British evacuate Greece

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The naval war of the Mediterranean 1939-1945

The British evacuate Greece

(source: G. Mezeviris  Vice- Admiral R.H.N.,"The Conclusions of

the Naval War of the Mediterranean 1939-1945", Athens 1961)

 

“In spite of extreme difficulties, because of the complete air supremacy of the enemy, the withdrawal of the British troops from Greece was successfully completed by the British Fleet with minimum losses and with almost no air coverage, because the British air forces stationing in Greece had withdrawn to Crete and other bases.

 

The beginning of operations was scheduled for April 28, 1941, but because of the startling developments it was advanced by 4 days.  All available cruisers and destroyers were placed under the orders of Vice-Admiral Wippel, who was responsible for the operation.  In total 4 cruisers, 3 small antiaircraft cruisers, about 20 destroyers, 3 auxiliary, 19 troop transports and various small crafts necessary for boarding the ships were used for this operation.  Boarding started one hour before dusk and mainly took place in open gulfs of Attica and the Peloponnesus.

 

In total 50,672 men, of whom only 500 were lost, were transported.  The transport of about 6,000 men didn’t materialize and the men were taken prisoners, because their boarding port –Kalamata, Peloponnesus- was seized by the enemy before the beginning of boarding.  Crete was used as intermediate station for the final transport to Egypt.  In the evacuation operation 2 destroyers and 4 troop transport ships were lost.  The transport operation from Crete to Alexandria was made with large convoys and without loss.

 

The Italian Fleet didn’t appear during the whole operation and only the German Air force put up resistance.  The Hellenic Navy suffered large losses from the German Air force activity during that period.  In about a fortnight, 4 R.H.N. destroyers and 4 torpedo boats were sunk. Another 6 torpedo boats that couldn’t sail were sunk by the Hellenic Navy.  The German Air force also sunk the old reserve battleship KILKIS, 2 torpedo boats, 5 auxiliaries of the Fleet and a large number of cargo ships.

 

The Italians advance several excuses for the inaction of their Fleet.  They were not aware that the British air forces were at a critical point in that period.  Although the British had used only light forces for the evacuation, the Alexandria Fleet was on the look out with 3 battleships against 2 in activity of the Italians.  Finally, the German Air force had refused to co-operate, advancing again the same excuse that if Italian ships were to appear in the Aegean it was possible that the German pilots would attack them taking them for British.  Assumingly, the main reason of for the non-interference of the Italian Fleet was the setback of Taranto.

 

In the meantime, with the prospect of the seizure of Greece, the Italian and the German navies had agreed on an allocation of responsibilities between them.   The Germans were getting the control of the Aegean – with the exception of the Dodecanese- and the Italians the area west of Corinth.  In addition, the Italians were to dispose a naval force in the Aegean –initially 8 escort destroyers, a torpedo boat squadron and few auxiliaries- under German operational command.”