Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rhodes and the sad failure of the Dodecanese campaign

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, Rhodes

P1010910 Continuing our trip story from A visit to the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, Sunday 3 October dawned bright and warm. We gathered on the roof garden breakfast area to plan our day.

According to the hotel, San Nikolis', the main hotel buildings date from 1300AD. There is a minor date problem here that I haven't had time to resolve, because this is a little before the final surrender of the Island to the Knights. 

The hotel buildings were constructed on part of the remains of the 2,000 year old agora of Ancient Rhodes. You will find agora in all the older Greek settlements. They were centres for public gatherings that also became markets. Apparently, the Greek words for I shop and I speak in public are both derived from agora, as is the English word agoraphobia. The Roman equivalent is forum.

We liked this hotel because it was comfortable if a bit kitsch, combining in a strangely satisfying way the  combination that is modP1110269ern Greece.

The hotel bills itself as honeymoon/wedding location. The decorations were an eclectic mix of modern, mediaeval and classical.

From the roof garden, you looked over the preserved excavated remains of the agora to the wall built by the Knights. In another direction, the view was of the harbour with it's cruise ships. P1110270

"We don't like the cruise ships", our hostess explained. "Their passengers crowd the streets but don't spend any money. They interfere with our visitors."

Our host had played roles in many films made in Rhodes. The Island's varied history and built infrastructure provides filmic base from the early period to the Second World War.

One of the best know films filmed largely on Rhodes was the 1961 military epic, The Guns of Navarone. I enjoyed both the original book and the film. 

220px-GunsofNavarone The events in the film are based around the events of the 1943  Dodecanese campaign.

With the defeat of the Germans in Africa in the spring of 1943, Winston Churchill turned his attention to the Dodecanese Islands, then Italian Territory. To his mind, their occupation would place pressure on neutral Turkey to join the Allies while opening up a new supply route to Russia.

British planning for what was called "Operation Accolade" began on 27 January 1943.  The Americans, who wanted to concentrate on a landing on Sicily and who where suspicious of British post war plans, told Churchill that they would not support the plan.

One of the things that I find interesting and that is little covered in the teaching of Australian history is the nature of the continuing conflict over a very long period between the US and Empire and Commonwealth strategic interests. I think that it's hard to cover simply because the perceptual models underlying research and teaching of Australian history reject the validity of the very idea of an Imperial and Commonwealth interest in the desire to pursue and present the ideal of the growth of Australian nationhood.

As the possibility of an Italian surrender became stronger, the British began planning for a more limited version of Operation Accolade. Again, the US said that it would not support it. Barely a week before the Italian surrender on 8 September 1943, the military resources intended to support the scaled down version of Operation Accolade were dispersed.

With the Italian surrender, Italian forces in the Dodecanese wanted to surrender or join the Allies. There was a scrabble to try to help them. The far better organised Germans had not been blind to Allied plans. The result was the last great German victory of World War II, a humiliating defeat for the mainly British forces attempting to take the Dodecanese. The Islands remained under German control to the end of the war.

The biggest losers were the Jews of Rhodes. In my first post on Rhodes, Breakfast in Rhodes, I mentioned the Jewish Quarter in Rhodes old town. The ancient Jewish community had survived through multiple changes and by the 1920s represented a significant proportion of the population of the City of Rhodes. This seems then to have dropped, but there were still some 2,000 Jews in Rhodes in in 1943.   

The Italians had never fully shared the Nazi's preoccupation with the Jews. Now that the Germans had full control, German policy applied. On 19 July 1944, the Gestapo rounded up the island's Jewish inhabitants to send them to extermination camps. Few survived.    

Today, the guests of the San Nikolis' include a strong German contingent. The European ethnic wars of the twentieth century have been put aside, at least so far as major groups are concerned. German tourism is critical to Greece, German money to the preservation of Greece's past. I think that that's rather good, even if I do not like German breakfasts!

Well, breakfast is over. Now we have to get our car and head out. First stop one of Mussolini's pleasure palaces.          

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