Ο καιρός της Φλώρινας

Δευτέρα, 9 Μαρτίου 2015

The German Thrust across Southern Yugoslavia The Invasion and Battle for Greece (Operation Marita)

Γερμανοί αξιωματικοί στη Βεύη
The Break-Through to Kozani

By the morning of 10 April the XL Panzer Corps had finished its preparations for the continuation of the offensive. A reconnaissance battalion of the SS regiment that had been sent ahead did not encounter any strong opposition until it reached the area east of Florina. Against all expectations, the enemy had left open the Monastir Gap. The Germans did not hesitate to exploit their advantage and continued the advance in the direction of Kozani.

First contact with British troops was made north of Vevi at 11:00 on 10 April. An intercepted radio message indicated that the British command was surprised by the swiftness of the SS regiment's thrust and gave orders for immediate withdrawal from the Vermion Position. The SS troops seized Vevi on 11 April, but were stopped a short distance south of that town, where strong Australian forces held the dominating heights overlooking the pass road. During the next day the SS regiment reconnoitered the enemy positions and at dusk launched a frontal attack against the pass. After heavy fighting the Germans overcame the enemy resistance and broke through the defile.

On 13 April the XL Panzer Corps commander ordered mobile elements of the 9th Panzer Division to pursue the withdrawing British forces to Kozani and cut off their communications with Verroia, situated along the southeastern foothills of the Vermion Range. The SS regiment was given the mission of cutting off the Greek First Army's route of withdrawal from Albania by driving westward and taking possession of the Kastoria area.

During the early afternoon of 13 April the 33d Panzer Regiment of the 9th Panzer Division entered Ptolemais, a town midway between Vevi and Kozani. The arrival of the German forces was greeted by heavy shelling from the hills south and southeast of the town. German reconnaissance patrols reported that the road bridge situated about 500 yards south of Ptolemais had been blown up by the British and that a ditch filled with water cut across the low ground on both sides of the road. The ditch was six feet wide and three feet deep and had soft shoulders. It constituted a perfect antitank obstacle. The patrols came under heavy fire from artillery, antitank, and machine guns emplaced on the high ground overlooking the road.

The regimental commander sent out two patrols to find a road that bypassed the ditch. Two side roads were discovered, one of which was impassable for armored vehicles since a bridge leading across the river had been demolished and steep dams dominated both banks. The other road bypassing the ditch to the west led through a swamp interspersed with several ditches but seemed passable even though there was no trace of recent vehicular traffic. Most of this road-stretch across the swamp was in plain view of the British.

The regimental commander chose the latter route for his axis of advance because it offered a possibility to envelop the enemy's dominating positions and strike his flank. The approach across the swamp was very difficult and had to be made at a walking pace under intermittent fire from British tanks and antitank guns. As soon as the first German tanks came within striking distance, they opened fire and drove off the enemy vehicles, knocking out two of them.

After having crossed the swamp the German armor deployed. Seven tanks were stuck and followed later. Speed was of the essence if the plan of attack was to succeed and the enemy was to be prevented from withdrawing. This part of the plan was complicated by the difficult terrain which rose abruptly and was broken in places. At the same time the British stepped up their artillery and antitank fire. As dusk was setting in, the German tanks assembled and suddenly emerged on the British flank with all guns ablaze. The British tanks turned about and a violent engagement developed, the result of which could not be accurately gauged because of growing darkness.

Two British self-propelled antitank guns were engaged at less than 200 yards' distance, while trying to escape. They were knocked out and a few supply trucks were captured. Some of the British tanks set up smoke screens to further reduce visibility and thus cover their withdrawal. As darkness covered the battlefield the Germans observed explosions in the distance and noticed that the enemy artillery fire was decreasing.

The plan to push on to Kozani had to be abandoned because the German tanks had expended almost all their ammunition. Some tanks had no gasoline left, while the rest had only enough for about ten miles. The British had lost their hill positions, abandoning thirty-two tanks and antitank guns as well as a number of trucks. The Germans lost 2 Mark IV, 1 Mark II, and 1 Mark I tanks in the engagement. This was the first and last tank battle that took place during the Greek campaign.

By the morning of 14 April the spearheads of the 9th Panzer Division reached Kozani. That same evening the division established a bridgehead across the Aliakmon River, but an attempt to advance beyond this point was stopped by intense enemy fire. For the next three days the 9th Panzer Division advance was stalled in front of the strongly fortified mountain positions held by the British.

The Withdrawal of the Greek First Army

The position of the Greek First Army, still fighting in Albania, was seriously jeopardized by the rapid advance of the XL Panzer Corps via Florina and by the British withdrawal to positions behind the Aliakmon. The Greek command therefore had to come to grips with the necessity of withdrawing southward from Albania. However, it was not until 13 April that the first Greek elements began to withdraw toward the Pindus Mountains. On the next day an advance detachment of the 73d Infantry Division encountered Greek troops withdrawing from Albania across the Pindus Mountains into the area west of Kastoria. Heavy fighting took place on that and the following day, especially at Kastoria Pass, where the Germans blocked the Greek withdrawal, which by then extended to the entire Albanian front, with the Italians in hesitant pursuit.

On 19 April the 1st SS Regiment which had meanwhile reached Grevena was ordered to advance southeastward in the direction of Yannina to cut off the Greeks' route of withdrawal to the south and complete their encirclement. This mission was accomplished by 20 April, following a pitched battle in the 5,000 foot high Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the Greek commander offered to surrender his army, which then consisted of fourteen divisions. After brief negotiations, which, on strict orders from Hitler, were kept secret from the Italians, the surrender was accepted with honorable terms for the defeated. In recognition of the valor with which the Greek troops had fought, their officers were permitted to retain their side arms. The soldiers were not treated as prisoners of war and were allowed to go home after the demobilization of their units.

For reasons of prestige Mussolini insisted that the Greeks also surrender to the Italians. Hostilities between the Greeks and Italians continued for two more days, and on 23 April the Greek commander signed a new surrender agreement which included the Italians.
http://www.feldgrau.com/greecewar.html 

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