World War 2 in Greece


#1

I decided to start this topic today, posting from now themes related with Greece and WW2, as today is the commemoration of the victory in Greece. On October 28, 1940, Greece entered the war, as Italy invaded her territory. The reasons Greece is not celebrating Victory Day in May are two:

Firstly, in May 1945, Greece was already in civil war, so there was no room and mood for celebrations.

Secondly, and most important, one of the first Resistance acts was the mass celebration of this date on October 28, 1941, while Greece was occupied by the Axis Powers. The popular sentiment established this day unofficially as a Remembrance Day, and after the war it was officially declared by the state as a national holiday.

Greek Intelligence Services and the diplomatic corps had knowledge of the imminent Italian invasion since mid-1940, so the entire armed forces, state machinery and society were preparing for war. On October 28, 3:00 a.m. the Italian ambassador woke up the dictator of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, to present him an ultimatum demanding the free passage of Italian armies in Greece. Metaxas rejected the ultimatum, answering in French “Alors, c’est la guerre!” (“So, this is war!”).

Italian armies invaded through Albania at 5:30 am and the population woke with this radio announcement from the general staff:


Translation: “Here is Athens Radio Station. We are transmitting the first announcement of the Greek General Staff. Since 05:30 this morning, the enemy is attacking our vanguard on the Greek-Albanian border. Our forces are defending the fatherland.

Immediately a general mobilization was implemented, which went according to plans. The people heard the news with confidence, and joy. At the same day, more than 1.000 Italian spies were arrested.

Photos from the first day of the war






https://www.rizospastis.gr/getImage.do?size=medium&id=77839

Videos from the first day:


The confidence of the people was justified at the end, as Greece emerged victorious against Italy, forcing Hitler to intervene in April 1941. After 2 months of severe battles, Greece was subjugated in late May.
Ultimately Greece was one of the nations who suffered the most in the war, losing around 10% of her population (military deaths, partisan deaths, deaths from starvation, extermination of the Greek-Jews, killings of civilians by the Axis, Civil War’s casualties are not counted) and almost her entire infrastructure, but not her pride for her contribution to the Allied victory against Fascism and Nazism.

P.S. A photo from this morning’s military parade in Thessaloniki. The President of Greece (right), with the President of Italy (left), Sergio Mattarella. Matarella became the first Italian President taking part in Greek War commemorations and the first Italian president who officially apologized to Greece, on behalf of Italy, for her war conduct in World War 2…


#2

Very intersting post! I know very little about Greece during WW II. I read up something about the battle of Crete were the Germans used paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) again like they did in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Can you tell us more about the race view of the nazi’s towards the Greeks? Were the for example seen as inferior as Poles? Considering the rich history of Greece on one hand but being southern Europe on the other. Please tell us what you think.


#3

Their view was somewhat ambivalent…

It is no secret that the Nazis adored classical Greek antiquity, especially Sparta and Alexander the Great, for obvious reasons. The archaelogical excavations of ancient Olympia were made by the German Archaeological Institute of Athens (along with other excavations, like Mycenae), and the Nazi in 1936 Olympics used the image of ancient Greece to present themselves as the guardians and continuators of the western civilitation. The Olympic torch relay was first introduced in the Nazi Olympics, Goebells and Leni Riefenstahl used ancient Greek imagery.
Concurently, the politically biased theories of Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, that modern Greeks had no relation with ancient Greeks, except the language, or they were, at best, a mixed race, had much support. So, they were put in Nazi theory above Jews, Poles, etc, but they were not “pure-blood Aryans” anymore…
Hitler treated the Greek Army gentlemanly, initially, out of respect for the bravery and the strong resistance of the latter during the Battle of Greece. He gave personal orded not to keep the Greek soldiers as prisoners and that the officers should keep their swords and pistols. He adressed the Reichstag that: “Historical justice obliges me to state that of the enemies who took up positions against us, the Greek soldier particularly fought with the highest courage. He capitulated only when further resistance had become impossible and useless” and “Towards the vanquished and unhappy Greek nation we feel sincere sympathy. It was the victim of its King and of its deluded leading caste. It has, however, fought so bravely that even the respect of its enemies cannot be withheld from it.
Those praises ended soon, as the Nazi modus operandi during the Occupation cause mass starvation and death, and the complete distruction of any social coherence and normality. As was natural, the Resistance was quite forceful. Mass demonstrations in the cities made Greece the only country that didn’t send Forced labour to Germany (except 20.000 paid workers and Greek Jews). For Germans Athens was “the most hostile capital of Europe” and 50% of Greek territory was controlled by the partisans in 1943.
All these caused massive Nazi reprisals against civilians, and many Nazis used Falmerayer’s theories that modern Greeks were an inferior race to justify all the killings.
On the Greek side, while the Greeks completely despiced the Italians, who defeated in the war, they were kinda neutral towards the Germans. Most Greek professors, politicians, businessmen, milirary officers etc studied in Germany, spoke German fluently and admired German culture. Also, Germany was the largest importer of Greek goods before the war. This changed during the Occupation and, apart the Collaborators, the rest viewed the Germans in the same way as they are treated in movies about WW2: the evil guys that must be defeated.
Even today, the dark memories of the Nazi occupation are deeply imprinted in greek collective memory, and a considerable anti-german sentiment persists in Greek society, further fueled by the economic crisis and the austerity measures. Merkel and Schäuble are oftenly depicted as nazis.


