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Italian Invasion Of Greece 1940-41: Part One

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On October 20th General Roatta issued a directive (DSCSTA f.4100/SME) spelling out the goals for Contingency G.  The main focus of the operation was the launching of an offensive to seize the Epirus region from the Greeks.   The Epirus area is formed by the Pindus Mountains, which average nearly 8,700 feet in height and served as an imposing obstacle that separated Epirus from Macedonia, the Artachtos River which flowed in the east, and in the west by the sea.  The Epirus area, one of the three main regions of the country, helps to make up the “central” region of mainland Greece.  Macedonia and Thrace make up the north region and in the south the Peloponnese peninsula.

Roatta’s directive called for a defensive posture to be taken up in the Korista area, and the island of Corfu was to be seized and occupied.  Once a sufficient amount of reinforcements had arrived in theater an advance from Epirus towards Athens was to commence.

Greek Field Marshal Alexander Papagos.

Greek Field Marshal Alexander Papagos.

The measures undertaken by the Greeks in anticipation of a war against the Italians were accelerated throughout the middle of 1940, with steps including the call up of reserves and the creation of ammunition and supply points secretly established near the Albanian border.

Perhaps the most significant preparation taken by the Greeks would be the redeployment of a large number of its troops away from the Bulgarian border, who had for years been seen as the Greeks biggest threat, and moved towards the western portion of the country to confront an attack by the Italians.  Furthermore, after the onset of the Greco-Italian War when it became apparent to Greek leaders that Bulgaria was not going to attack, they were able to strip many of their ‘battle worthy’ divisions from their positions on the Bulgarian frontier and feed them into the battle against the Italians.

A grouping of fortifications known as the “Metaxas line”, which was created to help defend against a potential Bulgarian attack, would remain manned, but by mostly inexperienced troops or units requiring a rest or refit from the fighting in Albania.  This would enable the Greeks to rotate and infuse fresh troops into the fray against the Italian military in a timely fashion, a critical advantage they used during a fight that soon turned into a bloody battle of attrition.

It is somewhat difficult to get a fully accurate account of the actual number of troops who would participate in the Greco-Italian War, particularly at the onset.  Some factor into the total Greek “reserve” troops who were positioned a distance from the Albanian border but who were called forward very quickly once the Italian attack began, while others do not.  For propaganda reasons both the Italians and the Greeks ‘massaged’ the reporting on the number of troops fighting both during and after the battle to bolster their view of the conflict; the Greeks tended to under report the number of men they had fighting under their flag to help buoy the “David versus Goliath” aspect of their fight.  The Italians on the other hand were inclined to exaggerate the number of troops they were pitted against to help justify the outcome of the battle.  A commonly held position today is that the Greeks held a numerical advantage during the first months of the war, with the Italians finally gaining a quantitative dominance form January 1941 till the end of the fighting.

The drums of war that had been beating in the ears of Mussolini reached their crescendo during the autumn of 1940.  The Italian army stood by at the ready, a mere order was all that was needed to send them into the heart of battle.  That order would come during the early morning hours of October 28th, beginning the bloody battle of the Balkans which was the Greco-Italian War.

End Part One of Three

Special thanks to Dennis Hussey and Jeff Leser for their help in editing the article.  Your time and work is greatly appreciated.  Thank you both.

References:
The Hollow Legions: Mussolini’s Blunder in Greece, 1940-1941:  Mario Cervi
Heroes Fight Like Greeks, The Greek Resistance Against the Axis Powers in WWII : Ronald J Drez
Mussolini and his Generals: The Armed forces and Fascist Foreign Policy, 1922-1940 : John Gooch
Hitler:  Ian Kershaw
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