Tuesday, July 07, 2020

What the "Dominion Office" told Mr. Fadden, in Australia, is that they decided on the Greek operation as their only chance at forming a "Balkan Front". They still had hopes of persuading Turkey and Yugoslavia to join the Allies. The same message was sent to the government of New Zealand, as well. In the following week, events in the Middle East were causing unease in "London". The situation with the Greek government and their unwillingness to follow the British plan were one thing. Another event was that enemy aircraft dropped mines in the Suez Canal, necessitating its closure. A British attack on the Dodecanese island of Castellorizo failed. They also received an report that indicated that the Germans had transported armored forces to Tripoli. On 4 March, Mr. Menzies requested that the Greek operation be reconsidered. An Australian component of the force for Greece were planned to sail on 6 March. Churchill sent Anthony Eden a message on 6 March that was pessimistic about their chances of success in Greece. Churchill was concerned that they were asking Australia and New Zealand to send troops on what was likely to fail. They only reason that Churchill might think that there was any chance of success was if Generals Dill and Wavell thought that there was. Churchill mentioned that he was thinking that they should be planning on an attack on Tripoli. Anthony Eden responded that "they were all agreed that they should continue with the move into Greece. General Wavell felt that there were problems with any attempt to cancel the move into Greece, if only because of the troop convoys at sea. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Consultations prior to the operation in Greece in February to March 1941

A Greek politician wrote "an open letter to Hitler" in which he wrote that he understood that Greece would be invaded. He asked why the Axis powers would want to invade Greece? Of course, the British hoped to pull Yugoslavia and Turkey into the war on the Allied side. He says that the Italian attack was what brought the British into the war in Greece. He says that the Greek army will stand and fight in Thrace.
One question was what the British government was doing to consult and inform the goverments of Australia and New Zealand? As we mentioned, this was a period of political turmoil in Australian. Back in February 1941, Mr. Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia. Mr. Fadden was going to be Prime Minster later in 1941, and he was involved, as he was in the War Cabinet. Churchill was arguing that losses would be "mostly material", not men. He told them that the men could be evacuated back to Egypt, if they were forced to withdraw. Generals Wavell and Dill were quoted as saying that "able and cautious". There was concern that if this was a "forlorn hope" that the operation would not be executed. The problem was that with convoys of men and equipment heading for Greece, the British were committed to the operation in Greece, regardless of the wisdom of doing so. Churchill told the Australians that if the Japanese attacked, they would send "naval reinforcements", which Mr. Menzies thought "must be a little discounted". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Events in Greece in early March 1941

"Anthony Eden sent the Yugoslav regent a message asking him to join the Allies. They also told the Yugoslavs that defending Salonika depended on what Yugoslavia did. The British were so committed to going into Greece that they had no choice but to proceed." The large troop convoys that were at sea pretty much forced their hand.
The British were planning on trying to defend the "Vermion-Olympus" line. The accepted that they might be forced to withdraw, and saw that there was a good possibility of successfully "staging a fighting withdrawal." 7 March was when British cruisers had disembarked several thousand troops "at the Pireaus".
You might well ask "what had been done to inform the Australian and New Zealand governments? In February, the British had met with Mr. Menzies who hd been Prime Minister at the time. Already, there was concern about a Japanese threat in the Far East, although that only turned into an attack in December. This was a time of political turmoil in Australia, where they changed governments multiple times in a short period of time.
The New Zealand government, lacking much information, had agreed in principle to the Greek campaign. They wanted to see the 2nd New Zealand Division "fully equipped with an armored brigade". New Zealand was happy to take part along with the Australians. The new Australian government was only "conditionally agreed to participate". They wanted to know that there was a plan in place to evacuate if the situation turned out badly. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The lead up to the Greek campaign in early March 1941

The British were discussing possibilities with the Government of Turkey. Turkey was afraid of both Germany and Russia, probably more so of Russia. The British had hopes of bringing Turkey into the war on the side of the Allies, but Turkey was pretty sure that they should stay neutral. Germany was known to have moved into Bulgaria, which was thought to be a preparatory more to attacking Greece. Greece was also waiting to hear from Yugoslavia prior to withdrawing its troops from "eastern Macedonia". The British had thought that the withdrawal was already happening. General Dill, the CIGS, and Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, were talking with the Greek government, trying to influence what they did. The Greek leader Papagos wanted the British to land at Salonika and help defend it. General Dill and Mr. Eden then called General Wavell to Greece. General Wavell "arrived at Athens on 3 March". The British decided that they needed to add the Greek King to their meetings. The Greeks were waiting to hear about the Yugoslav plans. If Yugoslavia fought, then the Greeks would move troops into the "Metaxas Line". "If Yugoslavia was neutral", then some troops would hold the Metaxas Line for a time and then pull back into the rear line". There was some thought to cancelling the British move into Greece, but they thought that was not possible, as the troops were already underway for Greece. The British decided that General Wilson should command the force on the "Vermion-Olympus Line". The plan was put in writing, to prevent any misunderstandings. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Events in early 1941 regarding Greece

