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OCTOBER 28, 1940 – OCTOBER 28, 2007
On October 28, 2007 the Greek nation celebrates its participation in the World War
II. At 2:50 a.m. on October 28, 1940, Ambassador Grazzi of Fascist Italy
demanded the surrender of Greece to an occupying Italian army. Greek Prime
Minister Ioannis Metaxas replied in French “Alors, c’ est la guerre” (“So, this is
war”). Small and poor Greece replied with “OXI” – “NO” to the Axis aggression.
The Greeks did not hesitate to use the answer of Spartan King Leonidas and his
“300” at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. to the surrender proposals from the
invading armies of the Persian Empire – “Molon Lave” (“Come and get them [our
weapons]”). The Hellenic Army screening units at the Greek-Albanian frontier
went on alert, and the Italian Army commenced shelling the Greek positions at 5:30 a.m. Greece had entered
World War II. On October 28, 1940, 135,000 Italian troops with the support of 450 combat aircraft and ethnic
Albanian contingents attacked the front line units of the Hellenic Army that numbered only 35,000 men. The
Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) had an inventory of only 100 relatively modern fighters and bombers. What
the Greek forces lacked in war materiel, they made up with courage, self-sacrifice, and their expertise in
mountain fighting. The Hellenic Army units successfully repelled the Italian invasion and counterattacked
deeply into southern Albania capturing cities and towns with sizeable Greek ethnic population, e.g., Koritsa
(Korce) and Argyrokastro (Gjirokaster). The Greek victories against the Axis became an international
inspiration. The Italian defeats, and the British military presence in Greece caused consternation for Adolph
Hitler, the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany and upset his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. He soon decided
to invade Greece and Yugoslavia. Not less than 700,000 German troops entered the Balkans by the end of
March 1941 with modern armor, artillery, and substantial Luftwaffe air support. The Hellenic Army had
reached its peak strength of 300,000 men (double the strength of the regular U.S. Army at that time), and a
British Commonwealth contingent had landed in Greece. On April 6, 1941, Palm Sunday of the Greek
Orthodox Christian Easter, Nazi Germany struck Greece and Yugoslavia. Despite the resistance of the Hellenic
Army at the Greek-Bulgarian frontier, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the rapid advance of the German
formations soon outflanked the Greek defenses in Macedonia, and caused a fighting withdrawal for the British
units from continental Greece. On April 27, 1941 German units entered Athens and raised the Nazi Swastika on
the rock of the Acropolis. On May 20, 1941, German parachute and glider troops invaded the Greek island of
Crete. Despite the efforts of the British Commonwealth, Hellenic Army, and Cretan civilian defenders, Crete
fell. The Greek resistance to the Nazi onslaught had delayed the German invasion of the Soviet Union for a
crucial period of 56 days. The Greek government and the armed forces in exile continued the fight. The small
Royal Hellenic Navy fought from its new base in Alexandria, Egypt, the city of Alexander the Great. Greek
units soon joined the fight with the British 8th Army against the German and Italian armies in North Africa and
later in Italy. The first act of resistance in occupied Greece was the brazen theft of the Nazi flag from the rock
of the Acropolis by Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas. Armed national resistance movements soon took
hold both in rural and urban areas of Greece. British, Greek, and OSS Greek-American commandos assisted the
fight of the Greek resistance against the Axis. The Axis forces responded with the mass executions of
hostages,, the burning of towns and villages and the wholesale massacres of their inhabitants, e.g., Distomo,
Kalavryta, and Kandanos (Germany has refused to this day to pay reparations for the atrocities committed by
Nazi occupation forces in Greece). In individual acts of heroism the Greeks sheltered Allied personnel and their
fellow citizens of the Jewish faith. Archbishop Damaskinos ordered the issuance of false Greek Orthodox
Christian baptismal certificates to the Greek Jews. The Greeks even sheltered their former enemies when Italy
withdrew from the war in 1943 – events depicted in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The advances of the
Soviet armies in the Balkans obliged the German forces to evacuate continental Greece. On October 15, 1944 a
mixed Greek-British force sailed into Saronikos Gulf. On October 18, 1944, the Prime Minister George
Papandreou formally raised the Greek flag on the rock of the Acropolis. No less than 450,000 Greeks had
perished during the struggle of World War II from a population of approximately 7.000.000, and the economic
infrastructure of the country was devastated.