Commander of the 3rd tank regiment of the 2nd tank Wehrmacht division Hermann Balck in the hatch of the command tank Pz.Bef.Wg. III Ausf. E (F) in the area of Panteleimonas. A New Zealand prisoner of war is sitting on a tank in the back.
The diversion of German forces to Yugoslavia did not save Greece. German tanks bypassed the strong defenses of the Greek army on the border with Bulgaria through Yugoslav territory, went to the rear, and captured Thessaloniki. The entire Greek defense creaked at the seams, one army surrendered, the other Greco-British troops began to retreat hastily, feverishly trying to create new lines of defense.
The Germans again successfully broke through and bypassed the enemy. The front finally collapsed. The Greek armies in the west did not have time to retreat and decided to lay down weapon... The British acted the same way as in Norway or France: they collected their belongings and fled. It was not only the Greek front that collapsed, but also the government. The generals themselves (without the main command and government) negotiated with the Germans and surrendered. They asked only one thing - to capitulate only to Germany, but not to Italy, which they did not lose. The German commander-in-chief List was inclined to satisfy this demand, but Hitler rejected it. The Fuhrer decided not to offend the Duce. Greece surrendered to the entire coalition.
The victory was brilliant. The Germans completed the war in three weeks; on April 27, German tanks were in Athens. The losses of the Wehrmacht - more than 4 thousand people. Greek losses - more than 14 thousand killed and missing, more than 62 thousand wounded (including the war with Italy), 225 thousand prisoners.
German soldiers at the parade in Athens
German fighters Messerschmitt Bf 110 in flight over Athens
The Greek General Staff, in connection with the war with Italy, took into account the possibility of a conflict with Germany.
The Greek commander-in-chief Alexandros Papagos, proceeding from the successes in Albania, decided to launch an offensive in order to knock the enemy out of Albania, throw them into the sea. Thus, Greece could free up all forces for the war with the Reich. The Greek army planned to eliminate the protrusion occupied by the Italians in the Keltsure area with sweeping attacks from the north and west, then, building on its success along the highway, to break through to Vlora (Vlora).
In February 1941, fierce battles unfolded. The Greeks took the commanding heights by storm from Telepena, but they did not have enough strength to build on the success. The Italians took vigorous measures to strengthen their defenses. 15 Italian divisions in Albania were reinforced with 10 more divisions and outnumbered their enemy. The battles were characterized by extreme tenacity. So, both armies lacked modern technology, bloody hand-to-hand combat often took place. At the end of February, the Greeks realized that their plan had failed.
In March 1941, already Italian troops (9th and 11th armies), under the personal supervision of the Duce, tried for the last time to break the resistance of the Greeks. 12 divisions took part in the offensive, including the Centaurus Panzer Division. The fiercest battles took place between the Osumi and Vjosa rivers, in the highlands. The Greeks parried the blow and constantly counterattacked. The Italian commander-in-chief Cavalieri, seeing that the attacks were fruitless, invited Mussolini to stop the offensive.
Greek soldiers descend the slope during the war with Italy
Column of Italian Alpine riflemen on the march along the road in Greece. 1940 g.
Greek cavalrymen look at the convoy of trucks. 1941 g.
Now it was necessary, without wasting time, to begin preparing for the defense against the expected German offensive.
A large German grouping in Romania and the possibility of deploying enemy troops in Bulgaria indicated that the Nazis would advance from the east. On the Bulgarian border, the Greeks in 1936-1940. erected the "Metaxas line". Its total length, including unfortified sections, was about 300 km. There were 21 forts, defensive structures could conduct a perimeter defense. They were complemented by a network of anti-tank ditches and reinforced concrete gaps.
On their own, the Greeks could not resist the German offensive. Almost their entire 400-strong army (15-16 divisions out of 22) was deployed against the Italians in the Albanian direction. Despite the fact that strategic reserves were already depleted in the war with Italy. The country was agrarian with a weak industrial base. The technical armament and mechanization of the troops were minimal. There are only a few dozen tanks, mostly light and outdated, Italian trophies. There are about 160 aircraft, mostly of obsolete types. The Italians were helped to contain the British Air Force (30 squadrons). The artillery park is small, anti-tank and anti-aircraft defenses are in their infancy. The fleet is small and outdated.
The Greeks could leave the occupied areas in Albania and transfer the main forces to the Bulgarian direction. However, the General Staff, taking into account the mood of the people, did not dare to leave the territory captured from the enemy at the cost of a lot of blood. Moreover, the Italian threat has not gone anywhere. Athens asked Britain for help.
