Political and Military Situation on the Eve of the Italian Attack
- By October l940, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Poland, had already been occupied by the Powers of the Axis.
Britain, which had managed to salvage, after the disaster of Dunkirk, only the manpower of its expeditionary force in France, had been left to fend for itself and the threat of an invasion on its home territory had not been fully averted, despite the resistance and victories of the British Airforce.
In Africa, the Italians were pressing the British. British Somalia had been taken, while, along the borders of Abyssinia and English-Egyptian Sudan, the Italians had recorded important successes.
Furthermore, the entrance of Italy in the war, on the side of Germany, and the capitulation of France, had rendered the Allied transport network towards the Mediterranean both unsafe and awkward.
Neither Russia, nor America had yet got involved in the conflict. On October 12, 1940, President Roosevelt had defined the two fundamental principles of the United States foreign policy. Namely, the protection of the entire Western Hemisphere by American forces and the continuation of all types of aid towards Britain, except for the dispatch of troops.
The entrance of America into the war would lead to the enforcement of the Tripartite Pact, which had been signed by Germany, Italy and Japan in Berlin, on September 27, 1940, and to the spreading of war on a world scale.
- In the Balkans, the Yugoslavian policy was, as previously presented, to all intents pro-Axis.
Romania had foregone the English guarantee, since the summer of 1940, and had expressed the intention of a political co-operation with Italy and Germany.
Bulgaria was exercising a cautious and opportunistic foreign policy.
The Balkan Pact was not in force in the event of a Greek – Italian clash, and furthermore, a member of the Balkan Agreement, Romania, which had been invaded by German troops on October 7, 1940, was politically co-operating with the Axis.
The bipartite Greek – Turkish Agreements and especially the ‘Cordial Agreement’ of September 14, 1933, were fully applicable, according to the Greek viewpoint, in the event of a Bulgarian intervention. The Turkish position, however, was both unknown and uncertain, since the above pacts were not accompanied by any corresponding military treaties.
The aid of Britain had been taken for granted after the guarantees of April 13, 1939, although it was expected to be rather limited, due to the serious problems that the above country had also been faced with.
This was the general outline of the political and military situation in Europe on October 28, 1940, on the day that Greece declined the Italian ultimatum and began the uneven yet honourable struggle for its national independence and freedom. In keeping with its past history, Greece entered the struggle armed with faith, depending mainly on its own strength and well aware of the enormity of the trial and the amount of sacrifices, which would be required of the country.
The Situation of the Adversary Land Forces
(Chart no. 3)
- Italian Forces. The Italian forces in Albania, on the eve of the Italian attack against comprised an Army High Command under the General Visconti Prasca. This HC included the XXV Army Corps of Tsamouria, under the command of General Carlo Rossi, the XXVI Army Corps of Korytsa, under the command of General Gabrielle Nassi and the 3rd ‘Giulia’ Alpine Division, under the command of General Girotti.
The XXV Army Corps of Tsamouria, was oriented towards the Epirus Section of the Theatre of Operations. This comprised the 23rd ‘Ferrrara’ Division under the command of General Giannini, deployed in the areas of Mertzani-Premeti, the 5lst ‘Sienna’ Division under the command of General Gambutti, deployed in the areas of Konispoli-Delvino-Agii Saranda, the 131st ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division under the command of General Mali, with a limited strength, deployed in the areas of Tepeleni-Argyrokastron and the Cavalry Division under the command of General Rivolta, which was stationed in the area of Konispolis and had been reinforced with infantry and artillery units.
The total strength of the XXV Army Corps amounted to approximately 42,000 men.
The XXVI Army Corps, was oriented towards the North-western Macedonia Section of the Theatre of Operations and the Yugoslavian frontier area. This comprised the 49th ‘Parma’ Division under the command of General Grattarola, deployed east of Korytsa, the 29th ‘Piedmonte’ Division under the command of General Naldi, deployed west of Korytsa, the l9th ‘Venezzia’ Division under the command of General Bonnini, deployed from Lake Prespa to Elvasan and the 53rd ‘Arezzo’ Division under the command of General Ferone, in the area of Skodra.
The total strength of the XXVI Army Corps amounted to approximately 44,000 men.
The 3rd ‘Giu1ia’ A1pine Division, was deployed between the two aforementioned Army Corps, opposite the sector of Pindos, in the area of Erseka and Leskoviki. Its total strength amounted to approximately 10, 800 men.
The general total of the Italian forces in Albania amounted to 59 Infantry battalions, l35 batteries (23 of which heavy artillery), 150 tanks, l8 Cavalry companies, 6 Mortar battalions and 1 Machine-gun battalion.
- Greek Forces. On the eve of the Italian attack, opposite the above mentioned Italian forces, in Epirus and Western Macedonia, the Greek forces were the following:
In Epirus, the VIII Division deployed under the command of Major General Haralambos Katsimitros, stationed at Ioannina. The VIII Division had been fully pre-mobilised and was reinforced with the Headquarters of the III Infantry Brigade under the command of Infantry Colonel Dimitrios Yiatzis and with some additional infantry and artillery units. In total, it comprised 4 Infantry regiment commands, l5 Infantry battalions, l6 batteries, 5 Escort Artillery platoons, 2 Self-propelled Machine-gun battalions, l Heavy Machine-gun battery and 1 divisional reconnaissance unit. In addition, one Infantry regiment -the 39th Evzones Regiment of the III Infantry Division (Patra)- had been pre-mobilised and, on October 27 was moving from Aetoloakarnania to Epirus.
In the area of Western Macedonia from mount Smolikas (not included) to lake Prespa Major, e the of the Western Macedonia Field Army Section (WMFAS) under the command of Lieutenant General Ioannis Pitsikas stationed at Kozani. This included.
-The B’ Arm Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Dimitrios Papadopoulos, stationed at Larissa and comprising the all Division under the command of Major General Vassilios Vrachnos, the IX Division under the command of Major General Christos Zygouris, the V Infantry Brigade under the command of Infantry Colonel Anastasios Kalis and the IXa Frontier Sector. The first echelon of the B’ Army Corps comprised the IX Division and the IXa Frontier Sector, which came under it and was of battalion strength, while the second echelon comprised the I Division and the V Brigade.
The IX Division, stationed at Kastoria, had been gradually pre-mobilised and reinforced, since August 23, 1940, and comprised 10 Infantry battalions and 14 1/2 batteries, occupying position IBa from Skala height of mount Grammos to Ieropigi.
The V Infantry Brigade was a reserve (mobilizable) unit, which had been partially pre-mobilised after August 29, 1940, and was stationed at Larissa, having deployed the greater part of its forces in the areas of Servia and Amyndaeon (at locality IB) and the rest in Larissa.
The I Division was an active unit, from which one regiment had only been pre-mobilised (the 5lst Infantry Regiment), and was stationed at its Headquarters in Larissa.
-The C’ Army Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Georgios Tsolakoglou, stationed at Thessaloniki and comprising the X Division under the command of Major General Christos Kitsos, the XI Division under the command of Colonel (ARTY) Georgios Kotsalos, the IV Infantry Brigade under the command of Major General Agamemnon Metaxas and the IX, X and XI Frontier Sectors. Among the above mentioned units, the frontier units constituted the first echelon of the Army Corps, equivalent to three battalions in strength. In addition, the IV Brigade had also advanced to position IBa, on a first echelon, from Ieropigi to Prespa, having been a reserve unit which had been gradually pre-mobilised since August 23, 1940. This Brigade was stationed at Florina and, apart from its two organic regiments (the 28th and the 33rd), it had been reinforced with six additional Infantry battalions, of limited strength, from the X and XI Divisions. By having the IX Frontier Sector also under its tactical command, the total strength of the brigade amounted to twelve Infantry battalions and eight batteries.
Among the remaining forces of the C’ Army Corps, the X Division, stationed at Veroia, provided the peace installations in Veroia, Edessa and Yiannitsa with the greatest part of its strength, whereas the XI Division, stationed at Thessaloniki, had the bulk of its forces in the area of Thessaloniki.
-The Pindos Detachment, under the command of Colonel (INF) of the regular reserve Konstantinos Davakis, with its Headquarters in Eptachori and with its forces deployed along a near thirty-seven kilometre front, in the section of the defensive locality between the right flank of the VIII Division on mount Smolikas and the left flank of the IX Division on Northern Grammos mountain. The Detachment of Pindos was a reserve unit, which had been pre-mobilised since August 29, 1940, and comprised the 5lst Regiment (minus), a pack battery of 75 m, an Escort Artillery platoon of 65m and a Cavalry platoon.
The Greek forces that had been mobilised and, on the eve of the Italian attack, were deployed along the Albanian borders, amounted to 39 Infantry regiments and 40 1/2 batteries of varied calibre and numbered 35, 000 men approx.
35 In comparison, the adversary forces, deployed in the Albanian Theatre of Operations on the eve of the Italian attack, were as follows.
In Epirus, against the 22 Infantry battalions, 3 Cavalry regiments, 61 batteries (18 heavy artillery) and 90 tanks of the XXV Italian Army Corps, there were 15 Infantry battalions, l Reconnaissance squad and 16 batteries (2 heavy artillery) of the VIII Division.
In Pindos, against the 5 Infantry battalions, 6 batteries and 1 Cavalry company of the Italian Alpine Division, there were 2 Infantry battalions, l Cavalry company and 1 1/2 battery of the Pindos Detachment.
In Western Macedonia, against the 17 Infantry battalions, l Cavalry company, 24 batteries (5 heavy) artillery and 10 tanks of the XXVI Italian Army Corps there were 22 Infantry battalions, 2 Reconnaissance squads and 22 batteries (7 heavy artillery) of the WMFAS.
The above forces constituted the first echelons of adversaries which could be gradually reinforced a few days later. A successful initial action on their part, would seriously affect the subsequent development of operations, as was indeed proved later by the events that ensued.
By comparing the above adversary forces, it becomes evident that, in the area of Epirus, the superiority of the Italian Infantry forces was only slight, whereas it was overwhelming were the artillery was concerned. The presence of the 131st Armoured Division with 90 tanks seriously increased the offensive potential of the Italians. This superiority was partially counter-balanced by the defensive works in the locality of Elaea-Kalamas, although these mainly comprised field defences. In the sector of Konispolis- Filiates, the Italian superiority was also overwhelming.
In the area of North-western Macedonia, from Nestori to Krystallopigi, the Greek forces were slightly superior to the corresponding Italian forces which were deployed around Korytsa. This superiority was also increased by the reinforced concrete fortifications which had been erected in that area.
In the area of Pindos, the Italians outnumbered the Greeks twofold in Infantry and fourfold in Artillery.
With regard to the organisation of the adversary forces, the situation was as follows.
The Italian division included two organic Infantry regiments as opposed to the Greek division which included three, although the multiple reinforcements of the Italian divisions with battalions of Albanians, Blackshirts and Bersaglieri, increased the division strength to eight and more battalions as opposed to the nine Greek battalions.
The Italian Infantry regiment had six mortars of 8lmm and 54 smaller ones of 45mm, whereas the Greek regiment had only 4 mortars of 8lmm. Furthermore, the Italian division had 48 mortars of 8lmm, organised in a mortar battalion.
The Greek battalion was superior in machine-guns, having been provided with twelve machine-guns as opposed to the eight Italian ones.
The Italian division included a Pack Artillery regiment with nine batteries, whereas the Greek division included only one regiment with six batteries.
- The rest of the Greek Armed Forces were at their peace installations from Evros to Crete, with the exception of the XIII Division which had been mobilised in the Aegean islands on August 31, 1940 and had been transferred to the area of Alexandroupolis since September 24, 1940.
Against Bulgaria, there was a first echelon comprising the Fort garrisons, semi-mobilised since peacetime, and the cover forces.
