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Italian Invasion of Greece 1940-41: Part Two

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The Italian 11th Army was likewise attacked, and was confronted by the newly created Greek A Corps.  Overwhelmed by the attackers, the 11th was pushed completely off of the land it had claimed over the previous week.  The chaotic placement of reinforcements was proving disastrous, and the situation for the Italians had now turned critical.  After the first series of fall backs, General Soddu felt that a further retreat was necessary.  Neither Badogilo nor Mussolini would give him official permission to carry out these needed moves, but Soddu correctly ordered on his own the retreat even further back in an attempt to help consolidate his forces.  Approximately 10 days from the start of the counter-attack, the Italians had been forced to pull back completely out of Greece, and had practically the entire Hellenic Army pursuing them.

The advance was not easy for the Greeks though.   After a particularly fierce battle contested in the bitter cold, the Greeks captured the Albanian city of Koritsa from its determined Italian defenders, but paid a high price in casualties to do so.  The Italian soldier fought bravely across the front, but continued to give ground in the face of the pressing Greek attack.  A vivid example of this bravery was shown by Colonel Luigi Zacco, commander of the 84th Infantry Regiment, who was killed personally leading a bayonet counter-attack against advancing Greek troops.  More than just bravery would be needed to change the fortunes of war for the Italians; they would need to find a spot to dig in and blunt the Greeks until reinforcements could be brought to bear.

In general, confusion seemed to rule the Italian thinking during this period of the war.  The Bari Division, lacking practically any artillery, had been rushed to the Pindus sector to cover for the battered Julia Division.  The Division came under a massive attack by a large Greek force, whose own artillery use was superb, which quickly led to a breach of the Italian position.  The tired Julia was forced to go back into the line to help block the Greek advance as several elements of the Bari broke under the onslaught, one of the low points of the war for the Italians.  One must wonder what the Bari Division was expected to accomplish as they possessed nothing in their arsenal that could counter the firepower of the Greek artillery they were to face.

Through late November the Greeks kept pushing the attack forward, although their losses were mounting.  They were able to pry the city of Pogradec from the Italians, but to do so cost the Greeks 3,000 men.  Early December saw the Greeks capture Premeit and Argyrokastro from the Italians, but once more suffered a high number of causalities.  The attritional losses one usually suffers when attacking were taking their toll on the Greeks.

On December 4th   Mussolini accepted the “resignation” of Badoglio, who was quickly replaced as Chief of Staff by the able General Cavallero.  Cavallero would soon leave for Albania in order to get a firsthand look at the militaries standing.  The Italian situation in Albania was perhaps at its most critical point during this time.  Supplies of ammunition were practically zero, with stores of food and cold weather gear likewise at dire levels.  But the Greeks were also struggling to keep their army on the move.  Now that their lines of communication were extended into Albania, they suffered from the same problems the Italians had faced when moving into Greece.  The dismal condition of the roads meant that food, ammo, and supplies trailed far behind the advancing troops.  The dismal weather sapped the energy from their troops, and as the number of casualties continued to grow, Greek morale started to suffer.

With the improvements to the Albanian harbors finally finished, Italian reinforcements began to arrive by December 7th.  With the additional troops, and a much shorter supply line, the Italian defense stiffened.  By December 15th the lines between the two armies became less fluid and had begun to stabilize.  Each side was exhausted, and it appeared neither military currently had the strength to initiate a major offensive undertaking.

Mussolini and Cavallero

Mussolini and Cavallero

On December 29th General Cavallero replaced General Soddu nominally because of health reasons.  Cavallero was by no means a great ‘battlefield’ general, but had a keen sense for organization and logistics.  This skill is what perhaps was needed more than anything by the Italians at this time, as nothing positive would be accomplished until the army was properly organized.   Cavallero immediately began to arrange the front line troops into set and orderly divisions with defense in depth.  He started to ensure that as new divisions arrived into Albania they were kept intact instead of piecing them out across the line.  Cavallero set up two operational zones for efficiency, one in the Valona Valley and the other in the Northern Albanian Zone.

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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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