Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An assessment of the Yugoslav visit and the aftermath

The Australian Official History says that the apparent mission of the Yugoslav envoy, Colonel Perestich seems to have been to collect enough information that Prince Paul, the Yugoslav regent, could decide which side to join. The Allies certainly did not get what they desired from the Yugoslav visit. They did hear that what Yugoslavia was concerned about was that Salonika would be held, as that was vital to their supply line. The Yugoslavs, however, were unwilling to make any commitments to the Greeks and British. While this visit happened, General Wilson, the British commander-designate for the Greek operation, was becoming increasingly concerned that his force would be overcome piecemeal and would be ineffective. This, of course, was General Blamey's concern as well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The secret meeting in Greece

On 8 March 1941, a Yugoslav colonel carried out a secret visit to Greece where he met General Wilson, the eventual British commander of the force to be sent to Greece. General Wilson was not in uniform, to assuage the concerns of the Greeks. They were concerned, of course, at a German reaction to the visit of General Wilson to meet with the Yugoslavs about possible cooperation against the Germans. The Yugoslav visit was a response, rather late, to a British request for talks. Prince Paul, the regent, decided that he would rather negotiate with the Germans and hope to forestall an invasion. Therefore, the British got nothing from the meeting. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Dominion government concerns

While both the governments of Australia and New Zealand agreed that they still backed the operation in Greece, they both asked that the promised British forces be sent to accompany the force, but that the necessary plans must be made to withdraw them if, as expected, the Greek forces would not be able to stop the German advance. The situation prompted Admiral Pound to send a personal message to Admiral Cunningham about the need to be prepared for a withdrawal of the Dominion forces. Admiral Cunningham refused, however, to commit any more than withdrawing the Australians and New Zealanders with the British when such a withdrawal happened. The Australians then raised the question whether General Blamey should command the force going into Greece, due to the majority being Dominion troops. Both Generals Blamey and Freyberg were very experienced and were qualified to command the Greek force. In the end, as the British wished, General Wilson commanded the force sent to Greece. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More about General Blamey and the Greek plans

General Blamey was very unhappy with the British plans for Greece. He considered that the Australian forces were being sent to "Europe" in small pieces, rather than as part of a larger force. He had hesitated about being too open about his opinion, but when Mr. Menzies found out the truth in late 1941, he realized that the British had misled him about General Blamey's supposed agreement with the plan. General Blamey kept up a brave front in March 1941 and said despite the plan being bad, the Australians would perform well in battle. It appears, however, that General Blamey had hesitated to express his concerns forcefully to the formidable General Wavell when they met in early March. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Churchill's reply to Mr. Menzies

The Australian cabinet were greatly distressed over General Blamey's opinion of the Greek plan. Mr. Menzies appealed to Winston Churchill for some reassurance that there was some chance of success in Greece. Mr. Churchill countered with what I had assumed all along was the driving force behind a move into Greece. The motivation was Anthony Eden's sense that they were morally obligated to go to the aid of Greece and that the political fallout was too great to risk not going into to Greece. We already suspect that the professional military opinion was that there was little chance of a successful outcome. So the British government was pushing the Commonwealth forces to go into an untenable situation for political reasons. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A negative reaction

After General Blamey had complained about his treatment by Generals Dill and Wavell, the Australian government was greatly distressed by this and by the fact that General Blamey considered the Greek operation to be very risky. The Australian government was also concerned about a refusal being viewed in a negative light by other countries. Part of Wavell's attitude towards General Blamey was that Wavell had discussed the Greek operation with Mr. Menzies, prior to meeting with Blamey, so the second meeting seemed superfluous. General Blamey was ready to be the good soldier and go to Greece, even though he saw the plan as being fatally flawed. General Blamey suspected that the international political considerations outweighed his concern about a bad plan. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stories told

General Blamey had been promised that 23 squadrons would be available to support the force in Greece. The Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, was told in London that there were only 11 squadrons available. The reality was even worse: only seven squadrons were ultimately to support the force sent to Greece. Both the Commonwealth commanders, Generals Freyberg and Blamey, felt that they had never been consulted about the planned operation to Greece. They had only been instructed by the CIGS and General Wavell as to their roles. Dill and Wavell seemed to not care about either Freyberg's nor Blamey's opinions on the subject. Dill had represented to the officials in Britain that he had obtained Freberg's and Blamey's "willingness" to participate in the Greek operation, which was very far from the truth. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The crisis in early March 1941

