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Wehrmacht 125th Border Regiment – The opponents Rupel fort

06/04/2017

On April 6th 1941 Hitler attacked Greece in order to save his ill -faring ally Mussolini. The Rupel pass in North Greece was of particular interest to the Germans as it was dominating the only decent road and rail network from Bulgaria to Greece. Any breach of the defenses there, opened the way to Thessaloniki and cut off the Greek Nestos river Brigade from any support thus neutralizing it. The task of forcing the pass was assigned to the 125th Infantry Border Defense Regiment that had been attached to the 72nd Infantry Division.

Greek antitank defenses

Greek antitank defenses in front of Roupel fort

The regiment was formed on November 10th, 1938 by two infantry battalions tasked with guarding the fortifications of the «Siegfried» line. The unit was based in Saarbrücken of the 12th military service region. In 1940 it was restructured into a motorized infantry regiment (Pantzergrenadier Regiment), and acquired a third battalion. Beside the four Panzergrenadier companies a fifth company of combat engineers (Sturmpionier) specializing in explosives, flamethrowers and obstacle elimination was added. In order to assault fortified positions, an assault gun battery, equipped with 6 self-propelled 75mm howitzers was also attached. The unit was fully motorized and even the supporting weapons (mortars, heavy machine guns) were mounted on halftracks and under took rigorous training to punch through organized defensive lines.

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German assault howitzers like the ones supporting 125 regiment. Source: warlordgames.com

Colonel Erich Petersen commanded the regiment. Until April 5th, 1941 the unit was concentrated in Tzoumagia (Bulgaria). Although the Germans had studied the map and the fortifications of WWI they were not fully aware of the improvements and modifications that have been made in the meantime. Supported by dive-bombers, the regiment overpowered without difficulty the Greek border guards and arrived at Koula Bridge on river Strymon. The Greek artillery destroyed the bridge but the German assault pioneers repaired it and the advance continued. But when they entered the defensive area of the Ushita-Rupel complex, the machine guns of the fortress decimated the regiment’s motorcyclists. The Grenadiers pressed on mounted on their armored vehicles but were forced to stop in front of the anti-tank obstacles and the mortars and artillery of the Rupel fort destroyed many vehicles. The Germans were saved the worst, thanks to the big misfire rate of the Greek missiles – 3 shots out of 5, according to colonel Petersen-but finally they were forced to retreat.

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Petersen with is his staff before the attack on Rupel. Their confident smiles would soon be wiped out. Source: istibeifort.com

 

O Petersen then asked for the assistance of the Luftwaffe and the super heavy artillery of the 18th Corps, but as his forward observers were killed or injured, the Germans shots were «fell blind» and with limited results. On the evening of April 6 with a nocturnal assault, elements of II / 125 battalion found themselves behind the Rupel fort but were left without support because their unit was decimated. The Germans entrenched themselves on Gkoliama hill but the next day all the Greek counterattacks were repulsed, thanks to Luftwaffe support.

German troops in front during a pause of the fighting

Germans during a pause of the bitter fighting. Source Pierre Kosmides

On April 9th, Petersen threw his decimated units again in battle supported by self-propelled guns that the Greek sources mention as tanks. The antitank guns of Rupel destroyed most of them and the attack bogged down. Despite the efforts of anti-aircraft and anti-tank elements of the 125th Regiment who shot at the fort’s gun ports, the Greeks are not cowed and the Germans suffered heavy losses again. The fort surrendered only after the Army capitulation, because the Germans had occupied Thessaloniki behind the Greek defenses.

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Col. Petersen congratulating Major Duratzos for his gallant defense. Source Athens War Museum

Upon receiving the surrender of the fort Petersen awarded military honors to the Greek defenders and told Major Douratsos that: «as a soldier he accepts the sacrifice, but as a man grieves for his decimated regiment». The 125th remained in Thessaloniki and did not fight further in the Greek campaign Surviving grenadiers formed the nucleus of the 125th Infantry Regiment and the pioneers along with the gunners were sent as replacements to Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

 

Sources:

AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF THE GREEK-ITALIAN AND GREEK-GERMAN WAR 1940-1941 Hellenic Army History Directorate Athens 1997

Carr J. The defence and fall of Greece 1940-41 Pen and Sword London 2013

Plowman J War in the Balkans: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941Pen and Sword, London 2013

http://www.feldgrau.net

 

 

 

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