Mussolini invaded Greece through Albania (October 28). Perhaps miffed that Hitler did not consult with him as he invaded Poland and France, Mussolini carried out another invasion without consulting Hitler. Unlike Albania, the poorly armed Greeks fought. After an extremely painful confrontation with Franco, a surprised Hitler arriving at the train station in Rome was told by an enthuiastic Mussolini, "Führer, we are on the march." Hitler was furious although he did not show it in public. And we do not know what he told Mudolini in private. Hitler was angry because having been frustrated by Britain, he was had decided to strike east. And to concentrate his strength he wanted a safe southern flank. He had already made progress in brining the Balkan countries into the Axis. Greece was a Fascist country, albit with ties to Britain. The Greeks, however, were primarily concerned with their independence and would have been happy to have remained neutral and left alone. But now Mussolini had unecesarily opened up a new front and stirred up a beesnest. Hitler wanted Mussolini to focus on the British forces in Egypt, but now the Italian army had two fronts on its hands and not doing well on either. The Greek invasion proved to be a dissaster from the onset. And only got worst as the winter set in. The weather proived to be a factor. Musolini, genius as it was, had launched an attack though mountnous territory just as the fall weahger began to turn cold. The Greeks not only resisted, but drove the vaunted Italian Army back accross the Albania border. Even worse, it turned the Greeks which had a Fascist Government from a potentiall ally to an opponent from which the key Romanian oil fields could be threatened. Ultimately the Germans has to interceed. But for 9 months the Italians wre stuck in a draining campaign in the Albanian mountains while the Britih in Egypt launched a counter attack and nearly destroyed Italian forces in Libya (December 1941). Hitler intervened to sabe the Italians. First he sent Erwin Rommel and a small armored force to Libya (March 1941). Second, after a copp in Yugoslavia, Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941). It was a text book Blitzkrieg German campaign.
Yugoslavia and Greece and a British expeitionary force were quickly crushed, but of much more importance, Operation Barbarossa, the invassion of Russia, had to be delayed a few critical weeks.
Mussolini when he declaring war on Britain and France had assumed that the Germans had already won the War (June 1940). The Germans did defeat the French, but the British were avery different matter. From the very onset the military situation did not go well for the Italians. While France was teeteing, the Italians attacked in the South, but were repulsed by French Army inits there (June 1940). A few Italian units joined the Germans in the Battle of Britin. But it was soon evident that the Italian Air Force was ilprepared for modern warfare (July 1940). Unlike the Allies, there was no real Axis coordination. Hitler wanted the Italians to use their massive militrary superiority, at least, in number to seize Suez from the British. The Italians did move a massive army a few miles into Egypt, but despite ocerwealming numbers, decided to establish a defensive line instad of pressing on to Alexandria and Suez (September 1940). his was the beginning of the fight for the Western Desert. In response. the outnumbered Royal Navy began attacking Italian supply convoys, mostly to Tipoli. Supplying their forces in the Western Desert would be the primary Axis problem in North Africa. This would lead to aeries of naval engagements between the Britih Mediterrnean Fleet and the much larger Italian Navy--Mediterranean Naval campign. The Italian Navy was at first reluctant to give battle.
talian Duche Benito Mussolini launched an invasion of Greece on October 28, 1940 from Albania. Mussolini had earlier invaded an occupied Albania in 1939. In contarast to the close coordination that developed among the Allied countries, Mussolini not only did not coordinate his attack with the Germans, but did not even inform them of his plans until the attack was underway. The Greeks delivered a resounding OXI! (NO!) October 28, 1940 to Mussolini's ultimatum. The Italian troops were beaten back and the Greek troops overtook over one third of Albania. [Stassinopoulos] Mussolini assumed that the Greeks woukd easily fall to his conquering army. Greek's small army of 150,000 men not only stopped the Italian thrust toward Salonika using rugged mountaneous terraine to their advantage, but with British assistance including RAF units, drove the Italians back into Albania. The British sent about 50,000 troops to help Greece, which they had to deplete from Egypt. The Greeks by November 1940 had seized Korçë, the principal Italian base in Albania. The lack of martial ardour of Italian soldies during the War is surprising given the pretentions of military greatness by Mussolini and the Fascists which had governed Italy since the 1920s. This was in sharp contrast to Hitler's success in ideoligically preparing the German soldier. The Greek success against Italy was the first Axis ground failure of the War. The RAF's success in the British of Britain was also conformation that the Axis could be resisted. The failure of the Italians made in increasingly obvious that the Germans would intervene.
