Hitler’s dream of military campaigns to defeat western nations as a preliminary step to conquer Europe took a giant leap forward when France, in June 1940, folded like a pack of cards. The unexpected swift victory resulted in a wave of euphoria among the German population and a strong upsurge in Nazi Germany’s invincibility. Final victory seemed just around the corner. Only Britain stood in the way.
Benito Mussolini was irritated that Hitler had not consulted him on his war policy and wished to establish his own independence. He hoped to match the success of the Nazis by taking Greece which he considered an easy opponent. On 28th. October 1940, Fascist Italy invaded Greece. The savage fighting that followed saw the Greeks defeat the initial attack and the counter attack of March 1941 and they pushed the Italians into Albania. Nazi Germany sought to aid Italy by deploying troops in Romania and Bulgaria and attacked Greece from the east. Greece had received a small but inadequate reinforcement from British Empire Forces, in anticipation of the attack, but no more help was sent after the invasion. The Greeks found themselves far outnumbered. On 27th. April 1941, Athens fell and a month later, Greece was occupied by the military forces of the Nazis and the Fascists.
The Axis powers viewed conquered nations as a source of raw materials, food and labour. Pillage, torture, executions and civilian massacres were part of the Axis agenda. The Nazi attitude towards occupied peoples were clearly expressed by Hermann Goering in a letter to military commanders: “I coudn’t care less when you say that people under your administration are dying of hunger. Let them perish as long as no German starves.” It is estimated that some 300,000 Greeks died as a result of starvation and malnutrition.
The conquest of Greece and Yugoslavia in the south, coupled with Eastern European countries, plus Finnland in the north and the unholy Berlin-Tokyo Alliance in the Far East, saw the encirclement of Russia complete. “Operation Barbarossa” the invasion of Russia was launched on 22nd June 1941. So confident was Hitler that Russia, like France, would crumble in a matter of weeks that Nazi and Fascist troops were not supplied with winter clothing.
The “Blitz Krieg” strategy seemed to work. 20,000 Russians died defending Crimea. 3,000,000 Soviet prisoners of war were starved to death. The siege of Leningrad saw the looting and destruction of palaces of the Czars and art collections being transported to Nazi Germany. The siege of Leningrad is considered one of the most lethal in world history. 3,000,000 people, mostly women and children perished due to starvation and bombardment. It was a “racially motivated starvation policy” that became an integral part of the unpresidented Nazi war of extermination against the populations of the Soviet Union. All “useless mouths to feed” were murdered to make way for the anticipated Nazi occupation. An estimated 27 million Russians perished.
The victorious Nazi had triumphantly conquered everything in their path – from the Gate of Brandenburg to the Gates of Moscow, shooting everything that moved or burning everything that didn’t. All that remained was to tie up the loose ends. Then something unforeseen hapened. Winter set in!
There is no doubt whatsoever that the harsh winters of Russia played a decisive role in the war on the Eastern Front. However, Soviet courage, tenacity and the fighting spirit of their armed forces should not be overlooked. In spite of unimaginable losses, the Soviet juggernaut stood firm.
In March 1943, an unknown town of little or no significance would lend its name to one of the most decisive conflicts of world history — the Battle of Kursh. More than 1.5 million men, 5,800 tanks, 30,000 guns and 5,000 planes were locked in mortal combat, blasting away at point-blank range, in a brutal sluggling match in the greatest tank battle ever fought. When the smoke cleared from the scorched earth, the course of World War II had forever changed. The Nazi dream of conquering Europe had been irrevocably lost.
Hitler blamed the failure of “Operation Barbarossa” on Mussolini’s failed conquest of Greece. The West seems to forget that had it not been for the bravery, the courage and the fighting spirit of the Greeks, the invasion of Rsusia would have taken place seven months earlier. Winter would not have arrived in time to play such havoc and have disasterous consequences for the Axis war effort to conquer Russia and Europe would have been under the brutal and savage occupation of Hitler and his Nazis.
The West would do well to seriously consider this as they wrestle with the staggering debt of Greece because there is one person who has not forgotten the enormous debt and gratitude that is owed Greece — and that person is Russian President Vladimir Putin.