Saturday, December 31, 2005

My alternate post about the bombardment of Tripoli

I had accidentally posted this to the wrong blog. This was my original post on the bombardment.

Given the need to run a convoy through the Mediterranean Sea, Admiral Cunningham proposed to stage a bombardment of Tripoli in conjunction with that operation. That seemed to satisfy the commanders in Britain. Captain Mack's destroyers had just destroyed a convoy off Sfax, so they were in a more accepting mood. The impending need to withdraw the troops from Greece was also a factor.

The harbour at Tripoli was about a mile square, and was enclosed by breakwaters. The town sits "on a rocky promontory which forms part of the western and northern perimeter of the harbour". The berths for ships are on the northern segment of the breakwater. A seaplane station was on the southeast corner. Admiral Cunningham's plan was to bombard at night, with flares dropped from aircraft from his aircraft carrier, which he did not want to risk in close to shore. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The plan for the bombardment of Tripoli

Admiral Cunningham proposed, as a compromise, to bombard Tripoli inconjunction with a convoy from Malta. This was accepted by the commanders in Britain. This became more palatable to them after Captain Mack's recent destruction of a convoy off Sfax with his destroyers. The impending need to evacuate troops from Greece was also a factor.

Tripoli was a mile square harbour enclosed by a breakwater. The town was a promontory that formed the western and northern border. The ship berths were on the northern breakwater. The southeast corner had a seaplane station. Admiral Cunningham proposed to bombard Tripoli in the early morning, before dawn. Aircraft from the aircraft carrier would drop flares to provide light for the shooting. The submarine Truant would shine a light and ping its sonar (ASDIC). The forces involved were:

The Bombarding Force:


Warspite (Cunningham's flagship)



and 9 destroyers

The Carrier Force:

3 cruisers
4 destroyers

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Admiral Cunningham questioned the plan for blockships

The plan for attacking Tripoli with blockships, especially the Barham, was poorly conceived, and Admiral Cunningham was very resistent. Those in Britain making the proposal were not aware of the consequences. The idea was that the Barham and C-class cruiser would bombard before scuttling their ships. That meant that a substantial crew would be aboard. Admiral Cunningham thought that the chances of rescuing many would be small. He also was extremely sceptical that ships could be sunk in such a way as to block the harbour. The probability of success seemed very small. He also thought that the fleet would lose confidence in the higher command, as a consequence. A bombardment of Tripoli seemed a better option, even though the risks were great. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Back in North Africa in April 1941: plans for the bombardment of Tripoli

In early April, a plan had been considered that including sinking the old battleship, now target ship, the Centurion, to block Tripoli harbour. Admiral Cunningham ruled that out, since the ship was not already in the Mediterranean, and she probably could not have made the trip from the straits to Tripoli, without attack and damage. Admiral Cunningham did not want to bombard Tripoli with ships. Admiral Cunningham still thought that the best option was for the RAF to bomb Tripoli with Wellingtons. The commanders in Britain, as well as Churchill, kept pushing for a bombardment, and the admiralty was willing to sacrifice the battleship Barham and a C-class cruiser as blockships. These grand plans were being proposed just as the crisis point had been reached in Greece, and the commanders were forced to concede that the only option left was withdrawal. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

50,732 personnel were embarked from Greece, from 24 April until 1 May 1941. The total included some Greeks and Yugoslavs, as well as British forces (meaning British, Australian, and New Zealand). After the surrender at Kalamata, a few more men were embarked on the next few nights. There were also 700 taken from Milos, a nearby island. For several months afterwards, stragglers managed to escape, often with the help of friendly Greeks.

The 5th Panzer Division was ordered on from Thermopylae towards Lavrion. Lavrion is located at the south end of Attica. The pursuit pressed on towards Argos, Kalmata, and Sparta. Part of the SS Adolf Hitler Division moved across to Patras. The bridge over the Corinth Canal had been destroyed, but the Germans were able to cross near the ends. During the pursuit, one NZ battalion was bombed and the 6th NZ Brigade was able to hide during 28 April. The 6th NZ Brigade was taken off during the night of 29 and 30 April. Most were taken off from Monemvasia. So ended the Greek disaster. This was based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The continuing withdrawal from Greece in late April 1941

