WWII German attack on Greece (operation Marita)

Greek drama. The combat spirit of the Greek army was high, but it had to perish before the technical superiority of the invaders.

While the Army Eastern Macedonia and the forces of the 3rd Military District, deployed on the Bulgarian frontier, were falling apart under the blows of the German 12th Army, the troops commanded by Gen. Henry Maitland Wilson were still organizing defences along the line Aliakmon valley – Vermion mountains – lake Vegoritis – Kajmakcalan. The news about the Yugoslav debacle on the Vardar caused that Gen. Wilson began to worry that the enemy troops could reach the rears of his left wing. Upon an agreement with General Aléxandros Papagos it was decided that the left wing of the Greco-British troops would be evacuated from the sector Vegoritis – Kajmakcalan to the area of the pass Kirli Derven near Klidi, where they would build new defences blocking the northern approaches from Bitola. While the troops were already on the move, the news came that the enemy took Bitola. It meant that the Yugoslav defence in that area was broken, and the German command got an opportunity to engage more forces in Greece. Συνέχεια

Short account of the Greek Epopee of 1940

Introduction

Sixty years have gone by since the Second World War (WW II) storm hit Greece in 1940, bringing her untold suffering until her 1944 liberation with the help of her Allies. WW II broke out in Europe on 1 September 1939, with the German invasion of Poland, which she occupied the same month. Austria and Czechoslovakia had previously come under complete German control without resistance.

When on 28 October 1940 Italy attacked Greece, the Battle of Britain was just over and the UK troops had retreated from Europe at Dunkirk. At this time a Peace Agreement was in force between the Soviet Union and Germany. The Battle of Greece, initially against the unprovoked Italian attacks from 28 October 1940 onward and later on the German invasion from 6 April 1941 onward, lasted altogether 216 days. This unexpectedly very long and stanch Greek fight back caused international astonishment, general admiration and praise, manifested in many ways. It was something magnificent and rightly considered as a Greek miracle. Peter Young, in his book «WORLD ALMANAC BOOK OF WW II» reports that the Axis occupied France in 45 days, in spite substantial British military support; Belgium in 18 days; Holland in 5 days, while Denmark submitted in 12 hours and Bulgaria, Rumania and Albania succumbed without a fight. Συνέχεια

WWII Italian offensive ; Greece says «NO»

Αθήνα 1940, οδός Πανεπιστημίου. Παρέλαση στρατιωτών που αναχωρούν στο μέτωπο

Ochi! Greek volunteers marching from Athens to the front. This picture illustrates very well the moods after the Italian invasion.

The Italian fascism saw the Balkans as a natural area of its expansion, either through direct conquest of certain lands (Dalmatia, Ionian Islands) or through their political and economical subordination. However the results of this policy were weak: apart from occupation of Albania closer relations were established only with Hungary. Their basis was in common hostility towards Yugoslavia and in Budapest’s seeking some balance to the III Reich, especially after the annexation of Austria and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. In April 1939 Benito Mussolini, who unlike Adolf Hitler had gained nothing from creation of the Axis Rome-Berlin, and inspired by his foreign minister, count Galeazzo Ciano, decided to annect Albania. Out of Mussolini’s crippled conquests this was probably the most bizarre one. Italian expeditionary forces were created literally hastily. They had no combat experience, no adequate equipment, no precise orders and they almost blundered in face of the chaotic Albanian defence. Only the faint-heartedness of the Albanian king Zog I, as well as corruption and treason among his many ministers and generals, caused, that Albania was eventually occupied. This operetta-style invasion had brought to the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, yet another title – the King of Albania, to the Italian industrialists – an opportunity of unlimited exploitation of the country, and to the Italian military – a bridgehead for further conquests. But the real beneficiary was count Ciano, who practically had got his own appanage principality. Συνέχεια

German Antiguerrilla Operations in the Balkans (1941-1944)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

FOREWARD

Part One: THE BALKAN AREA AND ITS PEOPLES

  • Chapter 1: Physical Geography
  • I. Topography
  • II. Climate
  • Chapter 2: National States
    • I. General
    • II. Greece
    • III. Yugoslavia
    • IV. Albania
    • V. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey
  • Chapter 3: Transportation and Communication
    • I. General
    • II. Main Rail Lines
    • III. Principal Highways
    • IV. Waterways, Airfields, and Signal Facilities

    Part Two: THE OCCUPATION OF THE BALKANS AND THE RISE OF THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT (1941-44)