The British, particularly Anthony Eden, were ready to steamroller the Australians, especially General Blamey. General Wavell had not even discussed with Greek operation with General Blamey, the Australian commander. It was only when Antony Eden had received the cable from Churchill that he realized that the Australians, in particular, were reluctant to participate in the "Greek adventure". Generals Dill and Wavell called General Blamey for a meeting. Was Blamey being "called on the carpet"? General Blamey spoke later of this meeting and he felt like he was receiving instructions, not being consulted. General Blamey correctly understood that the British were determined to carry out the Greek operation, so he made a plea that they include adequate forces to give it some chance of success. The actual plan only included what amounted to token forces compared with what they would face in the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Churchill loses faith in the Greek operation

By 6 March 1941, Winston Churchill had lost faith in the Greek operation. He sent a cable where he thought that they should change the plans to concentrate on taking Tripoli. That got an angry response from Anthony Eden, who pressed everyone involved to continue with the Greek operation, even though he was the only one who wanted to continue. The Australian General Blamey had already expressed jos concerns about the Australian forces to be committed to Greece. Prime Minister Menzies had already sent a cable about his concerns about the new situation in Greece. There was a claim that discounted the threat of German intervention in North Africa and they claimed that "Benghazi could be held". Apparently, Anthony Eden had wanted the operation to continue due to the commitments he had made, despite the opinions of Generals Dill and Wavell. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


The Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, expressed his unhappiness that Anthony Eden had made a written commitment of Australian forces that had "substantially" modified the proposal with which he had agreed. The Australian commander, General Blamey, requested permission to submit his concerns before the force was committed to battle. This was incongruous because the government had agreed to the original proposal with the word that General Blamey had agreed. As it was the government was now committed and any concerns would probably have to be ignored. The gist of General Blamey's cable sent from Alexandria was that the divisions committed to Greece were all just collections of smaller units that had never trained together as divisions. They would be facing highly trained and well-equipped German divisions. They would be facing the weight of German air power. General Blamey considered the Greek operation as extremely hazardous, and that proved to be correct. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Further information

On 26 February 1941, the New Zealand Government had agreed to send their division to Greece, but only on the condition that it be fully equipped and have an armoured brigade accompanying them. The Australian Government agreed to send two divisions to Greece, but conditioned on there being plans and adequate shipping to withdraw them if the operation failed. As the situation looked increasingly bad, Mr. Menzies had asked that the plan to send troops to Greece be reconsidered. The Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, also had misgivings. It was Anthony Eden who insisted that the doomed operation go forward. The government in the UK had then sent General Wavell a message taking responsibility for the Greek operation. The die was cast. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 07, 2011

March 3, 1941 in Greece

On 1 March 1941, after the intelligence had been received that the Germans were now in Bulgaria, the situation was radically transformed. The Greek attitude became defeatist. In actuality, the German advance into Bulgaria would only occur several days later. Still, Anthony Eden and General Dill were so alarmed by the changes that they asked General Wavell to fly to Greece. He arrived on 3 March and they had a meeting with the Greek King and General Papagos on 4 March. General Papagos proposed a compromise about how the Greek troops would be deployed. They considered withdrawing the offer of military aid, but finally accepted the compromise. The British delegation was left in an uncertain position. Anthony Eden had sent a communication to Yugoslavia, hoping for a positive response. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Germans move into Bulgaria

While the British delegation was still in Ankara, on 1 March 1941, they heard that German forces had entered Bulgaria. That prompted another visit to Athens by the British group. The British envoy in Yugoslavia, thought that the Yugoslavs might be impressed by their plans to aid the Greeks. They knew that the Yugoslavs feared the Germans, but they seem to have an inflated concept of the small force that they could send to Greece. The Greeks were hesitant to withdraw from Macedonia until they knew how the Yugoslavs would react. With the Germans in Bulgaria, the Greeks thought that the time had passed for a withdrawal to the agreed-upon line. General Papagos did not want to start a withdrawal that he calculated would take 15 days, not with the Germans already in Bulgaria. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

After Greece in late February 1941

When the British diplomatic and military group left Athens, they first stopped in Cairo. From there, they went to Turkey. The British had hoped to have Turkish agreement to come into the war on the Allied side, but the Turks refused, given that the British had nothing to offer in return. All the available troops were earmarked for Greece. The Turks considered themselves to be ill-equipped and were considered about the unreliable Yugoslav government. The Turks were more concerned about Russia, which was still cooperating with Germany, then they were the Germans. The British still had the good will of the Turkish government and people, even though they felt that they needed to stay neutral. The Turks were impressed that the Germans had beaten the British in 1940, as the Turks had been beaten by the British in 1918. They calculated that the Germans must be very powerful. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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