Greco-Italian War

The Greco-Italian War (Greek: Ελληνοϊταλικός Πόλεμος or Πόλεμος του Σαράντα, “War of ’40”) was a conflict between Italy and Greece which lasted from October 28, 1940 to April 23, 1941. It marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign of World War II. From the April 6, 1941 intervention of Nazi Germany onwards, this conflict is known as the Battle of Greece.

The reasons of the war lie in the expansionist policies of Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist regime in Italy. By mid-1940, Mussolini had grown jealous of Hitler‘s conquests and wanted to prove to his Axis partner that he could lead Italy to similar military successes. Italy had occupied Albania in spring 1939 and several British strongholds in Africa (mainly with the Italian conquest of British Somaliland in summer 1940), but could not boast victories on the same scale as Nazi Germany. At the same time, Mussolini also wanted to reassert Italy’s interests in the Balkans, threatened by Germany (he was piqued that Romania, an Italian client, had accepted German protection for its Ploieşti oil fields in mid-October) and secure bases from which British eastern Mediterranean outposts could be attacked.

On 28 October 1940, after Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected an Italian ultimatum demanding the occupation of Greek territory, Italian forces invaded Greece. The Hellenic Army counter-attacked and forced the Italians to retreat and by mid-December, the Greeks occupied nearly a quarter of Albania, tying down 530,000 Italian troops. In March 1941, a major Italian counter-attack failed, with small gains around Himare[1]. In the first days of April, as the German attack on Greece unfolded, the Italian army resumed its attacks. From April 12, the Greek army started retreating from Albania to avoid being cut off by the rapid German advance. Nevertheless, on April 20, the Greek army of Epirus surrendered to the Germans, and on 23 April 1941 the armistice was repeated including the Italians, and effectively ending the Greco-Italian war.

The Greek victory over the initial Italian offensive of October 1940 was the first Allied land victory of the Second World War, and helped raise morale in occupied Europe. Some historians argue that it may have influenced the course of the entire war by forcing Germany to postpone the invasion of the Soviet Union in order to assist Italy against Greece. This led to a delayed attack and subjected the German forces to the conditions of the harsh Russian winter, leading to their defeat at the Battle of Moscow.

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Background

Greco-Italian relations in the early 20th century

Ever since the Italian unification, Italy had aspired to Great Power status and a Mediterranean hegemony. Later, under the Fascist regime, the establishment of a new Roman Empire, which included Greece, was often proclaimed by Mussolini.

Already in the 1910s, Italian and Greek interests clashed over Albania and the Dodecanese. Albania, Greece’s northwestern neighbour, was from its establishment effectively an Italian protectorate, while at the same time Greece claimed the area of “Northern Epirus” with its Greek minority in the country’s south. Furthermore, Italy had been occupying the predominantly Greek-inhabited Dodecanese islands in the southeastern Aegean since the Italo-Turkish War of 1912, and although it promised their return in the 1919 VenizelosTittoni accords, it later reneged on the agreement. Clashes between the two countries’ troops occurred during the occupation of Anatolia, and Italy helped the Turkish nationalists in their war against Greece. In its aftermath, the new Fascist government of Mussolini used the murder of an Italian general at the Greco-Albanian border to bombard and occupy Corfu, the most important of the Ionian Islands. These were under Venetian rule until the late 18th century, and a target of Italian expansionism. A period of normalization followed, especially under the premiership of Eleftherios Venizelos in Greece (1928-1932) and the signing of a Friendship Agreement between the two countries on 23 September 1928.

