Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 In more action on 9 April 1941, British armored cars drove north. When they were about five miles north of Monastir, they saw German armored forces gathering on the north side of the River Crna. The bridge had been blown recently. When the Germans had not advanced to Monastir by 4:50pm, it was obvious that there was no way for the German armor to advance to Monastir quickly. That was a sign that Mackay's group was safe for the moment. 

Mackay and his senior staff officer met with the Greek general Karassos. They met for some three hours, but General Mackay thought that they had not accomplished much. They agreed to increase British anti-tank guns in support of the Greeks. It was later on 9 April that the 1st Armoured Brigade as well as two battalions of the 19th Australian Brigade had arrived and moved into position. The Dodecanese regiment was to their right. The Australian 2/8th  Battalion was in position to the left. The 1/Rangers were sitting, blocking the road. The Australian 2/4th Battalion was "on the hills to the west". The battalions had driven all night to get into position. The roads were described as being "greasy". Once they arrived, the infantry were "forced to make long marches to get into position". The men were out in the snow with no protection from the elements. During the morning of 10 April, the men had to move again to be in position at Vevi. 

At Vevi, the terrain changes. The Monastir valley narrows at Vevi. West of Vevi, there are steep hills some 3,000 feet high. To the east are two lakes that block an advance "over the foothills". The pass at Vevi varied in width between "100 and 500 yards". The path is demarked by "steep, rocky hills". It was potentially a strong defensive position. The problem was that on the sides, you would have to stretch out platoons with a lot of space in between. There would be gaps that would have to be patrolled. There were not tracks to follow, so that they men were forced to carry equipment and weapons. There was no way to move men quickly from one part of the front to another. The center was where the artillery was sited and it helped to counteract the lack of infantry. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The British in Greece on 9 April 1941

 General Wilson decided on the morning of 9 April 1941 to order a withdrawal to the defensive line at the Aliakmon River. When Wilson returned to his headquarters, he learned from Brigadier Galloway that General Papagos had approved the planned withdrawal. General Papagos then issued orders to the Greeks to withdraw from Albania and Central Macedonia. General Papagos wanted to meet with General Wilson on 11 April. The Greeks would remove all the supplies from Koritza. He hoped that the Greek withdrawal could be hidden behind a British defense at Kleidi. Two passes would be held by Greek divisions, while the Greek cavalry division would hold the Pisoderion pass. 

General Wilson referred to a "rear defensive line". This included the Olympus "defiles via Servia to the escarpment". They needed to hold "Vevi" to give the Greeks time to move their divisions. There would be three parts to the Aliakmon line. General Blamey would command the right part. His forces included "the New Zealand Division, the 16th Australian Brigade and part of the 12th Greek Division". General Mackay's force was the north part of the line. He now had the entire 1st Armoured Brigade under his command". Blamey now was responsible for holding in the Veria area until the 20th Greek Division and Mackay's force had arrived. Wilson ordered that the Greek divisions would surrender their vehicles and would be dependent on pack animals. He ordered the British forces to help supply the Greek needs. 

It was during 9 April that the New Zealand Division began to shift its forces. The 21st Battalion now was located at the Platamon tunnel "in a narrow pass between Olympus and the sea". The 6th Brigade received orders to "withdraw into reserve". The New Zealand Division headquarters would move to Dolikhe. The 4th New Zealand Brigade arrived at Servia late on 9 April. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sorting out the British command structure in April 1941 in Greece

 <p>General Mackay had heard that the 1st Armoured Brigade was to move to Amindaion "before dawn". General Mackay might well have expected that the 1st Armoured Brigade would fall under his command. The General put Brigadier Vasey in charge of defending the Gap. He would get the 1/Rangers, 2/1st Australian Anti-Tank Regiment, and the New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion. The rest of the 1st Armoured Brigade would be held in reserve. He had a brigadier, Brigadier Herring, who was in charge of all artillery, several field regiments and the medium regiment. General Mackay's force was short of infantry, but strong in artillery, where the Germans might well be short. Mackay had a problem, that he and his staff lacked an interpreter. When I spoke with the Greek commander of the 12th Greek Division, they were forced to communicate in French, which did not go particularly well. 

The situation got worse on 9 April when  the Greek army in eastern Macedonia surrendered. The campaign in Eastern Macedonia only lasted for four days. The Germans had moved through Yugoslavia and went around a strong line. The Greek commander lacked the strength to act against the armored force that "outflanked his organization". By the Greeks trying to hold Salonika, they paid by losing four of six divisions.

