Like many air forces of the countries occupied by the Axis, the embryo of post-war Royal Hellenic Air Force was created under the auspices of the RAF. It started in the Middle East through forming of No. 335 (Greek) Squadron at Aqir on 10 October 1941. The unit was equipped with Hurricanes Mk.I, later Hurricanes MK. IIc and had a commendable combat record in the Western Desert campaign in the ground attack role. The unit was assigned code letters FG, which, according to the rumour of the day, supposedly stood for “Free Greeks”.
The second squadron to be formed from Greek personnel was No. 336 (squadron letters ZP), established in the Western Desert in February 1943. Both Greek units were involved in shipping protection and air defence duties along the Libyan coast. By the beginning of 1944, the squadrons re-equipped with Spitfires MK. V. In September it was time to move to Italy where they conducted operations over Albania and Yugoslavia.
In November 1944 it was time to return to their homeland. Stationed at the Hellenikon airfield near Athens together with No. 337 Squadron RAF, both squadrons actively participated in action against German forces in the Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete.
After the end of hostilities in May 1945, the squadrons moved to Thessaloniki, where on 31 July they were officially transferred to Greek control as No. 335 Squadron and No. 336 Squadron of the Royal Hellenic Air Force.
Prime Minister George Papandreou visiting the Spitfire Squadrons in Hellenikon.
Late in 1944, Greece was faced with a new war of invasion from the Communist Balkan states. The Civil War that ensued involved air operations by the government of Greece and the RAF against ground elements of the ELAS and other anti-government forces. Greece asked for help from the United Kingdom to replace their ageing Spitfires Mk. V with the newer and faster Mks. IX and XVI. Nos. 335 and 336 squadrons were repositioned to Thessalonika , Ioannina, Larissa and Kozani to get closer to the combat area. As it happened, the Spitfires were often the only available support to government forces – aerial or otherwise – in these remote mountainous areas. Until the arrival of the American Helldiver bombers, the Spitfire took a role of a workhorse, saving the day for the ground troops on numerous situations. The strafing Spitfires have thwarted the attacks of partisans encircling villages, disrupted their transport lines, stopped Albanian, Yugoslavian and Bulgarian Communist columns penetrating into the country.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vc
No. 336 Squadron RHAF
When they returned to the homeland, the Greek Spitfires carried their RAF markings. The one displayed here, Mk. Vc serial no. ER194 is depicted behind PM Papandreou on his visit to Hellenikon (picture above). It carries the individual letter “N” – No. 336 did not carry squadron letters on their aircraft. The only hint of a Greek marking is the spinner, painted light blue with a small RHAF roundel on its tip. The identification letter ‘N’ was repeated under the nose painted within a white circle – not easily shown from a side view. A smaller letter X or maybe a cross-out symbol (?) was painted on the engine oil lock.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vc
No. 335 Squadron RHAF
This Spitfire Vb was photographed at the Hellenikon Athens aerodrome in November 1944, a few days after the first celebration of the ’28th October’ – anniversary of the day of the Italian invasion of Greece. The machine belonged to No. 335 Squadron. The Hellenic markings were a “remake” of RAF roundels and fin flash – the yellow rings on the fuselage markings were overpainted with dark blue, fresh paint contrasting with the lighter blue of the Royal Hellenic AF which replaced the RAF red/blue roundel colours in all other places. The RAF serial JK102 was retained , as well as the aircraft identity letter “B”. The Spinner was blue-white-blue in Hellenic colours.
The white marking in front of the cockpit is the eagle symbol of the RHAF, most probably applied with the royal crown underneath.
The two Greek Squadrons seemed to have been using different RAF camouflage patterns, this being an example of the Day Fighter scheme.
Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. XIc
A common practice in the Greek squadrons was painting the name of the pilot’s home town like the one above: MYSTRAS. This aircraft was flown by Lt Georgios Smyrniotopoulos, a veteran who started his career with the RHAF pre-war, flying the PZL P.24 against the Axis.
The sharkmouth design was a bit peculiar in that it had only the top row of teeth. Similar shark mouths were applied to a number of Spitfires – but were rather hastily painted without any artistic element. The spinners where painted in various blue , light blue and white configurations.
The above profile is a typical LF Mk. IXc with clipped wings, Merlin 66 and long air intake with built-in dust filter. Note that the serial number MH558 is assumed to be the correct one but could not be verified by existing pictures.
Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. XVI
Royal Hellenic Air Force
The Greek movie Oi ouranoi einai dikoi mas ( “The skies belong to us” ), a black-and-white production of Finos Film from 1953, was the only one where a Greek Spitfire appeared on film. The role of the Spitfire pilot was played by Alekos Alexandrakis in a scene where he is landing from a mission. The film shows a full landing and taxiing sequence of a Spitfire XVI possibly filmed at the Dekelia aerodrome. The aircraft was the RW380 (verified by the Controller’s call ‘3-8-0’, three digits in the serial number were often used as call signs). The aircraft carried the number 3 on the rudder which may indicate that it was used by the Air Cadets as a trainer at that time.