On the Greek side, Venizelos made great efforts to normalize Greece’s relations with her neighbours. After the Greco-Turkish Friendship Treaty of 1930 and the Balkan Pact of 1934, the threat from Greece’s traditional enemy, Turkey, was removed. Albania was too weak to be a threat and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia did not seriously press its claims on southern Macedonia. Therefore, during the 1930s, the main threat was perceived to be Bulgaria and her aspirations to reclaim Western Thrace. Thus, when Metaxas came to power in 1936 in Greece (see 4th of August Regime), plans had been laid down for the reorganization of the country’s armed forces and for a fortified defensive line along the Greco-Bulgarian frontier. The line was constructed and named after the dictator: the “Metaxas Line“. In the following years, the Army benefited from great investments aiming at its modernization; it was technologically upgraded, enlarged, largely re-equipped and as a whole dramatically improved from its previous deplorable state. The Greek government purchased new arms for the three Armies. However, due to increasing threat and the eventual outbreak of war, the most significant purchases from abroad, made from 1938 to 1939, were never or only partially delivered. Also, a massive contingency plan was developed and great amounts of food and utilities were stockpiled by the Army in many parts of Greece for the eventuality of war.

Diplomatic and military developments 1939-1940

On 7 April 1939, Italian troops occupied Albania, thereby gaining an immediate land border with Greece. This action led to a British and French guarantee for the territorial integrity of Greece, but for the Greeks, this development canceled all previous plans, and hasty preparations started for the event of an Italian attack. As war exploded in Central Europe, Metaxas tried to keep Greece out of the conflict, but as the conflict progressed, Metaxas felt increasingly closer to Great Britain, encouraged by the ardent anglophile King George II, who provided the main support for the regime. This was ironic for Metaxas, who had always been a Germanophile, and had built strong economic ties with Hitler’s Germany.

Soon after the fall of France, Mussolini set his sights on Greece. According to the 3 July 1940 entry in the diary of his son-in-law and foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, “…British ships, perhaps even aircraft, are sheltered and refueled in Greece. Mussolini is enraged. He has decided to act.” By August 11, the decision for war had been taken: “Mussolini continues to talk about a lightning attack into Greece at about the end of September[2]. In the meantime, the original Italian plan of attacking Yugoslavia was shelved, because of German opposition and lack of the necessary transport.[3]

On 12 October 1940 the Germans occupied the Romanian oil fields. This action, of which he was not informed in advance, infuriated Mussolini, who regarded it as a German encroachment on south-eastern Europe, an area Italy claimed as its exclusive sphere of influence. Three days later he ordered a meeting in Rome to discuss the invasion of Greece. Only the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, voiced objections, citing the need to assemble a force of at least 20 divisions prior to invasion, but the local commander in Albania, Lt. Gen. Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, argued that only 3 further divisions would be needed, and these only after the first phase of the offensive (the capture of Epirus) had been completed. Mussolini was reassured by his staff that the war on Greece would be a campaign of two weeks, and Foreign Minister Ciano (who said that he could rely on the support of several Greek personalities, who would be easy to corrupt) was deputed to find a casus belli[4]. The following week King Boris III of Bulgaria was invited to take part in the coming action against Greece, but refused Mussolini’s invitation.

A propaganda campaign against Greece was launched in Italy, and repeated acts of provocation were carried out, such as overflights of Greek territory and attacks by aircraft on Greek naval vessels, reaching their peak with the torpedoing and sinking of the Greek light cruiser Elli in Tinos harbor on August 15, 1940 (a national religious holiday), by an Italian submarine. Despite undeniable evidence of Italian responsibility, the Greek government announced that the attack had been carried out by a submarine of “unknown nationality”. Although the façade of neutrality was thus preserved, the people were well aware of the real perpetrator (accusing Mussolini and his Foreign Minister Count Ciano)[5].

Italian ultimatum and Greek reaction

Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas

Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas

On the eve of October 28, 1940, Italy’s ambassador in Athens, Emmanuelle Grazzi, handed an ultimatum from Mussolini to Metaxas. In it, the Duce demanded free passage for his troops to occupy unspecified “strategic points” inside Greek territory. Greece had been friendly towards National Socialist Germany, especially profiting from mutual trade relations, but now Germany’s ally Italy was to invade Greece (without Hitler’s awareness). Metaxas rejected the ultimatum with the words “Alors, c’est la guerre.” (French:”Well, this is war.”). In this he echoed the will of the Greek people to resist, a will which was popularly expressed in one word: “Okhi” (Greek for “No”). Within hours Italy was attacking Greece from Albania.