East of the river Axios, the VI Division ( from the C’ Army Corps) under the command of Major General Nikolaos Markou, stationed at Serres, the D’ Army Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Georgios Kosmas, stationed at Kavala and the E’ Army Cops under the command of Lieutenant General Konstantinos Bakopoulos, stationed at Alexandroupolis. The D’ Army Corps had two divisions, the VII under the command of Major General Christos Zoiopoulos, stationed at Drama, and the XIV under the command of Major General Konstantinos Papakonstantinou, stationed at Xanthi. The E’ Army Corps also had two divisions, the XII under the command of Major General Anastasios Roussopoulos, stationed at Komotini and the XIII under the command of Major General Georgios Razis, stationed at Alexandroupolis.
The Bulgarian forces deployed against the Greek forces, amounted to three divisions, the X Division stationed at Kirtzali, the II Division stationed at Philipoupolis and the VII Division stationed at Doubnitsa (south of Sofia), which had been partially oriented towards Yugoslavia as well.
Inland, there were four Infantry divisions and one Cavalry division. Among the three said divisions, the II Athens Division under the command of Major General Georgios Lavdas, the III Patra Division under the command of Major General Tilemachos Papadopoulos and the IV Nafplion Division under the command of Major General Leonidas Stergiopoulos, pertained to the A’ Army Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Panagiotis Demestichas and were stationed at Athens. In Crete, there was the V Division, under the command of Major General Georgios Papastergiou and pertained to the B’ Army Corps, and in Thessaloniki there was the Cavalry Division under the command of Major General Georgios Stanotas. These forces constituted the reserve of the Commander in Chief.
The total number of Large Units of the Greek Army on October 28 was five Army Corps, fourteen Infantry Divisions and three Infantry brigades.
- The situation of the Greek Army, regarding the availability of war materiel in October, l940, was the following:
The problem of war supply of the country had been dealt with, almost in its entirety, after combined endeavours of the competent authorities in the Ministry of the Army from 1923 to 1940 and mainly since 1935. The expenditure for this purpose was enormous and reached a total of approx. 18.7 billion drachmas, of which three billion was allocated during the period 1923 – 1935 and the rest from 1936 to 1940.
The procuration of war materials from abroad and the successful exploitation of interior resources resulted in the adequate arming of the 16 divisions and the 6 separate brigades included in the mobilisation plan and in the formation of certain artillery units pertaining to the General Headquarters and of 5 Army Corps.
Shortages in mortars, antiaircraft and mainly artillery still existed.
These shortages were mainly due the failure in finding supply sources abroad, because of the problems that the supplier countries faced during this period. Fourteen 6 to 7 ton tanks had been ordered in total, which, however, had not been received by the time the war was declared, due to the aforementioned reasons. The great problem of the ammunition had been dealt with satisfactorily, though without being completely resolved. Yet no significant shortage was apparent during the six month struggle that ensued, thanks to the measures that were applied in time, such as the increase of the Greek industrial production, the limitations imposed on consumption and the reuse of ammunition originating from the spoils of war.
With regard to the reserve stock for the other supplies, the situation during the same period was the following:
- On the basis of a special plan of the Army General Staff, the Central Committee for the protection of local wheat production maintained at the disposal of the Army a supply of wheat to suffice for 50 days. Similarly, there were stocks of the other foods for 15-17 days and forage for 30 days.
- Regarding fuel, the country had entered into war with 45-day reserves, except for the aircraft gasoline which was sufficient for 25 days.
- The authorised number of horses, mules and animal drawn vehicles (carriages), for the needs of the Army field forces, was completed with the commandeering that had been conducted during the mobilisation. The needs of the Army field force demanded a large number of motorised vehicles, amounting to approx. 7,000 as opposed to the 600 available to the Military Service. The problem was partially dealt with by commandeering private trucks of all types.
The Situation of the Adversary Naval Forces
- Italian Naval Forces. The strength of the Italian fleet, during the declaration of the Greek – Italian war, amounted to 8 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 61 destroyers, 96 torpedo boats and 119 submarines, with a total displacement of 658,398 tons. Most of these ships were newly-built and were equipped with all the latest devices and armament.
The greatest problem of the Italian Fleet at that time was that in parallel with the operations against Greece, it was also expected to support the transport of troops to Libya, an operation to which special priority had been given by the Italian Leadership.
- Greek Naval Forces. Against this imposing force of the Italian Fleet, Greece arrayed 1 battleship (the veteran cruiser of the Balkan Wars ‘GEORGIOS AVEROF’), 10 destroyers, l3 torpedo boats, 2 motor torpedo boats, 6 submarines and approximately 30 small and medium sized auxiliary vessels. An addition was to be made to the latter, in the event of war, of an equal number of merchant navy ships, which had been predetermined and equipped with the appropriate devices and also with a number of guns. These vessels were to be used for mine sweeping, anti-submarine search and patrolling. The total displacement of the Greek Fleet amounted to 14,602 tons. Many of the Greek ships were old and were approaching their life expectancy limit.
The superiority of the Italian Fleet to the Greek Fleet was overwhelming and, consequently, the protection of the country against a possible occupation attempt with sizeable landing forces, depended on the cover offered by the British Fleet in the Mediterranean, which had the added task of protecting the external supply lines of Greece.
Nevertheless, the protection of the Greek coastline from surprise attacks, launched from the naval bases of Tarantas, Brindisi and the Dodecanese isles, could not be solved by the permanent presence of the British naval forces in the Greek waters. Yet, nor did the Greek Fleet suffice to provide immediate protection to all coastal areas. Thus, the most vital areas of the Greek coasts needed to be fortified, so as to enable the repulsion of the enemy forces until the intervention of the British Fleet.
The organisation and command of the coastal defence were assigned to the Coastal Defence Higher Command.
The endeavour, made by the aforementioned Command to this end, was enormous and resulted in the organisation and command of the naval Strongholds of Araxos river, Rion, Aegina island (North and South), Fleves isles, Evoia bay (North and South) and Great Emvolon (Thermaikos bay), as well as the Gun-emplacements of Punta and Keramos.
All strongholds and gun-emplacements were armed with fire arms, taken from old ships. The coastal strongholds had also been combined with minefields and antisubmarine booms for the protection of the most important naval bases and harbours against submarines and surface ships.
Such minefields were lay in the bay of South Evoia in an area extending for two miles, Preveza for three quarters of a mile and Fleves isles for eight miles. Anti-submarine booms were installed in the North and South Evoia bay, in the bay of Corinth between Rion and Antirrion and in the bay of Saronikos between Piraeus – the isle of Psyttaleia and Kynosouras on the isle of Salamis.
The Strongholds on Aegina and Fleves safeguarded the area of Piraeus harbour and the Naval Arsenal of Salamis in the bay of Saronikos, against any hostile surface ship or submarine attack.
The stronghold on Araxos river covered, in conjunction with a gun emplacement situated across in the lagoon of Messolonghi, the bay of Patra and the approach routes to the bay of Corinth.
The Northern Stronghold of Evoia bay protected the northern approach lanes to the straits of Oreoi as well as the greater area of the northern Sporades isles, while the Southern Stronghold of Evoia bay blocked off the bay from the south.
Lastly, the Stronghold of Great Emvolon (Karabournou) safeguarded the bay of Thermaikos and the area of Thessaloniki.
The Situation of the Adversary Air Forces
- Italian Air Forces. The strength of the Italian Airforce in Albania, at the beginning of the Greek – Italian war, amounted to approx. 400 active aircraft, which were grouped into 8 bomber squadrons, 9 fighter squadrons and 3 observation squadrons.
The Italian Airforce had a large number of trained flying personnel and could replace any loss at any moment. Furthermore, its personnel had the earlier experience of the previous wars in Abyssinia, Spain and Northern Africa.
There were airfields in Agii Saranda, Avlonas, Verati, Argyrokastron, Korytsa and Tirana. These airfields along with the ones from Bari to Brindisi in south-eastern Italy were situated near the front, had been brought fully up to date and provided all the facilities necessary for the operation of the Italian Airforce.
- Greek Air Force. During the same period, the Greek Airforce had 143 aircraft (45 fighters, 33 bombers, 65 observations), which old and with low capacity, were inferior to the Italian ones.
In accordance with the requirements of the campaign plans, the Greek Airforce was organised into the following three large divisions:
-The Army Aviation Higher Command, under the orders of the General Headquarters, which included: The Fighter Airforce (4 squadrons), the Bomber Airforce (3 Squadrons) and the Army Co-operation Airforce (one observation squadron for each of the A’, B’, C’, D’ Army Corps and the WMFAS, as well as a separate observation flight for the VIII Division).
-The Naval Aviation Higher Command, that came under the orders of the Fleet Admiral and had at its disposal three maritime patrolling squadrons and the Faliron Air Base.
-The Airforce of the Ministry of Aviation which included: The Air Bases of Tatoi and Eleusis, the Aviation Academies and Training Centres, the Central Aircraft Industry, the Airforce General Supply Depot and a fighter squadron.
There were Air Bases in Sedes, Larissa, Tatoi (Dekeleia), Faliron, Nea Anchialos and Eleusis.
Apart from those bases, 23 alternative airfields had also been organised as well as another 22 airfields which serviced the confidential communications network. Some of these airfields were rendered unusable in wintertime, especially during the months of December and January owing to the rain and the snow, which meant that the aircraft were immobilised on the ground and could not carry out their missions.
The personnel was in excellent condition with regard to the training and morale, although the flying personnel barely sufficed to cover the existing needs. Replacement was very difficult, owing to the lack of adequate means to train new personnel.
The War Plans of the Adversaries
- The Italians: The Italian War Plan against Greece provided for a first-stage simultaneous surprise seizure of Epirus, Kerkyra and the other Ionian islands. At a second stage, Western Macedonia would be taken. After securing the above areas, a rapid advance towards Thessaloniki and Athens would follow, with new forces which would land on the Epirus coast and the islands with view to the occupation of the entire country.
On the basis of the above War Plan, the General Plan of Operations was drawn up by General Prasca and was approved by the Italian General Staff. The latter plan advocated that during the first period, the area east of Korytsa should remain on the defensive and that an attack should be made in the general direction of Kalpaki-Ioannina-Preveza, with simultaneous cover and support of this main activity in both the direction of Leskoviki-Samarina-Metsovon and along the Epirus coastal zone. At the same time, the isle of Kerkyra would also be occupied. During the second period, an attack had been planned to occur in the direction Korytsa-valley of Aliakmonas river-Thessaloniki, as well as a continuation of the endeavour from Arta to Athens, with a parallel secondary activity from Metsovon towards the Thessaly plain.
More specifically, the Plan of Operations included the seizure of the fortified junction of Elaea (Kalpaki) in the course of the first four days, by frontal attack of the main endeavour divisions, the ‘Ferrara’ and the ‘Centaurs’ (Armoured), which would be assisted by the ‘Sienna’ Division. The latter would act in the general direction Delvinon-Filiates and would then turn east towards the area of Ioannina.
On the right and left of the main endeavour, two divisions would be operating, the Cavalry Division and the 3rd ‘Giulia’ Alpine Division. The Cavalry Division would move along the coastal Epirus zone and would cover the main endeavour from the south-west. The ‘Giulia’ Division would move through the mountain area of Pindos, cover the main endeavour from the north and seize the area of Metsovon. Thus, it would be interposed between the Greek forces which were deployed in Thessaly, Macedonia and Epirus.
The flank of the entire Italian offensive endeavour towards Epirus, would be covered from the north by the forces which were deployed in the area of Korytsa and which would maintain an active defensive position in the event of any Greek attacks against the said flank. The planned occupation of Kerkyra would secure from the west the right flank of the forces that would be advancing towards Paramythia and further to the south.
The Italian Fleet, according to the above Plan, was to carry out the seizure of Kerkyra and, possibly, other Ionian islands as well and was to concurrently secure the transport sealines in the Adriatic and the Ionian sea. In the end, however, the landing did not take place due to the priority given to the support of the transport sealines to Libya and Albania.
The Italian Airforce would support the manoeuvre of the ground forces in the entire front with reconnaissance and bombings, both in the battlefield as well as inland on the Greek territory. The inland bombings would be directed against the most important towns and road junctions and would be aiming at the breakdown of the Plan for the Mobilisation and Concentration of the Greek Army.