On 27 April 1941, a convoy of 6 ships was sent to Alexandria with an escort of two cruisers and seven destroyers. One transport, the Costa Rica, was sunk, but her crew and all troops were saved. A destroyer was able to take troops from the beach at Raphina. "The Ajax and two destroyers went to Porto Raphti where the 4th New Zealand Brigade had been heavily bombed during the day". The embarkation proceeded "without many casualties". The remaining troops on 28 April were at Monemvasia and Kalamata. The 6th New Zealand Brigade was at the former. Between 7 and 8 thousand were at the latter beach. There were also about 800 men on Kithera Island, who had reached there by boat. The troops at Monemvasia were able to be embarked quickly, as the landing craft from Glenearn were there. The three sloops sent to Kithera were able to take off the men without incident. Kalamata did not go so well. There, the Germans had broken into the town and captured the embarkation team and communications equipment. Only 300 men were taken off the beach, and then the rest were left to surrender on 29 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The withdrawal from Greece in April 1941

The British continued to use covering forces (or a rearguard) to protect withdrawals. A unit would move to a dispersal area on a night. They would hide through the next day, and then destroy equipment to be left behind. They would be called to "the beach by the embarkation staff". The ships would arrive "one hour after dark and leave not later than 3am". The RAF planned to fly out as many personnel as they could fit into aircraft. They used Bombays, Lodestars, and flying boats (Sunderlands?) to carry out men as well. Some had been carried by Blenheims to Crete. Those left would try to embark from beaches with the soldiers. The tentative plan was to leave starting on 28 April 1941. German advances disrupted this plan. The result delayed the withdrawal, as more time was needed to reach beaches in the Peloponnesus. On 25 April, the Ulster Prince was bombed and caught fire, becoming a total loss. The transport Pennland was bombed and sunk. Destroyers took her place, and all but 500 troops were withdrawn from Megara. On 25 April, General Wilson was forced to leave Athens for an embarkation area. This meant that he was out of contact until he arrived. Units were cut off and plans had to be changed. The 4th NZ Brigade had to be redirected to Porto Raphti. General Wilson was able to fly to Crete on 26 April. General Fryberg was left in command in Greece. There were many unfortunate losses, such as the Dutch transport Slamat, which had tried to embark more men, and was caught at daylight. The destroyers Diamond and Wryneck had tried to save men, and were sunk as well. On about 50 men, total, were ultimately rescued. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The plan for the embarkation from Greece in April 1941

The plan was to embark as many British troops as possible from Greece in April 1941. They would take their personal weapons and valuable, but light equipment, such as sights and other optics. Stores and equipment that might be useful "to the Greek people would be given to them". The rest would be destroyed, if possible, or at least rendered useless. The troops would be embarked in boats from " widely scattered beaches". The fast Glen Line ships and destroyers would take troops to Crete. The rest would be taken to Alexandria. The covering force would be limited to cruisers and their escorts: "the cruisers Orion, Ajax, Phoebe, and Perth; the anti-aircraft cruisers Calcutta, Coventry and Carlisle; about twenty destroyers and three sloops; the infantry assault ships Glenearn and Glengyle", 19 troop ships, four "A-lighters--an early type of tank landing craft", as well as a few other vessels. There were also some locally-acquired smallcraft thought to be suitable for the planned operation. The available beaches were surveyed and chosen. There needed to be deep water and they must be accessible to the retreating troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Readying for withdrawal

Apparently, by 21 April 1941, the cruiser York had already been sunk in Suda Bay by air attack. In any case, the ship's crew was "organized into beach parties". Additional personnel had been sent from Alexandria. Small craft were being gathered from many places, including Tobruk and the Suez Canal. On 20 April, the last 15 Hurricanes had intercepted an attack on airfields at Athens and 5 were lost and the rest were damaged. After this incident, the Germans had pretty much total control of the air. 23 Greek ships were bombed and sunk, including "a destroyer and a hospital ship". The plan was to take the troops off from beaches and take them to Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The collapse in the Balkans in April 1941