#4

Pictures from the Battle of Crete

Battle of Crete was pioneering in WW2 warfare for three reasons:

  1. First airborne invasion in history.
  2. British used for the first time intelligence gathered from the decoding of the “Enigma”
  3. For the first time in the war the civilians participated in the operations, men, women and children armed themselves from whatever they could find and fought the raiding parties along with the regular armies.




Painter Peter Vlahakis, a participant in the Battle, painted this picture after the war. The story of the painting is this: The German parachuter killed Manolis Theodorakis. His neighbour, Antonis Findikakis, seeing this, grabbed a stone and smashed the German’s head. As the painter said: "Flesh and steel (of the helmet), became one, but I couldn’t paint this.

This mass resistance of the civilians enraged Goerring, who gave orders for mass reprisals against all those who fought in the battle. So, in the aftermath, whole villages were erased of the map, like Kondomari, Kandanos and Alikianos, with their inhabitants summary executed.





Translation: In retaliation to the brutal murder of paratroopers and combat engineers in an ambush by armed men and women, Kandanos was destroyed.


#5

Thanks for the information. These pictures are graphic and fairly disturbing to say.

About you mentioning Crete was the first airborne invasion. What made you not consider the invasion of the Netherlands and more specific the Battle for The Hague and the first airborne invasion?


#6

The first one without the element of surprise.


#7

This was the first full scale airborne invasion. Of course, German paratroopers were used in Poland, Norway, Holland, to support the main forces, but this was an airborne invasion in essence, tactics, and numbers. Paratroopers here were not used to take a bridge, an enemy position, or a city, to pave the way for the main army. They were the main army, and their aim was to take the whole island.


#8

I read somewhere that Hitler had warned Mussolini not to invade Greece in that Hitler thought it was a bad idea, and I read he was actually really pissed when Mussolini did invade Greece.


#9

Hitler, and Germany in general, wanted Greece neutral for 3 reasons:

  1. The memories of the Macedonian Front in WW1, i.e. the possibility to strike Germany from the south, opening an additional european front.
  2. If Greece would join the Allies, the Ploiești oilfields in Romania, hugely important for Germany, would be within the range of RAF bombers.
  3. If there was a Balkan Front during the planned invasion to Soviet Union, the Allies could strike the German Forces from the rear.

Another reason Hitler was pissed off was because Mussolini did not informed him about his plans against Greece, bringing him before a fait accompli. After the Italian defeat, in late 1940, Wilhelm Canaris tried to negotiate a truce through the Greek ambassador in Madrid, but Greece by then was firmly an Allied nation. So Hitler was forced to invade, to secure his rear for Operation Barbarossa.


#10

Having in mind this operation such as Italian and German invasion of Greece and Axis invasion on Yugoslavia a few months later in April 1941., after Yugoslav coup and replacing Prince Paul with young king Peter II who was pro-western orientated, while Prince Paul singed Tripartite Pact just 2 days before the coup, which was supported and organized by British secret services, with obvious reasons since at the beginning of 1941. Great Britain was the only great power opposing Axis. So my question is having all that in mind, is it safe to say that if Axis didn’t have to deal with situation on Balkans would the operation Barbarossa started a bit earlier for example in March or April of 1941. and end before the Russian winter, what was readiness of Soviet troops during that period and would it change the outcome of operation Barbarossa and maybe the course of the war and human history as such? All this is assumed of curse thinking that Greece and Yugoslavia wouldn’t join the Allies if they weren’t attacked for number of reasons since as you say both of them were participants of the Great War and a lot of big battles were on their soil and it’s safe to say that both of this nations weren’t ready for yet another war against Germany, specially since they haven’t have France on their side such it was the case in the Great War.


#11

There is much discussion about how Operation Marita and Operation 25 had impact on Operation Barbarossa, even Hitler argued to Mannerheim that the Battle of Greece affected Barbarossa, but in reality the schedule of the German invasion in Soviet Union was moved forward a week due to logistic issues, not due to the Balkan Campaign. In fact, the majority of the German troops were immediately transferred from the Balkans to the invasion positions in early June.
In my opinion, Greek and Yugoslav Resistance, and more specifically Operation Mincemeat, had more significant role in the Allied victory, as the might and size of the war operations by the Resistance, who were essentially new armies, forced Germany to transport to Balkans more and more troops, something that helped the Soviets in the East, and the Allies in Italy (and lated in D-Day), to fight less Germans…


#12

Here is an interesting and entertaining video by Potential History explaining the Invasion of Crete