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Italian Invasion Of Greece 1940-41: Part One

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Hitler and his staff immediately began making plans to do just that.  Operation Sea Lion was the planned German operation designed to carry out an amphibious landing and attack against the United Kingdom, and thus bring this last remaining obstacle to Nazi domination in the west under German control.  While the preparations and details were being worked out to implement the invasion by the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht ), the Luftwaffe had begun its relentless attack against England in its attempt to both finish off the British air force and break the spirit of the British people.

As the summer months of 1940 passed by, Mussolini began to fear that the war would soon be over, and if he did not move quickly his ambitious dreams of Italian conquest and territorial gains would be cut short.  Just as the Duce had belatedly sent Italian troops into battle to ensure a place at the negotiating table during the final days of fighting before France surrendered, he now felt that the more land Italy fought on and or controlled before Briton surrendered the more bargaining power he would posses at the conclusion of the war. With the figurative clock ticking away in his head towards the end of the war, Mussolini began to pressure Graziani to push forward in Egypt in order to make contact with the enemy, while at the same time the Duce began to turn his gaze seriously towards Greece.

Mussolini and Hitler: Each had different views on what the Balkans meant to the Axis in 1940.

Mussolini knew however that Hitler would oppose any imminent Italian military operation against Greece, for it was well known to him that his German ‘partner’ held the exact opposite view on what Axis involvement in the Balkans should entail.  The German position was to avoid bringing the war to this area at all costs.  Hitler realized that the Balkans region was a potential tinder box and that it was a mere spark away from igniting.  The Fuhrer feared that Italian involvement in Greece would bring the Soviets, who had so far stayed mostly out of the war, into the Balkans to advance their own agenda.

The Fuhrer was likewise desperate to keep the fighting as far as possible from his precious oil fields in Romania, as the loss of this resource would have a crippling effect on the German war effort.   Hitler and his staff had continually pressed Mussolini to concentrate the Italian military efforts on the North African campaign, and to leave the Balkans undisturbed for the time being.

To the Germans, the Balkans was of little interest, but to Italy the region was of major importance to its future plans.  Italy could anchor its efforts to dismantle the newly created Yugoslavian state from Albania, which it saw as an obstacle towards advancing its interests.  Neutralizing Greece would eliminate the threat of a British presence in the Adriatic, while the raw materials of this area, if they could be seized, also presented Italy with the potential to increase its ability to be more self sufficient.  This was drastically needed to help fuel Mussolini’s planned expansionism with the end game of becoming a true global power.

But by the fall of 1940, it appeared to all that Italy would make no move that year against Greece.  Despite the positives that Mussolini felt could be gained from a victory over the Greeks, he had decided to keep his army on the Albanian side of the border, and once again informed Hitler that the Italian focus would remain on North Africa.   Besides this information being a relief to Hitler, many in the Italian General Staff were pleased with the decision not to attack.  Perhaps foremost relieved for the Italians was Marshal Badoglio, Chief of the General Staff, who was opposed to any actions against Greece for the foreseeable future.  Badoglio had been one of the architects of the 1939 study and planning of “Contingency G” the Italian operation for the invasion of Greece.  The operation called for the Italians to field 18 reinforced divisions, and designated the main line of attack to run from the Korista Depression to Salonika and Athens. This primary portion of the planned Italian operation called for 12 of the allotted 18 divisions to be committed in this sector.   A secondary parallel offensive aimed towards Yanina would require 3 more divisions, while the Yugoslavian border would be guarded by the final 3 Italian divisions.

By September of 1940 the Italians did not even have half of Contingency G’s required divisions in Albania.  Additionally that fall, Mussolini ordered the demobilization of 600,000 soldiers, which was to take place between October 10th and November 15th, all but assuring to those in the Italian General Staff who had worried of the possibility of a 1940 conflict with the Greeks that the danger had passed.  Italian staff officers now busied themselves with the task of “wintering” the troops in Albania, and carrying out the demobilization orders.

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