| Italian aggression against Greece, which was launched
on 28 October 1940, and resulted in humiliating blunder, had created a
new political situation in the Balkans. To Great Britain it occurred as
an opportunity to open another front of the war against the fascist
"Axis", and engage vast human resources of the region in the military
operations. Therefore, Great Britain declared its full support to the
fighting Greece, and simultaneously embarked on diplomatic manoeuvres,
aimed at creation of a block of Balkan countries - Greece, Yugoslavia
and Turkey - blocked with England and her dominions.
At the same time the Balkans had absorbed attention of Germany, which
was already preparing for the war with the USSR - the invasion was
planned for May 1941. To the German leader, Adolf Hitler, the new
situation in the Balkans constituted a serious menace to the southern
wing of his forces designated to the operation Barbaroßa. Also, Balkan countries
were considerable suppliers of food and raw materials to Germany.
Therefore, they had to be subdued to the interests of the Third Reich,
whether through diplomatic action, or direct armed aggression.
Germany headed towards that goal gradually. On 27 September 1940 in
Berlin Germany, Italy and Japan concluded the Tripartite Pact, joint in
November by Hungary and Romania. In the latter were immediately
deployed German troops. Then came the turn of Bulgaria, subdued in
February 1941, and the pressure on Yugoslavia began. But the political
rapprochement with Yugoslavia had failed.
As to Greece, Hitler originally did not abandon hope that his mediation
would "rebuke the Greeks without resorting to the force". Yet, already
on 12 November 1940 he signed the Directive No.18, which provided for
an operation against Greece from Bulgaria "if necessary". General
provisions of the operation were detalized during next weeks within the
framework of the plan codenamed Marita.
It provided for concentration of the German 12th Army in Romania, its
entry to Bulgaria, deployment along the Bulgaro-Greek frontier, and
strike in the direction of Salonika. In March 1941 that army comprised
19 divisions, including 5 armoured ones.
Meanwhile Greece's situation in early spring of 1941 was difficult.
Five months of the war with Italy, although successful, had exhausted
materiel resources of that small and poor country, while the British
aid was not too big. Although all the means and resources at hand were
mobilized for the needs of the fighting army, it suffered from
shortages of weapons, equipment, ammunition, transportation and
The Greek army, commanded by Gen. Aléxandros Papagos, numbered 500
thousand men. Out of 21 Greek divisions as many as 15 were deployed on
the Albanian front in army groups Epirus
and Western Macedonia. Others
were deployed on the Bulgarian border or were still under training.
The perspective of a German invasion made Greece's situation completely
hopeless. Arrival of the small British Expeditionary Corps at the end
of March could not change it significantly. British forces included the
1st Armoured Brigade, New Zealand 2nd Division, Australian 6th
Division, two artillery regiments, and auxiliary units. Altogether,
concentrated in the W-Force commanded by Gen. Henry Maitland Wilson,
they had about 60 thousand men.
Apart from the armies fighting in Albania, the Greeks had formed two
new armies. The Army Eastern
Macedonia, composed of 4.5 divisions, was deployed in the
fortifications of the Metaxas Line, guarding the border with Bulgaria.
The Army Central Macedonia,
which comprised two Greek divisions and the
British W-Force, had to assume defences along the western bank of the
Vardar, with the front in north-east. Those two armies, however, had no
operational or tactical communication, and could be easily cut off from
each other, as well as from the Albanian front. And the weakest point
of the deployment of the Greek forces was the assumption that the
Germans will attack from Bulgaria, without violating of the neutrality
However, on 6 April 1941 the left wing of the German 12th Army,
simultaneously with the invasion of Yugoslavia, attacked Greece across
the Yugoslav territory. Despite of substantial enemy superiority, the
Army Eastern Macedonia,
deployed on the line of modern fortifications built in rough
mountainous terrain, repelled numerous enemy assaults in bloody
four-days fights, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans. However, at
the same time the German 2nd Armoured Division rolled southern
Yugoslavia, turned southwards, and on 9 April occupied Salonika. This
way the Army Eastern Macedonia
was cut off from the rest of the Greek forces and forced to capitulate.
Further events developed at a lightning speed. German divisions in
Yugoslavia advanced fast; on 9 April their XL Motorized Corps reached
Bitola and created menace to the Army Central
Macedonia, build around the British W-Force, which could be now
from the Army Epirus. To
avoid that the Greco-British forces on 12 April started retreating to
the River Aliakmon. However, the attempt to re-create the continuous
front on the line from Mount Olympus in the east, along the River
Aliakmon, and farther to the Lake Butrint in the west failed. The XL
Corps, faster than the Greek and British infantry troops, moved from
Bitola to Florina, and on 15 April wedged into the Greco-British
defences on the Aliakmon. Army Central
Macedonia collapsed, and its troops dispersed in the Pindus
Mountains. In those circumstances the British Expeditionary Corps had
no other choice but to keep retreating southwards.
Already on 13 April Gen. Wilson came to the conclusion that the Greek
supreme command had lost the control of the situation, and the Greek
army as a whole had lost its combat capabilities. Saving their own
troops from the Greek catastrophe became the only task of the British
from then on, and Wilson ordered them to withdraw to the line
Thermopylae - Delfi. That order had decided about the final evacuation
of the British troops from the European continent, since the W-Force
was too weak to defend new positions alone, while Greek troops, using
mostly animal transportation, would need weeks to pull out of Albania
and Epirus. One hardly could expect that the motorized German units
would lend them that time.
The British evacuation began on on 15 April. Within 5 days they
retreated 150km and concentrated around Thermopylae. Main Greek forces,
Army Epirus, with the
remnants of the Armies Western
Macedonia and Central
Macedonia, remained in the north west region of Greece, in the
mountains of Epirus and Pindus.
On 20 April the SS Brigade Leibstandarte
Adolf Hitler reached Metsovon pass, the Army Epirus' only route of retreat to
the south. The new commander of the army, Gen. Geórgios Tsolákoglou,
signed there a cease-fire with the Germans. On 23 April in Salonika he
signed the formal instrument of surrender of the Greek army. Soon later
he became the prime-minister of the puppet Greek government.
The king of Greece, George II, who decided to continue the struggle, on
21 April left for Crete aboard a British seaplane. At night from 24 to
25 April began the evacuation of the remnants of the W-Force from
continental Greece (operation Demon).
The German design to destroy the British Expeditionary Corps in
continental Greece had failed. The British evaded major encounters with
On 26 April, German airborne troops took Corinth and cut the route of
retreat of the British troops from Attica to the Peloponnese. Yet, the
efficient operation of the British Mediterranean fleet let to evacuate
most of the British troops; only some rear units were taken prisoners.
Altogether in Greece the British lost 12 thousand men and all the heavy
equipment. On 27 April the Germans entered Athens, and on 29 April
completed occupation of the Peloponnese.