World War II began when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland (September 1939). For a year figting waged in the north, but not the Mediterranean or Balkans. The Italian invasion expanded the War to the Balkans--just where Hitler did not want a war to drain German resources. Mussolini thought that the Greeks would be easily and quickly defeated. Six reinforced Divisions of the Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army ) drove south from occupied Albania into northern Greece. This was argually the most ill-conceived military offensive of the entire war. To say that it was poorly planned would be a mistatement, there was in fact little planning what-so-ever. Mussolini simply decided he wanted to do it. He ignored the advise from his General Staff stressiung the necessary manpower and appopriate timing needed to launch and supported a major military action. He was also told that while engaged with the British in the Western Desert, opening a second front was a serious mistke. The Italian military commanders were given only days to prepare.
General Roatta issued a directive (DSCSTA f.4100/SME) detailing plans to the senior Army officers for the invasion--Contingency G (October 20). Roatta focused the initial offensive on seize the Greek Epirus region, essentially northern Greece. Epirus is one of the three main regions of Greece. The other areas of northern Greece are Macedonia and Thrace. The rest of Greece is the Peloponnese peninsula in the south.
The Epirus area is dominated by the Pindus Mountains, averaging some 8,700 feet in height -- a formidable obstale for even the best equipped army and the Italian units being prepared for the invasion were neiher well equipped or supplied. The Pindus Mountains were an imposing natural barrier separating Albania and Yugoslav Macedonia from the more heavily populted ares of Greece. The planned area of operations was bounded by the Artachtos River which flowing east and the Adreiatic Sea in the west.
Roatta's Congencg G plan was to seize Epirus and then establish a defensive posture in the Korista area. At the same time the island of Corfu was to be seized and occupied. The position in Epirus was to be reinforced. And when sufficent reinforcements were brought in, the Italians would launch a major offensive toward Athens. None of this transpired except for the initial attack into Epirus. The Greek invasion proved to be a dissaster from the onset an a huge embarassment for the Axis. Within days, Italian defeats in the field began. We see this in Cianos's diary as soon as he returns from a trip to Germany, although he is not yet aware that the Greeks would be able to resist for long. [Ciano, November 6, p. 307.]
After the initial Italian attack, the Greeks concluded that there would be no Bulgarian attack and thus most of their combat-ready divisions were moved west to resist the Italians. The initial Greek stand in the mountains, bought time to mobilize the reserves. More Greek attacks convinced Ciano of the seriouness of the situation.. [Ciano, November 15, p. 311.] And the situation only got worst as the winter set in. The weather proved to be a factor. Musolini, genius that he was, had launched a unprepared attack though mountnous territory and just as the fall weather brought rains and then cold weather.
The initial chaoltic Italian offensive had achieved little which allowed the Greeks to stregthen their forces. The Italians organized their invasion force into two field armies. The Ninth Army was basically the XXVI Corps deployed in the Korçë sector. It consisted of five infantry and two Alpini (mountin) divisions as well as a number of independent regiments. This included Fascist Blackshirt (the Italian version of the Wafen SS) and Albanian battalions. The Eleventh Army was the XXV Corps deployed on the Epirus sector. It consisted of three infantry, an armoured, and a cavalry division, as well as a number of independent units. These units were in aifficult situation. As it was assumed that the Greeks would not resist the Italian onslaught, supplies had not been stoickpiled for an extended cmpsign. The Italian troops at the front had been fighting for three weeks and were both exhausted and running out of amunition and food. The Italins did not have the logistical capbility to supply the substantil forces fighting in the rugged mountains over primitive roads. Or reinforce them. There were few trucks and as the wether turned bad, the roads in the mountains became virtually impassable. The Italians had to use horses and mules which ere in short supply . And if this was bad enough, the Italians even had trouble getting supplies to the main ports, let alon up into the mountains. Bottlenecks developed at Albania's two main ports: Valona and Durrës. The Italians initiated an airlift to Tirana, the Albanian capital. They had to use Air Force's entire transport capacity meaning that planes in the Western Desert had to be withdrawn. The Italian Air Force could transport men and supplies, but no heavy equipment. [Knox, p. 238.] The airlift capacity was, however, limited and did not solve the problm of getting men and equipment up into the mountains where they were needed.
