Thursday, November 26, 2020

Churchill's friends and the affect on the war

 A feature of Winston Churchill is that he liked to appoint officers who were friends of his or at least men he knew. Because of that, Churchill kept appointing Henry Maitland Wilson to various posts. We suspect that Thomas Blamey might have done better then General Wilson. The problem with General Blamey Churchill was that Blamey was an Australian and not a regular army officer. But what we know of his background, he performed better than we expected. 

We saw, then, General Blamey making plans as corps commander. Then we saw General Wilson make plans without consulting General Blamey that totally undercut Blamey's plans. We can see now that General Wilson worked independently, since he was army commander, he figured that he could just go ahead and make plans without consulting his subordinates. We see that the Australian historian didn't like the command structure with Wilson issuing orders without consulting Blamey. The Australian historian felt that Blamey should have been the army commander, and in fact, Blamey would have been the logical choice. 

Another Churchill choice, in choosing Bernard Freyberg to command the defense of Crete was also a mistake. By the time Freyberg reached Crete, he was in bad shape due to exposure and lack of rest. Freyberg seems to also have lacked the necessary experience to have commanded the defense. If we wanted to defend Churchill's choice of Freyberg, it would have to be on the basis of the immense prestige of Freyberg. Unfortunately, prestige was not enough to successfully command the defense of Crete. 

As it was, Wilson's plan was a bad plan. Blamey's staff disagreed with the plan to split the force between the north side of the river and the south side. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The British command structure only created confusion

 By 10 April 1941, you had the Australian general Blamey making plans, because he was commander with responsibilities. Then you had General Wilson, who figured that he was the British commander and should be making decisions. Wilson had a meeting with General Mackay and the Greek general Karassos. They had decided to take three nights to withdraw from the Vermion-Veria position. they wanted more time since the Greeks didn't have "motor vehicles". Wilson's plan was for the Greeks "to withdraw across the valley and occupy the passes". Mackay would move south . This left the Greeks on the left. This seemed to simply the setup so that the Greeks would only touch the British in one spot. One issue was that Mackay was left to hold the line for "three nights and two days".

General Blamey had made plans in term of his corps. He was concerned with the Olympus-Aliakmon "position". He expected to receive orders to pull out from Veria. He notified the Australian 16th Brigade and the Greek 12th Division about Blamey's plan. Blamey planned to pull vehicles to the south, "ready for protracted defense". His plan for the Greek division was to cross the Aliakmon on a foot bridge to be built. Blamey's plan was affected negatively by Wilson's orders. The Australian historian thought that Blamey should have been the overall commander.  This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Preparing to withdraw in the face of the German advance

 On the night of 9 to 10 April 1941, as much as 3 to 4 inches of snow fell on the men who were resting near the Vevi pass. Men watching the pass could see Yugoslav and Greek refugees. Mixed in, they could see some Yugoslav soldiers and Greek police. As mentioned, several New Zealand armored car patrols had seen German forces moving south. They had exchanged fire but had not taken any damage. British aircraft could see a large mass of German vehicles "on the north bank of the Crna River". They were stopped by the blown bridge. By then, they had seen German vehicles. They decided that all the Greek artillery that would be able to move south had been seen, so they decided to blow the road "ahead of their minefield". The demolition had been conduced by the Rangers. 

After 1pm, "British and Australian guns fired at long range on German vehicles". A first salvo by the 64th Medium Regiment got a lucky hit on a German truck. The British and Australians had artillery observers watching German vehicles moving south. British artillery was firing "intermittently". During the afternoon, they could see infantry and moving into position some three miles to the north. You had to think that the "infantry and tanks had outrun the artillery". 10 April was a strange day, because the Germans did not mount a "coordinated attack". The Australian historian thought that this was fortunate, because there were only three battalions of infantry to hold the Vevi Pass. Two of the battalions were the Rangers and the 2/4th Battalion (Australians). A third battalion, the 2/8th Battalion "were scrambling up hills to fill the gap on the right of the line". 

