The Second Battle of Marathon

03/01/2013 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2013

The Second World War was the most destructive and bloody conflict of all times. Large and small countries fought bitterly to the end, killing millions of humans and causing immense devastation of both nature and societies. To some degree, WWII was also a holocaust of civilization.

Germany and Italy started the war against other European countries in 1939 and 1940. Germany dealt with the countries of Western Europe and Italy started with Greece, which it attacked on October 28, 1940. The Greeks soundly defeated the invading Italians in the northern Greek province of Epirus and Albania. The Greek victory became the "first victory" of the Allies in WWII.

This historical fact was so important in the evolution of WWII, indeed, largely determining the course of the war between Germany and Russia, and, therefore, the outcome of WWII, that it deserved its own history.

It found its student in George Blytas, a Greek from Egypt who had an engineering career in America. Blytas' father was born in a village in Epirus, Sitaria, where fierce battles took place between Greeks and Italians. Blytas visited Sitaria in 1951. Eventually, he became a self-taught historian to record the events of the fateful 1940-1941 war between a large European country, Italy, successor to Rome and partner of Nazi Germany, and small Greece, successor of ancient Greece.

Blytas spent 18 years in composing his story - a detailed narrative of war between Greeks and Italians and Germans in 16 chapters, and a record of the dreadful consequences of the occupation of Greece by Germans, Italians and Bulgarians in 8 chapters. The 24 chapters of the book represent the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.

Blytas starts his account by quoting Hitler talking about WWII. Hitler acknowledged the Italian war against Greece was a bad idea. "The shameful defeats that the Italians suffered in their pointless campaign in Greece," Hitler said, "compelled us, contrary to our plans, to intervene in the Balkans [primarily Greece, April 6, 1941], and that in turn led to a catastrophic delay in the launching of our attack on Russia."

Blytas says Greece played a "crucial" and "defining" role in WWII. His book, "The First Victory" (Cosmos Publishing, 2009), backs him up. The Greek victory over the Italians was no small skirmish. Italy poured more than 500,000 soldiers supported by hundreds of tanks and warplanes. Then, starting on April 6, 1941, the Germans added even more troops, tanks and warplanes. All together, the Axis powers, Italy, Germany, Albania and Bulgaria, marshaled about 750,000 soldiers against Greece. The Greeks decimated the elite German paratroopers in Crete.

WWII lasted for 72 months. The Allies failed in Europe where German troops captured Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark in less than 3 months. In the midst of this failure, Greece resisted the Axis powers for 7 months. This was, according to Blytas, an "astonishing achievement" hardly less important than the battle of Marathon.

In 490 BCE, Athenians and Plataeans defeated a vastly larger invading Persian army, thus keeping Greece and Europe free from Persian occupation and slavery. The war and resistance of Greece to Italians and Germans in WWII also saved Europe from Nazi German occupation and slavery. "The battle of Greece," Says Blytas, "was the twentieth-century version of the battle of Marathon."

The world watched Greek heroism against the armies of Mussolini with admiration. Blytas quotes President Roosevelt praising Greece. Speaking on October 28, 1943, the third anniversary of the Italian invasion of Greece, Roosevelt said Greece "set an example that every one of us must follow until the despoilers of freedom everywhere are brought to their just doom."

The end of WWII brought partial doom to the despoilers of freedom. But the historians did not hear Roosevelt. They rushed defending the strong powers and ignored Greece. Indeed, they neglected the strategic role Greek resistance to Italy and Germany had in the delayed German attack on Russia, which led to the defeat of Germany. They also distorted the first victory of Greece, suggesting British troops made that possible. Not a single British soldier, Blytas says, was in continental Greece in the winter of 1940.

For these reasons read "The First Victory." It is the first scholarly treatment of what Greece did and suffered in WWII. The story Blytas tells is gripping, thorough, thoughtful and backed by reliable evidence.

The Axis powers dismembered Greece and killed 10 percent of her population and wiped out her infrastructure. When the occupiers left Greece, the country looked like a nuclear bomb had hit it. This is important because truth is important.

As Euripides said, "Blessed is the man who has learned history."