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Thread: THE GERMAN CAMPAIGN IN GREECE (Operation MARITA)

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    Default THE GERMAN CAMPAIGN IN GREECE (Operation MARITA)

    I. Political and Military Events (October 1940 - April 1941)

    For a better understanding of the German campaign in Greece, it is necessary to go back to Italy's attack on that country which started on 28 October 1940. After some initial successes, the invader was stopped by the Greek Army and thrown back to his jumpoff positions. During the second phase of the operation the Greeks opened an offensive on 14 November, drove deep into Albanian territory, and threatened Valona, the principal Italian supply port. During this period the British were unable to provide any immediate assistance. In November their ground forces in the Middle East were fully extended by the British effort to stop the Italian invasion of Egypt. The Royal Air Force operated on a shoestring. But even if long-range bombers had been readily available, they could not have been sent to Greece on short notice because no facilities for servicing and maintaining them existed in that country. Moreover, there were no airfields suitable for modern bombers.

    In addition to these military complications there arose a political one. Determined to avoid any action that might lead to German intervention, the Greek government refused to permit the Royal Air Force to survey sites for new airfields north of the line Mount Olympus-Gulf of Arta. Whereas such caution on the part of the Greeks was understandable, it was futile since, as early as 4 November, Hitler had decided to occupy northern Greece to eliminate the British threat to the Romanian oil fields.

    The Greek Army held the initiative through the beginning of March 1941, but made only local gains by eliminating enemy salients.on the Albanian front. The Italian spring offensive, which started on 9 March, made no headway, and the Greeks were able to hold their territorial gains until Germany entered the conflict. Except for some tactical air support received from the British, the Greek Army carried the fight entirely on its OWII, suffering very heavy casualties.

    While the Greeks had thus demonstrated their ability to withstand the assault of the junior Axis partner, a German intervention in the Balkans could easily reverse the situation. In the event of a German attack, Greece was in a very unfavorable position because it lacked the necessary strength to cope with such a formidable opponent. The morale of the Greek forces in Albania eras high, but it was difficult to foretell how a German attack would affect them. Moreover, since Greece had practically no armament industry, its equipment and ammunition supplies consisted mainly of stocks that the British had captured from the defeated Italian armies in North Africa.

    In order to feed the battle in Albania, the Greek command had been forced to make continuous withdrawals from eastern Macedonia and western Thrace. To reverse this process in anticipation of a German attack was inexpedient because the available forces were inadequate for sustained resistance on both fronts. The Greek command therefore decided to continue its successful resistance in Albania, no matter how the situation might develop under the impact of a German attack across the Bulgarian border.

    In this difficult military situation Greece's only hope was that the ground forces offered by tile British would arrive in time and that Yugoslavia and Turkey, or Yugoslavia alone, would participate in the struggle against the Axis Powers. If Yugoslavia joined Greece before the Germans were ready to attack, the Albanian pocket could be cleared of Italian forces. This in turn would make available considerable forces to block a German Invasion of Greece.

    During a meeting of British and Greek military and political leaders which took place in Athens on 13 January, Gen. Alexander Papagos, Commander in Chief of the Greek Army, reviewed the situation and expressed the opinion that Yugoslavia would probably remain neutral. The minimum assistance he asked from Britain was nine divisions with corresponding air support. These divisions should arrive in eastern Macedonia and western Thrace before the Germans moved from Romania to Bulgaria and assembled their forces for the attack on Greece. Secrecy and deception as to the ultimate destination of the British expeditionary force, which was to be assembled in Egypt, were essential to prevent any German interference. However, all the British could offer was two to three divisions and a relativelysmall number of planes whose arrival would furthermore be delayed by the existing shortage of shipping. They suggested the immediate dispatch of a small token force of less than divisional strength. This offer was rejected by the Greeks who feared that the arrival of such a contingent would precipitate a German attack without giving them any sizable assistance. British help would be requested if and when German troops crossed the Danube from Romania into Bulgaria. Such an overt act would be considered as a preliminary step to an attack on Greece.

