Monday, May 30, 2011

9 April 1941

Early in the morning of 9 April 1941, General Mackay and Colonel Sutherland met with the Greek general Karassos. They met for three hours. Afterwards, General Mackay said that he considered that there was little accomplished by the discussions. General Mackay intended to have his headquarters near the Greek headquarters and he planned to increase the anti-tank gun support from a troop to a battery. On the 9th, the 1st Armoured Brigade and part of the Australian 19th Brigade arrived at their positions. The troops spent the night in the snow without shelter. They were already weary from their climb with heavy loads. The next day, they would advance into their positions at Vevi. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

the defensive line of 9 April 1941

General Wilson's force that was to defend the Olypmus passes and the Aliakmon line was mixed Greek, Pritish, and Dominion. The plan was for General Blamey to command the New Zealand Division, the 16th Australian Brigade, and part of the Greek 12th Division. The one pure Greek force was commanded by General Karassos and consisted of the 20th Greek Division and part of the 12th. General Mackay commanded a force in the north that included the 1st Armoured Brigade, General Mackay's command and the Greek 20th Division would withdraw back to the defensive line. The British force included armoured cars which were used on the 9th to find how far the Germans had advanced. The Germans were still to the north of Monastir at 4:50pm on 9 April 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On the afternoon of 9 April 1941, the Greek force in eastern Macedonia surrendered to the Germans. They had stood against the Germans, but were not cutoff. The German commander commended the Greek resistance and their ability to not panic. The battle in eastern Macedonia lasted but four days. Like the fall of France, the Germans attacked through a third country and outflanked a fortified line. By holding Salonika to please the Yugoslavs, the Greeks lost four to six divisions. On the morning of 9 April, General Wilson had ordered a withdrawal to the Aliakmon line. Wilson later heard that General Papagos had approved of the withdrawal. General Papagos, after learning of the events of 9 April planned to withdraw from Albania and central Macedonia to a prepared line further to the rear. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The blocking force plan: 8 April 1941 in Greece

General Mackay's blocking force would consist of two battalions of the 19th Australian Brigade, the 2/3 Field Regiment, "Lee's Detachment" (3rd RTR, 27th NZ MG battalion (without two companies), 2nd RHA, 64th Medium Regiment, and the 2/1st Australian Anti-Tank Regiment. The main problem was that this was a token force, but they would try and block "the main German thrust into Greece". They decided to pull back the 6th Australian Division that had been trying to relieve the 12th Greek Division. Now, General Wilson was thinking about the Aliakmon line as a position to try and hold. They would send the 4th NZ Brigade to Servia Pass. They ordered the 6th NZ Brigade to pull back through the Olympus Pass, which was held by the 5th NZ Brigade. An immediate concern was that the British/Dominion command structure was ad hoc and jumbled due to General Wilson's decisions to date. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The German advance causes the Eastern Macedonian Army to stop fighting

With the Germans sweeping down through the Axios valley, they reached the point where nothing stood between them and Salonika. That news was enough to bring the commander of the Greek Eastern Macedonian Army to ask for an armistice. While the Greeks were doing well in Albania, the overall situation stopped their offensive. He decided to withdraw towards the line that General Wilson had proposed to defend. General Papagos had issued orders to Wilson, but Wilson had decided to make his own moves. General Wilson planned to assemble a force to block the Florina gap. Wilson appointed General Mackay to command the force and Wilson wanted him directly under his command. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yugoslavia collapses on 8 April 1941

The British were not able to conduct aerial reconnaissance on 8 April 1941 due to the rain and snow. A patrol penetrated north and found that the Yugoslavian army in the south had collapsed. The Germans had taken Veles and Skoplje. Three Yugoslav divisions surrendered to the Germans. A core of Yugoslav officers gathered at Florina. Three Yugoslav tanks and four anti-aircraft guns returned with the patrol. A German thrust through the Doiran Gap pushed back the Greek 19th Division. General Papagos had hoped that the British 1st Armoured Brigade might help hold the gap, but there was no chance of that happening. The 4th Hussars, presumably with light tanks, formed a screen on the Axios plain. When they saw German tanks driving across the plain, they blew up a road bridge and damaged a railroad bridge before withdrawing. Canadian commandos destroyed the oil stored at Salonika, as had been planned. The New Zealand Divisional Cavalry and the 6th New Zealand Brigade also conducted demolitions before withdrawing. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The weather turns bad in Greece: 8 April 1941