The success of the above General Plan of Operations against Greece was generally based upon the surprise element of the invasion with the use of motorised means of transport before the mobilisation and concentration of the Greek Army were carried out. The Italians were entering the war under the conviction that, they were about to strike one of those quick successes that the world had come to expect of the German war operations. General Soddu, who was Minister of the Army on the eve of the war, had reassured Mussolini that, it would only take one week for the Italian Army to reach Ioannina and fifteen to twenty days, at the most, to get to Preveza and commence right away the second stage of operations, the advance towards Thessaloniki and Athens.
In conclusion, out of the nine Italian divisions in Albania, according to the aforementioned plans there were two divisions for the cover operations towards Yugoslavia and two in the area of Korytsa for the active defence against the Greek forces of the area Kastoria-Florina. Three divisions (that comprised a third of the total Italian forces in Albania) were provided for the main endeavour against Epirus and the remaining two had been assigned to cover the flanks of that endeavour. The covering forces of the main endeavour during the onset of war, were twice the size of the Greek forces deployed against them. The forces of the main endeavour were stronger insofar as the artillery, though only slightly superior in the infantry, which would be of primary importance in the mountainous terrain of Epirus. In addition, ninety tanks from the ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division had been provided for the main endeavour towards Epirus, although these would be forced to act against a fortified position and move within narrow lanes along the chargeable roads.
Thus, although the directions of action had been wisely chosen by the Italian Leadership, insufficient support had been given, especially to the main endeavour towards Epirus, since nearly half of the available divisions had been assigned to conduct covering missions in Northern and Central Albania. This was probably determined by two main factors, the underestimation of the adversary, with regard to material strength and morale, and the overestimation of the capabilities of both the tanks and the airforce.
- The Greeks. The Greek War Plan had been drawn on the basis of the political-military situation prevailing in the Balkans, in conjunction with the superiority of the possible adversaries in airforce and armoured vehicles. The Plan aimed at.:
-Initially, the defence of the national territory in the fortified frontier areas, with the existing forces deployed there, regardless of whether it was attacked by Italy or Bulgaria, simultaneously or separately.
-At a second stage, after the implementation of mobilisation and strategic concentration of the forces and depending on the prevailing situation, the undertaking of offensive actions.
The Plans of Operations in force on October 28, 1940, were the Campaign Plans, which had been drawn after the seizure of Albania by the Italians and were called IB and IBa.
According to these plans, the Theatre of War designated was the part of the Greek territory north of the line Maliakos bay-Amvrakikos bay. This area was conceptually divided by the river Axios into the Albanian and Bulgarian Theatres of Operations.
The Albanian Theatre of Operations was divided into two Sections, the Epirus and the Western Macedonia Sections. The two Sections were connected through the Pindos Sector.
The aforementioned Plans for Operations were fundamentally defensive. Only in the Albanian Theatre of Operations was there a provision for the undertaking of offensive operations against the Italian forces in the sector of Korytsa, in the event that the appropriate favourable conditions should arise, whereupon the plan would be adapted to the new situation.
- As regards the mobilisation and strategic concentration of the Greek forces on October 28, 1940, the Mobilisation Plan of 1940 was in force, providing for the organisation of a General Headquarters, two Field Army Sections -the Western Macedonia (WMFAS) and the Eastern Macedonia (EMFAS)- as well as a Division Group. Furthermore, in addition to the Large Units existing since peacetime, the following new Large Units would be formed: the XVII Infantry Division in the area of Thessaloniki, the VII Infantry Brigade in the area of Kavala, the XVI Infantry Brigade in the area of Lamia and one Cavalry brigade in the area of Kalambaka. Moreover, a considerable number of new infantry and artillery units were included, which were required to complete the war establishment of the field army.
The mobilisation and concentration of the Greek forces was estimated to be completed within twenty-two days for the Albanian Theatre of Operations and fifteen days for the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations.
The Greek Fleet would be allocated, upon the declaration of war, in accordance with the Fleet Plan of Action as follows:
-The destroyers and the battleship ‘GEORGIOS AVEROF’ would remain under the direct command of the Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral, Epameinondas Kavadias.
- The torpedo boats, motor torpedo boats and mine-sweepers would be allocated to the coastal defence under the command of the Rear Admiral Oikonomou.
- The submarines, under the orders of Captain Alexandros Xiros, and the Naval Aviation would be directly answerable to the Chief of the Navy General Staff, regarding operations under his personal direction.
Furthermore, a detailed Plan for the Military Sea Transportation and Concentrations had been drawn up. According to this plan, the military transportation from Attiki would be conducted through the ports of Halkida and Oropos and not through Piraeus, for it was certain that, the latter would be bombed by the Italians as early as the first days of war.
The Greek Airforce had been assigned the following missions:
- Intelligence, with priority given to the collection of military information regarding the disposition, composition and activity of the enemy in the zone between the frontier and the general line Agii Saranda-Tepeleni-Pogradetz.
- Bombings, in the following sequence of priority: the enemy airfields in Albania, the concentrations of enemy columns on the south-east of the general line Agii Saranda-Tepeleni-Pogradetz and the enemy ships in the harbours of Agii Saranda, Avlonas and Dyrrahion.
- Cover, in the following sequence of priority: the friendly Airforce (aircraft- installations) the naval convoys, the road junctions of Ioannina, Larissa and Thessaloniki as well as the most important road and railway works.
Configuration of the Albanian Theatre of Operations Transportation
(Chart no. 4)
- The Greek-Albanian borders cover a distance of approximately 240 kms, of which nearly 80 are in a highly mountainous area. On the whole, the ground is highly mountainous on both sides of the borders and especially so within Greece, where the mountains are higher, their slopes steeper and the valleys narrower.
Lying close to the coastal zone of the Ionian sea, the mountain ranges of Kourvelesion and Tsamandas stand tall and inaccessible even for the mountain units, on account of their steep descent towards the narrow valleys of the rivers Aoos, Drinos and Kalamas. On the east of the narrow valley of Drinos rise the mountain ranges of Nemertska, Tymphi (Gamila) and Mitsikeli. North of Gamila, lies the mountain range of Pindos, with Smolikas to the south and Grammos to the north. The Northern extension of Pindos, Morovas, enters into Albanian territory. On the Northeast of Northern Pindos stands the mountain range of Vernon (Vitsi).
- The road network of the Albanian Theatre of Operations was poor. There were four carriage roads which entered the Greek territory from Albania: the coastal road Avlonas-Konispolis-Filiates, two inland roads, the Argyrokastron Kakavia-Elaea (Kalpaki) road and the Premeti-Mertzani-Elaea road (which were connected in Elaea en route to Ioannina), and one from Korytsa to Kapestitsa which led from there either to Vatochori-Florina, or to Ieropigi-Kastoria.
There were two roads leading from Ioannina inland. The first led to Thessaly by way of Metsovon and the second to Preveza and Arta-Aetoloakarnania by way of Philippiada.
In the area of Grammos there were also two roads, coming from the east. In the north, a gravel road that was chargeable though not in good condition and led from Kastoria to Nestori and in the south another one which was similar and led from Neapolis to Morphi. Nestori is approx. twenty-five kilometres away from the main ridgeline of mount Grammos. The village of Morphi is about fifty kilometres on a straight line from the nearest point on the frontier.
From the town of Kastoria, there was another chargeable road, that led from the south towards eastern Vitsi and met the Florina-Korytsa road by the village of Vatochori. The mountainous area of Grammos and Smolikas, known as Northern Pindos, was traversed by mule paths that were difficult to cross. The chargeable road Korytsa-Erseka-Leskoviki extended across, close to the border, within the Albanian territory.
It is obvious from the above description of the road network, that, the two furthermost areas of the Theatre of o operations, that is to say the territorial regions of Western Macedonian and Epirus, did not communicate directly via a traffic artillery owing to the mountain bulk of Grammos. Communication between them could only take place via the chargeable gravel road Florina-Kozani-Kalambaka-Ioannina, that ran along a considerable distance of approx. 450 kms.
- As regards the railway network, the stations of Florina and Amyndaeon, were the two furthermost stations for the northern approach. In the south, there were the railway stations of Larissa, which had a standard gauge line of the RGS, and Kalambaka, which had a narrow gauge line of the Thessaly Railways.
The Theatre of Operations presented considerable difficulties, on the whole, not only as regards the strategic concentration of the field army and the conduct of operations, but also as regards its resupply and evacuation.
The Outbreak of the Greek – Italian War and the First Greek Measures
- The war against Greece, so persistently sought by Italy, was essentially declared at around 0300 hours, on October 28, 1940, by virtue of the visit that Grazzi, the Italian Ambassador to Athens, paid to the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas at his home in Kifissia, in order to present him with the following ultimatum:
‘The Italian Government has repeatedly been forced to note that, during the course of the present fighting, the Greek Government has adopted and maintained an attitude which not only is opposed to the smooth relations of peaceful neighbouring between the two countries, but is also opposed to the particular obligations of the Greek Government, which arise from its position as a neutral state.
On many occasions, the Italian Government was forced to recall the Greek Government to the fulfilment of its duties and to protest against the systematic violation of the said, a violation which is extremely grave, given the fact that the Greek Government granted permission to the British Fleet to use its territorial waters, coastal areas and harbours during the development of its war operations, favoured the resupply of the British air force and allowed a military intelligence service against Italy to be organised in the Greek Archipelago. The Greek Government is fully aware of these events, which were, on the part of Italy, diplomatic demarcates, to which the Greek Government which ought to have been aware of the grave consequences of its position did not reply by taking any measure to protect its neutrality, but, on the contrary, intensified its activity to assist the British armed forces and its collaboration with the enemies of Italy.
The Italian Government possesses proof that this collaboration had been foreseen and arranged by the Greek Government, even including the possibility of an agreement of a military, naval or aviation nature.
The Italian Government, is not solely referring to the British guarantee, which had been accepted by Greece as part of an action directed against the security of Italy, but also, to the explicit and specific obligations, undertaken by the Greek Government, to place at the disposal of the powers that were at war with Italy, important strategic positions within the Greek territory, including the air bases in Thessaly and Macedonia, that were intended for launching the attack against the Albanian territory.
The Italian Government deems necessary to remind the Greek Government accordingly, of the provocation carried out against the Albanian nation, by virtue of the terrorist policy it adopted against the population of Tsamouria and through the determined attempts to create instability on that side of its borders. And it is for the selfsame event that the Italian Government was, but in vain, forced to remind the Greek Government of the inevitable consequences, that a similar policy would entail, insofar as Italy was concerned.
Italy can no longer tolerate all such occurrences henceforth. The neutrality of Greece has grown to be purely and simply ostensible.
The responsibility for this situation must be primarily attributed to England and to its intention to always involve other countries in war.
The Italian Government considers as evident, the fact that, the policy of the Greek Government tended and tends to turn the Greek territory or at least to permit that the Greek territory be turned into a base of war operations against Italy.
This could lead to no other recourse but that of an armed clash between Italy and Greece, a clash which the Italian Government has every intention to avoid.
Consequently, the Italian Government has reached the decision to request to be given the right to occupy certain strategic positions of the Greek territory with its armed forces, as a guarantee of both the Greek neutrality and the Italian security, during the present clash with England. The Italian Government requests that the Greek Government do not oppose the occupation of these positions or block the free passage of the troops assigned to accomplish it.
These troops do not present themselves as enemies of the Greek people and it is certainly not the intention of the Italian Government to endanger, in any way, the sovereignty and independence of Greece, by virtue of the temporary occupation of certain strategic positions, which has been dictated by the force of circumstances and is of a purely defensive character.
The Italian Government requests that the necessary instructions be addressed at once by the Greek Government to the military authorities, so that the occupation may be conducted peacefully.
If the Italian troops should meet with resistance, this resistance will be overcome by force of weapons and the Greek Government will bare the responsibility for the outcome.’