Shortly thereafter, Metaxas addressed the Greek people with these words: “The time has come for Greece to fight for her independence. Greeks, now we must prove ourselves worthy of our forefathers and the freedom they bestowed upon us. Greeks, now fight for your Fatherland, for your wives, for your children and the sacred traditions. Now, over all things, fight!”[6] In response to this address, the people of Greece reportedly spontaneously went out to the streets singing Greek patriotic songs and shouting anti-Italian slogans, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, men and women, in all parts of Greece headed to the Army’s offices to enlist for the war.[7] The whole nation was united in the face of aggression. Even the imprisoned leader of Greece’s banned Communist Party, Nikolaos Zachariadis, issued an open letter advocating resistance, despite the still existing Nazi-Soviet Pact, thereby contravening the current Comintern line (although in two further letters he accused Metaxas of waging an “imperialistic” war and called upon Greek soldiers to desert their ranks and overthrow the regime).

Order of Battle and opposing plans

The front, roughly 150 km in breadth, featured extremely mountainous terrain with very few roads. The Pindus mountain range practically divided it into two distinct theatres of operations: Epirus and Western Macedonia.

The Italian war plan, codenamed Emergenza G (“Contingency Greece”), called for the occupation of the country in three phases. The first would be the occupation of Epirus and the Ionian Islands, followed, after the arrival of reinforcements, by a thrust into Western Macedonia and towards Thessaloniki, aimed at capturing northern Greece. Afterwards, the remainder of the country would be occupied. Subsidiary attacks were to be carried out against the Ionian Islands, while it was hoped that Bulgaria would intervene and pin down the Greek forces in Eastern Macedonia.

The Italian High Command had accorded an Army Corps to each theatre, formed from the existing forces occupying Albania. The stronger XXV “Ciamuria” Corps in Epirus (23rd “Ferrara” and 51st “Siena” Infantry Divisions, 131st “Centauro” Armoured Division, in total ca. 30,000 men and 163 tanks) intended to drive towards Ioannina, flanked on its right by a small brigade-sized “Littoral Group” of ca. 5,000 men along the coast, and to its left by the elite “Julia” Alpini Division which would advance through the Pindus Mountains. XXVI “Corizza” Corps in the Macedonian sector (29th “Piemonte”, 49th “Parma” Infantry Divisions, with 19th “Venezia” Division en route from the north of the country, in total ca. 31,000 men) was initially intended to maintain a defensive stance. In total, the force facing the Greeks comprised about 85,000 men, under the command of Lt. Gen. Sebastiano Visconti Prasca.

After the Italian occupation of Albania, the Greek General Staff had prepared the “IB” (Italy-Bulgaria) plan, anticipating a combined offensive by Italy and Bulgaria. The plan was essentially prescribing a defensive stance in Epirus, with a gradual retreat to the Arachthos RiverMetsovonAliakmon RiverMt. Vermion line, while maintaining the possibility of a limited offensive in Western Macedonia. Two variants of the plan existed for the defence of Epirus, “IBa”, calling for forward defence on the border line, and “IBb”, for defence in a position between the two. It was left to the local commander, Maj. Gen. Charalambos Katsimitros to choose between the plans. A significant factor in the Greeks’ favour was that they had managed to obtain intelligence about the approximate date of the attack, and had just completed a limited mobilization in the areas facing the expected Italian attack.