The British had become separated from the Greek army. Yugoslavia had surrendered. The Greek government was in turmoil. The Greek president of council had committed suicide on 18 April 1941. General Wilson had spoken with the Greek king and asked if he would stay in Athens as long as possible. Some in the Greek government wanted to withdraw to Crete and continue fighting. Other ministers thought that further resistent was not feasible. General Wavell flew to Athens on 19 April and met with General Wilson and Brigadiers Galloway and Brunskill, Rear-Admiral Baillie-Grohman, and Air-Vice Marshal d'Albiac. General Wavell was resistant to withdrawal, partly because of the equipment that would be left behind. General Wavell needed to consult with the Greek government before definitely deciding on withdrawal. He met with General Blamey, who would have to hold Thermoplyae. He told Wavell that he could not hold Thermopylae for long. General Wavell then met again with the King and the new head of council. By 21 April, the Greek government notified Wavell that the best course would be to withdraw. The withdrawal appeared to be difficult, partly because the navy was in such a strained state. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I continue to wonder about the process where British forces were sent to Greece in 1941

If you believe Churchill, he could have been dissuaded from sending troops to Greece in 1941, if the commanders had objected. The reason why I might trust that declaration is that as soon as Churchill was notified about Greek concerns about heavy fighting, he ordered the British withdrawal. I think that much of the responsibility for the failed adventure lies with General Wavell. General Wavell was trying to be the "good soldier" and do whatever the politicians wanted, regardless of the consequences. The result of proceeding with the operation not only were the loss of men and, especially, equipment in Greece and the near-loss of the North African position, as well. If the Greek adventure had not proceeded, Rommel could have been stopped, during the February-March 1941 timeframe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The withdrawal from 16 April to 18 April 1941

The 5th New Zealand Brigade was holding Olympus Pass. They held against tank and infantry attacks on 16 April 1941. At sundown, they pulled back to the top of the pass. On 17 April, the brigade was able to disengage, although one battalion had trouble breaking free of German mountain troops. They were able to reach their transport and the road to Larissa. The 4th New Zealand Brigade, at Servia, was able to disengage during that same period, and withdraw. On 17 April, the 1st Armoured Brigade passed through Savige's force on the way to Thermopylae. Savage's force withdrew on the evening of 17 April. On 18 April, the 6th New Zealand Brigade faced tanks, where they were positioned as rearguard at Elasson. The artillery had responsibility for engaging the tanks, which they did for the entire day of 18 April. The units involved included the 2/3 Australian Field Regiment, "one troop 64th Medium Regiment", and the 27th NZ Field Battery. On the evening of 18 April, the rearguard was able to disengage and withdraw. By the 19th, General Wilson's force was mostly at Thermopylae, with a rearguard at Domokos. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A good page about Operation Battleaxe

There is a good page about Operation Battleaxe on this Geocities-based site. The site is a manifestation of George Bradford and AFV News. He has other pages on Operation Brevity and the Crusader battles.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A short digression to analysis

The evidence suggests that General Wavell is largely to blame for the British collapse in early 1941. Churchill has a good responsibility, as well, but Wavell essentially saluted and agreed to measures that were totally destructive. A better man would have resisted Churchill's demands, and Churchill would have backed off (at least that is my reading of Churchill's writing). Wavell was used to taking risks and hoping for the best outcome. He had been lucky up until February 1941, when events took a turn for the worst, with Rommel's arrival in Libya.

Wavell did have the advantage that many of his personnel choices worked out well. He was also a good planner and administrator. His successor, General Auchinleck, seems to have been inept at choosing personnel. Auchinleck's main abilities were as a field commander, not as planner or administrator. That the latter topics worked as well as they did was more due to having a competent staff.

In any case, by the end of May 1941, the British were on the ropes in the Mediterranean theater, even while East Africa was wrapped up successfully.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The ANZAC retreat

The Germans were threatening Larissa from the coast. German tanks and infantry attacked the 21st New Zealand Battalion, which was defending positions at Platamon, trying to protect the railroad tunnel. They were forced to withdraw, by 16 April 1941. They retreated to the Vale of Tempe, the ancient river gorge for the River Pinios. The 16th Australian Brigade was ordered to move to the western side of the gorge. By April 17, the Germans had moved across the south peak of Mount Olympus. Elements of the 6th Mountain Division entered Gonnos by around noon. The 2nd Panzer Division succeeded in cutting off the 21st New Zealand Battalion and the 2/2 australian Battalion. They were forced into the hills. The Germans were blocked long enough for the main formations to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The air war in mid-April 1941 in Greece

