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Italian Invasion of Greece 1940-41: Part Two

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Greek Alpine Platoon of Pindus Regiment.   Picture courtesy of WW2Incolor.

Greek Alpine Platoon of Pindus Regiment. Picture courtesy of WW2Incolor.

The Greeks pushed the attack against the Julia in order to try and prevent their escape.  They were able to fire mortars and artillery, including powerful 155mm pieces, down from the heights they possessed into the Julia below, practically decimating this proud Alpine Division as it retreated.  The Italians sent forward a regiment to help pry open a corridor of escape for the surviving Julia troops, and the battered remnants of the division were able to fight its way back into Albania and pass into the relative safety of the Italian line forming there.  By the 13th the Greeks controlled the main pass between Albania and the Pindus, and now had commanding control of this sector of the Epirus.

The first days of battle brought frustration to both the Regia Aeronautica and the Regia Marina.  The RA was severely limited on the types and locations of the targets it could attack due to cloud cover and fog, leading to its inability to suppress the movement of the Greeks forces.  The limiting of Greek troop movement was an act that was desperately counted on during preparation of the invasion, and the Regia Aeronautica inability to do so was a costly failure for the Italians.  The first day’s sorties included attacks on railways and the Greek Naval base at Preveza, but the air force was not the dominate presence that the Italians needed.

There were difficulties for the Navy as well, as the Regia Marina was forced to cancel the landings on Corfu due to ‘rough seas’, although given only weeks to prepare for an amphibious invasion one wonders how much the restricted time allotment played into the decision to cancel. The Bari Division, who had been slated to land on and occupy Corfu, was now diverted to the mainland.  The Bari was not properly equipped for the type of fighting it would find in Albania, as they were extremely limited in the amount and type of artillery they possessed. These deficiencies in firepower were not quickly corrected, and would come back to haunt them.

In the center of the Italian line the advance by the Ciamuria Corps had ground to a halt in front of the town of Kalpaki.  The Greek defenders used their artillery to maximum effect, and the Italian forces were struggling to advance.  Due to the terrible road conditions throughout the lines of the advance, much of the Italian artillery had become snared in the mud or caught up in traffic jams, and subsequently lagged far behind the infantry.  Only smaller caliber artillery pulled by mules or horses had reached this far forward for the Italians, and these pieces were no match against the larger Greek guns, which of course had been pre-sighted on likely points of advance.  The Ciamuria Corps was simply out-gunned.

THE BATTLE RAGES ON

On November 2nd the Ciamuria Corps, following a pre-attack bombardment by the Air Force, launched an assault to seize Kalpaki from the Greeks. The Italians looked to gain the high ground, and immediately tried to capture Grambala Hill, whose 4,000 foot elevation would give those who possessed it a commanding vantage point over the battlefield.  The Italians were able to seize this objective on the first day of attack when the Greeks unfathomably left the hill lightly protected. But a bloody and successful counter-attack undertaken on the 3rd reclaimed this strategic location for the Hellenic forces.  The ferocity of the fighting over possession of the hill, often at close quarters and played out through violent bayonet attacks, was a testament to the strategic importance of this location for both sides.

Italian machine gun crew in action along Greek/Albanian border.  Picture courtesy ww2total.com

Italian machine gun crew in action along Greek/Albanian border. Picture courtesy ww2total.com

While the rival infantries were entangled in their fray on Grambala Hill, the Italian Centauro Division attacked forward towards Kalpaki with approximately 80 light tanks, which by 1940 were several years obsolete and completely outgunned by the opposing Greek artillery.  The Greeks held a strong position on the Kalpaki Hills high above, and from these positions were able to pour artillery fire down onto the advancing Italian armor, mauling several of the weakly armored tanks and forcing the survivors to retreat back to their own lines.

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Comments

  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.
    Thx

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