Friday, August 24, 2012
Greek Campaign background
We need to remember that Greece had tried to remain neutral until they were attacked by Italy in October 1940. Once they were attacked, the Greek army was hard-pressed to defend the country. Greece lacked an organic arms industry and they relied on receiving captured Italian weapons from the British. British success in North Africa against the Italians helped to sustain the Greek defense.
The Italians had given the Greek government an ultimatum, but did not even wait for a reply and attacked from Albania into Greece. The Greek army was not a pushover, because if they had been, even the Italians could have succeeded. They fought a war through the winter, where the Greeks eventually made inroads into Albania. The Greeks ignored any threat of attack through Bulgaria by Germany.
After the British came in to support Greece by taking the islands of Crete and Lemnos, the Germans determined to end the campaign in Greece, so that they did not have a distraction in the Balkans while they were preparing to attack Russia. That alone doomed any British attempt to aid the Greeks by sending troops. They British and Commonwealth forces that were available were a fraction of what Germany was able to commit to the campaign. General Blamey and his prime minister were correct that sending troops to Greece would fail and would jeopardize the defence of North Africa. The British ignored sane advice and bulldozed their way into the disastrous Greek Campaign.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
What went wrong in Greece
Friday, August 17, 2012
Once the British prime minister had decided to go into Greece and to establish a Balkan Front, he was prepared to do anything to achieve it. The Western Desert Force commander, General Richard O'Connor, had thought that he could have taken Tripoli, if he had been allowed to continue. Instead, he lost an armoured brigade and two infantry divisions to the Greek adventure.
While we often blame Mr. Churchill for Greece, we must take into account anthony Eden's part in pushing for the Greek operation. The young foreign minister had decided that the British had a moral responsibility to aid Greece. He also was confident that he could bring in Yugoslavia and Turkey in the Balkan Front.
Still, how Australia was dealt with the deal seem reprehensible. Mr. Menzies, the Australian prime minister was told that General Blamey had agreed that the operation was sound. General Blamey, meanwhile, was told that his prime minister had agreed. The Australians were treated shabbily in the whole process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Was the Greek expedition a reasonable thing to do?
Was British prestige really a valid reason for sending troops and equipment into Greece? The Australian General Blamey thought that the chance of success was low and that a defeat would do more harm to British prestige than the gesture of sending a force. Churchill and Anthony Eden seemed to think that there was a real chance of Yugoslavia and Turkey joining in the fight in a meaningful way. In fact, Turkey was better off staying neutral, because the British strength was so inadequate for the task of opening up a Balkan front. Generals Wavell and Wilson's opinion didn't count, as they were essentially "yes-men" for Churchill. As we have said, the primary result was to write off a sizable portion of the Royal Navy in the combination of Greek campaign and the battle for the island of Crete.
The Germans were able to deploy a large force for the Balkans, since the attack on Russia was postponed. The Official History suggests that the road system was the only limiting factor to the size of the German force to be committed. When the Germans attacked Greece, they had not yet set the date for attacking Russia. The decision had been made, but that was all. In the event, the Balkans campaign and the battle for Crete delayed the attack on Russia. Some have suggested that this was a decisive factor in the German attack stalling in front of Moscow when winter hit in earnest. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Looking back at the Greek campaign
The Greek campaign was mounted for strictly political reasons, because all the participants understood that the military side would be insufficient to make a difference. The problem was that Great Britain had repeatedly made guarantees about defending Greece and those guarantees had to be backed up with action. The British and Commonwealth leaders were concerned that they would lose prestige in the eyes of the Americans if they declined to aid Greece. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, took the British obligation very seriously, even when the Greek leadership questions the wisdom of the British weakening the force in North Africa to aid Greece.
The Greek republicans, who were in opposition to the ruling monarchists, thought that Greece had made a weak response to the German attack. The charge was that the Greek monarchists, like the Yugoslav government, secretly admired the Nazis and wanted to join that side against the Allies. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Fugitives at large, after 30 April 1941
One Australian soldier, Gunner Barnes from the 2/1st Field Regiment, had escaped by jumping from a moving train north of Salonika. He had been taken prisoner on 30 April 1941 at Kalamata. He was another victim of the failure to rescue men when they might have been saved in the last hours at Kalamata. Gunner Barnes had wandered around northern Greece for six weeks with help from Greeks. Some Greeks took him on voyage from the Mount Athos peninsula to Turkey. From there, he was able to travel to Egypt to join his unit.
