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Greece's History

1940: 7,345,000

Early Treaties

In April 1939, after Italy occupied Albania, France and the United Kingdom signed pacts to guarantee Greece and Romania as long as they resisted aggression.

Start of War

When the war started in September 1939, dictator General Ioannis Metaxes tried to maintain Greek Neutrality. However, he still wanted to give low level assistance to Britain.

Italy Beats a War Drum

Whereas Germany tried to dominate south-east Europe through political and economic means, Italy wanted to gain territory in Greece and Yugoslavia. The Italian ambassador delivered an ultimatum, but Metaxes told him no on October 28, 1940. This was to become Okhi (“no”) Day after the war.

Three hours later Italian troops moved into northwest Greece. The Greeks were able to repulse the invasion and in turn captured parts of southern Albania before bad weather set in.

Before Metaxes died, on January 29, 1941, he turned down Churchill’s offer of ground troops.

On February 22nd and 23rd, Alexandros Koryzis (the prime minister), King George II, Commander-in-Chief General Alexandros Papojos, British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, Chief of Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Dill, and Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell discussed sending an expeditionary force of British troops to Greece.

Germany Invades

On April 6, 1941, German forces launched operation Marita.

Koryzis committed suicide and his successor, Emmanouil Tsouderos, with King George II fled to Crete on April 23, 1941.


General Georgios Tsolakoglou, commander of the Western Macedonian Army, negotiated an unauthorized armistice. He later became prime minister of the collaborationist government. He was later succeeded by Konstantinos Logothertopoulos and Ioannis Rallis.

From the start, Germany took raw materials from Greece. The food that left Greece caused shortages for the Greek population. Germany also was the new collaborating Greek government to pay for the occupation. This caused rampant inflation. For example in October 1940 bread cost 10 drachmas, and by the time of liberation in October 1944 it was 34,000,000 drachmas.

Italy was the primary power in Greece until the Italian Armistice in September 1943, at which time the Germans took over completely. Western Thrace and parts of Macedonia remained under control of the Bulgarians.


In the winter of 1941-1942 about 100,000 Greeks died of malnutrition. So severe was this that the British government, with pressure from the Greek government-in-exile and the United States, lifted the blockage so that the International Red Cross could distribute relief supplies in the summer of 1942.

The importation of Bulgarians into the Bulgarian occupied territories of Western Thrace and Eastern Macedonia further spread the meager food supplies even thinner.

First Act of Resistance

During the night of May 30 th and 31 st 1941, the Nazi flag was torn down from the Acropolis.


As early as the summer of 1941 resistance fighters were striking back at the occupiers.

The Communist Party (KKE) were the primary movers for coordinating resistance after Hitler started his invasion of Russia.

The National Liberation Front (EAM) was created in September 1941 from left leaning groups.

The EAM formed the ELAS (the National People’s Liberation Army), whish was its military arm, in December 1941.

In the summer of 1942 the 1 st ELAS guerilla band moved to the hills under the leadership of Ares Veloukhiotis. They were joined by the EDES (the National Republican Greek League) under the leadership of General Napoleon Zervas.


On the night of November 25, 1942, detachments of ELAS, EDES, and a British team destroyed the Gorgopotamos viaduct which carried the Salonika-Athens rail line. This was the only time that ELAS and EDES cooperated under one command.

The British feared that ELAS would take over after the war was over, but knew they had to cooperate to fight the occupation forces.

To assist in the covert operation to deceive Hitler where the Allies were going to land in July 1943, the guerilla operations were stepped up. After the Asopos rail line was blown up, Hitler moved 2 divisions to Greece.


In August 1943 guerilla leaders, the King, and the British met in Cairo for talks. The guerillas demanded that the King would declare that he wouldn’t return until there was a plebiscite that voted in his favor. The 2nd demand was that the Guerillas would run the areas of the country already under their control. These demands were declined.

Within weeks the ELAS and EDES were fighting each other.


British policy exacerbated matters by supporting the restoration of King George II. This however, went against the resistance organizations fighting in Greece.

The two main resistance organizations were ELAS and EDES. The ELAS was primarily communist. The two groups did fight each other in the winter of 1943-44.

The ELAS created a Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA) which administered the areas that were under its control. In the Greek armed forces that were stationed in the Middle East mutinies broke out shortly after the PEEA was formed. They demanded that a government-in-exile be created based on PEEA. Churchill ordered suppression of these mutinies. George Papandreou, an anti-communist, became prime minister.

He called a conference in May 1944 in Lebanon with all the resistance and political groups. The communist factions demanded that Papandreou be removed.

However, behind the scenes, Churchill and Stalin, came to an agreement which allowed for British control of Greece and Soviet control of Romania.

In August 1944, the Greek communists backed away from their demands.

Return to Greece

On October 18, 1944, the Papandreou government returned to Greece.

In December 1944 the communists revolted. The King ordered a regency to be set up.

Soon fighting broke out between the communists and the British lead troops.

Churchill flew to Athens on December 24, 1944, to negotiate a settlement. No settlement was achieved and Churchill flew back to London to persuade the Greek King to appoint Archbishop Damaskinos as regent.

Papandreou was replaced by General Nikoaos Plastiras in January 1945.

On January 11, 1945, a cease fire was negotiated. Then at Varkiza on February 12, 1945, a political settlement was reached. The ELAS was to give up its arms and the government was to be purged of communists. There was to be a plebiscite on the monarchy and then a general election. The peace was to only last until 1946 when the Cival War broke out.

The Military – Early Months

There were 18 divisions in 1940, and one of them was motorized. There were very few tanks.

When the Italians invaded Greece in October 1940, their 6 divisions faced 4 Greek divisions. The Italians were soon driven back and by November 1940 the Greeks had 11 infantry divisions, 2 infantry brigades, and a cavalry division facing 15 Italian infantry and 1 tank divisions.

Casualties were 13,408 killed and 42,485 wounded.


18,500 men formed the Royal Hellenic Army which were controlled by the British. They had 3 brigades, an armored car regiment, an artillery regiment, and a regiment that was made up of only officers (Greek Sacred Regiment).

One brigade fought at the 2nd battle of El Alamein. The Greek Sacred Regiment did see action, but most of the others did not.

In Italy

2,500 soldiers made up the 3rd Mountain Brigade and fought in Italy. These troops later helped fight the ELAS in December 1944.


In 1940 there were 200 officers and 2,700 men who manned a cruiser, 10 destroyers, 13 torpedo boats, 6 submarines, and 30 other craft.

The submarines were able to sink 18 Italian vessels in the Adriatic.

The cruiser, 3 destroyers, and 3 submarines escaped the fall of Greece and made their way to Alexandria.

In the mutinies of April 1944, 4 ships were stormed by loyal Greek seamen and 11 sailors were killed.

Air Force

There were about 300 aircraft mixed between the army and navy. Few escaped, but 3 squadrons were formed as part of the Western Desert Air Force.


  1. The Oxford Companion To World War II, by I.C.B. Dear, M.R.D. Foot, 2001
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