Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Events in Greece in early March 1941

"Anthony Eden sent the Yugoslav regent a message asking him to join the Allies. They also told the Yugoslavs that defending Salonika depended on what Yugoslavia did. The British were so committed to going into Greece that they had no choice but to proceed." The large troop convoys that were at sea pretty much forced their hand.
The British were planning on trying to defend the "Vermion-Olympus" line. The accepted that they might be forced to withdraw, and saw that there was a good possibility of successfully "staging a fighting withdrawal." 7 March was when British cruisers had disembarked several thousand troops "at the Pireaus".
You might well ask "what had been done to inform the Australian and New Zealand governments? In February, the British had met with Mr. Menzies who hd been Prime Minister at the time. Already, there was concern about a Japanese threat in the Far East, although that only turned into an attack in December. This was a time of political turmoil in Australia, where they changed governments multiple times in a short period of time.
The New Zealand government, lacking much information, had agreed in principle to the Greek campaign. They wanted to see the 2nd New Zealand Division "fully equipped with an armored brigade". New Zealand was happy to take part along with the Australians. The new Australian government was only "conditionally agreed to participate". They wanted to know that there was a plan in place to evacuate if the situation turned out badly. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The lead up to the Greek campaign in early March 1941

The British were discussing possibilities with the Government of Turkey. Turkey was afraid of both Germany and Russia, probably more so of Russia. The British had hopes of bringing Turkey into the war on the side of the Allies, but Turkey was pretty sure that they should stay neutral. Germany was known to have moved into Bulgaria, which was thought to be a preparatory more to attacking Greece. Greece was also waiting to hear from Yugoslavia prior to withdrawing its troops from "eastern Macedonia". The British had thought that the withdrawal was already happening. General Dill, the CIGS, and Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, were talking with the Greek government, trying to influence what they did. The Greek leader Papagos wanted the British to land at Salonika and help defend it. General Dill and Mr. Eden then called General Wavell to Greece. General Wavell "arrived at Athens on 3 March". The British decided that they needed to add the Greek King to their meetings. The Greeks were waiting to hear about the Yugoslav plans. If Yugoslavia fought, then the Greeks would move troops into the "Metaxas Line". "If Yugoslavia was neutral", then some troops would hold the Metaxas Line for a time and then pull back into the rear line". There was some thought to cancelling the British move into Greece, but they thought that was not possible, as the troops were already underway for Greece. The British decided that General Wilson should command the force on the "Vermion-Olympus Line". The plan was put in writing, to prevent any misunderstandings. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Events in early 1941 regarding Greece

General Wavell communicated with Churchill about Churchill's scheme to send troops to Greece. Wavell was concerned about how little force they could send and the possibility that they could not arrive in time to do anything useful. General Wavell was also concerned that the Greeks would not fight if attacked by the Germans. Wavell thought that they might be able to help the Greeks "
hold a line on the Aliakmon River". There was also a concern about the air force shrinking as they were taking greater losses than they were receiving replacements. They had not been receiving any "fighting formations since the fall of France in 1940. The only possibility was the possibility of the 50th Division arriving from Britain. In February 1941, the CIGS was still General Dill. He had not yet been switched to being in the United States as a diplomat. On 7 March, General Wavell received a message saying that the cabinet had decided that the Greek operation should proceed and that the Cabinet had taken "full responsibility for the results. What seems to have been a lie, was that Churchill had said that the Greek campaign was not being conducted because of Anthony Eden making commitments in Athens, but because the CIGS General Dill, Wavell, and others had thought that there was a "fighting chance" that the operation could succeed. The Australian prime minister, Mr. Menzies was told that General Blamey and the New Zealand commander, General Freyberg were said to have agreed. Why all this was a lie was that neither General Blamey or General Freyberg were asked for an opinion. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Planning in relation to Greece in 1940-1941

