On This Day…
On the 26th November 1942 a key viaduct was destroyed in the Battle of Gorgopotamu
Op Harling was a joint operation between the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Greek Resistance. The aim of Operation Harling was to stem the flow of supplies through Greece to the German Army in North Africa. Known as the Battle of Gorgopotamus in Greece a heavily guarded viaduct in central Greece was destroyed on the 26th November 1942.
The Cairo office of the SOE decided to send a sabotage team to cut the railway line connecting Athens with Thessaloniki. Three viaducts were targeted, the Gorgopotamos, Asopos and Papadia bridges. A reconnaissance of the three prospective targets revealed Gorgopotamos afforded more chance of success. The force available for the operation numbered 150 men: a twelve-strong British team, which would form the demolition party, and 138 men from Greek Resistance to neutralise the garrisons. The operation was a complete success and the Viaduct was blown in the early hours of the 26th November, with only four casualties inflicted on the whole group.
The SOE team numbered thirteen men in total and divided into three groups, each including a leader, an interpreter, a sapper and a radio operator.
The first group was composed of Lt. Colonel Eddie Myers, Captain Denys Hamson as interpreter, Captain Tom Barnes as the sapper and Sergeants Len Willmott and Frank Hernen as wireless operators.
The second group consisted of Major Chris Woodhouse, 2nd Lieutenant Themis Marinos, Lieutenant Inder Gill and Sergeant Doug Phillips.
The third group consisted of Major John Cooke, Captain Nat Barker, Captain Arthur Edmonds and Sergeant Mike Chittis.
Signaller awarded BEM
Len Willmott joined the Royal Signals as a boy apprentice in July 1936 at 15. During his time in training he became a highly skilled Signaller and was talent spotted, leading to further specialist training that would lead to more than usual military service. Instead of the routine posting to a GPO telegraph office (to provide experience) Willmott was called to interviews at the War office. This was followed by vehicle training, parachute training and a spell at Crieff in Scotland, taken over by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known affectionately as ‘the auld spook house’.
By the outbreak of war Willmott was already assisting the Secret Intelligence Service in Poland. For his actions in operation Harling, he was awarded the British Empire Medal.
His citation stated:
In recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Middle East. This NCO volunteered for special operations and was infiltrated by parachute into Greece on the night of 30th September 1942. Owing to mistaken signals he landed in rough country where he had personally to carry and dispose of his equipment without the assistance of a reception party. Since then he has travelled considerable distances over difficult county patrolled by enemy forces. He quickly established W/T communications with this headquarters and has at all times worked cheerfully and efficiently under conditions of great personal discomfort and danger. His energy, determination and devotion to duty have been an encouragement and example not only to other members of the British Mission but to the guerrilla bands with whom he is working’.