BOOK REVIEW - FULL SUMMARY by Parchin Hamatiah
Book Review is published in the National Interest. No actions should be inferred or implied. The opinions expressed remain entirely those of the author.Diggers and Greeks: Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete.
By Dr Maria Hill (Sydney: University of NSW Press, 2010).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: M. Hill takes a not entirely successful approach to the war. Some of her conclusions appear unfounded. She breaks cardinal laws of history, making broad generalisations from isolated incidents. Why does ADFA employ Hill a female with no military experience? ADFA was set up by a Leftist ALP government to replace the more traditionalist Duntroon Military College. ADFA has only 75 students and is an arm of UNSW, itself an Ultra-Left campus. Employing a female with no military background to lecture future officers makes sense if you are a political commissar training outfit, not a real military academy. The following is a summary of Hill’s book:
(p.1) “In March 1941 Britain sent 62,532 troops to Greece. It comprised British, Australian, New Zealand Palestinian and Cypriot units. By the time they arrived the Greek Army had been engaged for six months fighting the Italians under Mussolini who had invaded Greece on 28 October 1940. The British presence emboldened a German response. This came on 6 April 1941 when they invaded with 100,000 troops and 1,394 aircraft".
"By 25 April 1941 it was clear the British campaign was lost. They began a long retreat and withdrawal to the island of Crete. 10,000 Allied troops were captured in Greece having been left behind by the fleeing British. Of those evacuated to Crete half were left there to resist the expected German arrival. British Commonwealth forces evacuees to Crete numbered 31,200 and Greeks 25,000 Greek. These joined the British/Greek garrisons 5,600 men for a total of 61,800. Against this Germany deployed only 23,000 men. On Crete, the Allies outnumbered Germans 3:1 but the result was the same. The British-Greek campaign against the Germans in Greece lasted four weeks but in Crete only 10 days (20-30 May 1941). The cost of the German victory in Crete was much higher, 6,580 men versus British/Greek loses of only 3,967" (p.15).
“Greek historians concentrate their studies of WWII on the Albanian front, the Italian invasion and 28 October 1940 which is Greece’s second most important day after Independence Day from Turkey, 1821. They do not regard the German invasion as a ‘battle’. They readily acknowledge the Greek Army did not put up much of a defence nor did the General Staff ever intend to, believing rightly that Germany heavily outnumbered them. Unlike the war against Italy the British interlude, from March to April 1941, is just a ‘blink’ in Greek history”. For this reason (p.16) there is no record of it in Greek war museum displays or photos”.
“It’s impossible to discuss Greece’s role in WWII. Greek reluctance to discuss the war is referred to by historians as ‘The Silence’. The Greek silence about WWII is staggering. They’ll not write about or discuss it. (p.17) The war is a taboo topic because the Greek Civil War 1945-49 began immediately after WWII. It polarized the nation. So unlike Australia there are few WWII war memorials in Greece. As the Left dominated anti-German resistance the topic is censored, its participants branded as ‘bandits’. David Close says ‘many regimes suppress the past, the Greeks being the worst’ ” (ibid).
Given all this, whatever induced Australians to go there? Just as at Gallipoli in 1915, when we invaded Turkey, the simple answer is: ‘the British’. (p.24): “the British War Office estimated in early 1941 that the German Army would field 170 divisions against 85 French and only ten British. Australia had a strong bargaining chip. (p.25) However, the British supplied Australia only with the information they wanted them to have so they’d reach similar conclusions: it was in their interest to send troops to Greece". (p.27)
"The official reasons for sending troops to Greece makes little sense as the British government and High command admitted they knew they would lose everything they sent to Greece both material and men. Elizabeth Barker tells us: ‘The British government pressured the Greek, Yugoslav and Turkish governments to enter the war on the Allied side. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden boasted five months after the campaign: ‘Greece’s defence upset Hitler’s time-table for an attack on Russia by six crucial weeks’ ” (p.28).
“Another reason for British intervention was the King of Greece was an Anglophile. Exiled in 1923, he fled to Britain. There he adopted British habits and manners. (p.29) The British saw him as a useful conduit for influence in Greece. (p.30) In the 1930’s the two countries became so close that Greece even requested a formal military alliance with Britain. This was politely refused as a 1939 British Defence White Paper admitted prophetically: ‘any attempt to support Greece would be unsustainable’ ".
"Germany saw that Britain sought a pretext to enter Greece. This would allow it use of Greek airfields and naval bases to bomb Rumania’s oilfields, creating a ‘Balkan Front’. [Germany remained dependent on Rumanian oil till 1944. Its loss signaled the end for the Third Reich. The advance on Stalingrad and then Chechenia in 1942 was an attempt to secure Russia’s oil for the Reich to reduce this dependency. ER]. The goal of a ‘Balkan Front’ was a favourite of Churchill’s from 1939 onwards" (p.31).
