In September 1943, the British occupied the Italian held Dodecanese Islands in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Germans saw this as an attempt to force neutral Turkey to side with the Allies. In a lightning swift air, ground and naval campaign, the Germans retook most of the islands, including the largest, Rhodes. In spite of Allied air and naval superiority everywhere else in the Mediterranean, the British had 5000 badly needed troops trapped on the island of Leros. Prior to the German offensive, that the Axis could trap Allied troops anywhere in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1943 was considered unfathomable.
The German hold on the area was so secure that several evacuation attempts resulted in severe losses to British aircraft and ships. On 12 November 1943, the Germans landed and captured the entire garrison. The prisoners included the trapped entireties of the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Boat Squadron, and almost all of the veteran, elite, and storied British raiding forces from the campaigns in North Africa and the Aegean.
After the war, the evacuation of the trapped British soldiers on Leros would be the ultimate objective for the protagonists in the Alistair MacLean novel, “The Guns of Navarone” whose ending was much more palatable for American and British audiences. The novel was made into the blockbuster 1961 movie of the same name starring Anthony Quinn, David Niven and Gregory Peck. These fictionalized versions of the events in the Aegean in late 1943 gave a new meaning to the phrase, “Based on a True Story”.