More soldiers managed to escape and remained free in Greece into 1942, when they joined the growing resistance movement. The resistance were active in committing sabotage against the Germans and Italians. This was made possible by the fact that the Greek people in the countryside were relatively self-sufficient and had food and clothing to share with the fugitive soldiers. The Greek people in the cities suffered much more under the German occupation due to the lack of jobs and income. There was also a problem with inflation out of control that drove up prices in places like Athens. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Friday, August 03, 2012
Warrant-Officer Boulter escapes the Germans on 7 June 1941
Some of the men captured in the Peloponnese were able to escape from the Germans. One was Warrant-Officer Boulter. He had been taken prisoner at Kalamata on 29 April 1941 when the Germans pushed into the area. He was among a group of men who were moved to a prison camp at Corinth. He was told that there were about 10,000 British prisoners there. For some reason, the Germans had taken four to five thousand Italians prisoner who had been freed by the Greeks. At Corinth, the men had seen aircraft sent and return from the battle on Crete. Aircraft returned with bullet holes and broken wings. Starting on 5 June, the men were moved with the eventual aim of moving all the prisoners to Germany.
Warrant-Officer Boulter jumped into some bushes along the road where they were marching prisoners. This was on 7 June 1941. He lay there until after dark. He got in contact with Greeks, got into local clothing, and worked for his food and a place to stay for a number of days. They sent him to a village near Lamia where he met several other men. They walked to the coast by 22 June and then Greeks took them to Euboea. At Euboea they heard over BBC that Germany had invaded Russia. By the help of Greeks, he arrived in Smyrna on 25 July. He then was taken to Haifa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
More men escape from Greece
Friday, July 27, 2012
The New Zealanders on Crete in 1941
About three weeks separated the end of the Greek Campaign and the German invasion of Crete. New Zealanders played an important role in the latter battle. They also took losses there. 671 New Zealanders were killed in the battle and over 2,000 were taken prisoner at the end. New Zealand losses in Crete were much greater than their losses in Greece. They had lost not quite 300 killed and about 1,800 captured at the end in Greece. A New Zealander who had been evacuated from Greece, General Freyberg, commanded the Allied troops on Crete, replacing a British officer who had commanded the defenders prior to the end of the battle in Greece. He commanded a force of some 42,000 troops. Of these, about 7,700 were from the New Zealand Division. The men withdrawn from Greece had left their artillery and many other weapons there. The idea was that the weapons would only complicate the withdrawal and not having them would allow more men to be carried by small ships, which were mostly destroyers.
The battle for Crete lasted 12 days and ended with the evacuation of most of the defending British and Commonwealth troops to Egypt. At the beginning of the German attack, the battle looked to be winnable for the British. Command failures allowed the Germans to fly in enough troops to win the battle. The initial attackers were paratroops and glider-borne troops. They were strongly attacked by the defenders and took many losses. We will explore the operations in greater detail, as we proceed through the Australian Official History. This piece draws on the New Zealand history of the operation.
Monday, July 23, 2012
More men escape from Greece
Thursday, July 19, 2012
The focus on the island of Crete at the end of April 1941
Prior to 30 April 1941, there was already an island commander and British troops on Crete. With the close proximity of Crete to Greece, the island was a natural place to take troops evacuated from Greece. They were transported by sea to Suda Bay, in the northwest corner of Crete. The troops from Greece were practically unarmed, as those who were armed had only their personal weapon and many had been embarked on destroyers and cruisers without any arms.
The string of disasters that started with the battle in Greece, the battle for Crete, and then the disastrous Operation Battleaxe in June 1941 eventually cost General Wavell his job as theater commander. The British had great culpability in the string of disasters, as they had lied to the Australian Prime Minister, saying that General Blamey had approved of the operation and then liked to General Blamey, telling him that the prime minister, Mr. Menzies, knew of the operation and approved of it. This seems to have been the standard operating procedure, and it deserves to be condemned. The CIGS in Britain had opposed the operation and was overruled by Churchill. On story puts the blame for Greece squarely on Churchill. He was said to have ordered Anthony Eden to Greece to make the arrangements, while the Australian Official History tends to blame Anthony Eden and would say that Churchill went along with his young foreign secretary.
