Thessaloniki Association “The White Tower” in co-operation with the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council organised another successful event in Melbourne on Monday 6th November 2017 and at Denmark House (Danish Consulate in Melbourne). The hosts were lead by the Honorary Consul General of Denmark to Melbourne Mr Jan Ravnholt.
There were a number of VIP attending the event, including his Excellency the Ambassador of Denmark to Australia Mr Tom Norring and his lovely wife (of Greek background, from Thessaloniki), Mr Ross Alatsas Deputy Chair at the Victorian Multicultural Commission, the Consul General Mr Jan Ravnholt and his also lovely wife, Mr & Mrs Paul and Toula Mavroudis OAM, Mrs Maria Dikaiou President Modern Greek Teachers Association of Victoria, Mrs Maria Gidarakou, from the Greek Consulate in Melbourne representing the Consul General Mrs Christina Simantiraki, Mr Lee Tarlamis Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, Mr Bill Papastergiadis President Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne, Mr John Pandazopoulos former State Minister in Victoria, Mr Steve Kyritsis President Greek RSL in Melbourne, Lt. Colonel (retired) Athanasios Masouras, Mrs Litsa Athanasiadis President Pontian Community of Melbourne and others including some war veterans from both communities the Danish and Greek.
During proceedings a plaque was presented by Mr Paul Mavroudis OAM and Mr Tony Tsourdalakis to the Honorary Danish Consul and the Danish Ambassador from the organisers and the Greek people in general, for the services of Major Anders Lassen in the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Nazis 1944.
The unsung heroes again were the ladies of the Thessaloniki Association Committee and friends who brought so much food that it could not be consumed on the day. Thank you ladies…
The crowd were entertained by the Greek live band “Melbourniotes” and the photos are by photographer Kostas Deves.
However there was one main as well as a second speech for showing respect to the great deeds of Major Anders Lassen. Here we include the speechs of both Mr Jim Claven historian (main speaker), Mr Iakovos Garivaldis OAM (secondary speaker).
ANDERS LASSEN COMMEMORATIIVE EVENT
DENMARK HOUSE – 6 NOVEMBER 2017
Thank you Jan.
Mr. Ambassador, distinguished guests, one and all.
October is a memorable month in Greek history. Most importantly it is the month that Hellenes across the world gather to commemorate OXI Day – Greece’s defiant rejection of Mussolini’s invasion ultimatum in October 1941.
But today we come together to commemorate another October – October 1944. For it was at this time that Greece’s second city – Thessaloniki – and indeed much of Greece – was finally liberated from the long night of Axis occupation that had begun in 1941.
And specifically we honour the life and service of one soldier in particular who played a key role in that liberation – Major Anders Lassen, Victoria Cross and three Military Crosses.
When I first came across the story of Anders Lassen I was both impressed and startled. I was impressed by his outstanding bravery and record of action. I was startled because I had not heard of him before.
So who was Anders Lassen?
Anders was born on the 22nd September 1920 in a small town in Denmark. He was by all accounts an adventurous youth, tall, broad-shouldered and blue-eyed.
A merchant seaman before the outbreak of the Second World War, the occupation of Denmark drove Anders to join the British Army in 1940. In joining the military Anders was following in a family tradition, his father Emil having served with the Danish Lifeguards and serving in the Spanish Civil War and Finnish-Russian War.
Those who served with him admired Anders’ physical fitness and strength, of being as “strong as a lion.” Many talked of his ability to move stealthily in the dark, unheard by others. His knowledge of German would help in bluffing German sentries. He was personally brave and a determined opponent of his enemies. One said that he defied death and exposed himself to great danger, a restless dynamo, charged with energy; life for Anders seemed to have become a race against death. One comrade described serving with Anders as like serving with “Achilles.”
Yet when not on active duty, Anders could also be charming, with a normally smiling demeanor. Added with his often mentioned “devastating” good looks, Anders did not want for the attentions of the opposite sex where-ever his war took him. [He famously missed being shot by an aggrieved husband in Athens who resented his wife’s attraction to Anders!] As one of his commanders remarked:
“He was irresistible. Absolutely irresistible. He had that Viking charm.”
The great respect he would earn from his military superiors from his personal bravery and leadership in the field would even see him famously survive without reprimand his assault of his commanding officer during a drunken argument. As the commander – Major the Earl George Jellicoe – recounted later:
“My most vivid memory of [Anders] was … going on a night out with him in Tel Aviv. We had a certain amount to drink, not excessive. Then we were having as chat in a nightclub with him, a friendly chat I thought, and I must have said something that didn’t appeal to him. The first thing I knew was getting up after being knocked down – I had been knocked out for a bit – and trying to work out what had happened. I’d seen what this young man was worth and decided to drop any case against him.”
From the day Denmark was invaded in April 1940 Anders was eager for action, to personally take the war to the enemy. That’s why he joined the British Army’s Special Forces – first the commandos and then from early 1943 the Special Boat Service, effectively an arm of what would become the elite SAS or Special Air Service.
He would see service across Europe and beyond – from raids on the Channel Islands and African coast, to Greece, Crete and the Aegean – and then on to Yugoslavia and Italy.
