The History of Nicosia Airport

July 21st to 22nd 1974

At 05:00hrs the first of many airstrikes against Greek camps and gun positions west of the city began and the airport runways were once more targeted.
The defences of the airport were further strengthened with additional troops, guns and armoured vehicles. Throughout the day, these fresh resources were deployed and re-deployed for maximum effect.

In the late afternoon of the 21st July a road roller and several trucks loaded with asphalt appeared at the airport. As soon as it became dark, the cratered runways were hurriedly repaired. At 0100hrs on the 22nd July, runway lights were tested and a convoy of National Guard vehicles entered the airport area.

Operation 'Niki' (Victory) was about to reach its dramatic conclusion.

A military operation launched by mainland Greek forces was on its way to Cyprus. The plan called for twenty Noratlas and ten Dakota transport aircraft to transport a commando battalion and their equipment to Nicosia Airport.

At 22:30hrs (21st July) they began to depart the Souda airbase on Crete at five minute intervals. For reasons never fully understood (possibly a slipping time scale) only fifteen Noratlas aircraft had departed before the operation was aborted.



A Noratlas and the Commandos of ‘A' Company with their Commanding Officer, Major Georgios Papameletiu before their departure

Approaching Cyprus independently (without sophisticated navigational aids) the aircraft descended to around 50ft, crossed over RAF Akrotiri (sparking an alert), gained height to cross the Troodos mountains and once more descended to approach the airport from the east.



A very short clip from "The History of the Greek Airforce" showing the Noratlas dropping paratroops (not in Cyprus) and a reference to Operation Niki

The Greek aircraft were told that their arrival was expected. Unfortunately, this was not the case and each aircraft came under a barrage of 'friendly' anti-aircraft fire.
The first three aircraft (codename Niki 1/2/3) were damaged but landed their troops and equipment........Niki 3 was later destroyed by the commandos.

Niki 4 was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed near the UN Blue Beret Camp.......killing 32 (4 crew & 28 of the 29 commandos).
It has been reported that the aircraft crashed onto the gun position that shot them down but this isn't corroborated by eye-witness reports.

(For further information see.......Memorial)

Niki 5/6 flew through the gunfire and landed successfully but Niki 7 crash-landed with both engines ablaze. Two commandos were dead with eleven wounded or injured.

The remaining aircraft turned on their lights to show the defenders they were friendly......this had some effect and reports say that the firing ceased or was reduced.
(A lot of weapons were fired by armed civilians over whom the military chain of command had no control)

A further aircraft, Niki 12, was short of fuel and was destroyed on the runway. 



Runway 07 viewed from above and looking east to where Operation Niki approached

The commandos and their equipment were quickly moved from the airport to receive their orders and as one soldier recorded.......
"We try to recuperate from the loss of our friends during the landing. There is no time for thinking, we must get some sleep. It's an unsound sleep and full of nightmares".

During these days of intense activity around the airport, the Turkish forces had succeeded in crossing the Kyrenia range and joining up with their forces around Nicosia. This enabled much needed armoured support to be used in operations around the airport.



Turkish forces cross the Kyrenia range and approach Nicosia and its airport

International pressure was mounting on Turkey to call a ceasefire. Late on the 21st July (or very early on the 22nd), the Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit agreed to a proposed ceasefire that would come into effect at 16:00hrs (Cyprus time) on the 22nd July. This proposal was also accepted by the Greek side.
One line of the agreement read "no reinforcements to be brought into Cyprus after 16:00hrs, 22nd July".
This gave the Turkish forces several hours to gain maximum benefit before the ceasefire deadline........waves of helicopters, further airdrops and shipping brought further resources bringing the number of soldiers in Cyprus to 16,000. There were also around 50 tanks, associated armoured vehicles and some artillery.

At 15:00hrs (on the 22nd July) an exceptionally low level strike on the airport scored nine hits on the runways and at 16:45hrs (after the time of the ceasefire) there was another spectacular action.
A flight of six F-104 Starfighters followed by two F-100 Super Sabres attacked the airport and nearby artillery positions. Twenty bombs hit the runways and the Trident 5B-DAE (parked on the threshold) was destroyed.



The remains of Cyprus Airways Trident 5B-DAE.....the runway threshold markings can clearly be seen in these images

Two bombs and some napalm fell short and hit Camp UNFICYP wounding a British soldier and starting a fire.
A young REME soldier let off a burst of fire at the offending aircraft and was duly charged with...................
"Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, in that he did, without authority, open fire on a Turkish aircraft engaged in dropping bombs on him".
His defence was that when the napalm exploded, somebody had shouted "Fire, fire".........and so he did.
The results of his courts-martial are not known.



The map shows the limited area controlled by the Turkish forces at the time of the agreed ceasefire