By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Pressured by Italy to surrender a great deal
of its independence in the fall of 1940, the
Greek nation responded with a single word:
"Ochi!" Not just no, but hell no. Through the rest of 1940
and into the first months of 1941, the Greeks
drove back the Italian invaders and even conquered
part of southern Albania. But when German
panzers joined the Italians for a renewed
effort that spring, the Greek army could not
stand for long even with British, Australian
and New Zealand troops fighting alongside
The Royal Hellenic Army surrendered on 20
April contrary to its government's orders,
but Greek soldiers continued to fight both
on the mainland and during the battle for
Crete in May. There, large numbers of civilians
even joined in the fighting against the German
airborne invaders. The Greeks did not lack
for fighting spirit; their arete was fully intact.
What they did lack was any consensus on how
the invaders should be fought, and for what
Several thousand Greek soldiers ended up
in Egypt, having accompanied Allied units
evacuated from the mainland and from Crete.
Others from the Evros Brigade crossed into
Turkey when Greece collapsed and were given
a choice of being sent home or to British-ruled
Palestine; several thousand chose Palestine.
Finally, a "Dodecanese Phalanx"
of 600 exiles from the Italian-ruled islands
of the eastern Aegean Sea had been forming
under British sponsorship in Egypt. Together,
these men became the "Royal Hellenic
Army in the Middle East."
The Greek 335th Fighter Squadron fought well
at Alamein. Here pilots Vasilios Voutsas,
Stratis Xydis and Fraggias Anastasios pose
with a Greek Hurricane at Sidi Barrani airfield.
But many Greeks who wished to fight the Germans
simply stayed home and did so as guerillas.
The Greek partisan movement eventually grew
to be very large, but split between several
The 1st Greek Brigade began forming in Palestine
just three weeks after the fall of Crete,
with three infantry battalions, an artillery
battalion and engineer and machine gun companies.
Training proceeded slowly and political tensions
between communists, royalists and republicans
kept things tense. After a brief deployment
to Syria, where Col. Pafsanios Katsotas took
over and instilled more discipline, the brigade
transferred to Egypt in August 1942. To replace
them on garrison duties, a 2nd Brigade formed
in late July.
Many of the most energetic officers and men
chafed at garrison assignments, and volunteered
for special duties. The Long Range Desert
Group formed a Sacred Squadron that participated
in covert actions, and in September the Greek
special forces were expanded into the Sacred
Battalion ("Ieros Lohos"). Col.
Christodoules Tsigantes' unit (named for the
ancient Theban elite) made raids in Libya,
Tunisia and among the Aegean islands, racking
up an impressive war record.
As with many other armies, the Greeks paid
a price for drawing off their best troops
into an elite unit. The loss of its best officers
to the Sacred Battalion greatly reduced 1st
Brigade's effectiveness and exacerbated political
differences. Katsotas transferred Communist
activists to the new 2nd Brigade, which became
known as the "Red Brigade" and was
rated as even less capable than its sister
Nevertheless, 1st Brigade moved into the
Alamein line on 9 September 1942, coming under
command of the British 50th Division, which
had lost its 150th Brigade during the Battle
of Gazala in June. During the British offensive
that opened on 23 October, Operation Lightfoot,
50th Division formed part of XIII Corps' feint
attack on the southern end of the Allied line.
The Greeks were roughly handled by the Italian
185th "Folgore" Parachute Division,
and within 48 hours General Bernard Montgomery
had ordered the southern attack abandoned
to concentrate all efforts on the northern
flank. The Greek brigade was kept "corseted"
by 50th Division's two British brigades during
the battle, and suffered 89 dead and 228 wounded.
Having performed poorly in action, the Greeks
were returned to the Nile Delta the moment
the Axis was seen to be in full retreat, arriving
on 10 November. In January 1st Brigade transferred
back to Syria, joining the Red Brigade which
had moved there in December. Both brigades
mutinied in late February and early March.
"Unreliable elements" were removed
and two of 2nd Brigade's battalions disbanded.
The Red Brigade mutinied again in the summer
and was disbanded, while 1st Brigade continued
training and in April 1944, alerted to move
to Italy to re-join 8th Army. The brigade
promptly mutinied again; British troops surrounded
its camps and quashed the rebellion.
First Brigade was also disbanded, and the
Greeks formed a new unit, known as 3rd Mountain
Brigade, from remaining volunteers. Those
who did not volunteer went into British prisoner
of war camps. The new brigade went to Italy
that fall and fought well, particularly at
Rimini, and went to Greece at the end of the
year where it became a cadre for the royalist
In our Western Desert Force game, the Greeks appear pretty late in the game, on Turn 21 of a 23-turn contest. They're not the best of the Allied units, but they can come in handy in the late turns of the game when the Allied player needs to make a final stand or final push (or to free another unit from the reserve for the same purpose).
Click here to order Western Desert Force today!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.