In 1974 after several periods of violence between the ethnically split inhabitants of Cyprus, two NATO countries went to war with each other. Today I’ll be looking at some of the armour actions of that conflict on the small Mediterranean island.
In the early hours of July 20th 1974, a fleet of Turkish ships appeared off of the coast of northern Cyprus. Originally they were attempting to land and create a bridgehead at Glykiotissa, however, finding this landing site unusable they switched to Pentemilli and began landing. In the first waves there were about 3000 men and 20 M113’s. Two days later the first Turkish armour landed, 15 M47 Pattons were brought ashore.
Facing them was the Greek Cypriot National Guard, most of its heavy weapons were of Second World War British origin, such as 6 and 25 pounder guns, although it did have some more modern weapons.
The GCNG had an armoured branch on the island but these were T-34/85 tanks brought from the Soviet Union and shipped via Egypt in 1964. They were a mash up of models and parts, but had been fitted with US made M2 .50 calibre heavy machine guns. Old when they were delivered, after a decade of use they were utterly worn out.
The first clash of armour came at 10:00 on the first day of the invasion. A handful of T-34’s supported by their infantry attacked the bridgehead, destroying two M113’s. In return in a separate engagement two T-34’s were destroyed by Turkish handheld anti-tank rockets. Already the strain on the tanks was beginning to show, several tanks had broken down and were abandoned. Another attempted counterattack that night and two more T-34’s broke down, while a third got stuck in a dried up river bed.
The next morning The Turkish Air Force destroyed the two broken down tanks, while the one stuck in the riverbed was captured and freed by the approaching Turkish forces. Three days into the fighting and the Turkish force launched a breakout. The last local T-34’s had run out of ammunition and were abandoned in place.
With a secure beachhead the Turkish forces were comfortable with a ceasefire, to see if a diplomatic solution could be found. Meanwhile both forces prepared for another clash. The Turks brought in more forces, while the GCNG dug in.
While the diplomats talked, there were still several clashes and outbreaks of fighting. The most important to our story is the Battle of Kornos Hill (Hill 1024), located near to Mount Pentadaktylos. In the morning of the 2nd of August, the hill was attacked by a Turkish force. The defenders threw the attack back. In the afternoon a much larger force was brought up and smashed the defenders aside. The Turkish armour pushed on. Leading the column was a pair of M47 tanks, followed closely by two M113’s.
The armour wound its way along a narrow road cut into the hillside. The road itself was only a few inches wider than the M47 tanks with a sheer cliff face on one side, and a wooded drop on the other. The lead tank hit a mine, which blew its track off.
This was the cue for the defending GCNG infantry battalion to open fire with its ambush. The infantry was armed with M40A1 106mm recoilless rifles. Their first shot hit the 4th vehicle in the column, one of the M113’s. The 106mm HEAT warhead burned through the fragile light weight armour which was only intended to stop shrapnel and caused it to go up in flames. The other M47 and M113 were trapped and unable to move, with the M47 barely able to rotate its turret due to the closeness of the cliff face. The Turkish forces were forced to retreat.
The following morning a recovery team from the GCNG’s Mechanized Battalion arrived at the site of the battle. They managed to free the two trapped vehicles, and both were returned to their depot for repairs.
At the depot the M47 was found to have a broken hydraulic turret traverse, in fact all the Turkish M47’s had had that system disabled. The GCNG soon had the tank fully operational. In a stroke of luck the M47 was not repainted.
Meanwhile the diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful situation were going badly, and soon failed.
The Turks launched a new phase of offensives on August the 14th. Although they had lost some tanks, the Turkish armour managed to drive 80 km’s in the first day, smashing aside the defenders.
North West of Nicosia lies the village of Skylloura. The Turks attacked on the 15th with about 30 tanks reinforced with two battalions of paratroopers. The defenders consisted of five companies of infantry, and one tank, the previously captured and now fully operational M47.
Early in the battle the infantry used a 106mm recoilless rifle to knock out one of the attackers. The Turks encircled the village and thats when the Greek M47 struck. In an audacious move she moved through the confusion and joined the back of one of the Turkish tank columns. The Turks just saw a friendly tank joining their attack.
With total and utter surprise the M47 was able to attack the Turkish tanks. For two hours she roamed amongst the confusion of the battle using her superior gun traverse to out manoeuvre the Turkish tanks. Often disappearing then reappearing, the Turks didn’t know if it was a friendly tank or not.
They found out the hard way as the 90mm gun suddenly and with frightening speed swung in their direction before sending a shell roaring towards them, followed closely by the loud clash of the shell striking armour.
After two hours the Greek M47 escaped from the battle back to friendly lines. Behind her seven Turkish tanks lay destroyed and burning.
That M47 remained in service with the Greek Cypriot National Guard until 1993.