Τρίτη 24 Νοεμβρίου 2015

April 1941: When the Greeks stopped the nazis at the bunkers of "Metaxas Line"

On April 6th 1941, the nazi Germans started their offensive against 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 Battle of the Metaxas Line (Kampf um die Metaxas-Linie), also known in Greece as the Battle of the Forts  was the first battle during the German invasion of Greece in World War II. 

The Germans succeeded in breaching the fortified Metaxas Line on the western flank and forced the Greek forces east of the Axios river to surrender after four days of combat (6–9 April 1941).

The fortification of the area informally known as the Metaxas Line was conceived as a defensive measure against Bulgaria. Bulgaria had refused to sign the Balkan Pact signed by Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Romania in 1934 which aimed at maintaining the geopolitical status quo in the region following World War I

The Metaxas Line was a series of independent forts along the Greek-Bulgarian border, built on possible routes of invasion. Each fort's garrisons belonged to the division or brigade which controlled the respective border sector. The fortifications were built with the meagre resources that Greece could muster, and exploited at fullest the terrain. Construction had begun in 1936; however, by 1941 the line was still incomplete.

There is no known complete casualty list for the Germans.

XVIII Corps reported 555 killed, 2,134 wounded and ca.170 missing (without the officers). 

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 was named after Ioannis Metaxas, then appointed by the King of Greece Prime Minister and dictator, and chiefly consists of tunnels that led to observatories, emplacements and machine-gun nests. The constructions are so sturdy that they survive to this day, some of which are still in active service. Some of them are open to the public.

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. Illumination 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.

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