On 12 November, the German Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 18, in which they scheduled simultaneous operations against Gibraltar and Greece for the following January. However, in December 1940, German ambition in the Mediterranean underwent considerable revision when Spain's General Francisco Franco rejected the Gibraltar attack. Consequently, Germany's offensive in southern Europe was restricted to the Greek campaign.
The Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 20 on 13 December 1940, outlining the Greek campaign under the code designation "Operation Marita". The plan was to occupy the northern coast of the Aegean Sea by March 1941 and to seize the entire Greek mainland, if necessary.
During a hasty meeting of Hitler's staff after the unexpected 27 March Yugoslav coup d'état against the Yugoslav government, orders for the campaign in Kingdom of Yugoslavia were drafted, as well as changes to the plans for Greece. On 6 April, both Greece and Yugoslavia were to be attacked.
The Yugoslav coup came suddenly out of the blue. "When the news was brought to me on the morning of the 27th, I thought it was a joke," Hitler speaking to his Commanders-in-Chief.
Roomassa oleva Saksan suurlähettiläs lähetti sähkeen, josta Hitler tyrmistyi.
Italia on juuri tällä hetkellä hyökännyt Kreikkaan.
Hitler sai ottaa sähkeen vastaan Montoiressa, ehtimättä vielä palata saksaan takaisin.
Hän toivoi ehtiä estämään tämän vaarallisen uhkayrityksen, johon Mussolini ryhtyy.
Hitler kääntyi ja palasi takaisin Italiaan ja saapui lokakuu 28 päivä klo 10.00 Firenzen asemalle.
Nämä Italian joukot tulivat pian tuntemaan kolme nimeä, Korca, Taranto, Sidi Barrani jotka pian merkitsi kolmea suurta Italian asevoimien kärsimää ratkaisevaa tappiota.
Samalla myös akselivaltojen tulevaisuus näkymät heikkeni ratkaisevasti.
Kesäkuu 25. 1940 jälkeen Länsi-Euroopan alistetut kansat saivat kokea ensimmäisen
valopilkahduksen tai toivon säteen.
Heti Italian hyökkäyksen alusta alkaen sekä Ciano että Mussolini saivat nähdä kuinka
kaikki poliittiset edellytykset, jotka tämän hyökkäyksen oli saanut aikaan, romahtivat.
He tiesivät myös että Bulgarian kuningas pysyy sivussa kaikesta tapahtumista kunnes ne ovat kaikki ovat ohi.
Mussolini ja Ciano oli suuresti erehtyneet ja aliarvioineet Kreikan Isanmaallisuuden.
Kreikkalaiset liitti rivinsä yhteen entistä tiiviimmäksi, saadessaan kuulla kuinka kuningas Yrjö II ja kenraali Joannis Metaxas olivat torjuneet Italian uhkavaatimuksen
ja määränneet yleisen liikekannalle panon.
vaikka Venetsia aikoinaan hallinnoi Joonian meren saaria sekä Kreetan saarta, sillä
Rhodoksen ja Dodekaneesien asukkaat joutui Kreivi Cesare de Vecchi komennon alla kestämään. Nämä tapahtumat muokkaa Kreikan kansan vihastuneet mielipiteet myös paitsi Mussolinia, niin samoin Italiaa ja sen hallituksen kaikkia toimenpiteitä vastaan.
Britain was obliged to assist Greece by the Declaration of 1939, which stated that in the event of a threat to Greek or Romanian independence, "His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Greek or Romanian Government... all the support in their power." The first British effort was the deployment of Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons commanded by Air Commodore John D'Albiac that arrived in November 1940. With Greek government consent, British forces were dispatched to Crete on 31 October to guard Souda Bay, enabling the Greek government to redeploy the 5th Cretan Division to the mainland.
