I still have a few minutes to live. And in my last moments I will love you and I will remember you. Kiss my angels for me.
Let my friends do their duty. I’m dying for Greece and I’m remembering the last verse of the Mistral anthem: «And if we have to die for Greece, what a divine laurel, once one dies.»
I’m leaving this world without hatred and malice. I fought for my country. For their own country, those who sentenced me also struggle.
I would like my blood not to keep us apart but to unite us in the future with today’s opponents. «
Kostas Perrikos to Maria Perrikou (wife),
Averoff Prison, cell 12,
February 4, 1943, 5.20 am Συνέχεια
Εμφαίνουσα χρονολογικώς τούς φονευθέντας άνδρας Βασ. Χωροφυλακής
κατά το πόλεμο 1940-1941 και κατά το πρώτον έτος τής εχθρικής κατοχής.
|Τόπος Θανάτου Χωρίον||Χρονολογία
|Χωροφύλαξ||Δραγωνέας Σωτήριος||Οίτυλο Λακωνίας||Γυθειο||1941|
|Ύπενομωτάρχης||Μουλακάκης Νικ.||Έμμαν||Ακούμια Ρεθύμνης||Ιωάννινα||15-1-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Καβρουλάκης Εύάγ.||Παύλου||Άρμενα-Χανιών||Θεσ /νίκη||21-1-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Ρΐζος Εύάγ.||Βασιλ||Έπισκοπιανά Κέρκυρας||Λάρισα||1-3-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Μπατζοτέγος Κων.||Στέργιος||Σμίξα Κοζάνης||Λάρισα||13-4-1941|
|Μοίρ.||Ντόντος Σπυρ.||Δημοσ||Μπάμπαλη Αίτωλ.||Άγρίνιον||19-4-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Σκρεπετός Γεώργ.||Ήλια||Κεφάλληνου Μεσσηνίας||Μυτιλήνη||23-4-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Βεστάκης Έμμαν.||Χανιά-Χανίων||Εύκαρπία- Σερρών||7-5-1941|
|Άνθ /ρ..||Χλεμπογιάννης Νικ.||Ιωάν||Δεσφίνα-Παρνασσίδος||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Μανιάκης Μιχ.||Κων||ΚαλτσούκιΡεθύ μνη ς||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Πολύμερος Βασ. Άθαν.||Δρακόρι-Καρδίτσης||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X||Βάμβουκας Μιχ.||Βασ||Άξοΰ-Ρεθύμνης||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Άνθ/ρχος||Καρακατσάνης Γεώργ.||Νικ||Παλαιοξάριον-Φωκίδος||Περιοχή Χανιών
|Δ. X.||Γούλας Γεώργ.||Κων.||Ανθηρόν-Καρδίτσης||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Κατσαούνης Άθαν.||Κων||Κυδωνιά-Αίτω /νιας||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Κομνηνός Κων.||Νικ||Ξηροκάμπιον-Λακωνίας||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Πάλης Σωτήρ.||Μάρκου||Βάγια-Βοιωτίας||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Πετρούλας ’Ιωάν.||Γεωργ||Οίτυλον-Λακω ν ί α ς||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Τσιούλιας Άργύρ.||Χρήστ||Οιτυλον-Λακωνίας||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Τσαγκαοάκης Νικ.||Στυλ||Καννάβι-‘Ηρακλείου||Ρέθυμνον||20-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Καλογεράκης ’Ιωάν.||Μιχ||Άγ. ’Ιωάν. Ρεθύμνης||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Υπεν.||Παπαδάτος Νικ. ·||Σπυρ||Συναράδες-Κερκύρας||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Δημητρίου Μιχ.||Αριστ||Ροδοδάφνη- Αχαίας||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Κούρτης Γεώργ. ’Ιωάν.||Χοΰνι-Αίτ/νιας||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Μανταυδάκης Γεώργ.||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Σκαναδαλάκης Έμμαν.||Παναγ||Κότσίανη-Χανίων||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Βούζας Γρηγ. Άλεξάν.||Ζεράτιον-Καρδίτσης||Ρέθυμνον||21-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Πρινιωτάκης ’Ιωάν.||Έμμ||Κ. Βάθεια-Ηρακλείου||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Βεστάκης Στέφ. Γεώργ.||Κίσσαμος-Χανιών||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Ζέρβας ’Ιωάν.||Κων||Άγ. Δημήτ.-Λαρίσης||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Κατσιμάρδος Γεώργ.||Άλκιβ||Άγ. Παρασκευή Αιτωλ /νιας||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Νικολάου Γεώργ. Σπυρ.||Άγ. Θεόδωροι-Κορινθίας||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Σοφογιάννης Δημ.||Νικολ||Ζερέτσιον-Καρδίτσης||Ρέθυμνον||22-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Κατσαντώνης Άντ.||Έμμαν||Άνω Μ.-Ρεθύμνης||Ρέθυμνον||23-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Άμπατζής Δημήτρ.||Θεολόγου||Κομοτινή-Ροδόπης||Κερκίνη- Σερρών||23-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Στρατίκης Κων.||’Ιωάν||Μερκάδα-Φθιώτιδος||Ρέθυμνον||23-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Πουλόπουλος Νικήτ.||Χριστ||Άμφεΐα-Μεσσηνίας||Ρέθυμνον||24-5-1941|
|ΔΧ.||Κατσαρίδης Κων.||Βασ||Φαμίλα-Αΐτωλ /νιας||Ρεθύμνο||25-5-1941|
|ΔΧ.||Νάνος Στυλ.||Ίωάν||Άνδριτσαινα- Ηλείας||Ρεθύμνο||26-5-1941|
|ΔΧ.||Μαθιουδάκης Γεωργ.||Έμμαν||Άνω Μ.-Ρεθύμνης||Ρεθύμνο||26-5-1941|
|ΔΧ.||Μανιακούρας Παναγ.||Σπυρ||Έξ ’Ηλείας||Ρεθύμνο||26-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Γάκης Πέτρος.||Γεώργ||Ανθηρόν-Κ αρδίτσης||Ρέθυμνον||28-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Στρατάκης Παναγ.||Άντων||Πάνιτσα-Αακωνίαζ||Ρέθυμνον||28-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Βατωρίδης Παναγ.||Άναστ||Βελανίδιον-Μεσσηνίας||Ρέθυμνον||29-5-1941|
|Δ. X.||Γεωργίου Εύάγ.||Κων||Περιβόλια-Φθιώτιδος||Ρέθυμνον||29-5-1941|
|Άνθ /ρ||Παναγιωτάκης Σταμάτ.||Παν||Κοκκάλα-Λακωνίας||Ρέθυμνον||30-5-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Σατζετάκης Ίωάν.||Μιχ||Κυρτομάδα-Χανίων||Κυρτομάδα Χαν ίων||26-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Μαράκης ή Μαρής Νικ.||Μιλ||Φουτσουγιανά-Ηρακλ.||Φούρνε||1-8-1941|
|Υπεν.||Ταρουδάκης Γεώργ. Νικ.||Άπόδουλον-Ρεθύμνης||Ρέθυμνον||4-8-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Μητσάκος Άναστ.||Άντων||Άρλα Άχαίας||Άγυιά-Χανίων||6-8-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Κοϊνάκης Γεώργ.||Ίωάν||Καλό Χωριο-Λασιθίου||Άλικιανδς-||14-8-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Ευσταθίου Χρήστ. Χρήστ.||Οϊτη-Φθιώτιδος||Φλώρινα||14-8-1941|
|Ένωμ.||Μαράκης Χρηστός.||Γεωργ||Δρυμίσκος-Ρεθύμνης||Αγυια-Χανιων||1- 9-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Αθανασιάδης Κων.||Στυλ.||Γερακάρι-Ρεθύμνης||Αγυια-Χα-||2- 9-1941|
|Δ. X.||Γκανακάκης Γεώργ.||Γεωργ||Αλικιανος -Χανιών||Αγυια-Χα-
|Ένωμ.||Παπαντωνάκης Χαρίλ.||Δημ||Νεάπολις-Λασιθ ιου||Παλαιοχώριον
|Υπομ.||Βαμβέτσος Εύστ. Κων.||Τρίκαλα-Τρικάλων||Θεσ /νίκη||22-10-1941|
|Ένωμ.||Κυριακόπουλος Κων.||Χρήστ||Λατζόϊον-’Ηλείας||Θεσ /νίκη||22-10-1941|
|Χωροφύλαξ||Μαοτοράκης Βασ.||Γεώρ||Σφάκα-Λασιθίου||Λαράνη- Ηρακλείου||24-11-1941|
’Ήτοι ’Αξιωματικοί 8
Υπαξιωματικοι 20 και
|ΠΟΛΙΤΕΣ ΠΡΟΣ ΜΕΣΗ ΑΝΑΤΟΛΗ||45000|
|ΣΤΡΑΤΙΩΤΙΚΟΙ ΠΡΟΣ ΜΕΣΗ ΑΝΑΤΟΛΗ||15000|
|ΟΜΗΡΟΙ ΣΤΗ ΒΟΥΛΓΑΡΙΑ||50000|
|ΟΜΗΡΟΙ ΣΤΗ ΓΕΡΜΑΝΙΑ||30000|
|ΟΜΗΡΟΙ ΣΤΗΝ ΙΤΑΛΙΑ||10000|
|ΕΒΡΑΙΟΙ ΑΠΑΧ0ΕΝΤΕΣ ΣΤΗ ΠΟΛΩΝΙΑ||60000|
|ΥΠΟΛΟΓΙΖΕΤΑΙ ΟΤΙ ΔΕΝ ΘΑ ΕΠΙΣΤΡΕΨΟΥΝ||105000|
Σύμμαχοι και εχθροί αναγνώρισαν την αποφασιστική συμβολή της Ελλάδος στο Β’ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο.
Ο Στρατάρχης Γιαν Σματς, Πρωθυπουργός της Ν. Αφρικής, χαρακτήρισε την 28η Οκτωβρίου 1940 ως «ημέρα που άλλαξε τον ρου της Ιστορίας». Και προσέθεσε: «Πραγματικός εγεννήθη μία νέα Ελλάς, όπως την ωνειρεύθησαν οι ποιηταί. »
Άμα τη εκδηλώσει της Ιταλικής επιθέσεως ο Winston Churchill απέστειλε το ακόλουθο τηλεγράφημα στην Ελληνική κυβέρνηση:
«Η Ιταλία εύρε τας απειλάς του εκφοβισμού ανωφελείς έναντι του ηρέμου θάρρους σας. Κατέφυγεν επομένως εις απρόκλητον επίθεσιν εναντίον της πατρίδος σας, αναζητούσα εις αστηρίκτους κατηγορίας δικαιολογίαν της αισχράς της επιθέσεως. Ο τρόπος με τον οποίον ο Ελληνικός λαός, υπό την αξίαν εμπιστοσύνης ηγεσίαν σας, αντιμετώπισε τους κινδύνους και τις προκλήσεις των τελευταίων μηνών, κατέκτησε τον θαυμασμόν του Βρετανικού λαού διά την Ελλάδα. Αι αρεταί αυταί θα ενισχύσουν τον Ελληνικόν λαόν και κατά την παρούσαν στιγμήν της δοκιμασίας. Θα σας παράσχωμεν την δυνατήν βοήθειαν μαχόμενοι εναντίον κοινού εχθρού και θα μοιρασθώμεν την κοινήν νίκην. » Συνέχεια
It is true that we, the Greeks, sense a particular feeling of emotion, whenever we recall in our memory the glorious events of 1940. Indeed, those great and enlightening events have sealed with indelible glory the historic evolution of the Hellenic Nation.
The Hellenic Nation is exceptionally proud for the great «NO», which the people as one person said to the enemy in the early morning hours of the historic day of the 28th of October 1940.
The League of Nations, to which all nations have entrusted their hopes for an enduring peace, had literally lost any substantial authority following the insularity-drawn withdrawal of the USA from the Organisation, followed by Italy in 1935, Germany in 1939, and for long suffered by the antagonism of the «peace loving» remaining Western Democracies, mainly the United Kingdom and France that failed to timely realise the potential of the war at hand. Συνέχεια
Η καθοριστική συμβολή ενός άξιου ηγήτορα, του διοικητή της VII Μεραρχίας Πεζικού, στον θρίαμβο των ελληνικών όπλων. Συμβολή που συνήθως αγνοείται κατά τους εορτασμούς της ιστορικής επετείου.
Από τους πρώτους μήνες του 1939 τα σύννεφα του πολέμου αρχίζουν να εμφανίζονται στον ευρωπαϊκό ουρανό.
Το πρώτο δεκαήμερο του Απριλίου 1939 η Ιταλία, με τη σύμφωνη γνώμη της Γερμανίας, καταλαμβάνει, με σαθρές αιτιολογίες, την Αλβανία, για ν’ αποκαλύψει έτσι τα επεκτατικά σχέδια της στον χώρο της Χερσονήσου του Αίμου και στη Μεσόγειο. Συνέχεια
Στις αρχές του 1935, η κυβέρνηση έθεσε στο ΓΕΣ ερώτημα σχετικά με την οχύρωση των βορείων συνόρων της χώρας.
Μετά τη συνθήκη της Λοζάννης και μέχρι του έτους 1933, οι εκάστοτε κυβερνήσεις της χώρας και η ανώτατη στρατιωτική ηγεσία δεν είχαν αντιμετωπίσει σοβαρά το θέμα της οχύρωσης της παραμεθόριας ζώνης, διότι υπολόγιζαν ότι βρίσκονται μπροστά σε μία μακρά ειρηνική περίοδο. Αλλά και τα διατιθέμενα κάθε φορά κονδύλια του προϋπολογισμού για τη στρατιωτική προπαρασκευή της χώρας ήταν πάντοτε περιορισμένα, λόγω του πλήθους των αναγκών που είχαν προκύψει από τη μικρασιατική καταστροφή. Συνέχεια
To 1940 ήταν ένας δύσκολος χρόνος για τη Βρετανία. Οι Γερμανοί προέλαυναν και μοναδική ελπίδα των Βρετανών ήταν η εμπλοκή των ΗΠΑ στον πόλεμο. Τότε ακριβώς άρχισε η μεγαλύτερη επιχείρηση συγκάλυψης στην Ιστορία της Βρετανίας. Σύμφωνα με την εφημερίδα «Guardian», εκείνη την περίοδο ιδρύθηκε μια ειδική υπηρεσία με την επωνυμία «British Security Coordination», που ουσιαστικά αφορούσε τη μεγαλύτερη επιχείρηση συγκάλυψης στην ιστορία της βρετανικής κατασκοπείας, η οποία δεν έγινε στην κατεχόμενη Γαλλία ή στη Σοβιετική Ένωση αλλά στις ΗΠΑ! Συνέχεια
Ουδεµία τοπική εκκλησία συνεδέθη, συνεταυτίσθη και προσέφερε όσα η της Ελλάδος εις το Έθνος, το οποίον περιέθαλψε εις τους κόλπους της. Κατά την περίοδο του Ελληνοϊταλικού πολέµου του 1940, η εκκλησία επρωτοστάτησε και πολυποικιλοτρόπως.
- Η Ιερά Σύνοδος, ευλόγησε από της πρώτης στιγµής τα όπλα των αγωνιστών και κατέφυγε εις τας Χριστιανικάς Εκκλησίας του κόσµου, καταγγέλλουσα την φασιστικήν εισβολήν.
