David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs
David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Michelle Powell-Smith - October 27, 2016

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Greco-Italian War

Between October 28, 1940 and April 23, 1941, the states of Greece and Italy were engaged in active warfare as part of the Greco-Italian War. While this was a local war, it led directly to the Balkan Campaign of World War II, and the Battle of Greece in 1941.

In the spring of 1939, fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini annexed the state of Albania. This was only months before the beginning of World War II in September 1939. The Greeks began actively fortifying their own boundaries, expecting a potential invasion from Italy. In August of 1940, the Italians sank a Greek ship, the Elli, and in October 1940, the Italians demanded the Greeks freely give territory to the Italians, but the Greek state refused. The Italians invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, before the ultimatum to cede land came to an end.

The Italians invaded with a force of 140,000, poorly equipped and equally poorly led. Experts had warned Mussolini that an invasion would require a massive force and very long war; however, he attempted it within only a few short weeks. The territory was heavily mountainous, and quite difficult to navigate. While Italy had attempted to gain the support of Bulgaria, Bulgaria remained neutral, enabling the Greeks to put their entire available force to fight the Italian invasion. The Greeks were highly successful, repelling the Italian invasion entirely by mid-November with a combined Greek and Albanian force totaling around 20,000 men.

The Greeks began a strong counter-offensive, working to retake Albania from the Italians. The Italian army was completely unsupplied, lacking appropriate clothing, or even ammunition for their weapons. Mussolini visited the Albanian front in March, 1941 in an attempt to boost morale. The battle finally began that March.

Greek forces had captured an Italian officer with full battle plans. The Italian force, now numbering around 50,000 was decimated, with around 12,000 dead. Mussolini’s attempt had failed and failed miserably. Hitler referred to the situation as a “pig’s mess”. In addition, the Greeks were now clearly on the side of the Allies in World War II, and had opened their airspace to the British.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

The Italian Invasion of Egypt

On September 13, 1940, Italian forces invaded Egypt. Italy had occupied Libya since 1912, and in 1935, began sending large numbers of Italians, primarily farmers, to settle in Libya. In 1936, to protect the Suez Canal, British troops were sent to Egypt and garrisoned there. Disputes between Hitler and Mussolini in the Battle of Britain led Mussolini to refuse German aid.

By September 1940, Mussolini believed that the German land invasion of Britain was imminent. He wanted to create his own Mediterranean land empire, in some ways hoping the recreate the ancient Roman Empire. Mussolini’s own generals advised against the invasion of Egypt; Italian air forces were minimal, and their reputation was largely falsified.

The Italian land forces were massive in comparison to the limited force available to the British in Egypt. Italian forces moved overland relatively slowly, at a pace of 10 to 12 miles a day. They initially met relatively little resistance. The Italians made camp around Sidi Barrani. The British initially opted for relatively minor operations, including air bombings on the camp. These were intended to cause a nuisance, rather than actively demolish the Italian forces.

By December 1940, the Italians had reinforced their forces with additional troops. On December 10, a small British force attacked. Over the course of three days, the British took nearly 40,000 Italian prisoners, then began to chase the retreating forces. By the end of January, more than 75,000 Italians had surrendered to the British.

On the third of February 1941, some 3,000 British troops took on a force of more than 20,000 Italians, gaining the surrender of the remaining retreating Italians. While the British could have continued on into Libya, the need for British troops in Greece led to the withdrawal of most British forces from North Africa.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Battle of Long Tan

Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) arrived in Vietnam in May 1966. Australian forces established a task force base at Nui Dat. By early August 1966, radio signals from Viet Cong forces indicated a strong Viet Cong presence in the area. On August 16 and 17, Nui Dat came under mortar fire, but there was no additional assault.

D Company left Nui Dat for the Long Tan rubber plantation late in the morning on August 18, 1966. Less than an hour after D Company arrived at Long Tan, the Viet Cong attacked. The Australians lacked adequate ammunition, and called for more to be helicoptered in. RAF choppers dropped blankets for the wounded and ammo for their guns.

Reinforcements arrived as the battle wore on, including New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery, two Australian Field Batteries, and an American Field Battery. Additional Australian troop reinforcements arrived by 7:00 P.M. that night. As they fought at the Battle of Long Tan, the troops had no idea how many Viet Cong they faced.

The next morning, Australian forces found 245 Viet Cong dead, and evidence that many more had been removed from the battlefield. Documents and information found after the battle suggested that as many as 2,500 Viet Cong. Only 18 Australians were killed and 24 wounded, nearly all from D Company, in the fighting.