The first Greek paratrooper to fight the Germans as a secret agent during World War II was Sophia Stephanidou, the eldest daughter of the Pontic physician Philopomenas Stephanides.
Born in Odessa in 1902, Stephanidou moved to Athens in 1907 after her father volunteered to become a doctor for the Greek army during the Balkan Wars.
Her father managed to pass on his patriotism to his daughter, so, a few months before the start of the Greco-Italian war in 1940, Stephanidou volunteered to become a member of the Air Defense Nursing School. After the outbreak of the war, she herself turned to the Greek intelligence service. “I considered it my duty to contribute as much as possible to the“ sacred struggle, ”she recalled.
Sonya with her father.
In November 1940, two months after the outbreak of the war, she became a nurse at the Athens Red Cross Hospital. However, by January 15, 1941, she was transferred to the front.
After the German attack on Greece, Stefanida took up a position at the 1st Ioannina Defense Hospital, where she was involved in treating the wounded after the bombing of the Italian Air Force.
It is noteworthy that it was in Athens, during the German occupation, that she wrote: “The sight of the hooked cross on the Acropolis killed my soul.”
After the German occupation of Athens began, Stephanidou undertook a ten-week trip to Egypt, where she volunteered to work with the Royal Greek Army of the Middle East, consisting of Greek units that had fled to Egypt.
Stephanidou: from commando to spy
On June 1, 1942, she was drafted to serve in the 1st Military Hospital in Alexandria, but it was not enough for her to work as a nurse. Therefore, on April 8, 1943, she asked the Prime Minister of Greece, Emmanuel Tsuderos, to send her to serve in the commando detachment. Her request was accepted, and this is how the fearless Pontic received reconnaissance and army training, including parachute jumping. Her final exams were deemed to have passed at an “exceptionally high level.”
On July 2, 1943, Stephanidou jumped off with a parachute near Florina in northern Greece as part of a group of agents to collect information. Disguised as a beggar or a peasant woman, she was free to roam regional Greece to gather information that a male intelligence officer would never have been able to access.
On September 2, 1943, the entire team of agents was captured by the Germans, but carelessness in the rear units allowed them to escape. Sonya fled to Kalabaku, where she joined a group of resistance fighters who were focused on Britain.
Returning to Egypt in December 1943, Stephanidou became a member of the newly formed Greek Women’s Volunteer Combat Unit. It was later reported that she participated in a mission to Crete, where she met Manolis Banduvas, the leader of the resistance movement on the island.
At the end of the European War, Stephanidou asked for permission to join the United States Army as a paratrooper in the Pacific. However, her application was rejected.
After the war, Stephanidou worked at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the rest of her life, she lived modestly, never striving to gain recognition or wealth, thanks to her wartime exploits.
She died in the spring of 1990. Fulfilling her wish, Stephanida was buried in military uniform with medals.