These days, we have early warning alarms for tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and even tsunamis, but on July 21, 365, no such warnings existed, not did any kind of measuring tools so we could know the magnitude of the earthquake that caused tsunamis, or the height of the tsunami itself. Nevertheless, it is known that a powerful earthquake off the coast of Greece caused a tsunami that devastated the city of Alexandria, Egypt.
In spite of the lack of measuring tools at the time, scientists can now estimate that the earthquake was actually two quakes in quick succession. It is estimated that the largest of those quakes was about a magnitude of 8.0. That magnitude of quake is massive by any standards, and it must have been very scary for anyone who might have felt it. It’s hard to say how many people actually felt it, because of its oceanic location, but even if no one felt the quake, they very much felt the aftereffects of that quake. The really tragic thing was that they had no idea what was coming their way, how very dangerous it was, or even that they should run when they saw it coming. I’m sure that they had seen tides come in and go out, and even storms bringing big wave onto the shore. So, it is very possible that they thought this was not that different than those things, except for it not being time for the tide and there was no storm. They likely just stood there looking at this strange phenomenon, until it took them all out.
The quake was centered near a plate boundary called the Hellenic Arc. Following the quake, a wall of water ran across the Mediterranean Sea toward the Egyptian coast. As happens in tsunamis, the water first recedes, and then comes crashing back. As the water in the harbor receded, ships docked at Alexandria suddenly overturned. As often happens in a disaster, it was reported that many people rushed out to loot the overturned ships. That put even more people in harm’s way. The tsunami wave then rushed in and carried the ships over the sea walls, landing many on top of buildings. The people were trapped, and in Alexandria alone, on that one day, approximately 5,000 people lost their lives, and 50,000 homes were destroyed.
The destruction was even greater in the surrounding villages and towns. Many of these small villages were literally wiped of the face of the earth. Outside of Alexandria, 45,000 people were killed. The salty sea water, inundation the farmlands, rendering them useless for years. From what scientists are able to piece together, the area’s shoreline was permanently changed by the disaster. The tsunami continued on, slowly, but steadily overtaking the buildings of Alexandria’s Royal Quarter. The main reason that the archaeologists learned about this horrific event was that in 1995 that archaeologists actually discovered the ruins of the old city, which lies off the coast of present-day Alexandria. With the changed shoreline following the tsunami, many of the old buildings remained under water for centuries.
When Hitler began his reign of terror, he fully expected that he would meet with little resistance from the people he was attempting to control, but that really never turned out to be the case. Even some of those who aligned themselves with him at first, rebelled later. Hitler found that out when, on November 18, 1940, he met with Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano over Mussolini’s disastrous invasion of Greece.
Mussolini had led Hitler to believe that he had no intention of attempting to invade Greece. Then, he surprised everyone with a attempted invasion of Greece. Even his ally…Hitler, was caught off guard, since Mussolini had led Hitler to believe he had no such intention. Even Mussolini’s own chief of army staff only found out about the invasion after the fact!!
Mussolini was warned against trying to invade Greece. Everyone around him knew that the Greek people were determined to hold onto their freedom, and that the Italian Army was woefully unprepared for such an attack. Even his own generals warned of a lack of preparedness on the part of his military. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that it would mean getting bogged down in a mountainous country during the rainy season against an army willing to fight tooth and nail to defend its autonomy, Mussolini moved ahead mostly out of sheer arrogance, convinced he could defeat the “inferior Greeks” in a matter of days. He also knew a secret, that millions of Lire (The primary unit of currency in Italy, Malta, San Marino, and the Vatican City before the adoption of the Euro) had been put aside to bribe Greek politicians and generals not to resist the Italian invasion. The whole bribe idea didn’t work out too well, however. Whether the money ever made it past the Italian fascist agents delegated with the responsibility is unclear, but if it did, it clearly made no difference. The Greeks pushed the Italian invaders back into Albania after just one week. The whole operation was a miserable failure, and the Italians spent the next three months fighting for life in a fierce, defensive battle. To make matters worse, about half the Italian fleet had been crippled by a British carrier-based attack at Taranto.