- Το Ιερόν Ίδρυµα Ευαγγελιστρίας Τήνου, εξεποίσε τα τιµαλφή της Μεγαλόχαρης και ενίσχυσε τον αγώνα, δια του ποσού των 5.000.000 δρχ. της εποχής εκέινης.
|Α.Δ.Χ.||Ανωτέρα Διοίκηση Χωροφυλακής|
|Α.Σ.Δ.||Ανωτέρα Στρατιωτική Διοίκησις|
|Α/ΓΕΣ||Αρχηγός Γενικού Έτι τελείου Στρατού|
|ΑΣΑ||Αμερικανική Στρατιωτική Αποστολή=ΑΜΑΟ|
|ΑΣΕΑ||Ανώτατο Συμβούλιο Εθνικής Αμύνης|
|Α’ΣΣ||Α’ Σώμα Στρατού|
|Β Σ.Α||Βρετανική Στρατιωτική Αποστολή|
|ΒΣΑ||Βρετανική Στρατιωτική Αποστολή|
|Β’ΣΣ||Β’ Σώμα Στρατού|
|ΓΕΑ||Γενικό Επιτελείο Αεροπορίας|
|ΓΕΝ||Γενικό Επιτελείο Ναυτικού|
|ΓΕΣ||Γενικό Επιτελείο Στρατού|
|ΓΣΣ||Γ’ Σώμα Στρατού|
|Δ.Ε.Θ||Διοίκησις ‘Εθνοφρουράς Θράκης|
|Δ.Ε.Κ.Μ||Διοίκησις ’Εθνοφρουράς Κεντρικής Μακεδονίας|
|Δ.Ε.Σ||Διοίκησις ’Επιχειρήσεων Σερρών|
|ΔΑΠ||Δνσις Άσφ. Πειραιώς|
|ΔΙΣ||Διεύθυνσις Ιστορίας Στρατού|
|Έ. Ά||εν αποστρατεία|
|Ε.Α.Μ.||Εθνικό Απελευθερωτικό Μέτωπο|
|Ε.Β.Α.||Ελληνική Βασιλική Αεροπορία|
|Ε.Β.Ν.||Ελληνικό Βασιλικό Ναυτικό|
|Ε.Β.Χ.||Ελληνική Βασιλική Χωροφυλακή|
|Ε.Ο.Κ.||Ένοπλοι Ομάδες Καταδιωκομένων|
|Ε.Σ.Α.||Ελληνική Στρατιωτική Αστυνομία|
|Ε.Σ.Π||Ελαφρό Σύνταγμα Πεζικού|
|Ε.Τ.Π||Ελαφρό Τάγμα Πεζικού|
|ΕΚΜΑΔ||ΈκμισΘωμέναι Μονάδες Ασφαλείας Δημοσυντήρητοί|
|ΕΛΑΣ||Εθνικός Λαϊκός Απελευθερωτικός Στρατός|
|ΕΣΣΔ||Ένωσις Σοβιετικών Σοσιαλιστικών Δημοκρατιών|
|ΕΣΣΟ||Εκπαιδευτική Σειρά Στρατευσίμων Οπλιτών|
|Η.Π.Α.||Ήνωμέναι Πολιτείαι Αμερικής|
|Κ.Μ.Ε.Α||Κινηταi Μονάδες Εθνικής Αμύνης|
|ΚΒΕ||Κέντρο Βασικής Εκπαιδεύσεως|
|ΚΒΕΒ||Κέντρο Βασικής Εκπαιδεύσεως Βόλου|
|ΚΚΕ||Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδος|
|Λ.Γ.Μ.||Λόχος Γενικών Μεταφορών|
|Λ.Ο.Κ||Λόχος ’Ορεινών Καταδρομών|
|Λ.Ο.Μ.||Λόχος Ορεινών Μεταφορών|
|ΛΑΣ||Λόχος Ασφαλείας Συγκοινωνιών|
|Μ.Α.Δ.||Μονάδες Ασφαλείας Δημοσυντήρητοι|
|Μ.Α.Υ||Μονάδες ’Ασφαλείας Υπαίθρου|
|Μ.Ε.Α||Μονάδες ’Εθνικής Αμύνης|
|Μ.Λ.Μ.||Μικτός Λόχος Μεταφορών|
|Μ.Μ.Π.||Μοίρα Μέσου Πυροβολικού|
|Μ.Ο.Κ||Μοίρα ’Ορεινών Καταδρομών|
|ΜΕΑ||Μονάδες ’Εθνικής ‘Ασφαλείας|
|ΜΟΠ||Μοίρα Ορειβατικού Πυροβολικού|
|ΜΤΧ||Μηχανοκίνητο Τάγμα Χωροφυλακής|
|ΟΔΕΚ||Όμάδες Δημοκρατικών Ενόπλων Κατο διωκόμενων|
|ΟΗΕ||Οργανισμός Ηνωμένων Εθνών|
|ΟΥΝΡΑ (UNRA)||Βοήθεια ’Οργανισμού Ηνωμένων Εθνών δι’ άνακούφησιν και άνοικοδόμησιν|
|Σ.Ν.Ο.Φ.||Ναρόντα Όργκανιζάνσκα Φρόντ: Όργάνωσις Λαϊκού Μετώπου (Σλαβική Όργάνωσις)|
|ΣΕΑΚ||Σχολή Έφεδρων ’Αξιωματικών Κέρκυρας|
|ΣΕΜ||Σώμα Εφοδιασμού Μεταφορών|
|ΣΟΠ||Σύνταγμα ’Ορειβατικού Πυροβολικού|
|ΣΠΠ||Σύνταγμα Πεδινού Πυροβολικού|
|ΣΤΥ||Σώμα Τεχνικών Υπηρεσιών|
|ΣΥΠ||Σώμα Υλικού Πολέμου|
|Τ.Σ.Ε||Τακτικό Στρατηγείο ’Εθνοφρουράς|
|ΤΑΓΣ||Τάγμα Άσφ. Γραμμών Συγκοινωνιών|
|ΥΣ/ΓΕΣ||Υπουργείο Στρατιωτικών/Γεν. Έπιτ. Στρατού|
|Partof:||the Balkans Campaign of World War II|
|Date:||28 October 1940 – 23 April 1941|
|Place:||Southern Balkan Peninsula|
|Commander1:||Benito Mussolini (Prime Minister of Italy)
Sebastiano Visconti Prasca (Commander in Chief to 9 November)
Ubaldo Soddu (C-in-C to mid-December)
Ugo Cavallero (C-in-C from mid-December)
|Commander2:||Ioannis Metaxas (Prime Minister of Greece)
Alexander Papagos (commander-in-chief of the Hellenic Army)
John D’Albiac (commander of RAF in Greece)
|Strength1:||October:Clodfelter, p. 442
6 divisions of 12 regiments
163 light tanks
686 artillery pieces
10 divisions of 20 regiments
17 divisions of 34 regiments
25 divisions of 50 regiments
29 divisions of 58 regiments
4 divisions of 12 regiments
7 divisions of 21 regiments
13 divisions of 39 regiments
13 divisions of 39 regiments
Total combat losses: 89,696
12,368 frostbite cases
64 aircraft (another 24 claimed)
30,000 long tons of shipping
General total: 102,064
Total combat losses: 58,578
General total: 83,578+
The Battle of Crete, the subject of this volume, is the final act of the war drama that resulted in the occupation of Greece by the German and Italian forces.
The loss of the Battle of Crete by the British forces which were assembled in the island in a disorganized condition and, in some cases, without weapons after their struggle in mainland Greece, was largely due to total lack of air support and poor means of antiaircraft defense. Lack of coordination in the defense efforts of the British forces, the result of the destruction of the communication means of the British command with its subordinated forces from the very first hours, also contributed greatly to the unfortunate outcome of the battle.
The Greek units, hastily organized, with only very limited arms and equipment, as well as the voluntary participation of the local populace of Crete in the struggle, could not prevent the inevitable, despite their acts of heroism. Συνέχεια
The German Preparatory Bombardments and the Results
- The preparation of the German attack with view to the occupation of Crete had essentially begun as of April 16, that is, since the VIII German Airforce Corps had taken action to destroy or impede the movement of the allied vessels sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean. Within the scope of this action, the ports of Souda and Irakleio had already been subjected to air attacks.
As of May l4, however, systematic bombardment commenced, in accordance with the German plan. The main targets were the airfields of Maleme, Rethymno (Pigi), and Irakleio (Rousses), the ports of Souda and Irakleio, the Antiaircraft pill boxes and the towns of Hania, Rethymno and Irakleio. At the same time, aircraft that were constantly patrolling, forbade ships to approach the shores of Crete. From May 14 to 18, merchant ships of 36,000 tons capacity were sunk at sea on their way to Crete, as were the Greek destroyer ‘Leon’ and the British corvette ‘Salvia’.
- As a result of this activity, the ships no longer approached or unloaded their cargo in Souda harbour during the day. The ships approached Crete at night only, sailing in the harbour of Souda at midnight to unload and sailing away on the same night. However, in order to achieve this, it was necessary to use ships that would be able to develop a high speed, that is, cruisers and destroyers, so that the demands of the situation could be met (arrival, unloading and departure) within the available limited space of time.
Nevertheless, the small capacity of these ships -which were not intended for transportation- and the small duration of the night, could only barely suffice for unloading approx. 100 tons of supplies, which were naturally insufficient to cover the daily needs that amounted to approx. 600 tons. As a result, the Greek -British forces in Crete were forced to be deprived of large quantities of valuable war supplies, that could not reach their destination.
The Commencement of the German Airborne Assault
(May 20, 1941)
The A’ Sector of Maleme – Agyia ( 2nd New Zealander Division )
(Chart no. 29)
- At 0630 hrs, on April 20, bomber and fighter flights pertaining to the VIII Air force Corps, crowded the air space of the areas Maleme-Agyia and Hania-Souda. Severe bombing and strafing ensued, mainly against the positions of the artillery and the defenders who had surrounded the Maleme airfield, as well as against the town of Hania.
The bombing, that was intensified with the arrival of new aircraft flights, developed into a true barrage of fire. It was clearly discernible by then that this activity of the German Airforce, that was greater in intensity, extent and duration than any previous one, aimed at the preparation of an immediate invasion by air.
The Commander of the British-Greek forces in Crete, Major General Freiberg, signalled to the units, at 0730 hrs to be ready to repulse an impending German airborne action. Indeed, while the fighters were taking off after short while, flights of transport ‘Yunger 52’ aircraft and gliders, that were towed, two or three together, crowded the air space of the 2nd New Zealander Division Section and the parachute jump began in waves, while the gliders landed on the ground. Simultaneously, the British-Greek troops began the defence. The antiaircraft guns hit the transport aircraft and gliders, while the infantry units hit the paratroopers with their effective fire, both in the air and on ground.
Soon the entire area was turned into a theatre of localised deadly conflicts. In time and while the German operation for the occupation of Crete unfolded in full, the localised conflicts began to take the definite shape of a tactical action.
- The airfield of Maleme (5th New Zealander Brigade zone), was subjected to the action of the Western ‘COMET’ Team, that is, the Assault Regiment of Major General Meidl minus two companies (lst and 2nd Company of I Battalion). The landing of the Team began at 0815 hrs and ended at 0915 hrs, with the use of parachutes and more than fifty gliders.
The I Battalion (minus the lst and 2nd Company), the Detachment of Major Koch, landed on the estuary of Tavronitis river and east of the village Vlaheronitissa, assigned to neutralise the antiaircraft means in the area and to seize height 107.
The II Battalion landed at the area of Ropaniana village, as a reserve force.
The III Battalion (minus the 9th Company) landed on the south-east of Maleme village, assigned to cut off the airfield of Maleme from the east and to link up with the Central ‘ARIS’ Team, which would be acting towards Hania and Rethymno.
The IV Battalion (minus the l6th Company) landed between the II Battalion and the western bank of Tavronitis river, as a reserve. The Assault Regiment Staff also landed in that area.
The 9th Company of the III Battalion (Braun Detachment) landed south of Tavronitis bridge, assigned to seize and hold the latter.
The l6th Company of the IV Battalion landed in the area of Sirili village, assigned to act northwards and to assist the action of the Koch Detachment towards height 107.
At 0930 hrs, the Commander of the Assault Regiment, Major General Meidl, also landed at the area west of the river Tavronitis and ascertained the following:
- The Braun Detachment had already occupied the bridge and had driven a wedge into the adversary front.
- The Koch Detachment had been unable to seize height 107.
- The III Battalion had almost completely disbanded.
- All British troops in the area of the Maleme airfield had been engaged in the fight.
Based on these ascertainments, Major General Meidl decided to attack with the troops of the II and IV Battalion, which had not been directly committed to the action, in order to seize height 107. The attack upon height 107 was launched from two directions. From the west, via the Tavronitis bridge and from the south, in the direction of Vlaheronitissa village. A tough struggle followed and by that evening the Germans managed to advance and approach height 107 from the north-west and the south, at a distance of one thousand meters approximately, while the troops of the Braun Detachment occupied various positions within the area of the airfield.
- Following this development, the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion who had been assigned to defend height 107, requested from the 5th New Zealander Brigade, at 1700 hrs, that the latter should intervene by conducting a counter-attack with the 23rd Battalion, as authorised by the defence plan. The Brigade replied that the 23rd New Zealander Battalion had already been engaged in combat against the paratroopers in its zone and that its intervention was impossible. Subsequently, the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion counter-attacked at 1715 hrs, with an Infantry platoon and two tanks, but the attempt failed and the tanks were destroyed.
At 2200 hrs, a company from the 23rd New Zealander Battalion arrived at the positions of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion, sent to reinforce the latter. This company was ordered to be established defensively on height 107. The Germans became aware of its movements and fired against it. Though it suffered many losses, its establishment was successfully conducted.
In the meantime, the situation in the area of Maleme airfield was the following:
- Major General Meidl, in spite of having committed all of his forces, was unable to complete the occupation of the airfield and of height 107. The German losses were grave. They lost almost the entire III Battalion, while the Commanders of the I and III Battalions were killed. Major General Meidl himself was wounded, but continued to direct the fight of his Unit. Owing to the fatigue and the casualties, the Germans lacked any further ability for offensive action.
The 22nd New Zealander Battalion, that was forced to carry the weight of the German attack, retained height 107, but it was doubtful whether it would be able to confront another German attack. Two of its companies had been crushed. The two tanks at its disposal had been destroyed, while the greatest part of the guns and machine-guns it was provided with, had been lost or destroyed. An additional company was expected, as reinforcement, but this had not arrived yet.
On the basis of this situation and, furthermore, due to the fact that the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion was expecting a new German attack on the following day, both by air as well as by land, he decided to withdraw to new positions between the 2lst and 23rd New Zealander Battalions, that held their ground firmly and had confronted the German parachutists with success. The 5th New Zealander Brigade, which had been notified, as of 2130 hrs, of the Battalion’s decision to withdraw, did not forbid it but neither did it notify the Division nor the Cretan Forces Command accordingly. On the contrary, it gave the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion complete freedom to act on his own initiative. The withdrawal commenced at midnight and was completed during the night. All guns in the Battalion zone and the supplies of two Machine-gun platoons were abandoned on site.
Thus, height 107 and Maleme airfield, that is, the vital ground of the 2nd New Zealander Division and one of the most important strongholds of the Cretan Forces were left at the disposal of the Germans. The latter, expecting a counterattack by the British forces, were established defensively at the positions they had occupied during the course of the day and failed to notice the withdrawal of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion.
- In the area of Kasteli, a strength of approximately seventy paratroopers landed at 0800 hrs, under the command of First Lieutenant Moerb. It was part of the II Battalion of the Assault Regiment. This strength was successfully confronted and was neutralised at the end of an extremely tough struggle, conducted by the troops of the lst Greek Infantry Regiment which were in the area. Twenty-eight Germans were taken prisoners, while the rest were killed. The Greek casualties amounted to 57 dead and 62 wounded.
- The Army Cadet Military Academy, that had established its defence between the monastery of Gonia and the village of Kolymbari in the Rodopos peninsula, was subjected to successive attacks by the troops of the II Assault Battalion, which it was able to repulse successfully, causing serious losses to the attackers. However, owing to its casualties and the shortage of ammunition, the Academy was forced to withdraw on the night of May 20 to 2l, towards the area of Deliana village, where it established its defence.
- In the area of Agyia (zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade) action was taken by the 3rd Parachutist Hunters Regiment of the 7th Parachutist Division and other divisional units, that commenced at 0815 hrs. These units belonged to the A’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team and had been assigned to foothold strong hostile forces, in order to assist the action against Maleme airfield, occupy the town of Hania and finally to seek to link up, as soon as possible, with the Western ‘COMET’ Team.
The I a II Battalions landed with parachutes in the area of the Agyia prison, between the 6th and 8th Greek Regiments.
The III Battalion also landed with parachutes in the area of Galatas village, near the positions of the Joint New Zealander Battalion.
The Parachutist Hunters Engineer Battalion landed with parachutes on the west of the village Episcopi, near the positions of the 8th Greek Regiment.
The Headquarters of the 7th Division landed with parachutes on the south-east of Galatas village. The glider carrying the Division Commander, Major General Susman, had crashed near the isle of Aegina and all passengers were killed. Subsequently, the command of the Division was assumed by the Commander of the 3rd Parachutist Regiment, Colonel Heinrich.
A tough fight ensued, which lasted the entire day. The greatest pressure was applied on the 6th Greek regiment, which occupied the heights south of Galatas and happened to be in the landing zone of the bulk of German parachutists. This Regiment had been subjected to successive attacks since the very beginning, from all directions and even from within its own positions and had suffered grave losses. Among the first killed, was the Commander of the Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Grigoriou, the Deputy Commander, Captain Ioannis Psimoulis, the Commander of the 4th Company, First Lieutenant, Dimitrios Xiroyiannis and many Platoon leaders.
Nevertheless, the Regiment continued its uneven struggle until the early afternoon hours, whereupon it withdrew towards Galatas. Thereafter, it ceased to have organic ties and exist as a self-contained unit. However, strong sections of the Regiment continued operations effectively until the end of the struggle in Crete.
The Germans also suffered grave losses and, by night on May 20, they had only succeeded in consolidating their positions in the area of the Agyia prison.
- The 4th New Zealander Brigade, which was a reserve at the disposal of the Commander of the Cretan Forces, was placed at the disposal of the 2nd New Zealander Division, as of 1100 hrs, on May 20. After neutralising the near-company strength of paratroopers that landed in its area, it was ordered by the 2nd New Zealander Division to conduct a counter-attack in order to recapture the area of the Agyia prison, within the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade. The counter-attack was launched at 1930 hrs with a battalion, which was, however, later immobilised at a distance of one kilometre from the German positions.
