Souda Bay is a bay and natural harbour near the town of Souda on the northwest coast of the Greek island of Crete. The bay is about 15 km long and only two to four km wide, and a deep natural harbour. It is formed between the Akrotiri peninsula and Cape Drapano, and runs west to east. The bay is overlooked on both sides by hills, with a relatively low and narrow isthmus in the west near Chania. Near the mouth of Souda bay, between the Akrotiri and the town of Kalives, there is a group of small islands with Venetian fortifications. The largest island is Souda Island, giving its name to the bay.
Souda Bay is now a popular tourist destination although there are no real public beaches due to the presence of the naval base. Villages such as Megala Chorafia and Kalives afford fine views of the bay, and house-building, particularly for foreigners and tourist companies, is spreading along the bay.
Ancient and Medieval
There have been port facilities on the bay since ancient times, previously serving the city of Aptera. Aptera was founded in the 7th Century BC and was an important city during the ancient and early Byzantine periods. It was destroyed by the Saracens in AD 823. The nearest large ancient city was Kydonia, which flourished in the Minoan era on Crete; moreover, during a portion of the first millennium BC Kydonia held influence over Aptera.
The Venetians occupied the area in 1207. In 1571 an Ottoman military force landed at Souda and caused major destruction in the Chania area. The Venetians fortified Souda Island between 1570 and 1573, in order to protect the area from Ottoman raiders and pirates. However, Souda Bay remained a pirate infested area during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The Venetians managed to hold on to the strategic islands within Souda Bay until 1715, over thirty years after the fall of Crete to the Ottomans.
In 1822 an Egyptian army of approximately 10,000 under Hassan Pasha landed at Souda to defeat the Cretan Revolution of 1821.
After the Cretan Revolution of 1866–1869 the Ottomans built fortresses at Aptera and Kalami, barracks, a military hospital and a naval base. They also built the town of Souda at the head of the bay, as the new port of the nearby city of Chania. The fortress at Kalami is still in use as prisons. The naval base was officially inaugurated in 1872, in the presence of Sultan Abdul Aziz.
Cretan State (1898–1913)
In the period of the semi-independent Cretan State the area attracted international interest, as it offered port facilities to foreign naval vessels enforcing the Cretan autonomy. The first High Commissioner, Prince George of Greece, disembarked at Souda Bay on December 9, 1898. The church of Saint Nicholas was built during this period.
Union with Greece to WW II (1913–1940)
In 1913, events marking the union of Crete with Greece took place on Souda Island. On February 1 the metallic Ottoman flag, the last symbol of Ottoman rule, was removed and replaced by the Greek flag on May 1. Also the ruined chapel was rebuilt and dedicated to Saint George.
In 1916 the British liner SS Minnewaska, requisitioned by the British Army as a troops carrier, struck a mine and was beached at Souda Bay.
After 1923 the area was used as an Hellenic Army base, housing the artillery units of V Infantry Division.
During World War II British and Commonwealth troops withdrew from mainland Greece in April 1941 and 25,000 men, mainly from New Zealand and Australia, disembarked at Souda Bay.
In May 1941, during the German attack named "Operation Merkur", Allied troops retreated from the Souda area to Sfakia in the south of the island. The Germans occupied the area until 1945. The principal Allied War Cemetery of the island, designed by architect Louis de Soissons, is located at Souda.
Current military activities
Souda is an important port for freight ships with a regular ferry service to Piraeus. It also is a strategic Hellenic Navy and NATO naval base (Naval Dock Crete, Greek: Ναύσταθμος Κρήτης, pron. Nafstathmos Kritis).
The modern Hellenic Navy base was founded in 1951. The base occupies an area of 500 hectares, including the old artillery barracks of Hellenic Army V Division and later land acquisitions. The facilities include a dry dock, workshops, a fuel depot and an ammunition depot. The Naval Dock is commanded by a Commodore or Captain of the Hellenic Navy. The Forward Logistics Site Souda Bay (FLS Souda Bay) is under the operational control of NATO COMNAVSOUTH. The Hellenic Navy radio communications station SXH is also located since 1929 at Mournies, near Souda.
Since 2007 Souda Bay naval base is host of NATO Maritime Interidiction Operational Training Centre (ΝMIOTC), which is located at the Northern Sector of the base (Marathi).
Souda Air Base
The strategic importance is enhanced by the Souda Air Base (LGSA) on Akrotiri Peninsula (Hellenic Air Force 115 Combat Wing and US Navy units operating under the title US Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, as well as regular and chartered civil aviation flights as Chania International Airport.), serving
NATO Missile Firing Installation or NAMFI ( ) is an extensive missile firing range located north of Souda Air Base. NAMFI was established in 1968 as a NATO training facility for Air Defence Systems and it takes advantage of clear atmospheric conditions throughout the year. Currently NAMFI is regularly used by the armed forces of Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United States. In the past it was also used by Denmark, France, and Norway.
Today the firing range is used mostly for Patriot and Hawk launches, although a wide range of surface to air and air to surface missiles are fired occasionally. As the trajectories of the missiles cross busy air and sea areas, an Air and Sea surveillance radar system is used to resolve possible conflicts.
Philately and Postal history
During Turkish rule an Ottoman post office operated in Souda until 1892. The Cretan State post office opened officially in 1912, although a postal agent operated there previously, possibly since 1908.
A special local stamp depicting Souda Island was issued on November 15, 1913 to commemorate the union with Greece and was sold only by Cretan post offices. This stamp, printed by Bradbury Wilkinson and Company in the United Kingdom, is commonly called the "Souda Issue".
Notes and references
- C. Michael Hogan, Cydonia, The Modern Antiquarian, Jan. 23, 2008
- "Naval Dock Crete history" (in Greek). http://www.hellenicnavy.gr/nk_history_gr.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
- Kevin Nice (2003). Ferrell's Confidential Frequency List (13th Edition). PW Publishing Ltd. p. 535. ISBN 1-874110-35-2.
- "Nato Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre". http://www.hellenicnavy.gr/nmiotc/index_en.html. Retrieved 12 September 2010. (English) (Greek)
- "Naval Support Activity Souda Bay". http://www.cnic.navy.mil/soudabay/index.htm. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- L.S. Blaveris and D. Stergiou (January 2000). "Πεδίο Βολής Κρήτης - Το πιο σημαντικό πεδίο βολής του ΝΑΤΟ" (in Greek). pp. 96–101.
- "Nato Missile Fire Installation". http://www.namfi.gr. Retrieved 12 September 2010. (English) (Greek)
- Constantinos Sitarenios, ed (2009). Vlastos Foreign Post Offices. 4. Athens, Greece: Orestes Vlastos Ltd. pp. 68.
- Karamitsos, A. (2004). Hellas 2004: Stamp Catalog and Postal History, Volume II. Thessaloniki: A. Karamitsos. ISBN 960-87500-6-7.
- Battle of Crete
- "US Naval Support Activity Souda Bay (Official web site)". https://www.cnic.navy.mil/SoudaBay. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- "US Naval Support Activity Souda Bay". Global Security web site. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/souda-bay.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-16.
- "HAF 115 Combat Wing". http://www.haf.gr/en/structure/units/ata/units/115pm.asp. Retrieved 2008-02-16.
- "Naval Dock Crete" (in Greek). Hellenic Navy. http://www.hellenicnavy.gr/shipyards_kritis.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
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