In Germany, Hitler ordered planning to "occupy Northern Greece" as early as 12 November 1940. He would use ten German divisions for the operation. By late November, Hitler decided to occupy all of Greece. He would conduct the operation in March, he decided in December. After seeing the British successes in Cyrenaica and the Greek successes in Albania, he decided that the invasion army needed to be larger. He was thinking about the invasion of Russia when he planned the Greek invasion. One thing he wanted was to protect Rumanian oil fields from British bombers in Greece.
You saw the British fighting in east Africa against the Italians. The British advance to Tripoli would be stopped, so free up resources for Greece. The New Zealand Division was planned to be part of the Greek operation. The latest thinking was to send the British 6th Division to Greece and replace it in North Africa with the 9th Australian Division, which was untrained and new. He hoped to also send the Polish Carpathian Brigade to Greece. The Australian General Blamey insisted on sending the 6th Australian Division to Greece and keeping the raw 7th Australian Division in Cyrenaica. They would reorganize the Australian divisions and change which brigades were assigned to each division. The prestige of General Freyberg meant that the New Zealand division was treated as being one of the best divisions. The New Zealand Division arrived in Greece on 7 March when they were treated to cheering from the Greek people. The Greek leader assured the British that whatever happened, the Greek army would fight the expected German invasion. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New Zealand forces to Greece

New Zealand forces were among the units sent to Greece in 7 March 1941. The New Zealand Division was included in convoys sent to Greece. There were six convoys sent to Greece that included the New Zealand Division. The convoys traveled in the period of 7 March to 3 April 1941. They formed part of "W Force". All this happened very suddenly, so much so that the first convoy included commanders that did not know their destination. The New Zealand Division and their companions traveled to the north to the "Aliakmon Line". There was not really any "line", but it was a natural defensive position between Yugoslavia and Salonika. They troops had not long to wait, because the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April. The German move eventually  "outflanked" the Aliakmon line, and forced the New Zealand Division and their companions to retreat south to suitable positions on the shore where they could be withdrawn by destroyers and cruisers, mainly. There were also several British transports that were included. On 11 April, men from the New Zealand 27th Machine Gun Battalion were captured at Klidhi Pass. They were the first New Zealand soldiers taken prisoner in the war. The Germans breakthrough on 12 April was what actually forced the New Zealand Division, the Australians, and some British troops to have to head south. The evacuation continued to the end of April. Some 50,000 soldiers had been evacuated. Many of them had been transported to the island of Crete. General Freyberg, the New Zealand Division commander, was appointed to command the defense by Churchill, although the troops on Crete were disorganized and General Freyberg was exhausted by the Greek campaign and was not in a position to organize a defense of the island. This is based on the New Zealand history and information from Gavin Long's book, "Greece Crete and Syria".

Monday, June 15, 2020

Churchill and Greece in 1940 and 1941

In 1940 and 1941, Churchill tended to appoint commanders who were his friends and who he respected. Two examples were General Henry Maitland Wilson and General Bernard Freyberg. Italy attacked Greece on 28 October 1940. The Greek ruler, General Metaxas, had originally counciled against Britain getting involved. Churchill's foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, insisted that the British were required to intervene if Greece were attacked without any provocation. Italy hoped to make a lightning advance into Greece, taking control of "the southern Balkans and the Aegean Sea". We would say that Churchill had not authority to appoint commanders, although he did fairly regularly. Once General Alan Brooke became the CIGS, that changed, although Brooke had to persuade Churchill of what he believed were the right men to appoint.
The immediate reaction was to fly squadrons into Greece. Fairly soon, four squadrons were operating from Greek air fields against Italian forces in Albania. By November 1940, a "weak" infantry brigade "group" was flown into Crete. Also, anti-air craft gunners and "air force ground staff and depot troops" were transported to Athens.
In late 1940, the British were mounting an defense of the island against a German invasion. This was what they called "the Battle of Britain" where the main combatants were British and Commonwealth fighter pilots and bombers operating against Germany. They were also fighting in North Africa against Italy. The Greeks successfully fought the Italian army based in Albania. There were some 14 Greek Divisions fighting Italian divisions in the Albanian border area. This is based on the account in "Greek, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long, where we are writing from the New Zealand perspective.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

