Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Liveblogging World War II - Mussolini Invades Greece (October 28, 1940)

Since the beginning of September of this year (with one precursor, I believe, in October 2009), Brad DeLong has been Liveblogging World War II—posting items, day by day, lifted from 70 years before. This has been a very interesting and illuminating series, and I hope Brad keeps it up.

At the end of last week, Brad marked the 70th anniversary of Mussolini's invasion of Greece with these two posts:

Liveblogging World War II: October 28, 1940
Mussolini's fascist Italy attacks Greece

Liveblogging World War II: October 29, 1940
William Shirer on the German propaganda response

Both of those posts are worth reading in full, but this video clip from the first one may be of particular interest (especially, though not exclusively, for those of you who know Greek):

The second post quotes from a report by the Berlin-based American journalist William Shirer (who later wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) that includes the following passage:
German military people, always contemptuous of the Italians, tell me Greece will be no walk-way for Mussolini’s legions. The mountainous terrain is difficult for motorized units to operate in and moreover, they say, the Greeks have the best mountain artillery in Europe. General Metaxas, the Premier, and quite a few Greek officers have been trained at Potsdam, the Germans tell me.
As it happens, the Greek army inflicted a quite humiliating defeat on the Italians, not just repulsing the invasion but pushing into Italian-occupied Albania as well. In order to save Mussolini from the consequences of his folly, and to prevent the British from consolidating a military presence in Greece, Hitler was forced to launch a full-scale invasion of the Balkans, overrunning Yugoslavia on the way to Greece. The long-run consequences included death, destruction, and suffering on a massive scale in both Greece and Yugoslavia. But this diversion delayed Hitler from launching Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, and that delay may have been the crucial factor that prevented the Germans from capturing Moscow before the onset of winter, thus saving the Soviet Union from collapse and wrecking Hitler's grand gamble. (These points are all highly controversial among historians, of course, but that scenario is not at all implausible.) So Mussolini's foolish invasion of Greece, combined with the effective Greek military response, may have inadvertently saved civilization. That seems worth commemorating.

--Jeff Weintraub

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