Chapter 6 – The Czar Returns to Greece
The Tsar, with successes militarily this far in Turkey, Poland, the Baltics, Syria, capturing of the Suez, capture of the Bosphorus, as well as the subduing of Romania and Bulgaria is emboldened, and despite a guarantee of independence from the United Kingdom, he knowingly green lights the Staff and Planning Office to begin the final month of preparations for Operation Sablya. Fuel and ammunition dumps are created out of thin air, and dozens of divisions are earmarked to march South for the coming invasion.
Considering the vast expanse that is now the Imperial domain, the Tsar also orders the Imperial Engineering Corps to construct the Great Black Sea Railway. Designed to allow the swift transfer of troops from Moscow to the Suez, or Romania to Georgia, the railway is by far the largest of the Tsar’s great infrastructure efforts.
More Italian divisions for the Tsar’s command. This brings the total number of Italian forces under Russian command to well over 100, with most being used for occupation duty in the Balkans to free up regular Russian Army forces for frontline action.
As the Tsar is receiving a briefing from a collection of senior Admirals and the Prime Minister on the future of the Russian Navy, he is interrupted by information brought in by an Okhrana aide. Informing him of Japanese intentions to expand rapidly and aggressively.
Later that day, it appears the intelligence was true.
The March 1940 White Paper reveals that there is 105 military factories, and 159 civilian within the Russian Empire. The Tsar is pleased by this, and congratulates the head of the Imperial Engineering Corps for his efforts. Not one to quickly take credit – the Head of State recognizes when his subordinates do good work.
Yet apparently the Ambassador to Japan couldn’t give the Tsar a telegram or write a letter to warn him that Japan was now going to be joining him. Uneasy about this relationship, the Tsar decides that it is for the best, despite previous grievances. He writes personally to the Ambassador informing him that if he fails to provide adequate notice of major Japanese diplomatic events then he shall be relieved of command and sent to the Suez as a Private.
And how quickly the Japanese wish to assist. The Prime Minister is uncomfortable about so many Japanese troops on Russian lands, so he declines the request peacefully through the Ambassador, who is now so quick to make Moscow happy.
It seems that the Spring of 1940 was one that would be filled with new allies for the burgeoning Axis. A formal Ambassador to Spain, Gorokhov Rostislavovich is dispatched with haste via airplane to Madrid, with the intent to set up an embassy to communicate more effectively with the Spanish government of Mr. Franco.
Barely 3 days after Spain formally joins our patriotic league of brethren, they are already pulling more weight than is expected of them. The Tsar informs Mr. Rostislavovich to personally give his congratulations to Franco, and convey Russia’s pleasure at such a military feat.
Sandstorms set in on the 2nd and 3rd Corps, who are finally at some sort of peace. Pliyev’s forces have been fighting since the 16th of October, 1938 and finally after over a year of hard campaigning they are given rest. No Allied divisions are sighted by reconnaissance flights or patrols, and Pliyev orders his men to recover and recuperate.
Soldiers of the 3rd Corps enjoy the fruits of their labor as they relax and unwind during garrison activities in Cairo, Egypt.
Meanwhile, Yugoslavia gets the boot as it is dismantled by Italy and Germany with the slow precision of the Wehrmacht. The Luftwaffe itself doesn’t discriminate as it strafes and bombs retreating and withdrawing Yugoslavian forces.
Somehow, unbeknownst to the Staff and Planning Office, Italy lands and seizes British sovereign territory of the coast of Newfoundland.
With rubber and petroleum shortages severely hurting the Imperial Army’s ability to fight modern and mechanized warfare, the Tsar orders that Central Areas around Moscow should be given as much of the necessary synthetic infrastructure as possible.
And on the 26th of April, the weather is appropriate enough for Operation Sablya to begin, and the forces of the Empire come crashing across Greece’s border.
Netherlands joined the Allies, and besieged by Japan in the Pacific and Germany on the European mainland they were quickly crushed beneath the weight of multiple Panzerarmees.
