Friday, August 31, 2012

Air Power in the Greek Campaign

After the collapse of General Wilson's command structure in Greece amid the withdrawal, an attempt was made to blame the British Royal Air Force for the failure. From the initial air contingent sent to Greece in late 1940 up until the withdrawal in the face of vast German air forces and army, the RAF put on a credible performance, given what they had in the field.

The really surprising fact was the failure of the German air force to achieve more, given the lack of opposition. The author of this volume of the Australian Official History asserts that the German air force had no affect on the outcome. We are more skeptical, but we know that sensible measures taken by the Australian and New Zealand troops during the withdrawal to the coast were sufficient to protect them from German air attacks. We would say that the Germans were still learning about the sort of operations that were conducted in the air over Greece and it was not until 1942 that they became more effective. They were forced to become more efficient in Russia and in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Dominions were treated badly over Greece

The Australian Official History at least in part blames the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, and the senior army officer, General Blamey, for not being in better communication. We have seen that the British, probably in form of General Wavell had mislead the men about any agreement with the British plan for Greece. Without consulting the Dominions, the British had promised the Greeks an army of three divisions: two Australian and one New Zealand. They had committed the Australians and New Zealanders without their permission. To get their acquiescence, they lied about the circumstances. The British acted very badly all through this process.

The Greek army got no better treatment from the British. The British commander expected the worst of the Greek army, when they made a good-faith effort that delivered results, considering the bad equipment and training of the Greek Army. The Greeks, however, were sold out by a corrupt German sympathizer who surrendered a significant portion of the army. That was after the British had undercut the Greek defensive posture. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Greek Campaign background

We need to remember that Greece had tried to remain neutral until they were attacked by Italy in October 1940. Once they were attacked, the Greek army was hard-pressed to defend the country. Greece lacked an organic arms industry and they relied on receiving captured Italian weapons from the British. British success in North Africa against the Italians helped to sustain the Greek defense.

The Italians had given the Greek government an ultimatum, but did not even wait for a reply and attacked from Albania into Greece. The Greek army was not a pushover, because if they had been, even the Italians could have succeeded. They fought a war through the winter, where the Greeks eventually made inroads into Albania. The Greeks ignored any threat of attack through Bulgaria by Germany.

After the British came in to support Greece by taking the islands of Crete and Lemnos, the Germans determined to end the campaign in Greece, so that they did not have a distraction in the Balkans while they were preparing to attack Russia. That alone doomed any British attempt to aid the Greeks by sending troops. They British and Commonwealth forces that were available were a fraction of what Germany was able to commit to the campaign. General Blamey and his prime minister were correct that sending troops to Greece would fail and would jeopardize the defence of North Africa. The British ignored sane advice and bulldozed their way into the disastrous Greek Campaign.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What went wrong in Greece

The Greeks were anxious to do everything that they could to support Yugoslavia, when they came in on the Allied side, briefly. The Greek general Papagos wanted to hold Salonika as the primary port for supplying Yugoslavia. The British commander, General Wilson, undercut this immediately, because he underestimated the trustworthiness and capability of the Greek army. In fact, the quick Yugoslav collapse made the Greek plans quickly obsolete. General Wilson wanted to deploy on Olympus-Vermion because it was difficult terrain for a German advance. When the Aliakmon line could have been held, General Wilson's lack of respect for the Greeks caused him to weaken a potentially strong line, while the right of the ANZAC Corps was too weak to stand an attack by the Germans on the Olympus-Aliakmon line. This was just another example of inept British command and staff operations that doomed the campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Once the British prime minister had decided to go into Greece and to establish a Balkan Front, he was prepared to do anything to achieve it. The Western Desert Force commander, General Richard O'Connor, had thought that he could have taken Tripoli, if he had been allowed to continue. Instead, he lost an armoured brigade and two infantry divisions to the Greek adventure.

While we often blame Mr. Churchill for Greece, we must take into account anthony Eden's part in pushing for the Greek operation. The young foreign minister had decided that the British had a moral responsibility to aid Greece. He also was confident that he could bring in Yugoslavia and Turkey in the Balkan Front.