The main Greek forces in the immediate area at the outbreak of the war were: In Epirus the 8th Infantry Division, fully mobilized and prepared for forward defence by its commander, Maj. Gen. Katsimitros. In Western Macedonia was the Corps-sized TSDM (Tmēma Stratias Dytikēs Makedonias, “Army Section of Western Macedonia”) under Lt. Gen. Ioannis Pitsikas, including the “Pindus Detachment” (Apospasma Pindou) of regimental size under Col. Davakis, the 9th Infantry Division and the 4th Infantry Brigade. The Greek forces amounted to about 35,000 men, but could be quickly reinforced by the neighbouring formations in Southern Greece and Macedonia.

The Greeks enjoyed a small advantage in that their divisions had 30% more infantry (three regiments as opposed to two) and slightly more medium artillery and machine-guns than the Italian ones,[8] but they completely lacked tanks, while the Italians could count on complete air superiority over the small Hellenic Royal Air Force. Furthermore, the majority of Greek equipment was still of World War I issue, or else came from countries like Belgium, Austria and France, which were now under Axis occupation, with adverse effects on the supply of spare parts and appropriate ammunition. However, many senior Greek officers were veterans of a decade of almost continuous warfare (from the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the First World War to the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22), and, despite its limited means, the Greek Army had actively prepared itself for the forthcoming war during the late 1930s. In addition, Greek morale, contrary to Italian expectations, was high, with many eager to “avenge Tinos”.

After the war, Italian commanders like General Prasca would compare the stubborn Greek resistance in Epirus with that of the Turks in the Dardanelles in World War I, and even go as far as attributing it to the large numbers of Anatolian Greeks serving in the Greek army (about 25%) after the population exchange of 1923-24.[9][10]

Stages of campaign

Initial Italian Offensive (28 Oct 1940 – 13 Nov 1940)

The initial Italian advance was celebrated by the Italian press

The initial Italian advance was celebrated by the Italian press

The Italians attacked on the morning of October 28, pushing back the Greek screening forces. The “Ciamuria” Corps, spearheaded by the “Ferrara” and “Centauro” divisions, attacked towards Kalpaki (Elaia), while οn its right the Littoral Group advanced along the coast and was able to secure a bridgehead over the Kalamas River. The Italians faced difficulties because of the harshness of the terrain, with their light L3/35 tankettes and medium M13/40 tanks, unable to cope with the hilly terrain or the muddy tracks that served as roads.

On October 31 the Italian Supreme Command announced that “Our units continue to advance into Epirus and have reached the river Kalamas at several points. Unfavourable weather conditions and action by the retreating enemy are not slowing down the advances of our troops”. But in reality, the Italian offensive was carried out without conviction and without the advantage of surprise (not even for air action), under a leadership uncertain and divided by personal rivalries, and was already becoming exhausted. Adverse conditions at sea made impossible to do a projected landing at Corfu [11]. By November 1, the Italians had captured Konitsa and reached the Greek main line of defence. On that same day, the Albanian theatre was given priority over Africa by the Italian High Command.[12] However, despite repeated attacks the Italians failed to break through the Greek defences until November 9, when the attacks were suspended.

A greater threat to the Greek positions was posed by the advance of the 11,000-strong “Julia” Division over the Pindus mountains towards Metsovon, which threatened to separate the Greek forces in Epirus from those in Macedonia. “Julia” achieved early success, breaking through the central sector of Colonel Davakis’ force. The Greek General Staff immediately ordered reinforcements into the area, which passed under the control of II Greek Army Corps. A first Greek counteroffensive was launched on October 31, and met with little success. The Italians managed to capture Vovousa, 30 km north of Metsovon, on November 3, but it had become clear that the Division lacked the manpower and the supplies to continue in the face of the arriving Greek reserves.

Italian artillery shelling Greek positions.

Italian artillery shelling Greek positions.

Greek counterattacks resulted in the recapture of several villages, including Vovousa, by November 4, practically encircling “Julia”. Prasca tried to reinforce it with the newly arrived 47th “Bari” Division (originally intended for the invasion of Corfu), but it arrived too late to change the outcome. During the next days the Alpini fought bravely, under constant attacks by Greek cavalry and in atrocious weather conditions, but on November 8, the commander of “Julia”, General Mario Girotti, was forced to order his units to begin their retreat via Mt. Smolikas towards Konitsa. This fighting retreat lasted for several days, until by November 13 the frontier area had been cleared of Italian presence, ending the “Battle of Pindus” in a complete Greek victory.

