Showing posts from November, 2020

Eighty years ago, the Balkans slip further towards instability

    The Balkans were taking centre stage, as the battle lines were drawn for the European conflict to widen yet again. In purely military terms, things went from bad to worse for Italy, the Axis power actively waging war in the region. On the diplomatic plane, the balance of power was clearly shifting towards the Axis. The collapse of France had created a brief vacuum; Britain did not possess the military resources or credibility remotely to fill this; Germany was the ultimate decision-maker even though the local political conditions in each country obscured this reality. The Greek counter-offensive against the Italian invasion gathered pace. The city of Koritza fell to the Greeks. In celebration a Te Deum for the victory was sung in the city’s cathedral, it was a victory of Orthodox over Catholic Christianity. So long as the Greeks were fighting in regions of mixed religions they could depend on large support from their co-religionists. The Italian army could do little to halt the G

Eighty years ago, the RAF punishes success and unorthodoxy

    The Greek army launched a counter-offensive across practically the whole width of the front. The main focus of the attack was the town of Korce, well over the frontier of Italian dominated Albania. It was the main route centre of south-east Albania. Rather than fight the Italians on the plain around the city where their lack of tanks and mechanical transport would have put them at a disadvantage, the Greeks worked through the high ground surrounding the area. Further south the Greeks drove the Italians out of the last of the Greek territory taken in their initial offensive. The Italians depended on the Albanian ports of Durreze and Valona for all resupply. These were the largest ports in the country but still small and ill-equipped, leaving the Italian army at a severe logisitical disadvantage. The Luftwaffe was starting to shift its attacks beyond London. One of the first cities to suffer was Coventry which was bombed by 500 aircraft. Weather conditions were almost perfect; late

Eighty years ago, Nazi Germany and the USSR fail to divide the world between themselves as an unknown British Brigadier wins his first battle

  The visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov to Berlin generated huge interest. Since the dismemberment of Poland over a year before relations between the two dictatorships had been uneasily calm. The Soviets were suspicious of a large German presence in Finland which they still hoped to conquer and the Germans were not enthusiastic at the thought of further Soviet expansion in the Balkans. The Germans proposed a deal under which the Soviets would join the Axis and divide their regions into formal spheres of influence; they pointed the Soviets south-east towards the Caucasus and, eventually, British-held India. Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, argued that this arrangement would reflect the reality of a world in which British power was at an end. As the arrival of British bombers over Berlin – albeit doing minimal damage – forced the negotiating partners into an air-raid shelter, Molotov queried this premise. The discussions concluded with no agreement. Stalin was anxious

Eighty years ago, Mussolini's campaign in Greece comes up against a military professional

  Mussolini’s lunatic decision to attack Greece brought the Italian army up against the brutal fact that its successes during the Fascist era had only come when it faced extremely weak opposition: the tribal levies of Abyssinia and the feeble resources of the Kingdom of Albania. It had not covered itself in glory during the Spanish Civil War. Before that, its experience had been in the gruelling but essentially attritional battles against Austria on its north eastern frontier. By contrast the Greek army might have been small and poorly equipped but it had fought for more than a decade in the fluid battles of the Balkan wars, and – albeit disastrously – the war with Turkey. Greece's de facto dictator Ioannis Metaxas had been an army general trained at the Berlin Kriegsakademie (War Academy), the cradle of the German general staff, before entering politics. The Greek leaders could adopt a strategy based on reasonable confidence that Bulgaria would stay neutral, however much it