On September 29, 1942, a group of twelve British commandos headed by Colonel Eddie Myers, fell with parachutes in the Giona mountain region, in central Greece. Among them was the Greek, Themistocles Marinos, and a Cypriot with the code name “Giannis”. Their purpose was to get in touch with Greek resistance guerrillas, and implement the “Operation Harling” that the Allied Headquarters had planned in Cairo.
The project consisted in the blasting of one of the three bridges of Papadia, Asopos and Gorgopotamos (all three of which are located in the mountainous area of Brallos), over which the railway line Thessaloniki – Athens passes. It was the only reliable route to the ports of Southern Greece, and its destruction would cause the interruption of the supply to the General Erwin Rommel German forces in North Africa. It was right before the Battle of El Alamein that would determine the course of the war in that area.
In the next few days, Myers and his men checked all three possible sabotage areas and found that the Gorgopotamos bridge was the easiest target. However, they had to secure the support of the guerrilla groups for the success of the operation.
On November 19, Myers hurried to meet Napoleon Zervas, leader of the National Republican Greek League (EDES) in Mavrolithari, Fokida. The next day, the leader of ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army), Aris Velouchiotis, came to meet the British commandos. All parties agreed that the best point to sabotage would be the bridge of Gorgopotamos, a tributary of the Spercheus River. Three days later the site was screened by a joint guerrilla group and on November 22 the final plan was drawn up. The plan was to blow up the bridge the night of November 25th.
The bridge of Gorgopotamos was guarded by 100 Italians and 5 German soldiers. The garrison had heavy machine guns and guns and its neutralization required swift force. The resistance forces were 150 men, 86 from ELAS, 52 from EDES and 12 British commandos. The plan was for the Greeks to eliminate or distract the guards and the British to place the explosives to blast the bridge.
At 11:07 on the night of November 25, the assault on the guard at both ends of the bridge took place. Everything was going according to the plan and at 1:30 in the morning of November 26 a section of the bridge was blown up with the second section to follow at 2:21. Meanwhile, a train of Italian soldiers that was headed for Gorgopotamos to fend the attack was blocked by the guerrillas.
At 4:30 in the morning, the last guerrilla had left the sabotage area and was at the meeting point in Kalyvia. Of the 150 men who fought in Harling Operation, only four were injured while the bridge guard lost 20 to 30 soldiers. In retaliation, a few days later, 9 Greek patriots were executed at the site of the damaged bridge.
The blasting of the Gorgopotamos bridge was one of the greatest acts of sabotage during World War II. It attracted the attention and won the admiration of all occupied Europe and gave courage to the Greek people. However, its impact on the North African front was limited. By the time the bridge was blasted, the Germans had lost the Battle of El Alamein and Rommel took his forces and moved west, so the supply from Greece was no longer important.
However, the act boosted the morale of the Greek resistance. There was also a symbolic significance behind Gorgopotamos: It was probably the only moment in recent Greek history where the leftists (ELAS) and rightists (EDES) collaborated for the good of the country.
Years later, on the celebration of the anniversary on November 29, 1964, 13 people were killed and 45 people injured after a forgotten bomb exploded near the crowd.
In 1982 the Andreas Papandreou administration established the anniversary of the blast of the Gorgopotamos Bridge as an official celebration of the National Resistance.
There is also a symbolic significance behind Gorgopotamos: It was probably the only moment in recent Greek history where the leftists and rightists collaborated for the good of the country.