2nd World War: The Struggle of Greece (28/10/1940 – 15/10/1944)

1940 leaving for the front

Greek soldiers leaving for the front

 Άσβεστον κλέως οίδε φίλη περί πατρίδι θέντες
Αμφεβάλοντο νέφος κυάνεον θανάτου.
Ουδέ τεθνάσι θανόντες επεί σφ’αρετή καθύπερθε
κυδαίνουσ’ ανάγει δώματος εξ Αίδεω. Θουκιδίδης, Περικλέους Επιτάφιος, 431 π.Χ.

By wrapping round themselves the dusky cloud of death these men clothed their dear country with an unquenchable renown.
They died, but they are not dead, for their own virtue leads them gloriously up again from the shades. Thucydides, Pericles Epitaph, 431 BC


Italy has annexed Albania in 1939. Thus Greece was the next, seemingly easy, target.

  • 1940 August 15: The Greek cruiser Helle is torpedoed and sunk, lying at anchor in Tinos harbor. Fragments of the torpedo reveal that the armament was of Italian manufacture.
  • October 15: The Italian War Council decides on the attack on Greece.
  • October 28: Greek Prime Minister Metaxas rejects an ultimatum from the Italian ambassador in Athens, demanding the passage of Italian troops to unspecified points in Greece. Italian troops poor over the Greco-Albanian frontier into Greece. Britain immediately promises help.


The Italians attacked at three points. The Greeks did not only repulsed the invasion but drove Italians back into Albania.

  • 1940 November 1: Italian forces reach the Kalamas river in Greece
  • November 3: Near the village of Vovousa Greek Evzone regiments trap the III Alpini Division and take 5,000 prisoners.
  • November 22: Greek troops take Koritsa, defeating Mussolini’s prize unit-the fully mechanized IX Army.
  • December 4: Greek forces capture the vital Albanian port of (Saint) Sarande.
  • December 6: Marshal Badoglio, Italian Supreme Commander resigns.
  • 1941 January 3: The Italians launch a counter-offensive in Albania. By February 12 the Greeks have repulsed no less than 46 Italian counterattacks.
  • January 29: General Metaxas dies, and is replaced by Koryzis
  • March 9: Italy launches a spring offensive, but ten days latter an Italian communique states: ‘There is nothing to report on  the Greek front’.


The Nazi attack on Greece

  • 1940 December 13: Hitler issues Fuhrer Directive 20 for Operation Marita, to secure the Aegean Coast.
  • 1941 March 4: A revised Anglo-Greek plan for the defense of Greece is reached. The first units of the Imperial Expeditionary Force leave Egypt for Greece.
  • April 6: Operation Marita begins: Yugoslavia and Greece are invaded, the Metaxas line in Thrace is attacked.
  • April 8: The German Army outflanks the Metaxas line; the Greek Army in eastern Macedonia capitulates.
  • April 9: The German army enters Thessaloniki.
  • April 14/18: Battle for the Mt Olympus passes. The British fall back on Thermopylae.
  • April 18: President Koryzis commits suicide.
  • April 20: The Greek Army in Hepirus surrenders to SS ‘Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler’.
  • April 22/24: Battle of Thermopylae; the first British units are evacuated.
  • April 27: The Germans occupy Athens.
  • 1941 April 25: Fuhrer Directive 28 orders ‘Operation Merkur’- the attack on Crete.
  • April 30: General Freyberg is appointed commander of the defending forces; 30,000 British troops and 11,000  Greek troops.
  • May 20: Operation Merkur begins. German glider and parachute forces are pinned down at Heraklion,  Chanea and Rethymno but gain a footing at Maleme.  British retire to Point 107.
  • May 21: Germans gain control of Maleme airfield; failure of British counterattack.
  • May 26: Germans enter Perivolia and Galaria. Freyberg orders withdrawal to Sfakia.
  • May 27: Freyberg receives orders for evacuation. Germans enter Chanea, gaining control of Suda Bay.
  • May 31: Final British evacuation from Sfakia.

Crete in Allied hands was a valuable air base for raids on Axis targets in Southern Europe, or to support the Balkan front. The Allied forces consisted of 30,000 British troops, 11,000 Greek troops encumbered by 15,000 Italian prisoners of war.  Hardware was scarce with only 16 light tanks and 49 field guns. The core of the force was made up of the 6th Australian Division and the 2nd NZ Division.

Crete in axis hands meant that the Allied bases in the eastern Mediterranean, and the use of the Suez Canal, could be exposed to greater pressure from the Luftwaffe. The attack by Fliegerkorps X1 and V111 would be the biggest German paratrooper assault of the war. The two corps had at their disposal about 500 transport aircraft, 150-dive bombers, 180 fighters and 40 reconnaissance planes. There were 22,750 men – 75 by glider, 10.000 by parachute, 5,000 by transport aircraft and 7,000 by sea. The first attack was Maleme with a second at Rethimno and Heraklion.



  • 430,000 victims of starvation died during  the Axis occupation
  • 1,400 destroyed villages
A Greek hostage hanged by the Germans in Athens

A Greek hostage hanged by the Germans in Athens

 On October 15th, 1944, the blue and white Greek flag was flaping once more on the holy rock of Acropolis. Greece was free at last.

«Towards the unhappy Greek people, we feel a genuine compassion. Greece fought so bravely that the esteem of her enemies cannot be denied her». Adolph Hitler, Speech to the Reichstag 4th May 1941

‘The world should be reminded that, outside the British Commonwealth, from 1940 to 1941 Greece was our only fighting ally withstanding the onslaught of the enemy…Britain was alone, and Greece not only placed her country but her arms and her effort at the disposal of the allied cause when it looked absolutely forlorn. And we are not going to forget he now.’ Ernest Bevin H.M. Government, Foreign Minister 4th February 1946



  1. Byford-Jones W., The Greek Trilogy, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1946
  2. Cervi, M., The Hollow Legions, Chatto & Windus, London 1972
  3. Mackenzie C., Wind of Freedom, Chatto & Windus, London 1943
  4. Noel-Baker F., Greece: The whole story, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1946
  5. Pitt B. (ed.), History of the Second World War, Vol. 1& 2, Purnell & Sons, 1966