Into the Fire - the "Minor" nations of WW2 strike back

Should Chapter 40 stand?

  • Yes

    Votes: 26 51.0%
  • Yes, but with further changes

    Votes: 22 43.1%
  • No

    Votes: 3 5.9%

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Chapter 29: Operation Marita – Breaching the line (April 1941 - Greece)
April 15th - 31st, 1941

Greek Front


In Greece, things had accelerated following Allied intelligence documents showing German military build-up in Austria and Bulgaria. The Greeks, who were still split on the Allied presence in the country, soon came to terms with the fact that Germany would not let them alone, especially with the presence of the 5th Light Division in Albania.

The construction of airfields was deemed a top priority by the Allied High Command, which got to work, especially in the north of the country and around Athens. The Royal Corps of Engineers as usual made miracles, and by mid-April the Allies had accumulated a substantial air presence.

As for troops, they had not been caught lacking, either. The Greeks continued to mobilise, bringing new divisions on the line. And thanks to the fall of Africa, convoys could now safely transit the Mediterranean and bring supplies and equipment from the United States and Britain straight to the port of Piraeus.

The Allied line had been bolstered by the new arrivals: the 2nd New Zealand Infantry had taken its positions on the Aliakmon line, the 7th Armoured was at 90% strength in Albania, the 6th British Infantry had taken up positions near Florina, the 10th Indian held the flank of the 7th Armoured, and the French of the 1st DB now guarded the Vardar Valley. In addition, the Belgian 2nd Infantry were slated to move alongside the French 86th DIA towards Yugoslavia, with the 1st French Infantry backing them up around Veroia. As for reserves, the 6th Australian was still in the process of reconstitution near Athens, and the 51st Highland Infantry doing the same south of the Ambracian Gulf. Finally, the Greeks lined up twenty divisions, but two thirds of these were on the Albanian front. The Eastern Macedonia Army Section, led by general Bakopoulos, only comprised five divisions. Not to mention that these divisions were not placed with the Allied line, but along the Metaxas line, which the Allies judged indefensible and only useful as a delay since German troops would eventually rush down the Vardar Valley and attack Thessaloniki from the rear.

But the political imperative stood: just like Yugoslavia could not abandon Belgrade, Greece could not abandon Thessaloniki. The Allies, having troops to hold the small gap, told their Greek allies that they would do their utmost to hold, but that evacuating the Metaxas line was only a matter of time.

As German troops entered Yugoslavia on April 14th, they also struck the Metaxas line. However, the projected air supremacy promised by the Luftwaffe failed to materialize. From their airbases, Greek and British Hurricanes, Belgian P-39s, French P-40s and even Polish Spitfires were ready for the shock. The Luftwaffe, for its part was not.

With the main effort made to be towards Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe was quite understaffed, and faced with a wall of fire, failed to gain the so-desired air supremacy, leaving the assault on the Metaxas line to be a particularly bloody one. Here, the VIII. Fliegerkorps struggled heavily, and as a result, the Greeks held onto the Metaxas line with determination.

The Germans, for their part, lined up 6 infantry divisions and 1 armoured division to breach the line, with one motorized division and one infantry division attacking from Macedonia and one armoured and three infantry divisions coming from Serbia. But the swift victory that was hoped by OKH failed to materialize, even with these reinforcements.

With the Luftwaffe kept in check, bombing runs against the Metaxas line became difficult, if not suicidal at times. General Stergiopoulos’ 18th Infantry Division especially illustrated itself by blocking the German armoured vanguards which looked to breach the Greek lines near the Strymon river. In addition, the dogged Franco-Yugoslav resistance in Macedonia made so that waiting for reinforcements from there was not realistic in the short-term. To make matters worse, the German-Italian offensive in Albania came up against a wall as the machines of the 5th Light Division struggled against the 7th Armoured, and the Italian divisions once again ran into stiff resistance against General Pitsikas’ Epirus Army Section.

Furious at the lack of progress, Hitler would order a massive raid to “punish” Athens for their determined resistance. However, such a raid came up against staunch opposition, especially from the RAF aircraft based around the Greek capital. While the German bombers did manage to hit the city, including a bomb that grazed the Parthenon, the cost was appalling to bear for the bomber crews. And even if the city was hit, the port of Piraeus, essential for the logistics of the Greek campaign and focal point of the Allied air defense in the area, was unharmed and still able to function at full capacity. Still, this raid pushed Allied command to seek alternative ports to bring supplies, most notably Volos and Patras.

For the Germans, it would take until April 25th to see the first breaches of the Metaxas line, despite Greek determination. And this breach being along the Strymon river, General Papagos, commander-in-chief of the Greek forces, ordered a withdrawal to the left bank, in order to stop the encirclement of three full divisions.

