On this day in 1967, a group of four colonels of the Greek army took control of Greece through a military coup d’etat. During the three years before the coup, the political situation in Greece was very unstable – left wing radicals were gaining strength and there was considerable public unrest – almost daily demonstrations, strikes, and riots. The leader of the coup, Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearful of the upcoming election and the rise of the left, decided that the Greek government needed to be overthrown. The four colonels formulated a plan to arrest all of the generals and politicians they felt might be a threat to their military takeover. Their plan was executed late one night and caught everyone by surprise – they did not fire a single shot. The Greek far-right military junta that followed (also known as the Regime of the Colonels, the Dictatorship, the Junta, and the Seven Years) lasted for seven years, ending on July 24, 1974 under the pressure of the humiliation and threat of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. In 1967 the new regime imposed martial law outlawed strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Mark Twain, and the free press. The fall of the junta was followed by the Metapolitefsi (regime change) and the establishment of the current Third Hellenic Republic.
On this day in 1821, the Battle of Alamana was fought between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence. After the fall of Livadeia to a contingent of Greek fighters under the command of Athanasios Diakos and Vasilis Bousgos, Hursid Pasha sent two of his most competent commanders from Thessaly to put down the revolt in Roumeli and then proceed to the Peloponnese and lift the siege at Tripolitsa. Diakos and his band decided to halt the Ottoman advance into Roumeli by taking defensive positions near Thermopylae. The Greek forces were outnumbered and Diakos, wounded in the battle, was captured after his sword broke. Diakos was then brought before the Turkish commanders who offered to make him an officer in the Turkish army. Diakos immediately refused and replied: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek!” The Turkish commander then ordered that Diakos be impaled. The Ottomans tried to make him carry the sharpened pole, but he threw it down with contempt. As he was led off to be impaled it was said that onlookers heard him sing: “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that branches are flowering, now that the earth sends forth grass.” Even though the battle was ultimately a military defeat for the Greeks, Diakos’ death provided Greek national cause with a stirring myth of heroic martyrdom.
On this day in 1988, the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Daedalus, a human-powered aircraft, flew a distance of 72.4 miles in 3 hours, 54 minutes from Heraklion, Crete to the island of Santorini. Earlier in the 1980s, MIT students and faculty members, with the support and cooperation of the Smithsonian Institution, NASA, and the government of Greece, embarked on an exploration of human-powered flight. The culmination of their efforts was the Daedalus, a plane which was engineered at MIT and named in honor of the mythological inventor who escaped the tyranny of King Minos of Crete by taking to the sky on wings he fashioned using wax and feathers. The aircraft weighed less than 70 pounds (when empty) and had leg-powered bicycle pedals that engaged gears that linked to an 11-foot propeller. Kanellos Kanellopoulos, a 30-year-old 14-time bicycle champion of Greece, piloted and powered Daedalus as the craft took off from a Greek Air Force base near Knossos and flew at a low altitude towards Santorini. The flight holds the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for total distance, straight-line distance, and duration for human-powered aircraft.