Thursday, April 08, 2021

Consequences of abandoning the Greek army

 By moving to the new line at Thermopylae, they would be ceding Greece to the north to the Germans. They would still hold a peninsula that was some 35 miles wide. This was between Lamia and Athens. They would lack the ability to cooperate with the main Greek army. The Germans would have the ability to base their fighter aircraft within range of Athens. 

Of course, the British were well-equipped with vehicles, unlike the Greeks. The Greeks would be forced to march for weeks to move so far. 

General Wilson ordered the British to move against the Greeks to keep them from getting in the way of British movement. He was ordering the Anzac Corps to keep the Greeks out of the way. 

When the order was given, the Anzac Corps was not in combat with the Germans. German aircraft were now attacking Greek and British forces along the Grevena road. 

The situation was strange, in that there were secret plans by the British to withdraw from Greece. Wilson's orders were given early on 15 April. The British could not afford to wait to begin withdrawing. 

Demolitions by the British were planned to try and slow the German advance. The British had four forces ready to provide cover for a withdrawal. They were the 1st Armoured Brigade, Savige Force, the 6th New Zealand Brigade, and the 19th Australian Brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Withdrawal to the Thermopylae line on 13 April 1941

 General Wilson decided on 13 April 1941 that the British would not rely upon the Greek army for anything. Wilson checked with General Blamey and then decided to "withdraw to the Thermopylae line". The German air power was now very much in evidence. The Germans bombed a town and that did away with the civilian government along with theh police and telegraph. The railroads were also showing the influence of German bombing. 

The British air power in Greece was now showing the effects of the German attacks. The British air force in Greece was losing its effectiveness. They faced losses in the air and on air fields.

Reports now suggested that the Greeks on the left were losing effectiveness. The British now worried that the Germans might push south along the Pindus towards Grevena and Yannina. 

The British heard that Greeks from Albania did not want to join the line being formed and instead were heading for Athens.The British were thinking of heading for Thermopylae where they could hold a position that didn't need Greek support. Thermopylae was about one hundred miles south. 

The proposed new line would include the Thermopylae, Brallos, and and Delphi passes. The plan had problems. One being that the Germans would be able to position air power within range of Athens. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The tasking for the 17th Brigade (Australian)

 The 17th Brigade was actually a collection of units and troops. One order said that they would be sitting at the junction where the Pindus and Grevena roads joined. Brigadier Savige committed to holding an area near the road junction. He would also be ready to move north to support the armored brigade. He would have four battalions and some artilley. 

They would eventually receive 7 cruiser tanks from the 3rd RTR (Robert Crisp's unit). They expected to have the 2/5th and 2/11th battalions that were expected to arrive by rail. 

They would expect to have the tanks, some medium artillery,  and some other artillery units. Savige did not finally receive the written order behind all the movements until early on 15 April. 

Savige only got the order when Lt-Col.Garrett arrived from Blamey's headquarters. Wilson got reports early in the day on 14 April. Greek divisions were said to be spotted on the left, including the Cavalry Division. 

They soon learned that the Germans had taken Kilsoura Pass. This was a threat to the Greeks, including the 9th, 10th, and 13th Divisions. These were part of the Western Macedonian Army.

Generals Wilson and Blamey agreed that the Greeks in the north seemed to be disintegrating. One interesting point was that the RAF had been tracking the Germans and hitting them hard. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The 17th (Australian) Brigade

 The 17th Brigade was given orders in writing that would be quite challenging. Brigadier Savige had arrived at General Blamey's headquarters as early as 13 April 1941. The 17th Brigade headquarters had arrived at Larisa on 11 April. We know already that when Savige arrived at Blamey's headquarters, General Wilson was there. He apparently ordered Savige to do some reconnaissance work. He was supposed to take the road from Larisa to Kalabuka. It would be to take the road that lead to the rear of the Epirus Army. He was also to check the Kalabuka-Grevena road. This happened to be the road that the 1st Armoured Brigade was taking while withdrawing. That was also true for the Western Macedonian Army. 

