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Italian-Bulgarian-German troop movements map




The Second World War


Greco-Italian War

In early 1939, Italian troops occupied Albania, long under Italian influence, thereby gaining an immediate border with Greece 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, he felt increasingly closer to Great Britain, encouraged by the anglophile King George II, who provided the main support for the regime. This was ironic for Metaxas, who had always been a Germanophile and who had built strong ties with Hitler's Germany.

A mounting propaganda campaign against Greece was launched in mid-1940 in Italy, and the repeated acts of provocation, such as over flights of Greek territory, reached their peak with the torpedoing and sinking of the Greek light cruiser Elli in the harbour of Tinos on 15 August 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 facade of neutrality was thus preserved, the people were well aware of the real perpetrator.

The ultimatum presented by the Italian ambassador in Greece, Grachi, on 28 October 1940, at dawn (04:00), was rejected by Metaxas with a simple “Oxi!” (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!". In response hundreds of thousands of volunteers, men and women, in all parts of Greece headed to the army's offices to enlist for the war.

In the snow on the Albanian front – photo Lazaros AkermanidisDespite having been inadequately prepared for an offensive in mountainous Greece, the Italians initially achieved success. Before winter had even set in however, the Italian advance was stopped and they were forced onto the defensive. The Greeks launched a counter attack on 14 November, which pushed the Italians back into Albania. At first, the counter attack made good progress but eventually ground to a halt with the front stalemated due to Italian reinforcements, and exhaustion, lack of transport vehicles and inadequate supply on the Greek side.

After the failure of a second Italian offensive in March 1941 the front was relatively quiet. Italy however was still a threat, which forced the Greeks to commit the bulk of their forces in Albania, leaving only a small number of forces to cover the Bulgarian frontier. When the Germans moved into Bulgaria in preparation for the invasion, Greece formally asked for British intervention. Top

Battle of Greece

On 6 April 1941, the German army invaded northern Greece and Yugoslavia. The British and Greek forces operating in the region were unable to present a cohesive front because of poor communication between their respective commands. This resulted in the fact that that Soldiers resting in Argyrokastro - Photographic Archive of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, Athenseventually two distinct lines of resistance were set up, one along the Metaxas Line and one along the Kleidi line (running on a roughly southeast direction from the town of Edessa to the delta of the Vardar River), both of which were undermanned.

Initial German attacks against the Metaxas Line by mountain troops met with little success. The Greek Eastern Macedonia Group exploited the terrain to their advantage and fought tenaciously although their small numbers and limited amount of ammunition meant that, by 7 April, several strongpoints had been overrun. German artilleries on the move in the Balkans

While the defenders in most remaining strongpoints and forts were determined to fight on, the line was quickly outflanked by German Panzer forces invading through southern Yugoslavia and down the Vardar Valley meeting only sporadic resistance from hastily assembled Greek forces. On 9 April elements of the 2nd Panzer had reached Thessaloniki and the remaining Greek forces of the TSAM were reluctantly forced to surrender.

The British and Commonwealth forces in Greece (known as W Force), under the command of General Henry Maitland Wilson, had only began to settle in their defensive line when news of the German invasion came. This necessitated a retreat initially to the Aliakmon river and then to the narrow pass at Thermopylae where the Germans broke through again on 23 April all the way down until German forces were at the Greek capital on 27 April.

German AA-gun in Northern GreeceThe retreat of the W Force, exposed the right flank of the Greek forces operating against the Italians in Albania. The Greeks were very reluctant to concede ground to the Italians and therefore refused to redeploy forces to counter the new threat. Instead, on 15 April the commander of the Greek forces in Albania, General Georgios Tsolakoglou, offered his surrender to the advancing Germans. In recognition of the valor displayed by Greek forces, the enlisted men were allowed to return to their homes rather than being confined to prisoner of war camps and officers were permitted to retain their side arms.

After some brief holding actions on the Peloponnese, the Greeks, British and Commonwealth forces had to be evacuated to Crete and Egypt. The evacuation of nearly 40.000 soldiers was completed on 28 April but was heavily contested by the German Luftwaffe, which managed to sink at least 26 troop-laden ships. Top


On 23 April 1941, the King and the government fled Athens for Crete, while the Germans were advancing against the capital. Chaos and breakdown were characteristic for the short period between the departure of the government and the entrance of Germans in Athens. Many Athenians went to Crete, the Middle East, the Peloponnese and the islands. The continuous bombardments of streets and harbors by enemy aircrafts completed the image of disarray and fear.

German tanks rolling through the streets of AthensOn 27 April, the Germans entered an almost empty Athens since the Athenians remained stubbornly shut up in their houses. The hoisting of the Nazi swastika on the Acropolis marked the beginning of the German occupation. A quisling government was appointed with Georgios Tsolagoklou, the General who had signed the surrender, as first prime-minister.

With the fall of Crete at the end of May, the occupation of all the country by the Germans was completed. Greece came under a tripartite occupation since it was divided among the Germans and their allies, Italians and Bulgarians. The Bulgarians had a zone between Strymon and the Nestos river, later extended to Alexandroupolis and the islands Thassos and Samothrace. The Germans kept 2/3 of Evros, central and eastern Macedonia, some Aegean islands, Attica and Crete. The rest of Greece was in Italian hands.

