Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The larger picture in April 1941

 The Germans were seriously considering an airborne attack on the island of Crete. They had considered a purely seaborne attack on the island, but didn't think that the Italian navy was reliable enough for that to be an option. They had seen success with airborne troops in Holland and Corinth, so they were planning on an airborne attack. They had a relatively large airborne force, including Para troops and glider-borne soldiers. 

The British were aware that they could face an airborne attack on Crete. Staffs in both London and Cairo were planning for a defence of Crete from an airborne attack. The overall situation was so desperate that defending against an airborne attack on Crete did not get the attention that was needed.

There was a lot of action in Aril 1941. General Cunningham, the admiral's brother conducted a brilliant campaign in East Africa defeating the Italians and their colonial allies.  The 2nd Armored Division was defeated and the 9th Australian division was pushed back, eventually being isolated in Tobruk. The Germans captured three British generals, including Richard O'Connor, who had defeated the Italians and who had captured Cyrenaica. AS early as 11 April, the 9th Australian Division, one 7th Australian Division brigade, and the 3rd Armoured Brigade were defending the former Italian fortress at Tobruk. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The next fight was to be for control of the island Crete

 The island of Crete was a valuable prize. The Germans wanted to deny Crete as airbases within striking distance of Rumania. Crete was also well-located to allow interfering with sea traffic to Malta and to North Africa. 

Crete also seemed like an obvious location to use German airborne troops. On lesson learned was that the German airborne force was not a very effective fighting force. Instead German mountain troops were much more effective

Another issue was the rapid advance of a German mechanized force to the east. This force was under the command of General Rommel, who was an expert on infiltration as a means to break through and advance. Rommel learned the technique in the Alps against the Italians. Rommel was also an innovator in applying infiltration to mechanized warfare. Rommel was able to do some amazing things in North Africa against some rather mediocre British leadership. 

Infiltration tactics were the greatest innovation to come out of the Great War. The concept was tested against the Russians with considerable success. It also was tried in Western Europe by the Germans, but the Americans also adopted the ideas, at least on a small scale. Sergeant York's exploits were the best example.

Rommel's success caused the the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Carpathian Brigade to be kept in North Africa rather than being sent to Greece. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The British withdrawal from Greece in 1941

 British organizational failures were excused by blaming the Greeks. The Australian historian credits the Greek army with fighting well against the Italians and Germans. An example of General Wilson's failures was the delayed planning of the withdrawal and loading onto ships. A contributing factor was that Wilson had ordered two commanders and their staffs that could have helped "plan and control" the "withdrawal and embarkation of British soldiers". Base troops that should have been withdrawn were instead left in Greece. 

When there has been a failure of command there will be recriminations. That is what happened in Cairo after "the evacuation". The air force and army each blamed the other for the failure in Greece. There was also a tendency to blame German air attacks for failures. In fact, the German air force in Greece largely failed to be a major factor in the outcome. 

After the withdrawal from Greece, there was a discussion about British equipment quality. The opinion of the Australian historian was that British and German equipment quality was comparable. "British" infantry performed well, at times functioning as improvised mountain troops, performing creditably against specialist German mountain troops.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

British and Greek communications in 1941

 In early 1941, the British and Greek commanders did not trust each other. It also seems that the British and Greek commanders had problems communicating in that communications were often misunderstood. 

In early 1941 the British wanted to be able to cooperate with Yugoslavia and the Greeks agreed with this goal. 

General Papagos the Greek leader in early 1941 decided to hold Salonika at least until they had learned what the Yugoslav intentions were Salonika was the port that could be used to supply Yugoslavia. After the British commanders saw how the Greek army was deployed, they decided to hold a line along Olympus and the Vermion, as it seemed to be very defensible. 

Once the coup happened in Yugoslavia the British considered trying to defend Salonika. They gave up that idea after being unable to cooperate with the Yugoslavian army. 

Before the Greek campaign even started, the British commanders had no confidence in the Greek army. That was partly influenced by General Wilson's lack of understanding of the situation. He thought that the Greeks on the left had "disintegrated" when the real problem was to the right of the ANZAC Corps. 

