The History of Nicosia Airport

July 20th 1974

On the morning of the 20th July, Turkish forces began their military operation in Cyprus. The invading forces came in by sea, by parachute drop and helicopter operations.
There were three main aims.......establish a bridgehead (to include Kyrenia port), cross the Kyrenia mountains to link up with the Turkish Cypriot enclaves north of Nicosia and the capture of Nicosia International Airport.

From just after 5am, the airport and Greek/Greek Cypriot camps in the area came under attack from the Turkish Air Force. They appeared to concentrate on cratering the runways and not destroying the infrastructure (which they obviously hoped to use themselves). 

Bombs exploding at Nicosia International Airport and an attacking F-104 

A parachute drop had been planned to capture the airport but confusion led to the troops being widely spread......a fact that probably saved the airport from capture. Although the lightly armed paratroopers quickly consolidated, they were unable to advance towards the airport due to the superior firepower of the Greek defenders. However, other information relates that the capture of the airport was an objective to be achieved on 'Day 3'.

During this first day, the anti-aircraft and ground defences were strengthened and the runways were partially obstructed by airport equipment and even Cyprus Airways jets. This appears to be a somewhat confusing set of circumstances.........each side trying to prevent the use of the airport by the other whilst maintaining the option to use the facilities for themselves.

Items of airport equipment and a Cyprus Airways Trident block the runway on the 20th July 1974
There were at least two jets used.....5B-DAE at the threshold of runway 14/32 and the one in the picture near the intersection of 09/27 & 14/32

Passengers unable to leave prior to the 20th were, in the main, evacuated by the UN to the Blue Beret Camp. Although some 1500m away from the terminal, this camp was within the airport area and not completely safe. Some tourists and the majority of airport workers were seeking shelter in Camp UNFICYP, a location next to the terminal and vulnerable to misdirected airstrikes.

Amazingly, the UN were able to negotiate with the National Guard Major in charge of defending the airport to avoid placing defensive assets closer than 50m to any UN camp perimeter.

During this first day, Camp UNFICYP had been hit by rocket, bomb and cannon fire. A napalm bomb started a serious fire and a REME Sergeant was wounded. Mortar rounds had also landed inside the Blue Beret Camp, fortunately without causing any injuries.

At the end of the 20th July the Turkish forces had established a bridgehead but failed to take Kyrenia harbour or join up with the additional 5000+ troops who now reinforced the enlarged enclaves north of Nicosia. The airport was still in Greek/Greek Cypriot hands.