General Wilson ordered a withdrawal to the Aliakmon line. This happened on 9 April. Wilson met on 10 April with General Mackay and the Greek commander of the Central Macedonian Army. They heard that the Greek General Papagos had approved the withdrawal. A famous man, Brigadier Galloway, was a member of Wilson's staff. General Papagos wanted to meet with General Wilson at Pharsala on 11 April. They learned that General Papagos had ordered a withdrawal by stages. There was apparently a third line of defense. They were apparently going to give up territory in Albania and Macedonia. "In an instruction from 9 April", General Wilson had "defined a rear defensive line". They would "offer a protracted defense". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The command situation in Greece in April 1941

 The British command organization in Greece had become rather problematic. The Australian general Blamey was now a corps commander with his headquarters at Gerania. He commanded the New Zealand Division, the Australian division, and the 12th Greek Division. The Central Macedonian Army had a Greek commander. General Mackay now reported directly to General Wilson. Wilson had an advanced headquarters near  Blamey's. Wilson also had a rear headquarters in Athens. The independent British air commander had a headquarters in Athens, as well. Athens also had a British independent naval staff. For some reason, there was also a British Military Mission in Athens. 

Your ordinary British army officer generally thought that Wilson should have been "supreme commander of British forces in Greece". Apparently, they thought that the air officer should have been Wilson's deputy. They also thought that Wilson should have stayed in Athens for easy communication with the British ambassador and the commanders of the various organizations. There should not have been any British Military Mission and "the Military Attache should have been part of Wilson's staff". You would then have Blamey's corps headquarters command "all British and Greek troops in the Aliakmon position". The British had "public school knowledge of French". That and an interpreter should have been adequate for communications with the Greeks. The Australian General Mackay arrived at Sotir, at Lee's headquarters, shortly before midnight on 8 April. He was to command the Vevi Gap position, which conveniently enough had no infantry in place. The Australian brigadier Vasey, who commanded the 19th Brigade, but his battalions were absent. One was moving forward still, and another was near Veria. The third had not arrived in Greece, yet. All that Lee had under his "command were the 64th Medium Regiment, the 2/1st Australian Anti-Tank Regiment", and "the New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion". It seemed possible that Lee might add the 1st Armoured Brigade to his group of units. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Response to the German advance into Greece and Yugoslavia

 8 April 1941 saw the Greek army in Albania resume an attack. The Yugoslav army also attacked, but without much success. The Greek commander ordered the attack to stop, because of the concern about what was happening in southern Yugoslavia. General Papagos was concerned that a German advance into the Monastir Gap would pose a threat to the rear of the Greek "Western Macedonian Army" in Albania. It might even threaten General Wilson's army in the rear. General Papagos ordered the troops in the mountains "north of the Edessa Pass" to move to Lake Vegorritis. That would put them close to the British. The left of the British army could be linked to the right side of the Western Macedonian Army. The Greek Cavalry Division would be the link. The Greek Commander was trying to send orders to the British commanded by General Wilson, but Wilson "made his own plans and issued his own orders".

As early as 11am on 8 April, Wilson held a meeting at Blamey's headquarters. He planned to assemble a force to try and stop the German "blitz" "down the Florina Gap". The Australian General Mackay would command the new force. He would be "directly under Wilson's command". At the beginning, he would have the Australian 19th Brigade (of two battalions), the 2/3rd Field Regiment, a detachment that included the 3rd RTR, 27th New Zealand MG Battalion, the 2nd RHA, the 64th Medium Regiment, and the 2/1st Australian Anti-Tank Regiment. The Australian historian thought it was inadequate force to try and stop the main German attack.

In this meeting, they decided that the 6th Australian Division needed to not to replace the 12th Greek Division at Veria. They would treat the Olympus-Vermion-Amindaion as simply a rear-guard position. Blamey would command the New Zealand Division, the 16th Australian Brigade, and the 12th Greek Division. They would go ahead and send the 4th New Zealand Brigade "to the Servia Pass". The New Zealand Division would keep their strength south of Katerini. They 6th New Zealand Brigade would "withdraw through the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the Olympus Pass". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, October 12, 2020

From 8 April 1941 in Greece

 <p>There was a mix of rain and snow on 8 April 1941. That meant that there was very little British air reconnaissance. Still, in the Greek and British headquarters, news came in  about the German advance into Yugoslavia. A British patrol that had moved north from Monastir reported back that the "southern Yugoslav army had collapsed". The report was that "both Veles and Skoplje had surrendered". The story was that three Yugoslav divisions had surrendered. They said that "fugitive yugoslav staff officers were collecting at Florina". The patrol brought back three Yugoslav tanks and four anti-aircraft guns. German armor was pushing through the Doiran Gap, pushing back  the 19th Division and were nearing Kilkis. The Greek commander asked that the 1st Armoured Brigade help in the Doiran Gap. The historian notes that it was too late for such actions. When the 4th Hussars saw German tanks, that triggered pre-planned demolitions. They included the rail bridge, a road bridge over a river, they pulled back to Kozani. Men from the Canadian Kent Corps Troops destroyed the oil stored at Salonika. This was included in the secret plan that was followed. After the 4th Hussars pulled out, the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry blew up the bridges over the Aliakmon river. The 6th New Zealand Brigade blew up the bridges in its area.

