Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

To Greece

General Wavell visits Greece, 11–13 April

General Wavell visits Greece, 11–13 April

IN March, when W Force was assembling in Greece, the Joint Planning Staff at General Headquarters, Cairo, had thought it wise to study the problems of evacuation. A few weeks later the wisdom of their decision was apparent. The Greek armies were in difficulties, Yugoslavia had collapsed and the disasters in Cyrenaica had forced Wavell to retain the Polish Brigade and 7 Australian Division for service in North Africa. Convinced that the Aliakmon line could not be held for any length of time, the planners had ‘asked their respective Chiefs to be allowed to set certain preparatory arrangements for evacuation in action.’ The Royal Air Force and, more particularly, the Navy, with its possible beach and shipping problems, were prepared to act but ‘the Army's hands were tied.’ The dangerous subject was not to be mentioned. Even when permission was given for Major de Guingand of the Joint Planning Staff to assist in the preparation of inter-service plans, ‘the veto upon raising any matters with the Army still stood.’ The fact was made quite clear to him on 11 April when he travelled to Greece on the same aeroplane as General Wavell. It was ‘pain of death’1 if he mentioned anything to the army in Greece.

The General, who had for the last few days been worried by Rommel's spectacular advance through Cyrenaica, was now on his way to discuss the future of W Force. On 12 April he was in Larisa explaining to General Blamey the retention of 7 Australian Division in the Western Desert and discussing with General Wilson the problems of W Force. It was difficult to co-operate with the Greek armies, the German armoured divisions were rushing south, the tank tracks of 1 Armoured Brigade were not standing the strain and because of the difficulty of using wireless in the mountains it was not always possible for the authorities in Athens and London to have an exact picture of the swiftly changing front. The generals consequently decided that W Force must be withdrawn still farther to the south.

1 Major-General Sir Francis de Guingand, Operation Victory, pp. 71–6.

page 216

Wavell thereupon returned to Athens justifiably concerned about the future of W Force. If the Greeks continued to fight the force must remain and play its part; it was morally impossible to leave without the assent of the Greek Government. And even if evacuation were possible, the examples of Narvik and Dunkirk suggested heavy losses in both men and equipment.

No decisions had been made with General Wilson about evacuation plans.1 But on 13 April before he left Athens, Wavell discussed the subject with de Guingand and arranged for the problem to be studied by responsible officers. The naval attaché in Athens thereupon advised2 Admiral Cunningham that evacuation was a possibility; on 14 April the Joint Planning Staff completed its plans; and on 15 April Cunningham was warned that evacuation would probably begin within a few days.

1 ‘The first time I mentioned evacuation to Wavell was in a signal I sent after my meeting with Papagos at Lamia on April 16th after the latter had suggested it.’—Wilson to Playfair, letter, 19 Sep 1954.

2 Commanders-in-Chief Committee, ‘Inter-Service Lessons learnt in Campaign in Greece, March–April 1941’.