Thursday, April 28, 2011

A small British armoured force would try and protect against a turning movement

The possibility that the Germans would sweep across southern Yugoslavia and then turn south, turning the British and Dominion front, was a pressing concern. The problem was that the proposed solution was to send Brigadier Charrington, with the 3rd RTR (Robert Crisp's unit), with some NZ machine gunners and some medium artillery to move into the German path. Why would they not be overrun by a superior force? Some Australian anti-tank gunners would later be added.

By April 5, General Wilson was placed in command of Allied forces in Central Macedonia. Two Greek divisions were called an army, while the Allied forces were stretched across a large distance, so that almost everywhere, there were no force concentrations. Only one Australian brigade was in position. The New Zealand Division was in forward positions. The 6th Australian Division units and the commander arrived about 5 April 1941. The troop transport convoys were disrupted by the recent Battle of Cape Matapan. The Allied army was in great disarray, but was being placed according to General Wilson's plan. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Politics has bad effects

General Wilson declined to allow General Freyberg and the New Zealand Division permission to fortify the Olympus passes. General Wilson apparently was concerned about commitments that had been made to the Greeks and the slight hope that they might still be able to draw Yugoslavia into formal cooperation. Even more troubling was the possibility that the Germans might force their way through Yugoslavia and turn the Allied line and catch them in the rear. Sadly, General Wilson now proceeded to scatter his forces across Greece, so that they would lose any advantage of concentration of their all-to-small force. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Generals' recommendation

After visiting the planned defense line, General Freyberg visited General Blamey, and they agreed that the line could not be held against an attack that included tanks. Freyberg suggested that they instead pull back and defend the passes near Olympus. That is the sort of thing that the ancient Greeks would have done and would have made more sense than being so far forward and in a position where the troops would be dispersed across a wide front. General Blamey visited General Wilson in Athens on 24 March 1941. He obtained General Wilson's agreement that the New Zealand Division would be allowed to fortify the passes, rather than occupy the forward position. However, in the event, General Wilson never granted the New Zealand Division permission to withdraw to the Olympus passes. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An untenable situation in March 1941

The Greeks wanted General Wilson to help defend a forward position that might persuade Yugoslavia to cooperate. General Wilson declined, but he did agree to position the armoured brigade forward as a delaying force. He decided to ask General Freyberg and the New Zealand Division to defend the coastal end of the Aliakmon line. General Freyberg complained to General Blamey, when he visited on 23 March 1941 that he was being asked to defend 25,000 yards of front with two infantry brigades and one field artillery regiment. They would eventually gain strength, but they were still stretched too thin on the ground. They were also concerned about the state of the Greek army, which was practically immobile, limited to pack animals and bullock teams, giving a one mile an hour speed of movement. This is based on Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

General Freyberg arrives in Greece

After arriving in Greece on 7 March 1941, General Freyberg traveled forward to the Olympus-Aliakmon line. He visited the Greek 19th and 12th Divisions. He was dismayed to find that they were very substandard. The 19th Division only had 2,000 untrained men. The 12th Division had six battalions and three artillery batteries. He also visited the 20th Division, which was equipped similarly to the 12th Divsion, but with more guns, although only a small number more. He found that the plan for the 19th Division was to hold 12,000 yards of the line. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The German attack

British preparations for the move into Greece actually started on 23 February 1941, when Brigadier Brunskill, Wilson's senior admin officer, arrived in Athens. When the British and Dominion troops started arriving, they were welcomed by the Greek people. Some men were transported by rail, but many traveled by road. The Australians loved Greece, as it was such a contrast to the desert. The land was beautiful and the people happily greeted the arriving troops. The men could also see that Greece was a backward country, and lacked the modern conveniences that even the Australians were used to having. The 16th Brigade group arrived on 27 March at a location near Mt. Olympus and the Aliakmon River. At the same time, the New Zealand Division was moving into a position to the north east of Olympus. The entire division was nearly in place. The Australians, in contrast, trickled north from the Piraeus and towards their position. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Communications in Greece were a challenge