This redeployment coincided with the German offensive down the Vardar Valley. Finally thinking that Allied resistance had completely ceded, List ordered his troops (SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and 11th Panzer in the lead), to charge down the valley and encircle the Greek forces stationed there. Unfortunately for him, the marshy terrain would be the least of his worries as the 2nd New Zealand Division sprung into action, its anti-tank rifles devastating the German lines. Worse, the French of the 1st DB, with their brand new M3 Stuart, ambushed the German Panzers along the hedgerows and in the hills, taking a further bloody toll on the Panzers and motorized vehicles of the LAH.

Despite this carnage, the breach of the Metaxas line had sent the Greek units in turmoil, and not every unit had managed to rally the Strymon. The 7th Infantry Division had to surrender, and the 14th would cease to exist as a fighting unit as the tanks of the 2nd Panzer Divisions broke through near Iraklia.

With no other choice, and having seen their front disintegrate, Papagos ordered Bakopoulos to abandon Thessaloniki with the forces he still had (13th, 18th and 19th Divisions) and to join the Aliakmon line, where their compatriots of the 12th and 20th Infantry Divisions awaited them around Alexandreia. The last Greek units would join this new defensive line on April 29th. In the meantime, the French of the 1st DB and the New Zealanders of the 2nd Infantry Division, after exacting their bloody toll, also withdrew from the Vardar Valley to their new positions near Veroia. Despite giving the Germans a beating, these units still had suffered casualties, and while it was impossible to ask for the 1st DB to leave the line in case of an exploitation by the German Panzers, the 2nd New Zealand Infantry was withdrawn to Volos and replaced on the line with an amalgamation of the Yugoslav infantry divisions most capable of fighting and the 6th Australian Division.

In Albania, the Axis offensive had also stalled. The 5th Light Division was tired by almost an entire month of constant fighting, and the 7th Armoured was not going to break. Despite the Italians trying to push in the mountains, they had not breached the Fier-Kucove-Pogradec line.

List had had enough. His forces were also tired after such an effort, and his Panzers needed reorganisation. Hitler was not pleased, but had to relent. The Allied defensive line along the Aliakmon now appeared fully, and was extremely intimidating. So intimidating, in fact, that Hitler ordered the transfer of the reserve SS-Das Reich division to the front. This division, still not fully operational after the French campaign, would have to assist the 2nd and 11th Panzer Divisions in breaching the Allied line. On the Albanian front, the Italians would have to make a diversion, to try and get the Allies to commit some reserves, notably by an amphibious assault on the rear, at Corfu or Preveza. And German intelligence was clear: there wasn’t a single division after the Aliakmon, except for a few Greek conscripts! A breakthrough here would win the battle and we would be in Athens by the middle of May, right in time for Barbarossa!

An elated Hitler ordered a week’s break in offensive operations. On May 6th, the German troops would attack, and on May 15th, they would be in Athens!

Operation Marita, Order of Battle:

Axis (in order, from Fier to Alexandreia)

Albania Command (Ugo Cavallero)

VIII Corps (Carlo Rossi)

5th Light Division (Kirchheim)

37th Infantry Division Modena (Gloria)

131st Armored Division Centauro (Pizzolato)

48th Infantry Division Taro (Pedrazzoli)

2nd Alpine Division Tridentina (Santovito)

24th Infantry Division Pinerolo (Zannini)

XXV Corps (Gabriele Nasci)

29th Infantry Division Piemonte (Naldi)

49th Infantry Division Parma (Adami)

38th Infantry Division Puglie (D’Aponte)

19th Infantry Division Venezia (Bonini)

5th Alpine Division Pusteria (Esposito)

53rd Infantry Division Arezzo (Ferone)

12th Armee (Wilhelm List)

XIV. PanzerKorps (Gustav von Wietersheim)

11th Panzer Division (Cruwell)

294th Infantry Division (Gabcke)

4th Mountain Division (Eglseer)

60th Motorised Division (Eberhardt)

XL. Armeekorps (Georg Stumme)

73rd Infantry Division (Bieler)

SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division (Dietrich)

SS-Das Reich Motorised Division (Hausser)

XVIII. Armeekorps (Franz Bohme)

2nd Panzer Division (Veiel)

5th Mountain Division (Ringel)

6th Mountain Division (Schorner)

72nd Infantry Division (Muller-Gebhard)

125th Infantry Division (Schneckenburger)

XXX. Armeekorps (Otto Hartmann)

50th Infantry Division (Hollidt)

164th Infantry Division (Folttmann)

In reserve:

3rd Alpine Division Julia (Girotti)

101st Motorized Division Trieste (Piazzoni)

GroBdeutschland Motorized Regiment (Von Stockhausen)

16th Panzer Division (Hube)


Allied Army in Greece (Alexandros Papagos)

Albania Army Group (Panagiotis Demestichias)

British Corps (Harold Wilson)

7th Armoured Division (Creagh)

10th Indian Infantry Division (Fraser)

I Corps (Georgios Kosmas)

8th Infantry Division (Katsimitros)

2nd Infantry Division (Mantakas)

3rd Infantry Division (Tsakalotos)

17th Infantry Division (Davakis)

Epirus Army Group (Ioannis Pitsikas)

