The shoreline between Aghia Marina, Krithoni and Alinda is as yet not overly built-up; the beaches are generally shaded and the hinterland is verdant and cultivated. At the beginning of the sweep of Alinda Bay proper (on the inside of the shoreline road, 50m before the left-turn for the road inland to Partheni) is the British and Common wealth War Cemetery with memorials to 183 service men—poignantly young—most of whom lost their lives during the Battle of Leros in 1943. The first German landings on the island were to the northeast of here and the bay of Alinda itself saw some of the fiercest conflict. (A visitors’ book and information are stowed in the gatepost.)
THE BATTLE OF LEROS: NOVEMBER 1943
The Battle of Leros, which strictly speaking lasted just over four days, was the culmination of a long campaign resulting in the loss of the strategically important Dodecanese Islands by Allied Forces to Germany. It is generally considered the last British defeat of the Second World War and the last German victory of any strategic importance. Greece and Crete were lost to the Allies in 1941; but when Italy, who then occupied the Dodecanese, surrendered in September 1943, Churchill saw a crucial opportunity to regain some strategic advantage in the Mediterranean and wanted to move quickly to fill the vacuum left by the Italian surrender, to the benefit of the Allies. The United States was not in agreement and saw such an operation as a lost cause at worst, and at best as a dis traction from the main battle-front in Italy. Churchill nevertheless considered the regaining of a hold in the Aegean of such importance that he went ahead with out American participation. The Germans moved with comparable celerity and consolidated a hold on Rhodes and its three crucial airfields: on 3 and 4 October they overwhelmed the Allied garrisons on Kos, by which time they had also already begun an unrelenting series of air-strikes against Leros. This began with the sinking in the port of Lakki on 26 September of two destroyers—the Greek Vasilissa Olga and the British HMS Intrepid—with considerable loss of life: five days later the Italian destroyer, Euro, was also sunk. In addition to fighting at a numerical disadvantage, a decisive factor for the Allies at Leros was that they lacked the air-cover which was fundamental to success. On 12 November a German invasion fleet landed on the northeast coast of Leros. British forces were too thinly spread and had poor communications within the island. The fighting was intense and the loss of life considerable for four days. On 16 November the British surrendered and 3,200 of their soldiers were taken prisoner. Samos was attacked by German forces the next day, but the island, together with Ikaria, Fourni, and the smaller Northern Dodecanese Islands, was rapidly and successfully evacu ated by the Allies. German forces held these islands until their eventual defeat in May 1945. The Battle of Leros formed the basis for the novel (and later film) The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean (1957).
There is a small museum of the Battle of Leros and the Dodecanese campaign on the upper floor of the Bellenis Tower (1925), a turreted mansion in red Egyptian stone, set back amongst trees from the shore-side road at Alinda. This curious building was erected by an emigre Leriot, Parisis Bellenis (1871–1957), who lived and worked in Cairo, and was a notable benefactor of the island. He built the high school of Aghia Marina which still bears his name. The tower also houses a Folklore Museum (the Manolis Isichos Collection). (Open May–Sept daily, except Mon 9–12.30, 2.30–6.30.)
The exhibits on the ground floor document the history and culture of the island through domestic objects, musical instruments and equipment for printing and publishing. There is much valuable photographic evidence of demolished buildings and monuments on Leros. On the first floor are relics from the sunken destroyer Vasilissa Olga, and plans and memorabilia of the 1943 battle campaign. Photo graphs of the island’s benefactors and heroes, and works by Leriot artists in the collection give a sense of the islanders’ wealth and creativity over the last two centuries.
Beyond the tower, the road continues along the north side of the bay to Panaghies, where a small stone church of the Panaghia above the shore marks the spot of an Early Christian predecessor. This area—the scene of consider able conflict during the Battle of Leros—is now a stretch of tranquil coves with an occasional taverna or cafe, and pleasant views of Aghia Marina and the castle.
A short distance inland behind Alinda is the church of the Tesserakonta Martyres (‘Forty Martyrs’) (First road inland from the shore, to the north of the main road signed to Partheni and the airport). In the courtyard in front of the door, the remains of a mosaic floor belonging to an Early Christian basilica which stood on this site would suggest that the coast here was considerably inhabited even in Antiquity.
Leros Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.