Initially the German air force concentrated its efforts against Yugoslavia and Eastern Macedonia. As they became accustomed to moving their support and aircraft, they increasingly devoted effort to hitting British positions and the road system in the rear. The RAF was outnumbered and while they did their best to counteract the German air superiority, they suffered great losses. In one case, on 15 April, the Germans hit Niamata airfield and destroyed all ten Blenheims on the ground. The improving weather simply aggravated the situation. While the day seemed like one continuous air attack from strafing German fighters, actual losses on the ground proved to be quite light. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Complications to the withdrawal plan in mid-April 1941

The commanders had expected that the main threat to the planned British withdrawal in Greece would come from the west. Instead, the problem came from the east, and the 16th Australian Infantry Brigade would have new responsibilites. The withdrawal of the 1st Armoured Brigade over bad mountain roads left their tanks in poor mechanical condition. They no longer could be expected to act as a covering force. Then, the road through Volos became impassable, as of 17 April. That left the road from Larissa carrying all traffic, and this while the German air force was becoming a dominant force. The British air forces were suffering heavily. During the first week of the German attack, air operations had been hampered by rain. The British air effort was primarily to attempt to slow the German advance. No.211 squadron suffered heavily. "On one mission all six Blenheims of No.211 Squadron were shot down with the loss of the Squadron Commander and the Commander of the Western Wing". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The withdrawal to Thermopylae

The distance to Thermopylae for the ANZAC corps was about 100 miles or more. The road network was unfortunate, because the roads into and out of Olympus Pass ran through Larissa. The British were already operating in a situation where the Germans had air superiority. That meant that movements would need to be at night. Three rearguard positions would be utilized. The 6th New Zealand Brigade would be positioned north of Larissa, not far from Elasson. The 16th Australian Brigade would be on the Kalabaka road near Zarkos. A composite force commanded by Brigadier Lee would be at Domokos. The other forces would head for those positions and withdraw through them. This meant that the vital point of Larissa would be covered on three sides. All this was to happen starting about 16 April 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The German advance on 14-15 April 1941

The New Zealand Division was opposite the German 18th Corps, which had the 2nd Panzer Division moving forward along the Adriatic coast. The 6th Mountain Division was moving in parallel, but inshore. The New Zealand Cavalry withdrew back through the Olympus Pass in the evening of 14 April 1941. Over the next day, leading elements of the German forces were in combat with units from the New Zealand Division. The 17th Australian Brigade arrived at the front and was given Kalabaka to defend. The hpe was that they would guard roads leading to the Piraeus. The 1st Armoured Brigade was still at Grevena, and was only withdrawn with difficulty to a location behind the Venetikos river. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Balkan situation in mid-April 1941

After the Germans took Belgrade on 13 April 1941, the British command in Cairo had to face the fact that the Balkans situation was close to collapse. They immediately looked at what would be needed to withdraw "British" forces from Greece. When General Wavell heard of General Papagos's suggestion that the situation was lost and that the British should consider withdrawing to save Greece from the destruction involved with a fierce battle, he asked the high command in Britain for instructions. Churchill's reaction was to order the evacuation to proceed. By the night of 15/16 April, token German forces had crossed the Aliakmon and were in contact with British forces. The last British withdrawal had broken contact. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Churchill on the "decision to aid Greece"

I thought it worth looking at Churchill's rationale for going into Greece in his book The Grand Alliance. With our hindsight, the decision looks like a bad idea, and the consequences were grave. In early 1941, plans had been made to send forces to Greece, but there were no hard committments. Admiral Cunningham had warned of the dangers involved in such an enterprise. The potential allies in the Balkans, the Greeks, Yugoslavs, and Turks all had decided that the British could send such small forces that they could not affect the issue. That was the reason that the Turks turned down any cooperation with the British. We might say, in this day, that they were correct in their assessment. The decision was made partly because commanders such as General Wavell seemed ready to be involved and because the brain trust in Britain hated to not contest a German attack in the Balkans, particularly if it might mean the loss of Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey. They thought that if Yugloslavia showed any inclination to stand with the Allies, that forces should be sent into the Balkans to support the Greeks and Turks. This is based on the account in Churchill's book The Grand Alliance.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Further retreat by 15 April 1941