    The Greek Government apparently informed the Yugoslavs of this decision, and they in turn made it known to the German Government.

    Throughout the month of February the Greek Government weighed the pros and cons of limited British intervention and a voluntary withdrawal of military forces from the northeastern border of the country. From the military point of view it would have been preferable to evacuate eastern Macedonia and western Thrace because this part of the country could not be defended with fewer than twelve divisions. Since the combined Greek-British defense force for this area would not amount to more than six divisions, it would have been preferable to establish a defense dine along the shorter Vermion-Mount Olympus line which offered very favorable natural terrain features. Political considerations, however, made it impossible to take such a step which would have involved the abandonment of Salonika and the entire region east of the Vardar River. Similar reasons stood in the way of a voluntary withdrawal of the Greek forces from Albania, which would have had disastrous results on Greek morale. From their point of view it seemed preferable to the Greeks to run the risk of being stabbedin the back by the Germans while holding the Italian front, rather than to be defeated by both enemies simultaneously.

    When German troops officially entered Bulgaria during the first four days of March, the British reacted promptly by embarking an expeditionary force in Alexandria. Several squadrons of the Royal Air Force as well as antiaircraft units had been operating in Greece during the previous months. From the British point of view it was not feasible to desert the Greeks now that forces were available after the North African victories. At no time had the British exercised any pressure on the Greeks by requesting them to resist the Germans. On the contrary, Greek leaders had repeatedly expressed their intention to defend themselves against any German invasion, no matter whether they would be assisted by their ally or not. The British fully realized that their prestige would suffer a crushing blow, if the expeditionary force had to be evacuated in another Dunkerque, but even this possibility seemed preferable to leaving Greece to its fate. In a report Mr. Eden and his military advisers sent to London at the beginning of March, they summed up the situation by stating that there was a "reasonable fighting chance" and, with a certain amount of luck, a good opportunity "of perhaps seriously upsetting the German plans." Even so, there can be no doubt that political factors overshadowed military considerations in the British decision to send an expeditionary force to Greece.

    No definite decision on the disposition of forces was taken, mainly because of British and Greek hopes that Yugoslavia would join forces against the Axis Powers. When this hope finally and somewhat unexpectedly materialized at the end of March, the three countries failed to establish a unified command. No such initiative was taken, and there was only one meeting of British, Yugoslav, and Greek military representatives on 3 April. During this conference the Yugoslavs promised to block the Strimon Valley in case of a German attack across their territory. Moreover, the Greeks and Yugoslavs agreed to launch a common offensive against the Italians in Albania. By 12 April the Yugoslavs were to concentrate four divisions along the northern border of Albania and provide additional forces in support of a Greek offensive in southern Albania. The course of events demonstrated only too clearly how unrealistic these offensive plans were at a time when both countries should have attempted to coordinate their defense efforts against the German threat.

    source:www.army.mil
    Edited to include sourse

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    II. Military Topography


    The assembly area of the German attack forces in southwestern Bulgaria was delimited by the rugged mountain range along the Yugoslay-Bulgarian border. In order to enter northern Greece the attacker had to cross the Rhodope Mountains, where only a few passes and river valleys permitted the passage of major military units. Two invasion routes led across the passes west of Kyustendil along the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border and another one through the Strimon Valley in the south. The very steep mountain roads with their numerous turns could not be negotiated by heavy vehicles until German engineer troops had widened them by blasting the rocks. Off the roads only infantry and pack animals could pass through the terrain.

