Greece in World War II
On October 28, 1940 the fascist Italian government of Benito Mussolini delivered an ultimatum to Greece demanding the cession of Greek territory, much how they had done with Albania in the spring of 1939.
The Greek prime minister Metaxas rejected the Italian ultimatum, however the Italian army invaded Greece from Albania on the same day (October 28, 1940), before the ultimatum had expired beginning the Greco-Italian War.
The Greek Army was able to halt the invasion and push the Italians back into Albania. The continuous Greek successes against the Italians forced Nazi Germany to intervene in 1941. The Germans invaded Greece on April 6, 1941, and overran the country within a month, despite British aid to Greece in the form of an expeditionary corps.
The conquest of Greece was completed in May of 1941 with the capture of Crete (Battle of Crete) from the air. However, the German paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) suffered such extensive casualties in this operation from the local Cretan population that Hitler and the German High Command abandoned large-scale airborne operations for the remainder of the war.
The German diversion of resources in the Balkans and the Battle of Crete is considered by some historians to have delayed the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union by a critical month, which proved disastrous for the Germans and possibly changed the course of the war.
After Greece was occupied by the Germans it was then divided between Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria, while the King and the government fled into exile in Egypt. The first attempts at armed resistance started in the summer of 1941 but were easily crushed by the Axis powers. However, the Greek resistance movement began in earnest again in 1942 and continued growing throughout 1943 and 1944, liberating large parts of the country’s mountainous interior and tying down considerable Axis forces. Despite the successes against the Axis powers political tensions between the resistance groups (leftists and rightists) finally resulted in the outbreak of a civil conflict among them as early as 1943. This intenral conflict continued until the spring of 1944 and finally led to the all out conflict between leftist and rightish resistance groups after the end of the war and until 1949.
In the meantime, during the war the exiled Greek government also formed armed forces of its own, which served and fought alongside the British in the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy. The Greek Navy and merchant marine, in particular, contrubuted enormously to the war effort and it was of special importance to the Allied cause.
Mainland Greece was officially liberated in October of 1944 with the German withdrawal in the face of the advancing Red Army, however German garrisons continued to hold out in the Aegean islands until after the war’s end. By the end of the war the country was devastated by war and occupation, and its economy and infrastructure lay in ruins. Greece suffered more than 400,000 civilian casualties during the occupation (out of a total population of around 7 million at the time) . By 1946, a civil war erupted between the British and American-sponsored conservative government and leftist guerrillas, which would last until 1949.