Number of Soldiers: 12,898
Number of Fallen: 513
Number of Medal Holders: 30
In the year 1940, the Greek Army numbered 18 Divisions, of which only one was mechanized and without Tanks.
The Air-Force and the Navy were small and insignificant to be factors in battle.
The Greek-Italian War, or as it was dubbed, the “Epic of 1940”, and “War of ‘40”, started on 28 October 1940, and ended on 6 April 1941. This war, which took place on Greek soil, marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign in World War II. In the course of this Campaign, 4 elite Greek Divisions managed to halt the attack that had been launched from the Albanian border by 6 Italian Divisions, and make those Forces retreat although they had enjoyed superiority in the air.
The Greeks arranged their Forces on the “Metaxas” Line, which was erected opposite the Country’s Battle Fronts in the north, in the west against Albania and in the eastern Front against Bulgaria; they were reinforced by a British Expeditionary Force that had reached Greece. These Forces succeeded in stalling the second Italian Offensive in the Albanian Front, which was launched in March, 1941, but they could not stand against the German Offensive that came in early April from Bulgarian territory, and after combat that lasted until the end of the month the Germans took control over the Country’s entire territory, including its many Islands. The British Force was compelled to withdraw its Troops from southern Greece and from Crete in order to prevent an inevitable defeat. Greece suffered upwards of 13,000 dead and over 42,000 wounded.
Many fled to Crete, and through Turkey to Egypt, where the Royal Hellenic Army in the Middle East was established, numbering approximately 18,000 people. This Force, operating now under British command, comprised 3 Brigades, an Armored Battalion, a Commando Unit (the Greek Sacred Band that was incorporated into the SAS Regiment), and an Artillery Battalion. One Brigade and the Commando Unit took part in the Battles of El Alamein in the Western Desert. The rest of the Force was given non-combat missions.
The Navy, which managed to smuggle a considerable share of its Vessels to the Port of Alexandria, was also operating at this point under British command, namely, the Royal Navy, in the Mediterranean Sea, and likewise were 3 Greek Air Squadrons, operating within the framework of the British Air-Force (the Western Desert Air-Force).
In April, 1944, a mutiny broke out in the Force, which almost caused a confrontation between it and the British Forces. Earlier yet, the British had assembled a Greek Mountain Brigade (the “Rimini Brigade”), composed of Soldiers who had been considered more loyal in their eyes. This Brigade fought with distinction in the Italian Campaign and later it even helped the British overpower the insurrection of the Communist resistance movement, Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS).
About 13,000 Jewish Soldiers were serving in the ranks of the Greek Army on the eve of the war, and among them 343 Officers. They fought against the Italian Army that had invaded Greece in October, 1940, on the Albanian Front, in the Epirus Mountains and in the Macedonia Line of Defense, and thereafter, also against the German Army that invaded in April, 1941. The Jewish fighters fought with valor and great courage and even dealt the Italians some blows in the snowy Albanian mountains. Many of them served as Doctors in the Army, on the Front as well as in hospitals, others served in Logistics Units, and some served in the Air-Force and in the Navy. Over 500 of them were killed, and about 3,700 were wounded. The most senior Officer killed was Colonel Mordechai Frizis, who became a national hero. The Governor of Thessaloniki at the time wrote to the President of Thessaloniki’s Jewish Community: “On behalf of the State of Greece, I congratulate you on the heroism demonstrated by the Jews on the Battlefield”. It should be noted that the Jewish Community in Greece was very proud of its members’ contribution to the Country in which they lived, as was it proud of the Jewish participation in the Greek Resistance’s fight against the Germans after the occupation. (See also “Partisans” Section.)
In addition to the Jews of Greece, upwards of 2,000 Soldiers from Eretz Israel, operating within the framework of the British Forces (the Pioneer Companies, Engineering and Signal Corps, Air-Force), arrived to serve in Greece and help the Greeks in their fight. Of those – 1,510 were captured. Some managed to escape, and there were those who joined the Underground Organizations in Greece and in Yugoslavia.
Also, Jewish Fighters were sent to Greece in the course of the war to perform secret missions, mostly of sabotage, in various destinations.
A British Officer, Brigadier Edmund Myers, was dispatched to Greece to assist the local Resistance in its operations. He was the son of a Sephardic Jewish family, and was also, incidentally, the cousin of Bernard Freyberg, the famous New Zealander General who commanded the British Forces in Crete. Two senior Jewish Officers, who had an important part in the fight against the Germans on Greek soil.