Op TOSCA
Cyprus

The Five Star Hotel That Became A Buffer Zone Barracks

British troops have been in Cyprus since the 1960s, patrolling the 'buffer zone' in the divided city of Nicosia.

Op TOSCA

It has been 44-years since a bitter civil war in Cyprus divided its capital.

One building caught in the crossfire of the conflict was the Ledra Palace Hotel, which is now used as a barracks in the midst of the 112-mile-long buffer zone.

It was once the only five-star hotel in Cyprus, welcoming the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

 

In 1974, the Palace was in the middle of the two opposing sides, with the building and swimming pool still bearing the scars of shelling. 

It eventually became home to UN troops – first Canadian paratroopers, then in 1993, British peacekeepers.

Op Tosca Ledra Palace Hotel

"It is unlike your traditional barracks, and is home to "some very iconic rooms… a swimming pool, a basketball court and volleyball court" according to Warrant Officer Class 2 Ben Townley.

Around 800 unarmed UN peacekeepers impartially maintain the buffer zone, which was created in order to keep the peace on the island following its divide.

British troops are among the UN peacekeepers who patrol the Cypriot capital on the mission named Operation Tosca.

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UK personnel have served in a peacekeeping role in Nicosia since 1964, with the 1st Battalion The Scots Guards being the latest unit deployed there. 

They have followed Queen Elizabeths' Own Royal Lancers in the role.

Currently around 250 members of the Scots Guards patrol Sector 2.

Deputy Commander of the UN Sector 2, Major Pete Middlemiss, talked about his time on Op Tosca, and the importance of junior soldiers, saying:

"It’s been a fantastic experience.

"These are young, inexperienced soldiers operationally - but this is a great introduction.

"The tour is all about junior leadership.

"We very much rely on Guardsmen, Lance Corporals, getting out on the ground in the buffer zone, telling us what’s going on, feeding the information up into the headquarters and we react from there."

Op Tosca Barracks Ledra Palace
Ledra Palace is one of the landmarks of the Buffer zone.

Although fighting in Cyprus in 1974, no formal peace agreement has ever been signed.

The buffer zone marks the positions of both sides when the fighting ended. 

The role of the UN is to try and maintain the borders while the peace process takes place.

It also has to prevent incursions, such as illegal hunting or construction, that might inflame the situation.

Lance Sergeant Dean Chapman, from 1st Battalion The Scots Guards, talked about how much the tour has taught him:

"I obviously heard about lads who went to Ayia Napa, the party spot, but that’s all I knew of Cyprus, as a holiday destination.

"I didn’t know it was a split city and I didn’t know it was a divided country."

Guardsman Jack Rowden joined the Army five years ago, and Op Tosca is his first operational tour.

He was surprised by how much different parts of the country could vary: "One minute you’re going round and it’s all modern, and then the next minute it’s like you’re back in time again."

Op Tosca Ledra Palace Hotel swimming pool

The future of the former Ledra Palace Hotel – and whether it is still fit for modern-day use – has been under discussion for a while, and a decision is expected in 2019.

In the meantime, troops keep it running, dealing with everyday problems and improving it where they can.

For 1st Battalion, as a mechanised infantry unit, the Cyprus tour requires particular skills.

They will return to 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade and be on high readiness until next year when they move from Aldershot back to Catterick.

Op Tosca has rewarded many of its guardsmen with their first medal, as well as a soldiering experience.