Operation Hannibal (i)

(Carthaginian general)

'Hannibal' (i) was the German seizure of the island of Lémnos in the northern part of the Aegean Sea during the closing stages of 'Marita' (23/25 April 1941).

The British had occupied Lémnos as part of their 'Lustre' move to Greece, but the 1/Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, which had been landed on 4 April, was evacuated on 12 April.

Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List’s 12th Army allocated the task of seizing the important islands of the northern part of the Aegean Sea to Generalleutnant Eugen Ott’s XXX Corps, which used Oberst Wilhelm-Helmuth Beukemann’s 382nd Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Josef Folttmann’s 164th Division for the task. Elements of this division embarked at a Thracian port in a German steamer, Greek fishing craft and two Italian destroyers to occupy the islands of Thásos on 16 April, Lémnos on 23 April, and both Lésbos and Khíos on 4 May.

This was all part of the Axis division of Greece after its defeat in 'Marita'. Bulgaria received western Thrace and the islands of Thásos and Samothráki, Italy received most of mainland Greece, the eastern tip of Crete and most of the Greek islands it did not already possess in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, and Germany took the area of northern Greece centred on Thessaloníki (headquarters of the Oberbefehlshaber 'Südost', originally Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List and later Generaloberst Alexander Löhr), Athens and Attika, and the islands of Lémnos, Lésbos, Khíos, Mílos, Kythira and Antikythera, and all but the eastern tip of Crete.

Moudros bay, which the Allies had used in World War I within the context of their Dardanelles offensive against the Turks, became a base for German warships controlling the northern part of the Aegean Sea. The German occupation force included punitive units of the 999th leichte Afrikadivision in the form of the 963rd Afrika-Schützenregiment (later the 999th Festungs-Infanteriebataillon). These included many German and Austrian anti-Nazi political prisoners, of whom a sizeable number later joined the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS).

Partially evacuated after August 1944, the island was liberated on 16/17 October 1944 by the Greek Sacred Band.