As we continue the story, we will shift the focus to Crete, where even before the end of operations in Greece, Hitler had ordered that Crete be taken. He gave the order, apparently, on 25 April 1941. The battle for Crete was pivotal, as it sold the Allies on the use of airborne troops while it discouraged the Germans from any further airborne invasions.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Germans at the end in Greece
Saturday, July 14, 2012
The losses in Greece
British army: 21,880 Palestinian and Cypriot: 4,670 British RAF: 2,217 Australian: 17,125 New Zealand: 16,720The losses were as follows:
Killed Wounded Prisoners British 146 87 6,480 British RAF 110 45 28 Australian 320 494 2,030 New Zealand 291 599 1,614 Palestinian & 36 25 3,806 CypriotThis is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The next phase: the move to Crete
Monday, July 09, 2012
The Greek Campaign: was it necessary?
Friday, July 06, 2012
More about HMAS Perth
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
The navy still tried to get troops from Kalamata after 28-29 April 1941
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Australiians had recaptured the quay at Kalamata late on 28 April 1941
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
More about the loss of the SS Slamat on 27 April 1941
Sunday, June 24, 2012
The situation nears collapse in Greece on 28 to 29 April 1941
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
The game was up at Kalamata on 28 April 1941
Monday, June 18, 2012
The situation worsens over 27 and 28 April 1941
Thursday, June 14, 2012
More news from Greece in late April 1941
Sunday, June 10, 2012
The Armoured Brigade on 27 April 1941
Thursday, June 07, 2012
The British army and navy in 1941
I don't understand the reasons, but in 1941, the British Royal Navy was an extremely proficient and professional service, while the British army had serious problems. There are many potential explanations. There was the friction between the regular British army and the British Indian Army. Many of the commanders in 1940 to 1941 were Indian army trained. There was also the obtuse influence of the mechanization clique in the British army. They thought that they were trying to modernize the army, but they didn't understand how tanks and armoured cars were best employed. The German army had a good understanding and doctrine and they beat everyone in their path up through the end of 1941, although Russia was proving to be too much for them. The Australian and New Zealander commanders and men were much better prepared for war than the British. On the other hand, the British forces in North Africa in 1940 to early 1941 were trained to a very good state and were well led. Their reward was to be dismantled by General Wavell.
I have never liked Bernard Law Montgomery, but I have come to appreciate what he accomplished. He took the British and Commonwealth forces in the Mediterranean theater and reformed them into a force that could win battles. He really did not have time to make the transformation prior to the Second Alamein, so they had a much harder time than a Montgomery army would have in 1943 or 1944.
The cruisers were workhorses
Eight cruisers with eight six-inch guns had been built in the early to mid-1930's. There were the five Leander class ships (Achilles, Ajax, Leander, Neptune, and Orion, and the three Amphion class ships, all sold to Australia as the Hobart, Perth, and Sydney. The Neptune was the only ship of the first group lost, but two of the three ships transferred to Australia were lost. The Hobart was the sole survivor. All of the ships had a designed speed of 32.5 knots. The Achilles and Ajax were best known for their part in the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.
As we saw, the Leander class cruiser Ajax evacuated some 2,500 troops from Porto Rafti on 27 April 1941. The cruisers had sufficient space to carry several thousand men, when necessary. Orion and Perth both embarked troops from Tolos on the night of 26-27 April. Earlier that night, the two cruisers and loaded men at Navplion. Great risks were taken, as the ships only sailed at 4am, which was dangerously close to dawn. Earlier, the Perth had helped bring Australian reinforcements to Greece.
Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell had been a cruiser squadron commander in March 1941. His ships included the Orion, Ajax, and Perth, along with the larger cruiser Gloucester. His squadron fought in the Battle of Cape Matapan on 28 March 1941, not that long before the withdrawal (just about a month). Of the ships, three were lost in the war. The Neptune was lost in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1941. The Sydney was lost in the Indian Ocean fighting the German auxiliary cruiser Cormorant. The Perth was involved in the Southwest Pacific, fighting the Japanese, where she survived the Battle of the Java Sea, but was sunk at the Battle of the Sunda Strait.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
A D-Day post
Monday, June 04, 2012
The night of 26 to 27 April 1941
Thursday, May 31, 2012
The Kalamata convoy
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Some troops are embarked at Kalamata on 26 April 1941
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
At Kalamata on 26 to 27 April 1941
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Problems at Tolos and Navpliion on 26-27 April 1941
The Australian destroyer Stuart had been sent to Tolos to take men off the beach, if possible. Starting late in the evening of 26 April 1941, a landing craft was approaching the beach to pick up men. A sandbar was a major impediment to taking off men. The landing craft would go in and men would wade out. The landing craft carried them out to the Stuart. When the Stuart could hold no more men, the ship took them to the cruiser Orion and then returned to Tolos. They asked for help from a cruiser, so the Perth was sent. By 4am on 27 April, they had took off 2,000 men, but 1,300 men were left on the beach.
