The German-Italian Campaign in Greece (1940-1941) Part I

The Hellenic mobilization was secretly begun in mid-August 1940. While Greece provided for the reinforcement of the coverage of the Albanian border and the completion of the coastal and anti-aircraft defenses, Italy sent three divisions to Albania, in addition to the five that were already there.

According to, the Italian war plan provided for a defensive phase in the Corciano-Macedonian chessboard and an offensive in Epirus, in order to seize it and make it a starting point for any subsequent operations against the remaining Hellenic territory. The Greek war plan considered a first defensive phase over a predicted and largely prepared position of resistance, which, in Macedonia, remained almost on the border line and, in Epirus, was linked to the fortified node of Kalibaki (in official documents Elea) and followed the course of the Kalamàs river to the sea. Subsequently, as soon as the necessary reserves had flowed in, the Greek army had to go on the counter-offensive, first from Macedonia towards the Corizza basin, then on the whole front.

The Italian expeditionary force, under the command of General Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, was deployed with two divisions, the “Parma” and the “Piedmont”, in Corciano and four, the “Julia” (alpine), the “Ferrara”, the ” Centauro “(battleship) and the” Siena “, with a slight mixed grouping, on the Epirota border. The two remaining divisions, “Venice” and “Arezzo”, were located on the Yugoslav border but, on the 28th, the first of them was moving towards Corizza and the other was soon called to the Greek front, leaving few departments of carabinieri and financial police to monitor the borders with Yugoslavia, whose attitude aroused some concern. The Italian divisions were “binary”: they had two infantry regiments, while the Greek ones, “ternary”, counted three. Both included an artillery regiment; the Italians had a numerical preponderance of batteries (nine against six), some Hellenic guns, however, were more modern and of greater range. Overall, from the Pindus to the sea, 26 battalions (including 3 of L 3 light tanks) and three Italian cavalry regiments against 20 Greek battalions, in cover, promptly reinforced with another 11 battalions within immediate range of the planned attack. resistance position. In the Macedonian-Corciano defensive sector there were 12 Italian battalions (which can be increased to 18 with the arrival of the “Venice” division) and 20 Hellenic ones. readily reinforceable with 11 other battalions within immediate range of the planned resistance position. In the Macedonian-Corciano defensive sector there were 12 Italian battalions (which can be increased to 18 with the arrival of the “Venice” division) and 20 Hellenic ones. readily reinforceable with 11 other battalions within immediate range of the planned resistance position. In the Macedonian-Corciano defensive sector there were 12 Italian battalions (which can be increased to 18 with the arrival of the “Venice” division) and 20 Hellenic ones.

The numerical superiority that is required in those who attack was lacking in the Italian troops and the balance of forces was destined to turn, in a short time, to the detriment of Italy. The Italian government had relied on a supposed lack of fighting spirit of the Greek army, on the help of the populations who were supposed to welcome the soldiers as liberators and on a probable Bulgarian intervention: none of these three hypotheses occurred.

The bad weather, which had been raging for several days, had turned the roads into streams of mud, swollen the waterways, bogged down the fields, when, at dawn on October 28, the operations began, with some patrol action on the border. Macedonian and the anticipated advance into Epirus. The few Greek departments that were guarding the border, retreated opposing a weak resistance, which however stiffened as the Italian troops advanced into Epirota territory. The flooding of rivers, the numerous road interruptions, the lack of bridge materials contributed to making the Italian advance more tiring and slower. At the beginning of November, the fight became very hard and the Hellenic troops began by showing themselves more aggressive on the Macedonian border and, immediately after, they acted vigorously against the Italian columns that entered Epirus. They counterattacked, through the Pindus chain, the left one which, in a bitter fight, had pushed only one stage from the Métsovo road junction, and blocked the central ones from the front, on the Kalibaki-Kalamàs resistance position. Only on the far right, on the coast, did the Italian troops manage to cross the Kalamàs and push bold but light cavalry stakes towards the south. At the end of the first ten days of November, the Italian offensive was definitively stopped and the situation of the divisions engaged in Epirus appeared precarious. The troops were tired, the losses suffered very serious, the supplies were lacking.

On November 9, the general Ubaldo Soddu replaced General Visconti Prasca in the top command of the armed forces in Albania and ordered the troops under his command in two armies, the 9 to (General Mario Vercellino) to the north, and 11 in(general Carlo Geloso) to the south. The Italian supreme command had given up, due to the raging weather and bad sea conditions, a planned landing in Corfu and had started the “Bari” division in Albania.

The first phase of the war against Greece was thus concluded and on November 14 the second began: under the command of General Alessandro Papagos the Hellenic army, materially reinforced by the arrival of new divisions and morally by the unexpected successes achieved, moved to the counter-offensive on the whole front. Soon the unfavorable trend of operations forced the Italian command to consider the need for a retreat towards the southern edge of the Albanian mountain range, approximately on the Pogradec-M line. Kamia-M. Ostravice-Porto Palermo. While the movement was about to be implemented, Hellenic units managed to break into the Ersekë basin, in the center of the Italian deployment, separating the two armies and threatening to circumvent 11 a, still pushed beyond the old borders. The Greeks, however, did not have the exact perception of the strategic possibilities that this action offered them: by proceeding with excessive prudence, they gave the Italians a way to plug the dangerous flaw. Other divisions began to flow from Italy which, necessarily, had to be employed in groups: in this way, freshly disembarked departments were thrown onto the line of fire, without any organic criteria, in order to remedy difficult situations, suddenly created. On November 21, the two armies set off towards the planned rear line, a purely geographical line without any fortification preparations. On the 22nd, Corizza was abandoned, while on the 11th aarmy was still in Epirus and was forced to accelerate the retreat movement, which she carried out under the protection of rear guards. On 4 December, Prëmet was evicted, on 6 Porto Edda (Santi Quaranta) and on 8 Gjirokastra. On that day the difficult maneuver of retreat was completed and the two armies, in addition to having shortened the front, found themselves deployed on positions closer to the landing ports on which they could have awaited, with greater safety, the arrival of the necessary reinforcements to establish the balance of the situation and to achieve, at a later time, that superiority which would have allowed the resumption of the initiative of the operations.

Thus began the third phase of the war, the battle of arrest. The Greeks resumed contact with the new line and hammered it throughout December and most of January, while Soddu was replaced (December 30) by General Ugo Cavallero, chief of general staff, who arrived in Albania on December 4.

The Hellenic Supreme Command deployed almost the entire army on the Albanian front, also withdrawing most of the divisions sent to Thrace and eastern Macedonia, towards the borders with Bulgaria. Under the continuous attacks from the enemy, the Italian line suffered some fractures, as happened on 10 January when, with the conquest of Clisura, the enemy was able to threaten Berat and Tepeleni; but he did not yield. The uninterrupted influx of new divisions, made less difficult by the improved conditions of the port facilities of S. Giovanni di Medua and, especially, of Durres and Valona, ​​gave the Italian deployment a considerable consistency, so much so that, in the second fortnight of January, any danger of breaking the front could be considered definitively averted and, for the first time after the offensive stopped, the Italian command was able to attempt a counter-offensive maneuver for the reconquest of Clisura. Even if the operation did not reach its intended goal, it certainly contributed to the arrest of the opposing push.

The German-Italian Campaign in Greece (1940-1941) 1