This is based on the account in "Greece Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Communications and Politics involving Greece

The principal commanders involved n the Greek campaign decision-making were the GIGS, General Dill, General Wavell and Admiral Cunningham. They all had doubts about undertaking the campaign but understood that te politicians thought that the right thing to do was to support Greece. The Prime Minister,  Mr. Churchill, so dominated his cabinet and military staff that no one was prepared to oppose what Mr. Churchill wanted to do. It was also true that Churchill was more knowledgeable than his peers in any government involved in the war. One thing that created Churchills dominance was his prestige. 

The Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, was surprised at how Churchill had established his "dominance over his cabinet". There was no one in early 1941 who was able to tell Churchill when he was wrong. When Alan Brooke arrived on the scene, he made it his responsibility to attempt to keep Churchill from doing things which would cause trouble. 

The "Dominion Governments" might decided to block the Greek campaign, but the way that Churchill operated in early 1941, he withheld information from the Dominion governments that would have made it possible for the governments to be part of the "strategic decision-making process". General Blamey was told that Mr. Menzies had agreed to the Greek campaign while Mr. Menzies was told that General Blamey had agreed. This seems like a general lack of respect for the Dominions.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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Monday, June 13, 2022

More thoughts on the conduct of the Greek campaign

 The British forces in Greece had little confidence in the capability of the Greek army. The reality was somewhat different. General Wilson and his staff tended to Blame the Greek army when the failure was due ro General Wilson and his staff. General Wilson ordered a withdrawal from the Aliakmon Line while saying that the Greek army had "disintegrated" when the truth was that the real problem was to thr right of the ANZAC Corps. The corps seems to have been too weak to hold their position in the face of the forcs that the Germans had ready. 

By the time that the ANZAC Corps occupied the Thermopylae line, the Greek army in Epirus had "surrendered to the Germans. That German force made no move against the Thermopylae position. Again, the truth was that the weakened ANZAC Corps was not strong enough to hold against General List's army. 

As for the withdrawal, General Wilson and his staff had waited too long to bein planning. It was also true that General Wilson had sent to commanders and their staffs to leave Greece when they should have been used to plan the withdrawal. General Wilson and his staff lacked the judgement and experience needed to command the Greek campaign. Wilson's main qualification to command in Greece was that Churchill knew him. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

German planning in early to mid-1941

 By 6 April 1941, the Germans had a plan for occupying Yugoslavia, That allowed the Germans to fix the invasion of Russia as 22 June 1941. They now had 17 armored divisions and 106 non-armored divisions for the Russian operation. The countries subservient to Germany also had deployed their units for the Russian operation. 

The Greek General Papagos believed that the British should focus on taking Libya rather than defending Greece. The British General O'Connor had thought he could have captured Tripoli if he had not been stopped and the units sent to Greece. 

By the time that the Greek government had accepted British aid in defending Greece, the British army in North Africa was withdrawing from Rommel's advance to the East. 

The Australian General wrote that ignoring military considerations because of political factors was asking for trouble, as the outcome in Greece showed. The outcome in Greece was pre-determined due to wishful thinking  and ignoring real military considerations. As we have seen, the motivation for the Greek operation was strictly political. 

General Dill, the CIGS, General Wavell, and Admiral Cunningham all realized that the chances of success on Greece were small. They went ahead with the operation because they knew that they were expected to make the effort.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Greece and the German attack on Russia

 We have already expressed the opinion that the formation of a Balkan Front was simply a fantasy held by Winston Churchill. The two potential participants were Yugoslavia and Turkey. There was at least one faction in Yugoslavia that was ready to join Germany. Turkey simply was skeptical that the British could field an effective force to fight the Germans. As for Greece, they were already fully engaged with a stronger Italian army in a war in Albania. The Greek government was also of the opinion that the British lacked the means to be able to fight against a German attack with any chance of success. British professional military opinion opposed going into Greece, but Churchill ignored their advice because he was determined to do what he wanted regardless of expert opinion. The eventual results showed that this was a valid concern. The British were thought to be able to provide four infantry divisions and one armored brigade. Their armor consisted of rather delicate cruiser tanks with fragile metal tracks and machine-gun-armed light tanks. The British also were equipped with a substantial number of infantry armored vehicles that they called "carriers".

One wildcard was the German plans to invade Russia after they took Greece and Yugoslavia. While the Germans moved into position to attack Greece and Yugoslavia, no date had been set for the attack on Russia. 

This based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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