A furious Hitler severely criticized Ciano at their meeting in Obersalzberg, for opening an opportunity for the British to enter Greece and establish an airbase in Athens. That put the Brits within striking distance of valuable oil reserves in Romania that Hitler needed for his war machine. Hitler now had to divert forces from North Africa, a high strategic priority, to Greece in order to bail Mussolini out. He actually considered leaving the Italians to fight their own way out of the mess, and considered making peace with the Greeks as a way of forestalling an Allied intervention. Nevertheless, Germany would have to invade, in April 1941, thereby adding Greece to its list of conquests…whether Hitler wanted to or not. That put the Brits within striking distance of valuable oil reserves in Romania that Hitler needed for his war machine. Hitler now had to divert forces from North Africa, a high strategic priority, to Greece in order to bail Mussolini out. He actually considered leaving the Italians to fight their own way out of the mess, and considered making peace with the Greeks as a way of forestalling an Allied intervention. Nevertheless, Germany would have to invade, in April 1941, thereby adding Greece to its list of conquests…whether Hitler wanted to or not.
There was, during the Second World War, a somewhat strange and almost morbid plan that was concocted to dupe the Germans into believing that the Allies were going to invade Greece in 1943, when in fact, they were going to invade Sicily, some 500 miles away. The success of the mission really depended on the element of surprise, and in the end, the Allies needed something that would be believable to the Germans.
The thing that made the operation morbid was that in the end, they would use a dead body to bring about their deception. In their plan a body was dumped in the sea, to be discovered by Axis forces, carrying fake secret documents suggesting the invasion would be staged in Greece. They were a bit shocked when their plan worked, but work it did. The German troops were diverted to Greece, and Operation Mincemeat became a huge success, but even after it was over, it remained a source of secrecy, confusion, and conspiracy theory. The biggest source of confusion being…just who was this man who was found floating in the ocean, and how did he really die? For most people, the operation remains a mystery to this day, but one man believes that he now knows the true identity of the man found floating in the ocean.
In the 1956 film called “The Man Who Never Was,” one historian claims to have finally established beyond any reasonable doubt the identity of the person who played the part of the dead man, He believes he was a homeless Welshman named Glyndwr Michael. The body, which was given the identity of a fake Royal Marine, Major William Martin, was dropped into the sea off Spain in 1943. Winston Churchill had remarked that “Anyone but a bloody fool would know it was Sicily”, but after the tides carried Major Martin’s body into the clutches of Nazi agents, Hitler and his High Command became convinced Greece was the target. “You can forget about Sicily. We know it’s in Greece,” proclaimed General Alfred Jodl, head of the German supreme command operations staff.
“Mincemeat swallowed, rod, line and sinker” was the message sent to Churchill after the Allies learned the plot had worked. In recent years, there have been repeated claims that Mincemeat’s chief planner, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, was so intent on deceiving the Germans that he stole the body of a crew member from HMS Dasher, a Royal Navy aircraft carrier which exploded off the Scottish coast in March 1943, and lied to the dead man’s relatives. In 2003, a documentary based on 14 years of research by former police officer Colin Gibbon claimed that ‘Major Martin’ was Dasher sailor Tom Martin. Then in 2004, official sanction appeared to be given to another candidate, Tom Martin’s crewmate John Melville. At a memorial service on board the current HMS Dasher, a Royal Navy patrol vessel, off the coast of Cyprus, Lieutenant Commander Mark Hill named Mr Melville as Major Martin, describing him as “a man who most certainly was”. Mr Melville’s daughter, Isobel Mackay, later told The Scotsman newspaper: “I feel very honored if my father saved 30,000 Allied lives.” I don’t suppose that we will ever know who the man really was, without exhuming his body, and that hardly seems right. Whoever he was, his family can rest assured that he saved many lives that day.