SBS - Raid on Santorini Axis Camp
Unit/ Formation: SBS
Period/ Conflict: World War II
Date/s: 22nd April 1944
Just after midnight on April 22, 1944, two wooden fishing boats and a motor launch landed noiselessly on the shore of Santorini, one of the southernmost islands in the Aegean Sea. The vessels’ crews had spent three days sailing from their base in neutral Turkey, traveling only at night and anchoring by day off small, uninhabited islands. As soon as the boats touched the beach on Santorini, 18 British soldiers stole ashore. As the fighting men moved inland, the crews that delivered them sailed southwest from Santorini toward tiny Christiani, an island approximately 20 miles away.
At Christiani, the sailors would hide their boats beneath camouflage netting while waiting to retrace their path and extract the returning raiders exactly 48 hours later. All three vessels belonged to the Levant Schooner Flotilla, a Royal Navy special forces unit crewed by some of England’s finest and least orthodox sailors.
The LSF’s motto was “Stand Boldly On.”
The flotilla’s small, quiet watercraft offered the only practicable means of slipping into and out of enemy territory. That night’s passengers belonged to a different but equally elite unit, the Special Boat Squadron. Led by Danish-born Captain Anders Lassen, the SBS team was to destroy enemy communications and personnel, and attack targets of opportunity. On Santorini the raiders headed to the village of Volvoulous.
As dawn was breaking, they laid up in a cave nearby. Lassen sent one of his men, a Greek, to obtain information from locals; when he returned, Lassen split the force into two. One party, six strong, would attack the wireless telegraph station at Murivigli, while Lassen would lead a dozen men against a barracks of Axis troops. Zero hour was 0045, April 24. The barracks—a former Bank of Athens branch in the town of Thira—was on Santorini’s west coast. Intelligence indicated that it housed a mixed force of around 35 German and Italian troops. Although one official report claimed the SBS unit was to take the enemy troops prisoner, few raiders ever expected to offer quarter.
The war in the Aegean was brutal, and in Andy Lassen the British special forces had found a leader of extraordinary courage and cold savagery. Lassen was a “hit man and killer,” fellow raider Jack Nicholson recalled years later. “He carried just his Luger pistol and a fighting knife, and it was said he could be a devil with the knife.” Lassen, Nicholson, and Irish-born Sean O’Reilly were the first to enter the enemy barracks. They found five doors and kicked down each to toss in a hand grenade and empty two or three Thompson or Bren gun magazines.
In the maelstrom two SBS soldiers died—one reason the Santorini raid became known as “Andy Lassen’s Bloodbath.” Of the estimated 35 enemy soldiers in the barracks, at least 12 were killed and 11 wounded. But, a report noted, “there may be more [dead] as the enemy the next day tried to hide what really happened.” The SBS patrols rendezvoused at dawn. Lassen was delighted to learn that the other team had destroyed the telegraph station and taken eight prisoners. The raiders hid themselves and their captives as four Ju 88s crisscrossed the island looking for them. At nightfall, the party traversed Santorini to await the LSF boats.
Once aboard, they sailed northeast to Anydros to camouflage the boats as part of that small island and spend a day evading yet another German search. When the raiding party finally reached base a few days later, the unit’s commander, Major David Sutherland, asked Lassen to write a report.
The Dane’s summary was characteristic: “Landed. Killed Germans. Fucked off.”
Sutherland smiled politely, and assigned another raider to write the report.
Image: SBS troops are shown waiting in ambush armed with a variety of weapons, including Bren guns and a Thompson sub-machine gun, during the campaign to free the Greek islands from Axis control colourised by Paul Reynolds.
Lassen was awarded a Posthumous Victoria Cross almost a year after this raid, read more here:
Major Anders Lassen VC - SBS - Lake Commachio 8 - 9th April 1945