II Corps (Dimitri Papadopoulos)

1st Infantry Division (Vrachnos)

Cavalry Division (Sanotas)

1st Mountain Brigade (Moutousis)

13th Infantry Division (Manetas)

11th Infantry Division (Demaratos)

III Corps (Georgios Tsolakolgou)

9th Infantry Division (Psarros)

10th Infantry Division (Dimaratos)

15th Infantry Division (Kaslas)

Allied Expeditionary Corps in Greece (Richard O’Connor)

XIII Corps (Brian Horrocks)

6th Infantry Division (Evetts)

6th Australian Infantry Division (Herring)

50th Yugoslav Infantry Division (Naumovic)

20th Yugoslav Infantry Division (Brasic)

Franco-Belgian Corps (Henri Dentz)

86th Division d’Infanterie d’Afrique (Cazaban)

1st Division d’Infanterie (Magrin-Verneret)

1st Division Blindée (De Larminat)

2nd Belgian Infantry Division (Janssens)

34th Yugoslav Infantry Division (Cukavac)

Eastern Macedonia Army Group (Konstantinos Bakopoulos)

12th Infantry Division (Karambatos)

18th Infantry Division (Stergiopoulos)

19th Mechanized Division (Lioumbas)

20th Infantry Division (Karassos)

In reserve:

4th Greek Infantry Division (Georgoulas)

5th Greek Infantry Division (Giatzis)

6th Greek Infantry Division (Bakos)

51st Highland Infantry Division (Ritchie)

2nd New Zealand Infantry Division (Freyberg)

5th, 8th and 22nd Yugoslav Infantry Divisions (all are at most at 40% strength)

Yugoslav 2nd Cavalry Division (55% strength)
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Chapter 30: Operation Marita – The stand at the Aliakmon (May 1941 - Greece)
May 1st - May 18th, 1941

Greek Front


The lull in the fighting after the fall of the Metaxas line would be brief, but the Allies would make the most of it. Recognizing that the main thrust was directed at the Aliakmon line, and that the Axis had two Panzer divisions at its disposal, it was decided to remove the 7th Armoured from Albania, where the terrain was now quite unfavorable to armored warfare, and make it take the 1st DB’s spot in the line. The French armoured division would be sent to Athens to recuperate from the fighting of the last few days. This also meant that the British would need to send the 51st Highland Infantry to plug in the gap around Valona and secure the 10th Indian’s flank.

As for the Axis, they did not dally either. The GroBdeutschland regiment replaced a spent 11th Panzer in the line, while the Italians prepared an attack on Corfu, in order to draw troops from the front line. Unfortunately for them, the island was firmly garrisoned by the Greek 5th Infantry Division, which also held the port of Igoumenitsa.

Allied intelligence and reconnaissance flights had spotted a concentration of Italian ships in Taranto, which led to the troops on the coast being placed on high alert, along with the Allied submarines which still prowled the seas in the Strait of Otranto. The Mediterranean Fleet is also put on high alert, and Admiral Cunningham sallied out with his ships off Crete, ready to repulse any invasion fleet. He was joined off Crete by a small squadron of Greek destroyers, which included the RHS Vasileus Georgios I and Vassilissa Olga.

On May 3rd, reconnaissance aircraft had spotted a convoy leaving Taranto, escorted by several cruisers. Cunningham immediately sallied out with the carrier HMS Illustrious, and made contact with the convoy in the afternoon of May 4th. The Albacore of the Illustrious proved deadly for the convoy, which saw two cruisers hit (the Gorizia and the Zara). In addition, the bombers claimed one destroyer sunk, and another damaged. The Gorizia limped off, but the damage done to the Zara proved too extensive to repair. Unfortunately, by the time the Italians saw that it was irreparable, the Royal Navy had caught up to them.

Despite the sacrifice of the two escorting destroyers, the cruiser Zara was sent to the bottom by the battleships HMS Valiant and Barham. The Royal Navy pressed its advantage, splitting its force in two with one piece going to attack the convoy and another chasing down the warships. Slowed down by the Gorizia, who can hardly make 12 knots, the British ships, led by radar, sensed blood in the water. In the night, they regained contact, and it was a massacre.

The Gorizia was not much more than a sitting duck, and was quickly executed by a volley from the Valiant, helped by the cruisers Ajax and Sussex. Four more destroyers joined the cruiser, along with the light cruisers Armando Diaz and Muzio Attendolo, which tried to cover the escape of the rest of the squadron. British firepower soon overwhelmed them, and only a few destroyers would come back to Taranto. One of them, the Bersagliere, would unfortunately not even make it there, although it had fled the battle. The Greek submarine Glavkos would send it to the bottom within sight of Santa Maria di Leuca. The Allied force would only report the loss of the destroyer HMS Jaguar, which was hit by the Italian cruisers, and which had to be scuttled in the early morning. Likewise, the Greek destroyer RHS Hydra was hit to the point where Cunningham pondered to scuttle it, but it managed to make its way to Souda Bay. The Italians did try to find the British fleet, sending SM.79 bombers alongside Ju.88 of the X. Fliegerkorps, but these were intercepted by the patrol aircraft of the HMS Illustrious and Eagle, as well as Greek and British Hurricanes operating from Corfu. Three destroyers were hit (HMS Ilex, HMS Kimberley and RHS Psara), and one had to be scuttled since it could not be towed (HMS Isis).