German dive bomber Junkers Ju-87 (Ju.87B-2) in flight in the area of the Greek defensive line Metaxas. April 1941
German Dornier Do.17 bombers heading for targets in Greece
In February, General Papagos held talks with the British Foreign Minister Eden and the British military on the use of the British Expeditionary Force in Greece. There were three scenarios for organizing the defense of Greece:
1) the use of a well-fortified "Metaxas line", defense on the Greek-Bulgarian border. At the same time, it was necessary to connect the front in the east with the front in the west against the Italians;
2) leave Eastern Greece and withdraw troops across the Struma River, on which to defend;
3) retreat even further to the west, yielding Thessaloniki without a fight, and choose the shortest line for the defense of the peninsula.
From a military point of view, the withdrawal from the Bulgarian border was reasonable. However, political considerations took over the military. As in Yugoslavia, where the Yugoslav leadership did not want to leave most of the country without a fight and withdraw the army to the south to join with the Greeks. Athens did not want to give up the "Metaxas line" without a fight, which was considered almost impregnable, on which they spent a lot of material resources. Leave the eastern part of the country.
The British foresaw the subsequent course of events, with the danger of a German breakthrough between the Struma and Vardar rivers and the impossibility of defending the entire northern and eastern border with available forces. Therefore, they gave the Greeks the opportunity to act at their own discretion, and left their corps (60 thousand people, 100 tanks, 200-300 aircraft) in the rear, deciding to advance it only to the Vistritsa River.
The Greek command, counting on the inaccessibility of its defensive line, left only 3,5 divisions and reinforced border units in the section from the Turkish border to the Struma River. The area between the Struma and Vardar rivers was provided with only 2 divisions. The Greeks hoped that in case of war, the Yugoslavs would be able to stop the German divisions north of this place, where the borders of the three countries converged. Two more Greek divisions occupied positions near the Vermion Mountains, they were supposed to cover the deployment of the British and then came to the disposal of the British command.
On March 27, 1941, there was a coup in Yugoslavia. Now in Athens they believed in an alliance with the Yugoslav kingdom and hoped that the Germans would not be able to use the entire original grouping against Greece. Therefore, most of the troops (14 divisions) were left in Albania. Obviously, this was the wrong decision.
On April 4, in the Monastir area, a meeting was held between the chief of the Greek General Staff and the Yugoslav military. They agreed that the Yugoslav army, in the event of an offensive by the Germans, would close their path along the Strumica River valley, providing the Greek defense between the Vardar and Struma rivers. Also, the Greeks and Yugoslavs agreed on a joint offensive against the Italians in Albania. On April 12, 4 Yugoslav divisions were to begin an offensive on the northern border of Albania. The Yugoslavs were also going to support the Greek offensive north of Lake Ohrid. It is obvious that the Greeks and Yugoslavs together could defeat the Italians in Albania. Thus, Greece and Yugoslavia entered into a military alliance and agreed on joint actions, but it was too late.
Fire in the Greek city of Thessaloniki after the Luftwaffe raid
German pilots examine a damaged captured Bristol Blenheim bomber from the 113th Royal Air Force squadron at Larissa airfield
German breakthrough and fall of Thessaloniki
On April 6, 1941, the troops of the 12th German Army of List, supported by the 4th Air fleet attacked Skopje. On the southern wing, mobile formations, advancing along the Strumitsa river valley, reached the area northwest of Lake Doiran and turned south to Thessaloniki, reaching the flank and rear of the Eastern Greek Army.
Also, German troops, taking Skopje on April 7, advanced southwest and on April 10 established contact with the Italians at Lake Ohrid. At the same time, the Germans launched an offensive on a wide front across the Greco-Bulgarian border with the aim of capturing the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. Also, the Germans planned to capture the islands of Thassos, Samothrace and Lemnos in the Aegean Sea so that they would not be occupied by the British or Turks. Two German army corps (6 divisions) had a significant advantage in manpower and equipment over the Greek army in Eastern Macedonia.
However, the Greeks, relying on the well-fortified "line of Metaxis", stubbornly fought back. The German 18th and 30th Army Corps had only partial success for three days. Despite the superiority in aviation, tanks and artillery, the Nazis for several days could not capture the main positions of the Greek army. The most difficult battles were fought by the 5th Mountain Division in the area of the Rupel Pass, where the Struma River runs to the sea through the mountains. The main role was played by mobile units that moved north of the Greco-Bulgarian border across the Struma River to the west. They drove back the Yugoslav troops in the valley of the Strumica River and turned south in the area of Lake Doiran. The 2nd Panzer Division, almost without encountering enemy resistance, entered the flank and rear of the Greek army in Macedonia. Greek troops occupying positions between the Struma River and Lake Doiran were bypassed, crushed and driven back to the Struma River.
On April 9, 1941, German tanks were in Thessaloniki, cutting off the East Macedonian army (4 divisions and 1 brigade) from the main forces on the Albanian border. The Greek General Staff, deciding that the resistance of the army in the encirclement did not make sense, instructed the commander of the army in Macedonia, General Bakopoulos, to begin negotiations on surrender. The surrender was signed in Thessaloniki. Bakopoulos gave the order to surrender the forts, from April 10 the fortifications one by one laid down their arms.
