By Pierre Kosmidis
Photo from the library of www.ww2wrecks.com depicting men of the 3rd Mountain Brigade seen marching in Athens
It would take less than three years for Greece to pay back Italy for the hybris of the unprovoked attack on October 28 1940.
Despite the fact that Mussolini had to deal with the fiasco of his Army against Greece and numerous defeats by the Greek Army and then after humiliating himself count on Germany, Italy’s Axis accomplices, for the capitulation of Greece in April 1941, in 1943 it was the turn of Italy to be invaded, Mussolini deposed from power and the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade participating in the Allied effort to break the Gothic Line.
It was at that time, in 1944, that a request by the Greek Army to march into Rome was overruled by General Freyberg.
At the request of the Greek Government and with the approval of the New Zealand Government, the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade was placed under the aegis of the New Zealand Division.
The brigade was composed mainly of men whom war had made exiles; it had been recruited from the reliable elements of two brigades of the Greek Royal Army which had mutinied for political reasons while stationed in the Middle East.
It comprised three battalions of infantry (each of three companies only), a regiment of field artillery and attached troops, but had neither armour nor engineers.
Of its 3,000 or more officers and men, some had seen action in Albania and at El Alamein.
General Freyberg inspected the brigade at Taranto on 17 August and was much impressed by the Greeks’ bearing.
The brigade joined the Division a few days later and did an exercise under New Zealand supervision to familiarise its officers with methods of co-operation of all arms and to test its organisation and communication.
The Greek commander, Colonel Thrassivoulos Tsakalotos, appealed to General Freyberg on 31 August for permission to march through Rome:
‘… from the time the Greek Expeditionary Force … had set foot on Italian soil I felt the soldiers’ desire to pass through Rome in order not to avenge but to efface an abominable action of the Italians in Athens, i.e., the sacrilege of the Acropolis by the hoisting of the Italian flag, action achieved with the complicity of the Germans….
For the moral satisfaction of the whole of Greece, the Army Commander and yourself are kindly requested to consent to take the salute of a March Past in Rome itself, of a Greek detachment of officers and men, made up of representatives from all units, and exclusively from those who fought in Albania….’
General Freyberg tactfully replied that
‘while sympathising with your natural feelings in this matter, we as New Zealanders would also have liked to march through Rome but it was not allowed.’
He was certain General Alexander would not agree to the suggestion.
This Tsakalotos accepted without further ado.