The B’ Sector of Hania – Souda (MNBDO Group)
(Chart no. 29)
- In this very area, the Germans acted with Paratrooper Companies from the 1st and 2nd Parachutist Battalions of the I Battalion of the Assault Regiment, which formed part of the A’ Echelon ‘ARIS’ Team. These companies had been reinforced with machine-gun teams from the Assault Regiment and formed two detachments which were transported by glider planes.
Their principal mission was to conduct preliminary probing attacks, in order to assist the units of the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment, which would be acting from Agyia towards Hania.
At 0800 hrs on May 20, 1941, the gliders of the one detachment were directed towards Akrotiri. However, owing to the fire of the Antiaircraft artillery in the area of Souda, they were prematurely released from towing and were scattered in all directions. Some of them were destroyed upon landing on the ground, whereas the rest became an easy prey for the defending forces. Thus, the detachment was neutralised without managing to accomplish its mission. Its losses amounted to 48 dead and 36 wounded.
The other detachment, directly after landing on the south-east of Mournies, attacked the battery of the 234th Battalion and managed to neutralise it. Of the battery men, eight were taken prisoners while the rest were killed on the spot. Following a counter-attack against the detachment, by other troops of that area, it was forced to withdraw to the area of Perivolia village with grave losses.
- At the end of the day, the situation for the German Commander of the A’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, appeared to be as follows:
- The planned occupation of Hania had not been achieved.
- The raiding troops in the area Hania-Souda had suffered grave losses and had been unable to achieve their objectives.
- The III Battalion of the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment had lost two thirds of its strength, without being able to occupy the area of Galatas.
- The planned link up with the Western Team (Assault Regiment) had not been achieved.
Following the above facts and foreseeing a counterattack by the British during the course of the night, it concentrated his forces to the area of Agyia prison where it commenced the defensive establishment.
The C’ Sector of Rethymno – Georgioupolis (l9th Australian Brigade)
(Chart no. 30)
- In the Sector of Rethymno, action was taken by the B’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, that commenced at 1615 hrs. The Echelon comprised the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment (minus the II Battalion) and was under the command of Colonel Sturme. Before the paratrooper assault, the area ad been subjected to severe bombing by approx. twenty aircraft, which began at 1600 hrs.
The arrival of the transport aircraft above the paratrooper landing zones did not coincide, as planned, but lasted more than two hours. This ruled out the possibility of a tactical surprise move against the defenders and deprived the Germans of the ability to take advantage of the bombings that had preceded.
The dropping of parachutists and their supplies was conducted by 161 aircraft in total, as follows:
- The I Paratrooper Battalion (minus two companies) landed on the east of the Pigi airfield, assigned to occupy the latter.
The III Paratrooper Battalion landed on the east of Perivolia village, assigned to occupy Rethymno.
A group from the Staff of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment and a company from the I Paratrooper Battalion landed between the village of Platanes and the airfield.
A company, also from the I Paratrooper Battalion, landed at the positions of the 2/11 Australian Battalion and the 4th Greek Infantry Regiment.
- The III Battalion Paratroopers, that landed on the east of Perivolia village, attacked immediately against the almost unarmed Depot Battalion, which they broke up, and they proceeded to occupy the villages Perivolia and Kastelakia. Their action towards Rethymno was repulsed by the Gendarmerie Soldiers Battalion, which counter-attacked, forcing the Germans to withdraw towards the village of Perivolia. There were grave losses on both sides.
The Paratrooper Company, which landed at the positions of the 2/11 Australian Battalion and the 4th Greek Regiment near ‘B’ hill, was seriously damaged and broke up. The 2/11 Australian Battalion had taken more than 80 parachutists prisoners by that same evening.
The I Battalion Paratroopers, that landed on the east of the Pigi airfield were established at the village of Stavromenos and launched an attack upon the strong point of the ‘A’ hill, which they occupied, thus directly threatening the airfield.
Subsequently, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, Commander of the 2/1 Australian Battalion and, at the same time Commander of the Pigi Airfield Group, decided to counter-attack on the following day, in order to mop up his area completely. Although the reinforcement he had requested from the Commander of the Cretan Forces in order to implement his decision was not given, Campbell planned two counterattacks for the following morning, using his own forces.
- Thus, by the night of May 20 to 2l, the German paratroopers had occupied the villages Perivolia, Kastelakia and Stavromenos, as well as the ‘A’ hill.
The German Casualties amounted to one third of their strength, with approx. 400 dead and the rest wounded or prisoners and no objective having been attained.
As the Georgioupolis Group had not been subjected to any hostile attack, the Commander of the Cretan Forces gradually transferred the strength of the Group towards Hania during that night and on the following day. They were accompanied by the Headquarters of the l9th Australian Brigade.
The D’ Sector of Irakleio (l4th British Brigade)
(Chart no. 31)
- In the Sector of Irakleio, an attack was launched as of 1600 hrs, by the Eastern ‘ORION’ Team, that is, the lst Paratrooper Regiment minus one company and the II Battalion of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment minus two companies. These companies remained in the mainland Greece because it was not possible to transport them to Crete. Previous to the Paratrooper assault, the sector had been severely bombed by approximately twenty aircraft for one hour and serious damages had been caused, mainly to the town of Irakleio.
It had not become possible to offer air support to the parachutists during their landing, due to the exhaustion of fuel supplies for the fighter aircraft This de-synchronisation decided the fate of the German troops as of the early moments of their landing.
The II/1 Paratrooper Battalion landed in two echelons, on the west and south of the airfield, assigned to occupy the latter. By 2130 hrs, this Battalion had been annihilated by troops from the 2/4 Australian Battalion, the 7th Medium Artillery Regiment and the Blackguard Battalion. Its casualties amounted to 12 officers and 300 soldiers dead and 8 officers and 100 soldiers wounded. Approximately 70 paratroopers, who had survived, concentrated at night on height 182 (Kopraina), south-east of the airfield, where they established their defence.
The III/1 Paratrooper battalion landed in the areas of Therissos, Mastabas, Giofyros, as well as close to the city walls, assigned to occupy the town of Irakleio. During its dropping it suffered many casualties, but was finally able to concentrate its forces 500 meters west of the city walls.
The II/2 Battalion (minus two companies) landed at Gazi, assigned to support the attack of the III/I Battalion upon the town. However, having been hit a number of times by daring armed civilians, it was forced to engage in defence.
The I/1 Paratrooper Battalion, minus one company, landed in the area of Gournes. Its mission was to cover from the east the troops acting against the airfield and the town of Irakleio. However, it was repeatedly attacked by groups of armed civilians and gendarmes, both upon concentrating at Gournes as well as during its movement towards the airfield. The Battalion suffered serious casualties and its movement was slowed down considerably.
- Colonel Breuer Commander of the lst Paratrooper Regiment, believed that the airfield would have been taken in the meantime by the II/1 Paratrooper Battalion, as planned. He was, therefore, taken by surprise when, upon his arrival near the eastern fringes of the airfield, his Battalion was fired upon by the Blackguard Battalion.
Subsequently and despite the enormous losses suffered by his strength, he decided to launch an attack during the night of May 20 to 2l, upon the airfield and the town of Irakleio, with the II/1 and III/1 Battalions respectively. The attack upon the airfield failed, whereas the attack upon Irakleio was not carried out, because the order had failed to reach the III/1 Battalion.
Thus, the attack of the ‘ORION’ Team upon the town of Irakleio failed, with gravest losses on the German side, amounting to approx. 1,000 parachutists.
- In the evening of May 20 (the first day of the German invasion of Crete), the situation, in general, appeared to be the following for each adversary.
The Commander of the British-Greek Forces on Crete, Major General Freiberg, considered himself to be in possession of all airfields and harbours in Crete and was unaware, on account of his untimely information, of the critical situation that had arisen at Maleme airfield, so that he might intervene at once, in order to regain control of the locality. Instead, deeming the situation at the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade (area of Agyia) critical, as of 1100 hrs, on May 20, he placed his reserve (4th New Zealander Brigade) at the disposal of the 2nd New Zealander Division, keeping only the lst Welsh Battalion as a reserve. Moreover, he transferred the 2/8 Australian Battalion of the 18th Australian Brigade to the area of Hania and orientated it towards the Mournies area, although no serious threat was discernible coming from that direction.
On his part, the Commander of the XI German Airforce Corps, Air Marshal Student, deemed that no objective had been attained and that the only point at which some success had been recorded, was the Maleme airfield, where the Assault Regiment troops had created a bridgehead on the east of the Tavronitis bridge. Student was unaware of the fact that the Maleme airfield had essentially been abandoned by the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops, and that he was only being hit by mortars and artillery fire. Subsequently, he ordered the entire paratrooper reserve to reinforce the Assault Regiment, so as to be able to seize and hold the airfield. Furthermore, he ordered the 5th Mountain Division to move at once, in order to occupy Hania and Souda. The forces acting in the remaining sectors, would continue their fight without any reinforcement, seeking to immobilise and damage the adversary forces as much as possible. The VIII Airforce Corps would support these actions.
Thus, whereas Major General Freiberg was unable to make the right decisions concerning the continuation of the struggle, due to inadequate information, the German Command, by assessing the situation with accuracy, made the right decisions and issued the appropriate orders.
During the trial of the war criminals, Student reported the following regarding the night of May 20/21:
‘The night was crucial for me. If the enemy had attempted an all-embracing endeavour during the night of the 20th to the 2lst, or on the morning of the 2lst, then the worn out remains of the Regiment might have been swept away.
The Second Day of the German Attack
( May 21, 1941 )
The A’ Sectors of Maleme – Agyia and Hania – Souda
(Chart no. 29)
- At approx. 0200 hrs on May 2l, the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade was informed that the 22nd Battalion had finally withdrawn from its positions. Subsequently, he ordered the Commanders of the 2lst and 23rd Battalions as well as the 27th Artillery Battalion, to co-operate accordingly and to report their views to him. They proposed that, the battalions should be kept at their positions, and the 27th Artillery Battalion should fire against the airfields so as to impede its use by the Germans. The Brigade Commander approved of the above proposals. In regard to this decision, the official history of New Zealand relates:
‘… This decision was too fatal to remain without comment. For it was the last chance to counter-attack and regain the lost positions, before the enemy was able to be reinforced and re-organised. There was no enemy within the area of the 23rd Battalion, as an organised force. The 2lst New Zealander Battalion had not been subjected to serious pressure and only the 22nd New Zealander Battalion was in worse condition, owing to the struggle of the previous day. There was no question that the bitter experience that Andrew (Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion) had gained during the last twenty-four hours, would have made him doubt the success of a counter-attack. However, one would have expected that, the Commanders of the 2lst and 23rd New Zealander Battalions would have themselves seen the danger of the airfield open to the enemy by then, and that, if a counter-attack was to be conducted, this would have to be launched at once.
There was still time to prepare the two relatively unfatigued Battalions (21st, 23rd) so as to attack during the day, if not sooner. The combined attack of those Battalions would have been sufficiently strong, so that by attacking, under the worst (for them) circumstances, they would inflict a powerful blow against the enemy, and, under the best, they could recapture height 107, with the 22nd New Zealander Battalion undertaking to cover the rear of those Battalions.
Here, it must be noted that it is unfortunate that Harguest (Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade) had not established his forward Headquarters at the 23rd battalion on the previous day or earlier. As the situation had turned out, this decision, which was of vital importance, should have been taken by his subordinates…’
At approx. 0400 hrs, the Commander of the 5th Brigade notified the 2nd New Zealander Division about the situation and proposed the conduct of a counter-attack by the 28th New Zealander Battalion and by one battalion which had to be provided by the Division. The Division Commander agreed on the Brigade proposal and reported accordingly to the Commander of the Cretan Forces at approx. 1130 hrs. In parallel, he proposed the conduct of a counter-attack, during the night of May 21 to 22, by the 20th and the 28th New Zealander Battalions, which was approved.
- At 0800 hrs, transport aircraft flights dropped a paratrooper company and one and a half company of the Anti-tank Battalion of the 7th Paratrooper Division west of Tavronitis river. Colonel Ramke, the replacement of Major General Meidl who had been wounded, also landed with the said companies. At the same time, both companies from the II Battalion of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment landed near the positions of the 28th New Zealander Battalion. Both companies had been intended for the Sector of Irakleio and had remained in Athens, due to inability to transport them during the first day of the attack.
Colonel Ramke set as first objectives, the completion of the occupation of height 107 and the neutralisation of the guns that were firing against the airfield. To that end, he ordered the troops on the west of Tavronitis river, to act towards height 107 and the villages Maleme and Pyrgos. The troops moved slowly and carefully towards their objectives, which they managed to occupy by midday, except for Maleme village which was defended by its population and some New Zealanders until 1600 hrs.
The paratroopers that landed at the positions of the 28th New Zealander Battalion, suffered grave casualties and only 80 of them managed to escape towards Pyrgos village.
- As of 1600 hrs, the 5th Mountain Division troops began to land in the area of the airfield. By 1700 hrs, despite the sustained fire of the British artillery, the landing of the II/100 Mountain Hunters Battalion had been completed. The Commander of the l00th Mountain Hunters Regiment, Colonel Udge along with his Staff disembarked together with the last sections of the Battalion. He orientated the II/100 Battalion eastwards, where he deemed the greatest danger lay.
- At 2330 hrs, the division of the British Fleet, that was patrolling the sea west of Crete, sunk a large number of German vessels, which had left from Halkis and Piraeus, carrying the III/100 and II/85 Battalions of the 5th Mountain Division. Many of the III/100 men were drowned and a number of heavy armament perished. The vessels which were not sunk, sailed to Milos, where the convoy carrying the II/85 Battalion had also taken shelter.
In the Sector of Hania – Souda, no important conflicts took place on May 21, apart from the intense action of the German Air Force.
The B’ Sector of Rethymno – Georgioupolis
(Chart no. 30)
- On the morning of May 2l, the allied forces situated in the area of the Pigi airfield, launched two counter-attacks, which had been ordered by Lieutenant Colonel Campbell on the previous day. One was conducted by the 2/11 Australian Battalion in order to mop up the field zone north and east of its positions, as far as the sea, with a simultaneous action of a 5th Greek Regiment section towards the village of Platanes. The other was conducted by the 2/1 Australian Battalion so as to recapture the ‘A’ hill and employed a 5th Greek regiment section aiming to recapture Stavromenos village, where the Germans had managed to become established.
The counter-attack of the 2/11 Australian Battalion recorded total success. Those Germans who were not killed, were taken prisoners, including the Commander of the B’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, Colonel Sturme. The latter had the plans and orders of action on him, which revealed that the airfield and Rethymno were supposed to have been taken by the Germans as of the previous day. The 5th Greek Regiment section seized the village of Platanes and advanced as far as the eastern fringes of Perivolia village.
The 2/1 Australian Battalion recaptured the ‘A’ hill by midday on May 2l, the guns were re-positioned and approximately 60 men were taken prisoners. The Germans that survived, took refuge in the village of Stavromenos and barricaded themselves inside the olive oil refinery there, which constituted a stronghold, owing to the sturdy construction and the walled enclosure that surrounded it.
The 5th Greek Regiment section overthrew the enemy resistance it encountered on the way, and arrived by daybreak before the village of Stavromenos, where it was immobilised. The Commander of the section requested artillery support and one tank to be provided, in order to attempt to seize that village. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell did not, however, approve of this proposal and ordered that one company should remain at the disposal of the 2/1 Australian Battalion and that the remainder strength should retire to its original positions.
- The Germans, who had seized the village Perivolia, launched an attacked in the morning upon the town of Rethymno, but were repulsed by the Greek troops and the armed population of the town. At 1715 hrs, following a counter-attack of the II Gendarmerie Company, Kastelakia was recaptured, while the Germans confined themselves to Agios Georgios of Perivolia (cemetery).
The total number of German casualties, by the end of May 2l, amounted to 70 dead, 300 wounded and approx. 200 prisoners.
Thus, by the end of May 2l, the Germans had occupied two defensive strongholds, which were the villages Perivolia and Stavromenos. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell decided to launch an attack, on the following day, upon these two principal German strongholds,.
The C’ Sector of Irakleio.
(Chart no. 31)
- As of 0900 hrs, the German Airforce began a severe bombing of the town of Irakleio and the positions of the Greek units. The walls of the town of Irakleio and the area of the harbour suffered many damages, while the small Greek strength that occupied the walls suffered many casualties. At approx. 1000 hrs, the Germans attacked the town of Irakleio from the west, taking advantage of the results of the bombings, and they managed to enter. Heavy road-fights occurred and carried on until nightfall, with grave casualties on both sides. In the end, the Germans were forced to withdraw outside the town, to the areas Tsalikaki and Estavromenos, east of Gazi village.
