Showing posts from April, 2021

Eighty years ago, proud but defeated the British evacuate mainland Greece

  Most of the 48,000 British led troops were safely evacuated from Greece, but they had suffered 3,000 battle casualties. They had fought courageously, but never managed to establish a tenable defence line. Several thousand were left as prisoners. They had inflicted at best minimal delay on the German advance which reached Athens. British honour was safe; it had respected its commitment and stood by its ally at the time of need, but the military cost had been high.   The desert army , weakened by the diversion of units to the Greek campaign, had gone from triumphant advance against the Italians a few weeks before to headlong retreat in front of the Afrika Korps. Many of the units from Greece sailed to Crete which was to serve as a bastion in the north eastern Mediterranean. A British submarine, HMS Regent , spent nine hours under Italian guns in the Albanian port of Kotor flying the largest White Ensign she had on board. She had sailed into Kotor to rescue Mr. Ronald Campbell, the

Eighty years ago, resistance to the German invasion of Greece nears collapse

  Hopes of stopping the German invasion of Greece were vanishing rapidly. The British led forces were still out of contact with any serious Greek army presence and began to fall back from the Aliakmon line towards Thermopylae. The Greek army had not withdrawn from the frontier with Albania, where it had triumphed over the Italians and was not willing to give up any ground, even though the only possibility of holding the Germans would have lain in establishing a cohesive front with the British. The 12 Greek divisions there were thus cut off and surrendered, by some accounts in a side deal with local German commander to avoid the ignominy of surrendering to the Italians. Mussolini insisted that a new surrender to both Axis powers be signed. The Greek prime minister, an ineffectual former central banker, shot himself but this had little practical consequence as King George II had in practice taken over the dictatorial powers of his predecessor, Ioannis Metaxas, when he died in January.

Eighty years ago, misplaced nostalgia provides consolation for strategic weakness

    The first phase of the German invasion of Greece succeeded without difficulty. The Greek army was too small properly to man the Metaxas Line, which covered the frontier with Bulgaria through which the Germans attacked. The line put up no worthwhile resistance and the Greek army cut off in Macedonia surrendered. The British led forces were building up in Greece under General “Jumbo” Maitland Wilson. They had established a defensive line along the Aliakmon River well to the south of the frontier with the hope that the Greek army   would fall back on it and make a strongly held position. They did not and the first clashes between Wilson’s troops and the advancing Germans saw them fighting without direct Greek support. The Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand had overcome their misgivings and permitted their nations’ troops to be committed in Greece. As a New Zealand division was put into the Australian Corps, it was announced with some fanfare that the ANZAC corps of World War

Eighty years ago, the false dawn begins to fade

    An optimistic observer might have thought that Britain was doing tolerably well in its war against Germany and Italy in the first months of 1941. But if a week is a long time in politics, it can be even longer in a war. A thoughtful observer might have been rethinking Britain’s prospects after the first week of April. Winston Churchill had hailed the Yugoslavian coup d’etat, which removed the regime that allied itself to Germany and Italy, as a country regaining its soul. He little appreciated just how short a time it would have to enjoy its new status. Immediately after the coup Hitler had decided to treat Yugoslavia as an enemy and to launch a full-scale military attack. The codename for the attack Strafgericht (criminal or, literally, punishment court) gives a flavour of Hitler’s thinking. The assault began with a heavy air raid on Belgrade and the elimination of the poorly equipped Yugoslav air force. Land offensives were launched both against Yugoslavia and Greece, which en

Eighty years ago, a Balkan worm turns

  The Yugoslavian worm turned. A widely supported coup d’etat led by General Simovi ć overthrew the government that had just signed the tripartite pact with Germany and briefly imprisoned its leaders. The 17 year old King Peter, who had been on the throne since his father’s murder in 1934, was declared to be of age to rule and his uncle Prince Paul was removed as Regent. Peter took the royal oath and was wildly cheered as he drove himself through the streets of Belgrade. Paul was handed over to the British and spent the rest of the war in exile in Kenya despite his close ties to the British royal family. The Germans recalled their ambassador and demanded an immediate demobilization. The coup compromised Germany’s widely expected attack on Greece and its still deeply secret attack on the Soviet Union. The Royal Navy won a clear victory in what was to be its last full-scale sea battle in which major fleets manoeuvred against each other and fought with their big guns, Cape Matapan sout