The Military and Political Situation in the Balkan Peninsula in the Beginning of 1939 and the Expansionist Aspirations of Italy
- In July, l923, after the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece strove to organise the country and restore it from the ruins of the First World War and the Asia Minor Expedition. The enormous problem of the reception, relief and rehabilitation of approximately one and a half million expatriate refugees from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor demanded an immediate solution. Furthermore, other vital issues that needed to be dealt with, were the reorganisation of the army, the economic recovery and the restoration of order in internal political affairs.
The primary concern of the foreign policy was to secure the territorial integrity and to safeguard the national independence. Initially, Greece sought to fulfil this aim within the bounds of the general guarantees, offered by the charter of the League of Nations (LoN). However, when the collective security system and the LoN mechanisms proved powerless to guarantee the right of national inviolability, the rendering of justice and peace to the smaller countries, Greece was forced to resort to the old-fashioned practice of balance of forces and to the direct communication among the countries. Thus, after a five-year diplomatic isolation, Greece began to exercise a policy that sought to broaden the co-operation with its neighbours, in order to solve existing differences and pending issues. These acts led to the reinforcement of the bipartite ties between states and a series of friendship pacts were signed with Balkan and non Balkan states, as follows:
- The Greek-Rumanian ‘Pact of non-Offence and Arbitration’ that was signed on March 23, 1928.
The ‘Pact of Friendship, Compromise and Judiciary Settlement’ that was co-signed by Italy on September 23, 1928, and was intended to be valid until October, l939. This pact, that essentially drew Greece out of its international isolation, constituted a wide-range political agreement and bordered on being a diplomatic alliance against any Balkan or non-Balkan threat.
The Greek-Yugoslavian ‘Pact of Friendship, Compromise and Judiciary Settlement’ that was signed on March 27, 1929, and restored relations between the two countries, which had been disturbed since 1924 due to the dispute about the Free Zone of Thessaloniki. This pact was limited in nature and weaker than the previous Greek – Italian one.
Two friendship pacts with Turkey, that were concluded after settling the problems which had arisen from the exchange of populations. These were the ‘Pact of Friendship, Neutrality, Compromise and Arbitration’, that was signed in Ankara on October 30, 1930, and the ‘Pact of Cordial Understanding’, that was also signed in Ankara on September 14, 1933. Later, on April 27, 1938, an additional agreement was signed, which complemented these bipartite pacts and extended their validity until June 1948.
While being defensive in principle, these bipartite pacts were not accompanied by any relevant military agreements. In general, the pacts offered a mutual guarantee for the common mainland borders against any Balkan or non-Balkan intruder attempting to invade Eastern (Turkish) or Western (Greek) Thrace. In any other event of unprovoked war, the one country was obliged to remain favourably neutral towards the other, so that its territory would not become a base of operations against its ally that had been drawn into war. Furthermore, there was a mutual obligation to communicate beforehand on all international issues of mutual concern and they could both be represented internationally by common representatives, whenever this was possible or necessary.
No pact of friendship was signed with Albania, however certain bipartite issues were settled down through the agreements signed in Athens on October 13, 1926.
- After 1933, when the international situation had begun to deteriorate and the inter-European oppositions were assuming alarming proportions, the Balkan countries directed their efforts towards a broader organisation, seeking co-operation and a multi-partite interstate agreement. Thus, after long, laborious and subtle negotiations, in order to reconcile the diverse viewpoints and to remove any feelings of mistrust, the renowned ‘Balkan Agreement Pact’ was finally signed in Athens between Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Romania on February 9th, 1934. This was defensive in nature and sought to consolidate peace, secure the respect for the already existing conventional obligations and to preserve the territorial status-quo in the Balkans. It was intended to remain in force until February l941. In February 1940 it was renewed for 7 more years, that is to say until February l947. The Pact was accompanied by the relevant military agreements.
According to this Pact, the four countries offered their mutual guarantee for the border safety of each of the contracting member-states against any threat that might arise from another non-member Balkan state. The guarantee would also be in force in the event that this Balkan state was to collaborate with a non-Balkan power as well, under the following two conditions:
- If the collaboration with the non-Balkan state occurred before the mobilisation of the other ally Balkan states was declared, then the pact would not be in force.
If the collaboration occurred after the mobilisation was declared, then the Balkan allies would be obliged to aid their partner, yet only against the assailing Balkan country and not against the non-Balkan power.
Greece and Turkey both expressed reservations, claiming that they would remain neutral, the former in the event that the assailing non-Balkan country happened to be Italy and the latter, if it were to be Russia. These reservations diminished the validity of the Pact and established precedent for its subsequent debilitation.
Albania and Bulgaria did not participate in the Balkan Pact. Albania had already been under Italian protection and Bulgaria refused to recognise the territorial status-quo in the Balkans as non-revisable.
After this entire framework of bi- and multi- partite agreements and the abovementioned Bulgarian position, Greece, having no offensive aspirations, saw Bulgaria as the only potential adversary likely to satisfy every condition in which the agreements could be enforced, provided also that the latter would initiate offensive operations against Greece or any other Balkan State.
- As for Bulgaria, while it had taken no part in the Balkan Pact for the abovementioned reasons, it nevertheless pursued some form of agreement with its neighbours, seeking above all to have the sanctions imposed on it by the treaty of Neuilly after the First World War removed.
Thus, on January 29, 1937, Bulgaria signed a secret pact of friendship with Yugoslavia, which essentially undermined and weakened the effectiveness of the Balkan pact. It proceeded thereafter, benefiting from the desire of the other Balkan counties to smooth down their differences, to sign a non-offensive pact with those states in Thessaloniki in July, l938, whereby promised not to resort to violence against the states of the Balkan pact. In return for this harmless reassurance, the Neuilly treaty stipulations, which had imposed armament restrictions on Bulgaria, together with the abolishment of disarmed zones on both sides of the borders in Thrace. The fact is that, the restrictions’ removal was a mere formality, given that Bulgaria had already violated them the years before.
In 1939, the war potential of Bulgaria was estimated at 60 Infantry regiments, l90 Light Artillery batteries and 35 Heavy Artillery batteries. Moreover, it had two motorised divisions, 70-80 tanks and various armoured vehicles. Its air strength comprised 100 fighter, l20 reconnaissance and bomber and 90 observation aircraft.. Furthermore it had 40 antiaircraft batteries of 88, 37 and 20 mm.
The above forces had been organised into five armies, which, in the event of war were intended to be supplemented with 40 additional battalions, that could be organised from the reserves.
