However, despite the symbols, the uniforms, the nationalism and so on, the regime of Metaxas was most of all the product of necessity. Greece had stagnated from so many years of turmoil and in-fighting, the Greek position in Europe had plummeted and the country was in bad shape. Metaxas was authoritarian without question, suppressing dissidents, censoring the media and so on but it was all done to correct this downward spiral. If General Metaxas was a dictator, he was not a bad one. There was no cult of personality around Metaxas, loyalty was reserved for King George II. There was no effort to remake society really but rather an effort to revive Greek culture, Greek traditions and support the Greek Orthodox Church. Enemies were political and those singled out were those who had proven their treasonous tendencies in the past. There was no effort at setting up scapegoats, no racist legislation, no persecution of Jews. If Adolf Hitler admired Metaxas, it was of no great importance. Metaxas deferred to the King and there was no doubt that King George II viewed the Nazi regime with disgust and was, from start to finish, staunchly sympathetic with the Allied nations, particularly Britain.
|Metaxas' party flag|
However, Metaxas was not taking anything for granted. He had already considerably modernized the Greek army and he began to build it up further to be prepared for any eventuality. That would prove extremely important very soon. Italians worried that the Greeks were planning an attack on Albania while their forces were concentrated in North Africa for the invasion of Egypt. After the fall of France, German forces also handed over to Italy captured messages from King George II of Greece offering Britain and France the use of Greek facilities such as air and naval bases should they need them. Finally, in October of 1940, an ultimatum from Mussolini arrived in Athens. The Duce demanded that the Greek government allow Italian armed forces free movement through Greek territory. It was a pretext and nothing more, no one in Rome expected Metaxas of all people to agree to it and he predictably refused. Within a matter of hours, four Italian columns began the invasion of Greece. However, despite the outward confidence of Mussolini, it was the Greeks who were much better prepared for this war.
|Italian troops in Greece|
This turned out to be a major mistake for the Allied war effort. In North Africa, British forces were severely depleted in order to reinforce a hopeless battle in Greece. Most would not even arrive in time to participate in the battle. In the spring of 1941 the Italians launched another offensive that began to push the Greeks back, though losses were heavy and the gains were light. However, the coup in Yugoslavia that took that country out of the Axis and into the Allied camp prompted German intervention. Because the Greeks had concentrated all of their divisions on the Albanian border to stop the Italians, the Bulgarian border was almost totally undefended and it was from there that the Germans struck. The result was the swift defeat of the Greek forces and on April 23 King George II relocated to the island of Crete. When that position came under attack by German airborne troops, he was forced to relocate again to the safety of British headquarters in Egypt. By April 20 the Greeks had surrendered, the troops were given very honorable terms in recognition of how hard they had fought and most of Greece came under Italian occupation.
|Germans occupy Greece|
Resistance movements, of course, emerged and they tended to be dominated by communists and other revolutionary republicans who saw this as their great chance to seize power with the King and Metaxas out of the country. King George II did not stay in Egypt long where he was made to feel unwelcome by the pro-Italian King Farouk and so he moved on to England. Regular Greek forces continued to serve alongside the other Allies in the Middle East theater of operations. At home, acts of resistance, first against the Bulgarians and then against the Germans, provoked harsh retaliation. Meanwhile, similar to what happened in regards to other countries in the region, the British government, seeing the preponderance of leftists among those fighting the Germans, pressured King George II to form a government-in-exile that was more to the left, casting off those who had been serving him when the crisis began. As a result, only two members of the Metaxas regime were left in the new government. However, Britain did stand up for Greece when dealing with the Soviet Union that expected to take control of the whole Balkan peninsula when the war was over. While the rest was consigned to the Soviet sphere of influence, Greece would not and the British stuck to their guns on that score.
|King George II in Egypt|
It was an unenviable position for King George II to be in. While being publicly celebrated in London and Washington DC, he was obliged to name Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens to the post of regent in 1945 and he proceeded to appoint a mostly republican government. By this time the British had cleared the Germans out of Greece and the King had been rather forced to agree to yet another plebiscite on the future of the monarchy when the war was over. However, a rival communist government was also set up in Greece and so, as the Germans retreated, outright civil war erupted between the Greek royalists and the communists, backed of course by the Soviet Union. King George II was beginning to suffer poor health and the turmoil and suffering of his people took a heavy toll. Already his wife, Elizabeth of Romania, had divorced him, being unable to cope with the stressful life of the Greek monarchy and being increasingly sidelined he was forced to settle down in England and simply await the results of the struggle at home. Finally, in 1946, World War II having ended, the plebiscite was held and the communists boycotted it, allowing the royalists to sweep to an easy victory.
|King George II addresses the U.S. Congress|
By 1947 the British were no longer led by Churchill but by the leftist Clement Attlee who started decolonization and moving Britain in a socialist direction. Supporting Greece against communist insurgents was something Britain was no longer capable or, under the current government, very willing to do. The United States of America, from 1947, then became the major supporter of the Greek royalists with President Harry Truman pledging all necessary support for King Paul. Predictably, the communists in Greece began portraying the King and any loyal government of being puppets of the United States, playing on popular anti-American sentiments. Queen Frederika of Brunswick, a zealous anti-communist, was also singled out for particular attack by the treasonous press, some days attacking her for her German background, other times for her close ties with America. Eventually, however, under the steady leadership of King Paul, the civil war ended in a victory for the Greek royalists, peace returned and the economy began to recover. The republicans, as ever, did not go away and, once again, bided their time for another crisis to take advantage of in order to seize power. They would eventually get their chance and the world is free to view how Greece has fared under their rule.