Operation Lustre

Operation Lustre

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Operation Lustre was an action during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, involving the dispatch of British, Australian, New Zealand and Polish troops from Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 to Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 in March and April 1941, in response to the failed Italian invasion
Greco-Italian War
The Greco-Italian War was a conflict between Italy and Greece which lasted from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. It marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign of World War II...

 and the looming threat of German intervention, revealed through Ultra
Ultra
Ultra was the designation adopted by British military intelligence in June 1941 for wartime signals intelligence obtained by "breaking" high-level encrypted enemy radio and teleprinter communications at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. "Ultra" eventually became the standard...

.

It was seen as 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 Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

n oilfields at Ploieşti
Ploiesti
Ploiești is the county seat of Prahova County and lies in the historical region of Wallachia in Romania. The city is located north of Bucharest....

, vital to Germany's war effort, within reach of Allied bombers. General Archibald Wavell, the Allied commander in North Africa, was told in January 1941 that support for Greece must take precedence over all operations in the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 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 was convinced of it. Militarily, it was assessed that, with help, the Greek Army could hold the Germans at the Aliakmon Line, while German deployment to Libya would be ineffectual until the summer. Both assessments were wrong. Historians now see that this Allied deployment weakened British forces in North Africa to a point where their Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...

 offensive failed.

From 6 March, convoys moved from Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 to Piraeus
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

 at regular 3-day intervals, escorted by warships of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and the Royal Australian Navy
Royal Australian Navy
The Royal Australian Navy is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the ships and resources of the separate colonial navies were integrated into a national force: the Commonwealth Naval Forces...

. Although there were air attacks, these had little effect. The major attempt by the Italian Navy
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

 to interrupt the convoys was thwarted by the Battle of Cape Matapan
Battle of Cape Matapan
The Battle of Cape Matapan was a Second World War naval battle fought from 27–29 March 1941. The cape is on the southwest coast of Greece's Peloponnesian peninsula...

. 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
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

 (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
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 (Operation Scorcher), where they were overwhelmed by the airborne invasion of that island (Operation Merkur), although it was a Pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

 for the Germans.

See also

  • Battle of Greece
    Battle of Greece
    The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion and conquest of Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941. Greece was supported by British Commonwealth forces, while the Germans' Axis allies Italy and Bulgaria played secondary roles...

     main article
  • Operation Sonnenblume
    Operation Sonnenblume
    Operation Sonnenblume was the deployment of German troops to North Africa in February 1941, during the Second World War...

    - German troops transferred to assist Italian forces in Libya in February 1941