The fortress complex of Ehinos is one of the 21 fortresses of the Metaxas Line, built during the 1936-41 timeframe. It is located on the hills over the homonymous village, a few kilometers south of the Greek – Bulgarian border, in the mountainous region of Xanthi. During the German invasion in 1941 it resisted for four days against the attacking forces of the 164th Infantry Division, almost completely surrounded and surrendered only after the available ammunition was depleted.
The complex consisted of four independent fortresses, named “Σ” (Sigma), “M” (Mi), “Isaurus” (after the Byzantine dynasty) and “Anarrotirion” (Infirmary). Unlike the rest of the Line’s complexes, the fortresses lacked of underground communication. Built in three underground levels, the total length of its tunnels was 1229 meters. Theoretically, its wartime force was consisting of 26 officers and 806 NCOs and enlisted men, with an armament of 2 75mm, 1 20mm AA and 2 37mm AT guns, 4 mortars, 46 MGs, 18 LMGs and 43 grenade launchers. The reality was different though: On April 6, 1941, the garrison consisted of only 20 officers and 645 ORs, under the command of Infantry Major Christos Drakousis, while at least the 2 AT guns had been removed and transferred to the Albanian Front along with specialist personnel.
At dawn of April 6, the defenders of Ehinos watched the flares of the forward border posts lighting the sky, signaling the beginning of the German invasion, manning their posts with shouts of excitement. Later that morning, they watched motorcyclists and infantrymen of the II/382 Battalion approaching the fortress . The garrison opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans, who stopped their advance, waiting for armor and artillery support, which was late, due to the necessary repairs that had to be made on the destroyed bridges of the area, before attempting to attack during the night. Two companies reached the fortress and engaged in close and even hand to hand combat, before being repelled.
On April 7, the Germans had already flanked the fortress from the west and were fighting their way along the river Nestos to the city of Xanthi. The attack against the fortress commenced again, with the cover of artillery and aerial bombardments. Although the artillery pieces aimed directly against the bunkers’ MG emplacements, these were still resisting and their crews were inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking infantry and engineers. The close combat was fierce, with the defenders returning the hand grenades thrown on their positions. During that night, the German engineers tried clearing their way to “M”, with flame throwers and explosives, but were again repelled. The last fortress of the Line, “Nymphaea”, in the east, had in the meantime been captured. “Ehinos” was resisting alone.
On April 8, the German effort was concentrated against “M”, which was the weaker fortress of the complex. The fight continued until the afternoon, with the two sides engaging once more in close and hand to hand combat. The Germans managed to reach the top of “M” and blow up some of the surface works and tunnels, gaining entry to them. The fight continued in the narrow tunnels, but the remaining force (about 60 men) were forced to surrender, after an attack with smoke grenades, causing asphyxia, and having their ammunition depleted. The Greeks counterattacked during the night, trying to recapture “M”, but they were forced to retreat. A further smoke grenade / gas attack was launched against the “Infirmary”, the men of which retreated to “Isaurus”.
The remaining fortresses were trying to repel the attacking Germans, but the ammunition was running low and the heavy weapons had been rendered useless by the direct artillery hits and the heavy fighting. The CO gathered his officers later that night and announced his decision to abandon the complex. The remaining force would carry all the wounded and move west, to continue the fight on the left bank of the river Nestos. Carrying out the order, the men abandoned their posts in order and moved to the next village, “Kentavros”, where they were informed that the fortress had been flanked from all sides and was resisting alone almost for a day, as the Germans had already reached Xanthi, 30km south.
With everything lost, the majority of the defenders of Ehinos had no other option than to surrender, although some of them managed to make their way to the south and continue fighting in the mainland and Crete. The CO of the 164th Infantry Division congratulated Major Drakousis, saying that “You are a brave army and deserve of a better fate”.
As the original purpose of the Metaxas’ Line was to defend Northern Greece against Bulgaria after the Greek – Bulgarian and the First World War, the Bulgarian Occupying Army had a chance to destroy the Fortresses that were located in the zone that was handed over to them by the Germans. The initial idea was to completely destroy the complexes, but since the cost for such an operation was extremely high, it was confined to the destruction of the independent surface positions and the entrances to the tunnels.
During the 1946-49 Civil War, Ehinos was the base of the governmental 555 and 559 Infantry Battalions. Some troops were stationed on the hill during the 1974 mobilization and some works were restored during the last years of the Cold War. The fortresses are now abandoned and only one, “Σ”, is in a relatively good condition.
The village of Ehinos during the '30s.
View of the fortified hill from the North.
Exterior views of "Σ"
Monument with the names of the fallen, near the entrance of “Σ”. The concrete comes from the destroyed fortifications.
One of the two reconstructed entrances of "Σ".
The second entrance.
Wartime machine gun position.
Blown up surface works.
Blown up surface works.
A Cold War addition: M24 “Chaffee” turret as static defense, on top of “Σ”.
Inside "Σ" First level
Interior of the M24 turret.
Stairs to the second level.
On the road to "Isaurus" and the "Infirmary"
View to the North, to the direction of the German attack. It’s easy to understand why the location was chosen as a fortified defensive spot.
Blown up surface work on the right of the road, heading to “Isaurus” and “Infirmary”
View to the east from the top of “Isaurus”. You can see the entrance of a surface MG position. It’s also easy to see how protected the flanks were.
View of the “Infirmary” from the top of “Isaurus”.