It is worth noting that the reconnaissance, droppings and bombings of the German Airforce were hindered by the Greek – British troops that used flares and signalling panels with the appropriate panel codes, which had been provided by the German prisoners. There was a particular case in which by request of the British to the Germans, the latter dropped machine-guns, radio transmitters, mortars, food, ammunitions and other supplies onto the British positions.
The Third Day of the German Attack
(May 22, 1941)
The A’ Sectors of Maleme – Agyia and Hania – Souda
(Chart no. 29)
- In the Sector Maleme-Agyia the counter-attack of the British, that was to be conducted by the 20th and 28th New Zealander Battalions so as to recapture Maleme airfield and height 107 respectively, was launched at approx. 0330 hrs, on May 22, 1941. In order to support the counter-attack, three light tanks and one battery had been provided, in addition to the guns deployed in the zone of the 5th New Zealander Brigade. .
The 20th New Zealander Battalion moved towards the north of the national road Maleme-Hania and the 28th New Zealander Battalion towards its south. At the beginning of their advance, both battalions encountered some degree of enemy resistance, which they either by-passed or neutralised with few losses. However, upon approaching the village of Pyrgos, they began to encounter much stronger resistance and suffered serious losses. When the first troops came to approx. 1,000 meters east of Pyrgos, daylight had already shone. The enemy airforce had recommenced its activity. Under these circumstances it became difficult for the battalions to advance and they were finally forced to withdraw, with grave losses, to the positions of the 23rd New Zealander Battalion. As of that same morning, the 2lst New Zealander Battalion also moved westwards and managed to arrive as far as the village of Vlacheronitissa. There, however, it was informed that the attack to recapture Maleme airfield had failed and thus it returned to its original positions.
- The Commander of the Cretan Forces, deeming that the occupation of the airfield area by the enemy posed a serious threat, decided at midday, on May 22, to conduct a nocturnal counter-attack with the 4th and 5th Brigades, in order to recapture it. However, the counter-attack was not carried out, because there were reports to the effect that German troops from the prison of Agyia were advancing northwards, clearly aiming to cut off the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops from the east, and that the German forces at Maleme had been reinforced considerably. Furthermore, it was deemed that the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops were unable to conduct offensive action. Thus, instead of the counterattack, the Commander of the New Zealander Division proposed to Major General Freiberg to withdraw the 5th New Zealander Brigade eastwards, so as to avoid its being cut off.
Subsequently, the Major General Freiberg decided to postpone the counter-attack and to withdraw the 5th New Zealander Brigade on a new eastern line, with the 28th Battalion west of Platania village and the rest of the battalions further to the east. With this new disposition the airfield of Maleme would be at a distance of six kilometres from the British Defence line and only the British Airforce would be able to attack it. There was no such possibility, however, although the Major General Freiberg informed Wavell of the gravity of the situation and requested the provision of a strong pursuit and bombardment Air Force which would be the only means to reverse the German actions.
- Thus, the initiative was up to the Germans. The sections of the 5th Mountain Division began to come in at a rate of approximately twelve landings per hour. On the very evening of March 22, more than fifty aircraft landed. By 2000hrs, the I/100, II/100 and I/85 Mountain Hunters Battalions, one light battery (6 guns), the 95th Engineers Battalion and sections of the 55th Motorcyclists Battalion had landed. The Commander of the 3rd Mountain Division, Major General Riegel also arrived.
The Major General Riegel was entrusted with the command of the German Forces on Crete, assigned to secure the occupation of the Maleme airfield, to mop up the bay of Souda, to replace the parachutists in Rethymno and to complete the occupation of the island.
With view to the implementation of his mission, Maj. Gen. Riegel organised his forces in three Groups.
The first Group, which comprised the 95th Engineers Battalion under the command of Major Sette was assigned to secure the airfield of Maleme from the west and the south, by mopping up the areas of Kasteli and Palaeochora.
The second Group which comprised the Assault Regiment parachutist forces (two battalions), under the command of the Major General Ramke, assigned to secure the airfield from the east and, in co-operation with the third group, to launch an attack upon Hania.
The third Group which comprised the three battalions of the 5th Mountain Division (the I/100, II/100 and I/85), answerable to the Commander of the 100th Regiment, Colonel Udge, assigned to continue the action towards the height Monodendri, with view to the neutralisation of the New Zealander artillery which was firing against the airfield, the establishment of a liaison with the 3rd Parachutists Regiment and the cutting off of the coastal road to Agia Marina.
- In the Sector of Hania-Souda, at 1800hrs on May 22, the Commander of the British-Greek Forces of Crete organised a group which comprised the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment and the 2/7 and 2/8 Australian Battalions (of the Georgioupolis group), answerable to the Commander of the 19th Australian Brigade, Brigadier Vasey, who had remained, after his transfer to the area of Hania, without sections. This Group, as the 19th Australian Brigade, would secure the occupation of the area of Perivolia-Mournies.
The Military Academy was transferred on that day from the village of Deliana in the direction of the village Hosti, attempting to join the British-Greek forces in the area of Hania.
The B’ Sector of Rethymno – Georgioupolis
(Chart no. 30)
- As of the morning of May 22, the German Airforce began new heavy bombardments throughout the entire zone of the Rethymno Group, so as to relieve the defending paratroopers in that area. As a result, many buildings collapsed in Rethymno, including the building of the National Bank, inside which the Prefect of Rethymno, G. Tsagris, the Head of Gendarmerie, Lieutenant Colonel Stylianos Minoudakis, who had been working together at that time and several civilians were killed. No other important action was recorded in the Rethymno Group.
In the Pigi Airfield Group, the 2/11 Australian Battalion conducted a counter-attack to recapture Perivolia village. Although the German positions were bombed by German aircraft, due to their deception by virtue of the panel codes which had come into the possession of the Australians, the Battalion was held in position, within a distance of approximately one kilometre from Agios Georgios of Perivolia, where the main German defence had been organised.
Further to the east, the 2/1 Australian Battalion counter-attacked to recapture the olive oil refinery of Stavromenos village, but failed, owing to the lack of co-ordination between the actions of the Greeks and the Australians. After this, the troops withdrew during the night to their original positions.
The C’ Sector of Irakleio
(Chart no. 31)
- In the area of the Irakleio Group, the mopping up of the area continued with patrols, mainly from the 3rd Greek Infantry Regiment and from groups of armed civilians, extending as far as the stream of Giofyros to the west and the village of Arhanes to the south. This operation was terminated before nightfall with total success, so that no German parachutist remained inside the Greek area. The most important German units (III/l, II/2 Battalions) which had a total strength of 500 paratroopers, were forced to adopt their disposition to defence in the area of Tsalikaki-Estavromenos.
In the area of the Airfield Group Blackguard troops mopped up and repulsed the isolated paratrooper centres which had been established on the eastern fringes of the airfield.
On the same day, Greek and British teams dealt with collection and burial of the dead Germans, that amounted to approx. 1,250.
The Fourth and the Fifth Day of the German Attack
(May 23 and 24, 1941)
The A’ Sectors of Maleme – Agyia and Hania – Souda
(Chart no. 29)
- The withdrawal of the 5th New Zealander Brigade units began at approx. 0630 hrs, on May 23, 1941, and ended at 1000 hrs on the same day. It did not become possible to withdraw the artillery of the Brigade (27th Battalion), since the withdrawal order came to the hands of the Battalion Commander at 0400 hrs, on May 23, with the coming of daylight which led to the abandonment of all guns, after these had been made non-serviceable first, except for two guns belonging to the C’ Battery. The Battalion men formed an infantry section, which was incorporated into the zone of the 28th New Zealander Battalion.
At approx. 1000 hrs, on May 23, the 5th New Zealander Brigade adopted a new defensive disposition, that was the following: The 28th Battalion around Platanias village. On its east, the 23rd Battalion and on its south the 2lst Battalion. To the south and west of Agia Marina, the 22nd New Zealander battalion had been established and was in the process of reorganisation.
In the meantime, the German troops, continuing their offensive effort, arrived after a tough struggle, at the level of the line of villages Modio and Patelari, while a detachment from the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment occupied Stalos village.
The presence of German troops in the area of Stalos village and in particular, the German threat appearing from the south created a new unfavourable situation for the 5th New Zealander Brigade. The strength of the Brigade during the four-day fight had been reduced to approx. 600 men, in contrast with the 2,810 it had at its disposal on May 20.
- The Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, taking under consideration the development of the situation in the zone of the 5th New Zealander Brigade as well as the report of the Commander of the l0th New Zealander Brigade that he was not in a position to confront a powerful enemy attack, decided the following:
- The 5th New Zealander Brigade was to withdraw eastwards, to the area of Daratsos village, as a reserve.
The 4th New Zealander Brigade was to take over the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade, the troops of which had been placed under the orders of the 4th Brigade.
The l9th New Zealander Battalion and the Land Detachment of the Divisional Cavalry (Russell Detachment) were to remain at their positions.
The l9th Australian Brigade, which had been placed under the command of the 2nd New Zealander Division in the meantime, was to extend its line of defence southwards and eastwards.
All the above movements were carried out during the night of May 23 to 24.
- The 24th May was devoted to the establishment and re-organisation of the units, the improvement of positions and the re-supply in ammunition and other supplies.
The Military Academy arrived at the village of Hosti after intensive night marches and established its defence there.
The 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment launched an assault at approx. 0530 hrs, on May 24, upon the German positions in Animbali Tower. The attack lasted until 1700 hrs and then degenerated, owing to the lack of real support and the exhaustion of ammunition of the attacking troops.
Further to the west, the Germans seized the village of Kastelli after a fight, as well as the surrounding area. The lst Greek Infantry Regiment in the area, after having exhausted its very last ammunition disbanded and its men dispersed in the surrounding villages. Approximately 140 officers and soldiers gradually escaped to the Middle East while those who remained were taken prisoners.
On the night of May 24, the defence line of the New Zealander Division formed an arc, with its right (northern) end based on the coast and the left at the level of Perivolia village and westwards. Further to the south (the sector of Souda Hania) the line continued by the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment.
The disposition of the units was the following: The 4th New Zealander Brigade to the north of Daratsos village. The Russell Detachment around Dapia. The l9th Australian Brigade south of the Agyia-Hania road. The 5th New Zealander Brigade, as a reserve, at the triangle formed by Kladissos river and the roads Agyia-Hania and Platanias-Hania.
The casualties of the Division exceeded 20% of its original strength. Its subsequent strength amounted to approx. 5,500 men only.
- The Germans were reinforced, on May 24, with new forces, which were transferred by air to the area of Maleme. These were. the III/85 Battalion, the Staff of the 85th Mountain Regiment, the 95th Mountain Reconnaissance Battalion, the I, II Battalions of the 95th Pack Artillery Regiment, the 95th Antitank Artillery Battalion, an Antiaircraft Machine-gun company, a Signals unit and a Motorcyclist company.
The Commander of the 85th Mountain Regiment, Colonel Cracow, and the III/85 Battalion were directed towards the area of Episcopi Alikyanou, where the I/85 Battalion was also situated.
After these new German reinforcements, the Commander of the German Forces, Major General Riegel, assigned the missions listed below for the following day, May 25.
- The 85th Mountain Regiment would seize Alikyanos village and the area to the east. Afterwards, it would advance towards Souda and cut off the road Hania-Rethymno.
The l00th Mountain Regiment and the Assault Regiment would seize Galatas village and the heights to its north.
The 3rd Paratroopers Regiment would move south of the road Agyia-Hania, closely connected with the l00th Regiment towards the north and the 85th Regiment towards the south.
The 95th Engineer Battalion and the 55th Motorcyclist Battalion (Sette Detachment) would continue the mopping-up actions in the areas Kolymbari, Kasteli of Kissamos, Kandanos and Palaeochora.
As a reserve, there would be the 93rd Reconnaissance Group and the 95th Antitank Battalion. The attack had been scheduled to occur at 0800 hrs, on May 25, upon Alikyanos and at 1320 hrs, of the same day, upon Galatas.
The B’ Sector of Rethymno – Georgioupolis
(Chart no. 30)
- From 1300 hrs until 2000 hrs, on May 23, Rethymno was subjected to heavy bombardment. During this bombardment, among others, the barracks and town hospitals were destroyed. The latter were bombed, although they had Red Cross signs on visible areas of its facades.
An attack, launched by the Rethymno Group against the fortified German forces at Agios Georgios, ended in failure.
In the Airfield Group, there was a three-hour cease-fire between the Germans and the Australians, in order to bury the dead. During this interval, the Commander of the German troops at the village of Stavromenos, asked for the surrender of the Australians, employing the argument that, the German successes at Maleme and Agyia had rendered their position hopeless. Colonel Campbell rejected the proposal.
On the morning of May 24, a Scout company, supported by an Artillery platoon and which came from Hania, failed to break through the German positions in the area of Perivolia village and returned to Hania.
At 0800 hrs, on May 24, the German forces in the area of Agios Georgios, attacked the Rethymno Group. This German action, that lasted until 1400 hrs, was finally repulsed with success by the defending Greek troops of that area and the Germans were forced to return to their line of departure.
The C’ Sector of Irakleio
(Chart no. 31 )
- On the morning of May 23, inhabitants of Irakleio town reported to the Military Commander, Major General Mikhail Linardakis that relatives of theirs (mostly women and children) had been taken prisoners by the Germans, who used them as a screen during their offensive operations for the occupation of Irakleio.
After this, the Garrison Commander of Irakleio, Major Emmanuel Tsangarakis, was ordered to meet with the Commander of the local German forces, of whom he was to request that, the women and children should be released, or else counter-measures would be applied against the German prisoners.
The German Commander accepted the Greek proposal, but demanded the surrender of the town within two hours. The Military Commander of Irakleio rejected the proposal without further discussion and ordered the continuation of defence ‘to the last’.
On May 23 and 24, the town of Irakleio suffered a severe bombardment which caused entire town-blocks to be completely destroyed. The troops re-supply in bread, food and water became problematic, on account of the destruction of the furnaces and the water network. The little ammunition was exhausted, while the troops were considerably worn down by the incessant fighting.
Subsequently, the replacement of the Greek troops with British ones was decided on. Thus, the Greek troops retired to the area Knossos-Spilia for re-organisation, which was carried out during the night of May 24 to 25.
The Continuation of the German Attack
(May 25 to 27, 1941)
The A’ Sectors of Maleme – Agyia and Hania – Souda
(Chart no. 29)
- At 1400 hrs, on May 25, after a severe air bombardment, the 100th German Mountain Regiment attacked the village of Galatas and seized it.
During that night, troops from the 23rd New Zealander Battalion, the 6th Greek Infantry Regiment along with armed civilians, managed to recapture Galatas village at the end of a hard fight. However, this success was merely of local importance. It simply provided the defenders with a small time gain and nothing more, since the heights to the west and south of the village were still firmly held by the Germans.
The 8th Greek Infantry Regiment and the groups of armed villagers that were fighting on the line Alykianos-Vatolakos, confronted the 85th German Mountain Regiment with success for the entree duration of May 25. However, lacking further ammunition and food, they withdrew towards the south-east. Upon arriving at the village of Drakones, after two days, they were informed of the collapse of the Hania-Souda Sector and the withdrawal of those forces towards Sfakia, whereupon, being deprived of any escape route, many men were forced to take refuge in the surrounding mountains, while the Regiment Commander moved to Hania, accompanied by approx. 20 officers and 80 soldiers, and surrendered there to the German authorities on May 29.
The total casualties of the Regiment were: Dead: 2 officers (one of which was the New Zealander liaison), 2 platoon cadets and 60 soldiers. Wounded: 4 officers and approx. 20 soldiers.
- Meanwhile, on May 25, the II/85 Battalion also disembarked at Maleme airfield, and was united with its regiment.
At 2100 hrs, on the same day, the Commander of the German Forces, General Riegel, issued his orders for the next day, which, in general, dictated the continuation of the attack eastwards with the Assault Regiment on the north, the l00th Regiment in the centre and the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment to the south of Galatas.
- The Commander of the British-Greek forces, Major General Freiberg, being unaware, due to lack of communications, of the precise development of the situation, remained under the impression that on the night of May 25, the locality was still being held. Nevertheless, he deemed that, in the event of a break through, the question would no longer be how to hold on to Crete, but, rather, how his troops would survive disaster and captivity.
At midnight on May 25 to 26, he received a report of the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, briefing him on the critical nature of the situation at the Galatas area, as well as about. the decision of the Division Commander to withdraw his troops to a new locality west of Kladissos river. Major General Freiberg approved of the withdrawal of the Division troops, which was carried out during that same night. At the same time, he ordered the unification of the 2nd New Zealander Division Sector with the Sector of Souda, assigning responsibility to the Commander of the MNBDO Group, Major General Weston, as well as the reinforcement of the new line with forces from the Souda Sector. To that end, a new Brigade was organised, the Joint Brigade, from the lst Welsh Battalion and the Akrotiri Group (lst Scout Battalion and Northumberland Hussars), under the orders of the 4th New Zealander Brigade Commander. The command of the 4th New Zealander Brigade was assigned to the Commander of the l0th New Zealander Brigade, Colonel Kippenberger, who had been left without troops. The above Joint Brigade would replace the 5th New Zealander Brigade on the evening of May 26. The personnel of the Souda Services, that was not part of the combat strength, was ordered to move towards Sfakia.
