Battle of Greece part-3

Battle of Thermopylae 1941.
As early as 16 April, the German command realised that the British were evacuating troops on ships at Volos and Piraeus. The campaign then took on the character of a pursuit. For the Germans, it was now primarily a question of maintaining contact with the retreating British forces and foiling their evacuation plans. 
German infantry divisions were withdrawn due to its limited mobility. The 2nd and 5th Panzer Divisions, the 1st SS Motorised Infantry Regiment and both mountain divisions launched a pursuit of the Allied forces.
German artillery firing during the advance through Greece
To allow an evacuation of the main body of British forces, Wilson ordered the rearguard to make a last stand at the historic Thermopylae pass, the gateway to Athens. 
General Freyberg's 2nd New Zealand Division was given the task of defending the coastal pass, while Mackay's 6th Australian Division was to hold the village of Brallos. After the battle Mackay was quoted as saying "I did not dream of evacuation; I thought that we'd hang on for about a fortnight and be beaten by weight of numbers." When the order to retreat was received on the morning of 23 April, it was decided that the two positions were to be held by one brigade each. 

These brigades, the 19th Australian and 6th New Zealand were to hold the passes as long as possible, allowing the other units to withdraw. The Germans attacked at 11:30 on 24 April, met fierce resistance, lost 15 tanks and sustained considerable casualties. 

The Allies held out the entire day; with the delaying action accomplished, they retreated in the direction of the evacuation beaches and set up another rearguard at Thebes. The Panzer units launching a pursuit along the road leading across the pass made slow progress because of the steep gradient and difficult hairpin bends.

German drive on Athens

The quarrel over the troops' victorious entry into Athens was a chapter to itself: Hitler wanted to do without a special parade, to avoid injuring Greek national pride. Mussolini, alas, insisted on a glorious entry into the city for his Italian troops. The Führer yielded to the Italian demand and together the German and Italian troops marched into Athens. This miserable spectacle, laid on by our gallant ally, must have produced some hollow laughter from the Greeks.


After abandoning the Thermopylae area, the British rearguard withdrew to an improvised switch position south of Thebes, where they erected a last obstacle in front of Athens. The motorcycle battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division, which had crossed to the island of Euboea to seize the port of Chalcis and had subsequently returned to the mainland, was given the mission of outflanking the British rearguard. 

The motorcycle troops encountered only slight resistance and on the morning of 27 April 1941, the first Germans entered Athens, followed by armoured cars, tanks and infantry. 
They captured intact large quantities of petroleum, oil and lubricants ("POL"), several thousand tons of ammunition, ten trucks loaded with sugar and ten truckloads of other rations in addition to various other equipment, weapons and medical supplies. The people of Athens had been expecting the Germans for several days and confined themselves to their homes with their windows shut.

Damage from the German bombing of Piraeus on 6 April 1941. During the bombing, a ship carrying nitroglycerin was hit, causing a huge explosion
The previous night, Athens Radio had made the following announcement.
You are listening to the voice of Greece. Greeks, stand firm, proud and dignified. You must prove yourselves worthy of your history. The valor and victory of our army has already been recognised. The righteousness of our cause will also be recognised. We did our duty honestly. Friends! Have Greece in your hearts, live inspired with the fire of her latest triumph and the glory of our army. 

Greece will live again and will be great, because she fought honestly for a just cause and for freedom. Brothers! Have courage and patience. Be stout hearted. We will overcome these hardships. Greeks! With Greece in your minds you must be proud and dignified. We have been an honest nation and brave soldiers.

The Germans drove straight to the Acropolis and raised the Nazi flag. According to the most popular account of the events, the Evzone soldier on guard duty, Konstantinos Koukidis, took down the Greek flag, refusing to hand it to the invaders, wrapped himself in it, and jumped off the Acropolis. Whether the story was true or not, many Greeks believed it and viewed the soldier as a martyr.
Evacuation of Empire forces
Little news from Greece, but 13,000 men got away to Crete on Friday night and so there are hopes of a decent percentage of evacuation. It is a terrible anxiety... War Cabinet. Winston says "We will lose only 5,000 in Greece." We will in fact lose at least 15,000. W. is a great man, but he is more addicted to wishful thinking every day.

Robert Menzies, Excerpts from his personal diary, 27 and 28 April 1941:
In the morning of 15 April 1941, Wavell sent to Wilson the following message: "We must of course continue to fight in close cooperation with Greeks but from news here it looks as if early further withdrawal necessary."

