Operation Lustre

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Operation Lustre was an action during World War II: the movement of British and other Allied troops (Australian, New Zealand and Polish) from Egypt to Greece in March and April 1941, in response to the failed Italian invasion and the looming threat of German intervention.

British leaders, especially Churchill, thought it was politically unacceptable not to support an ally under threat. Greece had defeated the Italian invasion and was therefore Britain's only effective ally in Europe. In addition, use of Greek airfields would put the Romanian oilfields at Ploieşti, vital to Germany's war effort, within reach of Allied bombers. General Archibald Wavell, Allied commander in the Middle East, was told in January 1941 that support for Greece must take precedence over all operations in North Africa and this order was reinforced in February.

Wavell's attitude is unclear. It had been generally believed that he was pushed into the Greek campaign, but recent writers believe that Wavell approved of it. British commanders concluded that with British help, the Greek Army could hold the Germans at the Aliakmon Line. They knew German forces were being sent to Libya, but thought these forces would be ineffectual until the summer. Both assessments were wrong. It is now accepted the transfer of Allied forces to Greece had no chance of preventing swift German victory, and that it weakened British forces in North Africa, leading to the success of Rommel's counterattack in April, and the failure of the British Operation Brevity offensive in May.

From 6 March, convoys moved from Alexandria to Piraeus at regular 3-day intervals, escorted by warships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. Although there were air attacks, these had little effect. The major attempt by the Italian Navy to interrupt the convoys was thwarted in the Battle of Cape Matapan. About 58,000 men and their equipment were moved to Greece by 2 April. These comprised the British 1st Armoured Brigade, the New Zealand Division and the 6th Australian Division, followed by the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Brigade.

Two infantry and two armored divisions were in place on the Aliakmon Line, south-west of Thessaloniki (Salonica), before the Axis (German, Italian and Bulgarian) invasion (Operation Marita) on 6 April. The Greek Army did not retire, however, to the Aliakmon Line as expected and the Allied troops were thereby vulnerable. These forces had little effect on the German invasion and they were evacuated (Operation Demon) on and after 24 April.

Some of these units were moved to Crete (Operation Scorcher), where they were overwhelmed by the airborne invasion of that island (Operation Merkur), although it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Germans.

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References[edit]

  • Beckett, Ian. "Wavell". In Keegan, John (ed.) (1991) Churchill’s Generals’'.
  • "HMAS Voyager (I)". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 23 August 2008.  - History of HMAS Voyager with details of Operations Lustre and Demon