Greece’s contribution to World War II was far greater than simply defeating the Italian army and shaming fascist leader Benito Mussolini. The Greek army fought bravely against the invading Germans too, in the spring of 1941. And by doing so, they significantly delayed the massive German attack against Russia, thus playing a role in the victory of the allied forces.
It was October 1940, when Adolf Hitler‘s old friend and chief ally, Mussolini, had foolishly tried to imitate the Führer and achieve battlefield glory for himself by launching a surprise invasion of Greece.
However, the Greek army fought with bravery and resolve and managed not only to defend their homeland, but also pushed the Italians back regaining Greek regions in northern Epirus and Albania as well.
Knowing that British troops were in the Balkans and in Greece, and especially on Crete, Hitler decided to make a detour before launching the attack on Russia.
The invasion plan for Russia was named Operation “Barbarossa” (Red Beard) by Hitler in honor of German ruler Frederick I, nicknamed Red Beard, who had orchestrated a ruthless attack on the Slavic peoples of today’s Balkans about eight centuries earlier.
“Barbarossa” would be Blitzkrieg but on a continental scale, as Hitler boasted to his generals, “When Barbarossa commences the world will hold its breath and make no comment!” Set to begin on May 15, 1941, three million soldiers totaling 160 divisions would plunge deep into Russia in three massive army groups, reaching the Volga River, east of Moscow, by the end of summer, thus achieving victory.
Beginning on Sunday, April 6, 1941, the Wehrmacht poured 29 divisions into the region, taking Yugoslavia by storm. However, it took five weeks and caused a lot of wear and tear on tanks and other armored equipment needed for the Russian campaign.
The Nazi forces employed armored divisions and the 8th Air Corps to take over Greece and get rid of the British troops in the country. The occupation of Greece, and especially Crete, where the British Royal Air Force was operating heavily, was a prerequisite for the safe implementation of “Barbarossa.”
At that time the German army had 19 armored divisions, of which six were used against Greece. Also, 1,200 tank chariots were used against Greece, when a total of 3,200 tanks would be used against Russia.
But, in the war in Greece, and much more so in the battle of Crete, the 8th Air Corps of the Luftwaffe was engaged, a force crucial for the implementation of the “Barbarossa” plan. The 8th Air Corps represented 35% of all air forces of “Barbarossa” and of course it was essential for the attack against Russia. Eventually, the involvement of the Luftwaffe on Crete, fatally delayed the “Barbarossa” attack.
The new launch date for “Barbarossa” was Sunday, June 22, 1941. Historians argue that the delay forced the German army to fight through the bitter winter on a snowy terrain that helped the Russians fight better. It was also the vastness of the land that created logistical problems including worn out foot soldiers and dangerously overstretched supply lines.
The rest is history, as they say. But Greece’s contribution in Nazi Germany’s defeat is much more than a mere footnote in World War II history.
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