    • Chapter 4: The Occupation Zone and Forces
    • I. Division and Dismemberment
    • II. The Italians
    • III. The Germans
    • IV. The Bulgarians and Hungarians
    • V. The Puppet Governments
  • Chapter 5. The Early Movement and Axis Countermeasures
    • I. Yugoslavia
    • II. Greece
  • Chapter 6: Organization of Guerrilla Units
    • I. Unit and Command Structure
    • II. Communications and Supply
    • III. Training and Tactics

    Part Three. THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT IN GREECE, YUGOSLAVIA, AND ALBANIA (1943-44)

    • Chapter 7: Operations (January-August 1943)
    • I. Yugoslavia
    • II. Greece
    • III. The German Situation by Mid-1943
  • Chapter 8: The Defeat of Italy and Its Effects
    • I. General
    • II. Yugoslavia and Albania
    • III. Greece
  • Chapter 9: Operations to the End of 1943
    • I. General
    • II. Yugoslavia and Albania
    • III. Greece
  • Chapter 10: Operations in 1944
    • I. General
    • II. The Area of Army Group E
    • III. The Area of Army Group F
  • Chapter 11. GEMSBOCK and STEINADLER
  • Part Four: RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS Συνέχεια

    Swastika over the Balkans

    The conquest of Greece and Yugoslavia by hitlerite Germany and its fascist allies in April 1941 (operations Marita and 25) had diametrically changed the political, military and strategic situation on the Balkan peninsula. Germany and Italy started the conquests and subordinating of other countries yet before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. In effect of nearly bloodless Italian aggression Albania lost its independence already on 7 April 1939 and was incorporated (12 April) into Italian empire. The king Ahmet bej Zogu ( Zog I) got deposed by the collaborationist Constituent Assembly and made for exile to Turkey. The Assembly addressed the king of Italy Victor Emmanuel III «with a request to accept the Albanian crown». The collaborationist government with a former prime minister Shefqet bej Vërlaci had been brought into being. But actually in Albania ruled the Italian governor Gen. Francesco Jacomoni di San Sarino. About a month after the Italian invasion on Albania, on 6 May 1939, 200 Albanian tribal chieftains signed the «pact of friendship» with Italy. On 13 July a not too big in numbers Albanian army had been merged with Italian forces. There had been created the Albanian Fascist Party (Partia Fashiste Shqiptare), which together with invaders used to terrorize the population protesting against new order. Intensified the exploitation of Albania’s natural resources (among others chromium and copper ores, brown coal, and oil), as well as the works concerning preparation of that tiny country to form a bridgehead for further conquests in the Balkans (development of communication network, roads, airfields etc.) Συνέχεια

    Before the storm

    In the end of October 1940 a beautiful Mediterranean autumn ruled in Rome and Athens. But to the Greco- Albanian frontier running through the wilderness of the Pindus plateau came a Balkan winter – cold, rainy, even snowy in upper parts of the mountains. In that frontier, which separated Greece from Italian- occupied Albania, since some time had been freezing soldiers of both sides: Italian, who by Mussolini’s will were about to march on Athens, and Greek, who were preparing to defend their country of the invasion. Italian soldiers expected a tourist march to Athens, after which they would promptly return to their homes. The commander of the Aquila Battalion from the 3rd Alpine Division (Giulia), Major Fatuzzo, on 27 October 1940 noted in his diary: Συνέχεια

    Codename MARITA

    Development of the situation in Greece had frustrated Germans’ hopes for quick conquest of Greece by Italy. Quite the contrary, Berlin contemplated a possibility to face a broader anti-fascist coalition in the Balkans, including Turkey siding with the British. Also the Bulgarian government warned Berlin that Yugoslavia also might change its policy. In those circumstances Adolf Hitler decided about an intervention in Greece. However, such an intervention required additional political manoeuvres. It was necessary to attract Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to the «Axis», neutralize Turkey, obtain Romania’s consent to increase the contingent of the German troops in that country, and obtain Hungary’s consent for transporting the troops via its territory. It was also important to mask all those actions in a way that would not alarm the Soviet Union. Moreover, the military operation against Greece had to be completed soon enough to engage the participating troops against the USSR before May 1941. Hence the obvious tendency had emerged to solve the Italo-Greek conflict by «peaceful» means. Politicians in Berlin expected that merely a threat of a German intervention would be enough to force Greece’s capitulation. Συνέχεια