The Bulgarian Army, by taking advantage of the terrain configuration and the rail and road network of its country and having taken the initiative for the operations, managed to gain a few days ahead of the Greek Army in the mobilisation and assembly of its troops.
- Albania, which had not taken part in the Balkan Pact either, was not regarded by Greece as a considerable military power. This country had been established as a state in 1913 with the support of Italy and Austria, in order to serve the expansionist aspirations in the Adriatic sea and the Balkan Peninsula. Since that time, it had led a pro-Italian policy and had remained under Italian guarantee and protection and did not, therefore, take side of any international alliance.
The forces that Albania could mobilise, were estimated at about six divisions comprising six battalions each and a few artillery pieces. This limited military strength and its overall fighting capability ruled out an unilateral intervention – on its part – against the other Balkan countries. Besides, the possibility of a joint Italian – Albanian intervention against Greece was excluded due to the Greek-Italian friendship treaty of 1928. This treaty had served to erase the bad past that prevailed in the relations between the two countries and safeguarded Greece against the Italian peril at least until 1939.
- Italy, after becoming an independent kingdom, had aspired to rule supreme over the Mediterranean and expand its influence in vital areas of the Balkan peninsula. Thus, its policy had long since been unfavourable towards Greece.
During the Italian – Turkish war of 1910-1912, Italy set foot on the Dodecanese islands, under the pretext of liberation and temporary occupation, holding on to them later, although it was bound by the treaty of Ussy to evacuate them. Thus, the liberation of the Dodecanese islands by the Greek Fleet during the Balkan Wars was foiled. After the unfortunate outcome of the Asia Minor Campaign, in particular, the Italians sought to alter the ethnological character of the islands by persecuting and pressing the Greeks.
During the Balkan Wars, 1912-1913, and the Northern Epirus Liberation Struggle 1914, Italy opposed the occupation of Avlonas by the Greek Army. Upon a later occasion, when an international committee was entrusted with the task of defining the southern borders of Albania, it supported the Albanian position to the expense of Greece, causing the intrinsically Greek areas of Koritsa, Erseka, Premeti, Leskoviki, Delvino, Argirokastro and Himara to be handed over to Albania, by virtue of the Florence Protocol (17-12- 1913).
In October 1914, after the declaration of the First World War, Italy took advantage of the anarchy prevailing in Albania and seized the islands Sasson and, in December, 1914, the port of Avlonas and its mainland, seeking to gain control over the Adriatic sea.
Later on, during the War, it led an opportunist policy, pulling away from the Triple Alliance and entering the Triple Agreement (Entente) after having managed to secure promises of abundant trade-offs through the secret London Agreement (April 1915). Among other trade-offs, came the recognition of the Italian sovereignty in Avlonas and Sasson island, while Albania was placed under Italian protection, which meant that it was turned into an Italian protectorate. The straits between Kerkira (Corfu) and the Mainland coastline were neutralised, while the Dodecanese islands were annexed to Italy, which had already been possessing them ‘temporarily’ since 1912. Furthermore, Italy was offered the opportunity of colonial expansion in Asia Minor.
In September, 1916, after the Macedonian front had opened, Italy seized Agii Saranda and Argirokastro with the blessings of the Entente and reached as far as Ioannina, so as to be in a position to safeguard the allied transport from the port of Agii Saranda towards Koritsa by way of Kakavia and Kalpaki. Despite the vigorous Greek protests, it made no attempt to leave the triangle it had created in Epirus until only much later, in November 1919.
After the end of the First World War, the abovementioned secret agreement of London was regarded by the Entente Powers as ‘non-existent’, because the international situation had been altered by then.
In spite of all of that , Italy managed to gain control over the entire area of South-western Asia Minor without ceasing to have aspirations towards the coastal area of Western Asia Minor as well, including Smyrni. Therefore, it reacted to the mandate of the Allied Council, in May 1919, for the occupation of Smyrni by the Greek Army.
Dissatisfied with its own failure, it began to lead a pro-Turkish policy, causing friction with the Greek Army along the neighbouring zone of occupation in the valley of Maeandros river, while simultaneously instigating raids by Turkish irregulars from its own zone. At the same time, it reinforced and in every way assisted Moustafa Kemal in his struggle against Greece.
In November, 1921, Italy managed to achieve the invalidation of the Venizelos – Titoni agreement, of June 1919, according to which the area of Northern Epirus and the islands of Dodecanese would be handed over to Greece. During the same month, it succeeded in securing a statement, signed in Paris by the Governments of Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, by which, Italy was granted the right to intervene, if need arose, for the protection of the territorial integrity and independence of Albania.
On August 31, 1923, Italy bombed and temporarily seized and held the unfortified island of Kerkira (with 15 civilians dead and 35 wounded), under the pretext of the assassination, by a group of irregulars of unknown nationality, of General Tellini, who was an Italian representative in the committee for the settlement of the Greek – Albanian borders. The assassination took place at the pass of Kakavia on August 27 and Italy held the Greek Government responsible, without possessing any evidence for such an allegation.
- Since 1926, fascist Italy began to employ new methods to infiltrate and prevail in Albania. On November 27, 1926, the treaty of Tirana was signed in Tirana between Italy and Albania, projected to be in force for five years and placing the territorial and political status quo of Albania under the Italian guarantee and protection. In November, l927, an Italian – Albanian treaty of defensive alliance was signed, projected to last for twenty years.
Thus, Italy managed to infiltrate into Albania and to gradually place under its control the entire financial, political and military life of the country, through various financial organisations, technical companies and numerous technical and military advisors. The final objective of this infiltration was to employ Albania as a base of operations, in order to satisfy its own further expansive aspirations.
In August 1937, Ciano, the Foreign Minister of Italy wrote in his diary, ‘it is necessary to create fixed bases for the Italian interests in Albania and we ought to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that may rise for our expansionist policy’.
Italy found itself internationally isolated, after the sanctions that were imposed by the League of Nations due to its aggression to Ethiopia. Thus, it shifted its focus to Germany, to accomplish its expansionist aspirations. These two totalitarian regimes began preliminary negotiations about their close collaboration, which was officially secured in the end of 1936. On November 1, 1936, Mussolini mentioned the Berlin-Rome ‘Axis’ for the first time, stressing that ‘this does not constitute a dividing line, but an axis joining the two nations and on which other states may rely, inspired by the will for peace and co-operation’.
Hungary and Bulgaria were the first countries to join this new European order. In December 1936, the Prime Minister of Rumania Antonesko declared that ‘he is seeking to consolidate close friendly relations with all powers, especially Germany and Italy’.
