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Italian Invasion of Greece 1940-41: Part Two

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Italian forces remained on the offensive on November 4th and were rewarded with the seizure of additional territory by the infantry.  The Italians kept up the pressure over the next few days, and the infantry’s persistence paid off once again with the recapture of the north face of Grambala Hill.  Despite these gains, the main line of the Greek defense continued to hold firm.  By November 8th the Italian attack had petered out; less than hoped for progress had been achieved in the advance while the slow trickle of supplies and reinforcements made it near impossible to make good on the losses suffered during this brutal battle.  Italian officers could see the futility in further attacks with the available resources. That day Italian troops were ordered to begin to dig in; Italy was now going on the defensive.

Events away from the battlefield were not going the Italians way either.  King Boris III of Bulgaria, as mentioned earlier, had refused to blindly rush into war, thus the anticipated second front that Mussolini had counted on heavily did not materialize.  The Greeks would not be forced to split their forces.  Hitler was of course furious at the news of the Italians invasion, but he publically backed the actions of his ‘friend’ Mussolini to the world.  In mere weeks, however, Hitler’s realization and fear of what an Italian defeat in Greece and Albania would mean to the security of his Third Reich grew, particularly after the arrival of British airpower into Greece during the first weeks of November.  Hitler instructed his staff to start preparations for a German spring time offensive into Greece to correct the situation by force if needed.

By the end of the first week of fighting the Greeks were massing their forces in the Epirus area, while the Italian central attack was stalled in front of Kalpaki.  Back in Rome, Mussolini was reluctantly forced to admit that 20 Divisions would be necessary to return to the offensive, but to deploy this sizeable force was not something the Italians would be able to manage quickly.  Estimates put the allotted time needed to transport the required men and supplies into the theater at between 2 to 4 months. Mussolini’s previous impatience to allow the proper amount of time to build up his forces and his failure to heed the suggestions of his General Staff had the Italian Invasion force facing possible disaster.

Mussolini, of course, was not going to take the entirety of the blame for the faltering operation as illustrated in his following quote “Every man must make one fatal error in his life, and I made mine when I believed General Visconti Prasca”.    The Duce ordered for Prasca to be demoted, and he would eventually be released of all command.  Prasca was replaced as overall commander by General Ubaldo Soddu.

Mussolini was confident that by December 5th the Italians would be able to regain the offensive initiative, once again demonstrating his ignorance of logistical realities, but for the time being he accepted Italian forces were required to take up a defensive posture to hold the Greeks at bay.  The Duce felt strongly that with the addition of supplies and needed reinforcements the situation would soon stabilize.  The flaw in this belief was that the proper ground work to move and distribute the needed assets was never laid, and over the next few months as the situation on the battlefield deteriorated, an almost panicked, helter-skelter method of feeding men and material haphazardly into the fight accomplished little good.  As division after division found its way across the Adriatic, their  components were constantly separated from one another and sent off piecemeal to plug some gap or fill some urgent need, never fighting as a full division as intended.  The Italian logistical system was in complete disarray, yet it would still be months before it would be properly straightened out.

RETREAT

Officially taking over as commander on November 9th, General Soddu ordered his army into a defensive posture until the time sufficient troops could be brought in theater to enable Italy to once again go on the offensive.  He would not be given a chance. General Papagos launched the first major Greek counter-attack across the whole of the Macedonian front on November 14th, and the pendulum of the battle had now fully swung in the direction of the Greeks.

Greek soldiers on the move.

Greek soldiers on the move.

Papagos’s newly formed B Corps, once again demonstrating the Greeks excellent use of artillery, was unleashed against Italian forces that were still in the process of shoring up their defensive positions.  Through the mounting snow and facing freezing temperatures, the Greeks, whose morale was perhaps at its zenith of the war, attacked relentlessly against the Italian lines.  Though the Italians fought valiantly, they would not be able to repel the larger Greek force.  With the fall of the Julia in the Epirus sector, the crumbling of the Italian left flank had made the entire line vulnerable, thus to prevent encirclement, it was prudent to now retreat en masse.

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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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