The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, launched on 20th July 1974, was the response to a Greek military junta backed coup in Cyprus. The coup had been staged by the Cypriot National Guard whose leaders deposed the Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios III, and installed Nikos Sampson in his place. The Turkish invasion, code named Operation "Attila", took place in two stages with the invading forces landing off the northern coast of the island around Kyrenia. By the time a ceasefire was agreed three days later, Turkish troops held 37% of the territory of Cyprus and over five thousand Greek Cypriots had fled their homes. The fighting finally ended only in Aug 1974, when Turkey announced the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that only Turkey recognises.
Being a former colonial power with close ties and interests in Cyprus, Britain considered sending troops to Cyprus to reinstate Archbishop Makarios as President. The incident, however, escalated into a major crisis with Moscow backing Greece, and the United States (and NATO) supporting the Turkish military intervention. Consequently, the British government went for the option of evacuating British citizens from the embattled country. There were up to 13,000 dependants of British service personnel in two Sovereign base areas at Dhekelia and Akrotiri in Cyprus and a few thousand more expatriates and tourists of British origin on the island at the time. Hermes, exercising in the Mediterranean with 41 Commando Group embarked, was despatched at the head of a naval task force to conduct operations off Cyprus on 16th July 1974. This operation was code named "Mercy"
Hermes arrived off Cyprus on 17TH July 1974 at the head of the naval task group comprising of HM ships Andromeda, Devonshire and Rhyl and RFA Olna, with the primary aim being to get all civilians to safety. 41 Commando's advance party landed in Dhekelia on the evening of 20th July 1974 with the aim of securing the Sovereign base areas and receiving thousands of refugees who were being diverted there to escape the fighting. The fighting was particularly bitter in the north near Kyrenia with over 1500 refugees fleeing to the beaches where they hoped to find refuge. Their plight on the open beaches grew progressively worse due to lack of shelter and water and two refugees were killed by gunfire, whilst a number of others were wounded. On 23rd July 1974, when Captain Branson, the Commanding Officer of Hermes learnt of their plight, he took the task force into the Turkish war zone off Kyrenia to evacuate British and other nationals stranded there.
Originally it had been planned to use the ships LCVP's and other boats to do the job. As Hermes closed the coast signs of the fighting were clearly visible with Turkish aircraft bombing hill-sides and artillery fire being heard for miles. Shortly before the boats were to be lowered, the weather deteriorated and, more worryingly, reports came in that the approaches to the beaches had been mined. It was then decided to use Wessex helicopters of 845 Squadron to do the bulk of the evacuation, with LCVPs providing the back up service.
The injured were evacuated first and treated in the sick bay. Initially it was planned to billet the refugees in the commando mess decks, but as their number rose to over 900, other accommodation had to be organised. The refugees remained on board overnight whist Hermes steamed south to Akrotiri. The communications staff sent hundreds of telegrams by morse code to inform friends and relatives about the safety of their loved ones. One telegram sent by an American lady just read "Thank God for the British Navy". A Cypriot woman refugee, who had given birth two days earlier to a baby girl, was moved enough to name her daughter Hermoula.... the feminine form of Hermes.
In all, the task group led by Hermes evacuated 7,526 people, 5,171 of them being British nationals. Hermes alone accounted for an impressive 919 refugees. After disembarking the refugees on 24th July, Hermes re-embarked 41 Commando by LCVP and returned to Malta.
For their part in the evacuation, Rear Admiral Cassidi, FOCAS, sent the following signal to units involved in operation Mercy, "Your well conducted operation has been widely acclaimed and reflects the highest traditions of naval service and support for those in danger. I am delighted by the way all concerned rose to the occasion during such an anxious period. Well Done".
Remember it well. Missed a family wedding due to being sent to Cyprus. My stepmother wrote to the Queen to try and get me sent home. Fortunately she was told i was on active service and could not be released. Wouldn't have missed it just for a wedding!!
we were due to disembark 41 Commando and then head for home. We eventually got home about 3 weeks later. We were laughing all the way to the bank, retaining North American LOA, until just before heading home.
I was ships RM Detachment crewman on H1. We had to go to the beaches to pick up Brits. In WHITE overalls. We were like aiming marks. Claim to fame, we picked up Edward Woodward "Callan"
I was tanky on there at that time
When we first arrived at new York on 1/7/74 I was duty tanky. We berthed next to QE2. I started to take on water after flushing the shoreside water (brown in colour) for over an hour.
I finished my watch making sure I’d passed on that we bringing on fresh water and logged it in the duty book. I was now 24 off. When I was next in duty I went to go down to the after tanks to do my dips and found out we were still bringing on water. The whole of the compartment was flooded and had started to come up the ladder tube.
The duty tanky is supposed to take dips on an hourly basis regardless of use. No one had checked for over 24 hrs.
In that compartment was 2 fire main pumps, a fuel transfer pump and fresh water supply pump. In a side door was the “secret map store” and next to that a seacat magazine. There was also 2 fuel tanks (I think- I know there was one, it might have been to fresh water tanks. Luckily the caps were screwed on to the sounding tube so the was no contamination of the fuel.
At off caps my relief, Steve nevard got a £10 fine along with all the other duty tankers but because I’d logged it in the book I got a £5 fine.
On the 6/7/74 we sailed for cyprus at quite high revs and everything was shaking in the engine and boiler rooms. It took the DB dept and greenies a couple of days to get all the machinery running again. It could have been worse if there’d been water in the ffo.
At one point we were going at full speed, memory fails me but that might have been from Malta after picking up the booties. That was bloody scary down engine and boiler rooms.
As regards getting the people off the island and aboard many duty men were detailed in helping them, often over helping if it was a young lady..
I was on one of the LCVP’s it was awful in those white ovies
I was watchkeeping on 8N TA and Steam Driven Air Conditioning plant. I remember going up on the Stbd waste for a breath of freshers before going below for a long middle and talking to an old fellow from Basingstoke we had lifted off the beach. He was saying that he had just retired and this was the first foreign holiday he and his wife had ever been on. He said they were in their hotel when the invasion started and that the window came in on top of them. He then said how they got to the beach to be evacuated. I said you must be really hacked off. No he said we should have been home 2 days ago and we're still here and I've never been on a RN Warship before.
I remember it as I was there looking after people inside the hanger