As for the Italians which reached Corfu, it was not pleasant. Not only were they warmly received by the Greeks, but the convoy was surprised at anchor in the night by the Allied destroyers, which sunk almost all the ships, with the Albacore of HMS Illustrious finishing off the ones that had been damaged or which had tried to run away. The Luftwaffe of the X. Fliegerkorps stationed in southern Italy tried to react, but only managed to score one hit on the HMS Hereward, which had to be towed to Preveza. The Italians already disembarked soon found themselves fighting a losing battle, and the company of Blackshirts and Alpini would surrender to the Greeks. Another unmitigated disaster for the Italian Army, and one that did not even serve the Germans, as the Italians had surrendered on May 5th and that without attracting a single extra battalion to the island.

Pressed by time, the Germans re-launched their offensive as predicted, on May 6th. But once again, while the Allied troop transfers had not been completed yet, attacking this defence line proved to be very hard for the German troops, who did not have the luxury of total air supremacy. Worse, the Greeks sailed the Georgios Averoff and the Limnos all the way up to the mouth of the Aliakmon for a shelling of the Panzers stationed there, incurring serious losses on the German troops! General Veiel, at the head of the 2nd Panzer Division, was killed during the shelling. He would not be the last one to fall, since Ferdinand Schorner, head of the 6th Mountain Division, would be killed in his staff car in an RAF opportunity raid near Veroia. The next day, the British cruisers HMS Arethusa and Galatea would come and shell the Germans in turn, though the Arethusa would be damaged by a Luftwaffe counter-raid and was escorted back to Souda Bay for quick repairs before leaving for Alexandria.

Hitler was furious. By May 10th, the line had not broken, whether on the Aliakmon or on the Albanian front, where the Italians still could not breach the mountain line so dearly held by the Greeks. In the valley, the Indians of the 10th Infantry Division also rejected any attempts by the 37th Infantry Division Modena, already battered by a month of fighting, forcing it to be withdrawn from the front in favor of the 101st Motorized Division Trieste. Worse, the 11th Panzer Division had taken catastrophic losses, being reduced to a mere 10 operational Panzers.

Hitler, furious, ordered it back, to be replaced by the 16th Panzer Division. This one, which had been guarding the Bulgarian-Greek border, was the last armoured reserve of the German Army. If it did not pierce the line, they would be in serious trouble. The Germans thus stopped focusing their efforts on the plains, where the Covenanters and Valentines of the 7th Armoured and the remaining M3s and M2s of the 1st DB wreaked havoc on the armoured divisions, but more on the gaps in the line where the Allies had stationed the battered Yugoslav divisions.

Unfortunately for them, whatever the Yugoslavs lacked in means, they did not lack in courage. Under the cries of “Remember Belgrade”, General Simovic’s men held tight around Veroia, where the 2nd Belgian Infantry and French 86th DIA supported them against the German Gebirgsjagers. Only on May 11th would the first German troops cross the Aliakmon, and even then their bridgehead was very fragile.

Finally, some good news would come. The 5th Light Division, helped by the 101st Motorised Trieste, had taken advantage of the weaker lines of the 51st Highland Infantry and pushed the Scots in, who were forced to abandon Valona, and thus shift the entire line southwards. With Valona abandoned, the Greeks were forced to retreat from Albania altogether, reforming their line along the Saranda-Kakavia-Konitsa axis.

With this retreat, OKH thought that finally, the Allies were at the end of their rope. After a brief pause, the Luftwaffe was asked to give a maximum effort for the troops on the ground, in order to cross the Aliakmon and rush to Larissa as soon as possible. The 16th Panzer would have to be the one to break through. It had not yet been used in combat, and the 11th Panzer itself was running low on vehicles.

Luckily for the Germans, it was the same on the other side. The 1st DB had been withdrawn from the front on May 13th, and the 7th Armoured now had to contain the push of two experienced Panzer Divisions, and that after having been fighting for two months now! So when the Germans renewed their attack against the Aliakmon line, the fighting potential of the 7th Armoured was getting lower and lower.

Despite this, the British held. For two days, the British would hold, until it was not possible to do so anymore. On May 18th, Veroia, held by the Belgians, French and Yugoslavs, would finally fall to the German mountaineers, and the machines of the 16th Panzer finally broke through on the road to Katerini. There, the British and Greeks would launch desperate counter-attacks but to no avail: the Aliakmon line had been breached. This advance forced the British to withdraw the 6th British and 6th Australian Infantry from their positions in the north, towards Siatista and Grevena. Likewise, the Franco-Belgian Corps would have to withdraw in steps towards Elassona, to block the road to Larissa.

