Below you can see excerpts from TIME Magazine’s article from its Dec. 16, 1940 issue titled BALKAN THEATRE: Surprise No. 6.  (You can read the full article here TIME MAGAZINE – Dec. 16, 1940 BALKAN THEATRE Surprise No 6) Here is the issue’s cover featuring General Alexandros Papagos, Commander of the Greeks.
The article describes the events of the first Italian offensive which commenced in the early dawn hours of 28 October, 1940.  A second Italian offensive followed in December 1940, which was crushed by a Greek counteroffensive.


The Greeks poured on. Pushing northward to Porto Edda, they crossed the marshes above Lake Butrinto which the Italians had thought were impassable. They waded armpit-deep through icy water, pushing their guns on rafts. They crawled over the mountains from the east, cut the road to Delvino and planted their guns on the heights above Porto Edda.

…Fifteen miles over the hills, the Greeks had taken all the heights surrounding Argirocastro. There the Italians also fired the town and fled up the road toward Tepeleni-harassed by snipers and artillery from the hills above. Before the Italian rear guard of tanks retired, the Greek infantry stormed the town. They dropped from balconies on to the roofs of tanks, threw hand grenades into the openings, jammed the tank-tread mechanisms with their bayonets.

…In Athens people danced in the street by moonlight, carrying at the head of their procession the victory flag that had been flown on the Parthenon…The Greeks rejoiced and the world was stunned.

…War is always full of surprises…The first surprise of World War II was the German conquest of Poland in 27 days…The second was the swift German conquest of Norway…The third was the German sweep through the Low Countries and France…Even before the third surprise was complete, the fourth surprise had taken place. A British Army of 400,000 men, all but surrounded in Flanders, succeeded in effecting its escape by sea from Dunkirk…The fifth surprise took place no one knew exactly when-when Hitler found his forces unable to undertake a direct assault last summer on Britain herself…But none of these surprises was greater than Surprise No. 6: the ability of ill-armed Greeks to fight off and defeat the well-armed and more numerous Italians.

…But it was the combined, concentrated brains of Metaxas and Papagos which evolved the mountain strategy and tactics now bearing such startling fruit. Last week Norwegian mountain troops journeyed from Great Britain to get in on the Greek show, and the Swiss applied for permission to come and take notes.

…But the fact remains that Italy threw into the fight, at the outset, ten full divisions numbering, with supply and labor troops, over 200,000 men, to which two more divisions were added after the going got rough. These included many celeri (mobile) units. At the Pindus passes the invaders were confronted by not more than eight divisions out of the 13, plus one of cavalry, which Greece could mobilize but of which she could equip only ten for fighting. Not even numbers of airplanes made much difference, for Italian planes outnumbered the Greeks (even after the British based squadrons at Larissa, Athens) by at least 500 to 100, new planes versus old. And in artillery the Fascist advantage was estimated at 919 guns to less than 100.

Thermopylae in Reverse. 2,420 years ago, 1,400 Spartans, Thebans and Thespians, occupying a narrow mountain pass above the sea, were surprised from the rear by a large Persian detachment clambering around through the hills. Spartan King Leonidas and his men fought stubbornly for several hours, but all (except the Thebans, who surrendered) were annihilated. The Spartans at Thermopylae were great heroes but they lost the battle.

General Papagos’ tactics of 1940 are basically the Persian tactics at Thermopylae and his troops too have repeatedly taken the long, hard way around through the mountains to attack the Italians from behind and above.

With their mechanized equipment, their heavier and more numerous artillery and their larger number of troops, the Italians naturally stuck to the roads, and the roads run through the valleys and the passes. General Papagos made use of the mountains by moving along the heights to outflank the Italians. His infantry, composed of mountaineers – all Greece is mountainous – knew exactly how to get through hills. Everything fitted.

Even the Greek shortage of artillery, particularly heavy guns, was turned to advantage. They dragged their light mountain pieces over rough trails and got into position where they could drop shells on Italians who could not see them. The effectiveness of these tactics was immense.

…Only of simple equipment – rifles, hand grenades, bayonets – did the Greeks have reasonably adequate supplies, and of these they made the best. Military experts agree that the bayonet and hand-to-hand fighting are out-of-date in modern war, but the Greeks found use for them. Advancing through the mountains, they repeatedly stormed small positions held by Italian detachments who had been sent out to safeguard the flanks of columns on the roads below.Time and again, Greek bayonet and grenade proved conclusive.

…The Italian peasant is not accustomed to a life of luxury, but Greek mountaineers live on even less. They ordinarily subsist on a little cheese, a few olives, goat’s milk, a swallow of resinous wine, black bread and a few leeks. To them the hardship of mountain campaigning, far from field kitchens and services of supply, is hardly more than an inconvenience. The evzones or elite guards (who wear khaki kilts in battle, not their white dress fustanella and red pomponned slippers) are chosen for stature, and of them there are five regiments. The rest of the troops are wiry little men, averaging less than 5 ft. 5 in. Observers marveled at their endurance on long night marches up blizzardy mountains, through slushy defiles; their sleeping on cold rocks or in frozen ditches; their unfailing grins and cheery chatter before, during and after battles. In every way the poverty of Greece had given it strength and the Greek Command knew how to capitalize upon it.







  1. And that’s the reason why the national anthem contains the words “…derived from the sacred bones of the Greeks…”
    It is truly a country whose landscape is stained with the blood of those who fought for every square meter of territory throughout the centuries…


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