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Swastika over the Acropolis Book Review

by Jeff Leser

I just received Stockings and Hancock’s Swastika over the Acropolis in the mail awhile ago. I originally passed when the book was first published in 2013 as I sensed that it would be overly focused on the Germans and UK/CW forces and ignore the Greeks (shades of the Italians in NA). After reading some reviews and being involved in some discussions of the Greek war efforts, I decide to buy a copy.

Swastika over the Acropolis (History of Warfare) by Craig Stockings.

Swastika over the Acropolis (History of Warfare) by Craig Stockings.


If the book focuses on the UK and Germans, what is in it for the reader interested in Italy? The authors offer an excellent discussion of the problems faced by the Greeks during the campaign. What becomes clear is that the Italian Army was slowly gaining the upper hand and much of the German success in April 1941 was only due to the determination of the Italians in Albania.

The authors are taking on the myth surrounding the UK involvement in Greece. From the introduction: “As a consequence of our archival findings and subsequent analysis, this book will argue that the currently accepted English-language interpretations of the campaign are in many ways based on a misreading and misunderstanding of the evidence of the campaign.” (page 4); and “When authors have turned to the actual conduct of the campaign, they have tended to stress, with different emphasis, Greek failure, and German material superiority.”; along with “Much of this now standardized interpretation originated in Allied wartime propaganda, which has never been adequately or critically scrutinized.” on page 5.

From my own study of the Italo-Greek War, I have felt that General Papagos is given a short shrift in the English language works. He (and PM Metaxas) faced significant strategic challenges that are glossed over in the discussions of the defense of northeastern Greece. The authors of Swastika do an excellent job of discussing the strategic situation and the lack of any operational-level solutions to address that situation. Whereas most histories side with the British position on how best to defend Greece in 1941, Stockings and Hancock argue that Papagos had a better grasp on reality. They reaffirm recent (30 years worth of) scholarship that the ‘critical misunderstanding’ from the 22 February meetings was on the UK’s part and not on the Greek side. They also present sound strategic reasoning on why Papagos decided to hold the Metaxas Line. I must admit that I am a bit prejudiced in favor of this book as I am reading many of the same arguments within it that I have used over the years addressing this very point.

Swastika is billed as a campaign history and is just that. There are no detailed OBs or organizational charts, but much of that info is easily found in the text or other sources. The writing is clear and well cited. The movements and actions of the forces are presented in the right amount of detail given the operational level of the narrative. The maps are better than average. I will state that in all the books on the Greek campaign (Greek, Aus, NZ, UK, German, etc.), none have a small scale map that covers the entire campaign area with all the key locations identified. When discussing the operational planning, I still found myself referring to the Greek official histories or one of the other countries’ officials to find a map with the places named. The tactical maps are pretty good.

I recommend this book if you have a very strong interest in the Greek campaign. While the focus is on the events in the eastern part of the country, the presentation of the strategic and tactical considerations by all parties is well done. We can only hope that a good account of the Italo-Greek campaign will one day be written. Until then, Cervi’s The hollow legions; Mussolini’s blunder in Greece, 1940-1941 will need to soldier on.

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