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East Central Greece

This area contains Athens, the Thermopylae sector, and Thessaly. Athens and its port of Piraeus [Peiraieus] have grown into a single large city with over four million inhabitants. The port is small but well equipped. In the roadstead outside, between the mainland and the island of Salamis, is ample sheltered water space for very large fleets. The approach to Athens is defended by the islands of Salamis and Aigina on one side and by other batteries on the Attica peninsula. Aigina can be isolated by a superior air and naval power. Salamis is only about a mile off shore, and 100% interception of small craft bearing supplies and replacements would be difficult. Landings on Aigina are practicable on the west side only. Like other Greek islands, this one is mountainous, with almost precipitous slopes on three sides. Salamis has a rugged coast, but has a few small beaches on both east and west sides.

A forced landing in Piraeus is not out of the question, if sufficient air and naval power is available. This method was successfully used by the Allies in 1916. The defense of Piraeus and Athens, now a single city, rests on hills which surround it. There are a few low hills at the sea entrance of the harbor. West of the combined city is Mt. Aegaieos, 10 miles long, ascending to 1,250 feet, and with sharp slopes where it rises from the sea at the Strait of Salamis. There is a road or trail along the sea, and small parties could land there. This mountain has a flanking fire on the east side of Salamis, and vice versa. On the east side of Athens is a similar mountain - Mt. Hymette. This is higher, however, rising to 3,000 feet. These two mountains (east and west of Athens) are parallel and cover the city well. Both are barren and exposed to air observation.

Through Athens flow two rivers, the Kephisos and the Ilissos. Between the two rises another bare mountain, Tourko-Vouni, about 1,000 feet high. This dominates a great part of Athens proper. The famous Acropolis is on a detached eminence which originally separated Athens from Piraeus. The Kephisos River used to have water in summer, something which no other river in this part of Greece has. Due to irrigation schemes further inland, this river in Athens is dry in summer; neither river is a military obstacle. Land lines of communication from Athens to the Attica peninsula southeastward go around the north side of Mt. Hymette and approximately down the center of the peninsula, there being both roads and railroad traversing a rather flat plateau at an elevation of some 300 feet but separated from the sea by hills on both sides.

On the south side of the peninsula there are a few small beaches suitable for detachments. Near the tip of the peninsula on the east is a small port, Lavreion. A better port exists at Raphti, 15 miles to the north; in 1940 it was used by the British as an embarkation point for withdrawing troops. Due to the narrow entrance of the harbor and the time required to move men - no materiel was taken - a considerable number of ships were lost or damaged from enemy bombing.

Another 15 miles further north is the Gulf of Marathon, surrounded by about 7 miles of good beaches. By road it is 22 miles to Athens, but by air only about 16 miles. The plain of Marathon ( to 1 miles wide) is at the north and center sectors of the gulf. About a third of the available landing places are obstructed by swamps either at the coast or at the foot of hills which rise steeply from the plain. These hills, from 800 to 1,500 feet high, afford good defensive positions. Valleys which lead inland are in the nature of gorges; among groves of trees they afford some cover for batteries covering the sea. At the south end of the plain of Marathon is the isolated knoll of Soros, about 35 feet high and 180 feet in diameter. This is a noted landmark; it is an artificial mound erected in 490 B.C. to cover the remains of the men who died in the famous battle of that year.

The peninsula of Attica is thickly populated. The name in Greek means rocky beach, which is a correct description. North of the Attica peninsula lies the plain of Kopais. Kopais used to be a "lake" which occasionally had water in it and at other times was an extensive swamp. It has now been drained and made into irrigated land, 320 feet above sea level. Drainage ditches lead into tunnels through hills toward the east, the water escaping to the sea by subterranean rifts. There are about 25 tunnels of appreciable size, known as the katavothrae, and innumerable small ones.

Approach to the Kopais plain is shut off by mountains on all sides. Access from the sea is dependent upon passing the narrow Straits of Khalkis opposite the center of Evvoia or going round the north end of Evvoia through the Oreos Channel. Both these routes are defended against sea approach. If either passage should be forced, best landing places are in the Gulf of Lamia and at Thermopylae Pass.

In ancient times Thermopylae seems, from descriptions of the battle, to have been only about 50 feet wide from the base of steep hills to the sea. Now it is from 1 to 3 miles wide, a flat and marshy plain but practicable to land upon. The increase in size has been explained as due partly to a rise in the coast of Greece and partly to earthquakes and alluvial deposits. The head of the Gulf of Lamia is very swampy but there are narrow beaches across the gulf from Thermopylae, which is the best place for landing parties. The term "pass" is now a misnomer.

Separated from the Gulf of Lamia by the Othrys Mountains is the plain of Thessaly. It is exceedingly fertile, being the bottom of a prehistoric lake. This plain is completely surrounded by mountains. By some cataclysm, the record of which has not come down to our times except in myths, an opening through these mountains into the sea was made along what is now the Peneios River. This opening is between Mounts Olympus on the north and Ossa on the south, in a deep, narrow cleft forming the celebrated Vale of Tempe. This is a 4-mile gorge through which the waters of the ancient lake escaped.

At the mouth of the Peneios are beaches where a landing could be made. A road and a railroad traverse the vale on the south side of the river. On the north side the rocks are cliffs, and there is no passageway. On the south side is a passageway but the cliffs are higher, reaching to 1,500 feet above the vale. Owing to the length and narrowness of this defile it was supposed to be easily capable of defense, and several ancient lines of fortifications exist-yet it has been forced, and probably could be again. The river is broad and generally unfordable through the vale, with considerable vegetation along its banks which would cover defensive positions from air observation. Besides the Vale of Tempe there are two entrances into the plain of Thessaly across the Othrys Mountains from the south: the main road and the railroad. There are also several trails suitable for mountain troops, and which were used in World War II by the Germans to outflank the British positions which defended the main road.

At the northwest corner of Thessaly is the Zygos (or Metsovo) Pass, which leads into the Viosa valley of Albania. This is of considerable military importance, as it is one of the few lines available for crossing the Pindus Mountains and advancing from the east into Albania. Near the northeast end of Thessaly is the Meluna Pass which leads west of Mt. Olympus to Bitolj or Monastir. This is a main route and was followed by the Germans in 1940. After leaving the Vale of Tempe the railroad from Thessaly follows the coast to Salonika. German detachments of small size moved south along this route in 1940. It was exceedingly rough and at places very narrow. The Germans went around defiles by swimming through the sea. There were considerable woods along this side, whereas the passes are generally across barren country. Troops attacking the passes can employ artillery and armored forces to advantage. Along the Mt. Olympus coastal defile, reliance must be placed more on light mortars. The Germans did find it possible to use tanks, however, but in each case it was for some special mission which was prepared for in advance.

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