Categories
Cold War Cyprus

Valentine Mk.II Improvised Tank in the Cypriot National Guard

Republic of Cyprus (1963-1964)
Improvised Tank – 1 Built

An island at Arms

Cyprus is an island located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In the 1960s, when the Zürich and London Agreements came into effect (16th August 1960), the island nation was granted independence from Great Britain, thus allowing its population to govern the island. Due to the composition of the population (77.1% Greeks and 18.2% Turks), the power struggle caused by the ethnic division and the constitution soon resulted in legal impasses and discontent from both the Greeks and the Turks. Soon enough, nationalist militants started training, with military support from Greece and Turkey, respectively. In 1963, violence erupted, mobilizing the militants and gearing them up for war.

Introduction

During the Inter-Communal Violence of 1963-1964, the Greek-Cypriot armed militants were called to arms, as shootings were becoming more frequent and violent. The lack of real armored vehicles pushed the fighters into the creation of their own armored tanks. Such a vehicle was based on a Valentine Mk.II chassis. Even though it did not have any anti-materiel capability, it was more than enough for the purpose of infantry suppression and as a morale boost.

The unsinkable aircraft carrier

Cyprus during the Second World War

When Great Britain declared war on the Third Reich on 3rd September 1939, Cyprus also entered the war as a Crown Colony. A few days later (8th September), a force of 500 Cypriots was formed by the Governor of the island, William Denis Battershill, to fill secondary roles like drivers, mechanics, and cooks. In February 1940, the Cyprus Regiment and the Cyprus Volunteer Force were formed as the first fighting forces of Cyprus to face potential Axis aggression. After the end of the battle of Crete, Cyprus was in serious danger, since it was an important air and naval base, allowing access to the important supply routes through the Suez Canal and to the Middle East. As well as those benefits, the location also allowed the British to harass the Italian holdings on the Aegean sea and send reinforcements to Egypt and North Africa. Thus, the British High Command decided that the island should be protected and sent in more forces to reinforce the island, most notably the 7th Australian Division’s Cavalry Regiment. The main job of the force was one of deception and to lure the Germans into thinking that more troops were stationed on the island than there actually were and to thereby dissuade an attempt to seize it. As air raids by the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Regia Aeronautica increased, in order to deter the attackers from actually invading, patrols of light tanks, machine gun carriers, and trucks of the Regiment were taking place all over the island.

From a miner to a fighter

After the end of the Second World War, mining operations, specifically for important copper supplies, continued normally. As the island was still a British Crown Colony, the administration gave foreign companies more territorial rights. Since this was a booming industry, heavier machinery and equipment was going to be needed to carry heavy stones and assist in the mining operations. This is where the Valentine comes into play, since it was a mass-produced vehicle and, by 1945, an obsolete tank. It was, however, the perfect candidate to be used as mining equipment. It is not clear whether it was bought from the British government or if it was given to the colonial authorities for free. The tank had its turret removed, since it was not going to be used for military operations, but for civilian purposes. As such, it was little more than a heavy-tracked tractor that could be used for moving various heavy objects.

When the relations between the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots reached a boiling point, the turretless tank was recovered from an abandoned quarry (the vehicle was used not just for copper mining) and was restored to working order. The improvised vehicle was given the designation «ΕΦ 19». This comes from the Greek «Εθνική Φρουρά 19», which translates to ‘National Guard 19’. The number 19 is the number of the vehicle, since the Cypriot National Guard at that time used many improvised vehicles.

Possible origin of the tank on the island

The usage of the tank for mining purposes when more dedicated equipment could be used and bought makes its transportation from the UK or other colonies to Cyprus for this explicit purpose unrealistic. A more logical explanation is that the tank was already on the island when the war ended and it was decided to use it at the mines as a recycling alternative. Some Valentine tanks were transported to Cyprus, alongside some Cruiser Mk.II tanks, during 1940-41, when the Allies were afraid that, after the battle of Crete, Cyprus was next. The exact number of vehicles transferred is not clear but, at the end of 1941, most of the Allied forces in Cyprus left the island with their equipment. A photo exists that depicts some Cruiser MK.II tanks alongside a training Valentine MK.II. It is possible that either this, or some other Valentine was left on the island to be used for training for the Cyprus Regiment. As time passed and it became obsolete, instead of transporting it somewhere else, it was simply repurposed for mining operations.