Brigadier Savige set off with his liaison officer. The drove from Larisa to Kalabuka and never saw any Greek troops. From there, they drove to Pindus to a point that was said to be above the snow line. It was said that from there, they could see the Adriatic. By the time they had driven back to Kalabuka, the town was filled with Greek troops. 

By 14 April, General Blamey had asked Brigadier Savige to return to his headquarters. He found Brigadier Galloway there doing Wilson's work by wanting the 17th Brigade to go to Kalabuka. While talking, word arrived that the Germans had broken the line on the left side. Blamey accordingly sent the 17th Brigade to hold a line that included Kalabuka. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The British misperception of the Greeks

 It seems that the British problem originated with General Wilson, Churchill's buddy. Wilson commanded in Greece because he was Churchill's friend, or at least seemed like one. The Greeks gave the impression of being second-class soldiers. They were inherently disorganized, or at least gave that impression to Wilson. The Greeks walked along the sides of roads in small groups. They wore uniforms that were rather "dingy" as the British said. 

The Greeks were not equipped with nice vehicles, but rather used whatever they could find, such as donkeys and farm carts. What vehicles they had were rather unimpressive. 

Wilson was now concerned that the Germans might move quickly south "along the Gravenna road" and "reach Larisa" a "bottleneck" and cut the British off from Athens. Wilson reacted by ordering the newly arrived 17th Brigade to try and protect this area, so that the British were not cut off from Athens. 

Interestingly enough, Brigadier Savige, who commanded the 17th Brigade, reached General Blamey's headquarters. Savige was hoping to receive some orders from Blamey. Savige had a headquarters, as well, and had reached Larisa by 11 April. He had his three battalions along with the extra battalion, the 2/11th, which was still located in Athens. 

It happened that when Savige had arrived at Blamey's headquarters, he ran into Wilson there. Savige was told to do some reconnaissance the road that went from Larisa to Kalabaka. There was a road that went towards that Greek Epirus Army.  This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

What would disturb General Wilson 13 April 1941?

 So what would cause General Wilson to be worried on 13 April 1941? There was a road at Grevena that Wilson wanted to be able to use for the 1st Armoured Brigade to withdraw. Word was, however, that the road was jammed with slow-moving Greek troops. They were described as "plodding south". What they thought that they had heard was that the 12th and 20th Greek divisions "had disintegrated" while trying to move to the Siatista and Klisoura passes. They had heard, though, that the Greek Cavalry Division was "well-established in the Pisoderion pass" in the north. 

General Wilson complained that the "Greek Central Macedonian Army" had failed in the process of executing the withdrawal. He also complained that the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions had never been able regain control over their men after they left the "Vermion positions". The disorganized divisions were now simply intent on reaching Athens.

The Australian historian commented that he expected that the Greek divisions were not really disorganized and that was simply a mistaken impression by the British based on the poor equipment and their appearance on the road. The historian also thought that what they were concerned about were service troops walking alongside the roads and not actually combat units.  This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The new situation and the British responsibilities

 It seemed that the new situation involved a defense on the Aliakmon line that had the Greek forces positioned on the left. They would occupy the passes "west of the Florina Valley and along the Albanian frontier." 

General Papagos issued an order on 12 April and defined the British resposiblities. The 6th Australian Division had lost heavily in anti-tank guns. General Wilson, though, ordered General Mackay to handle the demolitions along the Klisoura Road as well as the Argos Orestikon-Grevena Road. Some guns from the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment were provided to the 20th Greek Division. 

The 12th and 20th Greek Divisions to march from "the Vermion Passes" to the western passes. That would give the Anzac Corps the best roads. The biggest challenge would be communication between the Greeks and British. 

The poor British command structure only made things worse. 

"On 13 April General Papagos told the armies of Western Macedonia and Epirus that they would withdraw eventually to the coast at Lake Vutrinto. The Greeks were in this deep salient that they would have to leave. 

General Blamey thought that the British position would be in "an immensely strong natural position". "The Greek line would be in extremely rugged country". 

This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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