On 17 November 1940, Metaxas proposed a joint offensive in the Balkans to the British government, with Greek strongholds in southern Albania as the operational base. The British were reluctant to discuss Metaxas' proposal, because the troops necessary for implementing the Greek plan would seriously endanger operations in North Africa. During a meeting of British and Greek military and political leaders in Athens on 13 January 1941, General Alexandros Papagos, Commander-in-Chief of the Hellenic Army, asked Britain for nine fully equipped divisions and corresponding air support.
The British responded that all they could offer was the immediate dispatch of a token force of less than divisional strength. This offer was rejected by the Greeks, who feared that the arrival of such a contingent would precipitate a German attack without giving them meaningful assistance. British help would be requested if and when German troops crossed the Danube from Romania into Bulgaria.
We did not then know that he (Hitler) was already deeply set upon his gigantic invasion of Russia. If we had we should have felt more confidence in the success of our policy. We should have seen that he risked falling between two stools and might easily impair his supreme undertaking for the sake of a Balkan preliminary.
This is what actually happened, but we could not know that at the time. Some may think we builded rightly; at least we builded better than we knew at the time. It was our aim to animate and combine Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey. Our duty so far as possible was to aid the Greeks.
|Battle of Greece|
|Part of the Balkans Campaign during World War II|
Nazi Germany 's attack on Greece
|Commanders and leaders|
| Wilhelm List|
Maximilian von Weichs
| Alexander Papagos|
Henry Maitland Wilson
Total: 1,245,000 men
430,000 men, 20 tanks
|Casualties and losses|
| Italy: |
Statistics about the strength and casualties of Italy and Greece refer to both the Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Greece (at least 300,000 Greek soldiers fought in Albania).Statistics about German casualties refer to the Balkans Campaign as a whole and are based on Hitler's statements to the Reichstag on 4 May 1941.
Little more than a month later, the British reconsidered. Winston Churchill aspired to recreate a Balkan Front comprising Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey , and instructed Anthony Eden and Sir John Dill to resume negotiations with the Greek government.
A meeting attended by Eden and the Greek leadership, including King George II , Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis the successor of Metaxas, who had died on 29 January 1941 - and Papagos took place in Athens on 22 February, where they decided to send a British Empire expeditionary force. German troops had been massing in Romania and on 1 March, Wehrmacht forces began to move into Bulgaria. At the same time, the Bulgarian Army mobilised and took up positions along the Greek frontier.
On 2 March, Operation Lustre - the transportation of troops and equipment to Greece - began and 26 troopships arrived at the port of Piraeus. On 3 April, during a meeting of British, Yugoslav and Greek military representatives, the Yugoslavs promised to block the Struma valley in case of a German attack across their territory. During this meeting, Papagos stressed the importance of a joint Greco-Yugoslavian offensive against the Italians, as soon as the Germans launched their offensive.
By 24 April more than 62,000 Empire troops (British, Australians, New Zealanders, Palestinians and Cypriots ), had arrived in Greece, comprising the 6th Australian Division, the New Zealand 2nd Division and the British 1st Armoured Brigade.
The three formations later became known as 'W' Force, after their commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson. Air Commodore Sir John D'Albiac commanded British air forces in Greece.
To enter Northern Greece, the German army had to cross the Rhodope Mountains, which offered few river valleys or mountain passes capable of accommodating the movement of large military units. Two invasion courses were located west of Kyustendil; another was along the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border, via the Struma river valley to the south. Greek border fortifications had been adapted for the terrain and a formidable defence system covered the few available roads.
The Struma and Nestos rivers cut across the mountain range along the Greek-Bulgarian frontier and both of their valleys were protected by strong fortifications, as part of the larger Metaxas Line. This system of concrete pillboxes and field fortifications, constructed along the Bulgarian border in the late 1930s, was built on principles similar to those of the Maginot Line. Its strength resided mainly in the inaccessibility of the intermediate terrain leading up to the defence positions.