The Greek Army was commanded by Gen. Alexandros Papagos. Facing the Italians was a Greek force consisting of three reinforced corps. Lieutenant-General Demestichas' I Corps was deployed in the coastal sector. It consisted of the 2nd, 8th, and the Cavalry Divisions along with the Lioumbas Detachment. Lieutenant-General Papadopoulos' II Corps was deployed in the in the Pindus and consisted of the 1st Infantry Division, 5th Brigade and the Cavalry Brigade. Lieutenant-General Tsolakoglou's III Corps was deployed in western Macedonia and included the 9th, 10th, 15th Infantry Divisions, with the 11th Division beginning to assemb in the rear. The latter two corps were part of the Western Macedonia Army Section (TSDM) commanded by Lieutenant-General Pitsikas. The Greeks organized
a reserve consisting of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Infantry Divisions, as well as the 16th Brigade.
Unlike the Italians, the Greeks were able to move men and equipment to the front. They had began preparing for an Italian invasion for some time. And 2 weeks after the Itlian invasion, Gen. Papagos had deployed over 100 infantry well supplied battalions on familiar terrain facing less than 50, exhausted and poorly supplied battalions. [Bauer, p. 105.]
The Greeks not only resisted, but after only 6 weeks drove the larger and better equipped vaunted Italian Army back accross the Albania border. Greek troops overran more than one third of Italian occupied Albania. The Italians spent spent the next 3 months fighting for their lives in a defensive battle. It was the first land defeat of the Axis. It was not the Germans, but it underscored Italy's weakness which was further being demonstrated in the Western Desert.
Hitler intervened to save his Italian allies. This was necessary because critical to the German invasion was access to the Romanian oil fields. Germany had been relying on Soviet oil deliveries to supplement its synthetic oil production. The Soviet deliveries would end of course when Germany invaded leaving the Germans dependant on Romanian oil until the Soviet Caucauses could be seized. Hitler thus saw a German intervention to seize Greece and secure Germany's southern flank now that Mussolini had undid his diplomacy would be necessary. As a result, German forces in Romania were reeinforced and efforts were made to bring Yugoslavia into the NAZI orbit so that
the Panzers could move through that country to attack Greece. Hitler had forced Yugoslavia to join the other Axis Balkan partners, but the Government was overthrown necessitaing a full-scale German invasion. Hitler had to come to the rescue Mussolini. First he sent Erwin Rommel and a small armored force to Libya (March 1941). Second, after a coup in Yugoslavia, Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Greece simultaneously (April 6, 1941).
The British sent about 50,000 troops to help Greece, which depleted their forces in the Western Desert. It was a text book German Blitzkrieg campaign. The Luftwaffe and German Panzers quickly crushed Yugoslavia and Greece as well as the British expeditionary force. But of far greater importance Belgrade was subjected to Luftwaffe terror bombing for rejecting an alliance with the NAZIs. The Germans swept through Greece and Yugoslavia The Greek army was forced to withdraw from Albania to avoid being cut off by the advancing Germans. The Greek Epirus Army Section surrendered to the Germans (april 20. The Greeks then suurendered to the Italians bringing the Italian campaign to a conclusion (April 23). The Greek Government capitualed (April 27). The Germans then took Crete with a daring, but costly parachute assault. (Hitler never again allowed a parachute assault.) The German-Italian relationshop fundamentally changed with the Italian Army's failure in Greece and subsequently in the western Desert.
Bauer, Eddy. Peter Young, ed. The History of World War II Revised ed. (London: Orbis, 2000).
Ciano, Galeazzo. The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943 (Garden City Publishing Company: Garden City, 1945), 582p.
Knox, MacGregor. Mussolini Unleashed 1939–1941. Politics and Strategy in Fascist Italy’s Last War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
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