The fall of Katerini and the Aliakmon line also had dire consequences for the Albanian front. It meant that, if the Germans reached Larissa, they could be encircled in one fell swoop. To avoid such a plan, Papagos ordered the Greek forces to retreat towards Igoumenitsa and Ioannina, taking care to keep the link with the British 6th Infantry Division along the Pindos Mountains.

For Hitler, the fall of Veroia was seen as a triumph. The 16th Panzer was now launched at full speed towards Larissa, and surely nothing would stop them from reaching Athens! And the Allied troops were all retreating southwards. For Hitler and OKH, this and the lack of armoured resistance could only mean one thing: they had made a second Sedan, and the Allies were now panicking. Exploitation would be necessary to encircle the Allies or force them to evacuate.

The problem was that the Allies were not finished. The fall of the Aliakmon line was a possibility that was considered, but planned for. Instead, the whole Allied line, including some of the least impacted divisions (6th British, 6th Australian, 50th Yugoslav), retreated step by step towards the new line at Thermopylae, where the 2nd New Zealand Division had already entrenched itself. In Athens, the Greek 6th Infantry Division was just leaving for Euboea, to defend from any incursions, while the French of the 1st DB received reinforcements from the United States in the form of several dozen M2s and a few M3s, and were now ready to move back towards the front.

And if the 16th Panzer was doing wonderfully, it was not the case for everyone. The Gebirgsjager divisions had been bled dry in the mountain fights against the Franco-Belgian Corps and the East Macedonian Army Group. The SS motorized divisions had been gutted, and most of the infantry divisions were also battered. But with the announced victory at Katerini, spirits were high. Surely, nothing would come to spoil the victory and the flag of the Reich would soon fly over Athens.

Well, the Germans could never have been more wrong.
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HOOO BOY Let's hope the 2nd battle of Thermopylae goes better than the one from 2000 years ago! Well win or lose, that's a lot of mangled armored divisions going into Barbarossa. Schörner's death could hamper the Germans later on, as well as the battering the Luftwaffe is taking. What plans does the German airforce have to close the gap they seem to have with the brits?

Was busy, missed commenting on a few updates. Was there even any "Free Yugoslavia" in OTL? Well, there will very much be in this timeline! Those treacherous Croats though, I bet they will cause issues going forwards. Post-war will be interesting in general though, and I wonder how the WAllies' Yugoslavs will get along with Tito. Aside from that, I see the Allies avoided the OTL uncertainty about what defensive line to use in Greece, and could withdraw in good order. How much of that is a function of better diplomacy, and how much is from having all the forces to spare to send there in the first place? The Germans took Larissa it seems- are the troops still near the Albanian border still able to be supplied?
HOOO BOY Let's hope the 2nd battle of Thermopylae goes better than the one from 2000 years ago! Well win or lose, that's a lot of mangled armored divisions going into Barbarossa. Schörner's death could hamper the Germans later on, as well as the battering the Luftwaffe is taking. What plans does the German airforce have to close the gap they seem to have with the brits?

It'll be at least the sixth, in fact. Of the previous five, the defence only won one. So not a great track record!
You know what would be interesting? If Liberia did something. In African nation actively participating in such a conflict.

Quote: "Despite abandoning neutrality and allowing American forces to be based on its territory, Liberia did not declare war on Germany and Japan until January 1944. The LFF offered to send units to Europe but this was not taken up. Liberia was eligible for Lend-Lease but did not receive much in the way of weapons."
You know what would be interesting? If Liberia did something. In African nation actively participating in such a conflict.
African countries (apart from the Mediterranean coast ones ) had the problem of troops far better suited to the Pacific theatre ( due to climate/terrain ) than the European. If you have never operated outside the tropics, North Europe in winter, was not a good place for them to be ( this was found in WW1 for example with French colonial troops )
Was there even any "Free Yugoslavia" in OTL?

There was a small Free Yugoslav contingent OTL, but it was ridiculously small (1,000 people tops).

Well, there will very much be in this timeline!

Yes, in addition to the troops evacuated, the Yugoslavs will also count on a good number of pilots and sailors which will soon recieve new equipment.

Post-war will be interesting in general though, and I wonder how the WAllies' Yugoslavs will get along with Tito.

Probably not well. Tito is still a Communist, and the Government in exile is still led by the King. This time though with a stronger Free Yugoslav contingent, Tito's influence will be reduced.

Aside from that, I see the Allies avoided the OTL uncertainty about what defensive line to use in Greece, and could withdraw in good order.

A larger amount of forces and good preparation means that the link between the Aliakmon and Metaxas lines can be held for sufficiently long to avoid a disastrous breakthrough.

How much of that is a function of better diplomacy, and how much is from having all the forces to spare to send there in the first place?

A bit of both. Papagos and O'Connor had time to prepare the future invasion and with a lot more troops to spare, it became easier to defend.

The Germans took Larissa it seems- are the troops still near the Albanian border still able to be supplied?

