Georgios Plionis, the legendary Greek pilot who flew in 167 successful missions in World War II and Korea, passed away at age 101 on April 20.
Entering the Air Force academy
Georgios Plionis was born on March 17, 1920 in Kymi, Evia and he enrolled in the Hellenic Air Force Academy in 1939.
“Ever since I was a child, when I was in elementary school, I used to watch the planes in the sky and that made me want to fly too. It was my dream,” he once told the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency.
Against his father’s objection to join the air force academy, he forged his signature on the parental permission papers required.
“In order to be able to submit my papers, I forged my father’s signature, that would alloe me to take part in the entry exams. I took the exam twice. The first time was in 1938. I was rejected by the health committee because I was too thin,” he said.
The second time I passed the health committee evaluation. We were 1,200 candidates competing for 25 places. I came 14th,” Plionis said.
Fighting the Germans in North Africa
Just a year after Plionis entered the Air Force Academy, World War II broke out. Plionis was in the second year of studies, and with the rest of his fellow aspiring pilots he was transferred to Argos to complete his flight training.
After the Germans invaded Greece in April 1941, he was transferred to the British Royal Air Force (RAF) air base in Hamdan, Iraq, for training in their modern fighter jets, called Hurricanes.
He began serving in the 335th Fighter Squadron there, in the first Greek fighting squadron to be formed in the desert of the North African front and to take part in the legendary battle of El Alamein.
Plionis recounted his stay in North Africa at a time when his squadron was chasing the troops of Nazi Germany’s General Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Rat”:
“Our daily food ration was a can of meat, a rusk that was so hard that we had to put it in water to soften and a water canteen.”
The Greek pilot and his dog
The first time Georgios Plionis faced death was on February 12, 1943, during his flight with a Hurricane fighter.
Before boarding the warplane, his dog, Max, was barking constantly and biting his uniform, trying to prevent him from climbing in. The Greek pilot tried to chase him away, but Max insisted. The dog looked incredibly anxious.
During the flight, and while Plionis was quite high in the sky, the weather changed abruptly. Rain, low clouds and limited visibility brought the Greek pilot in a state of grave danger.
The situation worsened when a reconnaissance flare exploded inside his aircraft, causing a fire in the cockpit.
The Greek pilot was forced to ditch his Hurricane into the sea, where he was in danger of dying for the second time. For at least half an hour he struggled with the stormy Mediterranean waves.
Luckily for him, an Allied warplane spotted his Hurricane and rescued him.
Death knocks again
The second time Plionis came close to death was on June 30, 1944. This time he was flying a British Spitfire on an escort mission.
Suddenly, the engine failed and he was forced to abandon mission and fall into the sea, once again. This time, the sea was calm and his rescue from an Allied ship was immediate.
A few years after the end of World War II, in October 1951, Plionis was sent to Korea, where he took command of the 13th Transport Squadron, with seven C-47 aircraft, also known as “Dakotas.”
It was then that the Greek pilot faced death for the third time. During take off from Seoul Airport, one of the engines went out. The control tower instructed him to land using the only runway.
However, at the same time, on the other side of the runway, an American four-engine warplane was about to take off. At the last moment, the tower ordered the American aircraft to abort its take off. The two aircraft avoided collision by only seconds.
End of Plionis’ air force career
Georgios Plionis was tragically kicked out of the Hellenic Air Force during the time of the military dictatorship after he refused to cooperate with the 1967-1974 regime.
In 1970, authorities denied him a passport and barred him from buying goods from stores catering to active and retired military personnel — and even refused him medical care in military hospitals.
In 1975, after democracy was restored, he was awarded the rank of Lieutenant General and in 1981 the rank of Major General. The legendary Greek pilot was honored with more than 24 Greek and foreign medals during his lifetime.
Plionis was the founder of the first association of aviation veterans in Greece, established in 1984.