Representation of Greco-Italian War in Western Narrative

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Dominated largely by British authors, and uncritically recycled by American and British-aligned scholars, common perceptions of the Second World War are heavily biased. Western historical literature exaggerates Britain’s role in WWII while simultaneously ignoring the contributions of smaller co-belligerents. Of these, arguably, no Allied nation’s contribution to the downfall of the Axis powers has been more wrongfully trivialised than Greece’s. The extent to which Western literature acknowledges Greece’s role in the war is minimal. The nation is more often than not portrayed as nothing more than a theatre for a minor, failed, British campaign. Prominent Anglo-centric recounts of the conflict omit the significant contribution of Hellenic armed forces for seven of the twelve months Britain supposedly stood alone. The fallacy of Britain’s independent stand against fascism in the European theatre from 1940-1941 is further exacerbated by the fiction that the British army’s victories in Africa were the first Allied win against the Axis. In the case of Greece’s trivialisation in the Anglo-centric narrative of WWII, historical fact is largely overshadowed by myth. In particular, the Greco-Italian War’s strategic consequences and impacts on morale are ignored by the Western narrative. British historical material relating to WWII not only suffers from expected bias, but also promotes some historical inaccuracy through omission of fact. Britain and, thus, Commonwealth nations, cherish the fallacy that they fought alone in the European theatre from 1940-1941.

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This conveniently ignores the historical truth, that Greeks, Czechs, Poles and multiple other European nations allied themselves with Britain after the fall of France. Greece, specifically, engaged in a particularly important battle against Axis occupation less than six months after France’s occupation. However, widely cited historical sources omit such involvement. Trusted sources such as The National Army Museum of London regurgitate commonly believed fiction that Britain “prepared to face the might of Nazi Germany alone” in 1940. During the war itself, Greece’s contribution was recognised by the British. Global relations at the time, in the face of a formidable opponent, were essential to garnering military support and forming alliances. Now, however, they are not useful to the portrayal of Britain and the Commonwealth as independent forces of good against the Axis from 1940-1941. The omission of smaller Allied players in historical recounts of WWII negatively affects accurate assessment of the conflict. This particular misconception, primarily caused by the negligence of historical fact, is not the only one of its kind. It is compounded by other widely accepted falsities such as that British counter-offensives in Africa were the first Allied victory of the war. This simply conflicts with historical record. The victory of Greece in the Greco-Italian War occurred in November of 1941, before Italian surrender in the East African campaign. These points are largely overlooked by the Anglo-centric narrative, which favours the nationalism of British and Commonwealth nations.

The Greco-Italian War and is so often overlooked by historians as nothing more than a failed British campaign that it has remained widely unrecognised as the first Allied land victory during the war. Although not popularly known, the victory of Greece in Albania had significant impacts on the course of WWII. Benito Mussolini’s attempt at an invasion of Greece through Albania in 1940 threatened Hitler’s detailed strategy for world-conquest. Hitler had planned for one more year of undisturbed production of raw materials in the Balkans in preparation to challenge the Soviet Union. His plan was threatened by the Greco-Italian War, which demanded a surprising amount of Italian military power and created conflict in production regions. Resources which Hitler had planned to use against the Soviet Union were diverted to the Albanian front. The extent to which the operation was worthwhile depended, above all, on the speed of its execution, according to the head of Italian forces in Albania. A quick victory was the only way Mussolini’s diversion of resources could be justified. However, the Italians in no way achieved a speedy occupation. Greece’s resistance lasted longer than any other nation that was ultimately occupied during WWII. This, combined with atmospheric conditions, difficult terrain and lack of military organisation ultimately ended in a humiliating defeat and huge loss of resources for Italy. Moreover, the tenacity of Greek soldiers not only completely blindsided Mussolini, but the vastly outnumbered Hellenic military also managed to destabilise Germany’s entire southern flank. The Greeks pushed the Italians all the way back through Albania. Greece, who had an army of 50,000 troops and 97 aircrafts compared to Italy’s 87,000 troops, 463 aircraft and 163 tanks managed to hinder the expansion of fascism in Europe. Regardless, this is neglected in Anglo-centric narratives, which propose the surrender of all Axis forces in East Africa later that month marked the first monumental Allied land victory in WWII.

The tenacity of Greek soldiers in the Greco-Italian war resulted in wasted resources for the Axis, thus benefiting the Allies’ position in the war. Hitler, in a letter to the Italian dictator, foresaw that his failure in Albania would have very grave military consequences. The confrontation had encouraged Greece to open their airfields, and thus the southern front, to British warplanes. The impasse in the Balkans threatened to compromise Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. It gave the Allies the opportunity to tighten the Mediterranean blockade and weaken Italian communications, allowing valuable time for them to prepare. Additionally, the delay proved fatal to the timing of the German army’s invasion of the Soviet Union. They were not able to reach Moscow before the harsh Russian winter. Mussolini had jeopardised Hitler’s overarching plan without warning, leading to a waste of resources which had been intended to be used in the Soviet push. However, it was the unpredicted strength and coordination of the Hellenic army which bought the British enough time to generate resources, and delay the invasion of the Soviet Union. Popular historical conjecture suggests the outcome of the war may have been contingent on Greece’s victory, rather than simply poor timing or environmental advantage. Although, considering the Greek victory in Albania as a key factor in the ultimate outcome of Germany’s Soviet invasion is extremely simplistic. It is the Anglo-centric view of history which proposes this simplified notion.

The idea was and continues to be highly propagated by Britain, who are able to justify the failure of the Greek campaign by suggesting it was crucial in strategically postponing the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. This is not to say, however, that the role of Greece in the war was not significant. While Greece’s victory in Albania cannot definitively be determined as a factor in the outcome of the gargantuan battle between Germany and the Soviet Union, it did have significant impacts. The Greco-Italian War significantly hindered the Axis’ power on the African and Mediterranean fronts. Specifically, the diversion of crucial Italian land, air and sea forces had a directly observable and significant impact on Britain’s success in Libya. Had Italy not been tied down fighting a defensive war in Albania, five times as many troops and supplies would have been concentrated towards the fronts across Africa. The crisis in Greece and pressure from Hitler to end the conflict quickly to preserve resources, the Albanian front monopolised the attention and outgoing resources from the Italian military. By neglecting a more palpable assessment of the role of the Italian defeat in 1941, Western literature overlooks the true impact of Greece’s involvement in the war. This is done in favour of a narrative which posits Greece was intentionally used by Britain as a strategic front to reach the ultimate goal, rather than acting independently to benefit the Allies.

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