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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Greece Campaign

6 April to 11 May 1941

Theatre: Mediterranean
Area: Greek mainland and islands.
Players: Allies: Greek Eastern Macedonian Army incorporating 7th, 8th and 14th Infantry Divisions; British Expeditionary Force 'W' Group incorporating 12th, 19th and 20th Infantry Divisions, 6th Australian and 2nd New Zealand Infantry Divisions and 1st Armoured Brigade. Germany: 12th Army under Field Marshal List (incorporating 18th, 30th and 40th Corps).
Outcome: German Blitzkrieg tactics overwhelmed British forces sent in to assist the Greek troops. Thousands of British soldiers were captured and many more evacuated.

After Italy invaded Albania in April 1939, Mussolini announced that he had no plans to threaten Greece. Despite this, the British and French governments pledged themselves to maintain Greek independence.

At the outbreak of war, Greece attempted to remain neutral but came under increasing pressure from Italy. In October 1940, Mussolini sent troops from Albania into Greece. Britain dispatched a squadron of aircraft to assist the Greeks, but Greek troops were already counter-attacking and driving the Italians back into Albania.

It became increasingly clear that a German invasion of Greece was imminent. For Germany, this was not so much to assist the Italians, but to protect the Rumanian oilfields and secure their southern flank for the planned invasion of the Soviet Union.

After initially refusing British offers of troops, in secret talks in February 1941 the Greeks accepted that an Allied expeditionary force should be dispatched to Greece. This consisted mainly of Australians and New Zealanders transferred from Egypt, under the command of General Maitland Wilson.

Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April 1941. Outnumbered on the ground and in the air the Greek and Allied forces were unable to deploy sufficient troops in any one area to halt the German advance. The campaign was also hindered by poor communications between the Greek and Allied commanders, the difficult terrain and the under-developed road and rail system. Greek and Allied troops began to fall back as the Germans moved rapidly through the country, occupying Salonika on 8 April.

By 20 April, it was clear that the Allied forces could do no more than disrupt and slow the German advance. The Greek government agreed that the force should be evacuated. On 23 April the Greek army itself surrendered. King George II of Greece and his government escaped to Crete.

The evacuation of Allied forces from Greece began on 24 April and continued for a week. Despite a severe shortage of Allied shipping, more than 50,000 British, Australian, New Zealand and Polish troops were evacuated. All their tanks, heavy equipment and trucks were abandoned. Most of the troops were taken to Crete, but others went to Egypt.

A number of small, isolated groups and individuals were cut off from the retreat and left behind in Greece. Many escaped with the assistance of the local population. Others became prisoners of war. 3,700 Allied and more than 15,000 Greek soldiers were killed in the battle for Greece.

On 27 April, German troops occupied the Greek capital, Athens. Following the Greek surrender Germany, Italy and Bulgaria divided the country into 3 zones of occupation. German and Italy jointly occupied Athens.

General Sir Alan Brooke, Churchill’s Chief of Staff, regarded the decision to send troops to Greece as a strategic blunder and Churchill himself remarked in September 1941 that it had been an error.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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