According to a verbal statement of the Italian Ambassador, this ultimatum expired at six in the morning, whereupon the Italian troops would commence the invasion of the Greek territory. The contents of the ultimatum together with the three-hour deadline, that was imposed according to the statement of Grazzi, left the Prime Minister with no choice but to reply ‘No’ to the Italian challenge, without any hesitation and by echoing the will and sentiments of the entire Greek nation. Thus, the war between Italy and Greece, which the latter had taken such pains to avoid, became a reality.
- Immediately after the departure of the Italian Ambassador, the Greek Prime Minister notified the King, the Commander in chief of the Army General Staff, Lieutenant General Papagos, the Commander in chief of the Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Sakellariou and the British Ambassador to Athens by phone, and called a meeting of the Cabinet Council, that was held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 0530 hrs. King Georgios and Crown Prince Pavlos were present at the meeting. After the briefing by the Prime Minister about the Italian ultimatum and the unanimous agreement about the proud Greek answer that had been delivered, the Cabinet signed the decrees for the mobilisation of the Armed Forces and the declaration of a state of siege throughout the country. The King assumed General Command of the Armed Forces, according to the Constitution. Lieutenant General Alexandros Papagos was appointed Commander in chief of the land forces and established his General Headquarters (GH) in the hotel ‘Grand Bretagne’ in Athens. The General Headquarters remained there until the end of the war.
A circular was issued next, addressed to all Greek embassies, in order to inform the Greek diplomatic authorities abroad of the relevant facts. Moreover, the following proclamations were addressed to the Greek people by the Prime Minister, the King and the Archbishop.
Proclamation issued by the Prime Minister
‘The time has come for us to fight for the independence, the territorial integrity and the honour of Greece.
Although we maintained the strictest neutrality and treated all parties equally, Italy, denying us the right to exist as free Greeks, requested, at 3 o clock am, that I surrender sections of our National territory, of its own choice, and informed me that, the operations of its troops for the occupation of those parts would begin at 6 o’clock am. I replied to the Italian Ambassador that, I consider both the request in itself as well as the way it is termed, as a declaration of war on the part of Italy against Greece.
Now is the time to prove, whether we are truly worthy of our ancestors and the freedom, that was secured for us by our forefathers. The entire nation will rise united in one body. Fight for the Country, the women the children and for our sacred traditions. The struggle must now be above all.
Ioannis Metaxas ‘
Proclamation issued by the King
‘The President of the Government just informed you of the conditions under which, we were forced to enter the war against Italy, which has designs on the independence of Greece.
During this great moment, I am certain that every Greek man and woman will perform their duty and prove us all worthy of our glorious History.
With our faith in God and the destiny of our race, the Nation all united as one body and with the discipline of a single person, will fight for altars and hearths until the final Victory.
Proclamation issued by the Archbishop
‘Beloved children of God
His Majesty the King and the President of our National Government have called us all to take part in a Holy defensive struggle for Faith and Country.
The Church blesses the sacred arms and is convinced that, the children of the Country, obedient to Its call and to the call of God, will rush to fight as but a single heart and soul for altars and hearths and Freedom and honour, and will continue, thus, the centuries-old and unbroken line of honourable and glorious struggles and will choose a noble death over the ignoble life of slavery. And, let us fear not the ones who may kill our bodies but cannot destroy our souls, but rather let us fear the one who can lose both his body and his soul.
Let us relinquish our care to the hands of the Lord and He shall be our helper and protector against the unjustified attack of our enemies. Come as they may with chariots and horses, we shall be glorified by our courage and bravery in the name of God our Lord.
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and Father always be with us.
The Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece
The Greek Commander-in-chief of the Army Papagos, also issued the following order:
‘In assuming the command of the Army, I call the officers and soldiers of the Greek Army to perform the highest duty towards the Country in the highest degree of self-denial and steadfastness. No one must fall short. The case of the struggle, that was imposed upon us by the unbridled Imperialism of a Great Power, which never had anything to fear on our account, is the most just case to be defended by an Army. This is a struggle for survival. We shall fight with persistence, indomitable perseverance and undiminished energy to the last breath of air.
I am firmly convinced that the Greek Army will write new and glorious pages in the celebrated history of the Nation.
Have no doubt that we shall finally overcome, with the help and the blessing of God and the prayers of the Nation. Greek Officers and soldiers, prove yourselves to be heroes’.
- In the meantime, the Commander-in-chief of the AGS, directly after the phone call of the Prime Minister, who had briefed him on the Italian demarche, issued, by phone, the following order to the Commanders of the VIII Division the WMFAS and the B’, C’, D’, E Army Corps.: ‘As of six am this morning we are at war with Italy. Defence of National territory will be conducted according to orders that you have received. Apply mobilisation plan. Papagos’.
The laconic briefings of this first command, comprising thirty words, demonstrates the impeccable staff preparation of the war plans for the country. Thus, without any hesitation, the Greek Military High Command decided to implement Plan IBa, which provided for the defence of the entire national territory on the defensive localities that had been organised along the borders, except for the area of Epirus, where the initiative was left to the Commander of the VIII Division.
The Army General Inspector, Lieutenant General Markos Drakos, was appointed Commander of the Kavala Field Army Section, that was stationed at Kavala, and Lieutenant General Panaghiotis Dedes was appointed Commander of the Division Group, that was stationed at Siderokastro.
The Western Macedonia Field Army Section, under the command of Lieutenant-General Ioannis Pitsikas, immediately began to implement the directives issued by the AGS since September 16, 1940, with view to securing the defensive position IBa from lake Prespa to mount Smolikas (not included).
The I Division was placed as a reserve, under the direct command of the Commander in chief of the Army and was ordered to concentrate its forces in the Kalambaka area.
The Greek forces that were oriented towards Bulgaria, also began to be mobilised and advance to the waiting areas of the strategic concentration, according to Plan IBa.
- At 0530 hrs, half an hour before the prescribed deadline had expired, the Italian attack broke out on the entire Albanian front. Twelve Italian columns began to move against the light screening forces. A simultaneous vigorous attack of the Italian Airforce began, both against military targets along the front as well as against mobilisation Centres, road junctions, construction works and air bases in the mainland. Such were the harbour of Piraeus, the airfield of Tatoi, the town of Patra, the Korinthos canal, the Naval Base of Preveza, the waterworks at Fasideri in Kifissia, the Megara area, the Istiaea area etc.
In the meantime, according to information that had reached the AGS during the course of the day, the situation appeared to be developing more or less smoothly both in Epirus, where the cover forces were withdrawing according to Plan IBa, and in North-western Macedonia, where minor skirmishes had been confined to the borderline areas. On the contrary, in the Pindos Sector, the situation appeared rather alarming. The Greek forces there, having been unable to contain the attacking forces in front of the main line of defence, were forced to withdraw from its greater part and occupy a new locality behind it.
In order to deal with the situation that had arisen, the AGS placed the I Division at the disposal of the WMFAS along with a number of infantry and artillery battalions, to secure the liaison with the VIII Division.
The first war communique was circulated on October 28, at midday and referred merely to the commencement of war in the following terms:
‘As of 0530 hrs this morning, the Italian forces have been attacking our cover forces in the Greek – Albanian borderline area. Our forces are defending our Native land.’
The second announcement of the General Headquarters, issued that evening, was the following:
‘During the course of the day, Italian forces of varying strength, have continued to attack our forces, which provide steady resistance. The fight has been confined to the border area. The enemy Air Force has hit some of our military targets, causing no damages. The bombs directed against the city of Patra resulted in casualties among the civilian population.’
The Greek Prime Minister addressed the following message to the Army, the Navy and the Airforce, thus terminating the anguish of all who were waiting for some preliminary information.
‘At the end of the first day, during the course of which you have defended the sacred soil and honour of the Country with a strength of steel, I give you my warmest salute.
The whole Nation, from the Supreme Ruler to the last citizen, the men, the women and the children, hold you in their thoughts with pride and tenderness and their prayers will follow you with God’s blessing.
Think how you have been gloriously chosen to write your names in the golden volumes of the Greek history, beside the names of those who fought in the battle of Marathon, our medieval frontier-fighters, the heroes of the 1821 liberation struggle and all the other victorious struggles. Yours are the hands that will make Greece even more beautiful and glorious than it is today, that will once again dazzle the whole world. The entire civilised world will look up to you and, I am in a position to assure you that, Greece will not be alone in this struggle.
Carry on, Greek soldiers, and exhibit the same degree of courage and indomitable determination to crush the enemy, that dared insult the honour of our country.
Victory is on your side, and glory awaits you. ‘
The Repercussions Abroad
- The rejection of the Italian ultimatum and the courageous decision of the Greek Government to resist the unprovoked and unjustified Italian attack, aroused the admiration of all countries that had preserved their freedom until then. Telegrams by Heads of states addressed to the Greek Leadership, statements and speeches delivered by political leaders, enthusiastic articles written in the most serious newspapers, all stressed the significance of the Greek example during that period and offered the assurance that Greece would receive the unqualified support and assistance of all free peoples in its struggle against fascist Italy.
The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in addressing the Greek Prime Minister, stated:
‘ Italy found its threats of intimidation to be useless in the face of your calm courage. It resorted, thus, to an unprovoked attack against your Country, seeking justification for its vile attack in unfounded accusations. The way that the Greek People, under your trustworthy leadership, faced the dangers and provocation of the last months, has gained the admiration of the British People for Greece. These virtues will make the Greek People stronger, even more so at this moment of trial. We shall provide all possible assistance, fighting against a common enemy and we shall share the common victory’.
The Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King also sent the following telegram:
‘At this moment, when the cradle of the noblest civilisation that mankind has known, when the country, to which we owe whatever makes life fine and beautiful, is subject to such an attack, the place of all true men is at its side and their duty is to offer every assistance’
- At 1400 hrs, on October 28, the British Government issued a semi-official announcement, where it was stressed that, the British offer of assistance to Greece was an obligation arising from the corresponding British guarantee of April 13, 1939.
After 24 hours, that is at 1500 hrs, on October 29, the London radio station broadcasted an official announcement of the British Government referring to the rendering of every possible assistance towards Greece.
The most valuable military aid that Great Britain decided to offer Greece during that period were the four squadrons of ‘Blenheim’ and ‘Gladiator’ fighter and bomber aircraft along with the required personnel and equipment. This began to arrive in Greece after November 3 and the first operation of the British airforce detachment took place on November 5, with three ‘Blenheim’ aircraft for the support of Greek Army troops. A ‘Wellington’ squadron was also provided, which would be acting from the airfields of Egypt and would be using the airfield in Eleusis as an alternative airfield.
- The rest of the materiel aid that Britain offered Greece during the war period 1940 – 1941, mainly in terms of small weapons and artillery, consisted of 89 combat guns, 34 antiaircraft guns, 30 antitank guns, 115 antitank rifles, l,300 machine-guns, l,290 light machine-guns, 351 mortars (old make), 8,000 rifles, a quantity of ammunition and a number of towed guns and reconnaissance vehicles.
A considerable percentage of the above materiel was part of the loot taken by the British during the operations in Libya, and required servicing. Thus, the contribution of these supplies to the struggle of the army was relatively small and the fighting forces of Greece were obliged to depend primarily on their own resources.
The Italian Invasion of Epirus
(Chart no. 5)
- The Greek forces in Epirus on the morning of October 28 were only the troops of the VIII Division, which was directly answerable to the General Headquarters and was deployed in the area from the Ionian sea to mount Smolikas.
Its mission was to block off the routes leading from Epirus to Aetoloakarnania (main endeavour) and to provide powerful cover for the left flank of the Western Macedonia Theatre of Operations Section from the direction of Ioannina – Metsovon. According to the latest instructions issued to the Division by the AGS on September 16, 1940, the advance of the enemy had to be contained on the line of Elaea-Kalamas river (line IBa), or the line of Arachthos river (line IB), or on a line south-east of Arachthos in Akarnania or even on an intermediate line between the above limits.