New Zealand and the Greek campaign

On the one hand, New Zealand sent the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary force to the middle east, although part ended up in Scotland. The 2nd New Zealand Division trained in Egypt on arrival. The Australian Official History often just referred to the Division as the "New Zealand Division", although that is not actually correct. The Division deployed to Greece, along with British and Australian forces, all under the command of General Henry Maitland Wilson. The forces sent to Greece were called "Force W". Force W had about 40,000 men. German armored forces moved into Greece on 6 April. The German moved outflanked Force W and they were forced to retreat. Greece collapsed very quickly and surrendered on 9 April. Force W moved south on the roads to the places where they could be withdrawn by ship. Much of the withdrawal was done using destroyers and some cruisers. For what it was worth, the retreating force was cheered by Greeks along the road. If nothing else, they had given Greeks a sign that they were supported. All New Zealand troops had been withdrawn by 29 April 1941. "The New Zealanders lost 291 men killed, 1,826 captured and 387 seriously wounded". Two New Zealand brigades were taken to the island of Crete. The division headquarters and the third brigade ended up in Alexandria, Egypt. There were some 34,000 "British and Commonwealth troops" defending Crete. About 25,000 of these had been withdrawn from Greece, and were probably mostly with weapons and equipment. This is based on  the "Military history of New Zealand during World War II". This seems like a better source than what we had been using.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Events of 1940 that affect New Zealand

On 5 January 1940, the first New Zealanders arrive in the Middle East. They are the "First Echelon", as they are called. Shortly after that, in Britain, they start "rationing". On 28 January, the 28th (Maori) Battalion is formed. The main body of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force arrives in Egypt on 12 February. On 19 March, the British bomb the Frisian island of Sylt. On 27 March, New Zealand airmen are involved with a leaflet raid on Hamburg. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Michael Savage died on 27 March 1940. 9 April is the start of the Norway campaign, when Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. New Zealand is involved in the campaign with the Royal Navy and RAF. 30 April saw the British evacuate from Norway. The "Second Echelon" sailed from Wellington on 2 May 1940. On 10 May, Germany invaded the European countries. That day also saw Winston Churchill take over as the British Prime Minister. That day also saw the RAF launching bombing raids on Germany. 12 to 14 May saw the Germans break through the French front. On 15 May, the Netherlands surrendered. 17 May was the start of training for a "Third Echelon" of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. 25 May saw the Germans surround the Belgian, French, and most of the British Expeditionary Force. The next day saw the beginning of the withdrawal from Dunkirk. By 28 May, Belgium surrendered to Germany. On 3 June, the Germans bombed Paris. On 5 June, New Zealand started "raising an infantry brigade for Fiji". A New Zealand ace was killed in an accident on 7 June. On 10 June, Italy declared war on the British. Canada declared war on Italy. The war in the Mediterranean and Africa takes off and the air war over Britain intensifies. This is based on the account in the New Zealand Official History.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

New Zealand declared war on Germany, following the lead of Great Britain in 1939

New Zealand was very loyal to the British and not only declared war with the British, but expected New Zealand men to serve under British command. New Zealand declared war on Germany at the same time the British did, on the expiration of their ultimatum. In 1940, in North Africa, the Long Range Desert Group was formed with New Zealand and Rhodesian soldiers. Actually, both New Zealand men and women served in the war. They fought in both the European theater and the far east.
In 1939, New Zealand seems to have had a very conservative outlook. They took a strong stand opposing the Fascist dictators. That seems very unlike the present, where New Zealand has a very progressive government.
New Zealand sent an expeditionary force to Europe to help the British. When Italy entered the war, the New Zealand government formed a War Cabinet of both the Government and the Opposition. They also opened diplomatic relations with the United States, and then in 1944, with the Soviet Union. Late in the War, New Zealand decided to become involved with the United Nations.
Oddly enough, the government at the start of the war was Labour, but they instituted all sorts of strict measures. They started censorship, they jailed "enemy aliens" and New Zealand Pacifists. A methodist minister was jailed for 2-1/2 years for publishing a "Christian pacifist bulliten". This is based on the New Zealand Official History.

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