In the end, however, these command replacements were not carried out. Thus, the Commander of the 4th New Zealander Brigade remained at his position, while Colonel Kippenberger assumed command of the 20th New Zealander Battalion (4th New Zealander Brigade), which he had also been in command of during the struggles in mainland Greece.
At 0200 hrs on May 26, Major General Freiberg reported to the Middle East Headquarters that, he had serious doubts as to the ability of containing the Germans on the new line of defence, and at 0930 hrs of the same day, with a new report (message) he requested permission to evacuate Crete.
- The German attacks against the positions of the 2nd New Zealander Division began on the morning of May 26. After a hard fight, the Germans managed to occupy Efthimi village with the Assault Regiment, Daratso village with the l00th Mountain Regiment and villages Perivolia and Galaria with the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment.
During the early night hours, the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment arrived at the village of Mournies, thus threatening to envelop the positions of the 2nd New Zealander Division from the south.
Faced with this new situation, the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division requested that the 5th New Zealander and the l9th Australian Brigades be placed in a new locality, east of the Hania-Nerokouros road. The Commander of the Cretan Forces did not approve of that proposal of the Division Head and ordered that the 5th New Zealander Brigade be replaced by the Joint Brigade, and that the area of Mournies should be secured by the l9th Australian Brigade. The Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division was not notified of the above decision and being unable to re-establish the liaison which had been cut off, decided to withdraw to the new position. There, the Division became established, between 0300 hrs and 0400 hrs on May 27.
The right (north) of the new defensive line was occupied by the l9th Australian Brigade and the left (south) by the 5th New Zealander Brigade.
The Headquarters of the 2nd New Zealander Division and the 4th New Zealander Brigade were established at Stylos village.
The Joint Brigade, under the orders of the Commander of the lst Welsh Battalion was established at the previous positions of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, with its flanks left completely without cover.
The Depot Battalion of Hania was ordered to move from the town of Hania to the area of Katsifariana, in order to cover the Hania-Souda road from the west
This was carried out as planned.
- During the course of the same day, the 141st German Mountain Regiment (minus battalion), the remaining troops of the 95th Reconnaissance Group, the heavy weapons of the l00th Mountain Regiment and the remainder of the 95th Artillery Regiment landed in the area of Maleme,.
The disposition of the German forces, on the night of May 26, was the following, from north to south: The Assault Regiment, from the coast to the northern fringes of Daratsos village. The l00th Mountain Regiment, from the northern fringes of Daratsos to the Alikyanos-Hania road. The 3rd Paratroopers Regiment astride the Alikyanos-Hania road. The 141st Mountain Regiment in the area of the villages Galaria and Perivolia and lastly, the 85th Mountain Regiment from the village of Perivolia to the Ravine of Mourianos river.
On May 27, the German plan dictated an attack against Hania with the Assault Regiment, the l00th Mountain Regiment, the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment and the 141st Mountain Regiment, aiming at the immobilisation of the British forces. To the south of the 141st Mountain Regiment, there would be action by the 85th Mountain Regiment towards Stylos and Megala, seeking to cut off the retreat routes of the British forces. The 95th Reconnaissance Group would be acting towards Neo Horio, covering the right flank of the whole disposition.
- At approx. 0100 hrs, on May 27 British warships sailed into Souda harbour and the A’ and D’ Raiding Battalions (750 men approx.) disembarked. The ships sailed, after boarding approx. 930 men, incapable of fighting.
Major General Weston, Commander of the Hania-Souda Sector, established a force of 200 men from the A’ Raiding Battalion in Souda, in order to protect the town and docks, the remainder of the A’ Raiding battalion (company strength) in the area of Beritiana so as to cover the road to Sfakia and the entire D’ Raiding Battalion in the area Hani Babali, so as to contain the Germans in case the defence at Beritiana collapsed.
- On the morning of May 27, the Germans began their attack a against the positions of the Joint Brigade, using troops from the Assault Regiment and the l00th Mountain Regiment. By that afternoon, the Joint Brigade had disbanded. Of its 1,300 men, 350 fled towards Sfakia, while the rest were either killed or taken prisoners along with their Commander.
Subsequently, the German troops entered Hania and at 1800 hrs, the Mayor surrendered the town to the Commander of the l00th Mountain Regiment.
Further to the south, the 141st Mountain Regiment arrived at the level of the road Hania-Nerokouros, having been delayed for over an hour by the Depot Battalion of Hania. There, it was severely counter-attacked by the 5th and l9th Brigades and was forced to withdraw approx. two kilometres back, having lost approx. 300 men.
- Meanwhile, the Commanders of the above Brigades, having realised that German troops had infiltrated their uncovered southern flank, and that they were running the risk of getting cut off, they withdrew their troops, on the night of May 27 to 28, to the areas Stylos and Neo Horio respectively.
The 4th New Zealander Brigade, that had already withdrawn to the area of Stylos village, was ordered at 1000 hrs, on May 27, to move to the valley of Askyfos, in order to repulse possible parachute drops in that area and to cover the road from Vrysses village to Georgioupolis.
The Commander of the German forces, believing that the British were withdrawing towards Rethymno, oriented the bulk of his forces in that direction. Thus, while the Germans were moving towards Rethymno, the British forces of Western Crete, along with the representatives of the Greek Government were directed towards Sfakia.
At 1550 hrs, on May 27, the order of the Commander in chief of the Middle East was received, whereby the evacuation of Crete was approved of. Major General Freiberg tried at once to notify the Rethymno Garrison accordingly, but having been unable to communicate with it, requested that the latter be briefed directly by the Middle East Headquarters, but that failed to occur.
The Garrison of Irakleio had been directly notified by the Middle East Headquarters.
The B’ Sector Rethymno – Georgioupolis
(Chart no. 30)
- The Commander of the Airfield Group, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, decided to launch a final attack on May 26, in order to recapture the village of Stavromenos. The attack was conducted by the 5th Greek Infantry Regiment and Australian troops and recorded total success. There were 100 Germans taken prisoners, including 42 wounded, and considerable quantities of armament, clothing items and communications equipment were seized.
The Rethymno Group, on both May 25 and May 26, continued to occupy its positions west and south of Perivolia village and to harass the Germans with patrols.
On May 27, the Germans attacked the Gendarmerie company that was in the area of Kastelakia, but to no avail.
The C’ Sector of Irakleio.
(Chart no. 31)
- On the morning of May 25, the German airforce resumed the bombings and afterwards, the German forces that were on the west of the town, attacked Irakleio. The attack mainly sought to engage as many British units as possible, so as to weaken the Airfield Group, which constituted the main objective. The attack was repulsed by the defending British forces in the area. In the evening on the same day, the German troops moved eastwards, so as to join forces with the troops situated on the east of the airfield.
Meanwhile, a British battalion that arrived from Tymbaki, entered the defensive area at the end of a fight and occupied the positions of the 2nd Leicester Battalion, which became a reserve of the Commander of the l4th British Brigade.
On the same day, the Command Station of the 2nd Military Command of Crete was re-stationed from Spilia to Arhanes, where there was a telephone centre. On the night of May 25 to 26, the 3rd Greek Regiment arrived for reorganisation and re-supply. The entire strength was reorganised into two regiments, of one thousand men each, under the orders of the Commander of the III Military Department, Colonel Papathanassopoulos.
- The German troops that moved eastwards, after bypassing the weak Greek resistance south of Irakleio, attacked, at 0700 hrs on May 26, and seized the hill of Prophitis Elias that a platoon of the 2/4 Australian Battalion had been defending. A counter-attack to recapture the hill, that was launched by forces of the 7th Greek Regiment, ended in failure.
Thus, the German forces in the Sector of Irakleio, joined in the area east of the airfield and began to prepare for attack, which was decided to be launched in the evening of May 29. On the following day, May 27, the Guns were reinforced with one additional battalion, which had disembarked at Gournes of Irakleio, and continued the preparations for the attack upon the airfield.
Furthermore, the Commander of the Irakleio Sector did not notify his troops of the evacuation order. Instead, he ordered the conduct of offensive action, where it was deemed necessary, in order to improve the unit positions.
The Collapse of the Defensive and the Evacuation of the Island
(May 28 until June 1, 1941)
The A’ Sectors of Maleme – Agyia and Hania – Souda
(Chart no. 28)
- During the early morning hours of May 28, the Commander of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg, in accordance with the evacuation instructions he had received from the Middle East Headquarters, issued an order to Major General Weston, whereby all details concerning the evacuation were being dealt with.
The evacuation would be carried out from the shores of Sfakia and Loutron at the following pace.
- On the night of May 28/29 1,000 men
On the night of May 29/30 6,000 men
On the night of May 30/31 3,000 men
On the night of May 31/June 1 3,000 men
The post of commander in charge for the evacuation of all troops from the former Sectors of Maleme-Agyia and Hania-Souda, was assigned to General Weston, who also issued the necessary orders on the afternoon of May 28.
On the basis of these orders, the 4th New Zealander Brigade would have to retain its positions at the southern entrance of the Askyfos valley until May 29, whereupon it would withdraw to the embarkation coast. The l9th Australian Brigade on the morning of May 29, would have to occupy defence positions on Vitalokoumos height (2 kms north-east of Sfakia). The Raiding units (A’ and D’ Battalions) would have to be defensively established in order to cover the road, east of the ravine, at Komitades village. The 5th New Zealander Brigade would have to move to the embarkation areas, except for the 23rd Battalion, which would remain under the command of the 4th Brigade at the positions it already held.
At 2200 hrs, on May 28, four warships sailed into the harbour of Sfakia and approx. 1100 men embarked, including 230 wounded.
- In the meantime, the Commander of the German Forces in Crete, Major General Riegel, being still unaware of the withdrawal of the British forces southwards, continued to move the bulk of his forces towards Rethymno and only part of the l00th Mountain Regiment advanced southwards, in order to mop up the road to Sfakia.
The 5th New Zealander Brigade continued to move towards the coast, where it concentrated its forces on the morning of May 30. The 4th New Zealander Brigade began to withdraw concurrently with the withdrawal of the 23rd Battalion, thus revealing the defence locality of the l9th Australian Brigade as well as of one motorised section, that were situated on the north of Imvros village.
At 2230 hrs on May 29, eight warships sailed into Sfakia and approx. 6,000 men embarked, including 550 wounded. This convoy, that sailed away at 0320 hrs, on May 30, included the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division and his Headquarters.
- At 0500 hrs n May 30, German troops from the l00th Mountain Regiment attacked the motorised section north of Imvros village. This section, after delaying the Germans until that afternoon, moved behind the positions of the l9th Australian Brigade. The German troops continued their attack against the l9th Australian Brigade, but to no avail. After this, the Commander of the l00th Mountain Regiment ordered enveloping movements from the mountains and abandoned the frontal attack.
On the night of May 30 to 3l, only 2 destroyers sailed into Sfakia, out of the 4 which had set off for the same purpose. These sailed away at 0300 hrs on May 3l, with approx. 1,500 men from the 4th and 5th New Zealander Brigades. On two hydroplanes, the representatives of the Greek Government and the Commander of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg, also departed for Egypt. The latter, before leaving, had assigned the command of the entire Cretan Strength to Major General Weston.
- During the course of the day, on May 3l, the Germans did not attempt a new attack, but merely harassed with their fire the positions of the l9th Australian Brigade and the A’ and D’ Raiding Battalions.
At approx. 2320 hrs, 4 warships sailed into Sfakia carrying the remaining sections of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, the 2/8 Australian Battalion, the Commander of the l9th Australian Brigade with his Staff and some Greek and British men from other units, the total strength amounting to approx. 4,050 men.
Meanwhile, Major General Weston gave a written order to Lieutenant Colonel Colvin, whereby, the troops that were unable to leave, were being permitted to capitulate with the Germans. During the same night, Major General Weston and the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade abandoned Crete by hydroplane.
- The troops of the l00th Mountain Regiment became aware, for the first time, that the bulk of the British forces was situated opposite them, on the coast of Sfakia, on the morning of June 1.
Subsequently, two battalions of the l00th Mountain Regiment advanced towards the coast, supported by the airforce and one gun. However, this action of the Germans was by then pointless, since white flags had been raised and the allied forces that were isolated on the coast, surrendered, except for a few hundreds that fled to the mountains and were hospitably received by the villagers. Of those men as well as out of the entire strength of the British Forces in Crete, approx. 600 fled to the Middle East by September 1941. The prisoners were driven to prisoner camps, which were organised in the area of Maleme and in the children summer camps of Hania.
The B’ Sector of Rethymno – Georgioupolis
(Chart no. 30)
- On May 28, the command of the Rethymno Group was informed of the collapse of the defence in the Sector of Hania, the withdrawal of the British forces to Sfakia and the departure of the King and the Government from Crete.
This information naturally caused a great decline in the morale of the fighting troops and the population, since new German forces could arrive at the area from the direction of Hania. Subsequently, the view that capitulation was necessary began to prevail, in order to avoid futile loss and destruction.
On the night of May 29 to 30, a German motorised detachment, under the command of Major Witman (Witman Detachment), entered and seized Rethymno without encountering any resistance. Gendarmerie Troops, armed civilian groups and certain soldiers groups from the Depot Battalion awaited the Germans east of Rethymno for a final confrontation, but were forced to surrender after a brief resistance.
- The Commanders of the 4th and 5th Greek Regiments of the Airfield Group were informed on the evening of May 29, of the collapse of the defence in Western Crete and of the approach of German forces to Rethymno from the direction of Hania, as well as of the Rethymno Group Commander’s decision to capitulate. Thus, lacking food and ammunition, they deemed that any further fighting would be pointless and the sacrifices futile. Therefore, at 2200 hrs, on May 29, they decided to withdraw to Adele village and Arkadi, respectively. There, the 5th Greek regiment disbanded, the men who were natives of Crete returned to their villages and the rest were allocated to various communities. The men of the 4th Greek Regiment surrendered to the Germans, in accordance with the decision of the Regiment Commander.
The Commander of the Pigi Airfield, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, being unaware of the order to evacuate the island, issued orders for the continuation of the fight. At midday, on May 30, he finally realised that he was encircled from all directions and that any defence attempt would be futile. Thus, he decided to surrender along with his units. The Commander of the 2/11 Battalion left his officers and soldiers free and some surrendered while others followed him to the mountains where they took refuge. The remainder of the Australian Force surrendered to the Germans along with the Group Commander.
The C’ Sector of Irakleio
(Chart no. 31)
- On the morning of May 28, Brigadier Chapel communicated the order for the evacuation from the harbour of Irakleio, during a meeting with the commanders of the British units (the Greeks were not invited to join them and remained uninformed until the end). By night, the British troops began to move towards the harbour, as planned. At 2330 hrs, 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers sailed in and the British embarked. The ships sailed to Egypt at approx. 0330 hrs, on May 29, without attracting the attention of the Germans.
The Greek troops remained at their positions on May 28, without attempting any action. On the night of May 28 to 29, they were informed of the occupation of Hania and Souda by the Germans and of the flight of the British to Sfakia, while on the morning of May 29, the discovered that the British troops of the Irakleio Sector had also evacuated the area. Subsequently, they decided to call a truce.
On the morning of May 29, German reconnaissance patrols that moved towards the British perimeter encountered no resistance in the town area nor at the airfield. Thus, the German forces moved and seized the airfield and the town of Irakleio, while the German command was established at the barracks of the 43rd Infantry Regiment.
On May 30, Major General Linardakis met, at the camp of the 43rd Infantry Regiment, with the German Commander, Colonel Breuer, in order to sign the truce. At approx. 2215 hrs, he issued orders concerning the deposition and concentration of weapons, except for those troops guarding the Italian prisoners until the latter were delivered to the hands of the Germans. These orders were addressed to the army troops and Police Authorities of the Prefecture of Irakleio and Lasithi.
436 In the meantime, in the afternoon of that same day, the Witman Detachment also arrived at Irakleio. This Detachment, after encountering the troops of Colonel Breuer in that area, continued its movement and reached Ierapetra by the same evening, where it met with an Italian regiment which had landed there on May 28, from the Dodecanese, by approval of the Commander of the IV Air Force, Air Marshal Lore.
On May 3l, the Greek troops were re-stationed at Peza village. As of June l, by order of the German Command, two companies were re-stationed at Irakleio, while the remainder strength moved to the plain of Messaria, accompanied by a few officers. The other officers remained at Peza and Arhanes and as of June 9 they were transported by motor vehicle to the prisoners of Maleme and the children’s summer camps in Hania, where prisoners from the Cretan forces had been concentrated. From June 20 until the end of November, the Greek prisoners were gradually released. The officers, soldiers and armed civilians, that fled to the mountains, later formed resistance forces throughout Crete, helping the allied struggle with their own struggles and sacrifices.
