German 12th Army HQ, Larissa, Greece · April 21, 1941

On this date in 1941 representa­tives of the Greek govern­ment, leader­less after Prime Minis­ter Alexan­dros Koryzis com­mitted sui­cide three days earlier, signed a docu­ment of capi­tu­la­tion at the head­quarters of the Ger­man 12th Army at Larissa. Four­teen Greek divi­sions laid down their arms. The news that Greece had surren­dered to his Axis part­ner rather than to Italy infuri­ated Ital­ian dictator Benito Mus­so­lini. It was the Duce’s plan to domi­nate south­eastern Europe that had trig­gered the Ital­ian inva­sion of Greece from neighboring Albania almost six months earlier, on October 28, 1940, an inva­sion that took Adolf Hitler com­pletely by surprise. That Hitler had to rescue Mus­so­lini from a Greek quag­mire of his own making was galling enough. Within days of in­vading Greece the Duce’s army was close to being defeated by in­spired Greek mili­tary leader­ship and Brit­ish arms (later men). In a meeting between Mus­so­lini and Hitler in Ba­va­ria on Janu­ary 19–20, 1941, Hitler apprised his junior part­ner of Oper­a­tion Marita, which assumed that Yugo­sla­via would join the Axis alli­ance (Tri­par­tite Pact), allowing the Ger­man army to attack the Greek-British defense line from the rear that spring. After Yugo­slav officers over­threw the govern­ment of the regent, Prince Paul, which had signed the Axis pact, and placed King Peter II on the throne, Hitler launched an in­va­sion of Yugo­sla­via and Greece on April 6, 1941. Yugo­slavs signed the act of surren­der in their destroyed capi­tal eleven days later. Hitler smoothed Mus­so­lini’s feathers over Greece’s sur­ren­der to Ger­many by restaging the capitu­la­tion cere­mony two days later in Thess­alo­niki with an Italian repre­sen­tative pre­sent. Two days later the Brit­ish flew the Greek king and govern­ment to the island of Crete, the first step in creating a Greek govern­ment-in-exile. On April 27 Ger­man tanks entered Athens, and by month­-end the Royal Navy had evac­u­ated what it could (50,000) of the Allied expedi­tion­ary force. In their disas­trous cam­paign in Greece, the Allies lost nearly 13,000 men, including 9,000 taken pri­soner, and all of their heavy equip­ment. Mus­so­lini’s army, in six months of cam­paigning, suffered over 76,000 casual­ties and 25,000 missing. Greek losses were close to 16,000 dead and missing and 300,000 taken pri­soner. German casualties in both countries were under 5,500.

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The Axis Conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, April 1941

Yugoslav soldiers surrender armsPanzerkampfwagen IV

Left: The German invasion of Yugo­slavia began on April 6, 1941, with an over­whelming air attack on the Yugo­slav cap­ital, Bel­grade, and attacks by Ger­man land forces initially from Bul­garia. This photo pur­ports to show Yugo­slav soldiers laying down their arms on the day of the invasion.

Right: A German Panzer IV medium tank advancing into Yugo­sla­via from Bul­garia. In February 1941 the Bul­garian Gen­eral Staff had agreed to let Ger­man troops and equip­ment use their country as a staging area for Ger­many’s assault on Yugoslavia.

Greek surrender restaged, April 23, 1941Greek soldiers, April 1941

Left: Restaging the official surren­der of Greek forces to both the Ger­man and Ital­ian com­mands after Mus­so­lini had made a per­sonal repre­sen­tation to Hitler. Thessaloniki, Greece, April 23, 1941.

Right: Greek forces lacked the equip­ment neces­sary to fight against Ger­man mo­tor­ized divi­sions and were soon en­circled and over­whelmed. This photo may show retreating or captured Greek soldiers.

The Axis Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece, April 1941