CHANGE IN THE WIND
On October 7th 1940 German troops, at the request of Prime Minister Ion Antonescu, entered Romania to help provide ‘security’ for the country. The security Hitler was most interested in maintaining was German use of the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti, the life blood of his ‘war machine’. A letter from the Germans was sent to Mussolini, which arrived on the 11th, informing him of the German occupation. Once again Hitler had undertaken an important development without first notifying his Axis partner. Mussolini, upon reading the letter, was furious. It had been in his eyes humiliating enough to have been left in the dark regarding the previous German attacks on Poland and France, but to now have Hitler’s military occupy Romania , a country Mussolini saw as clearly being in the “Italian sphere of interest’, was too much for Il Duce.
This action was the tipping point for Mussolini, and he felt Italy needed to restore the balance of power between itself and Germany; or perhaps more to the point, between Hitler and himself. Ciano recorder in his diary the anger Mussolini felt at Hitler’s latest snub, “Hitler keeps confronting me with fatis accomplis. This time I shall pay him back in his own coin; he shall learn from the newspapers that I have occupied Greece. Thus equilibrium will be restored.” Hitler by his own hand had inadvertently put into motion exactly the event he had wished to avoid; war in the Balkans
On October 14th Mussolini summoned General Mario Roatta, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, and Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Chief of the Supreme General Staff, to the Plaza Venezia to inform them that they were to immediately implement Contingency G with the initial goal of pulling off a Coup de Main in the Epirus region. With practically no time to prepare, this endeavor would have to be accomplished with basically the troops on hand in Albania. After the completion of the first phase, which by then it was anticipated that sufficient reinforcements and supplies would have been delivered to the theater, a push towards Athens would begin. Mussolini also decreed that the invasion was to take place October 26th (later moved to the 28th), which was less than two weeks away!
Roatta and Badoglio were shocked at this development, although for the most part they held their tongues instead of protesting more vigorously to the Duce than they did. Roatta advised Mussolini that he thought at least 12 more divisions would be needed for the campaign before the invasion should begin, and at least three months was required to prepare and coordinate the operation. For his part, Badoglio recommended that Mussolini postpone launching this somewhat limited attack against Epirus in order to build up forces for a much grander invasion and push immediately towards Athens. Badoglio believed that by dangling a much larger prize in front of Mussolini he might be able to convince him to grant more time before rushing into the invasion. The Duce would hear nothing of it and ignored these suggestions; his mind was now set on war.
On October 15th Mussolini announced to the whole of the General Staff the plan to go to war. Incredibly neither the heads of the Italian Navy nor the Air Force were present for this monumental decision. Mussolini decreed that preparations were to begin immediately. A barrage of orders poured out of Rome in an attempt to completely turn a military force that was easing into a winter hold into one that was about to launch a major offensive. The magnitude of this endeavor would have put a strain on the logistical capabilities of any of the militarise of 1940, but for the Italian army whose logistic support structure was far from a strength, this decision would almost bring the supply chain to a crashing halt. For months after the invasion began, needed supplies would sit on the docks and in the warehouses of Italy due to mismanagement or lack of adequate preparation time. Once these supplies reached Albania, further delay would be incurred because of a lack of sufficient supply vehicles
The Military hierarchy scrambled to recall the hundreds of thousands of men who had been demobilized just weeks prior. One can easily imagine the chaos this would cause as men who had just recently adjusted themselves to spending time at their homes with their family were now being rushed back not only into service, but to prepare physically and mentality for a multi-front offensive. With the wheels in motion for war, General Presca would get his chance for glory on the battlefield, and Mussolini a opportunity for his ‘revenge’ on Hitler for his deceptive ways, but in their haste they would have to confront an opponent who would be better prepared for the type of war that would be waged.