Yugoslavia, after these developments, that had rendered its position precarious, signed, in January, l937, a secret pact of friendship with Bulgaria and a similar pact with Italy in March of the same year. The result of these actions was the weakening of the existing Balkan Pact.
In November 1936, a pact was signed in Berlin between Germany and Japan to seal their close collaboration in the fight against the Communist International and in September, l940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the tripartite pact.
In the beginning of Spring, l939, Mussolini presented to his ally Hitler his plans to conquer the Balkan Peninsula. Hitler, who was also seeking to conquer Europe, accepted the views of the Italian dictator and recognised the Mediterranean as an Italian sphere of influence. Therefore, the political and military leadership of Greece began to apply all its energy to confront the imminent danger that threatened the security and integrity of the country.
The War Organisation of the Country in the Beginning of 1939
- Until the beginning of March, l939, Greece, which had no offensive intentions, as mentioned previously, regarded Bulgaria as its principal potential adversary and its military preparation in general was thus mainly focused in that direction. To that end, two plans of operations had been drawn up by the Hellenic Army General Staff (HAGS) before 1939, which were the following:
- Plan of Operations B3, which was set in force after October 28, 1937, and dealt with the eventuality of war with Bulgaria, provided that it would have the initiative of its commencement.
Plan of Operations SM, which fulfilled obligations arising from the military agreements of the Balkan Pact. This was set in force on April 18, 1938, and dealt with the following eventualities as regards the possible threat posed to one of the allies of the Balkan Pact by means of military actions or preparations:
Bulgaria and Albania unilaterally or both
Either one of the above countries with Hungary (which had already joined the ‘Axis’)
All three countries in common.
Both plans depicted a defensive position, which was to be adopted initially, to cover the mobilisation and to create the necessary conditions for the subsequent undertaking offensive operations. An interesting part of these two plans of operations was the ‘Plan of Alert and Reinforcement of the Covering Force’. This provided for the reinforcement of the screening force without any mobilisation taking place, even on a highly limited scale. Thus, it avoided challenging the enemy and offering a pretext for relations to be strained, a situation that could gradually lead to conflict. Such a possibility was definitely to be avoided, without however endangering the security of the country. In the particular event that Plan SM would be applied, the declaration of mobilisation bound all contracting Balkan states as mentioned previously. Therefore, after the declaration of mobilisation, Greece would be forced to take action if a non-Balkan force sided with the enemy. Otherwise delay allowed Greece to retain the freedom of decision and action.
- With view to the confrontation of the threat from Bulgaria, intensive fortification works began in the Greek frontiers to Bulgaria from 1936. This project had made significant progress, so that by the end of 1939, nearly all forts could be considered in full combat readiness.
At the same time, field fortifications continued to be constructed, reinforced with concrete pill-boxes between the forts as well as in other parts of the defensive area in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.
This fortification sought to cover the mobilisation and the strategic concentration of the field army and also the fortified positions would be used as a base for further operations.
The system of fortifications that had been opted for, included a line of independent forts to block the main axes and various field defences or semi-permanent fortifications to block the secondary axes. Permanent forts of this kind, that were interconnected with field fortifications, had been constructed from mount Beles to the pass of Volakas in the north of Drama. Further east, and as far as the Turkish borders, various field or semi-permanent fortifications had been constructed. In particular, the detached Forts of Echinos and Nymphaea had been constructed in order to block off the carriage roads that led from the borders to Xanthi and Komotini, respectively.
Field fortifications, many of which had been made of ironbound concrete, were also constructed along the western bank of Nestos river, as well as on the bridgeheads of Toxotes (east of Kavala), Papades (Northeast of Drama), Alexandroupolis and Pythion (Southeast of Didimotiho). The latter bridgehead – that of Pythion – was, according to the Agreement of Balkan Understanding, intended to cover the crossing of Turkish forces to the west of Evros river, with view to the undertaking of offensive action towards Bulgaria.
- As regards the military potential, Greece comprised, during the period of peace, 5 Army Corps Commands (A’, B’, C’, D’, E’), 14 Infantry divisions of limited strength with the following orientation: 3 towards the borders with Albania and Yugoslavia (VIII, IX, X), 5 towards the Bulgarian borders (VI, VII, XI, XII, XIV) and 6 in the mainland and the islands (I, II, III, IV, V, XIII). More specifically, in the frontier area towards Albania there were the VIII Division, with its Headquarters at Ioannina, which answered directly to the Army General Staff, and the IX, with its Headquarters at Kozani, under the command of the B’ Army Corps (Larissa) and covered part of the Yugoslavian borders as well. The strength of the Greek Army according to the peace establishment ranged from 60 to 70 thousand men.
In the event of war, the number of Large Units was to be increased on the basis of the Mobilisation Plan of 1939 to 16 Infantry divisions and 4 Infantry brigades and 1 Cavalry division.
The required supplies, means and ammunition for the armament of the above mobilised Large Units and for certain additional non-divisional units, were almost all in existence.
Furthermore, the required war stock (stocks of general reserve) in ammunition, food, forage and liquid fuel had been provided for and were secured through local resources or from abroad. The only shortages were in mortar shells.
According to the relevant calculations there were food and flour supplies for 15 days, forage for 30 days and liquid fuel for 15 days. The existing ammunition sufficed more or less for a three and a half month combat.
Their replenishment, according to the Industrial Mobilisation Plan, would be undertaken by the local industry, which was in a position to fully respond to all the ammunition requirements of the infantry and, to a large extent, to those of the artillery, the raw materials being imported from abroad.
The Occupation of Albania by Italy
- From the first months of 1939, the Italian policy began to apply unbearable pressure upon Albania, while simultaneously it sought to subjugate it financially, through the Italian companies, installations and financial organisations. Attempts on the part of Albania to renew the existing Alliance Treaty with Italy, in order to safeguard its position as an independent state, ended in failure. Parallel to this, the Italian press began to inflate various unimportant incidents and disturbances, which were deliberately caused by the Italians at Tirana and at the Albanian ports. At the same time, those telegraph agencies controlled by the Axis, spread information that Italy was concentrating military and naval forces in the ports of Bari and Brindisi in order to occupy Albania. Strong rumours, circulating abroad, presented the abovementioned action as imminent, coupled also by a similar one that was planned against the Greek islands of the Ionian Sea.
The Greek Government and the European diplomacy began to experience uneasiness due to this series of coinciding information and the Italian Government, in order to allay their alarm, hastened to contradict the latter, through the official communique of March 7 and April 2, 1939, labelling it as ‘malicious and false’.