Valentine II and Cruiser Tank Mk.IIA used as training tanks, Cyprus, May 1942. Note that the Valentine has had the gun removed.
Source: https://www.tankarchives.ca/2019/01/cruiser-tank-mkii-with-best-intentions.html

Valentine MK.II chassis

The Tank Infantry, Mk.III / Valentine Mk.II was an infantry tank produced by Great Britain during the Second World War. During its production life, it saw many changes, having many variants, all of them characterized by one single trait: its reliability. It was also supplied to the USSR and built under license in Canada. The Mk.II was the first version of the tank to use a diesel engine. The turret was manned by a crew of two with the 2-pounder gun as the primary armament of the vehicle and had a coaxial 7.92 mm Besa machine gun. The Mk II was built in 1940-41. Around 700 were built and the tank saw combat in multiple theaters, since it was used by the Soviets and the British Commonwealth forces in places such as North Africa, the Western and the Eastern Fronts.

The chassis of the Valentine tank could provide sufficient protection from small arms fire and light anti-tank guns. To be more specific, the glacis was 60 mm (60°) thick and the lower part 20 mm (20°) thick. The sides were 60 mm (90°) thick, the rear 17 mm (30°) thick and the bottom of the tank 7 mm thick. The engine used for this specific model was the AEC A190 diesel which had a maximum output of 131 hp at 1,800 rpm. The regular tank had a power-to-weight ratio of 8.1 hp/ton and a fuel of capacity of 164 liters. The vehicle was 5.41 m long, 2.63 m wide and roughly 2.3 m – 2.5 m tall (with the box turret).

Front view of the vehicle
Source: https://hmvf.co.uk/topic/15769-valentine-tanks-in-cyprus-where-in-cyprus/
Rear view of the vehicle, showing the box superstructure and the designation “ΕΦ 19”.
Source: https://hmvf.co.uk/topic/15769-valentine-tanks-in-cyprus-where-in-cyprus/

The modification

Being a turretless tank, this vehicle could not provide sufficient cover for the crew and it could not be used offensively. The Greek Cypriots decided to build a rectangular superstructure with a truncated pyramid roof. It had multiple gun ports to allow the gunner to provide cover all around the vehicle. The installation of the box was made possible by the EOKA (Greek: Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, English: ‘National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters’) fighter Sophocles Potamitis.

Photo of Sophocles Potamitis, an EOKA fighter from 1955 to 1959 . He died on 23 March 2016.

Source: https://elamcy.com/sofoklis-potamitis-athanatos/

The weapons fired through the slits of the vehicle were a Bren gun or other small arms, such as the Sterling or Sten SMG. The improvised turret had two trap doors, one on the front upper part and one at the back, in the upper part. These were made so that the crew could have access to the vehicle. The box was made from 8 mm thick steel plates that were welded together. It was roughly 1.5 meters tall and 2 meters wide. Other less noticeable modifications were the removal of the periscopes that were located above the driver’s hatch. The driver’s vision port had no cover/plug and thus a piece of metal was welded above the vision port to provide as much cover as possible. The water deflectors and headlights usually located on the upper plate were also missing, as well as the side skirts that could be found on a lot of Valentine Mk.IIs.

The improvised Valentine on a parade on 1st April,1964 at Limassol. Here, the modifications can be seen clearly, as well as the Cypriot coat of arms that is missing from the vehicle nowadays. The two Greek-Cypriot soldiers are posing with a United Defense M42 / Marlin gun and a Bren light machine gun.