The aforementioned mission was flexible insofar as the manoeuvres and gave the VIII Division the initiative of selecting the defence position. The Commander of the Division finally decided to resist with all his forces in the forward position Elaea-Kalamas, because, in addition to other advantages, it had been organised satisfactorily
On the basis of that decision, the VI Division had allocated its forces, in the following way:
- At the cover position, along the Greek Albanian borders, a force comprising 5 Infantry battalions, 2 pack batteries and 3 Escort platoons, comprising the cover echelon of the Division. This echelon, with the exception of one battalion (the Cover Battalion of Konitsa) would become the reserve of the Division, after its withdrawal. At the beginning of operations, the Cover Battalion of Konitsa, minus one company and a Machine – gun platoon that had been allocated to the Pindos Detachment, would come directly under the orders of the VIII Division and would be assigned to cover its right flank and secure the liaison with the Pindos Detachment.
- At the defence position, which was arrayed along the general direction: east bank of Kalamas river – Elaea (Kalpaki) – Grambala – Kleftis height on mount Smolilkas, the main bulk of the forces had been allocated comprising 9 Infantry battalions, l3 batteries ( 2 heavy artillery), 2 self-propelled Machine-gun battalions (minus battery) and one divisional Reconnaissance unit. These forces had been allocated to three sectors, the Sectors of Thesprotia, Kalamas and Negrades.
- In order to safeguard the coastal areas and the entrance to the bay of Amvrakikos, an additional sector had been created, the Preveza-Philippiada Sector, comprising 1 Infantry battalion, l field battery, l battery and 2 Escort platoons with antitank missions.
- Opposite the aforementioned Greek forces in Epirus, was the Italian XXV Army Corps of Tsamouria, which had begun to advance its forces towards the frontier since the last ten-day period of August, l940. On October 27, it had already completed its offensive disposition, that was the following:
- In the coastal area, the Cavalry Division, reinforced with certain infantry and artillery battalions. Its mission was to act in the direction Konispolis-Igoumenitsa-Preveza and to cover the main activity towards Ioannina mainly from the west.
- In the centre, the 5lst ‘Sienna’ Division, assigned to cross Kalamas river, at the position between Varfani and its confluence with the Langavitsa torrent, and then to turn east and advance to Ioannina in collaboration with the ‘Ferrara’ Division.
- Opposite the right flank of the Greek forces, the 23rd ‘Ferrara’ Division, reinforced with a battalion from the 131st ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division. Its mission was to act rapidly in the directions of Kakavia-Elaea and Leskoviki-Elaea, to seize the junction of Kalpaki and then advance to Ioannina.
- In the Tepeleni area, the 131st ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division (minus), was employed as a reserve force.
- Even though the deadline of the Italian ultimatum ended at 0600 hrs on October 28, the Italian troops, aiming to secure the surprise, began, as of 0530 hrs to advance towards the entire Epirus front. After crossing the border in the directions Mertzani-Hani- Bourazani, Drymades-Delvinaki, Kakavia-Hani Delvinaki and Konispolis-Parapotamos, they began to attack the Greek safe-guards, with the support of the Italian artillery and airforce.
The screening forces, having sufficiently resisted this initial attack, began to withdraw towards their predetermined positions, delaying the enemy in accordance with the plan and the instructions of the VIII Division. The withdrawal on the first day of the Italian invasion, despite the initial pressure of the enemy, was conducted in an orderly way and it was only in the Elaea sector that some troops were forced to withdraw somewhat hurriedly. The demolition detachment of the Division, also accomplished its mission and blew up the bridges across the river Aoos, except for the Hani Bourazani bridge, which was not destroyed on account of improper firing. After the unexpected resistance of the screening forces, the Italians moved hesitantly and it was only on the evening of October 28 that they managed to occupy the line Kerasovon heights-Hani Delvinaki-Meropi heights-Bourazani bridge-Kavasila village with the ‘Ferrara’ Division and the village of Agii Pandes and the heights directly north of Philiates with the ‘Siennna’ Division.
- During the second day, the Italian troops continued to move with the same degree of hesitation. Although they had post contact with the withdrawing Greek troops since the previous evening, small columns began to move at l000hrs, in the areas of Hani Delvinaki, Vissani and Geroplatanos before the Elaea position. At 1600hrs, a motorised column, moving from Hani Tzeravini, was hit by the Greek artillery and sought cover towards Hani Delvinaki. Small groups of the Italian infantry and cavalry, that had managed to cross the river Kalamas near its outlet in the afternoon, were forced to withdraw once more to the north of the river, after a Greek counter attack.
On the Greek side, during the same day, the VIII Division deeming that the sojourn of the screening forces in front of the area of resistance and the damages they might suffer would be of no avail, decided to withdraw within that area, to their predetermined positions. At the same time, the Arm General Staff ordered the 39th Regiment, which was situated in Agrinion, to accelerate its advance towards Arta, so that its force would also be placed at the disposal of the VIII Division as soon as possible.
The casualties suffered by the Greek troops, during their two-day withdrawal, were very few, except for the Delvinaki Screening Regiment, where seventy soldiers had gone missing and a large part of the supplies had been lost.
- From October 30 until November l, the Italians focused their endeavours in Epirus on restoring and determining the appropriate routes, in order to advance the bulk of their forces closer to the area of Elaea (Kalpaki)-Kalamas river, to conduct reconnaissance operations and generally to prepare the attack, without however gaining close contact with the defence position.
Meanwhile, the VIII Division withdrew its troops from Preveza and advanced them to the Sector of Thesprotia, in order to reinforce the latter. The Division decided on this course of action after incoming intelligence from the AGS reported that there was very little probability of enemy action in that coastal area. Parallel to this, due to the adverse development of the situation in the area of mount Smolikas, it installed a small number of troops on mount Gamila, so as to cover the crossings of Papingos and Astrakas. Furthermore, it withdrew the Screening Battalion of Konitsa, which had not been under any heavy enemy pressure until then and had retained its positions on the Kleftis height-Peklari pass in the Vrysochori area, so as to block off the crossings on the south of Aoos river and cover the right flank of the Division.
In the meantime, the Army General Staff, on account of the unfavourable development of the struggle for the Greek troops in Pindos, reminded the VIII Division of its principal mission, which was to block off the axis Ioannina-Metsovon-Kalambaka. Nevertheless, the latter stood by its original decision of retaining the position of Elaea-Kalamas river.
The Battle of Elaea-Kalamas
( Chart no. 5 )
- In the morning of November 2, the Italians had completed their preparations for the decisive attack and, as of 0900hrs, consecutive waves of Italian aircraft flights began to bomb the Negrades Sector and in particular Grambala , Kalpaki, Velas Monastery, the Ioannina airfield and Mazaraki bridge, without any grave consequences. The town of Ioannina was also bombed, and suffered considerable damages with many victims among the civil population. The airforce withdrew at noon and a severe shelling of the locality by the Italian artillery began, mainly against the locality Elaea-Grambala and once more bore insignificant results.
Meanwhile, troops from the ‘Ferrara’ Division, which had been reinforced with tanks from the ‘Centaurs’ Division, began to move against the Negrades Sector and launched their first attack from many directions simultaneously at 1500hrs, with particular severity against the heights of Grambala and Psilorrahi. Despite the preparation and preceding bombings, the attack was repulsed with considerable casualties for the Italian side. Thus, the second day in November went by without the Italians being able to break through the Elaea locality.
The Greek artillery was instrumental in repulsing the Italian attack. By shelling the attacking enemy troops, with a barrage of sustained and accurate fire, it disorganised them and forced them to either slow down their pace or check their advance on account of the casualties.
During the course of the night, Italian infantry elite sections, reinforced with Albanians, succeeded in surprising and overpowering the Greek troops, that were of company strength and were occupying Grambala height, and it seized the latter. However, this occupation was not destined to last long, for in the early hours of November 3, the Greek troops launched a counter-attack and succeeded in recapturing Grambala by force of bayonet. There, the enemy abandoned 20 dead, 6 prisoners and many weapons and ammunition.
Moreover, the 47th Italian Infantry Regiment that was concentrated near Grambala -assigned to climb the height, seize it and continue to the heights of Psilorrahi and Assonissa- was pinpointed in time. Thus, before it had any opportunity of making its move, it was struck by the fire of four Greek batteries and was forced to disband.
- The morning of November 3 was taken up with the exchange of reciprocal artillery fire from both sides, in the Sectors of Negrades and Kalamas river. As of l000hrs, the Italian airforce joined in the battle and concentrated its attack mainly on the Negrades Sector. At 1600hrs, the enemy launched a new attack against the height of Kalpaki, using 50 – 60 tanks, surrounded by about 80 motorcyclists. This attack was also contained by the antitank ditches and the accurate fire of the artillery. Most of the tanks and the motorcycles were destroyed, while the rest were forced to withdraw, bearing great damages. The Italian infantry also suffered many casualties and was not able to launch its attack, having been hit by Greek fire within its areas of concentration.
The failure of the enemy, at this point, greatly revived the spirit of the Greek fighters who confronted tanks for the first time, and it served to intensify their conviction about the effectiveness of the anti-tank defence.
- On November 4, the Italians had planned to spread the attack to the entire front, however, they decided to postpone it for the following day, evidently desiring to complete its preparation. Thus, the fourth day in November went by, with only the shelling of the entire area with artillery fire and in certain cases with the added support of the airforce.
In the meantime, on the night of November 3 to 4, the VIII Division, in order to reinforce its defence positions in the location of Elaea, withdrew its troops that were situated in the positions of Siastis, Sossinos Monastery and Repetista west of Kalamas river, and moved them to a new position east of the river, which was thought to be less vulnerable to the enemy tanks. The withdrawal was conducted in silence, during the night, without being noticed by the Italians.
- From the morning of November 5, the Italians began a heavy bombardment of the areas Grambala and Vrondismeni in the sector of Negrades, the positions that had already been abandoned by the Greek troops west of the river Kalamas and the area of Parapotamos (Varfani) in the sector of Thesprotia.
In the sector of Negrades, following the aforementioned preparation of the artillery and the air force, the Italians launched a new general assault at 1430hrs, against the whole area of the front, employing a large number of infantry troops and combat tanks. However, this attack failed as well, despite the strong support by artillery and airforce. The Italian forces were immobilised by the Greek fire before the defence position, and suffered grave casualties. The combat tanks which had been employed in the area of Parakalamos were struck by the concentrated and accurate fire of the Greek artillery and were forced to disperse and to remain immobilised in the marshlands of Kalamas river.
The Italian attack against that Sector continued during the two days that followed and focused mainly against the area of Elaea, again to no avail. Elite Italian troops that had managed to seize Psilorrahi height, a southern ridge of Grambala, on the evening of November 7, faced an immediate Greek counter-attack. After a hand to hand fight, they were forced to withdraw, abandoning on site 45 dead, 7 prisoners, 5 mortars, 3 machine-guns and 4 light machine-guns. The Greek casualties amounted to one officer and 11 soldiers dead and one officer and 33 soldiers wounded.
This was the last Italian attempt against the location of Elaea. Grambala, which was the key to that location as well as to the broader area of the Ioannina highland, remained in the possession of the VIII Division.
In the sector of Kalamas, the Italians did not attempt any significant moves, apart from the occupation of the advanced positions to the west of Kalamas river, which had been abandoned by the Greek troops.
In the Sector of Thesprotia, the Italians, backed by airforce and artillery, succeeded in bridging Kalamas in the area of Tsifliki and the village of Vrysela and in crossing over to the south of the river and creating a small bridgehead. The following day, after widening the bridgehead, the Italian troops moved southwards, occupied Igoumenitsa and forced the limited Greek strength of that area to withdraw further south.
The VIII Division, due to the lack of sufficient reserves for the conduct of delaying action in that area, ordered its troops to break off contact with the enemy and withdraw to new positions in the area of mount Souli-Acherondas river, assigning them to block off the passages towards Preveza and Ioannina. In order to reinforce the above new position, the 39th Evzones Regiment (minus) of the III Division advanced to Philippias.
Nevertheless, the Italian forces did not harass the withdrawing Greek forces, neither did they seek to take advantage of their success. Their only move was to advance one Cavalry unit as far as the village of Margariti. This attitude of the Italians can only be explained by their fear of getting cut off from their stations, if they attempted to continue their advance in the Sector of Thesprotia, while the position of Elaea was still intact.
