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Italian Invasion of Greece 1940-41: Part Three

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Even with the Greek surrender, which officially ended the hostilities, the Italians, along with German occupational forces, found themselves mired in a vicious partisan battle that would drag on for years.  This prolonged bloodletting served to tie down Axis forces in the Balkan region for nearly the duration of the Second World War.

Unable to achieve victory on their own, gone was any pretense that the Italians would carry on with their “Parallel War” separate from the Germans own aims and goals.  Once Hitler’s forces were needed to simultaneously ‘prop up’ the Italians in the Balkans and North Africa, Mussolini was forced to accept a subordinate role to his German counterpart.  Though the Italian military made great strides in its fighting effectiveness in ‘41 and ‘42, it would now for the most part be treated as nothing much more than a support player for the Germans.

Column of Italian AB 41’s prepare for an anti-partisan mission.

Column of Italian AB 41’s prepare for an anti-partisan mission.

Costly repercussions from the Italians hastily and ill-planned attack would befall all of the nations involved in the bloody affair.  The inhabitants of Greece would find themselves under the boot of their Axis occupiers, and a people once galvanized to repel the Italian invader would eventually find themselves torn apart by their own internal civil war.  Torment and misery would be nearly a daily occurrence for most during this sometimes brutal occupation.

The Germans, with a portion of its military and logistical strength redeployed to the Balkans to participate in the Yugo-Greek campaign, was now further sidetracked from launching Hitler’s pending Operation Barbarossa at the ‘communist hordes’ of the Soviet Union.  One should note that other factors should be considered when evaluating the severity of the delay the Greco-Italian war caused in the launching and subsequent ‘failure’ of the Barbarossa campaign which include; A heavy and prolonged rainy season in central Europe which helped in delaying the construction of needed Luftwaffe airfields, devastating attritional losses suffered by the Wehrmacht during the first few months of the operation, along with strategic decisions made by Hitler (Battle of Kiev) once the campaign began that considerably slowed the advance on Moscow.

The Italian attack on Greece, meant to help lead to Italian dominance of the Balkans, an increase to the prestige of the Italian military, and to put Hitler ‘back in his place’, did not achieve any of these objectives.  With nearly simultaneous expulsions of the Italian X Army from Egypt and the Balkan forces from Greece, the Italian military would never regain its pre-war prestige, despite noted improvements in the years to come.  Mussolini was forced to accept the limitations of his forces, and the ‘Mad Dog of the Mediterranean’ was now forever constrained by Hitler’s short leash.

With locust like efficiency, the Germans stripped away resources and supplies from the Greek landscape and sent them back to the Reich to support their war effort.  With their country ravished of basic necessities, Greece plunged towards a national food crisis of epic proportions.  With the Italians left to govern most of occupied Greece, the burden of ensuring mass starvation did not take hold fell upon Rome.   Instead of a conquered Greece becoming a strategic stepping stone towards Mussolini’s dream of establishing the Mare Nostrum and a ‘New Roman Empire’, it instead became a weight on Italy’s back tying down resources, monies, and men.

The human cost of the Greco-Italian War was staggering, with the Italians suffering over 60,000 casualties while the Greek Army endured over 50,000.  Mussolini had imagined the Greek campaign would be quick, decisive, and end in Italian glory.  Instead he was faced with death and stalemate, while his lack of foresight and planning helped to further weaken a military that was ill prepared to fight the type of modern warfare that would dominate the Second World War.  Glory it seemed would always stay just out of the Duce’s grasp.

End Part Three.

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

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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  1. bersagliere says:

    very good, congratulations

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