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Cyprus Emergency - Operation Foxhunter

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Unit/ Formation: 45 Cdo RM

Location: Cyprus

Period/ Conflict: Cyprus Emergency

Year: 1956

Date/s: 10th – 12th December 1956

In the early 1950s a Greek-Cypriot revolt in favour of union with mainland Greece began in British-controlled Cyprus. The insurrection failed to achieve that, but Cyprus was eventually declared an independent republic. British troops remain on the island to this day as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

In September 1955 45 Commando was deployed to Cyprus to undertake anti-terrorist operations against the EOKA guerrillas during tensions between the Greek and Turkish inhabitants of the island. The EOKA were a small, but powerful organisation of Greek Cypriots, who had great local support from the Greek community. The unit, based in Malta at the time travelled to the Kyrenia mountain area of the island and in December 1955 launched Operation Foxhunter, an operation to destroy EOKA's main base.

The Battle of Spilia is the name given in Greek Cypriot sources to a minor engagement of the Cyprus Emergency that took place in the neighbourhood of the Cypriot village of Spilia on either 11 or 12 December 1955.

The engagement involved approximately 12 members of Georgios Grivas’s EOKA group and a 40 man detachment of the 45 Commando Royal Marines. In British military sources this is known as part of a wider operation known as ‘Foxhunter’ that was tasked with breaking up the EOKA presence in the Troodos mountains and capturing EOKA leader Georgios Grivas.

Grivas’ memoirs describe the event as a disaster for the British in which a small band of EOKA fighters took on a large ambushing force of British soldiers. He claims that he heard after the fact that there were at least 50 casualties although British sources claim ‘two slightly wounded’. Grivas claims Lieutenant Colonel Tailyour was killed in action even though Tailyour went on to serve as Commandant General Royal Marines dying in 1979.

British sources state that a Greek man was arrested in the vicinity carrying a rifle and cordex fuses and gave Grivas’ location away during interrogation. A 40 man patrol then set off in search of the hideout. Grivas and his men managed to escape and 2 Marines were ‘slightly wounded’ in a friendly fire incident when a mortar exploded on tree branches. The engagement resulted in Grivas’s escape but with the EOKA no longer able to operate in the Spilia area.

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