"French general Weygand agreed. After 1939 he referred to it as the Allies ‘Eastern Front’ - Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia. In response, these three countries feared becoming a ‘front’ for Britain and France, only to be sacrificed as had Poland and Czechoslovakia. After the war German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop admitted: ‘the Fuhrer occupied Greece and Yugoslavia to forestall the formation of the Balkan Front’ ” (p.32) [our emphasis throughout].
"Preferring to avoid this Balkans entanglement Hitler instead proposed an alternative. He suggested ‘a deal’ between Greece and Italy whereby Greece would be allowed to retain all the territory in Albania they had captured from Italy. The main condition: no British units were to be stationed on Greek soil. Desperate to scuttle this peace settlement, Britain’s Foreign Office saw it as essential to obtain permission for a British presence in Greece, in the hope of provoking a German response. For one year prior to the attack on Greece by Italian forces, Greece’s government had urgently requested British military equipment, especially modern aircraft". (p.33)
"Britain had repeatedly refused, seeing these requests as leverage to obtain their desired presence in Greece. (p.33) Frustrated, Greece eventually bypassed Britain. They quickly secured a promise of military aircraft from the USA. But when Air Chief Marshal Longmore heard of it he was furious and exerted intense diplomatic pressure on the US government, forcing them to cancel the order”.
"Given their chokehold on Greece’s armed forces, Britain knew Greece would run out of ammunition sometime in late February 1941. Germany knew this too [so timed their arrival for April 1941]. Britain merely bidded their time till 13 January 1941 when General Wavell arrived in Athens for ‘talks’ with General Metaxas’ government. Metaxas reluctantly agreed to allow a British force in Greece but refused to accept anything less than ten British divisions as ‘anything less will only provoke the 12 German divisions in Rumania’ ” (p.36).
(p.38) On 29 January 1941 General Metaxas died, suddenly. Rumours in Greece blamed Britain, especially after British soldier was seen in his home on the day of his death (p.39). The British strongly endorsed Metaxas’ weak replacement, Koryzis as he lacked both Metaxas’ military knowledge and strong character. Britain now had a new fear: that Greece might sign a separate peace with Germany as all knew they had no real intention of assisting Greece. This is why the troops sent to Greece had no knowledge of the country, were given no maps of Greece or understanding of the German-built railway network. In contrast, Germany had a long and close economic relationship with Greece.
As for the Greek Army’s weapons, these were not of British origin but from France and Bulgaria. They were completely incompatible with anything Britain might supply. (p.49). Francis de Guingand, a staff officer at meetings with Greek authorities said: ‘we misled the Greeks as to our ability to help them. As a result we lost many lives, all our equipment and jeopardized our entire position in the Middle East. We brought about disaster in the Western Desert and threw away any chance to clear out Axis forces from as far away as Tripoli” (p.50).
“Deception figured greatly in relations between Australia, Britain and Greece at this time. Australia was deceived into believing the proposed campaign was viable and had a chance of success. General Blamey, the Australian commander, was tricked by the British into thinking Australia’s Prime Minister Menzies had approved of the mission while the British told Menzies was told Blamey had approved of it, when neither had. Australians were denied access to high level talks between Britain and Greece over deployment of Australian troops. (p.52) Australia was left out of the intelligence loop” (p.57).
“Australia’s government had few channels for obtaining independent information, relying on Britain’s Dominion’s Office. This only reflected official British government opinions (p.58). Rumours began to circulate in the Australian media that we had not been consulted over the Greek campaign, where a majority of the troops involved were Australia and New Zealanders. ALP MP’s accused the British of ‘cold blooded murder in dispatching poorly equipped troops to be butchered in Greece and Crete’. British officials were furious” (P.62).
“On his return to Australia from Britain, Prime Minister Menzies was forced to resign. He was replaced by ALP Opposition leader, John Curtin. (p.63) Exclusion of Australia’s High Command from British–Greek talks meant they were unaware the Greek Army was exhausted from fighting the Italians in Albania and would be unable to resist any German advances. (p.64) John Robertson says: ‘there’d have been no Greek or Crete campaigns if Australian and New Zealand troops had been withheld’. (p.66). During the early part of the war -1939 to 1941- Dominion troops were the majority in the Middle East fighting forces as Britain retained ten divisions in the UK for defence against German invasion. Only after June 1941 were these released for duty elsewhere” (p.66).
“From the time they stepped ashore in Greece, March 1941, Australian troops were being watched. Athens was awash in spies. The German Legation in Athens remained open as officially Greece was not at war till the invasion took place on 6th April 1941. (p.67) Greece’s relationship with Germany before 1939 now produced an abundance of Fifth Columnists creating a security nightmare for the Australians tasked with ‘road security’.