- Thus, after a ten day fight, the battle of Crete ended with the German forces prevailing. The losses were extremely grave on both sides and were the following :
- Greeks: Dead: (verified) 336 and a large number of wounded and prisoners.
British: Dead: 1,742, wounded: 1,737 and prisoners: 11,835. Furthermore, 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers were sunk and more than 2,000 officers and sailors were recorded missing.
Germans: Dead: 1,990, missing: 1,955 and a large number of wounded. In total, the casualties of the elite corps of German paratroopers exceeded 8,000 men. The aircraft losses amounted to 220 completely destroyed and approx. 150 with serious damages. This discouraged the Germans from daring to attempt another operation of this kind until the end of the war.
A General Review of the Battle of Crete
- The events related in the two previous chapters (VII and VIII), cover the period from May 20 to June 1, 1941, which is known as the BATTLE OF CRETE. The following constitutes a summary of the above described events.
With the beginning of the Greek – Italian War, the responsibility for the security of Crete was assumed by Britain, by agreement with the Greek Government, owing to the geo-political position and the strategic importance of the island for the British interests in the Middle East. The V Division, which had been stationed at Crete until then, was mobilised and transferred to mainland Greece, where it was employed in the Albanian Theatre of Operations.
- At the end of April 1941, the Command of the British Greek Forces in Crete was assigned to the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, Major General Freiberg. Until then, no final plans had been drawn for the defence of the island and the preparations for the confrontation of a serious enemy invasion had made very little progress, although the German attack was considered to be imminent. The entire military strength of Crete, after being reinforced with forces that were transferred from mainland Greece, amounted to approx. 11,500 Greeks and 31,500 British, but was seriously lacking in the area of armament, since the weapons, ammunitions and other supplies were significantly below the acceptable rates. Furthermore, there was no airforce on the island, while the available guns and tanks were deemed totally inadequate.
Upon assuming command of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg examined the situation and requested from the Middle East Commander in chief that, guns, ammunition, and other supplies and equipment be immediately sent, and that air and naval support be provided. Unfortunately, less than half of the supplies sent to the island arrived there, owing to the action of the enemy airforce.
The forces of Crete were allocated to the Sectors of Maleme, Hania, Rethymno and Irakleio, on the basis of the importance and vulnerability of the strategic points of the island, their mission being the defence of the island prohibiting the enemy to use its airfields and harbours.
- Hitler had focused his attention on the island of Crete long before Germany manifested its intentions to act against Greece. He believed that by occupying Crete he would secure a rapid success in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that the attack upon the island ought to be conducted by airborne action.
Thus, on April 25, 1941, the no. 28 order of general directions was issued, under the code name ‘HERMES’, regarding the operation to occupy Crete.
The entire German strength engaged in the attack upon Crete amounted to 22,750 men, 1,370 aircraft and 70 ships. The operation was also supported by a small number of Italian destroyers and torpedo boats, while a reinforced Italian regiment, by request of Mussolini, was to land on the coast of the island from the Dodecanese. This action was eventually carried out in the end of May, when the fate of the island had already been decided.
- The German attack from air upon Crete began on the morning of May 20. After a heavy bombardment, numerous flights of transport aircraft began to drop parachutists in the area Hania-Maleme. Simultaneously, gliders began to land, carrying airborne troops. A tough struggle ensued, during the course of which the Germans managed to create a small bridgehead east of Tavronitis river and to place the Maleme airfield and height 107 under the control of their fire, that being the vital area of 2nd New Zealander Division. After this, the British forces abandoned height 107 on the night of May 20 to 21 and withdrew further to the south-east.
In the areas of Rethymno and Irakleio the German attack broke out on the afternoon of the same day. The paratroopers in these areas suffered extremely grave casualties and were unable to record any success.
- Major General Freiberg, unaware, due to untimely briefing by the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, of the critical situation which had arisen in the Maleme Sector, was late in his intervention to regain control of the locality. Thus, the counter-attack, that was launched at 0330 hrs on May 22 in order to recapture Maleme airfield ended in failure.
After the failure of the above counter-attack and the advance of the German forces, that were constantly reinforced in the north-east, the British-Greek forces in the area withdrew to a new locality further east, on the night of May 23 to 24.
As of that day, the initiative for the operations had been shifted to the Germans, while the fate of the island had by then been decided. Nevertheless, hard fighting continued, with the active participation of the islanders, until May 29, whereupon the British forces began to evacuate Crete. The retirement of the greatest part of the British forces was terminated at 2320 hrs, on May 31. Those British who remained on the island, as well as the Greek troops there, capitulated with the Germans or sought refuge in mountainous areas, from which they later fled to the Middle East.
Thus, after a ten day fight, the Battle of Crete ended with the German forces prevailing, despite the bravery displayed by the British-Greek forces and the stubborn resistance of the Cretan people, whose courage, valour and spirit of self-sacrifice were unsurpassable and attracted the admiration of both the Greeks and all their Allies.
The cost of this victory, however, was so high that, the Germans did not dare another such action until the end of the war. Crete, as the Commander of the XI German Corps, Air Vice Marshal Student was forced to admit, became ‘the Tomb of the German Parachutists’.
 King George and Prime Minister Emm. Tsouderos had already departed for Alexandria in Egypt on the night of May 23 to 24, from the bay of Agia Roumeli, with the British destroyer ‘DECOY’.
 Brigadier Stylianos Kallonas, ‘The Battle of Crete’ p. 72.
Publishing Dpt/AGS, ‘Military History Topics’ p. 361.
- MCD. G. Stewart, ‘The Battle of Crete’ Part B’, p. 372
The Strategic Importance of the Island of Crete
- The island of Crete lies in the centre of the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, on the cross-roads of the air and sea lines of communication, from east to west and from north to south or vice versa. Thus, it constitutes an excellent base for aeronautical operations in every direction and the power that occupies it secures the control of all communications in the Mediterranean. These characteristics lend particular strategic importance to the island.
A natural consequence of this strategic importance was that, since the beginning of the Second World War, Crete was of interest both to the British and Hitler. Συνέχεια
Final Gleams of the Epirus Epopee
(Sketch-map no. 20)
- The Greek Army, in the Albanian Theatre of Operations, after its victorious struggles and its advance deep into the northern Epirus territory, was confined, during the months of January and February 1941, to static fighting, mainly due to the extreme severity of the winter. From March 9 to 26, it had confronted the ‘Spring’ attack of the Italians with success and retained the occupied territory.
Despite the fatigue and the hardships of war, the Greek Army preserved its high morale and aimed at new successes.
Since March 27 and until the German attack of April 6, the situation in the Theatre of Operations did not present any significant changes. The war activity was mainly confined to artillery and patrol action, in order to maintain contact. The conduct of a few local operations in the sector of the Western Macedonia Field Army Section (WMFAS) was an exception aiming mainly at the improvement of the occupied positions. Συνέχεια
The German Threat
- Once Hitler decided to turn against Russia, in the summer of 1940, the Balkan Peninsula became of special strategic importance for the Germans. The occupation of the Balkan peninsula constituted a necessary condition for the assumption of this campaign, in order to safeguard the German Armies that would be operating eastwards, from the south.
The occupation of the Balkan Peninsula was also supported by the argument that, the presence of strong German forces would force Turkey to join the Axis or at least to reinforce its neutrality. Furthermore, it would secure the oil-wells of Romania, which were very important for the conduct and spreading of the war, from possible British air raids which would make use of the airfields in Greece for that purpose. What is more, the descent of the Germans to the Balkan peninsula was bound to prevent the unfortunate consequences of a possible failure of the Italian attack against Greece, according to the estimate of the German General Staff. Συνέχεια
The General Military Situation in the beginning of 1941
( Sketch-map no. 13 )
- As previously mentioned in the development of operations until this point, on November l4, the Greek forces undertook to launch a general counter-attack throughout the entire Albanian Theatre of Operations. After a two-month hard struggle under extremely adverse weather conditions and despite the stubborn resistance and the continual reinforcement of the enemy with new units, they managed to repulse the Italians far beyond the Greek-Albanian borders, from 30 to 50 kilometres inland, and were able to reach the general line of Himara-Boliena-Tserevonda-Soukagora mountain-Kamia mountain-Pogradetz.
The general disposition of the Greek forces on the evening of January 6, 1941, was the following:
-In the Southern Sector, the A’ Army Corps, with its HQ at Dervitsani, had been set up defensively in the zone from Himara to mount Debelit and had the III, VIII and II Divisions at its disposal in the direction west to east.
-In the Central Sector, the B’ Army Corps, with its HQ at Premeti, continuing its offensive operations, occupied the zone from the valley of Aoos river (included) to Tomoros mountain and had the I, XV and XI Divisions at its disposal in the direction south to north.
-In the Northern Sector, the WMFAS, with its HQ at Koritsa, included the C’ and E’ Army Corps and occupied the zone from Tomoros mountain to Pogradetz.
The C’ Army Corps, with its HQ at Koritsa, had the IX and XIII Divisions as first echelon and the XVII Division at the second echelon, from south-west to north-east.
The E’ Army Corps further south, with its HQ at Bobotista, was provided with only the X Division, which had been defensively established as a first echelon. This Corps was also expected to be reinforced with the XVI Division, which had been formed in Florina from the XVI Brigade a few days earlier and was preparing to transfer to the area of the rivers Devolis and Tomoritsa north-west of Moschopolis.
-Reserves of the Commander in Chief, were the V Division in the area of Koritsa, the IV Division in the area Liebhova-Kakavia and the Cavalry Division in the area of Elea.
Thus, the Greek forces allocated to the Northern Epirus Theatre of Operations, on January 6, amounted to thirteen Infantry Divisions and a Cavalry division, with the prospect of the transfer of one additional Division, that of the VI from the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations.
- Opposite the above Greek forces, in the evening of January 6, 1941, the Italians had the following units at their disposal:
-Fifteen Infantry Divisions, namely: 11th ‘Brennero’, 29th ‘Piedmonte’, l9th ‘Venezzia’, 23rd ‘Ferrara’, 33rd ‘Aqui’, 37th ‘Modena’, 48th ‘Taro’, 49th ‘Parma’, 5lst ‘Sienna’, 53rd ‘Arezzo’, 56th ‘Kazale’, 2nd Alpine ‘Tridentina’, 3rd Alpine ‘Giulia’, 4th Alpine ‘Kouneense’ and 5th Alpine ‘Pousteria’.
-The 131st Armoured Division ‘Centaurs’ reinforced with the 5th Bersaglieri Regiment.
-The 2nd Bersaglieri Regiment, the 3rd Grenadieri Regiment, two Cavalry regiments and a number of Blackshirts, Albanians and Machine-gun battalions.
-A section of the ‘Cuneo’ and ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ Divisions, which landed in Albania in the end of December and were gradually advancing towards the zone of operations.
- The operations of the Large Units until January 6, 1941, were conducted, as already mentioned, in accordance with the General Headquarters instructions of December 12, 1940.
The operations were conducted under adverse conditions, such as severe winter, difficulties in the re-supply and evacuations and great losses due to frostbite which exceeded the casualties of battle. Furthermore, there was a necessity to supplement the shortages that had arisen after the two-month expedition in personnel, pack animals, automatic weapons and supplies – materiel of all kinds. The above conditions forced the High Command to suspend, as previously mentioned, the large scale offensive operations.
This decision, which was initially taken on December 28, was later implemented with the general instructions of the Commander-in-chief, which were issued on January 6, 1941. Through these instructions, it was determined that until the improvement of weather conditions, the large units would take measures to organise the defensive disposition of their forces in order to secure the occupied positions and would conduct local operations in order to improve their positions and preserve the aggressive spirit of their troops.
In general, the missions of the large units were the following :
-The A’ Army Corps, in the valley of river Zagorias was to limit its activity in pushing the enemy north of Aoos river, in order to safeguard the junction of Klissoura. In the valley of the river Drinos, it was to limit its activity to small scale local operations in order to repulse the enemy towards Aoos and to safely block off the valley of Drinos from that direction.
-The B’ Army Corps was to conduct offensive operations in order to seize the junction of Klissoura, to block off the defile of Klissoura from the west and seize the general line Podgorani-Souka-Mali Garonin.
-The WMFAS was to limit its activity to securing the high plateau of Koritsa. Furthermore, it was obliged to secure the liaison with the B’ Army Corps in the valley of Tomoritsa river and to conduct limited, local operations as appropriate in order to improve its positions.
The Offensive Operations of the B’ Army Corps
towards Klissoura – Trebessina – Boubessi
(January 7-25, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 14)
- The operations of the B’ Army Corps for the occupation of the road junction of Klissoura had been prepared following prior instructions of the General Headquarters. On the basis of these instructions, the B’ Army Corps issued its orders on January 3, which concerned the seizure of the mountain range Mali Topoyianit-Spi Varistolian and their safeguarding from all directions as far as Mali Hirotse and Mali Garonin. Afterwards, actions would be taken along the south western direction, in order to cut off the Klissoura-Verati road and to seize Klissoura.
The main attack would be conducted by the I Division to the left (south) and the XV Division to the right (north), while the XI Division was assigned to assist the effort of the XV Division.
- The attack had been planned to commence in the morning of January 5. It was postponed, however, and was finally launched in the morning of January 8 so that in the meantime the XV Division could be reinforced with artillery.
The I Division commenced its attack at 1000 hrs while, in the meantime, the XV Division had seized the summit of the Mali Topoyianit height.
The attack was launched against the heights south and south-west of Mali Topoyianit in the direction of Klissoura and, by that evening, they were seized, by the Division, despite the stubborn resistance of the Italians. The enemy abandoned more than 300 dead and a large quantity of war supplies on the battlefield. On the following day, January 9, the Division seized the heights north of Togliari village and further south, the heights of Panariti village. This effort was supported with the fire of the Detachment headed by Lieutenant Colonel Dimokostoulas of the II Division (A’ Army Corps), which operated at the same time south of Aoos river at the area of Bresdani village.
The XV Division commenced its attack at 0700 hrs and by 0900 hrs it had seized the summit of Mali Topoyianit by force of bayonet. In spite of the stubborn resistance and the successive counter-attacks of the enemy, it continued its offensive towards the Mali Hirotse height, which it managed to seize during the early hours of the evening, while further to the Northeast it took the height of Bregou Lipes. The morale of the troops engaged in the attack was excellent and the self-sacrifice of the officers and soldiers unequalled. The enemy abandoned more than 800 killed in action and wounded from the ‘Giulia’ Division units. The sight of the battlefield was indeed macabre. The prisoners included 14 officers and 341 soldiers on the Italian side. In addition, 4 pack artillery guns, 26 mortars of 81mm and an abundance of food and supplies were seized. The casualties of the XV Division during that day, were 7 officers and 199 soldiers killed in action and 9 officers and 286 soldiers wounded.
During the night of January 8 to 9, Division troops continued their offensive to the west of the Topoyianit height, in order to cut off the carriage road Klissoura-Verati. At 0200 hrs on January 9, they seized the Souka village, placed the abovementioned road under their fire and attacked the withdrawing enemy troops of the ‘Aqui’ Division, which had been sent to reinforce the ‘Giulia’ Division. By the morning of January 9, 17 Italian officers and 600 soldiers had been taken prisoners and abundant war supplies had been seized.
The XV Division attack continued on January 9 under adverse weather conditions and at around 1400 hrs the Mali Garonin height was occupied along with the area of the Tsepova village, to the south-west.
The XI Division, operating north of the XV Division, assisted the action of the latter with its fire on January 8 and 9, while preparing to cross Apsos river with part of its troops in order to seize the village of Slatina and to cut off the enemy that intended to escape in the direction of Verati.
- The B’ Army Corps, following this successful development of operations, issued a new operation order on January 9 according to which any further operations of the I and XI Divisions would be oriented towards the north-west, in order to seize the area lying on both sides of the deep line of river Desnitsa, along which the Klissoura-Verati road winds, with powerful cover from the direction of Tepeleni-Klissoura.
The I Division began its attack at 0730 hrs on January 10 and part of its troops seized Givanai village and the heights east of Podgorani village, while further to the north the Division seized the southern heights of Roden.
The 7th Regiment of the Division, which was operating in the direction of Klissoura and was supported by the fire of the Dimokostoulas Detachment, took possession of Klissoura at around 1030 hrs. By 1700 hrs it had advanced to the position of Kastelo ridge at the eastern slopes of the Trebessina mountain, which terminate in the river Aoos, directly west of Klissoura.
An Italian counter-attack with tanks, that was launched from the defile of Klissoura-Tepeleni, was contained by the fire of the artillery. In the course of their withdrawal, the Italians set fire to Klissoura and destroyed the stone bridge of the river Desnitsa towards Tepeleni as well as the wooden bridge of the Klissoura-Premeti road.
The XV Division operated Northwest of the Garonin mountain and, after a hard struggle, advanced as far as the steep slopes of Mali Tabayian, north-east of Roden.