Source: “Τα τεθωρακισμένα στην Κύπρο εξέλιξη και δράση”

A closer view of the Cypriot coat of arms. The background color is copper-yellow, symbolizing the large deposits of copper ore on the island. The two-part wreath represents the two ethnic groups, the Greeks and Turks. The number 1960 represents the year of independence from British rule.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Cyprus

The Inter-Communal War of 1963-64

After Cyprus gained its independence in 1960, there were multiple problems relating to the constitution. This forced the President, Archbishop Makarios III (Greek: Μακάριος Γ΄, born Michael Christodoulou Mouskos, Greek: Μιχαήλ Χριστοδούλου Μούσκος), to submit some suggestions for changes to the constitution to his counterpart, vice president Fazıl Küçük (Greek: Φαζίλ Κιουτσούκ) on 30th November 1963. These changes were also sent to the Governments of Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey. Makarios himself said that the current constitution contained multiple sections that undermined democratic values and created friction between the two culturally different ethnicities. Makarios made the suggestions with the intention of bringing the Turkish side to the diplomatic table so that a new constitution could eliminate the causes that created friction between the Greeks and the Turks.

However, the Turkish population refused to negotiate, since they felt that these suggestions completely undermined the 1960s constitution. The refusal to come to the negotiation table and the fact that both sides were preparing paramilitary groups that were mostly acting independently from their political representatives resulted in the brutal fights that followed in December of 1963.

The fighting mainly began when the Greek side received information that the Turks were going to transport 300 automatic rifles to areas outside of Nicosia. This led to Greek police officers starting to enact car searches, something that the Turks did not agree to. The Turkish population was instigated to refuse and resist any kind of search conducted by Greek police officers. On the 21st of December 1963, at 2:30 a.m., Greek police officers tried to search the car of a Turkish couple but things quickly got out of hand. Both sides called for reinforcements, resulting in the death of the couple and one Greek police officer getting wounded. Despite the best efforts of both Makarios and Fazıl Küçük for peace and cooperation, the hidden fortifications of both sides got manned and violence and fighting started across the whole island. As the situation was becoming worse, the British commissioner’s office asked Makarios to allow him to intervene in order to maintain peace.

Makarios refused this suggestion at first, but when the Greek government agreed, he also accepted this suggestion. On the 26th of December 1963, a three-part peacekeeping force was formed. This resulted in what is called “The Green Line”, which, according to Makarios, “was a practical solution in order to maintain peace at that given time to maintain a cease-fire agreement”. The Green Line separated the Turkish and the Greek populations in the big cities of Cyprus.

Photos of archbishop and President Makarios III and vice-president Fazıl Küçük.

Service

The tank was deployed and used in the city of Limassol, which is located on the southern coast of Cyprus and is the capital of the district with the same name. The vehicle served with the 7th Regular Group of Volunteers of the National Guard. It was used successfully during the clashes of February 1964 at Limassol. As a result, Limassol was one of the few big cities that was not divided since the forces there managed to eliminate all of the Turkish resistance.

On 4th February, the Turkish part of Limassol was attacked by Greek-Cypriot forces. Greek-Cypriots manage to fully capture the port of Limassol by destroying large amounts of Turkish property. It was advised that there were 150 casualties at Limassol, where the Greek Cypriot police was firing heavy explosives into the Turkish quarter. On 9th and 10th February, there had been sporadic firing in the city and serious fighting in the nearby villages of Asomatos and Episkom. The cease-fire arrangements did not provide for the establishment of a cease-fire line and a consequent restriction of inter-communal movement. As a result, the Limassol residents of both communities continued to have daily contact with each other, especially on the 13th and 14th of February. Another possible engagement during which the tank might have been used was in the fight that took place on 7th March, when a large armed Greek-Cypriot force from Limassol entered the village of Mallia (Greek: ‘Μαλλιά’, Turkish: ‘Malya’) and attacked the Turkish-Cypriot quarter, which had attracted a large Turkish refugee population from other nearby villages and were outnumbering the Greek-Cypriots ten to one, being roughly 200 people. The government used the Greek-Cypriot force to disarm the Turkish-Cypriots.

When the fighting began, the entire Turkish-Cypriot population retreated into the community’s school and was placed under siege. British troops intervened and a cease-fire was accepted on 10th March, after the Turkish-Cypriots agreed to surrender their arms to the Greek-Cypriots. After these battles, the vehicle could be spotted during the 1st April military parade at Limassol. This was meant to boost the local population’s morale. It was later kept in storage at the police station of Limassol, alongside other improvised vehicles, probably due to being obsolete and replaced by other more mobile armored vehicles.