    The Greek fortifications along the border had been skillfully adapted to these terrain features and a defense system in depth covered the few available roads. No continuous fortifications had been erected along the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border, but road blocks, demolitions, and extensive mine fields had been prepared at all border points. The Strimon and Nestos Rivers cut across the mountain range along the Greek-Bulgarian frontier; both valleys were well protected by strong fortifications which formed part of the Metaxas Line. This line was a system of concrete pillboxes and field fortifications, which had been constructed along principles similar to those applied in the Maginot Line. General John Metaxas, the Greek Premier who died shortly before the German invasion of his country, had initiated this construction project in the summer of 1936. Its strongest part extended over a distance of 125 miles from the mouth of the Nestos River to the point where the Yugoslav, Bulgarian, and Greek borders meet. The fortresses within this defense system blocked the road that led through the basin of Nevrokop and across the Rupel Gorge to eastern Macedonia. The strength of the Metaxas Line resided not so much in its fortifications proper as in the inaccessibility of the intermediate terrain leading up to the defense positions.

    Along the Yugoslav-Greek border there is another mountain range with only two major defiles, one leading from Monastir to Florina, the other along the Vardar River. Aside from these mountain ranges bordering Greece in the north, an aggressor must surmount a number of other alpine and subalpine mountain ranges barring access to the interior of the country. In the west there are the Pindus Mountains stretching from Albania deep into the interior, whereas the Olympus and Thermopylae mountain ranges obstruct the eastern part of the mainland. Finally, the inaccessible Peloponnesus Mountains hamper military operations in the southern provinces of Greece. Troops are subjected to extreme physical hardships by a campaign across Greece because habitations are few, water is in short supply, and the weather is inclement with sudden drops in temperature.


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    I read a book recently about the Gebrigsjaeger, wish I could remember its name as it was an excellent read on the whole Greece and Crete campaigns.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Firefly
    I read a book recently about the Gebrigsjaeger, wish I could remember its name as it was an excellent read on the whole Greece and Crete campaigns.
    Id love to read that!
    Maybe you can remember the author?

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    Remember the name i want to read that book ,looks like interesting. :wink:


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    III. Strategic Factors

    According to military doctrine the mountainous terrain of Greece would seem ideally suited for defense. The high ranges of the Rhodope, Epirus, Pindus, and Olympus Mountains offer many possibilities to stop an invader. However, the defender must have sufficient air power, if the many defiles are not to become traps for his ground forces.

    Whereas an invader thrusting from Albania can be stopped with relatively small forces in the high Pindus Mountains, the northeastern part of the country is difficult to defend against an attack from the north. Eastern Macedonia and western Thrace are narrow strips of land that can be cut off from the rest of Greece by an advance following the course of the Vardar River. Salonika, the only efficient port in northern Greece, is situated within this vulnerable area. The supply system of the Greek forces fighting in Albania was based on Salonika. The capture of the port would cut their supply lines and isolate them in their exposed positions. Since a voluntary withdrawal of the Greek forces in Albania was not feasible and Salonika was practically indefensible, the Greek and British commands resigned themselves to fighting a delaying action in the northeastern part of the country. The British fully realized the vulnerability of the Greek border defense system; it was bound to collapse in the event of a German thrust between the Strimon and Vardar Rivers. However, they let the Greeks have their way without taking the logical step of moving their forces up to the frontier into the sector west of the Metaxas Line. General Maitland Wilson, the commander of the British expeditionary force, was of the opinion that his forces were too weak to hold such an extended front line. Instead, he established a shorter position some forty miles west of the course of the Vardar. Running along the northern slopes of Olympus and Pieria Mountains and following the eastern slopes of the Vermion Range northward to the Yugoslav frontier, this position extended over approximately seventy miles. There were only four major gaps in this mountain position: one on each side of Mount Olympus, one through the Aliakmon Valley, and one at Edhessa. Almost everywhere else along the so-called Vermion Position the lower forward slopes were steep and rugged, forming a natural obstacle to attacking forces. The two main objectives in establishing this position were to maintain contact with the Greek First Army in Albania and to deny the (Germans access to central Greece. The possibility of a rapid disintegration of the Yugoslav Army and a German thrust into the rear of the Verrnion Position was not taken into consideration.
    The German strategy called for the same blitzkrieg tactics that proved so successful during the Yugoslav campaign. Once Salonika had been captured, Athens, with the important port of Piraeus, was to be the principal objective. With this port and the Isthmus of Corinth in German hands, the withdrawal and evacuation of the British and Greek defense forces would be seriously jeopardized. Daring thrusts by mobile elements, strongly supported by tactical air power' would be the key to success.