General Archibald Wavell, the commander of British Army forces in the Middle East, when in Greece from 11–13 April had warned Wilson that he must expect no reinforcements and had authorised Major General Freddie de Guingand to discuss evacuation plans with certain responsible officers. Nevertheless, the British could not at this stage adopt or even mention this course of action; the suggestion had to come from the Greek Government.            
                                                         Field Marshal Wavell (left) and Lt. Gen.  Somervell

The following day, Papagos made the first move when he suggested to Wilson that W Force be withdrawn. Wilson informed Middle East Headquarters and on 17 April, Rear admiral H. T. Baillie-Grohman was sent to Greece to prepare for the evacuation. That day Wilson hastened to Athens where he attended a conference with the King, Papagos, d'Albiac and Rear admiral Turle. In the evening, after telling the King that he felt he had failed him in the task entrusted to him, Prime Minister Koryzis committed suicide. On 21 April, the final decision to evacuate Empire forces to Crete and Egypt was taken and Wavell - in confirmation of verbal instructions - sent his written orders to Wilson.
5 200 men, mostly from the 5th New Zealand Brigade, were evacuated on the night of 24 April, from Porto Rafti of East Attica, while the 4th New Zealand Brigade remained to block the narrow road to Athens, dubbed the 24 Hour Pass by the New Zealanders. On 25 April (Anzac Day), the few RAF squadrons left Greece (D'Albiac established his headquarters in Heraklion, Crete) and some 10 200 Australian troops evacuated from Nafplio and Megara. 2,000 more men had to wait until 27 April, because Ulster Prince ran aground in shallow waters close to Nafplio. Because of this event, the Germans realised that the evacuation was also taking place from the ports of the eastern Peloponnese.
We cannot remain in Greece against wish of Greek Commander-in-Chief and thus expose country to devastation. Wilson or Palairet should obtain endorsement by Greek Government of Papagos' request. Consequent upon this assent, evacuation should proceed, without however prejudicing any withdrawal to Thermopylae position in co-operation with the Greek Army. 
You will naturally try to save as much material as possible.
Churchill's response to the Greek proposal on 17 April 1941:
The Greek Navy and Merchant Marine played an important part in the evacuation of the Allied forces to Crete and suffered heavy losses as a result.

On 25 April the Germans staged an airborne operation to seize the bridges over the Corinth canal, with the double aim of cutting off the British line of retreat and securing their own way across the isthmus. The attack met with initial success, until a stray British shell destroyed the bridge. The 1st SS Motorised Infantry Regiment ("LSSAH"), assembled at Ioannina, thrust along the western foothills of the Pindus Mountains via Arta to Missolonghi and crossed over to the Peloponnese at Patras in an effort to gain access to the isthmus from the west. Upon their arrival at 17:30 on 27 April, the SS forces learned that the paratroops had already been relieved by Army units advancing from Athens.

The Dutch troop ship Slamat was part of a convoy evacuating about 3,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops from Nafplio in the Peloponnese. 
As the convoy headed south in the Argolic Gulf on the morning of 27 April, it was attacked by Staffel of nine Junkers Ju 87s of Stukageschwader 77, damaging Slamat and setting her on fire. The destroyer HMS Diamond rescued about 600 survivors and HMS Wryneck came to her aid, but as the two destroyers headed for Souda Bay in Crete another Ju 87 attack sank them both. The total number of deaths from the three sinkings was almost 1,000. Only 27 crew from Wryneck, 20 crew from Diamond, 11 crew and eight evacuated soldiers from Slamat survived.
The erection of a temporary bridge across the Corinth canal permitted 5th Panzer Division units to pursue the Allied forces across the Peloponnese. Driving via Argos to Kalamata, from where most Allied units had already begun to evacuate, they reached the south coast on 29 April, where they were joined by SS troops arriving from Pyrgos. The fighting on the Peloponnese consisted of small-scale engagements with isolated groups of British troops who had been unable to reach the evacuation point. The attack came days too late to cut off the bulk of the British troops in Central Greece, but isolated the Australian 16th and 17th Brigades. 

By 30 April the evacuation of about 50,000 soldiers was completed, but was heavily contested by the German Luftwaffe, which sank at least 26 troop-laden ships. The Germans captured around 8,000 Empire (including 2,000 Cypriot and Palestinian) and Yugoslav troops in Kalamata who had not been evacuated, while liberating many Italian prisoners from POW camps.

Triple occupation
For more details on this topic, see Axis occupation of Greece.

     Italian      German      Bulgarian     Italian territory
On 13 April 1941, Hitler issued Directive No. 27, including his occupation policy for Greece. He finalized jurisdiction in the Balkans with Directive No. 31 issued on 9 June. Mainland Greece was divided between Germany, Italy and Bulgaria, with Italy occupying the bulk of the country (see map opposite). 
German forces occupied the strategically more important areas of Athens, Thessaloniki, Central Macedonia and several Aegean islands, including most of Crete. 
They also occupied Florina, which was claimed by both Italy and Bulgaria. 
Bulgaria, which had not participated in the invasion of Greece, occupied most of Thrace on the same day that Tsolakoglou offered his surrender. 

The goal was to gain an Aegean Sea outlet in Western Thrace and Eastern Macedonia. The Bulgarians occupied territory between the Struma river and a line of demarcation running through Alexandroupoli and Svilengrad west of the Evros River. Italian troops started occupying the Ionian and Aegean islands on 28 April. On 2 June, they occupied the Peloponnese; on 8 June, Thessaly; and on 12 June, most of Attica. The occupation of Greece - during which civilians suffered terrible hardships, many dying from privation and hunger - proved to be a difficult and costly task. Several resistance groups launched guerrilla attacks against the occupying forces and set up espionage networks.
On 25 April 1941, King George II and his government left the Greek mainland for Crete, which was attacked by Nazi forces on 20 May 1941. The Germans employed parachute forces in a massive airborne invasion and attacked the three main airfields of the island in Maleme, Rethymno and Heraklion. After seven days of fighting and tough resistance, Allied commanders decided that the cause was hopeless and ordered a withdrawal from Sfakia. 

