Greece in World War II

Italy was at once awed and jealous of the German successes in 1940, and Mussolini declared war on Britain and France on June 10. Stagnated in France until the German victory, the Italians looked to the Southeast for something they could claim as their own prize.

200,000 Italian soldiers attacked Greece from Italian Albania on October 28, 1940. The Greek Army proved much tougher than Mussolini or his generals expected. Not only was the Italian advance smashed, the Italians were expelled from Greece and driven back to Albania.

Hitler was furious; Mussolini had not bothered to inform him of the invasion. As Hitler planned to attack the Soviet Union in the Spring of 1941, the Italian advance had left his southern flank critically exposed. Now he had to postpone the Russian timetable in order to secure the Balkans.

Hitler's forces attacked Greece and Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. The Metaxas Line, fortresses on the Greekā€”Bulgarian border named after Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, stopped the Germans until Yugoslavia fell on April 17. Then the Germans could move into Greece from Yugoslavia and surrounded the Greek positions.

The Wehrmacht still had to shift forces preparing for the invasion of Russia to collapse the Greek Resistance. The whole Peloponnesian peninsula was overrun and Athens fell on April 27.

British Commonwealth forces numbering 43,000 were evacuated to Crete and to Egypt. Lacking dominant sea power, the Germans looked for a way to eliminate Crete as a threat. German FallschirmjƤger parachute corps commander Kurt Student had the answer. He began planning an invasion of Crete by air.

Greece was occupied by the Germans until 1944. They withdrew their forces as they needed men and materiel to replace their losses in France and the Soviet Union. Almost immediately the Greeks split into pro-Western and Communist factions, which began a civil war. Churchill, who saw Greece as the foundation of democracy, sent in British troops to keep order. After World War II the United States supported the pro-Western Greeks in a protracted civil war.