- Despite these disclaims on the part of the Italian Government, on April 6, 1939, an Italian ultimatum was delivered to the Albanian Government, containing terms that were both humiliating and unacceptable to Albania, including a request to temporarily station Italian troops in the country and to increase the number of Italian subjects immigrating there.
The Albanian Government called an emergency meeting under King Zog and the ultimatum was declined.
On the following morning (April 7), Italian war and transportation ships, which had already set off the day before, appeared before the Albanian ports of Agios Ioannis of Medoui, Dirrahio, Avlonas, Agii Saranda and Pali north of Dirrahio. At 0600 hrs on the same day, Italian bombers attacked the above mentioned ports and, simultaneously, the Italian Army commenced the landing operation. The Albanian forces offered but little resistance, which was bowed shortly after. Thus, the Italians, continuing to advance virtually undisturbed, occupied Tirana, on April 8, where they established a pro-Italian Government under Prime Minister Verlacci. On April 9, King Zog of Albania, accompanied by the Albanian Prime Minister and other personages, took refuge with his family in the Greek territory. The Greek Government, wishing to avoid any provocation, designated Pilion as his place of residence and advised him to avoid any political action, requesting that he should leave Greece as soon as possible, in order to protect the Greek neutrality.
The Italian forces that had landed in Albania, amounted to approximately three divisions and were provided with many light armoured vehicles. The military occupation of Albania was completed within a few days, with no resistance on the part of the Albanians, save for the minor skirmishes that occurred during the Italian landing.
- The occupation of Albania by Italy caused great concern to the Governments of England and France, which demanded appropriate explanations to be given by the Italian Government. The Italian Foreign Minister Ciano, continuing the line of misleading statements, replied that the Italian occupation of Albania was only temporary and that the Italian troops would withdraw once order was restored, a government favourably disposed towards Italy was formed and the Italian interests in Albania were considered secure. Similar explanations were given by Ciano to the Ambassador of the United States, in Rome. Nevertheless, these explanations were not considered sufficient to rule out any other similar occurrences in the area of the Balkan Peninsula. Thus, on April 13, 1939, the Prime Ministers of England and France hastened to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Greece and Romania with official statements.
Germany considered the Italian invasion of Albania to be both just and legitimate and was therefore opposed to any notion of the Western Powers of potential intervention on their part.
Greece was placed in a very difficult position after the abovementioned Italian actions. Intelligence reports from various sources presented Italy as having decided to take action for the occupation of Kerkira and the area of Tsamouria within the month of April 1939. Under those circumstances, Greece had the fundamental and sacred duty to prepare the defence of its territorial integrity, national independence and freedom against any enemy and focused all of its attention in that direction.
The First Measures for the Defence of the Greek Territory
- In the beginning of March 1939, when concern was just beginning to grow about an Italian offensive action, which was planned not only against Albania but which also included the Greek islands of the Ionian Sea as well, the Army General Staff briefed the Large Units (Formations), situated in the frontier to Albania, accordingly and issued instructions for dealing with any situation of this nature. Parallel to this, as of April 3, it proceeded to reinforce the latter with units from the interior. More specifically, the B’ Army Corps (Larissa) was provided with an Infantry battalion and a Pioneer company and the VIII Infantry Division (Ioannina) with an Infantry battalion.
Immediately after the landing of the Italian forces on Albania on April 7 and their rapid advance towards the Greek borders, the Army General Staff issued detailed orders and instructions to the Commander of the B’ Army Corps and the Commanders of the VIII and the IX Divisions, regarding the increase of vigilance measures and the need to avoid any incident or friction with the Italian forces. Furthermore, it defined the position that was to be maintained and it authorised the Commanders of the VIII and IX Divisions to declare the mobilisation within the zone of their responsibility, in the case that it became necessary to secure the inviolability of the Greek territory. Similar instructions and orders were also given to the Garrison Commander of Kerkira following existing intelligence concerning an imminent landing on the island.
After the completion of the occupation of Albania and the confirmation of the continuous reinforcement of the Italian forces that had landed there, the Army General Staff defined the general guidelines on April 24 and issued its instructions, ordering the Deputy commanders and the Offices of the General Staff to proceed to the development of a Campaign plan on the basis of the new conditions. Simultaneously, it ordered a series of first measures to be taken, to deal with the new situation, the most important of which were the following :
- The B’ Army Corps and the VIII Division were assigned the mission of preparing demolition along the main routes that led from Albania to Western Macedonia and Epirus.
- Class of 1939 was called to report for military service.
- The A’, B’, C’ and D’ Army Corps were allocated antiaircraft weapons for the protection of the vulnerable areas and the VIII and IX Divisions were reinforced with a small number of antitank weapons, which were removed from the armament of the Forts.
- The new Campaign Plan, that was drawn up by the Army General Staff on the basis of the abovementioned directives, was named IB, after the initials of the two adversaries it dealt with: Italy and Bulgaria. On May 4th, it was made known to the interested parties, the Large Units the Navy and Airforce. This plan was based on the following assumptions :
- The initiative and provocation of war were left to Italy and Bulgaria.
- After the guarantees of England and France, their assistance was regarded as certain, though of unknown extent.
- Turkey was a potential ally of Greece.
- Yugoslavia would probably remain neutral and, if forced to, could perhaps allow the passage of Italian or even Bulgarian troops through its territory.
- At sea, the supremacy of the English-French Fleet was regarded as indisputable, although this did not exclude the action of Italian submarines or even surface speed boats.
- The Italians, by virtue of having already placed five divisions ready for combat in Albania, were in a superior position with regard to the concentration of forces and could operate rapidly against Greece.
- The most probable Italian course of action was considered to be the one of an attack, that would be launched from Koritsa and would be directed against Thessaloniki and Thessaly, in order to achieve considerable results. The simultaneous invasion of Epirus was also considered, although it would only be a secondary effort, owing to the limited local importance of such an action.
- As regards Bulgaria, it was taken into consideration that if it entered the war, its attitude towards Greece would either be offensive or defensive, depending on the Turkish attitude.
Campaign Plan IB was essentially defensive, in order for Greece to be in a position to face a two-fronted war, against two Powers simultaneously.
On the western flank, that is to say the Albanian Theatre of Operations, the Greek Army would follow the dictates of the war conditions and would retire from the whole of Epirus, as far as the river Arahthos, and in Western Macedonia, from the area that extended as far as mount Vermion in order to gain the time required for the completion of the preparations and the mobilisation and in order to defend the mainland on the naturally stronger position Arahthos-Zigos Metsovo-Aliakmonas-Vermion, where the Greek Military Leadership estimated that it would be possible to concentrate almost the entire force and conduct the defensive struggle under more favourable conditions.