Early on 10 April, when the artillery started firing, you would have seen infantry company commanders conducting reconnaissance in an area that at this point had no occupants. If they looked north, they would have seen the Germans moving south. If they looked to the south, they would have seen their infantry at the end of marching eleven miles, and then having to climb the steep slopes. Once they reached the top, they would need to then dig in. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Sytia" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The initial attack and the defense circa 9 April 1941

 The initial attack crossed the Yugoslav frontier with each division being a column. They moved towards Skoplje. The 73rd Division advanced towards Velos. The Germans moved into Skoplje on 7 April. The German 2nd Armored Division neared Strumica. The Yugoslav defense had collapsed by this point. 8 April saw the southern Yugoslav defenses were defeated and there were only remnants of units in existence. What I take to be the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler division turned left and moved into the Monastir Valley. The 2nd Armored Division had by this time moved through "the Axios Valley" towards Salonika. 

 The Metaxis Line was a very strong position with well-designed forts. They resembled the Maginot line in France. The Germans had hoped to move through to Salonika, but the forts were not a push-over. The Germans had two mountain divisions and heavy artillery. The Hellas Fort held out for 36 hours after a heavy artillery bombardment. The Ekhinos Fort "held out for days" after the Germans had bypassed the fort and left it in their rear. The Germans had broken through to Salonika, but there were Greek forts stubbornly resisting in the German rear. 

By 9 April, the 2nd Armored Division had reached Salonika. On the left side, two German divisions had succeeded in passing the "frontier forts" and had reached the sea. The Germans had collected some shipping, including Italian destroyers and had "occupied the islands of Samothrace, Thanos, Lemnos, Mytilene, and Chios". 

"During the night of 9 April, British infantry found themselves covered in snow. There were refugees moving through the pass. They observed some Yugoslav troops and Greek police accompanying the refugees. The Greek police were well-dressed in contrast to Greek soldies who were not. 

New Zealand armored cars had driven north and had seen two German columns. One column was at Vevi and a second was at Sitaria. They were lucky to not be damaged, since they had "exchanged fire" with German forces. British air reconnaissance had seen many vehicles sitting north of the Crna river. They were stopped by blown bridges. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The German attack has started in April 1941

 The Germans hastily regrouped after they heard of the Yugoslav coup. The armored group commanded by Kleist was to attack north from Sofia in the direction of Belgrade. This was an armored group in name only, as it had but one armored division. It also had one mountain, one motorized and two infantry divisions. A corp would move into "southern Yugoslavia", hoping to break up a Yugoslav army and join up with Italians. Another corps would push through the "Metaxas line' The plan was operating under the assumption that there some sixteen Yugoslav divisions located near Nish, Skoplje, and Velos. 

The primitive road system caused problems for the Germans. "The roads were narrow and winding". Some of the German guns were so long that they could not be towed on the road. German engineers resorted to explosives to make it possible for the guns to move. Another issue was that in Yugoslavia, there were rivers affected by the spring thaw. 

Troops on the right for the Germans had been able to cross "the Mur and Drave rivers". What was helpful was that they were able to capture some bridges that were still intact. The Germans took many Yugoslav prisoners as they advanced. Another factor that aircraft from the Yugoslav air force flew to Austria to surrender. Another issue was that very few German troops were actually in the field. The German commander decided that they would follow the original plan. That meant that they would have to wait until 10 April to move on Belgrade. In Yugoslavia, "the people were shaken by the treachery of the Regent, Prince Paul. Some mililtary leaders were also involved. That meant that there was less resistance to an attack, because of knowing about the political situation. The Germans took Vardar on 6 April, Skoplje was taken on 7 April. By this point, the Yugoslav army was mostly not fighting. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, November 09, 2020

The plan and move to invade Greece in 1941

 <p>Hitler planned to accumulate a force in Romania from January 1941. Once the weather turned better, they would then move through Bulgaria to take the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. The coup in Yugoslavia meant that a military effort would be needed in Yugoslavia. They had hoped that a political move would be sufficient. They planned for a violent move against Yugoslavia in the new plan. They wanted to frighten Turkey into inaction and also set Greece back, to make them fear what a German attack would be like. 