- As of November 8, the offensive operations of the Italians were interrupted. As it was later revealed, in the course of that day, the Commander in chief of the Italian forces in Albania, General Visconti Prasca, was ordered to suspend his offensive operations. At the same time, he was replaced by General Soddu.
As of November 9, the conditions of the adversaries in the Epirus front were reversed. In the Sector of Negrades, the Italians adopted a defensive attitude, while in the Sector of Thesprotia they began to withdraw, maintaining only one bridgehead of limited size, south of Kalamas river, which constituted the only achievement of their surprise attack in the Epirus Front.
Thus, after a twelve-day defensive struggle, it was made possible to contain the Italian forces before the Elaea position. These forces comprised two divisions and had suffered both moral and material damages to such an extent that, their Supreme Command decided to suspend the offensive operations until the arrival of fresh reinforcements.
- On November l0, the VIII Division Headquarters, which had been accommodated until then in the Fortress of Ioannina, was moved to the village of Veltista (Klimatia).
During the three following days, the Division conducted offence reconnaissance operations, the most significant being the one that began in the Sector of Thesprotia and continued towards Igoumenitsa, resulting in the occupation of heights Agia Marina-Neochori by November l3, and in the near total destruction of the Italian bridgehead in that area.
Meanwhile, by order of the Army General Staff, as of November l2, the VIII Division was no longer directly answerable to the AGS and was placed under the orders of the A’ Army Corps. On the same day, the Headquarters of the A’ Army Corps advanced, by way of Kalambaka, from Athens to Votonosi village, on the 43rd kilometre of the road Ioannina-Metsovon.
The Commander in chief of the Army, issued the following order, addressed to the VIII Division, expressing his satisfaction about the successes recorded, up until that point.
‘We express our full satisfaction with the successful handling of the situation at the end of your activity as a separate division. This primarily concerns the division commander and, to an extent, his colleagues’.
The casualties suffered he VIII Division during its defensive operations from November 1 to 5, amounted to 3 officers and 57 soldiers and 5 officers and 203 soldiers wounded. Most of these casualties were due to the bombardment of the artillery positions by the Italian Airforce, as well as to the localised counter-attacks that had been conducted to recapture the lands taken by the enemy.
According to the estimate of General Prasca, the casualties suffered by the Italian forces from the beginning of war operations until November 5, amounted to 17 officers and 354 soldiers dead and 65 officers and 1,134 soldiers wounded. Ten officers and 648 soldiers were reported missing in action.
The Italian Invasion of Pindos
(Chart no. 6 )
- On the morning of October 28, the only Greek forces present in the mountain area of Pindos were those of the Pindos Detachment. The total strength of this Detachment was approx. 2,000 men and comprised the 5lst Infantry regiment, a screening company, a pack battery of 75mm, a Cavalry platoon, an accompanying Artillery platoon of 65mm. Furthermore, the detachment possessed two mortar barrels, a Communications platoon and a Muleteers company.
The 51st Infantry Regiment was a mobilizable unit, and its two battalions, the I/51 and the II/51, had been pre-mobilised in Trikala, on August 29 and had advanced to Eptachori from September 1 to 10. The III/51 Battalion was mobilised on October 15 and was moving from Pendalofo to Eptachori on October 27.
The zone of action of the Pindos Detachment ranged from mount Smolikas to Northern Grammos mountain and measured about 35 kilometres on a straight line.
The main line of resistance of the Detachment ran, from north to south, along the general line: Tsombanis height on mount Smolikas-Molista village-Kastaniani heights- Oxya village-Kiafa height-Katafyki height.
The Pindos Detachment was under the tactical command of the WMFAS and included the following three sub-sectors:
-The left sub-sector, which had its command post in the village of Kantziko and one Infantry battalion (minus company and Machine-gun platoon) at its disposal.
-The central sub-sector, which had its command post in the village of Oxya and one Infantry battalion (minus a Machine-gun platoon) together with the screening company of the Konitsa Screening Battalion at its disposal.
-The right sub-sector, that had its command post in the village of Paleochori and comprised one Infantry company, two Machine-gun platoons, a scout squad, an Escort Artillery platoon of 65mm and an Infantry platoon. The latter had been provided by the IX Division, so as to secure the liaison and guard its left flank.
The III/51 Battalion, that began to arrive in the village of Eptachori on the morning of October 28, constituted the reserve force of the Pindos Detachment.
The pack battery was deployed south of Theotokos village, its firing capacity ranging from Gorgopotamos river to Sarandaporos river, while the Cavalry platoon was at the village of Stratsani and was instructed to engage in delaying action towards Pyrsoyianni.
The Pindos Detachment had been assigned to secure locality IBa in the mountain area of Pindos, maintaining the link between the VIII and IX Divisions and blocking off the mountain passes of Pindos that led from west to east.
- Opposite the Pindos Detachment, was the 3rd Alpine ‘Giulia’ Division, which had deployed its forces in the area of Erseka and Leskoviki.
The Alpine Division was an elite Large Unit consisting of two Alpine regiments, one Cavalry company and six pack batteries, amounting to a total strength of approx. l0,800 men. This division had been in Albania since April 1939, and was totally familiar with the terrain and the conditions of the Pindos front. Moreover, it had been well organised, established and trained.
Its mission was to move from the Erseka and Leskoviki area, through the mountain lines of Stavros-Fourka-Samarina-Vovousa-Metsovon and Golion-west of mount Smolikas-Distrato-Vovousa-Metsovon, reach Metsovon and cut off the escape routes to the east, which might be used by the Greek forces of Epirus. The left flank of the Division would be covered by a platoon force, which would conduct offensive operations between the heights of Kiafa and Katafyki.
- The Italian offensive in Pindos broke out at 0500hrs on October 28, with five powerful columns and a few other smaller ones, of Infantry company or platoon strength. The Greek screening forces, that had been notified in the meantime, were expecting the Italian move and were not taken by surprise.
The Italians attacked the right sub-sector of the Pindos Detachment, using a force of near company strength, without artillery or mortar support. These troops, which kept slowing down their pace, were finally held in position in front of the main line of resistance, during the course of the afternoon.
The main endeavour of the Italians was directed against the central sub-sector of the Detachment. The attacking forces were greatly superior to the resisting Greek ones and had strong artillery and heavy mortar support.
The defending Greek troops, after a stubborn resistance, were forced to withdraw by the afternoon, to the heights of Patoma, Mouka and Upper Arena, with defence stationed.
The Italians attacked the left sub-sector at 1700hrs, with a strength of two Infantry Battalions. Despite the strong Italian pressure, the resisting Greek troops held their ground steadily.
Thus in the night of October 28/29, the Pindos Detachment occupied the general line: Molista village, Kastaniani village, Patoma height, Mouka height, Upper Arena height, Kiafa height and Katafyki height.
In the meanwhile, seeking to reinforce the combat the Commander of the Pindos Detachment, Colonel Konstantinos Davakis, ordered the companies of the III/5lst battalion, which had begun to arrive in Eptachori since the morning of October 28, to advance to the front-line. Furthermore, he issued instructions that all means of transport belonging to the villagers of Pindos should be concentrated in the village of Morphi, in order to be used for transportation of ammunition and other supplies to the troops in combat. His request addressed to the villages of Pindos was met with great enthusiasm and promptitude. Elderly men, women and children toiled heroically for many days, under a spirit of self-sacrifice, carrying ammunition and supplies right up to the front-line and transporting the wounded under extremely inclement weather conditions.
- In attempting to deal with the situation that had arisen in the sector of Pindos, in the meantime, the WMFAS took the following measures:
-It advanced the following units towards it:
- One Infantry battalion from Smixi towards Myrovliti, to cover the right flank of the Pindos Sector and secure the liaison with the V Infantry Brigade, under the command of which it would come.
- One Infantry battalion from Servia towards Morphi, at the disposal of the Pindos Detachment.
- One Infantry battalion and one battery from Eleftherochori towards Doutsiko, at the disposal of the Pindos Detachment.
- One Cavalry company and one Machine-gun platoon from Karpero towards Neapolis.
- The Metsovon Detachment, comprising one Infantry battalion, one Pack Artillery platoon and a Mortar platoon, from Metsovon towards Kerasovon.
-It ordered two battalions of the XI Infantry Division (which were situated in the area of the IV Infantry Brigade) to advance towards Argos Orestikon and the Headquarters of the V Infantry Brigade to Nestori, as soon as possible.
-It ordered the I Infantry Division, which, as of October 28, had been placed at the disposal of the Pindos Sector by order the Army General Staff, to advance, within the day of October 29, to Eptachori. The Division would assume the command of the Pindos Sector and had been assigned to defend it.
- By the morning of October 29, the Italians resumed their offensive against the Sector of Pindos, with particular severity against the central and left sub-sectors.
In the central sub-sector, the Italians attacked against the heights of Mouka and Patoma. In the afternoon, after a fierce struggle, they managed to seize the height of Mouka, but were immediately subjected to a Greek counterattack which forced them to abandon it. And while the Greek troops on the height of Mouka held on to their positions, the ones on the height of Patoma were beginning to withdraw. After that, the Pindos Detachment ordered the withdrawal of the troops, that were fighting at those heights, to the line Kato Arena-Gousteritsa.
However, due to the continuous and tough two-day struggle and the inclement weather conditions (continuous rain and bitter cold), by midnight of October 29/30, the above troops along with those that had been sent to reinforce them, withdrew in haste towards Eptachori, despite the efforts of their officers and the personal intervention of the Detachment Commander.
The height of Kiafa and the right sub-sector were not subjected to any heavy pressure and retained their positions. However, the continuous snow and the bitter cold that prevailed, placed them at a grave disadvantage.
In the morning of October 29, a fierce attack began against the left sub-sector, which had been lightly reinforced in the meantime. The main objective of the attack was to seize the heights of Gyftissa, Tambouri and Kantziko, in order to open the way to Samarina, by-passing Molista. The fight continued until the afternoon, when the Italians managed to effect a slight breakthrough in the centre of the sub-sector and also to outflank Molista from the south.
Towards the end of the day, after this turn of events, the Commander of the Pindos Detachment ordered the commander of the left sub-sector to withdraw his forces to the line Gyftissa-Langada-Leivadia and to join the troops of the central sub-sector, that were situated in the area of Sioumoulazari. Due to the break in communications, however, and the hardships suffered by the troops after the two-day fight, some of them did not conduct an orderly withdrawal and fled to the rear.
Thus, on the evening of October 29, the right flank of the Pindos Detachment was holding its ground firmly at the heights of Kiafa and Skala, while in the rest of the area and specifically at the heights of Upper Arena, Mouka, Patoma, Sioumoulazari, Tambouri and Molista, the situation was unclear.
- In the morning of October 30, the Italians resumed their offensive against the central and left sub-sector of the Pindos Detachment, while the commanders of the sub-sectors strove to re-organise their troops and contain the enemy for as long as possible.
The Commander of the Pindos Detachment, who had witnessed the situation of his troops after their two-day fight, decided to withdraw them behind the line Samarina- Koutsouro-Tsouka, that had been manned by the reinforcements already provided for the Pindos Sector.
At 1600hrs, on October 30, the Commander of the I Division, Major General Vassilios Vrachnos, arrived at Eptachori accompanied by a section of his Staff and assumed the command of the forces belonging to the Pindos Sector.
The Pindos Detachment, that had suffered the might of the entire Giulia Division, conducted a two-day hard and uneven fight, under extremely adverse weather conditions and performed all that was humanly possible. The further development of the situation was thereafter , in the hands of the higher echelons.
- The I Division devoted the rest of 30 and the whole of 31 October, to the re-organisation of the Sector troops, the conduct of reconnaissance and the reinforcement of the troops on heights Vouzio-Koutsouro-Upper Arena. The purpose of the endeavour was to secure both the passages leading to Distrato and Eptachori and the liaison with the VIII Division.
A counter-attack was also decided to be launched on the morning of November l, with a force comprising three Infantry double companies and one Cavalry company, in the directions of Priaspos-Lykorrahi-Oxya and Koutsouro-Fourka-Tambouri-Gyftissa with view to the occupation of the line Oxya-Gyftissa and the attack the left flank of the Italians, who were moving towards Samarina.
