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Cyprus, 1954-2008Cyprus, 1954-2008

Members of 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) assist the police during a house search, c1957

01. EOKA uprising

In the early 1950s the majority Greek-Cypriot population of Cyprus had been demanding Enosis, or union with Greece. The British, who had administered Cyprus since 1878, ruled this out in 1954 as it planned to transfer its Suez military headquarters to Cyprus. This led Colonel George Grivas's EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) to begin a guerrilla campaign aimed at driving the British out.

Members of 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) assist the police during a house search, c1957
NAM. 2000-03-178-54

Street riot in Nicosia, 1956

02. Emergency

In 1955 Grivas organised anti-British riots and when EOKA launched a series of terrorist attacks, the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, declared a state of emergency. Following the example of Malaya, Harding tried to co-ordinate the activities of the civil, military and police authorities, with the specific aim of collecting and processing intelligence.

Street riot in Nicosia, 1956
NAM. 2003-08-60

British soldiers uncover an EOKA arms cache, c1956

03. Policing problems

Grivas enjoyed the support of the majority of the Greek-Cypriot population and information about EOKA and its activities was almost impossible to obtain from them. EOKA also began a campaign of intimidation against the Greek-Cypriot members of the police force.

This made the British rely on Turkish-Cypriot policemen, who were ostracised by the Greek-Cypriots and could provide little information about them.

British soldiers uncover an EOKA arms cache, c1956
NAM. 1992-08-65-68

Men of the 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) with Mk I Ferret Scout Car in the Troodos mountains, 1957

04. EOKA evasive

As a result, although by mid-1956 there were 17,000 British servicemen in Cyprus, the operations they mounted against EOKA were not particularly effective. For example, in June 1956 a major operation in the Troodos Mountains only netted a handful of EOKA members. EOKA kept up the pressure on Britain by extending their campaign to the towns of Cyprus, where they attacked British servicemen and their families. The British response was also hampered by the need to commit troops to an Anglo-French operation in the Suez Canal zone in Egypt.

Men of the 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) with Mk I Ferret Scout Car in the Troodos mountains, 1957
NAM. 1992-08-65-86

EOKA fighter killed in a clash with British troops, July 1958

05. Diplomacy wins

When the garrison on Cyprus was reinforced with troops from Egypt the British enjoyed a little more success. Grivas was forced into hiding and in January 1957 two EOKA leaders, Drakos and Afxentiou, were killed. Their gangs were soon broken up. Eventually diplomatic efforts found a compromise. The Greek-Cypriots abandoned their demands for Enosis and Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960 with Britain retaining control of two Sovereign Base Areas, at Akrotiri and Dhekelia.

EOKA fighter killed in a clash with British troops, July 1958
NAM. 1992-08-65-57

Turkish peacekeeping troops near Famagusta, Cyprus, January 1964

06. Peacekeeping

By December 1963 relations between the majority Greek-Cypriot and the minority Turkish-Cypriot communities had deteriorated. There were armed clashes between the two sides, particularly in Nicosia. Forces from Greece, Turkey and Britain were deployed to keep the peace and a ‘Green Line’ was established to keep the two sides apart.

Turkish peacekeeping troops near Famagusta, Cyprus, January 1964
NAM. 1996-06-157-104

British soldiers enjoy a brew from a NAAFI mobile van, Cyprus, 1964

07. United Nations

In March 1964, United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) replaced the existing peacekeepers. Their mandate was to prevent a recurrence of fighting, maintain law and order and promote a return to normality. Soldiers were drawn from a number of nations including Britain who contributed a battalion of infantry, a reconnaissance squadron, and helicopter flight plus support services.

British soldiers enjoy a brew from a NAAFI mobile van, Cyprus, 1964
NAM. 2000-09-76-965

Gurkhas being briefed before moving out on patrol at the British Sovereign Base of Dhekelia, Cyprus, 1974

08. Coup and invasion

In July 1974 Greek-Cypriot extremists, backed by the Greek military junta, staged a coup in Cyprus. Once again they demanded Enosis. This sparked a Turkish invasion, which overran about 40% of the island. The Greek-Cypriot National Guard responded by attacking Turkish-Cypriot enclaves. UNFICYP was powerless to stop the invasion, but it evacuated foreign nationals and arranged local ceasefires. Reinforced by British troops from the base at Dhekelia, UNFICYP also stopped the Turks from seizing the airport at Nicosia.

Gurkhas being briefed before moving out on patrol at the British Sovereign Base of Dhekelia, Cyprus, 1974
NAM. 1988-09-69-2

Riot control training, Cyprus, c2007 Photograph by Sergeant Fiona Stapley

09. Cyprus divided

Cyprus was now in effect two separate states with UNFICYP policing the 180-mile buffer zone between them, a situation that still exists today. As of 2008, approximately 270 British soldiers serve with UNFICYP on six-month tours. The British oversee Sector 2, which covers the capital Nicosia. It is traditionally the most volatile area, with frequent demonstrations.

Riot control training, Cyprus, c2007. Photograph by Sergeant Fiona Stapley.
NAM. 2007-10-8-70

A British soldier keeps watch from a UN outpost, Cyprus, c2007 Photograph by Sergeant Fiona Stapley

10. Sovereign Base Areas

Covering 98 square miles (157km), the sovereign bases enable Britain to maintain a permanent military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. RAF Akrotiri is an important staging post for military aircraft and also offers communication facilities. The two bases have been used for a variety of military and humanitarian operations. The Army’s presence in Cyprus includes two resident infantry battalions, a Joint Service Signals Unit, a Squadron of Royal Engineers, a unit of the Royal Military Police and an Army Air Corps helicopter flight.

A British soldier keeps watch from a UN outpost, Cyprus, c2007. Photograph by Sergeant Fiona Stapley.
NAM. 2007-10-8-70