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Sacred Band

Page Created
April 29th, 2022
Last Updated
May 30th, 2022
Additional Information
Sacred Band
Order of Battle
Commanders

Operations
Equipment
Multimedia
References
Interactive Page
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Motto
τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς
Come back with it (your shield) or on it
Founded
August 1942
Disbanded
August 7th, 1945
Theater of operations
North Africa
* Egypt
* Palestine
* Libya
* Tunisia
Dodecanese islands
* Samos
* Leros
* Psara
* Lesvos
* Chios
* Symi
Greece
Organisational History
Out of the unrest within the Hellenic Army entered the war came the realisation that they had become a very unreliable partner in the eyes of the Allies. Most officers within the Hellenic Army were very politically involved and there was need for a strict military unit that could leave the political differences behind them.

Another big problem was that there was a great surplus of Officers and Non-Commissioned officers in the Hellenic Army in the Middle East Area. After the Greek Defeat in 1941 a large number Officers and Non-Commissioned officers had been able to flee the country and evacuate to the Middle East that was under control of the British. With that information in the back of his mind, it was Wing Commander G. Alexandris, who came up with the idea of the formation of a unit of volunteers, mainly from the officers’ ranks, who would be willing to fight as regular soldiers. Alexandris taled with Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, vice president of the Greek government in exile in Cairo, about this idea and in August 1942, the unit was formed in Palestine as the Company of Chosen Immortals (Λόχος Επιλέκτων Αθανάτων )

The unit made its first appearance on September 6th, 1942, with Major Antonios Stefanakis as its provisional commander. Stefanakis was one of the officers who was discharged after the 1935 coup. Later that month the unit was moved to Cairo, Egypt. Here it received a new commander. Colonel Christodoulos Tsigantes. Like Stefanis he had been fired after the coup of March 1st, 1935. Sources suggest that Tsigantes had some fierce discussions about his upcoming leadership with the other officers of the unit in the days before appointment. The political differences still tended to be in the way. He was able to convince them that he was the man for the job. Not only his words but also military career was also helping him a lot. Tsigantes had served in the French Foreign Legion, had been in battle before, had been wounded and spoke several languages. On September 15th, 1942 he was able to assume command of the unit with permission of the other officers inside the unit.

Colonel Tsigantes with Pilot Officer Nikolaos Zervoudakis in the North African front.
Colonel Tsigantes with Pilot Officer Nikolaos Zervoudakis in the North African front.

In the months that followed he renamed the unit to the Sacred Band after the Sacred Band of Thebes. The Sacred Band of Thebes was a troop of specially selected soldiers in the fourth century BC, consisting of 150 pairs of male lovers which formed the elite force of the Theban army, ending Spartan domination. This made it clear that his plan was to reform the unit to a Special Forces Unit. On December 25th, 1942, Tsigantes met Major David Stirling of L-Detachement, Special Air Service Brigade. Stirling asked Tsigantes whether it would be possible to reorganize and train his unit as a mechanised commando unit, moving and fighting with jeeps and armoured vehicles. This unit would undertake operations at great depth behind enemy lines, using as bases the desert or the mountains separating Tripolitania from Sahara proper. This all had to be done within a month.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling
Major David Stirling of L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade.

Tsigantes happily accepted the proposal under the conditions that the unit would be timely supplied with the equipment necessary for its reorganisation and training. The unit would also receive help to fill its deficiencies in various critical specialties and Tsigantes would be given a free hand, with no interference during its training and
preparation.

Somewhere around January 25th, 1943, the unit was sent to Tripolis, Libya to join the SAS for a joint sabotage operation on the rear of Axis forces, in Tunisia, However, on their arrival they were informed that Major Stirling was captured. All operations of the Special Air Service were halted at that time. This caused Tsigantes to make a plea with Field Marshal Montgomery, to attach the unit to the brigade of Free French under General Leclerc. Although Montgomery had plans of sending the unit back to Egypt, he eventually gave in.

Colonel Tsigantes and General Leclerc inspect men of the Sacred Squadron at Nalut,in Tunisia
Colonel Tsigantes and General Leclerc inspect men of the Sacred Squadron at Nalut,in Tunisia

On April 3rd, 1943, the latter was detached from the French Brigade and placed under the command of the 2nd New Zealand Division. On April 17th, 1943, the Squadron was detached from the 2nd New Zealand Division and ordered to return to Egypt in a hurry. This was done because of the suspicion of rebellion in the ranks of two Greek Divisions.

From May 1943 to October 1943 the unit was reorganised
in camps in Egypt and Palestine. Tsigantes replaced half of the troops of the unit that he considered not suitable for the new role of the unit by new recruits. He also added new recruits to increase the numbers of the unit to 327. The structure was of the unit was changed to three raiding units. Besides that, the unit trained extensively on conducting amphibious and aerial assaults in the
Aegean islands.

Members of the Sacred Band training in parachute drops most likely in Palestine.
Members of the Sacred Band training in parachute drops most likely in Palestine.

In January 1944, the unit changed its role to that of a Commando unit to serve in cooperation with the Special Service Brigade, under Brigadier D.S.T. Turnbull. In April, it was decided that the Sacred Band would be upgraded to a commando regiment. This was done from June to September 1944. By the end of this period the Sacred
Band Regiment numbered 1,084 men. The Regiment was divided into Force B and Force C and a Rear-Guard Detachment. Force C would land with the British force that was about to land on the Greek mainland after the German withdrawal. Force B would continue new clearing operations in the Aegean Sea.

When the war was over, the unit returned to Egypt again. On July 5th, 1945, it marched on the grounds of the El Alamein Club in Cairo, in front of Commander in Chief, Middle East Forces, General sir Bernard Paget. On July 12th, the Sacred Squadron started returning its armament
to British military authorities in Alexandria, retaining only the rifles needed for those men returning to Greece. All other troops residing abroad, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, etc., were decommissioned in Cairo. On July 18th, these men boarded a steamship, arriving in Piraeus on July 20th.

On July 5th, 1945, General Bernard Padget, Commander in Chief of the Middle East, inpects the Sacred Band in Cairo, Egypt.
On July 5th, 1945, General Bernard Padget, Commander in Chief of the Middle East, inpects the Sacred Band in Cairo, Egypt.

On 7 August 1945, the Squadron’s flag was decorated by the Greek regent, archbishop Damaskinos with the highest military medal of Greece, the Golden Cross of Bravery and the Greek War Cross, First Class. During this ceremony, a commemorative plaque on the monument in Pedion tou Areos, Athens, honouring the Sacred Band, was revealed. At this very ceremony, the Sacred Band was disbanded.

On August 7th, 1945, Archbishop and Regent Damaskinos decorates the flag of the Sacred Squadron, held for the occasion by kneeling Colonel Tsigantes.
On August 7th, 1945, Archbishop and Regent Damaskinos decorates the flag of the Sacred Squadron, held for the occasion by kneeling Colonel Tsigantes.