217 Days of freedom

217 DaysToday, 75 years ago, marks the begging of the longest stand of an invaded nation in WW2. Greece held on for 217 days. At that time, Greece was the last free British allied nation in Europe. October 28th 1940 saw the 9th Kalamata Regiment, commanded by Colonel Venetsanos Ketseas, of Doloi in Mani, hold back the first wave of invasion. By the 1st of June 1941 the 8th Greek Regiment (Provisional) of Kalamata, that had followed the Allies to Crete prior to the Battle of Kalamata, was in action at Alikianos, Crete, and would be the last allied fighting unit in Europe, until the Allies return two year later, after the Nth African campaign, with the US forces.

Though no one knew it at the time the epic Greek resistance at Alikianos was responsible for saving the entire Allied Army in Crete from destruction or capture. By May 27th the bulk of the British Commonwealth Army in Crete was withdrawing south to Sfakia for evacuation to Egypt. The Greek defense at Alikianos bought the Allies additional time for their evacuation. The 8th aided by the local population, helped cover the withdrawal of the Anzac 10th New Zealand Division, to which it was attached. Had the German forces from Alikianos arrived at the village of Stilos 24 hours earlier, on the 29th of May, the bulk of the British forces would have been forced to surrender.

Most of the soldiers at Alikianos were young men under twenty years of age. These recruits had less than four weeks training, one-fifth of these soldiers did not have rifles, and most that were armed had five rounds of ammunition. Additionally, most of New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg’s key officers had a low opinion of the potential fighting capacity of the Greeks at Alikianos. One of those officers, Colonel Howard Kippenberger, bluntly described the defenders of Alikianos as “…nothing more than malaria ridden little chaps…with only four weeks of service.”

On May 20, 1941 the Nazi Air Division, popularly nicknamed the Herman Goering Division, launched its parachute attack on Crete. Contrary to British expectations, the Germans concluded that Alikianos was very important, and were going to take the village and the surrounding foothills. A German Engineer Battalion was to push aside the Greek resistance and take the position. The Germans suffered a rude awakening. As expected, within a couple of hours the 8th Greek Regiment ran out of ammunition. The brave men of the 8th Regiment solved their ammunition problem with several fearless bayonet charges against withering fire. The Greeks captured enough German firearms and ammunition to continue the fight for several days. Additionally, the brave people of Alikianos fell on the German invaders with anything that could be construed as a weapon. The Greek battle cry was “The German Will Not Pass.”

After the end of the first day of fighting at Alikianos, the shell-shocked Germans retreated. In frantic calls for reinforcement, Nazi Major Liebach wired the German Command that Alikianos “…was strongly held by at least 4,000 Greeks, partisans, and British.” The ferocity and bravery of the 850 Greeks at Alikianos made the Nazis believe they were confronting a force five times its actual size. In spite of their spectacular success, by the second day the Greek Regiment at Alikianos had been completely cut off from other Allied military units. As far as the defenders of Alikianos were concerned it didn’t matter, they would stop the Germans.

British World War II historian Ian McDougal Stewart, writing on the withdrawal to Sfakia explained that, “Among those thousands who had made their way through the narrow pass to the south, not one of them knew that he owed his safety to those few anonymous Greeks and Cretans who had continued their fight day after day, unrecognized by their friends and with little hope for themselves, on the hillsides above Alikianos.”

Distinguished military historian Anthony Beevor is even more blunt about the impact of Alikianos on the allied withdraw “… Freyberg’s force had already been saved from almost certain encirclement and a humiliating surrender by that astonishing feat of resistance near Alikianos by the 8th Greek Regiment and Cretan irregulars.”

On the 2nd of June the Nazis’ retribution for the losses they sustained at Alikinaos was to rounding up and execute over 200 men and boys in the vicinity of the village after their victory. The executed included some the last survivors of the Alikianos stand.

Visitors to Crete can visit the memorial at Alikianos to those victims of Nazi barbarism.

Lest We Forget.

WW 2: Duration of national resistance.
Netherlands 10–17 May 1940, 8 days
British Singapore 8–15 February 1942, 8 days
* 8th Greek Reg of Kalamata, Alikianos Crete
20 May – 1 June 1941, 13 days
Belgium 10–28 May 1940, 19 days
Poland 1 September – 6 October 1939, 36 days
France 10 May – 25 June 1940, 47 days
Nazi Germany 22 March – 8 May 1945, 48 days
Fascist Italy 10 July 1943 – 3 September 1943, 55 days
U.S. Philippines 8 December 1941 – 8 May 1942, 152 days
Greece 28 October 1940 – 1 June 1941, 217 days.