The road system, such as it was, in Greece was decidedly second rate. It was below the usual European standard. The best roads were just asphalt, while they often were macadam, that is, layers of broken stones. The Athens-Florina road was often not even two lanes wide. There was some 1,600 miles of railroad, with only 350 passenger coaches and about 5,000 box cars (as we call them in America). The port of Athens, the ancient Piraeus, could handle 3,000 tons a day, unloaded. Since Salonika now seemed impossible to hold, the only alternative port was Volos. That port would be limited to 6,000 ton ships or smaller. The port of Stilis might have been used, but the Greeks wanted to use the rail line to hold railroad cars withdrawn from Macedonia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No coordination with Yugoslavia

By 4 April 1941, there was obviously no hope of the British and Greek armies operating in coordination with the Yugoslav army. By 4 April, there were only 1-1/2 British dominion divisions in Greece. They were to help hold a rearmost line with a small Greek contingent. General Wilson would command the rear force, consisting of a joint Greek-British force. We can judge the chances of success by the fact that General Wilson was already looking at possible lines of retreat. They also had formulated plans to embark the British and Dominion troops for a withdrawal from Greece. At this point, we have trouble understanding why they even considered proceeding with what now appeared to be a hopeless plan. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 11, 2011

General Blamey in Greece

General Blamey conducted a reconnaissance of the proposed Vermion-Olympus line. He sent a cable to the Australian government on 31 March 1941 outlining the weakness of the position from the north. The lines of communication were very tenuous, as well. Given the strength of the Germans in Bulgaria, 23 to 25 divisions, the token British and Dominion forces, along with the rather meager Greek army seemed hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched. Churchill, by now, had a wildly, over-optimistic view of the situation, more in line with what I had remembered from the British Official History. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

General Dill's trip to Belgrade

General Dill was sent to Belgradee on 31 March 1941. He told the Yugoslavs that the British force would be about 150,000 men and that they were about half that size at that date. He hoped that they could cooperate, but the Yugoslavs had hoped that the British would advance to Doiran Gap. General Dill told them that the British planned to defend a line that included Mount Olympus. They would only advance if they had assurances from the Yugoslavs about cooperation. The Yugoslavs countered that they would not cooperate with the Greeks without the consent of the whole of their government. A follow-on meeting was planned in Greece on 3 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Churchill was over-optimistic after the Yugoslav coup

While Churchill's optimism was understandable, his fantasy of 70 Allied divisions in the Balkans was totally unrealistic. In fact, Turkey was firm in not becoming involved in the war unless they were attacked. For there to be a Balkan front, the Allies needed to hold Salonika and communications with Yugolsavia. The plan for troop deployment meant that holding Salonika was a real possibility. Anthony Eden and General Dill flew back to Greece from Malta to meet with General Wilson. The Greek General Papagos told the British that the Yugoslavs had 24 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions. They sent General Dill to talk with Yugoslav leaders about the Allied plans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Yugoslavia's choice

Discussions took place in Belgrade after Colonel Peresitch returned from Greece. Those discussions lasted until 24 March 1941, when Yugoslavia decided to side with Germany in the war. A delegation went sent to Vienna, where they joined the Tripartite pact. When the news was heard in Belgrade, young officers staged a coup d'etat. Prince Paul and his family were exiled and the young prince was proclaimed king. The coup was widely backed by the Serbs in Yugoslavia. General Wilson was on a reconnaissance mission to northern Greece, prompted by news of Yugoslavia joining the Axis. Winston Churchill was greatly heartened by news of the coup. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A fallback position

Even before the British and Dominion troops went into Greece, General Wilson was concerned about a fallback position. He seems to have little faith, by about 9 March 1941, they there was any prospect of halting a German advance into Greece. General Wilson hoped to send a team of officers to look for defensible positions behind the line that they expected to go into initially. While this was happening, the Italians in Albania mounted a new offensive in the middle of the front. The Italians used 12 divisions, but where not able to make progress against a Greek force half their size. This says a lot about the quality of Italian troops and their morale, as the Greeks were not only a smaller force, but were poorly equipped. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official history.

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