    Fire in the Balkans

    Although politicians in Rome were talking about an occupation of the whole Greece, there was barely enough troops concentrated in Albania to seize Epirus. Bigger operations had to be improvised while the hostilities were already going on. Out of 140,000 men deployed in Albania 100,000 were in combat units: five infantry divisions, one armoured, and one alpine division. Moreover three cavalry regiments, one grenadier regiment and some smaller units were used to create the Coastal Group, which more or less equalled in strength to a division. Most of those forces were concentrated along the Epirus frontier. General Sebastiano Visconti Prasca exercised the command through the Supreme Command Albania (Superalba). On 24 October his forces were divided into two army corps: 25th or Ciamuria in Epirus under the command of Gen. Carlo Rossi, and 26th in Western Macedonia under the command of Gen. Gabriele Nasci. The Ciamuria Corps had to strike with the forces of the Division Ferrara (23rd Inf.) and the Armoured Division Centauro (131st Amd.) from the area of Tepelena and Gjirokastra on Kalpakion, Yannina and Arta. The Infantry Division Siena (51st Inf.) had to force the Kalamas River, and support the advance on Yannina. Συνέχεια

    WWII The Italian Offensive

    When the Italian command stopped the offensive in Greece, it planned to resume it after reinforcements come from Italy. Meanwhile the Greek command, in view of the progress in mobilization, neutrality of Sofia allowing shifting some troops from the Bulgarian frontier, as well as the British control over the sea coasts, decided to go to a counter-offensive. General Aléxandros Papágos ordered to strike on 14 November 1940. The core forces – Army Western Macedonia (Gen. Ioánnis Pitsikas), III Army Corps (Gen. Geórgios Tsolákoglou), and II Army Corps (Gen. Dimitrios Papadopulos) had to take the area of Korytsa (Korca), and the left-wing I Army Corps (Gen. Panaiotis Demestichas) had to drive an auxiliary advance on Argyrokastron (Gjirokastra). The Greek offensive started as scheduled. Troops from the Army Western Macedonia in heavy fights took the Morove massif, and started the maneuver to surround Korytsa . The Italian 9th Army found itself in a critical situation, and eventually started withdrawal from the city, where on 22 November at 17:15 entered advanced units of the Greek 9th Infantry Division (Gen. Christos Ziguris). Συνέχεια

    Treaty between the USSR and Yugoslavia. 11 April 1945

    The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR, and the Board of Regents of Yugoslavia, determined to carry on the war against the German invaders to the end, desiring further to strengthen the friendship existing between the peoples of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia who are waging a joint struggle against the common enemy, Hitlerite Germany, expressing their unbending will to secure close co-operation between the peoples of both countries and all the United Nations in time of war and in peace, to make their contribution to the cause of postwar organization of peace and security, confident that the consolidation of friendship between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia meets vital interests of both peoples and will serve in the best possible manner the cause of further economic development of both countries, have decided to conclude with this end in view the present treaty and have appointed as their plenipotentiaries: for the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, V.M.Molotov, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR; for the Board of Regents of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, President of the Council of Ministers of Yugoslavia, who, after an exchange of their credentials found in due form and good order, agreed, upon the following: Συνέχεια

    Remarks by the Prime Minister of Canada Hon. Lyon Mackenzie King. 1 July 1941

    The world had the greatest admiration for Classical Greece, but now the admiration for the same land is beyond any bounds. Italy attacked first, and then German forces came to Italy’s assistance. Greece stood up against both – a lesson of natural courage. Humanity will never forget the bravery shown by Greece at this time. The sacrifice of Greece was not vain. Canada’s efforts to alleviate famine in Greece were welcomed as was her promise to send wheat to Greece as soon as ships are available. Canada will never rest until Greece is restored and her independence secured.

    Mackenzie King,

    Prime Minister of Canada

    Falling back in Greece

    British forces in Libya had been weakened because so many troops had been diverted to support the Greeks. The German invasion of Greece, also to support their Italian allies, was progressing quickly. The simultaneous invasion of Yugoslavia enabled them to outflank the Greek and British forces. Captain K.M. Oliphant was with the 2/3 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery high in the Greek mountains, which he described as ‘making the highlands of Scotland look like a plain’. His personal diary did not manage to keep track of individual days during this period:

    News comes that the position on our flanks is not good – we are to withdraw to a stronger line – we are still confident. The withdrawal takes place under cover of the darkness, and we take up our new positions.

