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The Defence and Fall of Greece 1940-41


Staff member
I thought I had previously posted this review here on CSW, but it appears I was in error. Here is my review of one of Carr's earlier works.

I have finished reading John Carr’s The Defence and Fall of Greece 1940-41 published by the Pen & Sword Military. I wish I could say I really liked this book, but I feel the book falls very short of a solid military account of this campaign.
Defence Greece.jpg

To set my issues into perspective, I have studied this campaign for quite a few years. I have the Greek translations of their official history, the Italian official history, and several other works (including Cervi’s excellent account). Yet I had difficulty following the action/activities of this campaign while reading this book. In his forward, Carr states “This book is a book of description, not theory” (page viii), yet the description of the campaign is very thin and leaves far more out of the narrative than what is included. It is difficult not to compare this book with Mario Cervi’s The Hollow Legions and see that Defence falls short as a military history of the campaign.

The book’s strength lies in the area of the politics surrounding the campaign and the war as seen through Greek eyes. Greek politics, both inside and outside of the military itself, is an area rarely discussed in English language works. The back and forth about Allied support, the diplomatic attempts to keep Germany from attacking, and the rapid disintegration of the Greek Army (actually the senior leadership) as the Germans advance are discussed to some degree. The first-hand accounts by Greek soldiers and civilians provide a glimpse into the experiences of ordinary people (the Italian first-hand accounts are nearly always from Cervi). More would have been welcome.

Of the battles themselves, the narrative on the defense of Fort Rupel is good (I would say the best in the book), but significantly hindered by the lack of maps. The same is true of the fighting for Hill 731 during the Italian Primavera offensive. The remaining battle descriptions is more a listing of places and times, lacking details and a framework for understanding the actions in relationship[ to each other. The lack of any OB data (both TO&E and organizational) makes it challenging to understand the forces and their strengths at the key times during the campaign.

My pet peeve, poor maps, was once again highlighted. I hate reading a discussion of an action that names a list of locations, yet no map with those names is provided in the book. The 5 maps found in the front of the book were pretty well worthless. An example is attached below.
Defence Greece Maps.jpg

The selection of photographs was a disappointment. Truth in advertising: I have participated in several Greek army forums (hosted by Greeks) over the last year and the wealth of wonderful photographs posted on those sites likely spoiled me. I looked at the photos in the book and my first thought was disappointment. No nice photos of the equipment, aircraft, or ships were provided.

Okay, there were several other pluses. There is a chapter covering the Greek naval operations. This chapter was just as weak as the others, but this is the first time I have read anything about the Greek Navy, so a plus. Several of the submarine and destroyer actions are described, but no real examination of the navy in toto. Surprisingly there absolutely no mention of the Lemmos or Kilkis (not even in the list of Greek naval forces, although the Averof is). It is true that neither ship was operational, but the Kilkis was being used as a training ship for antiaircraft gunnery and as a floating battery. The photos of the two sunken ships after the dive bombing attacks are almost iconic for the German part of this campaign (not included in the photo section). I fact, no real data on the ships was provided. Not a wargamer-friendly book.

There is a chapter on the air operations. The author previously wrote a book on the Greek air force during WW2, On Spartan Wings. I am not sure whether I would buy that book based on this one, but the air chapter wasn’t all that bad (needed maps, air OB, etc.).

I was truly on the negative side about this book, but the author made one astute observation. He points out the Greeks never developed a war aim/outcome for the fighting. Once the last bit of Greek territory was retaken, what now? What is the value to continuing the attack into Albania? Implied but not stated is how does Greece end this war?

After thinking about this, I understood that the many who read about this campaign (including myself) tend look at it through the lens of defeating the Axis, the global war. But this fight was about a country that had been invaded and only wished to regain its territory and then return to neutrality. It was a limited war, so what were the limited gains that would allow a political solution? Was attacking into Albania the smart thing to do? Might it have been better to stop at the border and open negotiations? While Metaxas understood the Allied aid would surly bring Germany to the door, didn’t the continued pursuit/defeat of Italy achieve the same result? Was this a case of Metaxas thinking like a soldier instead of as a politician? After his death, the inability of the Greeks to replace Metaxas with an experienced politician likely put Greece into a death spiral, as no one appeared to willing to address this issue.

So not recommended for general reading but it does have something for the specialist.