General Wilson had discussed a further withdrawal to Thermopylae as early as 13 April 1941. When reports surfaced of the collapse of morale and discipline in the Greek army, and the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions were seen as just barely surviving, General Wilson discussed with General Blamey the further withdrawal to Thermopylae. When General Wilson and General Papagos met on 16 April, General Papagos approved the withdrawal and discussed the Greek army's plight. General Papagos suggested the the British army withdraw totally from Greece, at least partly to save Greece from the destruction involved in an intense battle. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

12 April 1941 and later in Greece

Fortunately for Force W, the Germans were having trouble moving a balanced force forward and keeping them supplied. The Germans attacked the junction between the 1st Rangers and the 2/8 Australian Battalion on 12 April. The Rangers and 2/8th were only able to withdraw with difficulty. Fortunately, the plans for the rearguard position worked and the Germans were delayed there. The 1st Armoured Brigade Group subsequently withdrew to Grevena.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Division had been active. Their divisional cavalry had armoured cars and Brend carriers before the Olympus Pass. The 16th Australian Brigade was sent across country, to keep the roads free. This only was done with difficulty. By 14 April, the 17th Australian Brigade was arriving from the Piraeus to reinforce the ANZAC Corps, commanded by General Blamey. The situation was deteriorating as the Greek divisions were in obvious trouble and in danger of collapse. The ANZAC Corps was planning withdrawal, starting on 15 April.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mackay Force in Veve Pass

General Mackay's task was to hold the Germans at Veve Pass until the night of 12/13 April 1941. At his disposal, he had the Australian 19th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Vasey) and the 1st Armoured Brigade Group. The 1st Rangers, the motor battalion from the 1st Armoured Brigade Group, was temporarily placed under Brigadier Vasey's commmand. That meant that there were now three battalions to hold a ten mile front. To their right was the "Greek Dodecanese Regiment". The two armoured regiments were positioned to suppor the infantry. These were the 4th Hussars, with light tanks, and Robert Crisp's 3rd RTR with cruiser tanks (A.9 Cru.Mk.I and A.10 Cru.Mk.II). The plan was that the 19th Australian Infantry Brigade would withdraw starting in evening of 12 April with the armoured brigade as rearguard. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

April 9 and 10 1941, in Greece

Up through 9 April, the Greeks had been engaging Italian troops in Albania. The threat from the German moves caused General Papagos to disengage and withdrew to a line that went from the west coast to the "big bend" in the Aliakmon river, to the southwest of Servia. By the 10th Mackay force was firing on the vanguard of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division. On 10 May, General Papagos ordered General Wilson to withdraw to the line of the "Olympus-Servia-Lake Prespa" position. General Wilson had positioned his Greek divisions on his left flank. These were the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions. General Wilson was getting nervous about his Greek divisions as they had little or no transport and seemed to lack cohesion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

General Wilson expected to have to withdraw

Because General Wilson could see that a withdrawal from the Aliakmon position was unavoidable, he made some preliminary moves. He ordered General Blamey to make some preliminary moves. The 19th Australian Brigade, with only two battalions, a field regiment, and an A/T regiment were moved north to Veve. The 1st Armoured Brigade was moved to Amyntaion. General Mackay colocated his HQ with the Greek General Karassos. A portion of the Greek 20th Division moved position on the right of Mackay Force. Under General Blamey's command, portions of the New Zealand Division were on the move, including towards the Olympus Pass. At Aliakmon, the demolition took place in hopes of slowing the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History (being the History of the Second World War: The Mediterranean and Middle East).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

8 April 1941 in Greece

General Wilson realized on 8 April 1941 that the German 40th Corps would be a threat, as it moved from Monastir. The Australian Generals Blamey and Mackay were given responsibility to strengthen the situation with a readjustment and with arriving elements of the 6th Australian Division. General Mackay was put in command of the "Amyntaion Detachement" and told to strengthen the unit as he could. He now reported directly to General Wilson. There were still Greek forces in the field. While Mackay Force would defend the Veve Pass, the Greek 20th Division would defend a line across Lake Vegorritis to Edessa. They pulled back from Edessa, itself. The Greek 12th Division would defend the line from Verria to the coast, along with the New Zealand Division and the 16th Australian Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The German attack in April 1941

Once the decision was made to attack Yugoslavia as well as Greece, plans were altered to pull in some forces intended for Barbarossa. Luftflotte 4, in Austria, was tasked to operate over Yugoslavia. The German 2nd Army would attack from Austria and Hungary. The 12th Army, in Bulgaria, would still attack Greece. The German airforces involved dwarfed those available to the British. Luftflotte 4 had 576 aircraft, alone. Another 168 were pulled in from Fliegerkorps X. The air support for the 12th Army was provided by Fliegerkorps VIII, which had 414 aircraft.