The Valentine tank during the clashes of February 1964 at Limassol.

Source: “Τα τεθωρακισμένα στην Κύπρο εξέλιξη και δράση”

The Valentine in storage at the police station of Limassol, alongside other improvised vehicles.

Source: “Τα τεθωρακισμένα στην Κύπρο εξέλιξη και δράση”

Conclusion and Fate

As the conflict broke out, the improvised vehicle proved to be effective when used correctly. The fact that most insurgents were not properly equipped to face any kind of armored vehicles, let alone a tank, made the Valentine an ideal asset to be used in urban environments for suppressing and supporting infantry.

Furthermore, it was highly effective in boosting the morale of the local population. On the other hand, the vehicle was already obsolete by the end of the Second World War, and new more agile and suitable vehicles for urban operations were coming, which also carried heavier weapons systems, while the Valentine had only one machine gun. The fact that this relic of WW2 was totally obsolete as a modern tank made no difference in this type of low-intensity conflict characterized by lightly armed forces. The vehicle has survived to this day and it will be exhibited at the new war museum when it is completed.

The Valentine tank alongside other Cypriot AFVs days before they were moved out of the museum space.

Source: https://in-cyprus.philenews.com/dismantling-of-war-museum-has-begun/

Illustration of the Improvised Valentine tank.

Specifications Table

Specifications
Dimensions(m): 2.3 to 2.5 m High, 5.41 m Long, 2.63 m Wide
Crew: 2 – 3 (driver/Gunner )
Fuel capacity: 164 liters
Propulsion: AEC A190 diesel
Suspension: Triple wheel bogies on springs with Newton hydraulic shock absorbers.
Coil Springs
Armaments: .303 calibre Bren Machine Gun
Or
Other small arms
Armor: hull nose : 60 mm (60°), lower part : 20 mm (20°), sides : 60 mm (90°), rear : 17 mm (30°) , bottom : 7 mm
Production: 1

Sources

http://www.wardrawings.be/WW2/Files/1-Vehicles/Allies/3-UK/04-InfantryTanks/Mk3-Valentine/Data/Valentine-Mk2.htm
https://web.archive.org/web/20130618032121/http://www.cyprus-conflict.net/Patrick-chp%203.html
https://hmvf.co.uk/topic/15769-valentine-tanks-in-cyprus-where-in-cyprus/
http://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_Valentines.pdf
https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/33883/how-fortified-was-cyprus-during-ww2
ISBN :978-960-88355-4-2 (“Τα τεθωρακισμένα στην Κύπρο εξέλιξη και δράση”) Writer : Ιωαννης Σ. Μαμουνιδακης
http://www.wardrawings.be/WW2/Files/1-Vehicles/Allies/3-UK/04-InfantryTanks/Mk3-Valentine/Data/Valentine-Mk2.htm
http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_valentine_II.html
https://www.tankarchives.ca/2019/01/cruiser-tank-mkii-with-best-intentions.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Cyprus
https://in-cyprus.philenews.com/dismantling-of-war-museum-has-begun/ ( for the last image)
https://www.academia.edu/2380949/THE_DEVELOPMENT_OF_INTER_COMMUNAL_FIGTHING_IN_CYPRUS_1948_1974
https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Valentine_MK_II
http://www.wwiiequipment.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65:valentine-infantry-tank&catid=38:infantry-tanks&Itemid=56
https://elamcy.com/sofoklis-potamitis-athanatos/
Book (“Το Κυπριακο Πρόβλημα 1960-1974” /Writer: Γιαννος Ν.Κρανιδιωτης /Publisher : “Θεμελιο” / Year of publication :1984)
Magazine:(“Αρχαιολογια : Κυπρος ενα σταυροδρομι”) Vol .24 , September 1987 Page 62.
ISBN: 9963-9044-0-8 (“Ιστορια του Κυπριακου Τα χρονια μετα την ανεξαρτησια 1960-2004”) Writer : Γιαννης Κ. Λαμπρου