In the sector of the XI Division, the situation remained unchanged. The seizure of Klissoura constituted an important success for the fighting troops of the B’ Army Corps and a serious blow for the Italians. The latter attached great significance to this important road junction and had striven hard to retain it with the ‘Giulia’ Division. Since January 3, in particular, they began to reinforce the latter with the ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ Division, which had been transferred to Avlonas from Italy at that time.
The following dramatic plea by Cavallero, Commander in chief of the Italian forces in Albania, that was addressed by phone to the Commander of the ‘Giulia’ Division is characteristic of the significance attached to that location by the Italians. This has been recorded in the diary kept by Cavallero, in the entry of January 11, 1941 :
‘The ‘Giulia’ Division has fulfilled its duty. We are satisfied despite its withdrawal. Today, new forces are pouring in, part of which are already in Verati. It is necessary to close the gap, be it with your own sacrifice. If the area is broken through, we will no longer hold our ground. The Fatherland demands it, even if we are about to die for that cause, and I will come to die with you. I am asking you to make this last effort, in the name of Italy. I am certain that you too will be satisfied in the next few days, for then we will reach victory. The reinforcements are arriving and you will go and rest. We shall re-organise and create a glorious ‘Giulia’, but for now you must hold on’.
Moreover, the Prime Minister of Greece, in recognition of the importance of the seizure of Klissoura, addressed the following telegram to the B’ Army Corps on January 13.
‘Officers and men, I congratulate you for your latest exploits in the area of Klissoura’.
On the following day, January 11, the units of the B’ Army Corps mainly had the task of securing the area of Klissoura from the direction of Tepeleni and the Northwest and they attempted to improve their positions. Concurrently, they repulsed enemy counter-attacks.
- On January l2, the B’ Army Corps communicated a plan of action concerning both the seizure of the Artza-Bregou Sialesi-Mali Spandarit line and the effort to secure the area of Klissoura from the direction of Tepeleni and the Northwest. The Corps would be operating in three phases with its main effort along the ridgeline of Mali Garonin-Bregou Memoulazit-Bosquetto and, by employing the IX Division, would simultaneously seek to establish bridgeheads south of Apsos river, up to the villages of Verziezia and Istrora. The attack was planned to commence in the morning of January l6, while the crossing of Apsos river by the XI Division would be conducted after orders of the Army Corps.
In order to secure Klissoura and mop up the area south of Aoos river as far as the Klissoura defile, since January l3 the General Headquarters provided the B’ Army Corps with the Dimokostoulas Detachment along with the rest of the II Division that were operating east of the Zagoria Stream. After the order of the B’ Army Corps, these troops formed the “Klissoura Team”, a unified group, that was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dimokostoulas and was subordinate to the Army Corps.
During the period until the commencement of the attack, the units mainly dealt with the improvement of their disposition and their positions of departure, despite the adverse weather and the snow depth which had reached the one meter in the area of Trebessina. Due to the weather conditions and the shortages in forage, 60% of the pack animals have perished .
- Since the morning of January l6, the B’ Army Corps resumed its offensive operations.
On January 18 the I Division, after having repelled enemy counter-attacks for two consecutive days and despite the adverse weather conditions, sent troops in order to conduct reconnaisance in force towards the Psari height of Trebessina mountain and also towards the height Tsouka Fesit. On January l9, it seized Pavari village, east of Hani Balaban.
The “Klissoura Team” repulsed an enemy counterattack that was launched from the direction of Tepeleni and seized the height 1620 on Trebessina mountain.
The XV Division, engaged in action since 0900 hrs on January l6, seized the heights Tsouka Fesit and Mali Tabayian under adverse weather conditions and after a fierce battle. On the following day, it seized the height Dras-e-Kais and continued its advance towards the Mali Korap and Bregou Memoulazit heights, where it took about 700 Italian prisoners including the Commander of the 77th Regiment of the ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ Division.
During the night and the following day, January l8, the snowfall and the severe frost continued, visibility fell below 10 meters and deaths due to frost were recorded in the battle positions. Thus, no important activity took place.
The Division resumed the offence during the next day, January l9, with its men displaying an excellent morale, in spite of the hardships and the severe frost. At 1600 hrs the height Kiafe Sofiout was seized, but any further advance was halted in the early evening hours.
The XI Division, awaiting the order of the Corps, in order to cross river Apsos, did not display any noteworthy activity within its sector during the same period.
- Since January l9, the General Headquarters assigned the V Division (minus) to the B’ Army Corps. The V Division had been a general reserve of the Commander in Chief within the zone of the C’ Army Corps until then.
Subsequently, the B’ Army Corps ordered the V Division to move from the Koritsa high plateau as of the evening of January 21 and to concentrate its forces in the area of Leskoviki by January 26. The Corps ordered the I Division to seize the ridgeline 1308-1060 at the northern section of Trebessina mountain and to retain the necessary reserve west of Desnitsa river, so as to cover the left flank of the Army Corps. The XV Division was assigned to mop up the area north of the Kiafe Sofout height, as far as the river Apsos.
- The I Division, continuing its operations on January 20, managed to seize the height Bregou Psari under bad weather conditions and severe cold. At the same time, Division troops ascended the northern section of Trebessina mountain and seized the height 1308, east of Psari village. Furthermore, other Division troops seized the heights east of Hani Boubessi and the northern heights of Balaban. On the following day the weather improved and the enemy airforce mercilessly strafed not only the rear area but also the front line troops. Nevertheless, the Division continued the struggle and despite the enemy counter-action it managed to seize the eastern ridges of Kiafe Louzit, while Division troops crossed Desnitsa in the south of Hani Boubessi, in the night of January 21 to 22.
On the same day (January 21) in the sector of Klissoura, the enemy succeeded in overthrowing the troops on the height 1620 by counter-attack and these troops withdrew towards Gropa on the south-eastern slopes of Trebessina mountain, near the river Aoos. After this, the B’ Army Corps reinforced the “Klissoura Team” with two battalions of the reserve.
The I Division continued its offensive effort and on January 22, after a tough fight that lasted the whole day, it managed to seize the height of Kiafe Louzit. Further to the north it seized the height of Spi Kamarate, where it took about 500 Italian prisoners and seized supplies of all kinds.
On January 23, the height 1620 in the sector of Klissoura was recaptured, while in the northern sector of the Division, in the area of the Hani Boubessi, the Bregou Rapit (717) height was taken as well as the 73l height. Two consecutive counterattacks of the enemy against the Bregou Rapit height failed. About 350 Italians were taken prisoners including many officers.
During the two-day period of January 24 and 25, the enemy launched powerful counter-attacks throughout the entire front of the Division, concentrating its main effort in the sector of Klissoura against the height 1620 and in the northern section of Trebessina against the heights 1308-1060. Both counterattacks were repulsed with many losses for the enemy in personnel and equipment.
On January 20 and 2l, the XV Division repulsed strong enemy counter-attacks against the saddles of Kiafe Sofiout and Kiafe Mourit respectively. From January 22 to 24, no important activity was recorded, because of the unfavourable weather conditions and the Division troops dealt with the re-organisation and the preparation of the attack.
On January 25, the Division resumed the offencive and in spite of the adverse weather conditions and the stubborn resistance of the enemy, it seized the Vinan village, the Bregou Lioulei height and by 1530 hrs and after a hard struggle, the height of Mali Spandarit. Ten officers and approximately 100 Italian soldiers were taken prisoners.
The XI Division, which was operating north of Apsos river, according to the Army Corps instructions, would assist the operations of the XV Division towards Mali Spandarit and to transport a combat team of regiment strength across Apsos to the west of this river.
Thus, on January 20, the Division seized the Kala height by surprise, with a small section of its troops that had crossed over to the west of Apsos river, while two days later, on January 22, it captured the ridge to the east of Mali Spandarit. Subsequently, on January 24 and 25, the Division transported one of its regiments to the west of Apsos and advanced it to the area of villages Zaberzani and Belezeska. The river crossing took place via the bridge of Lapani village and through the fords in the area of Zogas village.
- With the above operations, by January 10, 1941, the B’ Army Corps had managed to occupy the line Podgorani-Garonin and the road juction of Klissoura, and by January 25, it had occupied the north-eastern and south-western ridges of Trebessina mountain, the saddle of Boubessi and Mali Spandarit mountain.
Thus, on January 25, it had almost reached the end of its efforts and was likely to revert to a defensive disposition, since the bad weather, the terrain and the time of year hindered the continuation of large scale offensive operations.
The enemy divisions which it confronted within its zone were originally the 3rd Alpine ‘Giulia’ Division, the 47th Infantry ‘Bari’ Division, the 5th Alpine ‘Pousteria’ Division, as well as units from the 6th Infantry ‘Cuneo’ Division and the 7th Infantry ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ Division. Furthermore, around the end of the above period, the following divisions appeared within the zone of the Army Corps: The 24th Infantry ‘Pinerolo’ Division, the 22nd Infantry ‘Alpine Hunters’ Division and units from the 37th Infantry ‘Modena’ Division and the 5lst Infantry ‘Sienna’ Division.
It is evident from the above that the I, XV and XI Divisions of the B’ Army Corps encountered at least 7 Italian divisions during this period. To this disparity of forces one must also add the numerical superiority of the Italian Airforce and the superiority of the Italian units in curved trajectory weapons that were appropriate for mountain fighting, as well as the re-supply difficulties of the Greek forces, which pulled them away from their supply bases, in contrast to the enemy forces which in withdrawing approached their own bases.
Furthermore, the continuous bad weather and the severe snowstorms subjected the men to harsh trials since the increasing number of frostbite cases incapacitated a greater number of men than the casualties of battle.
At the same time the situation of the pack animals kept worsening and the losses exceeded a third of their original strength, due to insufficient food, hardships and their intense use, a fact that hindered transportation and re-supply.
Operations in the Northern and Southern Sectors
(of the High Plateau of Koritsa and Epirus)
(January 7-25, 1941)
- In the Northern Sector, on the basis of the mission assigned to the WMFAS by the General Headquarters – concerning the securing of the Koritsa high plateau, the liaison with and the cover of the right flank of the B’ Army Corps and, also, the conduct of limited local operations – there were no important operations carried out during this time.
Thus, as of the first ten-day period of January the WFMAS (C’-E’ Army Corps) essentially reverted to a defensive disposition. The activity of the units was confined to the repulsion of local Italian attacks, the improvement of the occupied positions and the defensive organisation.
- In the Southern Sector (Epirus), the same situation prevailed. The A’ Army Corps, having reverted to a defensive disposition and due to the bad weather, suspended its offensive operations and its activity was confined to observing the situation, improving the occupied positions and organising and strengthening the front-line.
The General Headquarters, supplementing its general instructions of January 6, which outlined that on the part of the A’ Army Corps, action was to be taken in the eastern areas of Drinos river, authorised the Corps, on January 10, to apply pressure, towards the west of Drinos as well, against Tepeleni. Besides, having planned to assume powerful offensive operations in the future as soon as the weather conditions and the re-organisation of the forces would allow it, the General Headquarters was regarding the reinforcement of the A’ Army Corps with an additional division as definite possibility.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that the bad state of the lines of communication and the insufficient transportation means for the re-supply, constituted a fundamental obstacle. When this situation was partially improved – given that the IV Division had already retired from the A’ Army Corps front, being in need of a long rest -the General Headquarters ordered the V Division, which was situated in the area of the Koritsa high plateau, to advance towards the front of Epirus.
On January 9, the General Headquarters informed the A’ Army Corps that there was a disagreement between General Cavallero, the Italian Chief of the Army General Staff and Soddu, the Italian Chief of the Italian forces in Albania, because General Cavallero supported the assumption of a general attack against the Greeks, while General Soddu insisted that the only hope left for the Italian Army was the conduct of strategic withdrawal as far as the Skoubi river. The fact that on December 29 Soddu was relieved of his duties and Cavallero assumed the command of the Italian forces in Albania, proved that the Cavallero’s opinion had prevailed and, consequently, an Italian attack was to be expected.
On January l8, the A’ Army Corps submitted its proposals to the General Headquarters, regarding the continuation of the operations towards Avlonas without the support of the V Division, provided that the B’ Army Corps would first seize and hold the area of Glava as far as the river Aoos. The General Headquarters deemed that the assumption of offensive operations by the A’ Army Corps was not possible in the immediate future and placed, as mentioned, the V Division at the disposal of the B’ Army Corps.
The Italian attack against Klissoura
(January 26-31, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 14)
- On January 25, the Greek Commander in Chief visited the Headquarters of the B’ Army Corps in Bandiloyia and was briefed on the situation. Subsequently, on the same date, he issued an oral order which defined all that was relevant to the further continuation of operations.
On the basis of this order, the B’ Army Corps was to operate in the general direction of Garonin-Glava with view to the occupation of the line Bouzi-Glava. At the same time it would operate in the south-west direction of Bouzi-Aoos-Deplan (14 km west of Tepeleni) in order to threaten and place the Tepeleni-Avlonas road under its fire.
Thereafter, and provided that conditions were favourable, it would advance northwards towards Verati and westwards, though not at the expense of its action towards Deplan. During a second stage, it would assist the operations of the A’ Army Corps towards Avlonas.
During the same period, and depending on the extent of its operating abilities, the WMFAS (C’ and E’ Army Corps) would undertake operations in the sector of Pogradetz and in the valley of Tomoritsa.
However, the adverse weather conditions and the concentration of Italian forces opposite the B’ Army Corps as a warning of the “Primavera” (Spring) attack, did not allow to conduct any of the abovementioned operations, with the exception of a few limited local ones in the valley of Tomoritsa.
- The Italians, having lost the road junction of Klissoura and the eastern exit of the homonymous defile and despite the desperate pleas of Cavallero for ‘defence to the end’ in the area, finally managed to contain the advance of the Greek attack, holding their ground steadily in the area east of Tepeleni mountain that blocks off the western exit of the defile.
The Italians considered of great importance the retaining of these positions and thus they concentrated strong forces in order to create a ‘wall’ , according to the characteristic expression of General Cavallero. Against the forces of the II Division that comprised 12 battalions defensively established south of Aoos river, the Italians had deployed 14 battalions on the east of Drinos and 12 battalions on the west of the river and the ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division in the area of Tepeleni.
Thus, after consolidating their new positions, they sought to reoccupy Klissoura, in order to unlock the defile and break through the valley of river Desnitsa, whereupon a serious threat would be set up against the left flank of the Greek B’ Army Corps. Taking advantage of a slight improvement of weather conditions, that occurred after January 20, they concentrated the forces of the ‘Leniano’ Division in the area of Tepeleni. This division was assigned to conduct the operation, with the assistance of troops from the ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division and an Alpine battalion.
- The Italian attack commenced in the morning of January 26, north of Aoos river in the direction along the ridgeline Trebessina-height 1923-1620- Gropa-Klissoura and south of Aoos river, in the direction of Pestani-Brezdani. The attack against the height 1620 was initially repulsed. However, it was repeated later and at approximately 1400 hrs, the enemy seized the height 1620 and spread further towards the south-east as far as Moutsin, Mertsoura and Frastani, threatening seriously Klissoura.
At this critical moment, the III Battalion of the 4th Regiment of the I Division launched an attack from the area of Podgorani towards the height 1923 at the centre of Trebessina mountain and struck the flank of the Italians, thus containing their move towards Klissoura.
The Italian counter-attack towards the south of Aoos from Pestani and Brezdani (height 1285) was repulsed after a heroic struggle at close combat during which the commander of the defending battalion and the battery commander were both wounded. After the repulsion of the counter-attack, the II Division reinforced the troops positioned on the height with one additional battalion.
The Italian attack against Klissoura alarmed the B’ Army Corps. The pocket that had been created constituted a serious threat against its left flank. Furthermore, the possible seizure of Klissoura would serve to cut off the Army Corps troops that were engaged in action west of Desnitsa river. In order to cope with the situation, the Army Corps considered necessary to seize the entire ridgeline of Trebessina mountain so as to prevent the Italians from using it either as an observation post or as a base of attack.
For the implementation of this decision, the Corps made the necessary predisposition of forces and, having reinforced the I Division with two battalions from the XV Division, it ordered the former to operate in the direction Podgorani-Givanoi, towards the heights 1923 and 1620, to repulse the enemy and to seize the height 1923.
Furthermore, it ordered the V Division to move towards and deploy its forces in the area of Klissoura, with the prospect of assuming an active sector in the zone of the Corps.
After taking the above measures, the B’ Army Corps contained the further advance of the Italians in the area of Klissoura and established a continuous and stable front along its left flank, with the prospect of repulsing the enemy beyond the ridgeline of Trebessina.
- The A’ Army Corps, due to the situation that had arisen and the information provided by prisoners, concerning the importance attached by the Italians to the attack against Klissoura, requested and received the approval of the General Headquarters to extend its right boundary as far as the river Aoos, in order to include the “Klissoura Team” under its command.