In Western Macedonia, in the face of Italian inactivity and as to relieve the Epirus front, on October 31 the Greek High Command moved III Corps (10th and 11th Infantry Divisions and the Cavalry Brigade, under Lt. Gen. Georgios Tsolakoglou) into the area and ordered it to attack into Albania together with TSDM. For logistical reasons this attack was successively postponed until November 14.

The unexpected Greek resistance caught the Italian High Command, which was expecting a ‘military picnic’, by surprise. Several divisions were hastily sent to Albania, and the plans for subsidiary attacks on Greek islands were definitively scrapped. Enraged about the bogging down of the offensive, Mussolini reshuffled the command in Albania, replacing Prasca with General Ubaldo Soddu, his former Vice-Minister of War, on November 9. Immediately upon arrival, Soddu ordered his forces to turn to the defensive. It was clear that the Italian invasion had failed.

Greek counter-offensive and stalemate (14 Nov 1940 – 8 Mar 1941)

Extent of Italian and Greek advance.

Extent of Italian and Greek advance.

Greek soldiers celebrating New Year's Day 1941 on the Albanian Front

Greek soldiers celebrating New Year’s Day 1941 on the Albanian Front

Greek reserves started reaching the front in early November, while Bulgarian inactivity allowed the Greek High Command to transfer the majority of its divisions from the Greco-Bulgarian border and deploy them in the Albanian front, thus enabling Greek Commander-in-Chief Lt Gen Papagos to establish numerical superiority by mid-November, prior to launching his counter-offensive. Eleven infantry divisions, two infantry brigades and one cavalry division opposed fifteen Italian infantry divisions and one tank division.[13]

TSDM and III Corps, continuously reinforced with units from all over northern Greece, launched their attack on November 14, in the direction of Korytsa. After bitter fighting on the fortified frontier line, the Greeks broke through on the 17th, entering Korytsa on the 22nd. However, due to indecisiveness among the Greek High Command, the Italians were allowed to break contact and regroup, avoiding a complete collapse.

The attack from Western Macedonia was combined with a general offensive along the entire front. I and II Corps advanced in Epirus, and after hard fighting captured Agioi Saranda, Pogradec and Argyrokastron by early December, and Himara on Christmas’ Eve, practically occupying the entire area of southern Albania the Greeks called “Northern Epirus“. A final Greek success was the forcing of the strategically important and heavily fortified Klisura pass on January 10 by II Corps, before the heavy winter. But the Greeks did not succeeded in breaking through towards Berat, and their offensive towards Valona failed. In these fightings for Valona the Italians suffered serious losses to their Lupi di Toscana, Julia, Pinerolo and Pusteria divisions, but by the end of January the Greek advance was finally stopped. The Greeks were forced to stop their offensive by the Italian numerical superiority and by their own bad logistical situation.

Meanwhile, General Soddu had been replaced in mid-December by Gen Ugo Cavallero. The British on March 4 sent their first convoy of troops and supplies to Greece, under the orders of General Henry Wilson. Their forces were four divisions (57000 soldiers), two of them armoured[14].

Italian Spring Offensive and German Attack (9 Mar 1941 – 23 Apr 1941)

The stalemate continued, despite local actions, as both enemies were not strong enough to launch a major attack. Despite their gains, however, the Greeks were in a precarious position, as they had virtually stripped their northern frontier of weapons and men in order to sustain the Albanian front, and were too weak to resist a possible German attack via Bulgaria.

