The British and Commonwealth intervention in Greece was one of Churchill’s more controversial decisions during the Second World War. The largely ANZAC force that was sent to Greece arrived just as the Germans were preparing to invade, and it only took three weeks for them conquer the country. For most of the campaign the British were already planning to evacuate, and it turned into a series of defensive stands alternating with retreats to new defensive lines further south. At the same time the troops that had been sent to Greece were desperately needed in North Africa, where Rommel was about to begin his first successful campaign.
We start with a look at the background to the short campaign, including British diplomatic efforts in the Balkans, the failed Italian invasion of Greece, and the key roll played by Yugoslavia in the period immediately before the German invasion. We then move on to the political maneovers that were required before the Australian and New Zealand commanders in the Middle East would agree to let some of their troops be sent to Greece (mainly efforts to make sure the army commanders didn’t actually check with their political leaders).
We then get an excellent account of the fighting itself, which generally involved defensive battles at key mountain passes combined with rapid retreats to the next defensive line, followed by the fight to keep the Germans away from the evacuation areas until as many men as possible had been rescued.
At a first glance the general argument that the Greek campaign demonstrated the limits of Blitzkrieg seems unconvincing – it did after all only take the Germans three weeks to conquer Greece. Plowman does make a good argument for his case, looking at how relatively small British and Commonwealth forces were able to disrupt German plans, but I’m not convinced that he does more than demonstrate that blitzkrieg didn’t really work in mountainous regions, with a limited number of routes capable passable by tanks. Even here the British and Commonwealth troops were often forced into desperate retreats after a German success on a different pass outflanked their defensive positions. However he does make the point that the Germans never managed to break through the Allied lines in the way they had done in France, and the bulk of the British and Commonwealth forces were successfully evacuated.
This is a good account of the British and Commonwealth involvement in the Greek campaign, setting the short period of fighting in its wider context, and asking some interesting questions about what it might tell us about the wider war.
1 – The Road to War
2 – Political Machinations
3 – Operation Lustre
4 – The Fall of Yugoslavia
5 – Breakthrough at Vevi
6 – The Battle for Servia Pass
7 – Repulse at Olympus Pass
8 – A Near Run Thing at Pineios Gorge
9 – The Thermopylae Line
10 – Evacuation
11 – Operation Lustre in Retrospect
Author: Jeffrey Plowman
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military