Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A bad situation: General Wilson countermands orders from General Blamey

The early hours of 10 April 1941 saw the weakness of the British command structure. General Blamey had issued orders to divisions that he was supposed to command, only to have General Wilson countermand those orders. The 12th Greek Division was the first instance where this happened. General Blamey had ordered the 12th Division to a position that seemed possible, but what General Wilson wanted seemed to be not feasible given the conditions. General Blamey had wanted to withdraw to the south side of the Aliakmon River. The 16th Brigade was ordered to march 30 miles, instead of being carried by vehicle, with a five mile march required. The reason to send off the vehicles is that General Blamey did not expect that General Mackay's force could hold against the German forces they faced. He did not want to have the 16th Brigade caught on the road by the Germans. The New Zealand Division was able on this day, 10 April, to reach the Olympus passes. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Germans attack on 10 April 1941

The Germans started firing artillery at the British and Dominion troops at the Vevi pass on the morning of 10 April 1941. Some of the defending troops had only arrived the day before. Also on 10 April, a German force moved on the Piscadorian Pass held by the Greek Cavalry Division. General Wilson met with the Greek commanders and General Mackay to discuss withdrawal from their present positions. They hoped to have three nights to complete the withdrawal. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Action in the Florina Valley

In the morning of 10 April 1941, the men and surrounding hills were covered in a new coating of 3 to 4 inches of new snow. After the Rangers blew up the road outside their protective minefield, the British artillery commenced firing at the advancing German vehicles. A gun of the 64th Medium Regiment got a lucky hit on a German truck with their first shot. The British and Dominion troops could see the German infantry and tanks moving into positions about three miles to the north, behind a ridge line. The British artillery continued firing, but there was no answering fire from the Germans. Perhaps the advancing infantry and tanks had moved faster than their accompanying artillery. The Vevi Pass was only weakly held by three infantry battalions. They were fortunate that the Germans were not ready to attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The aftermath of the iGerman attack conquest of Yugoslavia

On the night of 9 April 1941, snow fell on the British and Dominion troops in the Greek mountains. Already, there was a procession of Greek and Yugoslav refugees passing through the lines. Mixed into the mass were Yuguslav soldiers and Greek police. New Zealand armoured car patrols sighted the leading German troops headed for the defensive lines. The air force was also active and reported a large group of German vehicles were stopped at the Crna River, as the bridge was being repaired. By the 10th, the Rangers blew up road at the Vevi position, where it lay outside of their minefields. In the afternoon of 10 April, the British and Australian artillery fired at the advancing Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Attack on Yugoslavia

Field Marshal von Brauchitsch stuck to his plan to attack Yugoslavia on 10 April 1941. By then, the people had learned of their betrayal by Prince Paul and his followers, along with some of the military. This apparently demoralized most of the people, so there was only piecemeal resistance to the German attack. The Germans took Skopje by 7 April and had overcome resistance in the south by 8 April. One armoured division moved on Salonika, while the Leibstandarte Adolph Hitler had turned left and moved into the Monastir valley. The Yugoslav fortress troops put up a stiff resistance, unlike most of the army. The forts were gradually taken over the 6th, 7th, and 8th. Salonika fell on 9 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The German attack

The German plan was to send one armoured division towards Zagreb with the remainder attacking Belgrade. The plan would send the infantry towards Zagreb. From there, they would move on Belgrade. The mountains would be covered by the mountain divisions. This sort of plan made the Italians angry, as it was intended to defeat Yugoslavia at the first move. The Italians wanted help near Albania. Plans changed after the coup d'etat in Yugoslavia, so that Kleist's armoured group would attack from Sofia toward Belgrade. Another corps would move into Yugoslavia further south to join up with the Italians near Lake Ochrid. The Metaxas line would be hit by another corps. One corps was to advance into western Thrace. The Germans expected that there were 16 Yugoslav divisions and they had made their plans accordingly. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The German army in April 1941

