WW2: The Italian invasion

October 26, 2023

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In Greece we usually say that we don't celebrate the end of WW2 but rather the beginning of it. That's obviously not exactly the case. Let's see what Greece really celebrates....

On October 28th 1940, the Italian ambassador delivers Mussolini's ultimatum to the Greek Prime Minister (dictator actually) Ioannis Metaxas asking him to surrender. The PM's answer was famously said to be only one word: Όχι (=No; όhi). Hence Greece's second national 'holiday' is called 'the No' or 'the 28th'.
*(For our primary holiday, click here)

The Italian army then attacked Greece through the already occupied Albania on the north-west borders of Greece. What followed next was a resistance that noone saw coming.
The Greeks fought back for six months until April 1941.

The failure of Italy to take over Greece eventually led Germany to invade on April 6th 1941, this time through Yugoslavia from the north. By the time the island of Crete was taken over in June, an impressive seven months had passed. That was, after England and Russia, the longest any country resisted the fascist army in Europe.

The Battle of Crete marked the beginning of the triple Axis Occupation of Greece with Bulgaria, Italy and Germany controlling different parts of the country.

The Germans controlled mainly northern Greece (Macedonia), part of Thrace, Crete and Athens.

The Bulgarians controlled a part of Macedonia and Thrace.

The Italians actually controlled the largest part of the country as well as several islands, which had always been the goal of the Italians for the past 1,000 years, and had led to attack after attack. That's why they already occupied the Dodecanese Islands (south-eastern Greece) since 1912.

The Italians were nevertheless viewed as the losers of the war, with the Greek people calling them 'Macaroni boys'.
At some point they tried to annex the Ionian Islands (western Greece) to Italy,
they banned the teaching of the Greek history and language and confiscated local products which they sent to their country.

Mussolini saying to Hitler:
Thank you Adolf,
I think I can handle him (the Greeks) now.

Until Athens was liberated from the Germans on October 12th 1944, the Nazi flag would be seen by everyone on the city's most iconic monument, the Acropolis.

During the first days of the occupation, two Greek students (Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos) managed to snick into the fortress, remove the Germans' flag and hoist the Greek flag, thus becoming heroes of the Greek Resistance.

The Nazi flag in front of
the Parthenon

By the end of the Occupation, the Axis Powers had burned 1,170 villages;
roughly 10% of the country's population had died and
about 90% of Greece's industry, infrastructure etc had been destroyed.

Red spots indicate destroyed villages

Eventually, Hitler blamed the Italians for losing the war in Greece because that stalled his attack against Russia, changing the outcome of WW2. He said of the Greeks: “The Greek soldier, above all our enemies, fought with the most courage”.

But a compliment also came from the Allies.
The British PM Winston Churchill said:
“From now on, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”

Cover of Life magazine
(December 16th 1940):
Greek guard in front of
the Temple of Zeus, Athens