On the eastern flank, the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations, the Plan sought to secure the strongly fortified position of Beles-Nestos (which covered the ports of Thessaloniki and Kavala). Further to the east, with the exception of the Alexandroupolis and Pythion bridgeheads and Forts Echinos and Nymphaea, the Plan covered the whole area with weak forces, which could conduct delaying actions as far as the river Nestos, and the two abovementioned bridgeheads.
- The general disposition of forces and the command organisation with view to the implementation of the abovementioned manoeuvre, were planned as follows() :
- Albanian Theatre of Operations: Three commands under the orders of the Commander in Chief, namely:
- The VIII Division Command, stationed at Ioannina. The B’ Army Corps Command, stationed at Larissa. The B’ Army Corps included under its command the IX and I Infantry Divisions, the V Infantry Brigade and a Cavalry Brigade.
- The C’ Army Corps Command, stationed at Thessaloniki. This Corps included under its command the X and XI Infantry Divisions and the IV Infantry Brigade.
- Bulgarian Theatre of Operations: Two commands under the orders of the Commander in Chief, namely:
The Command of the Kavala Field Army Section, stationed at Kavala. The Field Army Section included under its command the Division Group, that comprised the XVII and the VI Infantry Divisions and the Cavalry Division for the passage of the river Axios; as well as the D’ Army Corps that was stationed at Kavala and comprised the VII, XIV Infantry Divisions and the VII and XVI infantry Brigades.
- The Command of the E’ Army Corps, that was stationed at Alexandroupolis and had the XII and XIII Infantry Divisions under its command.
- General Reserves of the Commander in Chief:
- The A’ Army Corps, that was stationed at Athens and the II and III Infantry Divisions, which had been deployed in the area of Thessaly and the IV Infantry Division, in the area of Plati.
- The V Division and the III Infantry Brigade in the area of
- The Cavalry Division, which had been temporarily placed under the orders of the Kavala Field Army Section.
In total, the above Large Units, (Divisions-Brigades) that were included in the IB Campaign Plan, amounted to fifteen Infantry divisions, one Cavalry division, five Infantry brigades and one Cavalry brigade.
- Within May, the Large Units had completed the relevant parts of the Campaign Plan, which were later approved by the Army General Staff. Parallel to this, the appropriate war preparations were carried on, owing to the continuing reinforcement of the Italian troops in Albania and their advance near the Greek – Albanian borders, where, by mid-August, l939, the greatest part of their forces was concentrated, under the pretext of conducting large scale exercises.
The Army General Staff, estimating that a surprise Italian attack against the two Greek divisions, VIII and IX, was possible to occur, recommended to the Government that these two Divisions should be completed according to their war establishment through preliminary mobilisation. The proposal was approved by the Government and, on the eve of August 24, a mobilisation order was issued, regarding the VIII Division in Epirus – including the Garrison of Kerkira – the IX Division (Kozani) and the IV Infantry Brigade (Florina). There was a gradual mobilisation of some of the Cavalry Division units as well as of certain non-divisional units from the B’ and C’ Army Corps. Parallel to this, a High Command was organised under the name ‘Western Macedonia Field Army Section’ (WMFAS) and was stationed at Kozani, with the B’ and C’ Army Corps under its tactical control.
- After conducting the abovementioned mobilisation of the VIII and IX Divisions and the IV Infantry Brigade and the planned orderly concentration of those forces in the frontier position of the IB delaying manoeuvre, the Army General Staff prepared the first alternative to the IB Mobilisation Plan, having assumed that the strict neutrality of Yugoslavia was certain. The alternative plan was signed on September 1, 1939, under the code name IBa, and was immediately disseminated to the Large Units and the Field Army Sections, as well as to the General Staffs of the Navy and the Airforce.
According to this Plan, there was virtually no territory left in Western Macedonia beyond the main defensive area, which, at that point, was situated close to the borders, its fortification having begun about four months earlier. In Epirus, the largest part of the territory had been covered, save for a frontier strip of land, between the borders and Kalamas river, that was 20-25 kilometres deep. There too, the construction of fortifications, mainly in the Elea-Kalamas area, had commenced about four months earlier.
The Large Units (Divisions-Brigades), included in Plan IBa, were the same as those of Plan IB and were deployed as follows( ):
- Albanian Theatre of Operations
In Epirus, the VIII Infantry Division.
In Western Macedonia, the Western Macedonia Field Army Section which comprised from north to south:
- The C’ Army Corps, with the IV Infantry Brigade on a first echelon in the area of Florina and the X Division on a second echelon in the area of Edessa.
The B’ Army Corps, with the IX Division on a first echelon in the area of Kastoria and the I Division and V Infantry Brigade on a second echelon in the areas of Larissa and Grevena respectively.
The Pindos Detachment, comprising one Infantry regiment and one Artillery battery, stationed at Eptachori.
Reserve, under the direct command of the WMFAS, the XI Infantry Division in the area of Yiannitsa and one Cavalry brigade in the area of Kalambaka.
- Bulgarian Theatre of Operations
The Kavala Field Army Section with:
- The Division Group, comprising the VI and XVII Infantry Divisions in the areas of Kilkis and Serres respectively.
The D’ Army Corps, comprising the VII Division in the area of Drama, the XIV Division in the area of Xanthi and the VII and XVI Infantry brigades in the area of Kavala.
The E’ Army Corps, comprising the XII and XIII Infantry Divisions in the areas of Komotini and Alexandroupolis respectively.
- General Reserve of the Commander in Chief
The A’ Army Corps, with the III and IV Infantry Divisions in the area of the Kozani highland and the II Infantry Division in the area of Kalambaka.
The V Infantry Division and the III Infantry Brigade in the area east of Florina.
The Cavalry Division in the area of Edessa – Yiannitsa.
- Meanwhile, and by September l7, the Italian troops in Albania had retired twenty kilometres behind the Greek – Albanian borders, towards the interior, in an Italian gesture of goodwill towards Greece. After this, the Greek Government proceeded to the gradual demobilisation of all forces that had been mobilised and all units returned to their stations.
Thus ceased the state of war readiness of the Large Units in the area near the Albanian borders, though the terrain organisation and supplementary measures continued at a rapid pace and with an undiminished intensity for the better preparation of the country for war.
The Outbreak of the Second World War and the Diplomatic Position of Greece
- On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. The main cause for this invasion was the Polish Corridor towards the Baltic Sea, known as the Danzig Corridor, which traversed the German territory, dividing Eastern Prussia from the rest of Germany. The British Government, having placed Poland under its guarantee, demanded the immediate suspension of the German war operations. However, Germany did not accept this demand, whereupon, on September 3, England and France declared war against Germany and thus the Second World War began.
