records account for only one of the aircraft shot down.  We hope to find out more about the fates of Olympos and Thisbe, and also find the location of the crash of the second aircraft.  Hopefully we will be then able to determine who attacked which ship (we’re still not sure, although it seems likely at present that Artemis Pitta was the target of F/O Wal Clarke-Hall).  We also hope to identify exactly how the Barton’s and Yarwood’s two aircraft were lost. 

It will be good to get to the bottom of this raid which was one of the important events in the Squadron’s wartime history.

underwater exploration:


Mike Napier