The Italians, on the other hand, wishing to achieve a success in the Albanian front before the impending German intervention, gathered their forces to launch a new offensive, codenamed “Primavera” (Spring). They assembled 17 divisions opposite the Greeks’ 13, and, under Mussolini‘s personal supervision, launched a determined attack against the Klisura Pass. The assault lasted from March 9 to March 20, but failed to dislocate the Greeks and obtained only small conquests like Himare, the area of Mali Harza and mount Trebescini near Berat<[15]. From that moment until the German attack on April 6, the stalemate continued, with operations on both sides scaled down.

In anticipation of the German attack, the British and some Greeks urged a withdrawal of the Army of Epirus, so as to spare badly needed troops and equipment for the repulsion of the Germans. However, national sentiment forbade the abandoning of so hard-won positions, overriding military logic, and retreat in the face of the ‘defeated’ Italians was deemed disgraceful. Therefore the bulk of the Greek Army (fifteen divisions) was left deep in Albania, while the German attack approached. General Wilson derided this reluctance as “the fetishistic doctrine that not a yard of ground should be yielded to the Italians” and so only six of the twenty one Greek divisions were left to fight the German attack[16].

Tsolakoglou discusses the third and final protocol of surrender of the Greek Army of Epirus with German General Alfred Jodl and Italian General Ferrero. Thessaloniki, 23 April 1941.

Tsolakoglou discusses the third and final protocol of surrender of the Greek Army of Epirus with German General Alfred Jodl and Italian General Ferrero. Thessaloniki, 23 April 1941.

From April 6 the Italians recommenced their offensive in Albania in connection with the German Operation Marita. The initial attacks made little progress, but on April 12, the Greek High Command, alarmed by the rapid progress of the German invasion, ordered a withdrawal from Albania. The Italian 9th Army took Korce on April 14, followed by Ersekë three days later. On April 19 the Italians occupied the Greek shores of Lake Prespa and on April 22 the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment reached the bridge of the border village Perati, crossing into Greek territory the next day.

In the meantime, the Greek Army of Epirus was cut off in April 18, when elements of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler motorized brigade captured the Metsovon Pass after overcoming local Greek resistance. The next day, Ioannina fell to the Germans, completing the isolation of the Greek Army. Aware of the hopelessness of his situation, Lt. General Tsolakoglou, in agreement with several other generals but without authorization from Papagos, relieved Army commander Lt. General Pitsikas and offered the Army’s surrender to Sepp Dietrich on April 20, primarily to avoid the perceived dishonour of surrendering to the Italians.[17] The terms of surrender were deemed honourable, as the Greek Army would not be taken prisoner, and officers were allowed to retain their sidearms. Mussolini, however, was enraged by this unilateral surrender, and after many protests to Hitler, the surrender ceremony was repeated on April 23 to include Italian representatives.

On April 24 the Italian troops joined up with the German forces attacking the Attica area near Athens, while the defeated British forces started their evacuation and Bulgaria invaded northern Greek territory around Xanthi. On May 3, after the final conquest of Crete, an imposing German-Italian parade in Athens celebrated the Axis victory. It was after the victory in Greece (and Yugoslavia) that Mussolini started to talk and boast in his propaganda about the Italian Mare Nostrum.

Naval operations

At the outbreak of hostilities, the Royal Hellenic Navy was composed of the old cruiser Averof, 10 destroyers (4 old Theria class, 4 relatively modern Dardo class and 2 new Greyhound class), several torpedo boats and 6 old submarines. Faced with the formidable Regia Marina, its role was primarily limited to patrol and convoy escort duties in the Aegean Sea. This was essential both for the completion of the Army’s mobilization, but also for the overall resupply of the country, the convoy routes being threatened by Italian aircraft and submarines operating from the Dodecanese Islands.

Nevertheless, the Greek ships also carried out limited offensive operations against Italian shipping in the Strait of Otranto. The destroyers carried out three bold but fruitless night-time raids (14-15 November 1940, 15-16 December 1940 and 4-5 January 1941). The main successes came from the submarines, which managed to sink some Italian transports. On the Italian side, although the Regia Marina suffered severe losses in capital ships from the Royal Navy during the Taranto raid, Italian cruisers and destroyers continued to operate covering the convoys between Italy and Albania. Also, on November 28, an Italian squadron bombarded Corfu, while on December 18 and March 4, Italian task forces shelled Greek coastal positions in Albania.

