In all of world history, there are only but a few examples of the “little man” defeating the larger, more powerful aggressor. One such instance is that of the unsurpassed acts of bravery of the Greek people of little Greece against Hitler’s seemingly unstoppable Axis Forces.
October 28 of 1940 marks the occasion when the Greeks rejected an ultimatum from the dictator Benito Mussolini to allow Italian troops on Greek soil or else. The Greeks responded with the now historic word “OXI”, which means “no” in Greek. A few hours later, the Axis forces descended on Greece expecting that it would quickly fall; however it was clear that the Greeks were not going to stand for defeat. News of Greece’s victory flooded the radio airwaves and covered the front pages of newspapers around the globe. A grateful world celebrated as against all odds such a small nation derailed the seemingly unstoppable Axis forces. The historical significance of this day and what it meant to the outcome of World War II cannot be overstated. It was one of the most consequential victories for freedom and democracy in the modern world.
Facts of Greece’s involvement that significantly changed the course of WWII:
• Greece was forced to confront four different armies: Albania, Bulgaria, Germany, and Italy.
• The Greek victory over the initial Italian offensive of October 1940 was the first Allied land victory of the Second World War, and helped raise morale in occupied Europe.
• Greece resisted the Axis powers for over 185 days from Oct 28, 1940 – April 31, 1941.
• The Greek Resistance, one of the most effective resistance movements in all Occupied Europe, was formed. These resistance groups launched guerrilla attacks against the occupying powers and allowed for the set up of a large espionage network.
• The Greek resistance influenced the course of the entire war by forcing Germany to postpone the invasion of the Soviet Union in order to assist Italy.
• Greece is the only non-big three (US, Great Britain & Russia) country credited with Nazi defeat. Greece’s disruption of Hitler’s war timetable forced him into the debilitating Russian winter where he met defeat. Leaders like Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, America’s Sumner Welles and even Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, credit Greece with bringing about Hitler’s defeat. Keitel said, “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.” Greece was the only county in WWII able to inflict a fatal wound that eventually brought down the Nazi power.
• Greece’s defeat over the undefeatable Axis Forces inspired the World. President Franklin Roosevelt said, “When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom,” following the Greeks handing the seemingly invincible Axis Forces their first defeat in WWII. Hitler had previously soundly defeated France and routed the army of Great Britain, two of the world’s great powers. Life Magazine and publications around the world featured Greece on their covers.
• Hitler’s troops lost more lives in one day in the battle of Crete, Greece than died in any single day in the 15 months prior of conquering 11 other countries. Adolf Hitler said, “The Greek soldier, above all, fought with the most courage,” and Winston Churchill said, “Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
• As the Cretan military personnel had gone to the mainland to fight the Axis Forces, the remaining Greek women, children and older men played a prominent role in first significant civilian counter-attack inflicted on the German Forces. With limited weapons such as farm implements and whatever weapons they could, they attacked Hitler’s elite paratroopers that invaded Crete. Over four thousand German soldiers lost their lives on Crete.
• According to the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, only the Archbishop of Athens and all off Greece, Damaskinos, among all top religious leaders in occupied countries publically challenged in writing the occupying Nazis’ Holocaust plans. The Archbishop showed great courage in his response to the threat of death by Nazi firing squad. He told the Nazis that Greek clerics are not shot, but hanged, and he requested that they respect this custom. Time Magazine featured him on its cover.
Metsovon where a German soldier demonstrates an antitank rifle to a Greek paesan.