OXI Day — when the brave Greeks said ‘no’

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | October 28, 2015 0


Today is Greece’s National Day “OXI Day.” It is the 75th Anniversary of when  the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxa rejected Mussolini’s ultimatum and patriotic Greeks took to the streets with the cry of “Oxi” No! . The Greek’s defiance and bravery against overwhelming odds was an inspiration to the rest of Europe and ended the appearance of invincibility of the Axis forces as they pushed the Italian Army back into Albania. More importantly it diverted German troops delaying the invasion of Russia which ran into the harsh Russian winter. oxi1940okOxicanon_1940

Early in the morning of October 28th, 1940, the Greek Prime Minister was awoken to respond to a series of demands from a representative of the Axis Powers which would have allowed foreign troops free reign in Greece. His response was simple, yet firm: “Oxi” — No. – Greece, the birthplace of democracy, said OXI (NO) to fascism and defended its birthright, despite overwhelming and unfavourable odds.

On this particular day we give honour to the many men and woman who stood up to the fascist Mussolini, and this was no small thing to do. First of all, Mussolini had 44 million people, and Greece had 7 million. Italy had ten times the fire power of Greece in its army navy and air force which had total air superiority, since Greece had only a small defensive force. The demands from Mussolini were sent to Prime Minister Metaxa. He gave Greece three hours to reply to his demands to surrender, and for the Italian troops to occupy Greece and raise the Italian Flag on top of the Parthenon. But Mussolini never even waited for Metaxas’ reply. He had five heavily armed divisions of Italian soldiers moving from Italian controlled Albania over the border into Greece.oxi1OxiGreece-Fights-On

In the early hours of Oct 28th Metaxa gave his reply loud and clear: OXI (NO). The “OXI” cry has become a Hellenic battle cry that blooms defiantly every 28th of October. This cry of “OXI” is repeated by every Hellenic Community around the world, numbering more than ten million Greeks.

Though the Italians outnumbered the Greek soldiers by more than two to one, the Greeks astonished the Italian generals with their courage, their tenacity, and their limited artillery precision. The Greek forces had six mortars for each division against the invaders’ sixty. There were only 2,000 Greek soldiers covering a front of 37 kilometres. But in those mountains, in the days to come, the vastly outnumbered Greek army streamed into Albania, drove Mussolini’s forces off the snowy mountains and crushed them.

The Greek army starved in those mountains, yes, but they killed in those mountains too. So Hitler was forced to save Mussolini. It took months for the Germans to occupy Greece, which lost 12 percent of its population during the war. But many of those lives bought time, and on the Eastern Front, the Russian winter was coming. Within four weeks of the invasion those Greeks drove the Italian army back into Albania and kept on going, continuing the pursuit until they were 60 kilometres into Albania which is known as Northern Epirus. By this time Mussolini had replaced his commanding generals several times and finally assumed command himself. He tried to rouse his troops to victory with speeches of the great legacy of the Romans, but the Greeks kept on pursuing and there was great concern that the Greeks would cross the Adriatic Sea and invade Italy.

That became the early turning point of the war. An exasperated Hitler, his armies moving at a steady pace in good autumn weather for what he thought would be certain victory over his most powerful foe, was forced to divert Panzer divisions to Greece, delaying his easy thrust into the heart of Russia. Greece was overcome, but not before it had given a great psychological lift to those who opposed Germany. By the time Hitler was able to resume his march into the USSR, his armies were confronted by a terrible Russian winter that caused them to stall outside Stalingrad. The Russians then steadily pushed them back across wasted farmland. oxi2 Oxichurchill

Greece is the only non-big Three (US, Great Britain & Russia) country credited with defeating the Nazis. Greece’s disruption of Hitler’s war timetable forced him into the debilitating Russian winter where he met defeat. Leaders like Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, America’s Sumner Welles and even Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, credit Greece with bringing about Hitler’s defeat.  Keitel said, “The Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.”  Greece was the only “David” in WWII able to inflict a fatal wound that eventually brought down the Nazi “Goliath.”Oxigreek-battalion-WWII OxiStalin

The Greeks continued their brave and unequal resistance throughout the war. The British occupied Crete (with Greek approval) to release Greek troops to defend the mainland. When the Germans invaded Crete in May 1941 they suffered their heaviest losses of the war to date losing over 4,000 paratroopers to stiff partisan resistance. With many Cretan men fighting at the front much of this resistance was from Greek women with reports of grannies bludgeoning Germans to death with sticks. Over 1,000 Greek women lost their lives resisting the invaders. oxi1940 OxiRoosevelt

Churchill paid homage to the Greek resistance by claiming,  “…until now we would say that the Greeks fight like heroes. From now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks.” Perhaps the Greeks were inspired by their own heroic past to wage a fierce fight against all odds.  On October 28th, after rejecting Mussolini’s demands, Metaxas addressed the Greek people, ending with this line from Aeschylus’ play The Persians: “The struggle now is for everything!”OxiDamakinos

With these few words, he evoked the great Greek victory of Salamis over the invading Persian forces.  Once more, the Greeks were called to defend their country fiercely.  Oxigreek-battalion-WWII Oxipaper

What a great tragedy for Greece then that after the war Stalin was forced to observe the terms of the Yalta Agreement and stand by while those Greeks who had bravely resisted the invader were killed, exiled and criminalised in the internecine Civil War and its aftermath whilst those who collaborated with the Fascists rose to prominence in the post war Greek Royalist Governments supported by Britain and America. Greece lives with the consequences of this betrayal to this day.

Every October 28th, Greeks at home and abroad honour the past by celebrating Oxi Day. We too should honour their resistance which showed the world that Fascism could be defeated by those who refused to accept defeat and join in this celebration of Freedom and Democracy.

The Skibbereen Eagle

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