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WW 2's Forgotten Battle the Italian Invasion of Greece

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.

ww-iis-forgotten-battle-the-italian-invasion-of-greece
ww-iis-forgotten-battle-the-italian-invasion-of-greece

Background

1940 is the year of the glory of Hitler. He hogged the European stage as the most powerful man. On the other hand, the other fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was feeling belittled. He was the senior fascist leader, having come to power a decade earlier than Hitler and he hated being in the shadow of the man. He wanted to exert himself and show to the world that he was not second to Hitler. Hitler was basking in the glory of his successful 1940, while Mussolini was nursing a severe bout of jealousy. Everyone seemed to love Hitler, while Mussolini was ridiculed by his own people, who hated him for forcing them into a war that the average Italian did not want. He was already licking his wounds after the thrashing by the British and the Indian army in North Africa, so he hatched another plan; The invasion of Greece.

The Italian government issued an ultimatum demanding that either Greece surrender or face invasion. The Greek government rejected the Italian ultimatum with a single word 'no.'

On receipt of this reply, Mussolini ordered the Italian army to launch a massive three-prong offensive along the Albanian border with Greece. It appears Hitler was not kept in the loop as Mussolini wanted to create a shock effect.


ww-iis-forgotten-battle-the-italian-invasion-of-greece

The Battle

On orders of Mussolini, the Italian army formed three formidable formations in Albania to invade Greece along the 90-mile border. In the first formation, Italians massed a large infantry force along with guns and tanks to move along the coast while the second formation consisting of the elite Alpine troops of the Italian army was tasked to move through the central mountains. The third formation of mixed armored & infantry forces began the push into northern Greece. On paper, this looked like a formidable plan. The Italian dictator was confident that it would be a walkover and very soon the world would appreciate him and applaud him like Hitler.

The Italian army had a force level of 140,000 soldiers. Opposing the Italian army were just 36,000 Greek soldiers. The Italians commenced the offensive on 28 October 1940. The battle commenced with the Italian forces at an advantage. The Greeks outnumbered 3-1 had to fall back. Italian army appeared triumphant as the Greeks fought a desperate rearguard action to slow the Italian advance.

The Greek army had, however, set up a defensive line in the mountainous terrain. This was where they hoped to stop the Italian advance. There was another difference between the Italian and Greek troops. The Greek soldiers were highly motivated while the Italians motivation was at a lower level. Many of the recruits were not aware of why they were fighting in Greece. The result was that the Italian attacks began to peter out and the Greeks in shock attacks began to push the Italian army back.

The Elite Italian Alpine units of the Italian army who were expected to show the way to victory put in extremely poor performance. They got hammered by the Greeks in the Central mountains and at many places they were surrounded and annihilated. The Greek soldiers though fewer in numbers dominated the terrain and launched ambushes, flanking, and surrounding attacks on the Italian Alpine force; it was a total disaster.

If the elite troops of the Italian army failed it was on the cards and the others would follow and this is precisely what happened.

Surrendering Italians

Surrendering Italians

Epilogue

Winston Churchill the British Prime Minister was alive to the situation in the Balkans and the British began to pour in vast amounts of supplies and weapons to support the Greeks. The Greeks also began to mobilize and their strength increased. They began counterattacks on the Italians who began to be pushed back. In retaliation, the Italian army began to burn cities while retreating. The world watched as the so-called formidable Italian army went into retreat and was thrown back to the Albanian border with casualties running into thousands and their morale severely dented.

The Italian high command decided to send in reinforcements. These were however poorly trained conscripts and they were worse off than the regular army. Greeks had now beefed up their strength and the Greek commander General Papagos decided to launch a counteroffensive against Italians. His purpose was to crush the Italian army so that they could never mount another invasion.

General Papagos formed 3 Greek army Corps for the invasion of Albania. Winter had now set in but the Greeks seizing key mountain passes and valleys along the border. The Italians were badly defeated and suffered heavy casualties.

Benito Mussolini was informed of the outcome and he was furious and decided to take personal command of the battle. The extreme cold and the snow affected both the armies and they waited for spring.

With the advent of Spring Mussolini personally ordered a massive offensive to finally defeat the Greeks. Despite taking personal command the spring offensive launched on 9th March 41was a disaster and in the first week of fighting the Italians lost 12,000 soldiers. As casualties kept mounting Mussolini had no choice but to halt the spring offensive but in the bargain, the Greeks had captured 1/3 of Albania. It was all over by 23 April 1941. During this campaign, Mussolini shuffled 3 commanders of the Italian Army in Greece namely Sebastiano Visconti Prasca(C-in-C to 9 November), Ubaldo Soddu (C-in-C to mid-December), and finally, Ugo Cavallero till the end of the campaign.
Mussolini cut a sorry figure on the world stage and he had to request Hitler for help. It is history that Hitler intervened in the Balkans and won a great victory. At the end of the war, Adolf Hitler said,

Historical justice obliges me to state that of the enemies who took up positions against us, the Greek soldier particularly fought with the highest courage. He capitulated only when further resistance had become impossible and useless”

As far as Mussolini is concerned he became a shadow of Hitler dependent on him for everything.


Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 21, 2021:

Pamela, so nice that you have spared your valuable time and added your comment

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 21, 2021:

Manatita, Nice of you to have spared time and commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 21, 2021:

Mike, thank you for sparing time and commenting.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 21, 2021:

I also found this article to be very interesting and well-researched. I like all the pictures you included as well.

I could not find this article in my feed yesterday when i read the article, so I am glad to see it here today. I think this is an excellent article, MG.

manatita44 from london on February 21, 2021:

A well researched and very interesting piece, Emge. Ego can and do work against us in disastrous ways. Om Shanti!

Readmikenow on February 21, 2021:

This was well-written. It was also something I had not heard about. Excellent article. I enjoyed learning about this aspect of WWII previously unknown to me.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 20, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela. Nice of you to have commented.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 20, 2021:

This is a very good, well-written historical article, MG. I really like all the pictures and the information you shared. Thank you, MG.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 20, 2021:

thank you, Peggy, for sparing time and commenting

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 20, 2021:

Thanks for sharing information about this battle during WWII. As you mentioned, the Greeks had more motivation to win since they were defending their own country against the Italian invasion.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 20, 2021:

Tom, thank you for commenting. The Greeks have a checkered history and have always been fighting a war. For a long period, they were part of the Ottoman Empire and ruled by Muslims till they carried out the war of independence and threw the Muslims out. There is no doubt that with almost 2.5 million active soldiers in the battle against the Axis the Indian army made the biggest contribution to the war effort but I feel constrained to note that most western writers do not acknowledge it. Even the population of the western nations is not aware of the contribution of the Indian army In the battle against Germany and later Japan.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 20, 2021:

Ravi, great of you to have commented

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 20, 2021:

Liz, thank you for commenting

Liz Westwood from UK on February 19, 2021:

The role of Mussolini and the Italians is often overlooked in the Second World War. You highlight it well in this informative article.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 19, 2021:

Interesting information MG. I never knew about this Italian invasion of Greece.Thanks for sharing.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 19, 2021:

Yes, Col, perhaps you are right and concept of the martial race is not all that redundant. Certainly French and Italians made poor soldier -warriors. Mussolini had ambition but lacked muscle.

Lt Col Oarsman Singh on February 19, 2021:

Yes, MG. This battle is not given much importance as the Italians were defeated. It is important because it forced Hitler to delay his Russian invasion till he sorted out Greece. This he did in 4 weeks. All said and done throughout history the French and Italians were poor fighters. Maybe they were not the martial clan.

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