The German army had 14 armoured divisions available in early April 1941. Of these 14, six were available for service in the Balkans. Of the 153 total divisions, besides the 14 armoured divisions, there were 8 motorized divisions (3 being SS divisions and one the 5th Light Division in North Africa). There was but one cavalry division, six mountain divisions, and 124 infantry divisions. Another two armoured division and 18 more infantry divisions were being assembled with a completion date of early June. The timing must have been driven by the plans for attacking Russia. The complete Balkans army consisted of the six armoured divisions, four mountain divisions, and 16 infantry divisions. There would be no army group commander. All the divisions would report directly to Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, based in Austria. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The forces for the attack on Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941

The Second Army was deployed in Austria for the attack on Yugoslavia. The army consisted of both regular army and Waffen SS units. The Army units included four armoured divisions, two motorized divisions, two mountain divisions, and six infantry divisions. The Waffen SS contingent included one motorized division, one Bulgarian SS division, and two SS regiments. The Twelfth Army was reduced to two armoured divisions, two mountain divisions, four infantry divisions, one infantry regiment, and the SS Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler". There were a further two infantry divisions in reserve and one armoured division deployed on the Turkish border. Field Marshal von Brauchitsch took personal command of the operation against Yugoslavia and Greece. He moved his headquarters to Austria to be close to the action. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Twelfth Army

The German Twelfth Army had fought in France in 1940. From there, Hitler had positioned them for combat in the Balkans. They had been sent to western Romania in late 1940. One obstacle that would have to be solved was the lack of suitable bridges across the Danube for the army to move through Bulgaria quickly. Ice in the Danube river further complicated the situation. The plan had been for the German engineer units to build additional bridges, but the ice impeded that work so only three were completed. One bridge was damaged by a storm, so the movement into Bulgaria was delayed. The changing political situation in Yugoslavia necessitated additional forces to be used, so the twenty divisions of the 12th Army were augmented by the Second Army. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The German plan for the attack in the Balkans

The German attack on Greece was code-named Operation Marita. Hitler had issued his directive authorizing the attack in December 1940. He had hoped to annex Yugoslavia without a fight, but the coup changed his plans. In part, the attack on Greece was to forestall the construction of British airbases that might strike both Italy and the Romanian oil fields. He planned to attack with an army of twenty divisions. He thought that by March, the weather might be suitable for operations. The coup in Yugoslavia caused a schedule slip that not only affected the operation in the Balkans but delayed the planned attack on Russia. After the coup in Yugoslavia, Hitler resolved to be ruthless in their treatment of the Yugoslavs. This would be an object lesson to other countries which decided to resist. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The pass at Vevi in Greece on 10 April 1941

The force under General Mackay started to occupy their defensive positions near Vevi, in the mountains. There was a narrow pass at Vevi, perhaps 500 to 1000 yards wide. The position might have been a good blocking point, but the British and Australian troops were spread so thin that they were reduced to patrolling lines, rather than having fixed positions. The plan was to hold Vevi to provide time to prepare positions further back at the Aliakmon river. The 1st Armoured Brigade was part of General Mackay's force and they had arrived and deployed the previous day. General Wilson's small army was a composite force of British, Australian, New Zealand, and Greek troops. Vevi is a narrow point in the Monastir Valley. The terrain was such that the men had to carry their equipment and supplies up the mountain sides. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

9 April 1941: the New Zealand Division

From early on 9 April 1941, the New Zealand Division moved its units. The 21st NZ Battalion had only recently arrived, but it was moved to the Plantamon tunnel. The Official History says that this was between Mount Olympus and the sea. The foremost battalions of the 6th NZ Brigade were to withdraw into reserve, in the rear. By late in the day, the 4th NZ Brigade had moved to near Servia. The NZ Division HQ was moved to Dolikhe. While all this was happening, the British armoured cars reconnoitered to the north. They found the leading German units north of Monastir, heading towards General Mackay's force. They would only reach them by the 10th. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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