Another Canadian Expeditionary Force lands and tries to seize more deep water ports to enable a follow on Allied operation. It seems British High Command is wearing out their shock troops, as the number of Canadian casualties in Northern France mounts. German counter-attacks are met with heavy casualties, and it takes nearly a month to throw the Canadians back into the Bay of Biscay.
The Greek Air Force makes a pedestrian effort to defend their sovereign airspace.
The 8th Corps traps an New Zealand Armoured Brigade against the Adriatic, and moves to pocket and destroy them. Thus far the toughest resistance to the Imperial Army hasn’t even been Greek troops.
The 8th Corp’s 3 Armoured Divisions (the 4th, 5th, and 6th) are sent forward, to engage in what would become an extremely fierce tank battle. Fought in the Thyamida province, the Engagement at Paramythia would result in the deaths of 2,100 New Zealand soldiers with 1,000 captured and 240 tanks destroyed. On the Russian side, 1,300 dead was a steep price along with the 129 tanks lost to catastrophic kills.
A BT-7 of the 48th Armoured Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 5th Armoured Division burns after being struck by an enemy light tank, during the Engagement at Paramythia (12th of May, 1940).
Whilst the 8th Corps charges down towards Athens, the 9th Corps supported by the Italian Expeditionary Forces traps 12 Greek Divisions in the North in the Thessaloniki Pocket.
Moskalenko is assigns new sets of orders, and with only a single Greek Division facing him, he places the full weight of his forces against the Greeks, pushing to seize the capital.
They break the Division, and upon arriving on the outskirts of Athens find a division of elite Greek mountain infantry dug in deep. Initial attacks are met with resistance, as the 55th and 56th infantry Divisions try and press the initiative, but the enemy is dug in to the city too deeply for just 2 divisions.
The Thessaloniki Pocket collapses, with all 12 Greek Divisions trapped against the Aegean, with the 9th Corps to their front.
The Prime Minister decides that a Minister of Infrastructure would help align the Tsar’s wants and the country’s needs, and appoints Nikolai Voznesensky to the position.
With the 4th, 5th, and 6th Armoured Divisions backing up the 55th and 56th Infantry, Greece finally despairs and collapses, with the divisions in the North being utterly destroyed by the combined Russo-Italian offensive to the Aegean.
Italy is just in demanding their sovereign territory.
The Tsar wants to test Italian resolve, as taking Albania would give even more industrial space for the sweeping infrastructure projects the government has been undertaking.
Operation Zhelezo (‘Iron’) is earmarked to begin mid-summer. The Italian Expeditionary Force will be used as the majority of the ground troops, to give the beleaguered Russian Army forces a much needed rest from the constant cycle of invasion, recuperate, exercise, position, invade, and repeat.
The Western Department of the Okhrana is created to take over Romanian, Bulgarian, and now Greek occupation duties, to relieve some of the demanding pressure placed on General Kulik’s Eastern Department.
The Okhrana are taking whatever equipment they can get at this point, as the Imperial Army requires so many men and so much equipment that only the third-rate rifles and support weapons required are given to them.
Russia is now the undisputed ruler of the Black Sea, the Suez, as well as the Balkans. The Tsar smiles, as his next plans require a vast amount of planning and preparation, and he writes several lengthy letters to both the Prime Minister as well as the Staff and Planning office for the next wave of projects and invasions.
However the success has come at a cost. 320,000 Russians have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, however considering Greece’s brief appearance on the battlefield, the loss of 35,000 men is an embarrassing display of Greek military prowess to say in the least. Germany is also feeling the burden, and as the war drags on into its second year there is little end in sight to the conflict.
In the Suez however, Pliyev’s 3rd Corps continues to drink heavily, drunk on victory and vodka as they drown the sorrows of lost comrades with the liquor of their country. So far from home, the 41 Divisions of the Eastern Military District truly deserve respite.