Russia had been inclined to lead pro-German foreign policy after the failure of the English-French-Russian negotiations of Moscow in the summer of 1939, and the German Soviet pact of non-offence was signed in the Kremlin on August 23, 1939. Taking advantage of the German attack, it also invaded Poland and occupied the country’s eastern regions.
Italy, regardless of the fact that it had not yet entered the war, intensified the psychological warfare against Greece and promoted its own war preparations in Albania.
During that time the Greek position could be outlined as follows.
- There were one sided guarantees by the Western Powers, which nevertheless failed to specify the type, extent and duration of the aid to Greece.
The Greek – Italian Pact of 1928 was about to expire.
There were political commitments with Turkey, by virtue of the pacts of 1933 and 1938 which, however, did not bear any explicit military obligations.
In principle, the Balkan Agreement Pact of 1934 was still in force, although each state had a different general approach to the European policy.
- Under these circumstances and owing to the crisis that arose in the autumn of 1939, the diplomatic efforts of Greece mainly focused on two matters:
- Firstly, on clarifying and defining the important issue of the allied aid that was expected by Greece and which it could count on, for this aid, although certain, continued to remain unspecified in terms of its amount and duration. Nevertheless, this uncertainty did not affect the Greek decision to resist all acts of aggression against the country. Greece, that had freely arrived at that decision without relating it to the realisation of allied aid, naturally, greeted the British-French promises for help with satisfaction. However, as the specification of the said aid was considered of military necessity to some extent, and as it was believed that the essential element with view to success was the preparation and co-ordination of the joint allied efforts in the theatre of operations, it requested that an agreement should be made with the Allies, always assuming that an offensive action against Greece was impending.
Secondly, on promoting the issue of a common and timely defensive organisation of the Balkan Agreement states in the case of an attack. The Greek Government, during that period, had not ceased to remind the above states regarding the need for this common and timely defensive organisation. In parallel, on November 29, 1939, it sent a draft for a military agreement to the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, via the HAGS in which they had foreseen all that ensued and proved to what extent, a common and well organised defence of the four Balkan states, based on the reinforcement and aid of the two Powers, Great Britain and France, which had guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of those states, would have had the power to reverse the offensive intentions of Italy and Germany.
The above mentioned efforts of Greece were not well received by the two Great Powers, nor by the other Balkan states, owing mainly to their hesitation to be exposed to any decisive and courageous action, that could provoke misunderstandings and incur the disfavour of Germany and Italy.
Initially, France and Britain, especially France, attempted to create a new Macedonian Front by establishing an allied force in Thessaloniki, to no avail however. Besides, Britain was never convinced that this front could be finally created and thus focused its attention on Turkey. That is to say, it believed that the reinforcement of the Turkish defence would cover Egypt, the Suez canal and the Eastern Mediterranean, where the British interests principally focused. The subsequent events were destined to prove the error of this military evaluation. For the Axis by-passed the Turkish defence and advanced towards the Suez canal, without any Turkish involvement in the conflict.
Thus, the obligations of the Balkan countries towards Greece, on the basis of the Balkan Pact, remained as follows:
– If Greece were attacked by Italy, the Balkan Pact would not apply and consequently the Balkan Allies would not be obliged to come to its aid.
- If Bulgaria joined the Italian attack against Greece, either concurrently or subsequently, again the Pact would not apply.
– If Greece were attacked by Bulgaria, the Pact would be fully in force.
– If Greece were attacked by Bulgaria and Italy joined in the attack afterwards, yet before the mobilisation of the allied forces against Bulgaria had been declared, the Pact would not apply and therefore the Allies would not be obliged to support Greece against Bulgaria.
– If Greece were attacked by Bulgaria and Italy joined in the attack later, after the mobilisation of the allied Balkan forces against Bulgaria had been declared, then the Pact would be fully in force and the allies would be obliged to aid Greece against Bulgaria.
Lastly, the bipartite agreements, which had been contracted between Greece and Turkey, resulted in the following obligations:
- If Greece were attacked by Italy, Turkey would be obliged to preserve and defend its own neutrality, to make every effort to resolve the situation and to examine the latter under a favourable light regarding Greece.
If Greece were attacked by Bulgaria, Turkey would be obliged to support it in the struggle against Bulgaria.
However, it is noted again at this point that, this obligation of Turkey did not stem from any military agreement but was only a moral commitment that resulted from the treaties, which had been contracted between the two countries.
The Entrance of Italy into the War and its Position towards Greece
- On April 7, 1940, Germany attacked Norway and, by May 2, it had occupied almost the whole of that country. On May l0, the Germans invaded Belgium, the Netherlands and the Duchy of Luxembourg. The Netherlands were the first to submit at the end of a four-day struggle. On May 11, the Belgian resistance was bowed and, on May l9, Antwerp was taken. The German troops proceeded to enter France and forced the English to turn towards Dunkirk and the French to withdraw westwards and southwards.
Mussolini was astounded by this unforeseen and rapid development of the situation and, fearing that the war might end before Italy had the chance to take part in it, on June 10, 1940, declared war on England and France, the latter being on the verge of collapse. At the same time, he declared once more, officially, that he would respect the territorial integrity and independence of Greece.
- In attempting to cover up the expansive aspirations of its policy, Italy not only assured the Greek Government of its so-called good intentions but proceeded to demand assurances on June 11, through its ambassador to Athens, regarding the Greek position towards Italy, which was at war. The Greek reply was that Greece would remain strictly neutral, provided that the war was not shifted to the Balkans.
Despite its outwardly peaceful intentions towards Greece, Italy did not cease to oppose it and to try to find various ways and pretexts, in order to claim that the Greek orientation towards England and France would occasion a future Italian intervention.
On June l8, Anfuzo, head of the personal office of Italian Foreign Minister Ciano, representing the Minister who was not present in Italy, urgently summoned the Greek Ambassador to Rome and informed him that, it had come to the attention of the Italian Admiralty, through reliable sources, that a number of British warships were present at the harbours of Souda and Iraklio for a period of time exceeding the twenty-four-hour limit accepted by the international law. After the Greek denial on the matter and the reminder that Greece had decided to remain neutral, the Italian Foreign Ministry acknowledged on the following day that the issue concerning the presence of English warships in Crete had ceased to exist.
- After the collapse of France and the truce signed between France and Germany on June 22, 1940, and between France and Italy on June 24, Italy began to appear as an increasing threat to Greece.