    It is still snowing. The Germans move down and attack again – here they employ the full weight of their Air Force against us – we suffer their dive bombing and machine gunning and await the arrival of the R.A.F. – we are still confident. Day after day the German Air force bomb and machine gun us – a terrible experience – where is the R.A.F? surely there has been no mismanagement – our confidence is shaken – as we suffer every morning and every evening these terrifying raids – we reach the stage where we long for night and quietness – all day is a nightmare, and the hours of daylight are so long.

    No British are in the sky – what has gone wrong?. Men begin to ask ‘Are we to be sacrificed to the German Air Force?’

    On land we hurl their attacks back in spite of their overwhelming numbers – but we can’t hold on against their Air Force. One morning three bombs landed not twenty yards from the hole we were crouching in, covering us with filth, my tent was torn in three places by jagged pieces of bomb splinters. Forty yards from my tent a huge bomb tore a hole in the ground twenty feet deep and seventy feet wide. After dropping their bombs they fly low and machine-gun us because we have no planes to chase them-off – the sky is THEIRS.

    News comes of a further withdrawal – we ask what has happened – surely not another Dunkirk; – our Unit is allotted the rearguard role – we stand and fight to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the force.

    SOURCE: ww2today.com

    The last defence line in Greece

    The Germans had established air superiority early in the short Greek campaign, as Captain Oliphant had experienced. As they consolidated their positions German fighters and dive bombers dominated even more.

    Percy Parrymore was with the 122/13th Light Anti Aircraft unit in Greece. As the British made their withdrawal from Greece his troop was selected to remain as a rearguard on the last bridge over the Corinth canal. The eight men on his gun were reduced down to six and they were told to watch out for parachutists:

    Came the dawn on Saturday, 26th April, along with scores of German fighters with machine guns blazing. The man taking cover alongside me was killed outright and I was wounded in the right hand and arm.

    Then the Germans started dropping the parachutists, and it was quite evident that nothing was going to stop them. Eventually there were left only the Sergeant, Alan Ponsford, and myself (bombardier), and deciding the only course of action was to spike the gun, we threw the breech block as far as we could into a corn field.

    My right arm was useless, so I told Alan I would crawl through the adjacent corn field to see if I could see any other British troops. On my return after only a few minutes Alan was dead. I had not, of course, seen any British, but found four Germans advancing towards us, at whom Alan had apparently been firing with a Greek rifle; he was just keeled over in a kneeling position. I took his rifle with my remaining hand and took one shot at the advancing Germans. This stopped them, but they started throwing grenades.

    Then a very Lancashire accent voice called out ‘Nah then, daft bugger, gie thissen up’. I thought this must be a German who had lived in England, so still dodged a few more grenades. Finally, deciding ‘This is the end’, I stood up, still holding the rifle, and the Germans and I simply stared at each other. They indicated strongly that I should drop the rifle, which I did, and then walked over towards them.

    They could not have been kinder, and used their own field dressings to mop up my hand and arm, and I was taken to a field dressing station, which had been dropped by parachute, and where a German doctor showed no discrimintion between German and British wounded.

     

    Last ditch stand at Kalamata

    British and New Zealand troops in Greece were now making their way to the coast to seek evacuation by the Royal Navy. Many men were got away but when the Germans caught up with them a fierce fight ensued.

    It was during this action that New Zealander Jack Hinton won the VC:

    On the night of 28/29 April 1941 during fighting in Greece a column of German armoured forces entered Kalamata. This column, which contained several armoured cars, some 2-inch guns and 3-inch mortars and two 6-inch guns, rapidly converged on a large force of British and New Zealand troops awaiting embarkation on the beach.

    When an order to retreat to cover was given Sergeant Hinton shouted, ‘To Hell with this, who will come with me’, and ran to within several yards of the nearest guns. The guns fired, missing him, and he hurled two grenades which completely wiped out the crews. He then came on with bayonet followed by a crowd of New Zealanders. German troops abandoned the first 6-inch gun and retreated into two houses. Sergeant Hinton smashed the window and then the door of the first house and dealt with the garrison with bayonet. He repeated the performance in the second house and, as a result until overwhelming German forces arrived, the New Zealander held the guns. Sergeant Hinton then fell with a bullet wound through the lower abdomen and was taken prisoner.