With difficulty, but yes.

You know what would be interesting? If Liberia did something. In African nation actively participating in such a conflict.

South Africa is actively participating but I see what you mean. It is unlikely that Liberia will be able to do much before 1944, though.
Chapter 31: Operation Marita – Shattered Sword (May - June 1941 - Greece)
May 18th - June 15th, 1941

Greek Front


As the Allies retreated from the Aliakmon to Thermopylae, there was a pressing need to destroy the airfields that had been so painstakingly set up north of the Thermopylae line to deny them to the Germans. The Luftwaffe could not be allowed to gain superiority over the Lamia Gates, or the Allies would need to evacuate Greece entirely, something that was out of the question, both politically and logistically. As such, much of the airfields were completely levelled by engineers, sometimes with much more TNT than needed, setting fire to hangars and making large holes in the runways which could be sabotaged. At the same time, British and Greek engineers got to work in enhancing the capacity of the airfields in the Peloponnese and the Athens area, but also the Aegean islands such as Limnos, Lesbos, Chios or Naxos.

In the meantime, the Allies continued to methodically retreat. Corfu was evacuated on May 19th under the threat of an Italian landing and a waning air support needed to cover the breakthrough of the Panzers. In the west, the British 6th and Australian 6th also slid down slightly in order to relieve pressure on the battered Greek and Franco-Belgian units, while the 2nd New Zealand Infantry continued to dig in at Thermopylae. Artillery positions, anti-tank ditches…nothing was left to chance, and the Allies knew that this was Hitler’s last gamble. If Thermopylae held, the Germans would not be able to launch an offensive there in the near future.

Nevertheless, contingencies were also made in case of a fall of the line. The British Mediterranean fleet was called to Souda Bay as a matter of urgency, along any possible transports. The first to leave would be the remnants of the 7th Armoured, which would not be in any condition to fight regardless. The Greeks of the East Macedonia Army Group would follow, with the exception of the 19th Mechanized Division, still in fighting shape, and which had to hold a part of the line at Lamia. The Yugoslavs were slated to leave next, alongside the French of the 86th DIA [1]. Then, we would see.

The Allies still had time to make sure their forces retreated in good order. Despite the battering of the previous days, several units were still in good fighting condition. The French 1st DI and the Belgian 2nd Infantry notably dealt serious blows to the overconfident advancing German infantry, whittling down their potential and making time for the British and Australian troops to slide down. Likewise, the Greeks of the EMAG covered for their partners of the 7th Armoured, fighting delaying battles along the coast with the support of their heavy ships.

Such an effort was not entirely without casualties. The cruiser Georgios Averoff, during a fire support mission off Mount Ossa, was targeted by the ever-frightening Ju 87 and Ju 88. Her escort, without sufficient anti-air cover, was not enough to prevent her from slowly sinking in the early hours of May 20th. But the sacrifice of the Georgios Averoff also proved effective. Fighting village to village, the Germans took much too long in the face of determined Greek resistance to even reach Larissa, on May 24th. Likewise, the German infantrymen and SS troops were confronted with determined Franco-British resistance, blocking the advance to Trikala.

This resistance allowed Papagos, to the west, to confirm what everyone had feared: a general retreat order beyond the Ambracian Gulf, in the safety of the shadow of the Pindos mountains. And because of their relative isolation from the rest of the front, these units would not be able to coordinate their retreat with the Allied corps to the east. This retreat also had another unfortunate consequence. With the abandonment of the entire north of the country to the enemy, many Greek soldiers chose to “stay behind”, sometimes with explicit approval of their officers, wishing to defend their families from exactions. Although this would bolster the Greek resistance movement with experienced men, it would also dissolve much of the combat potential of the Greek divisions [2]. On May 25th, Italian troops occupied Ioannina.

These delaying battles continued to make time for the Allies on the Thermopylae line. After the 2nd New Zealand Division, the 6th Australian, which retreated faster due to the shortening of the front, entrenched itself there. These two divisions, along with the French 1st DB and Greek 19th Mechanized Division, would be the cornerstone of the defence of Lamia, with the British 6th Infantry occupying positions in the Sperchios Valley. The Greek 18th Infantry Division would for its part be split in two, partly defending Athens if needed, and partly helping with the defence of Euboea. The rest would go to the rear and defend Athens, the Corinth Canal, or be evacuated. On May 26th, the first troops of the 7th Armoured were evacuated from Piraeus to Chania, with the first Yugoslav troops right behind them.

The Allies for their part continued their retreat. The 2nd Belgian Infantry Division was tasked with holding the port of Volos, before evacuating by sea, allowing the Greeks of the EMAG to withdraw in good order towards Pharsalus and the safety of the Anzac lines. With experience from Ostende and Dunkirk, general Janssens’ troops held on to the port for three days, before being forced to evacuate, further hampering the 16th Panzer’s advance. The port would hold until June 2nd, with the last defenders, part of the Greek 12th Infantry Division, would soon join the resistance groups in the northern part of the country.

