Macedonia in the 1940s

Yiannis D. Stefanidis

Modern and Contemporary Macedonia, vol. II, 64-103,

http://www.macedonian-heritage.gr/ContemporaryMacedonia/index.html

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I. The War, 1940-1941

On the eve of the Italian invasion, Greek military preparations still largely focused on Eastern Macedonia: until Mussolini annexed Albania in April 1939, Greek defence planning provided only for a conflict with Bulgaria. In spite of recent developments and the ominous appearance of non-Balkan powers on the scene, the Greek political and, in particular, military leaders remained almost obsessed with the intentions of the Sofia governments, which no longer concealed their revisionist aspirations. Greek planning was clearly defensive and, in accordance with the conventional military thought of the time, laid parti-cular emphasis on the network of fortified strongholds along the Greek-Bulgarian frontier, the so-called `Metaxas line'. The bulk of the Greek army in northern Greece remained orientated towards the same sector.

This situation did not substantially change after the outbreak of the war in Europe. Naturally, the Italian presence in Albania had led the Greek General Staff in May 1939 to modify its contingency planning so as to cover an attack from Albanian soil. However, the spectre of Bulgarian aggression still loomed large enough for the fortifications programme to continue on an even greater scale: between April 1939 and October 1940, the `Metaxas line' absorbed funds and human labour far in excess not only of the meagre expenditure on defences along the Greek-Albanian border but also of the total expenditure on defence constructions during the previous three years. Moreover, no significant transfer of troops was effected west of the Aliacmon river, as the Greek government wished to avoid any action that might be interpreted as a

provocation by the Italians[1].

As had been the case a quarter of a century earlier, the strategic importance of Macedonia, and especially the key position of the port of Thessaloniki, was not missed by the belligerents. This time it was the commander of the French forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, General Maxim Weygand, who canvassed the idea of repeating the precedent of the First World War and setting up a Balkan front based on Thessaloniki; from there, the Allied forces could strike at the Romanian oil-fields, the main source of fuel for Germany's mechanized army. In fact, such a prospect seriously preoccupied Hitler, but the forces available to the Allies were totally insufficient for the scheme to be

successfully carried out. Locally, only the Greek military leadership appeared inclined to discuss the French plans seriously. The British, for their part, remained seriously sceptical throughout, preferring instead to promote a bloc of neutral Balkan states. They believed, moreover, that an Allied initiative in the Balkans would push Mussolini, still neutral, into the War on Hitler's side. In the event, the French collapse in June 1940 put an end to all talk on a Balkan front[2].

As the Italian attack looked imminent, Greek defences in Macedonia were better organized with the setting up of the Army Section of Western Macedonia (ASWM), which on 28 October 1940 consisted of the IX Division, the 4th Brigade and the Pindus detachment. Upon the outbreak of hostilities, the ASWM command was entrusted to Lt General Ioannis Pitsikas, until then commander of the Third Army Corps. As the main Italian offensive took place in Epirus, the troops in Macedonia did not face serious problems in carrying out their defensive tasks. The Pindus detachment, however, which covered a most sensitive sector in the centre of the front, had to bear the full thrust of the Guilia mountain division. Although heavily outnumbered, the Greek unit

managed to arrest and then repel the Italian assault, at the cost of heavy casualties, including its seriously wounded commander, Colonel Davakis. Subsequently, as there were no indications of an imminent threat from Bulgaria, two divisions from Eastern Macedonia were added to the ASWM, which, on 14 November, successfully took part in the Greek counter-attack. Within a week, its troops triumphantly entered Korytsa[3].

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http://www.macedonian-heritage.gr/VirtualLibrary/downloads/Stefan01.pdf



[1] Koliopoulos, Restoration, Dictatorship, War, 1935-1941 (in Greek; English original: Greece and the ritish Connection, 1935-1941, Oxford 1977), Athens 1984, pp. 170-172; same author, `The War of 1940-1941', in History of the Greek Nation (in Greek), vol. 15, Athens 1978, p. 412; Ioannis Metaxas, His Personal Diary, vol. 4, Athens 1960, p. 464.

[2] E. Barker, British Policy in South East Europe in the Second World War, London 1975, pp. 11-19; for further analysis of the question of an Allied front in the Balkans, see: Y. Mourelos, Fictions et réalités: a France, la Grèce et la stratégie des operations péripheriques dans le sud-est européen (1939- 940), Thessaloniki 1990.

[3] Koliopoulos, op. cit., pp. 413-415; for a detailed description of military operations, see: Greek General Staff of National Defence, Directorate for Army History, Concise History of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German War, 1940-1941 (in Greek), Athens 1985.