Commencing in 1943 Anders took part in a series of daring raids across the Islands of the Aegean, harassing the Axis occupiers and giving hope to the locals.
In these hit and run raids he served alongside soldiers of the Hellenic Army’s Special Forces unit – the Greek Sacred Squadron. Commanded by Colonel Christodoulos Tsigantes, the Squadron eventually totaled one thousands officers and men. One of Anders’ closest comrades was one of the Squadron’s officers, Lieutenant Jason Mavrikis.
Anders thus took part in raids on Crete, Nisiros, Leros, Calchi, Samos, Kalimnos, Symi, Santorini and Paros.
Reading the story of his actions what stands out is his capacity to lead by example and to inspire his men. One could say he was a soldier’s soldier. Personally brave, he was always in the thick of combat.
During his raid on the German-controlled airport at Heraklion on Crete in June 1943 and despite his force being discovered, Anders renewed his attack until he had succeeded in destroying many aircraft and thousands of gallons of fuel. Aided by the local resistance, his bravery saw him christened Spiro by the Cretan resistance.
On Symi in September 1943, his men recalled how Anders would lead them silently through the narrow village lanes, wearing only sand-shoes, surprising his German enemies marching through the town in their hobnailed boots. It was here that Anders’ men said that he could smell the presence of the enemy.
It was also on Symi that Anders famed loyalty came to the fore. When the Italians murdered the local priest for supporting the Allies, Anders was given permission to return to the Island on a personal mission of retribution for the murder of his friend. He made sure that those who had killed the priest did not survive.
By the time he came to Thessaloniki in 1944, Anders had been promoted in the field to the rank of Major. And his bravery in action had seen him awarded the Military Cross and three Military Crosses.
October 1944 saw Anders and his men in Athens. The Germans were in retreat across Greece. Yet major forces remained, continuing in their fight against both the resistance and advancing Allied forces.
In their wake the Germans were wreaking havoc with Greece’s remaining infrastructure and exploding surplus war materials.
A large force remained in Thessaloniki, including armoured units and hundreds of troops. Thessaloniki had been one of the main German occupation centres in Greece.
Anders had soon volunteered to take his forty-strong band of fighters to Thessaloniki. His orders were to observe and communicate the situation back to Allied command.
But this would never do. After landing at a small port to the south of the city boundary in the early hours of the 26th October, Anders commenced active reconnaissance tours of the city itself, capturing German prisoners and contacting the local resistance.
Anders would take part in these reconnaissance missions himself. Anders and his friend, Lieutenant Mavrikis, dressed as civilians. On one occasion, they took on the role of local chicken sellers as they drove through the streets of the city. I’m not sure how convincing a disquise this was – given Anders’ tall, blond and blue-eyed appearance would have made. But being discovered didn’t seem to deter him.
Seeing the Germans planning to destroy even more of the important port facilities, Anders coordinated with the local resistance and hatched his plan to drive the Germans from the city.
The Germans had already blocked the mouth of the harbor with sunken ships and destroyed the breakwater and other facilities. And although the resistance in the city controlled much of the surrounding area of the city, they had not felt sufficiently strong to attack the Germans established in the city itself.
Anders employed one of his regular tactics. He ordered his men to move around the enemy in small groups, giving the impression that they were confronted by a larger force than they actually where. They fired off anti-tank weapons in high arcs across the city to scare the Germans.
Seeking the German’s surrender, Anders informed them that a 30,000 strong Allied force was about to arrive at Thessaloniki – another bluff.
By the night of the 28th October Anders and his men, assisted by the resistance, had gathered much information about German dispositions in the city and the low morale of the enemy.
And so on the morning of the 29th Anders implemented his liberation plan for Thessaloniki – Operation Undercut.
The liberation commenced with an act typical of Anders’ improvisation.
Lacking vehicles, he commandeered local fire engines and at least one horse, positioning his armed men on the vehicles. Along with the local resistance, this motley-looking force entered the city outskirts, led by Anders and Jason – accompanied by Ander’ dog, Pipo the Lion of Leros – in their only army vehicle – his jeep.
Soon they were surrounded by cheering civilians – until German snipers began to fire on the force. And soon Anders and his men could hear explosions from the western edge of the city.
Anders and his force engaged the Germans and made their way towards the sound of the explosions. Soon a deadly fire fight took place with the main German force, as they sought to destroy a massive petrol dump at the western edge of the city. The fuel depot was saved and over twenty Germans were killed – Anders despatching eight himself – for only one Allied soldier injured.
The remaining Germans slipped away in the night and by the following morning – the 30th October – Thessaloniki’s occupation was at an end. Soon Greek and British flags festooned the city. Lassen telegraphed Allied headquarters:
“I have the honour to report that I am in Saloniki.”
From the moment the liberation force had entered the city they were met by cheering and welcoming crowds, jubilant at the coming end of the occupation nightmare. Girls bombarded them with flowers, older residents brought out wine, cheese and ouzo, fire bells rang, the locals cheered and the soldiers sang. Anders and his men are reported to have been:
“… garlanded with flowers by the exuberant population and carried through the main thoroughfares of the liberated city.”
