The military base of Eleusis was established in 1937. It was a disaster for the local farmers since it led to a dramatic decline in production. Large tracts of arable land were confiscated without compensation from their owners for the needs of the airport. In less than twelve months Eleusis lost 600 hectares of fertile farmland and 70% of its agricultural production capacity. Most producers lost their livelihood and the means to support their families as they had done for many generations. The construction of the base also obliterated a significant section of the Roman aqueduct that supplied Eleusis with water in antiquity.
Marmaduke Thomas St John Pattle
The first units of the Royal Hellenic Air Force arrived at the airport in 1940, soon though they were forced to move to airbases further north as a result of the Greco-Italian War. In November 1940 Eleusis became home to Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons sent in fulfillment of Britain’s pledge to aid Greece in the event of a threat to its independence.
Among the international group of fighter pilots who flocked to Eleusis was the acclaimed Marmaduke Thomas St John Pattle. He was a famous South African flying ace who was credited with personally shooting down up to forty enemy planes. Nevertheless, his skills could not save him on 20 April 1941 (Adolph Hitler’s birthday). Even though he was suffering from a high fever and influenza, he got into his fighter aircraft and took off from the airport at Eleusis to defend allied ships in the port of Piraeus against a German air raid. He fought valiantly, but he was shot down in flames and he perished in Eleusis bay.
In search of “volunteers”
The Germans took advantage of the airport’s strategic location during the occupation of Greece, but the Allies did everything they could to make their lives more difficult. The constant bombardment wrecked the facilities and the runways, so the Germans forced the people of Eleusis to repair the devastation. In March 1943, the Occupation Authorities set up a blockade in present-day Iroon Politechniou street, right in front of the Morphopoulos mansion, to find 25 workers to repair the most recent damages at the airport. When the Germans finally left Eleusis (and Greece) in 1944, they took care to completely destroy the airport facilities.
The return of the king
The airport reopened in 1946 as the Eleusis Air Base. King George II landed here on September 28, 1946, following the referendum on maintaining the monarchy that was held on 1 September. The king had been evacuated to Egypt as the German army approached Athens in April 1941 and spent many years of exile in Great Britain. Upon his arrival to Eleusis, the king headed to the port and boarded a destroyer, where he spent the night awaiting the official welcome ceremony that was scheduled for the next day in Faliro.
Ike in Eleusis
In 1951 the airport was rebuilt and upgraded to meet NATO’s specifications and requirements. For many years it served as the site of official welcome for foreign dignitaries. On March 7, 1952, Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Europe, paid an official visit. Ike arrived at Eleusis on a torpedo boat. The bay was full of Greek warships and submarines. The general inspected air force units and anti-aircraft artillery on the beach of Eleusis, while squadrons of the Royal Hellenic Air Force flew over the city and formed Eisenhower’s initials (D and A) as well as those of NATO. The visit concluded with an inspection of military units at the airbase and a small reception at the Aviation Club.
In March 1953 the Eleusis Air Base became home to the 112 Combat Wing. Today it accommodates the V.I.P Transport Squadron, Tactical Transport squadrons and Search and Rescue squadrons. There are also housing facilities for air force officers and their families.
Airport and the city
The airport, though far enough away from downtown Eleusis, has a direct impact on the local community. The flight path to the airport for planes arriving from the sea is directly above the Kalymbaki area, a wetland to the east of the city. There are height restrictions for buildings in this area to allow planes to land easily. Accidents do occur though. On January 23, 1992, a Grumman HU-16 Albatross (a large amphibious flying boat) crashed near the 7th Elementary School of Eleusis. All three crew members perished in the accident. There is also a significant environmental impact from airplane emissions, as well as a challenge posed by aircraft noise.