By April 16th the Greek Epirus Army was slowly beginning to disintegrate. Morale of the units was completely shattered as fear and desperation began to take hold of the men. Soldiers by the thousands started to desert out of both a fear of capture and an almost primal need to attempt to find and protect their own families in this time of national crisis. This scene of desperation and chaos would basically be mirrored two and a half years later, this time by Italian soldiers, as the Germans moved in during the confused days following the signing of the Armistice of ‘43.
Several Greek field commanders began reaching out to Athens and the Greek High Command, begging them to seek a treaty with the Germans as they now believed their situation to be hopeless. Panic started to take hold on some of these officers who feared harsh reprisals at the hands of the advancing Regio Escrito. General Pitsikas, who was in command of the Epirus Sector, sent Greek High Command a message which ended ominously “In the name if God, save us from the Italians”.
Italian units, advancing forward, made good progress on the ground as they hurried to stay on the heels of the retreating Greeks. It was if the rushed pace of the Italian military was not only an attempt to keep contact with the retreating enemy, but also as if they were competing in some sort of race with their German ally to reach Athens first; Mussolini still craved his glory.
On April 19th General Papagos met with British General Wilson to discuss the critical situation of the war. It was quickly agreed by both sides that British troops should immediately begin evacuation from Greece. It was clear that the Axis could not be stopped, and it made little sense to either of the men to needlessly sacrifice British forces here when they could be used more productively latter in the war. So for the third time during the War, Dunkirk and Somaliland previous, the British Army was forced to flee to the sea for survival.
Greek Prime Minister Koryzis, distraught and exhibiting signs of a nervous breakdown, committed suicide in his bedroom on April 20th. It had been approximately six months prior that his predecessor was awoken from his own bedroom chamber and given the Italians war ultimatum in what turned out to be the opening act of this conflict. The hourglass of Greek freedom was now nearly empty.
Without authorization from the King or General Papagos, General Georgios Tsolakoglou, along with several other high ranking Greek officers and the metropolitan of Ioannina, made first contact with the Germans on the 20th seeking to discuss surrender. Later that same day, a Greek delegation met with Sepp Dietrich, commander of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, and signed a surrender protocol.
General Papagos, upon hearing the news of the ‘coup’, ordered for Tsolakoglou to be immediately relieved of duty and proclaimed that the Hellenic Army was to continue fighting ‘to the last’. These orders were ignored, and on April 21st General Tsolakoglou signed the unconditional surrender of the Greek Army. Tsolakoglou was insistent that the agreement stipulate that the Greek Army was surrendering only to the Germans, as the document purposely made no mention of capitulation to the Italians. Upon hearing of the surrender terms, Mussolini was furious that Italy was neither represented nor mentioned in the agreement. To rectify the situation, Hitler agreed that the Greeks must surrender to the Italians as well, thus a second ceremony took place on the 23rd, this time with new wording to the document and Italian representatives present.