For a week Anders was the Allied governor of Thessaloniki, based at the Hotel Mediterranean, near the waterfront. One soldier described the scene as he arrived at the Hotel:
“Anders himself, with his extraordinary good lucks, standing like some Norseman of old at the helm of his raider, waved greeting to us from a sun-drenched balcony.”
The last word can be left to Anders’ comrade – the Greek soldier Lieutenant Jason Mavrikis – who wrote of the liberation:
“The whole of Salonika was in the streets and Anders Lassen was something to the local people, because the day before he had negotiated with the Germans and he really managed to save large and important installations, especially the harbor.”
After service on Crete, Anders would leave Greece and take part in the liberation of northern Italy. It was here in April 1945 that Anders – only twenty-four years old – would be killed, leading his men in an assault and earning himself the Victoria Cross – the only SAS member as well as non-Commonwealth soldier to be so awarded in the Second World War.
The Victoria Cross would join his many other medals.
It will be no surprise – given Anders’ role in the liberation of Thessaloniki and Greece – that he was also awarded the Medal of the Greek Sacred Squadron.
I hope I have given you a sense of Anders’ personal bravery and the key role he played in the liberation of Thessaloniki.
Time and again Anders showed the capacity to overcome any personal fears and place himself in danger for the safety of others and for a greater cause. We should not forget the unique personal qualities that are demonstrated by actions such as his.
He was tested many times and he showed a consistent capacity to make the right decision – whatever the danger. It was not for nothing he was dubbed a modern Achilles.
And it was through his brave leadership and daring, that he was able to motivate his men – and in combination with the local resistance – force the German departure from Greece’s second city, saving much of the city from destruction.
Anders’ story should be more widely known – as indeed should the story of Greece’s liberation.
Today is a unique event. As far as I am aware this is the first time anywhere in the world that Hellenes have come together – with the Danish community – to honour Anders and his part in the liberation of Thessaloniki. And I hope this might develop into an annual event.
I strongly believe that we should do more to honour the liberation of Greece in 1944 – the bravery of those who resisted the invaders yoke, those who fought to liberate their homeland and those who came to assist them – including Anders Lassen.
In conclusion, I would like to make an appeal to all those from Thessaloniki – and indeed the other parts of Greece connected to Anders. If you have any childhood memories or remember any family stories from the war – I would love to hear them. Most of those who lived through this era are no longer with us. We need to capture as much as we can for future generations.
On a personal note it has been my pleasure to work on this event with Jan Ravnholt, our Danish Honorary Consul General here in Melbourne, as well as Paul and Iakovos of the Thessaloniki Association ‘The White Tower’ and Tony of the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council.
Major Anders Frederik Emil Victor Schau Lassen, VC, MC & Two Bars
I’d like to start by thanking our major sponsors who are the Victorian Multicultural Commission, the Victorian State Government, Delphi Bank, Federation Square and Australian Industrial Systems Institute. Their tremendous support keeps Thessaloniki Association going.
However I would also like to thank Jim Claven who had the idea of this function and did the required research on Major Anders. Finally I would like to thank the Danish House and in particular the honorary Consul General of Denmark Jan Revholt for his assistance and co-operation. Thessaloniki Association has traditionally co-operated and organised events with a number of other ethnic groups in Victoria, which contribute to the promotion and long establishment of multiculturalism in this state.
However if I may address my speech to the first person Major Anders Lassen…
We’re here today to remember your services to the fight for freedom and justice. We’re here to remember your brave deeds and sacrifice. We’re here to pay respects to you and your motherland Denmark for what you have achieved in your short lifespan, more than most people have achieved in a long lifetime.
Here is courage, mankind’s finest possession, here is the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to achieve.
Major Anders Frederik Emil Victor Schau Lassen, VC, MC & Two Bars
The hearts of the Thessaloniki Association “The White Tower” committee and the Greek people the world over are close to your Second World War Operation Postmaster, Operation Albumen and Raid on Santorini brave deeds. The Greek people would like to thank you, the Greek people would like to extend our respects to your family, the town you were born in Copenhagen and your country of origin Denmark.
For there is no greater deed than to die for one’s beliefs and country. For there is not greater deed than to die young and die fighting the honourable cause. As one of the greatest Greek poets by the name Lorenzos Mavilis said, who died in the First World War fighting in the front line in Nov 1912, 105 years ago. As he was dying in battle in Epiros Mavilis uttered the words: “I never knew that I would have the honour to die for my country.”
And it is an honour, for some the greatest, to fight and die in battle for your country. It is an honour that only the brave have the privilege to endure. It is an honour that it does not and it should not go unnoticed. These are the actions of heroes. These were also the actions of the ancient Spartans who had the saying: “You should reach the limits of virtue, before you cross the border to death.”. Spartans also said: “How much finer it is to die victorious in the battle-line than to win at the Olympic games and live!”
Major Anders Lassen
You bowed in front of no man. No man has ever driven you from your honorary goals. No man has been able to silence you. And today we’re here to recollect on your valiant efforts that should become an example of bravery to our young men and an example of splendour to our historians.
We salute you!
Iakovos Garivaldis OAM