The German Invasion and Occupation of Greece, 1941- 44

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500,000 Greeks died and many more were displaced as German forces invaded Greece from recently conquered Yugoslavia. Communist forces resisted the Germans.

The Greek Army comprised 21 Divisions in 1st (Epirus) Army, 2nd (Eastern Macedonian) Army along with auxilliary troops. On April 6 1941 German 12th Army’s XXX Corps advanced into western Thrace against 2nd Greek Army and by April 9 XVIII Mountain Corps, with 5.Gebirgs Division in the vanguard, destroyed the Greek Metaxa Line, forcing the Greek 1st Army to surrender on April 23 and advanced until taking Athens on April 27. The German invasion of Crete commenced on May 20 1941, when the Luftwaffe 7th Air Division parachuted onto Crete. British and New Zealand forces were defeated by June 1, 1941.

The Axis Occupation of Greece

German forces were stationed in Athens, eastern Macedonia, the Greco-Turkish border, western Crete and some western Greek islands. The Bulgarians occupied western Thrace with most of Greece left to Italian control. 12th German Army HQ under Generalfeldmarschall List in Athens, comprised XVIII Mountain Corps, with 164th Infantry Division and 125th Infantry Regt. in Salonika, 5th Mountain Division in Athens and 65th Corps in Serbia and Croatia.

Resistance and Reaction by Greek Forces

The Nazi flag was removed from the Acropolis on May 30, 1941 by Manolis Glezos who is still living in Athens, he later joined the KKE Kommunistikon Komma Ellados – Communist Party of Greece. Secret organisations were rapidly formed. By 1943 the threats posed by Greek Nationalist EDES and Communist ELAS forces along with the Italian armistice forced a German reorganisation. 12th German Army became Army Group E under Luftwaffe Generaloberst Loehr. Athens was garrisoned from January 1943 by 11th Luftwaffe Field Division and eastern Greece and the Peloponnese from June by LXVIII Corps (117 Rifle, 1 Panzer Div) and western Greece from September by XXII Mountain Corps (104th Infantry, 1.Gebirgs Division) under General Lanz.

British paratroopers supported by ELAS guerrillas, under Aris Veloukhiotis, a Communist and EDES guerrillas, under Zervas, a monarchist, destroyed the Gorgopotamos rail bridge in November 1942. The British were poorly organised in Greece. Communist and Monarchist Greeks fought each other regularly in the mountains. By August 1943, the British supported EDES and other Republican Greek resistance groups. The Germans countered the Greek resistance by recruiting Greek Security Battalions which were applauded by Athenians. These Security Battalions hampered ELAS operations in the Peloponese. ELAS disarmed the Italian Pineloro division capturing vast amounts of arms in September 1943.

The British favoured Republican-Monarchist Forces

Papandreou organised a Greek national conference in Lebanon, in1944, to interdict a Communist take over in Greece when the Germans withdrew. EDES’ Zervas did not attack German forces in Greece from December 1943 to July 1944. General Lanz, 1.Gebirgs Division Commander, confirmed Zervas’ negotiations. In June EDES attacked ELAS followed by the German Army’s Operation Steinadler (Stone Eagle) in July 1944 which cost ELAS 2,000 casualties in Macedonia.

ELAS fought the Greek Security Battalions, supported by German forces, in the Pelopponese which led to counter reprisals of horrendous ferocity by the Germans. German war diaries – 12te Armee KriegsTagesBuch, recorded 50 hostages shot in Aigion, December 4, 1944; 50 hostages hanged in Andritsaina on December 5; 25 hostages shot at Gythion on December 7; at Kalavryta 24 villages were burned, 3 monasteries destroyed and 696 Greeks executed, December 1944. EDES tried to blame ELAS. The population never forgot these atrocities. Ordinary people, starved and decimated, survived amid their ruins for which they blamed the Germans while the causes of fear were the Communists.

Resistance forces in Greece were a nuisance to the German Army with 300,000 German troops tied down. Nine German Army operations with code names were launched in Northern Greece between September 1943 and August 1944.

The German Departure, October 12, 1944

The Germans laid a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens October 12, 1944 as a token they had not entered Greece as enemies of the country. The German Army had formed the LXXXXI Corps in Salonika with fortress brigades to supervise Army Group E’s retreat into Yugoslavia, completed by November 2, 1944.

The Power Vacuum in Athens

Immediately after the German Army’s departure tension was palpable in Athens. The Greek Army Mountain Brigade arrived in Athens on November 9, 1944. The British authorities declared their intention to protect the Greek people on December 1. A general strike organised by ELAS in Athens on December 4 was fired on by British troops. On December 15, ELAS attacked British units in Athens. ELAS retreated to the mountains of northern Greece. The Peace of Varkiza was signed on February 12 1945, which lasted until January 1946.

The Greek Civil War which devastated the Greek economy commenced in January 1946 and lasted until August 1949.

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