    Bill Flint, who was with the 18th Battalion of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, was involved with this fighting. He describes how the final surrender came about the following morning:

    They were a sandbag sort of wall – a low wall, and they were sheltering behind them, but they were made of filled sandbags. I saw one bloke – I think he was ASC [Army Service Corps] or something-he’d had no training in bayonet, and he stuck his bayonet at a- obviously German who was behind a sanger – but he didn’t know how to pull it out. There’s a knack in it – you’ve got to jerk it and put your foot in. It was desperate. We realised we had to beat these Germans before we could get away. It ended up we all sorted – we had about 70 German prisoners right at the wharf edge, and we fully expected to still go – get out – and then a destroyer just zoomed past. It sort of semi-circled and turned and went away and loud-hailed us: ‘Sorry boys, it’s late. We’ve got to go.’

    Not long after that we got – word circulated- word of mouth – that the brigadier, whoever he was, a Pommie, I think, had unconditionally surrendered to the Germans, who had offered him annihilation bombing if he didn’t – didn’t surrender immediately and that was something like 7:30 in the morning. We were to consider ourselves prisoners at 7:30 and in no time flat, the German tanks came in and went right round us in a circle and put swastika flags on top of their tanks and their bombers flew in at just that time and when they saw the flags, they veered off and went away but they were just going to start bombing.

    Clash of Armor, The Road to Kozani, 13 April, 1941

    In the early afternoon of 13 April, 1941, the main body of the 9th Panzerdivision – the 33rd Panzer Regiment – entered Ptolmais, a town between the villages of Vivi and Kozani. As the Germans began to push south out of Ptolmais, they encountered blown bridges, water-filled anti-tank ditches, swamps, and other rough terrain. German patrols scouted the vicinity of the main road and discovered a way around these obstacles. The German forces were able to swing several miles west around the flank of the Commonwealth forces through a swampy area, but passable enough for vehicles. While under constant artillery, anti-tank and tank fire, 9th Panzer moved slowly through the swampy area. As the Germans moved closer into range, they began returning fire and reportedly knocked out several vehicles. Συνέχεια

    Eleni Ioannidi A telegram of a mother that lost chidren at war

    19410202-ioannidi-eleni-telegram

    TO: THE PRIME MINISTER TO GOVERNMENT

    Sir Koryzi Alexander,

    My son,  Evangelos Ioan. Ioannides, was killed during the operations at Kleisoura.

    Ordered my four already serving sons: Christo, Kosta, Georgio and NikoIao Ioan. Ioannidi to revenge the death of their brother.

    Keeping in reserve my other four sons , Pano, Athanasio, Grigorio and Menelao Ioan. Ioannidi class of 1917 and younger.

    Please call all of them by name in case our motherland is in need or any other of my children die to get vengeance from the enemy.

    Our final exclamation want to be: LONG LIVE OUR MOTHERLAND

    ELENI IOAN. IOANNIDI

    KYPARISSIA 2 FEBRUARY 1941

    Greeting to America by Ioánnis Metaxas. 4 November 1940

    Speaking on behalf of the whole Greek people. I wish to extend a cordial greeting to the noble American nation, with whom Greece is linked by a long tested friendship, and whose progress and contribution to the civilization of our times every Greek follows with affection and admiration.

    I also wish to take this opportunity of extending a most hearty greeting to the numerous Greeks living in the United States, who, although patriotic and loyal citizens of their new country, which has so generously received them, have not ceased to cherish affectionate sentiments towards their Mother country.

    Athens, 4th November 1940 Ioannis Metaxas.

    President Franklin Delano Roosvelt’s message to King George II. 1 November 1940

    I thank Your Majesty for your friendly message, which comes at a time when all free peoples are deeply impressed by the courage and stedfastness of the Greek nation.

    The American Red Cross has already sent substantial amounts of funds and supplies for the relief of suffering in your country and I am sure that my countrymen will give generously to the new organizations which are being established for the same purpose.

    As Your Majesty knows, it is the settled policy of the United States Government to extent aid to those governments and peoples who defend themselves against aggression.

    I assure Your Majesty that steps are being taken to extent such aid to Greece, which is defending itself so valiantly.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    King George II’s message to President Franklin Delano Roosvelt. 31 October 1940

    In this hour in which my country is engaged in a hard and unequal struggle, forced upon it by an enemy whose actions are motivated by cruelty and violence, I am deeply moved by the warm sympathy and the keen interest manifested by the great nation whose destinies you guide.

    The noble American people have often in the past rendered assistance to my country in all critical moments of its history, and the recent organization of the Greek War Relief Association is further proof that Philhellenism continues to inspire Americans today in their lofty aims. Συνέχεια