Still, how Australia was dealt with the deal seem reprehensible. Mr. Menzies, the Australian prime minister was told that General Blamey had agreed that the operation was sound. General Blamey, meanwhile, was told that his prime minister had agreed. The Australians were treated shabbily in the whole process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Was the Greek expedition a reasonable thing to do?

Was British prestige really a valid reason for sending troops and equipment into Greece? The Australian General Blamey thought that the chance of success was low and that a defeat would do more harm to British prestige than the gesture of sending a force. Churchill and Anthony Eden seemed to think that there was a real chance of Yugoslavia and Turkey joining in the fight in a meaningful way. In fact, Turkey was better off staying neutral, because the British strength was so inadequate for the task of opening up a Balkan front. Generals Wavell and Wilson's opinion didn't count, as they were essentially "yes-men" for Churchill. As we have said, the primary result was to write off a sizable portion of the Royal Navy in the combination of Greek campaign and the battle for the island of Crete.

The Germans were able to deploy a large force for the Balkans, since the attack on Russia was postponed. The Official History suggests that the road system was the only limiting factor to the size of the German force to be committed. When the Germans attacked Greece, they had not yet set the date for attacking Russia. The decision had been made, but that was all. In the event, the Balkans campaign and the battle for Crete delayed the attack on Russia. Some have suggested that this was a decisive factor in the German attack stalling in front of Moscow when winter hit in earnest. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Looking back at the Greek campaign

The Greek campaign was mounted for strictly political reasons, because all the participants understood that the military side would be insufficient to make a difference. The problem was that Great Britain had repeatedly made guarantees about defending Greece and those guarantees had to be backed up with action. The British and Commonwealth leaders were concerned that they would lose prestige in the eyes of the Americans if they declined to aid Greece. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, took the British obligation very seriously, even when the Greek leadership questions the wisdom of the British weakening the force in North Africa to aid Greece.

The Greek republicans, who were in opposition to the ruling monarchists, thought that Greece had made a weak response to the German attack. The charge was that the Greek monarchists, like the Yugoslav government, secretly admired the Nazis and wanted to join that side against the Allies. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Fugitives at large, after 30 April 1941

One Australian soldier, Gunner Barnes from the 2/1st Field Regiment, had escaped by jumping from a moving train north of Salonika. He had been taken prisoner on 30 April 1941 at Kalamata. He was another victim of the failure to rescue men when they might have been saved in the last hours at Kalamata. Gunner Barnes had wandered around northern Greece for six weeks with help from Greeks. Some Greeks took him on voyage from the Mount Athos peninsula to Turkey. From there, he was able to travel to Egypt to join his unit.

More soldiers managed to escape and remained free in Greece into 1942, when they joined the growing resistance movement. The resistance were active in committing sabotage against the Germans and Italians. This was made possible by the fact that the Greek people in the countryside were relatively self-sufficient and had food and clothing to share with the fugitive soldiers. The Greek people in the cities suffered much more under the German occupation due to the lack of jobs and income. There was also a problem with inflation out of control that drove up prices in places like Athens. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Warrant-Officer Boulter escapes the Germans on 7 June 1941

Some of the men captured in the Peloponnese were able to escape from the Germans. One was Warrant-Officer Boulter. He had been taken prisoner at Kalamata on 29 April 1941 when the Germans pushed into the area. He was among a group of men who were moved to a prison camp at Corinth. He was told that there were about 10,000 British prisoners there. For some reason, the Germans had taken four to five thousand Italians prisoner who had been freed by the Greeks. At Corinth, the men had seen aircraft sent and return from the battle on Crete. Aircraft returned with bullet holes and broken wings. Starting on 5 June, the men were moved with the eventual aim of moving all the prisoners to Germany.

Warrant-Officer Boulter jumped into some bushes along the road where they were marching prisoners. This was on 7 June 1941. He lay there until after dark. He got in contact with Greeks, got into local clothing, and worked for his food and a place to stay for a number of days. They sent him to a village near Lamia where he met several other men. They walked to the coast by 22 June and then Greeks took them to Euboea. At Euboea they heard over BBC that Germany had invaded Russia. By the help of Greeks, he arrived in Smyrna on 25 July. He then was taken to Haifa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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