On June 26, Anfuzo summoned the Greek Ambassador to Rome and informed him that the Greek Ambassador to Ankara was working against the Axis which was contrary to the declared Greek policy.
On July 3 the Italian Foreign Minister Ciano once more summoned the Greek Ambassador and informed him, outraged, that he had proof that English warships were using the Greek ports and territorial waters for attacks against the Italian naval forces, that the situation was unacceptable, and that, if it was not brought to an end immediately, Italy would take action. In reply to the protestations of the Greek Ambassador that no such violation had been committed by the English, the Italian Minister stated that the Greek position was already well-known, from some French records which had come into the hands of the German authorities, and that this, in conjunction with the Greek aid to the British Fleet, meant war on Italy and Germany. An official negative and well documented Greek reply was delivered on July 6, by the Greek Ambassador to Rome, to the Italian Foreign Minister. Nevertheless, the latter repeated that he had every reason to believe the information to be reliable and that he (Ciano) had made great efforts not to involve Greece in the war, although he feared that Greece had not acted similarly.
- At 0630 hrs, on July l2, three Italian bomber aircraft hit the ‘Orion’, an auxiliary vessel of the Greek Navy lighthouse service, using bombs and machine-guns, during the resupply of the Gramvoussa lighthouse at the bay of Kissamos in western Crete. The same aircraft proceeded to attack the destroyer ‘Hydra’, which had been ordered to assist the above mentioned vessel.
At 0650 hrs, on July 30, an Italian aircraft that was flying from the direction of the Dodecanese islands, over the Corinthian bay, dropped four bombs on the Greek destroyers ‘King Georgios’ and ‘Queen Olga’ as well as on two Greek submarines, that were inside the bay of Nafpaktos. The chemical analysis conducted on fragments of these bombs proved that were the same type as the ones that had hit the destroyer ‘Hydra’ on July 12, 1940.
On August 2 an Italian aircraft dropped six bombs on the A6 smuggler-patrol vessel between the isles of Aegina and Salamis.
- The Greek Government issued a series of proceedings to the Italian Government, regarding all the abovementioned incidents, failing however to receive any Italian reply. Following this, on August 7, the Greek Prime Minister summoned the Italian Ambassador to Athens, Grazzi, in order to define the Greek position on the issue of Greek -Italian relations. Grazzi replied by declaring that, Mussolini and Ciano were both amicably disposed towards Greece.
On the same day, August 7, the Greek Ambassador to Rome met with Bennini, the Italian Deputy Minister of Albanian affairs. During the course of this meeting they examined all incidents that had occurred up until that point, along with the charges that the Italian Government had brought against the Greek Government on account of the Greek alleged violation of the neutrality.
On August 11, four days after the abovementioned diplomatic talks, the Italian diplomacy, by using various methods attempted to exploit internationally the murder of Daut Hodja, an Albanian from Tsamouria, a common law criminal who was being presented as a great national patriot of Albania. According to the Italians, it was an act of assassination committed by Greek agents which was considered to be a provocation on the part of Greece against the Italian Government.
On August l4, the polemics of the Italian press reached their peak. Greece was accused of always having led an anti-Italian policy, not having appreciated the Italian guarantee, and of exercising a policy of provocation against the Axis Powers heedless of the misfortunes of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
- At 0830 hrs, on August 15, ‘Elli’, the cruiser of the Greek Fleet, of a capacity of 2,115 ton and a crew of 232 men, was suddenly struck by torpedoes in the bay of Tinos, the island it had visited to render honours on the anniversary of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. The ship sank at 0945 hrs, on the same day and the casualties comprised eight crew members dead and 26 wounded.
A detailed examination of the torpedo fragments proved that the submarine that had fired the said torpedoes was Italian. The register number and the origin had been inscribed on fragments belonging to two of those torpedoes, so there was no doubt as to its origin. Nevertheless, the Greek Government did not reveal the nationality of the submarine, wishing to avoid any Greek involvement in the war. It was only later that it did so, on October 30, by which time the war had already been declared.
This criminal Italian act brought grief to the whole of Greece and gave rise to feelings of patriotism, national honour and dignity and, at the same time, stirred up hatred against the criminals, who had chosen that particular day of the great feast of Christianity for their sacrilegious deed. Parallel to this, the torpedoing of ‘Elli’ roused the international press, which stigmatised the action. Even the German newspapers expressed their sympathy towards Greece. The Italian Government was alarmed by the uprising of the international public opinion and attempted to relieve the burden by presenting the torpedoing as an act of England, which was allegedly seeking to cause upheaval in the Balkan Peninsula and to poison the Greek -Italian relations.
The fact that Italy was responsible for the torpedoing of ‘Elli’ was later also confirmed by Italian sources after the war. Count Ciano wrote in his diary, in the entry of August 15, 1940. ‘A Greek warship has been sunk by a submarine of unidentified nationality. I believe this operation to have been planned by that lunatic De Vecci( )’.
Furthermore, Grazzi, the Italian Ambassador to Athens, published an article in the Roman newspaper ‘Giornale di Matino’ on August 19, 1945, where he wrote in regard to the torpedoing: ‘This act cannot be simply attributed to an initiative of the General Commander of the Dodecanese’, De Vecci, as claimed by count Ciano in his diary entry of August 15, 1940.
‘The initiatives of that member of the fascist group of four, could not go as far as to issue an order for the torpedoing of an aged warship in a Greek port, which no seaman could possibly mistake for an English one. The torpedoing of ‘Elli’ was a direct result of orders issued by Rome.’
- The month of September and the early days of October went by without any serious acts of provocation. However, the Italian press continued to bring charges against the Greek Government. During the same time, all information from the Greek diplomatic delegations to Rome and other European capitals, reported that Italy was advancing its forces in Albania towards the Greek borders and that the war was only a matter of a few days.
During the second and third ten-day period in October, intelligence reports indicated an increase in the concentration of Italian troops along the Greek -Albanian frontier, while there was almost daily violation of the Greek airspace by the Italian aircraft.
On October 26, the Stefani News Agency announced that, on that morning, a Greek band had launched an attack, shooting and firing hand grenades against Albanian posts near Koritsa. Another communique, issued on the same day, claimed that, three bombs had exploded near the offices of the Italian Port-Master of Porto-Enda (Agii Saranda), with two victims slightly wounded, and that, either Greek or British agents were wanted for this incident.
After a brief investigation, these incidents were disproved by the Athens News Agency on October 27, through repeated statements by the Greek Government. These statements contained evidence which proved that, the above mentioned incidents were completely false and had been staged by the Italian Government, in order to provoke an incident that would offer them the pretext for declaring war against Greece.