Conditions in Greece were getting increasingly difficult for the British and Dominion troops. Not only were the Germans driving forward from Bulgaria, but on 8 April 1941, snow started to fall in the mountains. The valleys got rain at the same time. From the mountains, when conditions cleared enough, the Australians could see Salonika and Yugoslavia, where battles were being fought. The Australians had little protection from the weather, as there was only one tent per platoon. They also had great difficulty communicating with the people they encountered, due to the scarcity of interpreters. The Australians also observed that the Greeks were largely untrained. The Greeks sited their one machine gun in an unprotected position and then piled up rocks to drop on the Germans when they came. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The German sweep: 7 April 1941 in Greece

The Greek HQ at Salonika received word on 7 April 1941 that a German armoured force was sweeping through Yugoslavia, and then turned south through the Doiran Gap. They would flank the Greek force and drive south to Salonika. The Greek 19th Division was stationed at the Doiran Gap the day before, and reinforcements were rushed to aid them. The Germans were moving fast, and the leading units arrived at Doiran late on 7 April. A Greek offensive in Albania had started on 7 April, but had made little progress. The Yugoslav division that was to have cooperated failed to do so on the 7th. The 19th Australian Brigade, under General Wilson's command, was ordered forward, despite being short a battalion. The 16th Australian Brigade was to move to the Veria Pass and try and hold it. They were often above 3000 feet and had to carry equipment up the mountains, or use the few donkeys that were available. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Bad things begin to happen: 6 and 7 April 1941 in Greece

Despite the request by General Blamey to withdraw the New Zealand Division back to the Olympus passes, General Wilson still wanted them to hold more forward positions. The staff did begin to consider a move rearward to new positions, but while all that happened, there was a disaster in the Piraeus. On the night of 6 and 7 April 1941, the Germans bombed the harbour and detonated the explosives on the Clan Fraser. The explosion devastated the harbour facilities and sank 7 ships, and many lighters and caiques. The explosion drastically reduced the ability of the Piraeus to unload cargo from ships. After being closed for the next two days, when the port reopened, only five berths could be used of the original twelve. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Germans attack in the Balkans

The advance of the German 12th Army hit the Yugoslavs and the meager Greek forces on the Bulgarian frontier. Two fortresses on the frontier were left manned. A brigade was left in support, hardly a force to resist the German advance. Oddly enough, the forts on the frontier still held against the Germans on 6 April 1941. Two other fortresses in the interior of Thrace also held out against the attack. It seems that the Greeks were doing better than they should have been expected to do. Once he had heard of the German attack, General Blamey went to ask General Wilson for permission to withdraw the New Zealand Division to the mountain passes. General Blamey considered that he had been given permission 12 days earlier. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

No chance of reinforcements to Greece

While there had been plans to pull more troops out of North Africa to further build the British force in Greece, this was thwarted by new developments. In late February 1941, German units were arriving in Libya. By late March, they were in action. The Germans took El Agheila by 24 March. On 2 April 1941, they occupied Agedabia. They forced the short-handed 2nd Armoured Division and the incomplete 9th Australian Division eastward. In response, General Wavell changed his plans and sent the 18th Australian Brigade of the 7th Australian Division to hold Tobruk. In fact, now the entire 7th Australian Division was to go to Cyrenaica, not Greece. When General Blameny learned of this diversion, he complained that it jeopardized the effort in Greece. At the same time, the German 12th Army moved into Greece and Yugoslavia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The British and Dominion forces spread thin in Greece

The British and Dominion defensive line, perhaps with some Greek help, was at least 100 miles long. They were not only thin on the ground, but lacked in artillery as well. There was but one medium regiment in Greece to support the line. The 4th and 6th NZ Brigades were on the far left, covering a front from the sea to the Olympus foothills. The 5th NZ Brigade was to defend a front of 15,000 yards. On their left was the 16th Australian Brigade. They were to move forward to defend the Veria pass. This sort of force was to face 23 to 25 German divisions, presently located in Bulgaria. Events in Libya made it clear that some of the planned troops would not be available. This was all happening in early April 1941, about the 5th and 6th. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Outmanned at every turn: April 1941 in Greece

Not only were the British and Dominion ground troops out-manned by the Germans, but the air force was in even worse shape. There were only 80 serviceable aircraft in Air Vice-Marshal D'Albiac's force in Greece. They would have to face something like 800 German and 300 Italian aircraft. The one Army Cooperation Squadron was mostly equipped with Westland Lysanders, which could not face serious air opposition. The squadron was hard-pressed to muster even a single Hurricane. The force under General Wilson's command was outmatched in every way, with no prospect of success. You have to wonder why they persisted in the operation. The only result would be what you would expect. They would be hustled out of Greece by the Germans with the loss of their precious equipment and some nearly irreplaceable (at this date) troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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