Two medals commemorate a swift, costly war
by John Norris
When Italy attacked Greece on October 28, 1940, the Greek Army stood at around 430,000 men. Despite being equipped with outdated and obsolete weapons and vehicles, the Greek soldiers halted the Italian Army and held it in Albania. Britain responded to Greece’s plea for assistance by diverting troops and equipment to support the Greek Army.
As Mussolini’s ally, Hitler diverted German troops to support the Italian army in March 1941. The Greek and British forces tried desperately to hold off the Germans, but they were overwhelmed. Greek losses, alone, numbered at least 50,000. The fighting in mainland Greece came to an end on April 30, 1941. The nation remained under German occupation for more than three years, finally ending in October 1944.
Greek War Medal 1940-'41
Three years after the Liberation of Greece, an award known as the “Greek War Medal 1940-41” was instituted by Royal Decree on August 19, 1947. It was intended for presentation to those members of the Royal Greek Armed Forces who had participated in the defense of the country from 1940 until the fall of Crete in 1941. It could also be given to those members of the Allied forces who had fought in the campaign, including Britain, New Zealand, and Australian troops.
The shape of the medal is a circular disc measuring 32mm in diameter most commonly issued in bronze, but there was a gilt version, also. It was issued in two forms, one for land operations, and the second version for naval operations.
The profile of King George II appears on the obverse, facing to the right. There is no wordingon the obverse. The circumference is edged with a garland of laurels which terminate above the King’s head with the ends resting against either side of the royal crown. The medal was suspended from the ribbon by a ring attached to the top of the disc. The ribbon has a central stripe of pale blue which divides two darker blue vertical stripes and the outer edges have repeat narrow pale blue stripes.
The reign of King George II was very troubled. Born in June 1890, George came to the Greek throne in September 1922, and remained as monarch until a coup forced him into exile on December 19, 1923, though he refused to abdicate. In November 1935, after several years in exile, King George was invited to return as monarch and resume his duties. It was to prove an uneasy period. Tensions increased leading up to the outbreak of war.
After Italy attacked, King George remained in Greece until being forced to leave for the island of Crete on April 23, 1941. When German troops attacked Crete, the king left for Britain from where he ruled in exile.
On September 26, 1946, King George returned to Greece but died suddenly on April 1, 1947. He was succeeded by his younger brother Paul who ultimately authorized the War Medal in August of that year. Because King George II had been the reigning monarch during the war, it is his image that appears on the medal as opposed to that of King Paul.
Post-war years for Greece were also troubled. When King Paul died in 1964, his son, Constantine, replaced him. Once again, the monarchy found itself under threat from coups.
King Constantine fled the country in 1967 and went into exile. In 1973, the Greek monarchy was abolished, and the country became a Republic. All this upheaval led to changes in the design of the war medals dating from the Second World War.
For example, from 1983 the restrikes of the 1940-41 War Medal issued to veterans who had lost their original medals show the image of a headless female figure on the obverse, under which appears the date “1940-41.” A laurel garland wreath still forms the edge and terminates at the top, but it now frames the word “Greece” which replaces the crown. As with the original version, the replacement medals are un-named.
The reverse of the original medal from 1947 has the date “1940-41” at the upper edge. Below it are the place names (in the Greek Cyrillic) “Eprius, Albania, Macedonia, Thrace, Crete.” These are the locations of the major land battles fought by the Greek Army.
The original naval version also has the date of “1940-41” below which appears in Cyrillic, the names of the “Aegean, Ionian, Myrtoum, Adriatic.” From 1983, the date of 1940-41 which originally appeared on the reverse was removed on the replacement versions, while the place names remained.
Greek Distinguished Conduct Medal
Three years after the War Medal of 1940-41 was instituted, King Paul authorized another war medal in 1950. Often referred to as the “Greek Distinguished Conduct Medal”of the “Medal for Outstanding Acts,” it was intended for those troops who had completed “…outstanding or exceptional acts…” on the battlefield during the fighting of 1940. Civilians, however, were also eligible for the award.
This version is also referred to as the second issue, because it replaced the earlier award, known as the Medal of Military Merit, which had been instituted on November 11, 1940. It was really a renewal of the earlier award and used existing stocks of the original Medal of Military Merit 1916-1917, but with the addition of a bar on the ribbon bearing the date 1940 and issued in a single class regardless of rank.
After the war the design of the medal changed and was produced in oxidized copper metal, measuring 34mm in width and 42mm in height. It replacedall previous forms. It is suspended from a golden-yellow ribbon with two red vertical stripes to produce a broad central yellow strip and yellow borders on either side, and attached pendant to the top of the royal crown which surmounts the top of the medal.
The circumference of the medal is formed by a garland of laurel that intertwines a Greek-style cross with a royal crown above the crest of King George IIat the center of the cross. The cross is, in turn, is bisected by a pair of Crusader-style swords with blades upper-most. There are no words or mottos, and the medals were issued un-named.
The center of the reverse bears the date “1940,” otherwise there is no inscription or decoration of any type. As with the War Medal 1940-41, the Greek Distinguished Conduct Medal could be awarded to Allied soldiers who fought in the campaign, including New Zealand and Australian troops.
Like other war medals, the design of this award was altered when Greece became a Republic. The royal cypher and insignia on the obverse were removed and replaced by the emblem of the Republican Phoenix. This is the version that was issued to replace original medals which may have become lost. Neither of the medals carry any marks on them which could be used to identify either the designer or the production factory.
For collectors who may not have considered adding Greek war medals to their collection, this pair makes for an interesting starting point. They are not expensive with prices for examples in good condition beginningat around $30-$40, making these two often overlooked medals good specimens for expanding a WWII collection.