Winston Churchill believed it was vital for Britain to take every measure possible to support Greece. On 8 January 1941, he stated that "there was no other course open to us but to make certain that we had spared no effort to help the Greeks who had shown themselves so worthy."
Greece's mountainous terrain favored a defensive strategy and the high ranges of the Rhodope, Epirus, Pindus and Olympus mountains offered many defensive opportunities. However, air power was required to protect defending ground forces from entrapment in the many defiles. Although an invading force from Albania could be stopped by a relatively small number of troops positioned in the high Pindus mountains, the northeastern part of the country was difficult to defend against an attack from the north.
Following a March conference in Athens, the British believed that they would combine with Greek forces to occupy the Haliacmon Line - a short front facing north-eastwards along the Vermio Mountains and the lower Haliacmon river. Papagos awaited clarification from the Yugoslav government and later proposed to hold the Metaxas Line - by then a symbol of national security to the Greek populace - and not withdraw divisions from Albania. He argued that to do so would be seen as a concession to the Italians. The strategically important port of Thessaloniki lay practically undefended and transportation of British troops to the city remained dangerous. Papagos proposed to take advantage of the area's terrain and prepare fortifications, while also protecting Thessaloniki.
General Dill described Papagos' attitude as "unaccommodating and defeatist" and argued that his plan ignored the fact that Greek troops and artillery were capable of only token resistance. The British believed that the Greek rivalry with Bulgaria—the Metaxas Line was designed specifically for war with Bulgaria - as well as their traditionally good terms with the Yugoslavs - left their north-western border largely undefended.
Despite their awareness that the line was likely to collapse in the event of a German thrust from the Struma and Axios rivers, the British eventually acceded to the Greek command. On 4 March, Dill accepted the plans for the Metaxas line and on 7 March agreement was ratified by the British Cabinet. The overall command was to be retained by Papagos and the Greek and British commands agreed to fight a delaying action in the north-east.
The British did not move their troops, because General Wilson regarded them as too weak to protect such a broad front. Instead, he took a position some 40 miles (64 kilometres) west of the Axios, across the Haliacmon Line. The two main objectives in establishing this position were to maintain contact with the Hellenic army in Albania and to deny German access to Central Greece. This had the advantage of requiring a smaller force than other options, while allowing more preparation time.
However, it meant abandoning nearly the whole of Northern Greece, which was unacceptable to the Greeks for political and psychological reasons. Moreover, the line's left flank was susceptible to flanking from Germans operating through the Monastir Gap in Yugoslavia. However, the rapid disintegration of the Yugoslav Army and a German thrust into the rear of the Vermion position was not expected.
The German strategy was based on using so-called "blitzkrieg" methods that had proved successful during the invasions of Western Europe. Their effectiveness was confirmed during the invasion of Yugoslavia.
The German command again coupled ground troops and armour with air support and rapidly drove into the territory.
Once Thessaloniki was captured, Athens and the port of Piraeus became principal targets.
Piraeus, was virtually destroyed by bombing on the night of the 6/7 April.
The loss of Piraeus and the Isthmus of Corinth would fatally compromise withdrawal and evacuation of British and Greek forces.
The Fifth Yugoslav Army took responsibility for the south-eastern border between Kriva Palanka and the Greek border. However, the Yugoslav troops were not fully mobilised and lacked adequate equipment and weapons. Following the entry of German forces into Bulgaria, the majority of Greek troops were evacuated from Western Thrace. By this time, Greek forces defending the Bulgarian border totaled roughly 70,000 men (sometimes labeled the "Greek Second Army" in English and German sources, although no such formation existed). The remainder of the Greek forces - 14 divisions (often erroneously referred to as the "Greek First Army" by foreign sources) - was committed in Albania.
On 28 March, the Greek Central Macedonia Army Section—comprising the 12th and 20th Infantry Divisions—were put under the command of General Wilson, who established his headquarters to the north-west of Larissa. The New Zealand division took position north of Mount Olympus, while the Australian division blocked the Haliacmon valley up to the Vermion range. The RAF continued to operate from airfields in Central and Southern Greece, however, few planes could be diverted to the theater.