Meanwhile, the Italians continued their offensive endeavour and, by the evening of October 3l, had fully occupied the general line Molista-Fourka-Tambouri-Kantziko-Lykorrahi-Aetomilitsa-Grammos. Thus, they managed to create a pocket that posed a threat for the entire Greek defensive disposition in the area between mount Smolikas and Grammos and at the boundary between the VIII Division and the IX Division.
- The aforementioned unfavourable development of the situation in the Sector of Pindos alarmed the Greek Army General Staff that decided to block off, at first, the main passes in Pindos towards Neapolis, Grevena and Metsovon and then to launch a counter-offensive for the repulsion of the invader.
With view to the implementation of this decision, the Army General Staff proceeded as follows:
- As of October 3l, the operational command of the Pindos Sector was entrusted to the B’ Army Corps, which was assigned to spread its forces into the Sector of Pindos, to secure the stability of the front, to restore the connection with the VIII Division and to hinder any further widening of the enemy pocket, and afterwards, to prepare and conduct offensive operations, to threaten both the enemy transport network in the valley of Sarandaporos river as well as the rear of the enemy forces operating towards the valley of river Aoos. With view to the accomplishment of its mission, the B’ Army Corps was also reinforced with the Cavalry Brigade, which concentrated its forces in the area of Grevena, under the command of Colonel (Cav) Sokratis Dimaratos.
- The Cavalry Division was ordered to advance hastily to the area of Metsovon and secure the cover of the axis Ioannina-Kalambaka from the directions of the upper valley of the Aoos river and the valley of Zagoritikos river, linking up with the VIII Division and the B’ Army Corps. As soon as the Division arrived in Kalambaka, it would be reinforced with an Infantry regiment and a battery of 155mm to accomplish its mission.
On the basis of the above mission, the B’ Army Corps decided the following:
- To occupy the passage of Arena with the V Infantry Brigade in order to cover the left flank of the IX Division.
- To concentrate all available forces in the area of Eptachori, under the I Division, so as to block off all passes towards Neapolis.
- To block off all routes from Samarina to Grevena with the Cavalry Brigade, which would also threaten, from the rear, the enemy forces that were directed towards Distrato.
- To undertake offensive operations in the direction of Eptachori-Kerasovon, after stabilising the front and securing the above passes, so as to cut off the movement of Italian forces towards Samarina and then crush them or repulse them west of Pindos.
The Greek Counter-Attack in Pindos
(Chart no. 6)
- The counter-attack that had been decided on and planned by the I Division the previous day, commenced at 0730hrs on 1st November. The aim of the offensive was to occupy the line Gyftissa-Oxya, so as to strike at the left flank of the Italian forces acting in the direction of Samarina. The attack was launched, using troops that were both limited in number and extremely worn down, pertaining mainly to the Pindos Detachment. By that evening, after a fierce struggle, they managed to occupy the villages of Kantziko and Lykorrahi and take 222 prisoners, including three officers. Moreover, l40 mules and horses and many supplies came into the hands of the Greek troops.
During this phase of the Pindos struggle, the first Greek officer of the Army in the Greek -Italian war was killed in action. This was, the heroic First Lieutenant Alexandros Diakos from the Dodecanese, who had led his company in successive attacks to occupy the height of Tsouka, east of Fourka, where the Italians were strongly organised and had resisted steadily.
On the same day, the V Brigade, (which had entered the action on October 30 and had assumed the right sub-sector of the Pindos Detachment), occupied the pass of Arena. In the meanwhile, the first group of the Cavalry Brigade forces began to arrive at Doutsiko and seized the height of Skourtza and the saddle towards the height of Annitsa.
The offensive operation of the I Division, though limited, improved the overall picture of the critical situation that had arisen in the Sector of Pindos and revived the spirit of the men. The arrival of new troops found the front relatively stabilised, thus the movement and concentration behind the front-line of the forces that were, in the meantime, being advanced by the Army General Staff, were facilitated.
75 The Alpine Division, after repulsing the light Greek troops on mount Vouzio, continued its rapid advance southwards with no regard for the fact that its left flank was left with insufficient cover. In the morning of November 2, it occupied the village of Samarina and during the course of that evening, the village of Distrato, where the division command was established. On November 3, forward troops of the division arrived at the village of Vovousa, in contact with the Greek company that was withdrawing in that direction.
However, after a while, these acts, placed the Alpine Division at an extremely precarious position. Indeed, on November 2 and 3, the I Division, continuing its offensive endeavour, succeeded in seizing Tambouri height and Fourka village after a hard fight, thus cutting off the Italian troops that had advanced to the south of those two areas.
On the evening of November 2, Colonel Konstantinos Davakis was gravely wounded in the chest and was transported to Eptachori. The incident occurred, while he was in charge of a force conducting reconnaissance for the continuation of the attack, that would be launched from the height of Prophitis Elias of Fourka towards the height of Tambouri.
As of November 3, the gradual entrance of the Cavalry Division into the action began to constrict the pocket that had been formed in the southern section of the Pindos Sector, from all directions. Thus, the forces that had infiltrated into the areas Samarina-Distraton and Vovousa, were risking captivity.
In the course of the evening of November 3, the Cavalry Brigade occupied Samarina and, on the following day, the Cavalry Division occupied Vovousa.
On November 5 and 6, the Greek attack continued vigorously in all directions. The Alpine Division, that had occupied the area of Distraton village (where its command had been posted) and the south-western feet of mount Smolikas with a strength of two regiments, abandoned its offensive endeavour and its forward shoulders and began to withdraw.
- In order to reinforce the Alpine Division and avert its captivity, one Infantry regiment of the 47th ‘Bari’ Division moved hastily to cover the valley of Sarandaporos river at the position of Pournia village and to secure the passes on mount Smolikas. However, the fate of the Giulia Division had already been sealed.
By November 6, without hope of any effective reinforcement and lacking supplies, with the exception of the few that were dropped by aeroplanes, the Division began to withdraw its forces through the valley of Aoos river, its only way of retreat.
On the night of November 6 to 7, the Italian troops in the area of Distraton village retired towards the village of Armata, while the Division Command withdrew towards the village of Eleftheron.
- On November 8, the Cavalry Division seized Distraton and the Surgery installations of the Alpine Division in that area with 200 wounded. One hour later, the troops of the Cavalry Division, that were moving from Vovousa, also entered the village.
The I Division seized the heights of Kleftis and Daliapolis as well as the village of Pournia, and forced the Italians to confine themselves to the summit of Smolikas mountain.
On the same day, the V Brigade seized the height of Stavros on mount Grammos and continued to move towards the border without encountering any resistance.
- On November 9, the Greek troops continued to apply pressure against the Italians, who had become desperate by then. The latter, seeking to secure their escape towards Konitsa, were only focusing their endeavours on finding ways to loosen the ring that tightened round them. On the night of November 9 to l0, Italian troops repeatedly attacked the Greek troops at the heights of Kleftis and Daliapolis. These attacks were repulsed and the Italian troops broke up, abandoning many dead on the battlefield as well as two machine-guns, mortars, radios, and the war flag of the III/9 Alpine Battalion. On the following day, and during the course of the evening, a large number of men from the above troops surrendered to the Greek Cavalry Division troops that were acting in the direction of villages Pades and Eleftheron.
On the following day, November l0, Greek troops from the I Infantry Division, that were engaged in the seizure of Sousnitsa pass (west of Eleftheron village), encountered a column of the 8th Alpine Regiment and managed to break it up after a fierce seven-hour fight. Fifteen officers and 700 soldiers were taken prisoners and war supplies of all kinds looted, including 100 mules and 5 mortars.
- As of November 11, the Greek forces of Pindos (except for the Cavalry Brigade which was concentrated in Samarina and Distraton for re-grouping purposes) continued their advance. By the evening of November l3, they had occupied the main frontier crossings along the entire zone of the Pindos Sector.
The area of Konitsa-where the Italian forces had also been reinforced with the greater part of the 47th ‘Bari’ Division-was an exception, since the Italians were able to retain it until November l6, thus covering the passage of the rest of the Alpine Division.
By November l6, the mountain areas of Smolikas and Grammos had been fully recaptured. Thus, the passes of Pindos were secured and the Greek troops in Epirus and Western Macedonia were no longer facing the risk of separation.
The Battle of Pindos had ended with the crushing of the Cavalry Division and the victory of the Greeks.
The contribution of the local inhabitants was instrumental in the Greek victory. Throughout the entire duration of the Battle of Pindos, men and women offered their assistance to the fighting troops, carrying ammunition, food and other supplies to the front-line and evacuating the wounded to the rear, with great self-sacrifice and self denial. Their contribution was both grand and moving and constitutes a characteristic testimony of Greek patriotism.
The causalities among the Greek forces, during the battle of Pindos, were considerable insofar as the dead and wounded officers and soldiers. However, the Italian casualties also were extremely numerous. According to the most modest estimates, there were well over five hundred dead and wounded, and over one thousand two-hundred prisoners.
The Operations in North-western Macedonia
- According to the Plan of Operations, the WMFAS was responsible for the defence of the North-western Macedonia front. The WMFAS was stationed at Kozani and comprised the B’ Army Corps, stationed at Larissa and the C’ Army Corps, stationed at Thessaloniki.
The forces, that had been pre-mobilised and had advanced to the above front by evening of October 27, were the IX Division and the IV Brigade, which were under the command of the B’ and C’ Army Corps, respectively.
The IX Division occupied the section of locality IBa from Skala height on mount Grammos to Ieropigi.
The IV Brigade occupied the section of locality IBa from Ieropigi to lake Prespa Major.
The above forces had been assigned to defend locality IBa, which lay in the direction south to north, along the general line Skala height – Yiannochori – Komninades – Ieropigi – Krystallopigi – Karyes – lake Prespa Major.
The fortification of this area had progressed considerably and included concrete or makeshift pill boxes, trenches, barbed wiring, antitank ditches etc.
- Opposite the front of North-western Macedonia, on the evening of October 27, were the deployed forces of the XXVI Army Corps.
In particular, against the sectors of the IX Division and the IV Infantry Brigade, were the deployed forces of the 49th ‘Parma’ Division, comprising 10 Infantry battalions, l0 tanks, l6 batteries (5 heavy artillery), l Mortar battalion, l Cavalry company and 1 Machine-gun Battalion.
West of Korytsa were the concentrated forces of the 29th Piedmonte Division, comprising 7 Infantry battalions, 8 batteries and 1 Mortar battalion.
Between Elvasan and lake Achris, and ready to move southward in order to reinforce the sector of Korytsa, were the concentrated forces of the l9th ‘Venezzia’ Division, comprising 7 Infantry battalions, l2 batteries, l Cavalry regiment and 1 Mortar battalion.
The aforementioned Italian forces had been assigned to provide the forces operating in Epirus during the first days of the war with cover from the north. After the occupation of Epirus, these forces would initiate offensive action along the axis of Koritsa-valley of the river Aliakmon-Thessaloniki.
- In the areas of Epirus and Pindos, strong Italian Army troops crossed the borders by early morning on October 28 and initiated offensive action, whereas in the area between Grammos and lake Prespa their position was defensive. Activity was confined to artillery fire against various points of the Greek defence position and to few probing attacks against the outguards of the screening forces.
This attitude, on the part of the Italians, enabled the IX Division and the IV Brigade to move their troops (many of which were engaged in fortification construction) with relative ease. Thus, by the evening, on November 29, both had managed to occupy their positions at the defensive locality IBa.
In the meanwhile, during the evening of October 29, the Headquarters of the V Infantry Brigade arrived at Nestori, its troops having already advanced towards the front. On the night of October 29 to 30, this Brigade, by order of the WMFAS and reinforced by the IX Division, undertook to bridge the gap, created between Lower Arena and Souflika, as well as to restore the line of Lower Arena-Upper Arena-Tsouka-Souflikas.