They would give Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria some incentives from what they take in the attack. They planned to destroy Belgrade by air attack. "They would attack in waves". Russia had already concluded a treaty with Yugoslavia, but the Germans ignored that document. The Second German Army would attack Yugoslavia, advancing out of Austria. The Twelfth Army would be assembled in Austria. 

By the beginning of April 1941, the German army had some 153 divisions. They had 14 Armored Divisions and 8 Motorized Divisions, of which 3 were SS. There was also one Light Division in North Africa. They also had "124 Infantry Divisions, six mountain and one cavalry division. Field Marshal von Brautchitsch was put incommand of operations in the Balkans. The headquarters would be located south of Vienna. Belgrade was an important target of the operation. 

German mountain troops were part of the plan. They would cover the western flank. Interestingly enough, the Italians were unhappy with the plan. The Italians wanted the Germans to attack Yugoslav formations near Albania. One German attack was to move northward toward Belgrade. They Germans would go ahead and link up with the Italians "at lake Ochrid". The Germans had trouble with the narrow roads. They often had to blast to widen them. There was also a problem in Yugoslavia with "swollen rivers". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Waiting for the German attack

 <p>A mixed force of New Zealand, Australian, and Greek waited for the expected German attack. "During the first quarter of 1941, the German army to attack Greece was assembled. They called the operation to attack Greece "Operation Marita". "A directive to attack Greece was issued on 13 December 1940". There was concern about "British air bases that threatened Romanian oil fields and Italy". The battle in Albania had an uncertain outcome that could threaten later operational plans.

The situation in Yugoslavia changed with the success of the coup. That caused the dates for attacking Russia to change among other operations. It also increased the forces that would be necessary for the Greek Campaign. They needed to treat Yugoslavia with sufficient harshness so that Turkey would be frightened into staying out of the war. Part of the plan included bombing Belgrade to destroy the city. The Germans assumed that Croatia would come into the war on their side when the attack happened. The Soviets had signed a treaty with Yugoslavia, but the Germans were undeterred by that event. 

The German 12th Army was assigned to conduct the operation against Greece. The 12th Army had been involved in France in 1940 and was beginning to assemble in Romania in late 1940. The 12th Army would have to cross the Danube River. It would be up to the 12th Army to construct ways to cross the river. One of the challenges was that in late February, the Danube was blocked by ice. With the ice as an issue, the 12th Army only had time to build three bridges before they moved into Bulgaria. They were only able to move into Bulgaria for some days after 2 March. 

HItler wanted the attack on Greece to begin on 1 April, but Field Marshal List would be the one to set the exact dates for the operation. The new requirement to occupy Yugoslavia meant that they needed to add more forces for the attack. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Preparing to fight the Germans on 9 April 1941

 It seems that the bridge being demolished at "the north side of the River Crna" had slowed the German advance into Greece. Early on 9 April 1941, General Mackay and "his chief staff officer" met with a Greek general Karassos "at Kozani". The meeting lasted three hours, partly due to the need to rely on interpreters. General Mackay had thought that the meeting was wasted time, because he had not learned anything. The British increased their anti-tank gun support to the Greeks "from a troop to a battery". During the day, the 1st Armoured Brigade and two battalions of the 19th Australian Brigade "arrived and began deploying". The 6th New Zealand Brigade got "warning orders". Men had traveled all night in conditions that meant that there was no way to sleep. The men therefore had arrived very tired. Where they were, they had to deal with snow without any shelter. On top of that, the men then had to move to new positions at Vevi which were only accessible by marching on foot. The men were forced to carry everything they took, so that made their situation even worse. 

A feature of Vevi was that the Monastir valley narrowed. To the immediate west, there were "steep hills". To the east, there were two lakes that "sat across the path over the foothills". Through the pass was a "winding course through a defile". The path was lined with steep hills with "no trees". While this was a good defensive position, the units had to be spread wide. To support each other, they would need to "patrol in the gaps". The hillsides were steep and lacked tracks. That meant that the men would have to carry "weapons and supplies". In the center were the artillery, consisting of medium guns, field guns, and machine guns. They had a platoon of New Zealand machine gunners. They were with the 2/8th Battalion (Australians). This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Amazon Ad