Thus, the Greeks, hoping that the enemy would operate mainly through the territory of Bulgaria and be stopped in Yugoslavia, greatly miscalculated. The main forces of the Greek army were on the Albanian front, although the main threat came not from the Italians, but from the Germans. Their armies did not have operational-tactical communications and strategic reserves to fend off the breakthrough of the enemy; the Germans easily cut them off from each other.
In addition, the threat of war with Germany caused a wave of panic in the Greek generals, where there was a strong pro-German party. Back in March 1941, the command of the Epirus army in Albania informed the government that a war with Hitler was futile and negotiations were necessary. The government changed the commander and the corps commanders, but such sentiments in the army did not disappear. In the course of the war, they immediately went outside.
A column of tanks Pz.Kpfw. III 2nd Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht on the border of Bulgaria and Greece
A column of German soldiers on the march during the invasion of Greece. Near the Bulgarian-Greek border
Column of Italian soldiers with pack animals on the road in the mountains of Greece
Defeat of the Greco-British forces
The 12th German army was able to develop an offensive against the Central Macedonian army and the British corps.
The Nazis delivered the main blow from the Monastery (Bitola) area. The main forces of the German group, which was advancing in Yugoslavia from the Kyustendil area, including two mobile units, turned south to strike between the Central Macedonian army and the West Macedonian army opposing the Italians.
In the Florin area on April 10-12, 1941, the Germans began to break down the defenses of two Greek divisions, supported by British tanks. The Greeks more than once launched counterattacks. On April 12, the Nazis, supported by the Luftwaffe, broke through the enemy defenses and, pursuing the enemy, began to advance to the southeast. At the same time, the Germans were advancing south and southwest. An attempt by the Germans to cover the Greco-British grouping east of Florina failed. The British began to withdraw from their positions in the lower reaches of the Vistrita River already on April 10, and by April 12, under the cover of the Greek rearguards, which operated between Vistritsa and the Vermion Mountains, took new positions at Mount Olympus and in the Chromion region in the Vistrica bend. Meanwhile, the 12th German army, which was advancing from the area of Thessaloniki, was still fighting with the Greek rearguards.
But for the troops of the Central Macedonian army, located west of the breakthrough of the German troops, and for the Greek armies operating against the Italians, the enemy's blow turned out to be fatal. The Central Macedonian army collapsed, some withdrew with the British, some retreated to the southwest to join the West Macedonian army. On April 11, the Greek command was forced to begin the withdrawal of its undefeated armies on the Albanian front. The Greeks hoped to have time to withdraw these armies in time under cover of a flank barrier. They had to retreat under pressure from the Italians, constant attacks from enemy aircraft. The Germans advanced too rapidly, the Greek armies did not manage to get out of the blow and gain a foothold in new positions.
On April 15, German tanks advanced to Kozani and turned southwest. The Greeks failed to stop the enemy, in a number of places their front was broken. The retreating Greek troops created large congestions on the roads in the rugged region of the North Pindus (mountains in Northern Greece and Albania). The British could do nothing to help. They were too weak and barely fought back themselves. The West Macedonian army, which was supposed to retreat southeast to Thessaly, could not pass through the mountains and turned south, and ended up in the area where the Epirus army was located. On April 17, parts of the two armies mixed up, and great confusion began. In addition, as a result of the movement of German mobile units through Metsovon, the Greeks were threatened with a blow to the flank and rear. The generals of the two armies held a conference in Ioannina and asked the high command and the government for permission to surrender.
On April 18, Commander-in-Chief Papagos informed the government that the army's position was hopeless. A split was ripe in the government: some supported the opinion of the command of the Epirus army, while others believed that they had to fight to the end, even if they had to leave the country. As a result, the government and King George decided to leave for Crete. And the head of the government, Alexandros Korizis, committed suicide. The new prime minister Tsuderos and General Papagos demanded that the command of the Epirus army continue to resist.
After that, the command of the two armies revolted, dismissed General Pitsikas, loyal to the government, and replaced Tsolakoglu in his place. The new commander offered the Germans negotiations. On April 21, a surrender was signed in Larissa. However, the Italians protested that the surrender was signed without them. The document was changed and on April 23 was signed again in Thessaloniki. 16 Greek divisions laid down their arms.
Thus, in fact, Greece has lost its armed forces. On the same day, the Greek government and the king were evacuated to Crete.