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    World War II Database
    8400 photos and growing!

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    Its nice but IMHO inadequate to underline the events.

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    The German assault on the Corinth canal was a textbook Airborne Op. There is a bit about Greece and airborne Ops here:

    http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/104-13/104-13.HTM

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    The Defense Forces

    I. Yugoslav Forces

    The Fifth Yugoslav Army was responsible for the defense of the southeastern border in the area between Kriva Palanka and the Greek border. Three divisions were deployed along this part of the Bulgarian-Yugoslav frontier and one division held in reserve in the Skoplje area. At the time of the German attack the Yugoslav troops in this area were not fully mobilized, quite apart from their shortage of modern equipment and weapons. These factors may explain their low combat efficiency at the outbreak of hostilities.

    II. Greek Forces

    Following the entry of German forces into Bulgaria, most of the Greek troops were evacuated from western Thrace, which was defended by the Evros Brigade, a unit consisting of three border guard battalions, when the Germans launched their attack. Adjacent to this unit, in eastern Macedonia, stood the Nestos Brigade in the area around Xanthi. The Metaxas Line was held by three infantry divisions, the 7th and 14th east of the Strimon, the 18th west of that river. The 19th Motorized Infantry Division was in reserve south of Lake Doiran. Including the fortress garrisons in the Metaxas Line and some border guard companies, the total strength of the Greek forces defending the Bulgarian border was roughly 70,000 men. They were under the command of the Greek Second Army with headquarters in the vicinity of Salonika.

    The Greek forces in central Macedonia consisted of the 12th Infantry Division, which held the southern part of the Vermion position, and the 20th Infantry Division in the northern sector up to the Yugoslav border. On 28 March both divisions were brought under the command of General Wilson. The bulk of the Greek forces First Army with its fourteen divisions was committed in Albania.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsolias
    The Defense Forces

    I. Yugoslav Forces

    The Fifth Yugoslav Army was responsible for the defense of the southeastern border in the area between Kriva Palanka and the Greek border. Three divisions were deployed along this part of the Bulgarian-Yugoslav frontier and one division held in reserve in the Skoplje area. At the time of the German attack the Yugoslav troops in this area were not fully mobilized, quite apart from their shortage of modern equipment and weapons. These factors may explain their low combat efficiency at the outbreak of hostilities.

    II. Greek Forces




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    Tsoalias yugoslav army do you think on yogoslav imperial army or partisans ,if you can answer thats interesting to me. :wink:


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    5th Independent Army

    Co: General Vladimir Cukavac
    Chief of Staff: Colonel Franc Tomse

    Rear area Co: Lieutenant General Mihailo Stajic


    8th Infantry Division 'Krajinska'


    Co: Lieutenant General Miloje Popadic
    Chief of Staff: Lieutenant Colonel Radovan Sokol

    9th Infantry Regiment
    74th Infantry Regiment
    76th Infantry Regiment
    8th Artillery Regiment
    Cavalry Battalion
    Engineer Battalion
    Anti-tank company
    Machinegun company
    Anti-Aircraft company


    9th Infantry Division 'Timocka'

    Co: Lieutenant General Antonije Stosic
    Chief of Staff: Lieutenant Colonel Ilija Kukuc
    14th Infantry Regiment
    20th Infantry Regiment
    75th Infantry Regiment
    9th Artillery Regiment
    Cavalry Battalion
    Engineer Battalion
    Anti-tank company
    Machinegun company
    Anti-Aircraft company


    34th Infantry Division 'Toplicka'