In the zone of Bulgarian occupation, the situation was bad because of the persecution of the Greek population (murders, persecutions of clericals and teachers, deportation of minors to Bulgaria for Man, exhausted from starvation, in a street in Athens - Photographic Archive of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, Athenshard labour, heavy taxation). Among the worst instances of Bulgarian atrocity were the incidents of Drama, the mass execution of 3.000 patriots by Bulgarians at Doxato and other villages on 28 and 29 September 1941 to suppress the spontaneous revolt against and overthrow of the Bulgarian occupation.

The reaction of the Macedonians and Thracians to the oppression, met with atrocities that alarmed even the German administration. In Epirus, gangs of Albanians, armed by Italians, were terrorizing the countryside while the Italians proceeded to the establishment of an independent "principality" of the Vlachs on Pindos mountains.

People who died of starvation are being transported to be buried - Photographic Archive of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, AthensIn the German zone the situation was equally desperate. The drainage of goods, resources and reserves of the country that doomed economy to an absolute decline and subsequently lead the population to starvation, the destruction of every kind of infrastructure, the elimination of every trace of freedom, the terrorism of the conquerors, imprisonments, executions and deportations, were part of the Greek version of the Nazi new order. More Greeks died of famine and other suffering than in any other occupied country in Europe. Top


German tanks arrive at the AcropolisAthenians did not tolerate the Nazi occupation without resistance. When the Germans occupied Athens, they ordered Konstantinos Koukidis, the Evzone who guarded the Greek flag, to take it down. The Evzone obeyed, calmly took the flag down, wrapped himself in it and jumped from the Acropolis to his dead. Apostolis Santas and Manolis Glezos were two eighteen year-old Greeks know by Greeks as well as Europeans. On the night of 30 May 1941 they tore down the Nazi flag German pantzer soldiers about the raise the Nazi swastika on the Acropolisflying from the Acropolis. It inspired the Greeks and resistance to Nazi oppression rose in all of Greece.

As in other parts of Greece, from very early on, resistance groups were formed in Athens. Despite its communist leadership, the central resistance group, EAM/ELAS, attracted people from the entire political spectrum.

In the Greek countryside, ELAS undertook a guerrilla war against the Germans and Italians, with sabotage and the hindrance of transports. From summer 1942, the guerrilla groups of EDES and later EKKA were active on the Greek mountains. ELAS and EDES combined their activity in November 1942 and blew up the Gorgopotamos bridge on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line. This hindered the supply of the German forces of Rommel severely.

Saboteurs at work - Photographic Archive of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, Athens At the same time with the military action of the guerrillas in the countryside, but also before it, in Athens and other cities, strikes and mass demonstrations were organized. The spontaneous student demonstrations and strikes developed into a huge protest movement. The strike of 5 March 1943, where the reaction of the Greek people against the recruitment of Greek workers for the Reich was demonstrated, was legendary. A little before, the funeral of the poet Kostis Palamas was the pretext for an overwhelming mass demonstration against the German Occupation.

The measure of resistance was paid considerable homage to by German officials. Hitler's Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel stated "The unbelievably strong resistance of the Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different in the eastern front and in the war in general."

A speech made at the Reichstag in 1941 said of the campaign: “It must be said, for the sake of historical truth, that amongst all our opponents, only the Greeks fought with such endless courage and defiance of death.” The diary of Joseph Goebbels on 9 April 1941: “I forbid the Press to underestimate the Greeks, to defame them... The Fuhrer admires the bravery of Greeks.”. Top

Liberation celebrations in Athens - Photographic Archive of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, AthensLiberation

The fast advance of the Soviet army towards the Balkans, threatening to cut off the German forces in Greece, forced the Germans to withdraw very soon from Greece. Their withdraw began from the Peloponnese and the islands, while on 12 October 1944 Athens and Piraeus were liberated, amidst a huge popular frenzy.

Greek flags and bell-ringing overflowed the capital, while crowds of people flooded the streets and Timelinethe squares, celebrating with enthusiasm. The British troops were enthusiastically received in the capital while celebrations culminated with the arrival of Papandreou and the government of national unity on 18 October 1944.

However, behind the atmosphere of celebration and consent of the first days of Liberation, the problems and contrasts, which in no time would break out culminating to the tragedy of the civil war, were looming. Top

Battle of Greece
28 October 1940 - 30 April 1941
Germany: 500.000 men. 1200 tanks. 700 aircraft
Greece: 350.000 men
Italy: 529.000 men
British Commonwealth: 58.000
Bulgaria: ?
Italy: 13.755 dead, 25.067 missing, 63.142 wounded
Greece: 13.325 dead, 62.663 wounded, 1.290 missing
Germany: 2.559 dead, 5.820 wounded, 3.169 missing
British Commonwealth: 903 dead, 1250 wounded, 13.958 captured
Total casualties: 112.000
Total casualties: 93.000


   Greco-Italian War
   Battle of Greece

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