Five days prior to “Directive 21”, on December 13, 1940, Hitler had issued “Directive 20 Operation Marita” the invasion of Greece. “Directive 20” begins with “The outcome of the battles in Albania are still uncertain… to seize English bases in the Greek Islands with airborne troops… At the conclusion of ‘Operation Marita’ the forces engaged will be withdrawn for new deployment.” The Supreme High Command of the German Army, the “Oberkommando des Heeres” (OKH), had a timetable for the fall of Greece to be completed by “end of March or Mid April”. OKH then planned to use the ‘Marita’ force in the ‘Barbarossa’ force. The OKH’s plans eventually fell apart as a result of the delays and casualties in Greece.

The Nazis’ invasion of their earlier Allie, the Soviet Union, begun 21 days after the final fall of Greece, and lasted for 167 days. On the 5th of December, the Nazis made it to the Volga River outside Moscow. Winter took its toll on the Germans and they never got any closer. Hitler’s Soviet invasion “Directive 21 Operation Barbarossa” was originally planed for the 15th of May 1941, forty days earlier then the final 6th of June start. If the original plan was carried through, the Nazis would have entered Moscow before winter set in.

Joseph Stalin:
“I am sorry because I am getting old and I shall not live long to thank the Greek People, whose resistance decided WWII”. (From a speech broadcast by the Moscow radio station on 31 January 1943 after the victory of Stalingrad and the capitulation of German 6th Army Field Marshal Von Paulus).

Radio Moscow:
“You fought unarmed and won, small against big. We owe you gratitude, because you gave us time to defend ourselves. As Russians and as people we thank you”. (Moscow, Radio Station when Hitler attacked the U.S.S.R).

Adolf Hitler:
“For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death”. (From a speech he delivered to Reichstag on May 1941)

Benito Mussolini:
“The war with Greece proved that nothing is firm in the military and that surprises always await us”. (From a speech he delivered on 10 May1941)

Sir Robert Antony Eden:
“Regardless of what the future historians shall say, what we can say now, is that Greece gave Mussolini an unforgettable lesson, that she was the motive for the revolution in Yugoslavia, that she held the Germans in the mainland and in Crete for six weeks, that she upset the chronological order of all German High Command’s plans and thus brought a general reversal of the entire course of the war and we won”. (Minister of war and the Exterior of Britain 1940-1945, Prime minister of Britain 1955-1957. Paraphrased from a speech of his to the British Parliament on 24/09/ 1942).

Charles de Gaulle:
“I am unable to give the proper breath of gratitude I feel for the heroic resistance of the People and the leaders of Greece”. (From a speech of his to the French Parliament after the end of WWII.)

Maurice Schumann:
“Greece is the symbol of the tortured, bloodied but live Europe. Never a defeat was so honorable for those who suffered it”.
(Minister of the exterior of France 1969-1973, member of the French Academy 1974. From a message of his he addressed from the BBC of London to the enslaved peoples of Europe on the 28 April 1941, the day Hitler occupied Athens)

Sir Harold Leofric George Alexander”
“It would not be exaggeration to say that Greece upset the plans of Germany in their entirety forcing her to postpone the attack on Russia for six weeks. We wonder what would have been the position of the Soviet Union without Greece”. (British Field Marshal during WWII- from his speech to the British Parliament on 28th October 1941).

2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion:
“The actions outlined in this post give the circumstances that allowed around 380 members of the 2/8th to secure their withdrawal from Crete along with thousands of other Anzacs. On the 3rd June 1941, in Palestine, the 2/8th were reunited with 200 other members of the battalion who had earlier been withdrawn directly from the Greek mainland. Without the brave and fearless actions of the Greek and Cretan people in holding back the German invaders (a fact not recognised at the time), this event may never have happened. The villagers of Alikianos were to pay beyond imagination as over 200 of the surviving Men and Boys were murdered at the hands of the vengeful Germans.
R.I.P.” (2/8 Association’s comment on their facebook page on 2nd June 2015)

From The Battle of Kalamata 1941

Defence of Alikianos

List of Adolf Hitler’s directives

Hitler’s Strategy 1940-1941: The Balkan Clue, by Martin L. van Creveld

The world recognises Greek heroism

2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion
https://www.facebook.com/2nd8th — with Anzacs InGreece.

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