The 81 mm shells found on the plot of Leo Sofou and the connection to the relatively unknown bombing of Thessaloniki in 1948
Three mortar shells have been found so far in the plot on Leontos Sofou Street in the center of Thessaloniki causing many to wonder where they could come from.
The shells of caliber 81 millimeters, total length of 33 centimeters and thickness of 14 centimeters were found during construction work on the specific plot on which, according to the plan, a six-story hotel will be erected.
But now the work has stopped as there is a fear that others will be foundwith the Land Mine Clearance Battalion (LAND Clearance Battalion) and the Army undertaking their neutralization.
The shells were unfired, that is, they had not been fired, and there are two scenarios for this: either when they fell they found soft ground, which was not enough to explode, or they were old and suffered detonation. On the other hand, the scenario that they entered or hid them deliberately under the ground is ruled out, since the burying of military material, which was common during the civil war, such as shells, was dangerous as they could explode in case of constant “disturbance” by the weight of the soil.
The three shells that were found, due to their significant oxidation, date back to the period of the Second World War and are characterized as “standard military material”.
However, the truth is that they come from shortly after the Second World War period, as mortars were not used in Thessaloniki at that time and the battles that took place within it were minimal. On the other hand, the resistance was limited to the local autonomous groups that did not have corresponding military equipment, as the targeting of the organized resistance was on the borders and also in more northern areas of the country.
The possibility that the mortars were aerial and came from the bombings of Thessaloniki carried out in 1940-41 by Fascist Italy and on 5 December 1943 by Allied troops is ruled out by the diameter of the mortars found on these days. Larger caliber projectiles were used in aerial bombardments.
The civil war and the bombing by the Greek Democratic Army
The prevailing scenario, as it emerges from historical sources, is that the specific shells come from the bombing of Thessaloniki during the civil war by the Hellenic Democratic Army (DSE) in February 9 and 10, 1948.
Despite the disagreements between Vafiadis and Zachariadis, the new commander of the DSE forces in Central Macedonia, Nikos Triantafillou, was ordered to infiltrate the area of Thessaloniki with units of the DSE.
The men and women of the DSE with mortars and a German-made Schöner-type mountain gun arrived late at night in extreme secrecy in Derveni and fired at targets within the urban fabric and indeed the center of the city. The shells that exploded in various places killed 6 civilians and caused a lot of material damage.
Specifically, the cannon and mortar shells, which came from the Lebet area (today’s Stavroupoli), killed an English soldier, who was in the British garage on Mitropoleos street, near the “Tourist” hotel, and five residents, two women and three men, in the areas of Neapolis and Sfageia. Guerrilla mortar shells were scattered outside the “Mediterranean” hotel, on Nikis beach avenue, where the United Nations Commission on the Balkans (UNSCOB) resided and was meeting, on Vasileos Herakleiu Street, in Tsimiski, in Aristotelous Square and in the port of Thessaloniki.
A strong indication that strengthens the scenario that the mortars found in Leotons Sofou come from the period of the civil war and the DSE rebels is that even then the London radio station broadcast that rebels fired 81 mm mortars – the same caliber as those found now- against Thessaloniki and specifically with a total of 52 missiles.
As the newspaper “Rizospastis” wrote on 20/12/1996, in the “News Bulletin” of the DSE, dated 20/2/1948, it was mentioned that “the radios of Athens and London repeatedly broadcast yesterday and today the news about the attack by DSE units in Thessaloniki. London reported that rebel forces fired 81mm mortars at Thessaloniki. On his show yesterday, he said 12 missiles were fired, while this morning he said 40 missiles were fired. Of the missiles fired, 2 fell into the hotels where the members of the Balkan Commission were staying, one into a building occupied by Englishmen and 2 others into garages and petrol depots. The news about the bombing of Thessaloniki caused confusion and panic in the monarcho-fascist circles of Athens. Yesterday’s session of the Parliament was exclusively devoted to the discussion of this issue. The general commander of Macedonia, Basiakos, called for a general conscription of all those who can bear arms and those who cannot bear arms to help morally and materially. Other MPs called for the resignation of the government, which has proved unable to crack down on the rebels. Others recommended calm, until the government gives an explanation and one party asked for a secret meeting of the Parliament. Tsaldaris disagreed with this proposal, but the number of MPs who asked for a secret meeting was large and for this reason the Speaker of the Parliament ordered the evacuation of the galleries in order to hold the meeting”.
For its part, on 12/2/1948, the Ministry of National Defense, following a report by the First Army Corps of Thessaloniki, announced, among other things, that “the gun was a German 75 mm schooner type mountain gun. It was positioned in the Lebet area near the Lagada – Thessaloniki road and fired at Thessaloniki from a distance of 3 km, from 2.30 am to 3.30 am on February 10. 40 shells fell into the city. 20 shell casings and a shell were found in the position of the cannon. The kilibas and the 2 wheels of the cannon were also found. The tube was not found.”
The rebels were soundly defeated by the National Army. 148 people were arrested and referred to the extraordinary military court of Thessaloniki and then paraded around the city until they were imprisoned or sentenced to death.
According to journalist Christos Zafeiris, the arrested were tried in two groups in February and March of the same year at the extraordinary military court. Of the 111 in the first trial, with the charges of high treason and participation in armed groups, which was foreseen by the Third Resolution of 1946 “On emergency measures”, 45 people were sentenced to death, seven to life, eight to various long-term sentences, while 44 defendants were acquitted. In the second trial, out of the 24 defendants (most of them were wounded in the battle and were being treated in the city’s hospitals), ten rebels were sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment. Almost all those sentenced to death were executed in parts “in the usual place”, behind the prisons of Eptapyrgio. The cannon, with which Thessaloniki was bombarded, and other spoils of war were displayed in the Hagia Sophia square, to raise the morale of the city’s inhabitants, which had fallen due to the successful operation of the national army.