- Swastika over the Acropolis: Re-interpreting the Nazi Invasion of Greece in World War II by Craig Stockings and Eleanor Hancock
This book constitutes Volume 92 of the History of Warfare series; it is, therefore, an exercise in military history. It is concerned with Operation Marita, the German invasion of Greece on 6 April 1941. What is claimed to be original about this study is that it challenges the received wisdom about the campaign and synthesizes the operations of all nations concerned—British, Australian, New Zealand, Greek, Italian, and German. This is important because the fighting in mainland Greece is seriously understudied in the English, German, and Greek literature compared with, say, the subsequent Battle of Crete.
The authors argue that there is a “commonsense” about Marita comprising the following key elements: the British and Dominion troops in Greece were let down by their respective governments; the Force was sent for political rather than purely military reasons; overwhelming German numerical and material superiority, particularly in armor and in the air, forced the British out of Greece; Greek strategic planning for the defense of the country was poor; Greek military collapse on the west flank of the defense ensured that British positions were untenable; senior Greek commanders collaborated with the Germans and wanted the British out so that a truce could be declared; and Operation Marita resulted in the fatal delay of Operation Barbarossa. The rest of the book is a frontal attack on this “commonsense” position.
The key strategic consideration in the Balkans was control of the Romanian oil fields at Ploieşti; as long as this was secure, Hitler had no interest in the Balkans. However, Mussolini’s opportunistic invasion of Northwestern Greece forced Hitler’s hand as the Greeks fell upon the despised makaronades and drove them back into Albania, while the British dispatched an expeditionary force, W Force. The British intervention threatened the timing of Operation Barbarossa, on the one hand, while Hitler was all too aware of Mussolini’s political vulnerability because of the failure of his Greek campaign, on the other. Thus Hitler decided reluctantly to attack Greece to ensure that the Allied intervention did not threaten his strategic goal in the east, the invasion of Russia, and to save the face of his Italian ally. The Greek campaign, therefore, came about as a result of British intervention.
The Greek commander, General Papagos, insisted on forward defense in order to protect the homeland from the Italian invasion, while General Wilson, the W Force commander, wanted a rear defense line south of Thrace, which was defended by the [End Page 460] Doiran-Nestos line of Greek forts. There were, therefore, insuperable differences in the military thinking of the Allies. But they agreed to hold the Vermion-Olympos line if the Germans broke through the forts. The mountainous terrain of Greece and the lack of gravel roads made life difficult for the invaders in logistical terms, and heavy rain in the spring of 1941 made it worse.
While the Greeks drove the Italians out of Northwest Greece into Albania, the Germans attacked through Thrace. Despite heroic Greek defense, the forts were eventually forced. To the south of this line, the British and Dominion troops were stretched very thin, in appalling weather.
Thus W Force commenced a series of retreats. As the authors comment: “W Force was not pushed out of the Vermion-Olympos line. … Wilson chose to withdraw” (206, my italics). This was, of course, a sensible decision in terms of preserving W Force, but on occasion, as at the Battle of Vevi, the withdrawal resembled a rout. Eventually, as the Greeks retreated from Albania, Wilson decided to withdraw his forces to Thermopylae, effectively abandoning all further cooperation with the main Greek forces. Thereafter, it became a race between Wilson’s plan to evacuate W Force intact and the German General List’s attempts to prevent this. The author’s summary is...