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Italian Invasion of Greece 1940-41: Part Two

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At approximately 3:30 am on October 28th, Metaxas was awoken from bed by his staff and informed that Emanuele Grazzi, Italian ambassador to Greece, had come to speak with him concerning an urgent matter.  Metaxas, who was on friendly terms with Grazzi, hurried down from his bedroom, and still dressed in his nightclothes, received the ambassador promptly.  Grazzi, with what appeared to be some reluctance or embarrassment, handed to Metaxas a letter composed by Mussolini.  The letter contained an ultimatum for the Greeks; Metaxas was to grant Axis forces permission to enter Greek territory and allow “certain strategic points” to be occupied by Italian forces, or if refused, Greece was to face war.  A shaken and at that time quite ill Metaxas, he would pass away in less than three months from complications from cancer, sat down in stunned disbelief from the demand.  He quietly asked the ambassador what “strategic points” was Mussolini referring to?  To his embarrassment Grazzi was forced to reply that he did not know, for this information had not been given to him.   With no other reasonable options left to him, Metaxas looked up and declared to Grazzi “Alors, c’est la guerre” (Then it is war).

Italian 81mm Mortar team in action along the Albanian Front

Italian 81mm Mortar team in action along the Albanian Front

The fighting in the Greek and Albanian mountains during the Italian invasion of Greece did not resemble the massive clashes of armor that would take place between the Germans and Soviets on the Eastern Front.  Nor would these battles ever be confused with the fluid and mobile brand of warfare implemented by the Wehrmacht or the United States military.  They more resembled the static slow moving battles of the previous World War.  The death and carnage here was no less brutal than what could be found on other battlefields of the Second World War, but the armies of 1940 Italy and Greece largely consisted of nothing much more than ‘men and mules’.  Tragically, scores of these patriotic men would die on the mud and snow covered battlefields of this mostly overlooked conflict; more senseless death from a senseless war.

Less than three hours after giving the Greeks their ultimatum, Italian forces were on the move across the border into Greece; Mussolini had his war.  From the very first day Italian forces would be forced to deal with what would quickly become the bane of their invasion, the weather. Rain, sleet, snow and fog would seem to be a near constant during the opening months of the war, and would greatly hinder Italian operations in both the skies and on the ground.  The dirt roads of Greece and Albania that the Italians were counting on to be crucial conduits for their advance were quickly turned into muddy quagmires.  These roads were not only considered to be essential during the initial attack, but were crucial in the ability to provide needed supplies and reinforcements as the Italians advanced into Greece.  Once these vital arteries were reduced to sticky bogs, it all but guaranteed the Italians would not be able to achieve one of the key elements to obtaining a victorious outcome; speed.

The downpour of rain soon forced the rivers to become fat in flood, creating great difficulty for the Italians who lacked necessary bridging equipment.  Men, vehicles, and beasts of burden were often left at the edge of a river, which just weeks earlier might have been forded with ease, but was now turned into a swift moving obstacle that could bring entire columns to a standstill.

Italian Fiat BR.20 on bombing run over the Balkans.  Picture courtesy of WW2Incolor

Italian Fiat BR.20 on bombing run over the Balkans. Picture courtesy of WW2Incolor

The performance of the Regia Aeronautica would suffer from the poor weather as well.  Dominance by the Italian Air Force was thought to be a foregone conclusion, and was counted on as a critical part in making the invasion successful.  But constant rain and cloud cover would severely limit the effectiveness of the Regia Aeronautica, and the operational failures by the air force would severely hamper objectives on the ground.

One may say that the hindrance the poor weather created for the Italians was simply bad luck on their part.  The lyrically inclined might wax poetic that perchance the Greek gods of war, Ares and Athena, had once more granted favor upon their chosen people, and smitten their enemy’s war effort by the conjuring of the harsh climate that the Italians were forced to struggle through.  In reality, the problems the Italian military experienced from the severe weather was not from random misfortune, nor was it inflicted upon them by mythical deities looking down from Mount Olympus, but simply a risk one would face when beginning a major military operation on the Albanian/Greek border in late October.

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  1. I hop someone soon will write a detailed acticle about the failed allied “Operation Agreement” sep 42 if Im not mistaken, and of course underline the italian involvement in the allied defeat.

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