Ian Sabey, an Australian intelligence officer in Greece complained: ‘reports to Australia from Greece were twisted. They claimed the Greeks were ‘loyal’ to Britain. If that meant rank Fifth Columnism was ‘loyal’ then that was accurate. If a vast network of pro-Axis spies in every town and village spells feverish anxiety for the British cause, then the Greeks were our ‘allies’. Even the priests were in the pay of the Germans" (p.68).
"So weak was the British position in Greece that the German Ambassador and his twenty aides de camps (sic) were allowed to walk the streets of our main city of operations while we were effecting efforts to defend against them. A Fifth Columnist harbour master wrecked our only chance of remaining in Greece by blowing up half of Piraeus Harbour and almost every ship in it’ ” (p.68).
“Australian units arriving in Greece were buoyant after their North African victories. But shipped to Greece in early March 1941 with inadequate equipment and limited transport, not suitable to mountain warfare, they faced a highly mechanized, well equipped enemy with enormous resources. ANZACs found themselves constantly ‘on the run’ and ‘in retreat’ for the entire, month-long operation. Most refuse to call it a ‘rout’ but that’s what it was. Germans chased the ANZACs out of Greece at break-neck speed aided and abetted by the Greek government and its High Command” (p. 70).
“Before 1939 Germany and Greece had close economic relations. Germany invested in Greek infrastructure projects, building the Greek railway system and the modern Athens telephone exchange. 50 German technicians were still working there when the ANZACs arrived (p.71). All military and government phone calls went through this exchange. Many Greek businessmen had strong ties with German companies. Till 1941 Germany accounted for 43% of Greek exports and 31% of her imports.
Those strong ties extended into the military and political fields. Greek leader [Fuhrer?] General Metaxas came to power in a pro-fascist coup on 4th August 1936. He had been educated in Germany. Once in power Metaxas purged all but democrats and republicans from the government and Army. Only pro-fascist, pro-German elements remained. 950 officers, 25% of the officer corps, were sacked and exiled to the island of Sykros for being pro-republican or too pro-democracy”.
[In effect, Greece was an ally of Germany. Why did Britain want a war between the two?].
TIMELINE FOR DISASTER:
1. 13 January 1941 British general Wavell arrives in Athens for talks with Greek Prime Minister General Metaxas. Metaxas demands no British force be sent to Greece unless it is ten divisions strong as ‘anything smaller will only provoke the 12 German divisions based in Rumania’ (p.36).
2. 29th January 1941 Metaxas dies suddenly. Rumours spread that a British soldier ‘visited his home’ the morning of his death carrying a ‘gas cylinder’. (p.39)
3. British government immediately orders the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions and 2nd NZ Division to Greece from North Africa.
4. 6th April 1941: German forces enter Greece. Only one third of ANZAC troops are in-country. 7thAD is too late and misses the battle entirely. (p.78).
5. The British promised ANZAC units ‘close cooperation’ with ‘frontline Greek units’. Instead they found themselves tied to second-rate units composed of elderly reservists, their only transport donkeys or handcarts (p.76). The British provided the ANZAC units with no Greek interpreters making the ‘close cooperation’ impossible as few Greek soldiers spoke English (p.81). The few British officers who did speak Greek all chose to remain at Command HQ in Athens far from the Northern frontlines (p.83).
Hill raised an interesting point: “There were 3,000 Cypriot and 1,679 Palestinian(sic) troops in the Greek theatre of operations. Rather than be assigned as ‘interpreters’ the British allocated these solely to forced-labour battalions. (ibid).
6. “Allies had no central command structure in Greece. Instead rival Greek, British and Australian command HQ’s co-existed uneasily. E.g. Royal Air Force (RAF) units were placed under the command of the Greek Army. British tank units were allegedly under command of Australian units but refused all orders from Australian commanders. (p.84).
7. When German forces entered Greece, Greek Army chief Papagos refused to stage a strategic retreat for allegedly ‘political reasons’. At one stage he even ordered British units further forward, into exposed positions (p.85). It was later suggested he’d hoped Yugoslavia would enter the war on Greece’s side. 8th April 1941: Yugoslav resistance collapses, two days after Germans entered Greece.
8. 9th April General Mackay, 6th AD’s CO, met with General Karassos to beg for interpreters. After three hours he left - with none.
9. 10th April 1941: Greek resistance on the frontier collapses.
10. 6th AD’s neighbouring units, the 12th and 20th Greek Divisions, fled from Verria Pass leaving the ANZAC’s exposed. (p.95).
11. 11th April 1941: 6th AD awake to find 12th and 20th GD’s had vanished overnight”. (p.96). 6th AD’s General Rowell later wrote: ‘these two [Greek] divisions disintegrated. After that, we ceased to take any account of Greek Army support’. (p.97). Overall Greek commander, Papagos, refuses to halt Greek Army operations against Italians on Albanian front.