The situation in Yugoslavia was such that the country was doomed in a couple of days. When the attack commenced on 6 April 1941, the 9th Panzer Division, of the 40th Corps was a at Skopje. The 73rd Infantry Division moved to Prilep. Armoured forces reached Salonika on 9 April.

In air attacks on the Piraeus on the night of 6 and 7 April, the Clan Fraser was bombed, caught fire, and exploded. The explosion of the Clan Fraser's cargo of 250 tons of explosives sank other ships and damaged the dock facilities. The damage was so extensive as to shut down the port.

On that night of 6 and 7 April, Sofia was bombed by 6 Wellingtons, hitting an ammunition train and damaging the railway in Sofia. Blenheims from No.84 Squadron bombed a railway station 50 miles south of Sofia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The initial stages of the German attack in Greece

A prominent feature of the German attack on Greece was that the Germans controlled the air. The terrain and weather were also unfamiliar to many of the troops (Australians and New Zealanders, in particular). There were mountains and snow to deal with. All that and they had to stage a fighting withdrawal to embarcation points a great distance away. And somehow, they largely succeeded. The Germans had struggled in Bulgaria to prepare for the campaign. By 1 April 1941, Field Marshal List could report that his troops were ready to invade Greece. On 27 March, the Germans heard of the Yugoslav coup, and the orders were changed. They decided the Yugoslavia must be quickly neutralized, so they could not interfere with the attack on Greece, and later, the attack on Russia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

When the Germans turned the flank at Aliakmon

After the German attack on Yugoslavia and Greece in early April 1941, the Germans quickly crossed into the "upper Aliakmon valley". This flanked the Greeks facing Albania and also W Force. The British had no choice but fall back on Thermopylae. That meant withdrawing across Thessaly, a plain. That also meant that the main airfields would be lost to the advancing Germans. With the Greek government at the breaking point, the commanders decided to stage a complete withdrawal of British forces. For all the sacrifices made to send troops to Greece, it all came to nought. British forces were unable to affect the outcome in the Balkans and almost lost North Africa, as well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The situation unfolds in Greece in April 1941

Around 5 April 1941, General Wilson had been told that the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Brigade would not be sent to Greece. Of the troops actually in Greece, most were not deployed where he had wanted. Greece was a spent force and would not count for much. Yugoslavia was in political turmoil after the coup which forestalled the attempt to join the Axis. The entire British campaign in Greece became a withdrawal. There was never a decent prospect of being able to face the Germans and fight in place. The Yugoslav army in the south was rapidly beaten. That allowed an open path to the Germans to enter Greece through Monastir. General Wilson changed his deployment, but his resources were meager enough that his left flank was dangerously exposed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Right before the storm: early April 1941 in Greece

Intelligence started to be collected indicating German forces moving through Bulgaria from late March 1941. The German forces were much stronger than the Allies had defending the Aliakmon line. At the end of March, there appeared to be about 20 German divisions in Bulgaria, menacing Greece. Of these 20, 6 were on the west side, while 4-6 were in the center. The German XVIII Corps, with two mountain divisions was active on the Greek-Bulgarian border. The Italians in Albania were also moving to the frontier. At the same time, Rommel was attacking in Libya. News went out to Allied troops on 4 April 1941 to be prepared for an attack, perhaps on 5 April. In the event, the attack actually took place on 6 April, in the early morning, and was against both Greece and Yugoslavia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The British air power in Greece early April 1941

The British air strength in Greece in early April 1941 consisted of the following squadrons:

No. 11 Blenheim bombers
No. 84 Blenheim bombers
No. 113 Blenheim bombers
No. 211 Blenheim bombers
No. 30 Blenheim fighters

No. 33 Hurricanes

These were a mix of Hurricanes and Gladiators
No. 80 single seat fighters
No. 112 single seat fighters

No. 208 Army Cooperation (Lysanders?)

Wellington bombers from Egypt were
available on moonlit nights

In fact, when the attack happened on 6 April, there were
only 80 operational British aircraft in Greece. The main
problem was the shortage of suitable airfields and space
for planes.

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