The Eastern Macedonian Army was still holding "from the Struma eastward". There was this German column that was moving south in the Axios valley. They reached Kilkis during the night of 8 April. The 19th Greek Division (very weak) was pushed away so that there was nothing between the Germans and Salonika. During the night of 8 April, the Greek commander of the Eastern Macedonian Army sent an envoy to the Germans and proposed an armistice. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Disturbing information on 7 April 1941

 <p>At Greek Army Headquarters, they heard that German forces in Yugoslavia were driving south in the direction of the Doiran Gap. That would put the Germans on the Greek flank, heading south to Salonika. The Greek 19th Division received a small reinforcement and to cover a larger area towards Axios. The leading German units had reached Doiran "by the evening of 7 April". At that time, a Greek offensive in Albania started, but did not have much success. There had been a Yugoslav division that was supposed to have "cooperated" but didn't. The commander said that "he would be ready the next day".</p>

<p>General Wilson now had the 19th Australian Brigade under command. The plan had been to put it to the left of the 16th Brigade, but ordered the 19th Australian Brigade to Kozani, with several possible assignments. At this point, the 16th Brigade began to move into the Veria Pass. The Australians were to dig in "above the snow line". This was a bit of a change from  Cyrenaica. The brigade was on a peak, some three thousand feet above sea level. There were other mountain peaks in sight above their position.The Australians on the heights had to borrow donkeys from the Greeks to carry their possessions up the slopes. From 8 April and beyond, the Australians saw falling snow. Sometimes in the morning, the men saw fog that didn't clear until after ten am. The Australians could see in the distance battles being fought "in the mountains of Yugoslavia". The Australians only had a few tents and they lacked interpreters to help them communicate with their allies. The Australians were surprised at the Greek equipment and how primitive it was. One Greek company only had one automatic weapon, but did have piles of stones to push down on the Germans. The rain and snow on 8 April pretty much made air reconnaissance impossible. Wilson's army had just a small amount of information about events happening. They heard that "the southern Yugoslav army had collapsed". Canadian commandos destroyed oil stocks at Salonika. British mobile forces blew up bridges. The 6th New Zealand Brigade also blew up bridges in their area. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Friday, October 09, 2020

The German attack in the balkans

 <p>The German attack started on 6 April 1941, early in the morning. While the Australian general Blamey considered the situation in Greece to be critical, General Wavell was thinking about North Africa, not Greece. The German 12th Army were what moved into Greece and Yugoslavia. It was the Yugoslavian army and Greek units on the Bulgarian border that were hit by the Germans. There were two fortresses that were being held in Thrace by the Greeks, apparently for political reasons. The Eastern Macedonian army was holding the Doiran-Nestos line. The Greeks surprisingly held the forts on 6 April. 7 April still saw the forts holding out. It turned out that Nimphaea fell late on 7 April, after an attack using flame throwers. Enkhinos continued to hold. The forts protected the Nestos brigade. The 7th Greek Division was holding out on 6 April. On the 6th and 7th of April, most Greek forts held out against attack. German mountain troops would prove to be tough fighters in Greece and Crete. German mountain troops advanced north of Salonika. The Greek 19th Division was ordered to this area. By the end of the day, there was a gap between the 19th Division and the 18th. There had been an agreement between the Greeks and Yugoslavs to attack in Albania, but the Greeks were not ready. </p>

<p>When General Blamey heard of the German attack, he asked for the New Zealand Division to move to the Olympus passes. It turned out that Wilson disagreed with the plan. Wilson wanted the New Zealand division to cover Katerini. Wilson did order Freyberg to send troops to the passes, dividing his division. The German air force inflicted extensive damage at the Pireaeus. A freighter with TNT exploded and inflicted considerable damage. The port took heavy damage and was out of service for two days. During the afternoon of 7 April, they received the news of German armored forces moving south "towards the Doiran Gap". They might well move so quickly as to take Salonika.</p>

<p>The Australian 16th Brigade "was moving forward". They were described as "perched" on the mountain. On 8 April, snow fell "on the mountains" and it "rained in the valleys". The Australians had to use captured Italian telephone equipment for communications. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

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