Research and text by Lt. Col. (ret.) Ilias Kotridis
On this day today, April 6, 1941, the Germans initiated "Operation Marita", the invasion of Greece.
The Germans, confident because of their rapid advance through western Europe and Yugoslavia, believed that the bunkers at the northern borders of Greece with Bulgaria would offer minimal resistance.
They were proved to be wrong.
The nazis were greeted with a storm of artillery and machine gun fire, sustaining many casualties.
The assault started in the early hours of April 6th, with attacks against the "Metaxas Line", a series of fortresses and bunkers located on the mountainous northern borders of Greece with Bulgaria.
The offensive was undertaken by the 12th German Army.
In Petritsi-Marinoupolis area the attack was initiated by the 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, the 2nd Armored Division and the 125th Independent Regiment.
In Nevrokopi area, the 72nd Division, in Xanthi area the 164th, in Komotini area the 50th.
North of Petritsi the 9th Armoured Division, the 73rd and the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.
On the fisrst day of hostilities, despite the combined air and land attacks, the Germans did not manage to break the Greek defensive lines.
The bunker complexes of Rupel, Paliouriones and Lisse successfully held back the Germans, causing many casualties among their attacking forces.
On the second day, April 7, the germans managed to subdue some strongholds, forcing the Greeks in Istibey and Kelkaya fortresses to surrender. The Germans used chemicals and gas, in order to suffocate the greeks inside the bunkers. A penetration attempt though, through Struma river, failed, with most of the Germans who tried to cross the river killed or wounded.
The Germans decided to circumvent the defensive positions of "Metaxas Line" and through Yugoslavia, which collapsed within a short period of time, they entered Thessaloniki, while at the same time fierce fighting continued in the borders with Bulgaria, an ally of nazi Germany.
When on April 9 the fall of Thessaloniki became officially known, the Greeks followed orders and had to abandon the fortresses they defended successfully for 3 days and nights.
The number of casualties during those three days of fighting, including dead, injured and missing in action, according to a variety of sources, is over 2,500 Germans and approximately 1,000 Greeks.
XVIII Corps reported 555 killed, 2,134 wounded and 170 missing (officers not included).
XXX Corps' total casualties are not known, but the 164th Infantry Division suffered 18 killed and 92 wounded and the 50th Infantry Division 26 killed, 22 missing and 177 wounded (plus 4 drowned on 14 April in an accident).
The Metaxas Line consists of 21 independent fortification complexes, the largest of which is Fort Roupel as it covers 6.1 out of the 155 km of the full line and had been constructed at a height of 322 m.
Lighting was initially mostly provided by oil-lamps, although generators were also installed. (Currently, the fortifications are supplied with public electricity, but they are also equipped with generators).
Ventilation was achieved both naturally and artificially. Water was supplied via water-mains. The fortification works lasted four years and their cost at the time reached 100,400,000 drachmas.
German General Wilhelm List, who led the attack against the Metaxas Line, admired the bravery and courage of these soldiers. He refrained from taking the Greek soldiers prisoner and declared that the army was free to leave with their war flags, on condition that they surrender their arms and supplies.
He also ordered his soldiers and officers to salute the Greek soldiers (Beevor 2005, p. 20). The line was also poorly manned as most of the Greek Army was fighting against the Italians, at the Albanian front.