General Wavell communicated with Churchill about Churchill's scheme to send troops to Greece. Wavell was concerned about how little force they could send and the possibility that they could not arrive in time to do anything useful. General Wavell was also concerned that the Greeks would not fight if attacked by the Germans. Wavell thought that they might be able to help the Greeks "
hold a line on the Aliakmon River". There was also a concern about the air force shrinking as they were taking greater losses than they were receiving replacements. They had not been receiving any "fighting formations since the fall of France in 1940. The only possibility was the possibility of the 50th Division arriving from Britain. In February 1941, the CIGS was still General Dill. He had not yet been switched to being in the United States as a diplomat. On 7 March, General Wavell received a message saying that the cabinet had decided that the Greek operation should proceed and that the Cabinet had taken "full responsibility for the results. What seems to have been a lie, was that Churchill had said that the Greek campaign was not being conducted because of Anthony Eden making commitments in Athens, but because the CIGS General Dill, Wavell, and others had thought that there was a "fighting chance" that the operation could succeed. The Australian prime minister, Mr. Menzies was told that General Blamey and the New Zealand commander, General Freyberg were said to have agreed. Why all this was a lie was that neither General Blamey or General Freyberg were asked for an opinion. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Planning in relation to Greece in 1940-1941

In Germany, Hitler ordered planning to "occupy Northern Greece" as early as 12 November 1940. He would use ten German divisions for the operation. By late November, Hitler decided to occupy all of Greece. He would conduct the operation in March, he decided in December. After seeing the British successes in Cyrenaica and the Greek successes in Albania, he decided that the invasion army needed to be larger. He was thinking about the invasion of Russia when he planned the Greek invasion. One thing he wanted was to protect Rumanian oil fields from British bombers in Greece.
You saw the British fighting in east Africa against the Italians. The British advance to Tripoli would be stopped, so free up resources for Greece. The New Zealand Division was planned to be part of the Greek operation. The latest thinking was to send the British 6th Division to Greece and replace it in North Africa with the 9th Australian Division, which was untrained and new. He hoped to also send the Polish Carpathian Brigade to Greece. The Australian General Blamey insisted on sending the 6th Australian Division to Greece and keeping the raw 7th Australian Division in Cyrenaica. They would reorganize the Australian divisions and change which brigades were assigned to each division. The prestige of General Freyberg meant that the New Zealand division was treated as being one of the best divisions. The New Zealand Division arrived in Greece on 7 March when they were treated to cheering from the Greek people. The Greek leader assured the British that whatever happened, the Greek army would fight the expected German invasion. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New Zealand forces to Greece

New Zealand forces were among the units sent to Greece in 7 March 1941. The New Zealand Division was included in convoys sent to Greece. There were six convoys sent to Greece that included the New Zealand Division. The convoys traveled in the period of 7 March to 3 April 1941. They formed part of "W Force". All this happened very suddenly, so much so that the first convoy included commanders that did not know their destination. The New Zealand Division and their companions traveled to the north to the "Aliakmon Line". There was not really any "line", but it was a natural defensive position between Yugoslavia and Salonika. They troops had not long to wait, because the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April. The German move eventually  "outflanked" the Aliakmon line, and forced the New Zealand Division and their companions to retreat south to suitable positions on the shore where they could be withdrawn by destroyers and cruisers, mainly. There were also several British transports that were included. On 11 April, men from the New Zealand 27th Machine Gun Battalion were captured at Klidhi Pass. They were the first New Zealand soldiers taken prisoner in the war. The Germans breakthrough on 12 April was what actually forced the New Zealand Division, the Australians, and some British troops to have to head south. The evacuation continued to the end of April. Some 50,000 soldiers had been evacuated. Many of them had been transported to the island of Crete. General Freyberg, the New Zealand Division commander, was appointed to command the defense by Churchill, although the troops on Crete were disorganized and General Freyberg was exhausted by the Greek campaign and was not in a position to organize a defense of the island. This is based on the New Zealand history and information from Gavin Long's book, "Greece Crete and Syria".

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