- According to the AGS instructions of September 16, 1940, in the event of an Italian attack, the B’ and C Army Corps, apart from securing locality IBa, would conduct offensive operations on a limited scale. The purpose of this activity was to foothold the enemy forces in that area and to occupy specific ground positions of vital importance within the enemy territory, in order to assist future operations towards mount Morovas and Korytsa.
Despite the aforementioned instructions of the General Staff, the Army Corps B and C displayed a hesitant attitude and did not conduct the planned offensive actions. After that, the Army General Staff was forced to intervene and, on October 30, ordered the Commands of the above Army Corps that had remained at their stations and were overseeing the mobilisation and advancement of their troops, to move to Kozani and Florina respectively, and to assume the command of operations at their respective zone of action. This move was conducted immediately and by 2400hrs, on October 3l, the B’ and C’ Army Corps Headquarters were operating at their new positions.
The Army General Staff began to direct strong forces Northwest of Korytsa, aiming to create an important shoulder at that area, owing to its efficient road network that could service the transport and supply requirements of sizeable forces all year round. The aforementioned strong forces were intended to be used to attack and overpower the Italian forces that had been concentrated in the mountain range Morova-Ivan, and then to occupy the junction of Korytsa. This success, apart from its strategic significance, would serve as an occasion to uplift the spirit of the army and the people.
The town of Korytsa was a century-old cultural and spiritual centre in the region of Northern Epirus and the inhabitants were predominantly Greek. Thus, its occupation would be an event of great importance.
The initial actions taken by Army General Staff in this direction were: firstly, the placement of the XI Division, as of November 1, at the disposal of the WMFAS, under the binding condition that its use required the approval of the Commander in chief; secondly, the X Division remaining under the command of the C’ Army Corps; thirdly, the advance of the XVII Division under the command of Major General Panaghiotis Bassakidis, -which had been allocated to the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations, by Plan IBa, – to the area of Veroia, in order to use it in the Albanian Theatre of Operations.
- The WMFAS, according to the intentions and instructions of the Commander in chief, ordered the IX Division to prepare the offensive for the occupation of heights Pontsara, Trestenik and Kreda, which was to take place within the following days. The IV Infantry Division was also ordered to plan a similar act against heights Talik and Vernik, on the defile that led to Biglista, as well as against heights Golina and Lokvat in the Pyxou peninsula. .
The IX Division commenced the offensive the morning of November l. By the evening of November 7, it had completed the occupation of the boundary line and had reached the line Deska height-Kiafa height-mount Grammos-Koromilies height-Pontsara village-Trestenik height-Kapestitsa village.
During the same period, the Italian counteraction in the sector of the IX Division was mainly confined to the heavy bombing of various strategic positions and inhabited areas, and bore no significant damages.
The IV Infantry Brigade also commenced its offensive at 0700hrs, on November l. Despite the adverse weather conditions, the rough terrain and the stubborn resistance of the Italians, by that afternoon the Division had managed to seize the heights Talik-Vernik-Gremnia-Golina and Lokvat and to cause the enemy grave casualties. The Italian attempts to recapture the heights, during the two following days, came to no avail.
On November 4, by proposal of the C’ Army Corps, the IV Infantry Brigade was turned into a division, under the name XV Infantry Division.
On the following day, November 5, after a fierce struggle, the XV Division managed to seize the heights directly east of the villages Biglista-Bitinska and it aligned its forces with the troops of the IX Division by the eastern bank of Devolis river. The strong support and the accurate fire of its artillery were largely instrumental in the success of this endeavour.
The Italians resisted with extreme vigour. All officers and soldiers of the escort artillery fell beside their guns. Thirteen prisoners were taken along with 6 mortars, 7 officers, and 4 escort guns, one heavy and 25 light machine guns were seized.
After this crushing defeat, the Italians retired to he west of Devolis river, leaving behind only a few light security forces east of the river. After that, the IX and XV Divisions suspended their offensive actions, in order to prepare operations against mount Morova, in accordance with the intentions and instructions of the Army General Staff.
The IX Division had very few casualties in the above mentioned operations. The verified casualties of the XV Division amounted to 1 officer and 20 soldiers dead, 8 officers and 128 soldiers wounded and 6 soldiers missing in action.
The Italians had a very high percentage of dead and wounded, but the exact figures are unknown. The prisoners amounted to 10 officers and 107 soldiers, including 2 Albanians.
A General Review of the Events until 13 November 1940.
- The first part of this epitome refers to the political-military events that preceded the outbreak of the Greek – Italian War and, also, to the operations in Epirus and North-western Macedonia from 28 October to 13 November 1940.
Spring of 1939 constituted the starting point for the above events. It was the time, during which, the Italian troops seized Albania and the expansive aspirations of Mussolini were brought to light.
From the time under view onwards, the political and military balance in the Balkans was disturbed and the existing Balkan Pact was gradually invalidated.
- Greece, by virtue of being situated in the area which had been targeted by the Italian expansive policy did not hesitate to oppose the latter. Throughout the eighteen month period of threats, provocation and acts of violence committed by fascist Italy against it, Greece, wishing to avoid war strove hard towards that end, under the guise of apparent composure. At the same time, it took all the necessary military measures and continued to support the national spirit.
Thus, Greece succeeded in its attempt to balance the situation during the first period, despite the surprise of the Italian assault as regards the timing, and was able to take the initiative in the stage to come.
There were three factors, which mainly contributed to the success of the Greek arms.
Firstly, the high morale of the Greek Army and the entire Greek People, who defended themselves in the face of an justified and unprovoked attack.
Secondly, the impeccable staff preparation, clarity and simplicity demonstrated by the war plans of the country. This had become apparent since the beginning of war, when the whole war mechanism was automatically put into action, in the early hours of 28 October 1940, by means of a simple and laconic signal of the Army General Staff.
Thirdly, the fact that the Italian leadership had underestimated the degree of preparation and readiness for war and the high morale of the Greek armed forces as well as their officers’ abilities.
- During their offensive against Greece, the Italians had applied strong pressure against the Greek forces in Epirus and Pindos and had maintained a defensive attitude in the area of North-western Macedonia.
In the Epirus front, the VIII Division succeeded in its endeavour to hold back the enemy and was able to crush the repeated forceful attacks. The Sector of Thesprotia was the only exception. In the face of the unquestionable superiority of the Italians the Greek troops in that area were forced to withdraw as far back as the river Acheron. However, after receiving reinforcements, they were able to regain control of the locality of Kalamas river as far as Igoumenitsa.
In the Pindos Sector, the Greek forces were also forced to withdraw far back, on account of the overpowering adversary superiority. Thus, the Italians managed to infiltrate the area at great speed, reaching as far as Vovousa, threatening to envelop the Greek forces in Epirus from the direction of the east. However, the hasty concentration of all available forces near Pindos, served to bridge the gap and safeguard the area of Elaea-Kalamas from the Northeast. Furthermore, after their successful defensive action in Epirus, the Greek forces managed to take on offensive action in order to destroy the Italian pocket.
By November l3, the Greek forces in Epirus and Pindos had regained possession of the greatest part of the national territory. In North-western Macedonia, they had occupied significant territorial points beyond the frontages and were ready to launch an attack and occupy the mountain range of Morova and the road junction of Korytsa.
The Italian plan of operations had already been upset. Since the beginning of the operations the Italian infiltration of Pindos had not been supported with a sufficient number of forces and this was still the case even after the first successes. Thus, the threat to envelop and cut off the Greek forces of Pindos was halted and finally cancelled. The Italian Army had turned to the defensive on the whole.
The fighting spirit of all Greek forces, including both those who had fought against the intruders as well as those who were on the move towards the front, soared skyward, while the morale of the Italians collapsed.
- The fighting that took place during the period examined, is marked by the following essential facts concerning the Greek Fighters:
-It was the first time that the Greek Army, with its limited means for defence, confronted an Army of a great European power which was armed with all the up-to-date means and in particular tanks and a powerful airforce.
-The troops taking part in the fighting, except for the few Greek Army units that had been mobilised before the beginning of war, consisted of a large number of other units which were mobilised after the declaration of war. These were hastily transferred to the front, following co-ordinated nocturnal marches that covered distances ranging from 250 to 400 kms. On the contrary, the Italian divisions had been mobilised and completed, insofar as manpower and supplies, long before the declaration of war.
-During their struggle in the Sector of Pindos, the Greek troops encountered grave difficulties, insofar as the resupply of food and ammunition. The units that had been hastily advanced to the area immediately after their mobilisation, lacked the necessary number of horses, mules or any other means of transport.
Motorised vehicles for the resupply could only advance as far as Nestori, Morphi, Doutsikon and Metsovon. Immediately after the first downpours in November, the roads to Nestori and Doutsikon were rendered uncarriageable. Besides, the mountain region of Pindos, that was totally lacking in resources, had suffered such trials due to the harsh treatment of the Italians that, after it was reclaimed by the Greek forces, provisioning for its inhabitants was necessary.
Among the steps taken, in the attempt to resolve the resupply difficulties of the troops, was the decision to use villager groups, including women and children. They all volunteered spontaneously and carried the loads on their shoulders, crossing through areas that were inaccessible, under extremely adverse weather conditions. Thus, the people of Pindos presented the fighters with a brilliant example of patriotism and strong sense of duty. The rationing of the food for the Greek troops in that area, had almost become the norm, while on many occasions even this was not possible.
- During the same period, the concentration of the mobilised Greek troops was conducted and was orderly and uninterrupted, despite the intense endeavour of the Italian Airforce to impede it.
In total, the forces oriented towards the Albanian Theatre of Operations on November l3, comprised 11 Infantry divisions, l Cavalry division, 2 Infantry brigades and 1 Cavalry brigade, the strength of which, including the non-divisional units, amounted to approx. 232,000 men, 556 guns and about 100,000 horses and mules.
During the same period, the concentration of forces in the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations was conducted, that is to say the VI, VII, XII and XIV Divisions and the VII Infantry Brigade, their total strength amounting 57,000 men and about 20,000 horses and mules.
The V Division (Crete), that comprised 13,000 men and approximately 4,500 horses and mules, was ordered to transfer its forces by sea and to land on Thessaloniki, as an additional reserve of the Commander in chief.
In total, the above Greek forces amounted to approx. 300,000 men and 125,000 horses and mules.
- The Italian forces in Albania were reinforced, during the same period, with the following units:
- The 47th ‘Bari’ Division, under the command of General Giacone, that landed in Avlonas during the period of 1 to 3 November and immediately began to transfer its forces to the area of Korytsa, by motorised vehicles.
- The 37th ‘Modena’ Division, under the command of General Giovanni Mali, that had landed in Avlonas, by November 11, and concentrated its forces in the area of Premeti.
- The 2nd Alpine Division, under the command of General Hugo Santovito, that landed in Avlonas on November 8 and moved immediately to the area of Darza-Korytsa.
- The 1st Bersaglieri Regiment, that landed in Avlonas on November 2 and was transferred to the Pindos Sector.
- The 2nd Bersaglieri Regiment, that landed in Avlonas in the beginning of November and transferred its forces to the area of Elaea, by the beginning of November.
- The 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, that was transferred to Korytsa in the beginning of November.
- The 8th Alpine Regiment, that was transferred by air, on November 12 (the two battalions) and advanced to the area of Korytsa.
In total, the Italian forces in Albania on November l3, comprised a Group of Armies, under the command of General Soddu, comprising:
- The 9th Field army (General Nassi), that was deployed opposite the front of Pindos and North-western Macedonia and included 5 Infantry divisions, 2 divisions and 1 Alpine regiment, and 2 Bersaglieri regiments.
- The 11th Field army, (General Gelozzo), that was deployed opposite the front of Epirus and included 3 Infantry divisions, l armoured division, l Cavalry division and 1 Bersaglieri regiment.
The total strength of the above Italian Group of Armies amounted to approx. 240-250,000 men.
 The III infantry Brigade did not function as a large unit because both its regiments had been allocated from the beginning, one to the I Division and the other, along with the Headquarters of the Brigade, to the VIII Division.
 Chart no. 6