According to certain official Italian records that came to light on July 2, 1944, the final decisions regarding the attack against Greece had been taken on October 15, 1940, during the course of a meeting attended by the higher echelons of the political and military Leadership of Italy, in Mussolini’s personal office at the Palazzo Venezia.
The attack had been scheduled for October 26, although for technical reasons and after the insistence of the General Staff, as Mussolini himself revealed in a public speech on June 10, 1941, a last minute decision was taken to postpone it for 48 hours and launch it on October 28.
New Measures for the Military Confrontation of the Italian Threat
- The deterioration of the situation in Europe and the continually increasing incoming information from abroad concerning an impending Italian attack on Greece, forced the military leadership of the country to adopt with the approval of the Government, a series of new measures to safeguard the defence of the country, in the Spring of 1940.
The most important of these measures were the following:
- The reminder, in the beginning of April, to the Garrison Commander of Kerkira (Corfu) and to the V and XIII Divisions, of the relevant orders since 1939 pertaining to the defence of the islands of Kerkira, Limnos, Mytilini, Samos and Crete, since intelligence reports from various sources indicated an impending Italian landing on these islands. At the same time, authorisation was given to declare immediate mobilisation on these islands in the event that the threat became imminent.
The decision, during the month of April, to call the reserve officers of the Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, Engineer, Vehicle and Medical Corps of the classes of reservists provided by the mobilisation plan to the arms and to retrain them in successive monthly training courses, starting with the older classes, which were in need of such training. The call-up of the reserve officers aimed at their retraining in the use of new weapons and machines and mainly at securing the uninterrupted presence of a sufficient number of officers under arms in order to conduct a possible mobilisation and also in order to man the new units that were to be formed. The first series of reserve officers, from the classes of 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1929 of all Arms, presented themselves for the abovementioned retraining on May 15.
The study and preparation, at the end of April, of the variable IBb of Plan IB, which was immediately disseminated to the Large Units concerned. This Plan dealt with a possible offensive action, on a wider sea front, by the Italian Navy, since the fighting capacity of the British in the Eastern Mediterranean had been diminished and there were intelligence reports on an impending Italian attack on Thessaloniki as well.
According to Plan IBb, the surveillance and defence of the Epirus coastline and Thessaloniki was assigned to forces designated by Plans IB and IBa. The defence of the coastlines of Attica, the Peloponnese and Akarnania was assigned to the A’ Army Corps, Crete was assigned to the V Division and the archipelago (Aegean) to the XIII Division.
In order to secure the area of Thessaloniki-Stavros from the sea, the Kavala Field Army Section was provided with the Cavalry Division.
As resistance area of the land front, the plan designated area IBa or IB, depending on the specific conditions prevailing.
- The decision, in the beginning of May, to call successively all reserve classes of trained infantry soldiers to the arms, beginning from 13 May, and starting with the class of 1935, for a 45-day retraining course, and for the same reasons that had led to the abovementioned call-up of the officers, as well as the first step in the development of the antiaircraft system.
The warning, on June 2, to the Army Inspector General and the officers that had been assigned to command the Large Units, which were formed during the mobilisation (‘Division Group’, XVII Division, III, XVI Infantry Brigades). These officers, who served in other units during peacetime, had to be ready to move to their positions with the first echelon of their Staff within 12 hours of receiving the departure order. The same procedure was also repeated for other officers, who had been intended to reinforce the mobilising Large Units.
The re-organisation, on June 3, of the Staff of the Western Macedonia Field Army Section (WMFAS), with Lieutenant General Pitsikas as Commander and Colonel Georgoulis as Chief of Staff.
- The months of June and July went by, witnessing the completion of the tasks designated for the Large Units by Plan IBb, the issue of supplementary co-ordinating directives by the HAGS and the conduct of reconnaissance missions on the basis of plan IB and its variables IBa, IBb.
Furthermore, by implementing previous decisions concerning the periodic retraining of reserve officers and trained reserve soldiers, the reserve officers of all Arms, classes of 1920 and 1930, were called under arms on June 15, and the reserve soldiers, class of 1934 were called on June 25. On July 16, the reserve officers, classes of 1932 and 1933 and on July 22, the soldiers, class of 1933. The latter remained under arms until October 28, due to the gravity of the situation.
Similarly, the warrant officers, class of 1935, were ordered to remain under arms, as reservists, after completing their service and the reserve soldiers with special key skills (pioneers, radio and telegraph operators etc.) were called up in secret.
All the above mentioned measures were being taken under conditions of utmost secrecy, so as to avoid offering any pretexts to Italy, that were likely to cause political disputes and misunderstandings regarding the preservation of the Greek neutrality.
- As of the second ten-day period in August, l940, strong Italian forces began to move from the mainland of Albania towards the Greek borders. These movements, coupled with the abovementioned unjustified affronts on the part of Italy together with the information on an impending Italian invasion, forced both the Greek Government and the Greek Army High Command to adopt a series of new significant military measures.
The most important of these measures, the adoption of which began after August 23, were:
- The reinforcement of the Albanian theatre of operations. Thus, the Headquarters of the WMFAS and the B’ Army Corps were completed, and similarly the VIII and IX Divisions as well as the IV Infantry Brigade were also completed and reinforced with additional units beyond their organic ones. The Detachment of Pindos was organised under the command of the officer of the permanent reserve, Infantry Colonel Konstantinos Davakis and there was a partial mobilisation of the I Division and the V Infantry Brigade.
The completion of the state of war synthesis of the XIII Division and its transfer to the area of Alexandroupolis.
Together with the abovementioned pre-mobilisation measures, the training of reserve officers and soldiers continued during the same period. Thus, on August 16, the reserve officers, classes 1919 and 1934, were called up for a one-month training, at the end of which they were not discharged but remained under arms due to the critical nature of the situation. On August 25, the trained soldiers of all Arms, class of 1932, were called up and remained under arms for the abovementioned reasons.
On September 11, another series of reserve officers of all Arms, classes 1924 and 1928, were called up. On October 5th trained soldiers of all Arms, class 1930, were also called up.
Within the bounds of the brief outline of the military preparation of the above, it is deemed necessary to praise the attitude of the Greek People, who remained remarkably tranquil and dignified, despite their fiery temperament. Nevertheless, beneath the apparent composure, the soul of the nation was ablaze with the desire to avenge the affronts to its national and religious faith. The abominable acts of the Italian Leadership, far from daunting and defeating the Greek Nation, became the strongest leverage that served to uplift the souls and steel the determination with view to the victorious confrontation of the impending Italian invasion.