From January 1941, the RHN’s main task was the escort of convoys to and from Alexandria, in cooperation with the British Royal Navy. As the transportation of the British Expeditionary Corps began in early March, the Italian Fleet decided to sortie against them. Well informed by ULTRA intercepts, the British fleet intercepted and decisively defeated the Italians at the Battle of Cape Matapan on March 28.

With the start of the German offensive on April 6, the situation changed rapidly. German control of the air caused heavy casualties to the Greek and British navies, and the occupation of the mainland and later Crete by the Wehrmacht signaled the end of Allied surface operations in Greek waters until the Dodecanese Campaign of 1943.

Aftermath

With the fall of Crete in May 1941, all of Greece was under the complete control of the Axis. For the next 3 years it would endure a harsh joint occupation by Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. In the occupied country, an effective Resistance network was established, which achieved the liberation of much of the mountainous mainland by 1944. At the same time, Greek troops and ships were continuing the fight along the British in North Africa and, eventually, in Italy itself. With the German withdrawal from the Balkans in October-November 1944, Greece, with the exception of some isolated German garrisons in the islands, was liberated. Soon however, the country would be engulfed by a new conflict, the Greek Civil War.

Effects on World War II

Despite the ultimate triumph of the Axis powers in the Greek campaign, the Greek resistance to the Italian invasion had a great effect on the course of the Second World War. Several historians have argued that the need for a German intervention in the Balkans delayed Operation Barbarossa, and caused losses, especially in aircraft and paratroopers during the airborne invasion of Crete, which affected its outcome. Adolf Hitler, in conversation with Leni Riefenstahl, would bitterly say that “if the Italians hadn’t attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course. We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad“.[18] Other historians such as Antony Beevor claim that it was not Greek resistance that delayed the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, but instead the slow construction of airfields in Eastern Europe.[19] Furthermore, the need to occupy the country, suppress the partisans and defend it against Allied actions, tied down several German and Italian divisions during the course of the war.

At the same time, however, the Greek resistance ultimately necessitated an Allied intervention. The decision to send British forces into Greece was primarily motivated by political considerations, and is considered in hindsight, in the words of General Alan Brooke, “a definite strategic blunder”, as it diverted forces from the Middle East, at a very critical stage, to Greece. These forces in the event proved insufficient to halt the German invasion of Greece, but could have played a decisive role in the North African Campaign, bringing it to a victorious conclusion much sooner.

Hitler calls Mussolini on the phone:
“Benito aren’t you in Athens yet?”
“I can’t hear you Adolf.”
“I said aren’t you in Athens yet?”
“I can’t hear you. You must be ringing from a long way off, presumably London.”
Joke circulating in Occupied France, winter 1940-41[20]

Also important was the moral example, set in a time when only the British Empire resisted the Axis Powers, of a small country fighting off the supposedly mighty Fascist Italy, something reflected in the exuberant praise the Greek struggle received at the time. Most prominent is the quote of Winston Churchill:

Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.[21]

French general Charles de Gaulle was among those who praised the fierceness of the Greek resistance. In an official notice released to coincide with the Greek national celebration of the Day of Independence (25 March), De Gaulle expressed his admiration for the heroic Greek resistance:

In the name of the captured yet still alive French people, France wants to send her greetings to the Greek people who are fighting for their freedom. The 25th of March, 1941 finds Greece in the peak of their heroic struggle and in the top of their glory. Since the battle of Salamis, Greece had not achieved the greatness and the glory which today holds.[22]

Greece’s siding with the Allies also contributed to its annexation of the Italian-occupied but Greek-populated Dodecanese islands at the conclusion of World War II, in 1947.

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