    Co: Lieutenant General Vladislav Kostic
    Chief of Staff: Lieutenant Colonel Anton Sabati
    3rd Infantry Regiment
    12th Infantry Regiment
    16th Infantry Regiment
    34th Artillery Regiment
    Cavalry Battalion
    Engineer Battalion
    Anti-tank company
    Machinegun company
    Anti-Aircraft company


    50th Infantry Division 'Drinska'


    Co: Lieutenant General Kosta Djordevic
    Chief of Staff: Major Milos Popovic
    5th Infantry Regiment
    63rd Infantry Regiment
    65th Infantry Regiment
    50th Artillery Regiment
    Cavalry Battalion
    Engineer Battalion
    Anti-tank company
    Machinegun company
    Anti-Aircraft company

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    III. British and Imperial Forces

    From 7 through 31 March the headquarters of I Australian Corps with corps troops, the 6th Australian and 2d New Zealand Divisions, and the 1st Tank Brigade of the 2d British Armored Division, as well as service troops, disembarked at the ports of Piraeus and Volos. These forces Ad been assembled near Alexandria, Egypt, and shipped across the Mediterranean at the beginning of March. Immediately upon arrival, the tank brigade moved to the lower Vardar west of Salonika, the New Zealand division took up positions north of Mount Olympus in the bend of the Aliakmon River, and the Australian division blocked the Aliakmon Valley up to the Vermion Range. General Wilson established his headquarters northwest of Larisa. The Royal Air Force continued to operate from airfields in central and southern Greece. There were few planes that could be diverted to this theater in addition to defending Malta, providing air cover for the widely dispersed ground forces fighting in North Africa, and safeguarding the naval convoys across the Mediterranean.

    The British forces were almost fully motorized, but their equipment was suitable for desert warfare, not for the steep mountain roads in Greece. There was a shortage of tanks and antiaircraft guns. The lines of communication across the Mediterranean were very vulnerable despite the fact that the British Navy dominated the Aegean Sea. All convoys had to pass close to enemy-held islands in the Aegean. The logistical problems were aggravated by the limited availability of shipping and the low capacity of the Greek ports. Only one single-line railroad and one good highway led northward from Piraeus, the principal port of debarkation.


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    The Attack Forces

    The Twelfth Army under the command of Field Marshal List was charged with the execution of Operation MARITA. This army was composed of the following units:

    1. First Panzer Group under the command of Generaloberst (General) Ewald van Kleist. This force was to thrust via Nis to Belgrade, forming one arm of the pincers that was to knock Yugoslavia out of the war. Since it was subordinated to Second Army as early as 13 April, First Panzer Group and its operations will not be discussed in this part of the study.

    2. XL Panzer Corps, under General der Panzertruppen (Lieutenant General) Georg Stumme, was composed of the 9th Panzer Division, the reinforced 1st SS Motorized Infantry Regiment, and the 73d Infantry Division. These forces were concentrated in western Bulgaria facing the Yugoslav border.

    3. XVIII Mountain Corps, under General der Gebirgstruppen (Lieutenant General) Franz Boehme, consisted of the 2d Panzer Division, 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, 72d Infantry Division, and the reinforced 125th Infantry Regiment. These troops moved into assembly areas in southern Bulgaria opposite the Greek frontier.

    4. XXX Infantry Corps, under General der Artillerie (Lieutenant General) Otto Hartmann, was composed of the 50th and 164th Infantry Divisions.
    5. L Infantry Corps, under General der Kavallerie (Lieutenant General) Georg Lindemann and composed of the 46th, 76th, and 198th Infantry Divisions, was detraining in Romania and did not participate in Operation MARITA.

    6. 16th Panzer Division was deployed behind the Turkish-Bulgarian border to support the Bulgarian forces in case of a Turkish attack.



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    Tsolias, I think all the information is available here :

    http://www.army.mil/cmh/books/wwii/balkan/intro.htm
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