12. 12th April 17th Australian Brigade (17th AB) arrive in Greece to ‘find a continuous stream of Greek troops heading South, cluttering roads. 3,000 arrive in our Kalabaka base in one day. All said they’d been ordered to 'retreat and to abandon their old weapons. New ones are to be issued later’ ".
13. 13th April the Greek Army’s Albanian front, encircled by Italian and German forces, collapses.
14. 14th April Yugoslavia sued for peace” (p.98).
15. 15th April 17th Bde’s Brigadier Savige meets General Tsolakoglou, Commander of the Greek III Army Corps. Savige finds him: ‘disinclined to fight’(p.99-100). Later accusing him of ‘deliberately disintegrating his forces’ (p.102).
16. 16th April: 17th AB’s Savige sees the Greek general and his HQ abandon Kalabaka. Germans troops arrive soon after, entering it unopposed” (p.103).
17. 16th April: Greek Army Minister & General HQ order all troops to go on ‘two months leave’ ” (p.103). Laird Archer in Athens: ‘this weakened the front and ‘opened the gates’ to the Germans’. Ian Sabey: “the entire Army in Albania was granted ‘indefinite leave’ ” (ibid).
18. 18th April Minister of Finance issues two months pay to all civil servants plus an extra two months plus a bonus of 3,000 drachmas each, giving the impression the government was about to collapse (p.106). Faced with such treason the Greek Prime Minister, Koryzis, obtained an audience with the King who then blamed him for his Minister’s actions. That night Koryzis committed suicide. The British government kept the Australian government completely uninformed of this situation as it unfolded in Greece” (p.107).
19. 20th April: Army Commander General Pitsikas refuses to surrender so is sacked by the Greek Army HQ and replaced by General Tsolakoglou who signs an armistice with the Germans” (p.108). “General Pitsikas is sent to Dachau KL”. (p.121).
“The political situation in Greece affected the campaign but Australian studies of the war till now have discussed the battle in total isolation. The role of 5th Columnists, the pro-fascist military and government are never examined. Thus part of the campaign has been written out of the history”. (p.87)
ORDER OF BATTLE:
1. GREECE: "The Greek Army in 1939 had 16 divisions or 300,000 from a population of only 7,222,000. Six divisions were deployed in Albania, six to defend the Bulgarian frontier [including the Metaxas Line of forts] and only four to defend the rest of the country. The Army had no tanks, no anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons. For transport it relied on the railways and had commandeered all motor vehicles and pack animals in the country. The British had to bring their own mules from Egypt. Greece’s air force had 143 aircraft, all leftovers from WWI. The Greek Navy had two cruisers, 10 destroyers and six submarines, also from WWI (p.396). From 1939-45 Greece lost only 35,000 military personnel but 700,000 civilians including 71,300 Jews". (p.398).
2. BRITISH COMMONWEALTH:
Because the British Army in WWII was so small their media lied to make it appear larger. How? If ANZAC units won a battle they were not identified as such. They were termed ‘British Common-wealth Forces’. Only when our boys lost a battle were they identified as such. In this way the British public wee lead to believe their troops were ever victorious and any loses were due to the failure of ‘colonial’ troops. For this reason ‘the Battle of Greece’ is known to British as ‘ANZAC defeat’.
"Of 62,532 ‘Commonwealth’ troops involved only 21,880 were British. Of the rest 17,125 were AIF and 16,720 NZ Army. Total loses for the combined force was only 900 killed but 13,958 POWs. Survivors evacuated to Crete were forced to leave their ‘kit’ behind. Included: 290 aircraft; 8,000 vehicles; 54 heavy and 444 light cannon; 431 mortars; 39 anti-tank guns; 151,950 rifles; 134 armoured vehicles; 2,710 motor vehicles; 600 ‘other’ wheeled vehicles". [source: Gavin Long: Greece, Crete, Syria (Collins: Sydney, 1986, pp.182-3)]
"Following the Battle of Greece British forces were evacuated offshore, to neighbouring Crete. The German Army followed. A second battle ensued, in May 1941. Total Allied forces on Crete numbered 31,200. 17,000 were British 7,700 AIF and 6,500 NZ Army. In the Battle of Crete the AIF suffered 274 KIA with 3,102POWs. NZ Army’s lost 671 killed and 1,692 POW’s. British lost 612 KIA & 5,315 POWs" [source: G. Long, ibid pp.315-316].
“Greece was a campaign that had little chance of success. The British knew this but persevered for political reasons. The Greek Army also knew it so refused to sacrifice men in a futile gesture despite their government’s assurances to the British. Had the Australian government been told the truth by the British it is unlikely they would have agreed to Australian troops being involved”. (M. Hill p.391)
[Emphasis throughout is ours].
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