Column of German tanks Pz.Kpfw. III moves through the mountainous region of Greece in April 1941, using railway tracks
German tank Pz.Kpfw.III on the bank of a mountain river in Greece
The commander of the Epirus army, Lieutenant General Georgios Tsolakoglou and the commander of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler brigade, SS Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, negotiating surrender in Larissa. In the background is the commander of the 18th Wehrmacht Mountain Corps, General of the Infantry Franz Boehme. April 21, 1941
Evacuation of the British and the fall of Athens
From April 14, British troops were cut off from the allies, the defeat was obvious. Now the British thought only of their own salvation.
In addition to the reinforced tank regiment and units of the Australian division, which fought with the Germans in the Florina area and, after breaking through the front, promptly retreated to their left flank south of Kozani, the expeditionary corps had not yet entered the battle and retained its strength. In principle, if the British had attacked the German forward forces, they could have delayed the enemy and allowed part of the Greek armies to withdraw. But with the approach of the main forces of the 12th German army, a catastrophe would become inevitable. Therefore, the British focused their efforts on their salvation.
On April 15, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, General Henry Wilson (previously he led the successful operations of the British forces in North Africa) decided to withdraw the troops further south to a new line, which adjoined Atalandis Gulf on the right flank in the Thermopylae region, and on the left flank to the Gulf of Corinth. In this position, the British wanted to cover the withdrawal of the main forces to the ports for evacuation. An intermediate position was planned for Larisa. In addition, rear guards were left at Mount Olympus to ensure the retreat of the corps.
German mobile formations, delayed by the roads destroyed by the British, and having limited room for maneuver in the area between the Pindus and the Aegean Sea, could not cover the flanks of the retreating enemy. The actions of the German Air Force due to unfavorable weather could not seriously interfere with the retreat of the British. On April 20, the Germans reached the Thermopylae position and the Volos port area, from where the first British units were evacuated. To avoid a frontal assault on Thermopylae, trying to intercept the enemy and go to his rear, the Germans crossed over to the island of Evbeia, planning from there to make a landing at Chalkida. The Germans successfully occupied Euboea, interfering with the planned loading of the British on the island, but did not have time to encircle the enemy. On April 24, German mountain riflemen took Thermopylae, which was held only by the English rearguard. On April 26, paratroopers captured Corinth. On April 27, German tanks entered Athens.
However, the British have been evacuating since April 24. With the Luftwaffe fully dominating the air, the British mostly landed at night. Since the port facilities were badly damaged and the Germans conducted aerial surveillance of all ports, heavy weapons and vehicles had to be destroyed, rendered unusable and abandoned. After the Germans occupied Athens and the Gulf of Corinth was blocked, the British evacuated from the very south of the Peloponnese, the ports of Monemvasia and Kalame. The evacuation took place for five consecutive nights. The Alexandria squadron sent all light forces for this operation, including 6 cruisers and 19 destroyers. By the end of April 29, the Germans reached the southern tip of the Peloponnese. By this time, the British had evacuated over 50 thousand people. The rest were killed, wounded or taken prisoner (about 12 thousand).
The bulk of the British and Greek troops rescued in Greece were taken to Crete. It was closer to get here than to Palestine or Egypt. In addition, the island was important as a base for the Navy and Air Force. From here it was possible to threaten enemy positions in the Balkans, to control sea communications in the Mediterranean. Therefore, Hitler decided to capture Crete.
A German cameraman shoots the British Mk.II (A10) cruiser tanks from the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment of the 2nd Armored Division, abandoned during the retreat on the streets of Kozani
Greek prisoners of war sit on a hill under the escort of a German soldier
A group of British prisoners at a destroyed house in Greece
Greek General Tsolakoglu (at the table on the left) and SS Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich (standing second from the right) during the signing of the surrender of Greece. Tsolakoglu served as Prime Minister of the Greek government from 1941 to 1942. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, which was later commuted to life imprisonment. Died in a prison in Athens in 1948
The Greek army ceased to exist (225 thousand soldiers were captured), Greece was occupied.
The Third Reich, by capturing Yugoslavia and Greece, strengthened its military-strategic position and economic position. The threat of a blow to Britain in alliance with the Balkan countries from the south has been eliminated. Germany received at its disposal the economic and raw materials of the Balkan Peninsula. Hitler eliminated the threat of Italian defeat in Albania. The Germans occupied the Peloponnese, numerous islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, receiving convenient air and naval bases for waging war with England in the Mediterranean. Italy received islands on the west coast of Greece, including the island of Corfu, several islands from the Cyclades group. Thus, Italy gained full control over the Adriatic Sea.
Eastern Macedonia was transferred to the control of Bulgaria, the Germans left under their control the most important regions of the country, including Thessaloniki, Athens, strategic islands, the rest was left to the Italians. The Greek general Tsolakoglu was appointed prime minister of the puppet Greek government. The country became a raw material appendage of the Reich, which led to the destruction of the national economy, the death of about 10% of the country's population.