This did not mean that everything was going smoothly. In addition to the losses, some units were individually encircled in the Pindus mountains, having failed to navigate the tricky mountain roads before the motorized elements of the Heer arrived. Overall, though, the methodical retreat was a certain success for the Allies. They had managed to evacuate a large majority of their troops in good order, with the Greeks taking most of the supposed casualties (desertions of northern Greeks, mostly).

On June 1st, as delaying battles continued to rage before the Thermopylae line, the Greeks of the Albanian Army Corps and their British and Indian allies had managed to reform their line, extending from Lefkada to Amphilochia, as well as the Pindus mountains, maintaining a small but sturdy link to the Sperchios river valley to the east. If the Thermopylae line would fall, they would need to withdraw to Missolonghi, where so many Greek fighters had died fighting for their freedom. In fact, the Greek 17th Infantry Division had evacuated from there to Patras today in order to establish artillery positions across the Gulf of Corinth, if the Germano-Italians broke through.

However, in this sector, the troops were exhausted. After three months of fighting, the 5th Light Division could not take a step further. Their Italian allies were similarly drained, and in dire need of rest and recuperation. The only fresh unit, the 101st Motorized Division Trieste, could not break through due to the mountainous terrain of the area. As such, one would have to wait for the threat of an encirclement once List’s Panzers had broken through at Lamia. On June 3rd, List, after a dreadful two weeks of fighting delaying elements, finally arrived on the Thermopylae line, exhausted.

In front of him, the ANZAC Corps had prepared its positions perfectly. It had also received the support of the mechanized troops of the Greek 19th Mechanized Division, and the M2s and M3s of the French 1st DB were lying in ambush. To the west, the British 6th Division was also ready to stop any infiltration along the line’s flank. In the meantime, the rest of the troops was moving towards Athens, with the French of the 86th DIA taking the boat to Crete, with their Belgian friends on the way from Volos. The Yugoslavs of the 34th Infantry Division were next on the list, and the French of the 1st DI would also follow.

Logically, the Germans tried to go around this pesky line of defence, but their forces, led by the 50th Infanterie-Division, were repulsed with heavy losses by the Greek troops, which had time to dig in and set up watches and artillery positions. Despite Luftwaffe support, the Allies kept a close watch on their eastern flank, sending in the D-520s of the French Air Force operating from Chios alongside the British Hurricanes which operated from the new airfield at Chalcis.

The battles along the Thermopylae line were brutal. List, pressed by time, tried to find a breakthrough by any means necessary. But the Allied troops, well entrenched, took a disastrous toll on his Panzers. Whether because of a New Zealander anti-tank gun, an ambushed French M2, an Australian mine, or even the weather, as the rain had muddied the ground and bogged down several vehicles, the German war machine ground to a halt. In the air, the Allies had also deployed their maximum effort, shielding Lamia as much as possible, while the Luftwaffe still struggled. On June 6th, List dared to ask for more air support, but was rebuffed by OKH: the invasion of the USSR was soon, it was impossible to ask for more! The Luftwaffe in the sector should have more than enough.

The air was thus contested. Most of the time, the Luftwaffe came out on top, but that was not always the case. Pilot Jean Offenberg, a Belgian aboard his P-39, had the honor of becoming an ace in a day by shooting down 3 Bf-109 and 2 Ju 87 on June 5th, with a total of 12 aircraft shot down over the course of the campaign. Other pilots, like the Greek Marinos Mitralexis (8 kills on Hurricane), the French Emile Leblanc (11 kills on P-40) and famous British ace William “Cherry” Vale (19 kills on Hurricane during the month of June alone), would all distinguish themselves during these fights.

With air contested, the Allies could doggedly hold on. French M3s proved particularly deadly for the German Panzers, especially in defence while ambushed. Their crews, for some veterans of Montcornet, knew how the Panzers worked and had eagerly taught their Greek companions of the 19th Mechanized how to best engage them. The SS of the LAH and Das Reich were likewise hacked to pieces by the Anzac artillery and the opportunistic attacks of the 6th British Infantry. In fact, the Allies even counter-attacked, seizing a few of the mountain passes above Lamia, forcing the Germans back towards Domokos and beyond Mount Othrys.

On the other side, the costly fights all along the Thermopylae line forced List to consider the unthinkable: that his offensive had failed. The 16th Panzer was down to six operational Panzers, and the SS vehicles did not fare much better. His infantry was exhausted, and his mountaineers completely depleted after three weeks of hard fighting. With no other choice, List had to order the halt of offensive operations on Lamia on June 13th.

On the other side, the Allies has won, but they had paid dearly for it. The French 1st DB was reduced to 22 operational tanks, with the Greeks of the 19th Mechanized Division losing around 70% of their vehicles. The Anzac troops fared better, as, less exposed, they had taken fewer casualties. The combined efforts of the two divisions in stopping the onslaught was decisive, causing certain observers to call it “the avenging of Gallipoli”. And with it, certain collapse of continental Greece was averted, right on time.

