- The First Victory: Greece in the Second World War
At a time of bleak economic and political news from Greece, George Blytas’s book comes as a wonderful reminder of Greece’s contribution to the West during the critical days of World War II. This useful and highly readable book has been written not by a historian but by an author whose background includes music studies and a successful career in engineering. George Blytas is a true product of the Greek diaspora. He is an Epirotan by origin, grew up in Egypt, and eventually studied and pursued his engineering career in the United States. The book is based on an extensive list of primary and secondary sources, memoirs of Greek and other foreign participants in this tumultuous period of Greek history, and published material from Greek military archives.
The book contains twenty-four chapters and a useful epilogue. More than half of the book is devoted to a detailed account of the “battle of Greece,” starting with the domestic and international background on the eve of the Italian invasion of Greece and ending with the battle of Crête. The text is supplemented with historic photographs and useful maps that help the reader locate the military actions described in the narrative. The rest of the volume covers the occupation of Greece by the Germans, Italians, Bulgarians, and Albanians; the development and actions of the Greek resistance; the liberation of Greece; and the early roots of the conflict among the various resistance groups that led to the full-fledged Greek Civil War after 1946.
Undoubtedly, the Greek rejection of the Italian ultimatum on 28 October 1940 set the stage for an epic confrontation that lasted well into May 1941 between a small and weak country, minimally supported by Britain and its allies, and the Axis powers. The title of the book, The First Victory, aptly describes the significance of the Greek resistance to the Axis onslaught. At a time when European countries collapsed within days and capitulated to the Axis, victorious Greek troops, against all odds, rolled back the massive Italian invasion force and liberated significant portions of Albania. Italy’s failed invasion of Greece forced Germany’s entry into the Balkan theater of the war. This futile decision affected the Axis military actions in North Africa and German plans to invade Britain and Gibraltar, and, most significant, delayed for almost two months Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s attack against the Soviet Union, an event that proved critical to the outcome of World War II.
The author describes in graphic terms the heavy human and material cost of Greece’s occupation by the Axis powers and reminds the reader of Turkey’s opportunistic [End Page 110] maneuvering between the Axis and the Allies in anticipation of territorial and political gains. Blytas examines the spontaneous rise of the Greek resistance against the Axis occupation forces and the emergence of the organized resistance movement before Britain decided to support it. Britain eventually sought to control and direct the political direction of the resistance groups, as these groups were to play a critical role in the political development of Greece following the end of World War II.
Blytas raises some intriguing and critical questions about British war strategy and objectives in Greece before, during, and after World War II, as well some serious questions about Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’s political and military strategy during the Albanian war. These challenging questions are not fully explored or answered. They are left to the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.
This book should be read not only by Greeks and Grecophiles but also by military historians who still analyze the causes and outcomes of the Second World War. Greece’s “first victory” in the Allied cause was a critical turning point, not only for Greece, but also for Western history. Of course, much of this has been forgotten by those who think in terms of “what...