At Navplion is where the transport Ulster Prince was bombed and burnt. The burned out Ulster Prince blocked the quay so that destroyers could not use it to pick up men. The seas were too rough for small boats, so they were fortunate to embark as many as 2,600 men. They were forced to leave 1,700 men still ashore. They were too late leaving Navplion so the Slomat was bombed and sunk by German aircraft. The two destroyers present tried to rescue men, but they were eventually sunk, as well. They went ahead and sent 700 men to Tolos, in hopes of taking them off the next night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Navplion on 26-27 April 1941
The fast transport Glenearn had been intended for use in embarking troops at Navplion. After the Glenearn was disabled, the plans had to be radically recast.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Plans are forced to change
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Events in the north on 26 April 1941
A detachment of the 1st Armoured Brigade was with an artillery detachment at Rafina. They had orders to embark during the night of 26/27 April 1941. The armoured brigade detachment was at Tatoi. They had heard of Germans in Athens, although that was premature. In response, a small unit from the Rangers was sent out to block roads from Athens. The Rangers and the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry moved to Rafina, where they were joined by the detachment of Rangers from the rearguard.
The 4th New Zealand Brigade was at Ethrai, where they tried to remain inconspicuous. By 11am, they could see an German column approaching from Thebes. The Australian artillery succeeded in dispersing the advancing Germans. They were attacked by German aircraft at midday, and started to receive incoming artillery fire since they had revealed their positions. After they heard of the German paratroop attack at Corinth, they embarked on vehicles and headed for Porto Rafti. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
The airborne attack at the Corinth canal
Monday, May 07, 2012
The 19th Australian Brigade embarked
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
The outlook on the night of 25-26 April 1941 in Greece
The New Zealand Division in late April 1941
Monday, April 30, 2012
Withdrawal plans changed: 25 April 1941
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Things start to go wrong: the night of 24-25 April 1941
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Withdrawal from Kalamata on 26 April 1941
Tomorrow will be the 71st anniversary of the withdrawal of Australian troops from Kalamata in Greece. This picture shows Australian troops waiting for the embarkation at Kalamata. Some of the troops were from the 2/1st Field Regiment, which had fought well in the waning days of the Greek campaign. The withdrawal had started to go wrong about this time, as the next day, German troops had arrived in Athens. In a few days, by 30 April, some seven to eight thousand troops were captured in Kalamata by the Germans. By then, 43,311 troops had been evacuated, but the lack of coordinated command by the British had allowed the Germans to gain the upper hand and to overrun the defenders trying to hold them back to allow more to withdraw. The picture is from the Australian War Memorial. This is in part, based on the Official History and online sources.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
The ships Calcutta and Glengyle at the Porto Rafti embarkation
The two ships that embarked troops from Porto Rafti in Greece were the cruiser Calcutta and the fast transport Glengyle. The Calcutta was near the end of her service life, while the Glengyle was a relatively new ship.
The British cruiser Calcutta was a World War I veteran that had been converted into an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1939. The Calcutta was one of the C-class cruisers that had been built with a "trawler bow" to improve sea keeping during North Sea operations. Prior to embarking troops from the beach at Porto Rafti, the Calcutta had been assigned convoying duties to provide some protection against air attack at a time when there was inadequate fighter strength in the Mediterranean Sea. The Calcutta became a victim of the increasing German air presence in the Mediterranean Sea and was sunk on 1 June 1941 by Ju-88 dive bombers at the end of the battle for the island of Crete. The picture is at least of one of the converted cruisers of the same class (Cairo, Carlisle, Calcutta).
The Glengyle was one of a group of four fast cargo ships (18 knots) that quickly became favorites of Winston Churchill. The Glengyle was fitted to be able to carry early British landing craft and had been involved in a raid on Bardia a few days before the embarkation of Australian and New Zealand troops from Porto Rafti in Greece.