The British forces were near to fully motorised, but their equipment was more suited to desert warfare than to Greece's steep mountain roads. They were short of tanks and anti-aircraft guns and the lines of communication across the Mediterranean were vulnerable, because each convoy had to pass close to Axis-held islands in the Aegean; despite the British Royal Navy's domination of the Aegean Sea. These logistical problems were aggravated by the limited availability of shipping and Greek port capacity.
The German Twelfth Army - under the command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List - was charged with the execution of Operation Marita. His army was composed of six units:
First Panzer Group, under the command of General Ewald von Kleist.
XL Panzer Corps, under Lieutenant General Georg Stumme.
XVIII Mountain Corps, under Lieutenant General Franz Böhme.
XXX Infantry Corps, under Lieutenant General Otto Hartmann.
L Infantry Corps, under Lieutenant General Georg Lindemann.
16th Panzer Division, deployed behind the Turkish-Bulgarian border to support the Bulgarian forces in case of a Turkish attack
The German plan of attack was influenced by their army's experiences during the Battle of France. Their strategy was to create a diversion through the campaign in Albania, thus stripping the Hellenic Army of manpower for the defence of their Yugoslavian and Bulgarian borders. By driving armoured wedges through the weakest links of the defence chain, penetrating Allied territory would not require substantial armour behind an infantry advance. Once Southern Yugoslavia was overrun by German armour, the Metaxas Line could be outflanked by highly mobile forces thrusting southward from Yugoslavia. Thus, possession of Monastir and the Axios valley leading to Thessaloniki became essential for such an outflanking maneuver.
The Yugoslav coup d'état led to a sudden change in the plan of attack and confronted the Twelfth Army with a number of difficult problems. According to the 28 March Directive No. 25, the Twelfth Army was to create a mobile task force to attack via Niš toward Belgrade.
At dawn on 6 April, the German armies invaded Greece, while the Luftwaffe began an intensive bombardment of Belgrade. The XL Panzer Corps - planned to attack across southern Yugoslavia - began their assault at 05:30. They pushed across the Bulgarian frontier at two separate points. By the evening of 8 April, the 73rd Infantry Division captured Prilep, severing an important rail line between Belgrade and Thessaloniki and isolating Yugoslavia from its allies.
On the evening of 9 April, Stumme deployed his forces north of Monastir, in preparation for attack toward Florina. This position threatened to encircle the Greeks in Albania and W Force in the area of Florina, Edessa and Katerini. While weak security detachments covered his rear against a surprise attack from central Yugoslavia, elements of the 9th Panzer Division drove westward to link up with the Italians at the Albanian border.
The 2nd Panzer Division (XVIII Mountain Corps) entered Yugoslavia from the east on the morning of 6 April and advanced westward through the Struma Valley. It encountered little resistance, but was delayed by road clearance demolitions, mines and mud. Nevertheless, the division was able to reach the day's objective, the town of Strumica. On 7 April, a Yugoslav counter-attack against the division's northern flank was repelled, and the following day, the division forced its way across the mountains and overran the thinly manned defensive line of the Greek 19th Mechanized Division south of Doiran Lake.
Despite many delays along the mountain roads, an armoured advance guard dispatched toward Thessaloniki succeeded in entering the city by the morning of 9 April. Thessaloniki was taken after a long battle with three Greek divisions under the command of General Bakopoulos, and was followed by the surrender of the Greek Eastern Macedonia Army Section, taking effect at 13:00 on 10 April.
In the three days it took the Germans to reach Thessaloniki and breach the Metaxas Line, some 60,000 Greek soldiers were taken prisoner. The British and Commonwealth forces then took over the defence of Greece, with the bulk of the Greek Army fighting to maintain their old positions in Albania...