By 1 June 1941, the evacuation was complete and the island was under German occupation. In light of the heavy casualties suffered by the elite 7th Fliegerdivision, Hitler forbade further airborne operations. General Kurt Student would dub Crete "the graveyard of the German paratroopers" and a "disastrous victory." During the night of 24 May, George II and his government were evacuated from Crete to Egypt.
The Greek campaign ended with a complete German and Italian victory. The British did not have the military resources to permit them to carry out big simultaneous operations in North Africa and the Balkans. Moreover, even had they been able to block the Axis advance, they would have been unable to exploit the situation by a counter-thrust across the Balkans. The British came very near to holding Crete and perhaps other islands that would have provided air support for naval operations throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

In enumerating the reasons for the complete Axis victory in Greece, the following factors were of greatest significance:
Germany superiority in ground forces and equipment:
The bulk of the Greek army was occupied fighting the Italians on the Albanian front.
German air supremacy combined with the inability of the Greeks to provide the RAF with adequate airfields.
Inadequacy of British expeditionary forces, since the Imperial force available was small.
Poor condition of the Hellenic Army and its shortages of modern equipment.
Inadequate port, road and railway facilities.
Absence of a unified command and lack of cooperation between the British, Greek and Yugoslav forces.
Turkey's strict neutrality, and the early collapse of Yugoslav resistance.

Criticism of British actions
After the Allies' defeat, the decision to send British forces into Greece faced fierce criticism in Britain. Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff during World War II, considered intervention in Greece to be "a definite strategic blunder", as it denied Wavell the necessary reserves to complete the conquest of Italian-held Libya, or to successfully withstand Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps March offensive. It thus prolonged the North African Campaign, which otherwise might have been successfully concluded during 1941.

In 1947, de Guingand asked the British government to recognise its mistaken strategy in Greece.Buckley countered that if Britain had not honored its 1939 commitment to Greece, it would have severely damaged the ethical basis of its struggle against Nazi Germany. According to Historian Heinz Richter, Churchill tried through the campaign in Greece to influence the political atmosphere in the United States and insisted on this strategy even after the defeat. According to Keegan, "the Greek campaign had been an old-fashioned gentlemen's war, with honor given and 
accepted by brave adversaries on each side" and the vastly outnumbered Greek and Allied forces, "had, rightly, the sensation of having fought the good fight."

It has also been suggested the British strategy was to create a barrier in Greece, to protect Turkey, the only (neutral) country standing between an Axis block in the Balkans and the oil-rich Middle East. However, ultimately, the British intervention in Greece was considered a fiasco. Martin van Creveld believes that the British did everything in their power to scuttle all attempts at a separate peace between the Greeks and the Italians in order to keep the Greeks fighting so as to draw Italian divisions away from North Africa.

Freyberg and Blamey also had serious doubts about the feasibility of the operation, but failed to express their reservations and apprehensions. The campaign caused a furore in Australia, when it became known that when he received his first warning of the move to Greece on 18 February 1941, General Blamey was worried, but had not informed the Australian Government. He had been told by Wavell that Prime Minister Menzies had approved the plan. 

Indeed, the proposal had been accepted by a meeting of the War Cabinet in London at which Menzies was present, but the Australian Prime Minister had been told by Churchill that both Freyberg and Blamey approved of the expedition. On 5 March, in a letter to Menzies, Blamey said that "the plan is, of course, what I feared: piecemeal dispatch to Europe" and the next day, he called the operation "most hazardous". 

However, thinking that he was agreeable, the Australian Government had already committed the Australian Imperial Force to the Greek Campaign.

8 kommenttia:

  1. Fantastic photos and videos. Great to see the Kiwis get a mention too!

    1. Hi, Rodger.
      I tried to look for the best snapshots and something I found.
      More :) I would have liked to find.

      I was a month away, my second oldest girl (43 years)
      had (money) problems with housing, four years do not work hard ...

  2. Hi Max,
    thanks for sharing

    i like the first picture with the Krupps Protze, my favorite german trucks ;)

    1. Hi, J-C
      Thank you for the comment
      Nice to see you here

      As above I tell my daughter had a tough emergency, but now it is all to do well and allowed to live in the same place for the time being...

  3. Nice and well choosen pictures as always, a very interesting post!

    1. Hi, Phil
      Thank you for your kindness and your visit

  4. Great post, sorry I have npt been online much the last few months, was having pc problems

    1. Morning, S-K
      Nice to hear about you.
      I was wondering where you've gone, perhaps the holiday period.
      Sometimes it is also time that the PC user wants to take a break


Any explosive ammunition or empty cores, you can put in this.