For Hitler, the failure in Greece was inexcusable. How could they have failed right in front of Athens? List, of course, would pay dearly for his failure. He was removed from command of the 12th Army, and replaced by Walter Kuntze, who did not have time to acclimatize to the Yugoslav air. Perhaps this extended his life slightly… [3] For Hitler, though, Greece soon became a sideshow. Barbarossa was due to start in less than a week, and the divisions that were located in Greece were essential to the breakthrough in Germany! To this, OKH had a solution: they asked Mussolini for his troops. The Italian dictator would have to double his presence in Greece to be able to hold the entire front, including more mountain divisions. The Reich for its part would deploy a force of eight divisions to hold the Greek front, most of them being second-rate, but still keeping two Panzer Divisions in case the Allies got any ideas. This force, still under the command of the 12th Army, would be comprised of the 16th Panzer Division, the 21st Panzer Division (ex-5th Light Division), the 22nd, 46th and 199th Infantry Divisions, the 1st Mountain Division, and the 104th and 117th Jaeger Divisions. They would be reinforced, in theory, by 20 Italian divisions, though Mussolini would only commit 14 at the height of the Italian power, with the needs of garrisoning the rear, Albania and Montenegro.

For the Germans, Greece was not abandoned. They would just need to knock out the Soviets first, and then they would turn their sights towards Athens once the threat on the East had been dealt with. In the meantime, the Germans would work to hamper the Allied defence, notably in the air, by raiding the Allied airfields. A German landing party had taken Limnos on June 5th, no doubt that smaller operations against islands could follow.

Thus, for the Allies, it was the start of an all too familiar routine, that many of the veterans of the Battle of Britain recognized: bombings, strafings, and the blaring sound of air raid sirens. But for the Greeks, this was a small price to pay: Athens had stood, and for the first time in centuries, the line at Thermopylae had stopped the invaders from occupying the country. It is no coincidence that, today, the 6th Australian Division has a hoplite helmet as its badge, and the nickname “Spartans”.

[1] In fact, the Yugoslav 20th and 50th Infantry Divisions would stay in the Peloponnese to cover a potential evacuation of the peninsula, along with a few battalions of the 86th DIA.

[2] Much of that was OTL, even moreso after the fall of Athens.

[3] OTL Kuntze was known for his brutal methods of retribution in Serbia: 100 civilians for one dead German. He was sentenced to life in prison but released in 1953 due to medical issues…he died seven years later.
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Nooooo not the Averoff ;_; At least she gave her life delivering the Germans a deadly sting in TTL.

The British seem pretty good at building airfields. Is it the same as OTL, and how do they compare to the memetic potential of the American seebees?
Nooooo not the Averoff ;_; At least she gave her life delivering the Germans a deadly sting in TTL.

The British seem pretty good at building airfields. Is it the same as OTL, and how do they compare to the memetic potential of the American seebees?
With the slower German advance (and Ju-87s being rather busy) there's a fair chance that the old pre-dreads Kilkis and Lemnos have been evacuated to Alexandria. Now, they're both ancient pre-dreads and Lemnos seems to have been mostly disarmed, but it'd likely mean there's more of a core (and a training establishment) to keep the the Greek Navy going during their year of exile and more Greek naval manpower available. Might see any spare R class BBs or older cruisers transferred to Greece once the poms' manpower crunch starts to bite in '43-'44?
What happen to the Albanian POW's? Could the Allies form a kind of Albanian-in-exile units (like the Napolionic era Albanian Regiment)

Also, with many Italians POW's, IF Sante Garibaldi escaped, could it form a new Garibaldi Legion?
Nooooo not the Averoff ;_; At least she gave her life delivering the Germans a deadly sting in TTL.

I'm sure the Greeks will find another museum ship.

The British seem pretty good at building airfields. Is it the same as OTL, and how do they compare to the memetic potential of the American seebees?

Not Seabees level but already somewhat better than OTL.

With the slower German advance (and Ju-87s being rather busy) there's a fair chance that the old pre-dreads Kilkis and Lemnos have been evacuated to Alexandria. Now, they're both ancient pre-dreads and Lemnos seems to have been mostly disarmed, but it'd likely mean there's more of a core (and a training establishment) to keep the the Greek Navy going during their year of exile and more Greek naval manpower available. Might see any spare R class BBs or older cruisers transferred to Greece once the poms' manpower crunch starts to bite in '43-'44?

The Greek navy has been evacuated to Souda Bay after the breach of the Aliakmon line due to Salamis' proximity with the range of the Ju 87 and Ju 88. It's likely that the British will transfer DDs or DEs to the Greeks in due time.

What happen to the Albanian POW's? Could the Allies form a kind of Albanian-in-exile units (like the Napolionic era Albanian Regiment)

There's nowhere near enough to form that kind of unit.

Also, with many Italians POW's, IF Sante Garibaldi escaped, could it form a new Garibaldi Legion?

Garibaldi was in Occupied France in OTL, it's unlikely he escaped here either.