Il Duce Benito Mussolini
Using a massive invasion force of eight divisions, well over 200,000 men with full compliments of artillery, armor, and the warplanes of the Regia Aeronautica, which were launched from
the Italians made an unexpected move towards war against the greater strategic
aims of the Axis powers in October 1940. Most certainly Mussolini and his upper-echelon military generals realized that they must act alone in large scale military operation without the aid of Nazi Germany, so that their Axis allies and the enemies of Italy took them as a serious threat in the coming conflict to come.
Below: Regio Esercito, the Italian Royal army, on the march from Albania to Greece October 1940
Albania had been a protectorate kingdom under Italian control 1917-1920, and then again from 1939-1943, following the short decisive invasion and military victory over King Zog I’s (b.1895-1961) royalist forces in April of 1939. Even earlier
belligerence worried many of its neighbors including the Greeks, led by their
Prime Minister and authoritarian leader Ioannis Metaxas (b.1871-1941).
Soviet period political cartoon showing the belligerence of fascist Italy against Albania
Even though the Italians had many occupying troops in Albania it was hard to mobilize and deploy all of these forces to both attack Greece and defend the conquered Albanian territory from partisan attacks, all of which tied down much needed manpower and resources.
Sporadic but at times intense and bloody skirmishing was common early on, with mountain fighting tactics being deployed by both sides during the conflict. Tactics first deployed during the long bloody campaigns fought between the Italians and Austro-Hungarian/German armies in the Alps, north Italy & southern Austria, 1915-1918 during the Great War. The most significant and bloody battle for the Italian mountain division, 3rd Alpine Division Julia, during this early period being the Battle of Pindus, October-November 1940.
3rd Alpine Division Julia marching through the Balkans to Greece
For his greater strategic failures in December, General Pietro Badoglio (b.1871-1956) was fired and replaced by General Ugo Cavallero as commander of forces in the Greek-Albanian theater of operations. Cavallero mounted a better defense in the cold winter months of December-February though he was still no closer to winning a decisive victory over the Greeks. It was clear to the Italians and the rest of the world that without German intervention the war would be lost, or at best become an even longer and costlier stalemate for Mussolini’s
Italy who had already overextended itself.
One of the final battles between purely the Greeks and the Italians began after the launching of Operation Primavera in March 1941, an operation watched from Albania by Mussolini and the high command very closely because a victory was greatly needed before the British and Germans invaded Greece to turn the campaign in either direction.
The battle came to be known as the Battle of Hill 731, for the heroic defense of the Greek positions by the rifleman and machine gunners of the 1st division who inflicted heavy casualties on the Italian attackers, many of whom were experienced assault, ‘arditi’ squads or elite fanatical black shirts divisions.
Greek army soldier, fully equipped for battle 1940-1941
Towards the end of the seventeen day battle the Italians captured a portion of the hill before a spirited bayonet charge cut through the attackers yet again, of the 300 Italians who had recently captured half of Hill 731, only four would survive the counter attack. [For more please visit Stavros' blog, My Greek Odyssey]
Greeks on the attack
The Italo-Greco of 1940-1941 came to end after both the Italians and the Germans intervened in
and ultimately after the Germans invaded Albania
and Greece, helping to crush organized resistance of and in defense of the . Metaxas had
died in January of 1941 and an independent Kingdom
of Greece Greece would be crushed until the
Allies after in the Invasion of Sicily 1943.
Allied & Axis campaigns in the Balkans and
Italian War with the
1939-April invasion quickly defeats King Zog I's (b.1895-1961) Royalist army. He abdicates in favor of direct Italian control over Albanian interests as protectorate. Low intensity resistance continued but was insignificant. Albanian Kingdom
Siege of Malta-Germans and Italians battle the United Kingdom and its allies for control of Malta, south of Sicily. United Kingdom successfully defends fortress Malta.
Greco-Italian War 1940- April 1941-Fought between the Greeks and the Italian military stationed in occupied Albania on the border between both countries. Combat casualties exceeding 150,000 men and vehicles by the time a treaty is signed in April of 1941 following German intervention and withdrawal of the British.
Battle for Greece, Operation Marita April 1941-Britain and her allies invade southern Greece hoping to push out the Axis invaders and give a boost to the faltering Greek army lacking in military capabilities and political leadership. Ends in a complete Allied failure, Axis armies occupy most of Greece save for Crete and some other smaller islands.
April 1941-German and Italian invasion of Yugoslavia to put pressure on the country to join the growing list of Axis aligned client states in 1940-1942. Quick and brutal victory but a costly occupation splits Yugoslavia into Russian and Italo-German zones where partisan activity is fierce throughout the war.
Continued Soviet, Allied, & non-aligned Partisan campaigns fought throughout Albania, Greece, Yugoslavia, and other occupied territories from 1939-1945.