January 27 went by with no important activity recorded in the sector of the “Klissoura Team”. About twenty enemy tanks, that attempted to break through the defile, were hit by the anti-tank guns of the Team and retired after three had been destroyed. Moreover, in the southern leg of the Klissoura defile the Italians also made persistent efforts to seize the height 1285 (Brezdani). The attack was confronted successfully, after a fight during which the scales were constantly wavering between the two sides, both of which suffered heavy losses. On the following day, January 28, in the northern section of the defile, the height 1620 was recaptured by the “Klissoura Team”.
On January 29, in the southern sector and after the ferocious shelling of the artillery, the attack against the height 1285 and the villages Limari and Malesova was repeated and repulsed. Furthermore, five probing attacks of the enemy, which took place during the night of January 29 to 30 were also repulsed with success. On January 30, there were two further counter-attacks of the enemy against the height 1285, which were again repulsed and with heavy losses for the enemy.
The final effort of the Italians against the height 1285 was made at 2100 hrs on January 31 and was successfully repulsed. Thus, due to the Greek resistance, their effort to break through the defile of Klissoura ended without any territorial gain. However, they succeeded in engaging and holding the Greek forces in position, whereas in a different case these would be operating in the direction of Verati.
Despite the failure of the Italians to seize Klissoura, the General Headquarters considered that the threat in that direction continued to exist. It was therefore necessary not only to resolve the situation and block off the defile to a great depth, but also to improve the front by reducing its deployment. Furthermore and regarding the creation of a general diversionary action, the General Headquarters issued an operation order on January 29, by which it authorised the conduct of offensive operations within the zone of the WMFAS towards Pogradetz and the valley of the river Tomoritsa.
The mopping up of the Ridgeline of Trebessina Mountain
(Sketch-map no. 14)
- Following the measures taken in order to resolve the situation, the B’ Army Corps issued specific orders defining the missions assigned to the I and V Divisions.
Thus, the V Division was to seize and hold the ridgeline of mount Trebessina and then advance and secure the saddle of Medzgorani, Mali Sendeli and the village of Medzgorani and to mop up the defile of Klissoura as far as the village of Dragoti.
The I Division would conduct an attack from the height 1816 along the ridgeline of Trebessina mountain.
- Meanwhile, on the evening of January 28, the V Division terminated its concentration and reconnaissance, with its regiments in the area of Klissoura-Koukiari and Kosina.
At 0700 hrs on January 29, Division troops sallied forth to complete the seizure of Trebessina ridgeline from the area of Gropa height. After a tough, alternating fight, that carried on for the entire day, the attacking troops managed to seize the height 1923 in the late afternoon hours, taking at the same time 173 Italian prisoners and seizing important war supplies.
The following morning, the Italians launched a vigorous counter-attack, supported by the concentrated fire of their artillery and airforce, in order to recapture the height 1923. Their attempt failed due to the self-denial and self-sacrifice of the defending Greek troops that launched a counter-attack and forced the attackers to withdraw in disarray, abandoning their dead, wounded and numerous war supplies on the battlefield.
On the following day, January 31, a severe blizzard did not permit the continuation of the operations beyond the height 1923, neither an action against the height 1816 in the northern section of Trebessina to consolidate the liaison with the I Division, nor towards the Medzgorani saddle at its southern section.
The situation in the other sectors of the B’ Army Corps during this period did not present any essential changes.
Enemy counter-attacks against the front of the XI Division, which had extended its boundary south of Apsos river and had included Mali Spandarit within its zone, were successfully repulsed. The counter-attacks against the front of the XV Division were also repulsed with success in the area of Hani Boubessi as well as those against the I Division in the area of Bregou Rapit and the height 73l, against which the enemy had launched successive counter-attacks.
The involvement of the V Division in the operations forced the General Headquarters to organise a reserve in the zone of the B’ Army Corps. Hence, it assigned to the Corps the XVII Division, which had been a reserve of the WMFAS until then. In its place it assigned to the WMFAS the VI Division that was to withdraw from the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations. The movement of the XVII Division to its destination, the area of Borova-Leskoviki, was scheduled to commence on February 2.
- Within the zone of the WMFAS in the northern sector (Koritsa), no important operations took place during this period. The units dealt with the reorganisation, the improvement of their positions and also with the improvement of the living conditions of the troops, and pack animals, that had suffered a lot due to the weather. Regarding the disposition of forces, as of January 26, the XVI Division was placed under the command of the E’ Army Corps and its forces were deployed in the area of Liozani-Poptsisti-Tresova-Boritsa.
In the Southern Sector (Epirus), within the zone of the A’ Army Corps, small-scale local operations took place for the improvement of the positions, without effecting any essential changes in the front-line.
In the zone of the II Division, repeated counterattacks by the Italians against the area of Boliena that constricted the pocket of Tepeleni, were repulsed after a hard fight. During the two-day period of January 25-26, the Italians bombed the area with more that eight thousand artillery shells, while on January 27, they bombed the town of Argyrokastro, using 250 and 300 Kg bombs, causing 180 dead and about 400 wounded of the inhabitants and soldiers.
While this was taking place on the front, in the mainland the Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas died suddenly, on January 29. On the same day, Alexandros Koryzis, economist and politician, who had been Minister of Social services from 1936 to 1939 and head of the National Bank since 1939, was appointed as Prime Minister.
Local Operations from February 1 to 12, 1941
- During the period from February 1 to 12, despite the adverse weather conditions and the fact that the troops, the pack animals and weapons had been worn down, the operations continued, though on a limited scale, in all three sectors of the front, in accordance with the General Headquarters instructions, issued on January 29.
The principal factor that dictated the limitation of the operations were the bad weather conditions with the continuous snowfalls. In many mountainous areas the snow depth exceeded the two meters. Consequently, the cases of frostbite surpassed the casualties of battle and the deaths of pack animals, due to the low temperatures and exhaustion amounted one third of their total strength. This fact seriously affected the transportation and re-supply units.
- Under such adverse conditions and having opened a passage in the snow of one and a half meters wide and two to three meters deep, on February 9 and l0, IX Division troops seized within the zone of the C’ Army Corps, in the Northern sector, the Mnima Greas height and part of Gouri Topit in the mountain range of Sara Gravpova. After this operation, the Division managed to secure the minimum depth required for the better support of its left flank.
In the Central Sector, XV Division troops seized the village of Boubessi on February 4, as well as the height 802, by close combat and despite the vigorous resistance of the enemy which abandoned 27 officers and 300 soldiers killed in action, more than 180 prisoners and all kinds of war supplies.
Actions of the B’ Army Corps against Sendeli and the saddle of Medzgorani failed to have the desired results, due to the enemy counter-actions and the adverse weather conditions. To the south of the river Aoos, continuous enemy counter-actions against the height 1285 and Hormova were repulsed.
Local actions of the A’ Army Corps units during the same time sought to improve the occupied positions and create favourable conditions for the conduct of further operations towards Tepeleni and Avlonas.
In the meantime, from February 1 to 4, the Commander in chief visited the Headquarters of the WMFAS, the C’ and E’ Army Corps and, also, the XIII, XVI and XVII Divisions, where he had a briefing on the situation and issued the necessary instructions.
The Organization of the Epirus Field Army Section (EFAS)
- Until the beginning of February, the A’ and B’ Army Corps were directly under the orders of the Commander in Chief, whose advanced Headquarters had been in Ioannina since December 16, 1940, in order to ensure better co-ordination of the operations in Albania.
However, in the event of a confrontation of forces in the direction of the Bulgarian Theatre of Operations, whereupon the Commander in chief would be forced to move from the Theatre of Epirus, it was necessary to organise, from then on, a Headquarters to co-ordinate the actions of the A’ and B’ Army Corps. To that end, the General Headquarters, by its orders on February 6 and 7, authorised the organisation of the Epirus Field Army Section (EFAS), which would have its HQ at Ioannina under the commands of Lieutenant General Markos Drakos, who had been Commander of the Eastern Macedonia Field Army Section (EMFAS) until then.
The Command of the EFAS was assumed at 0400 hrs on February l4. The EFAS comprised the A’ Army Corps with the II, III, IV and VIII Divisions and the B’ Army Corps with the I, V, XI, XV and XVII Divisions. The boundaries of its zone of responbility were the Ionian sea to the west and the Apsos river to the east, in liaison with the WMFAS.
The General Headquarters, by its orders of February l2, assigned the EFAS with the co-ordination of the operations of the A’ and B’ Army Corps for the seizure of Avlonas. The missions of the Army Corps were generally outlined as follows:
-The A’ Army Corps would operate along the valley of the Siousitsa river and the carriage road Tepeleni-Avlonas, in order to seize the harbour of Avlonas.
-The B’ Army Corps would operate to seize the heights of Glava. Then, it would advance towards Aoos river and it would operate with its left flank towards Avlonas in conjuction with the action of the A’ Army Corps.
New Attempts towards Tepeleni
(February 13 – 28, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 15 and 16)
- According to the order issued by the B’ Army Corps on February 9 for the assumption of operations towards Trebessina-Sendeli, in the morning of February 13, troops of the V Division, which had taken their positions of attack on Trebessina during the night of February 12 to 13 under a heavy blizzard, launched their attack and by 1400 hrs seized one after the other the village of Artza di Sopra, the height 1178, the Artza di Mezzo and the height 710. Further to the south, other troops of the Division seized the height 1816 on Trebessina mountain but, because of continuous snowstorm, they were unable to advance towards the saddle of Medzgorani.
On the following day, February l4, the attack to seize the Punta Nord height continued in the northern section of Sendeli mountain, but without any success. Furthermore, fierce enemy counter-attacks to recapture the height 1178 were repulsed with the attacking troops suffering heavy losses. Despite their hard struggle, by the evening hours, the Division units had only slightly improved the positions which they had occupied on the previous day.
The attack went on the next day and after a tough fight at close quarters, the eastern section of the Punta Nord height was seized, but its occupation was not completed. In the direction of Medzgorani, the saddle of Medzgorani between Trebessina and Sendeli was taken at 1400 hrs.
The enemy launched ferocious counter-attacks, to recapture the Punta Nord and Medzgorani during the daytime and in the night of February 15 to l6, which were unsuccessful. The Italians abandoned about 200 killed in action and 500 prisoners.
The occupation of the Punta Nord was completed on February l6. The repeated enemy counter-attacks to recapture that height as well as the heights 1260 and 1178 were repulsed with many casualties on both sides. In the direction of Medzgorani, no success was recorded due to the snowstorm, the high depth of the snow and the rough terrain. New Italian counter-attacks, that launched in the night of February 16 to l7, in order to recapture the heights 1260 and Punta Nord, were successfully repulsed. From February 18 to 25, no changes were recorded in the occupied positions of the V Division, because of the severely bad weather that had occurred and did not permit the continuation of operations towards Sendeli mountain.
Since its entry into combat, on January 29, the V Division had endured severe hardships and its casualties, including the killed in action, wounded and frostbite cases exceeded 3,350 men. During the same period, the number of its pack animals was reduced by 758 animals.
The I and XV Divisions had also endured hardships, fighting continuously on the front-line since the beginning of war. This is why, the EFAS authorised their gradual relief, when conditions would permit it.
- In conjuction with the action of the V Division of the B’ Army Corps towards Sendeli-Medzgorani, an offensive of the II Division (A’ Army Corps) had been planned to take place towards Lekli and Pestani.
This operation was not carried out on February 13, because the units of the B’ army Corps which would operate towards Medzgorani were unable to advance in that direction. The Commander of the EFAS, after assuming his duties on February l4, ordered the A’ Army Corps to conduct the offensive against Lekli and Pestani, as prepared. Thus, the attack of the II Division was launched on February l5, between Aoos river and mount Nemertska, despite the heavy Italian bombing against the positions of the attacking troops since 0200 hrs.
The attack was launched at 0730 hrs against the height 1285, yet its occupation was not completed during the day. After a night probing attack the seizure of the height 1285 was achieved with the exception of its north-western part. The action towards the village of Pestani was unsuccessful.
On February l6, the attack was continued from the direction of the height 1285 and the bridge of Zagorias river was placed under control. During this two day struggle, more than 400 Italians were captured, including two senior officers. The attack also continued during the following day, however without any noteworthy results, mainly on account of the enemy flanking fire from the dominating Goliko height, in the south.
On February l8, the height 1723 in the range of Goliko was seized and the entire force engaged in its defence and comprising three officers and eighty five soldiers were captured. Furthermore, the north-eastern outskirts of the Pestani village were taken, but many losses were suffered by the attacking regiment of the Division.
In the direction of Lekli, no progress was recorded, due to the strong organisation of the terrain and the counter-action of the enemy with an incessant barrage of fire.
After the limited successes in the direction of Lekli and Pestani, the Division decided to focus its main effort towards Goliko, assisting thus the moves towards Lekli on the left and Pestani on the right.
Thus, on February l9, the attack continued and the village of Pestani was seized, where over 300 prisoners were taken and war supplies of all kinds were captured. However, further advance was contained by the flanking fire of the tanks, that were firing from the northern bank of Aoos along the road Tepeleni-Klissoura. An effort against the height 739, to the west of Pestani failed due to the artillery barrage that spread to the village of Pestani and caused many losses to the attacking troops as well as to the inhabitants.
On February 20, an action towards Lekli did not have any progress, while the advance on Goliko towards the height 1615 continued and the eastern part of that height was seized.
During the period from February 21 to 28, the offensive operations were suspended, on account of the extremely adverse weather that prevailed in the area in conjunction with the continuously increasing number of casualties due to the ceaseless pounding of the enemy artillery and frostbite cases that had arisen to alarming proportions. The attack against the height 739 was repeated on February 28, despite the unfavourable weather conditions, but with no success; neither did the Italian counter-attack against the height of Goliko.
The casualties of the II Division during the month of February amounted to 13 officers and 268 soldiers killed in action and 26 officers and 720 soldiers wounded, not including the frostbite cases, which amounted to 60-80 per day, only in the area of Goliko.
- During the same period, in the other sectors of the front, there were no large-scale operations taking place, apart from local engagements for the improvement of positions within the occupied front-line. The activities of the commands and units were focused on the organisation of the terrain, the protection of the personnel and animals from the bad weather conditions, the maintenance of weapons and equipment, the reorganisation and resupply of the units and, in general, the preparation of future operations.
On the Eve of the Italian “Primavera” (Spring) Attack
- The repeated Greek successes and the continuing advance of the Greek Army into the Northern Epirus territory, greatly alarmed the Italian high Command, as mentioned previously. Thus, on December 29, 1940, Mussolini was forced to order the replacement of the Commander in chief for the Albanian Theatre of Operations, General Soddu, by the Chief of the Army General Staff, General Cavallero. Furthermore, he requested Hitler to reinforce the Italian forces in Albania , with the strength of a German Army Corps. A series of meetings ensued, on the study of the transportation and use of German forces in Albania in order to strengthen the front.
Mussolini took to heart the defeat of his forces in Albania, which constituted for him the main theatre of operations. Thus, he was seeking for a victory, even with the German aid, over the Greeks, who were, at that moment, threatening Avlonas and Verati.
Hitler, on his part, being in a hurry to begin the campaign against Russia, was disheartened by the Italian inability to overpower the Greek forces, despite the reassurances of Mussolini, and therefore ordered the planning of a German attack against Greece.
On January 19 and 20, 1941, a great conference took place in Salzburg, and apart from Hitler and Mussolini, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs Von Ribbentrop and Ciano took part, as well as the German Generals Jodle, Halder, Von Brauhitz and Von Ridelen along with the Italian Generals Guzzoni and Maras, who was the liaison in the German Headquarters.
In the conference, the Italians stated that their intention was to halt the Greek advance and to hold the front, which was supported by twenty-one Italian divisions, while there was an intention to send another three. In the near future they would reinforce it with ten additional divisions, in order to launch a counter-attack within the next two and a half months from the direction of Koritsa towards Erseka.
In the minutes kept during the conference, which were later found by the Americans, the Germans state their reservations as to the whether the Italians would be able to concentrate the required forces in the appropriate time, which meant that Germany should not expect any help from Italy, in the event of a German attack from Bulgaria against Greece. On the contrary, the German attack would greatly relieve the Italian front in Albania.
- After the definite and final decisions of the Germans to attack Greece, Mussolini, in order to save his fallen prestige, renounced the German reinforcement and, as early as the next day, began to reinforce the Albanian front aiming at a victory against the Greeks before the outbreak of the German attack, that would put an end to the campaign against Greece and would secure the German Army flank during the campaign against Russia.
Thus, by the end of February, ten new Italian divisions were transferred to Albania, while tens of ships were daily transporting thousands of tons of supplies, ammunitions, motor vehicles and weapons. At the same time, in order to heal the moral crisis and restore the fighting spirit of the Italian Army, he issued, immediately upon his return from Salzburg, an order of the day through the Ministry of Armed Forces, encouraging all the fascist factors, even ministers, to enlist and join the Italian Armed forces at the Albanian front.
Responding to the above call, by the end of February those that volunteered to enlist and join the Italian forces as officers in order to inspire the Italian Army were the Ministers Bartai, Pavolini, Richardi, Rizzi, Gorla, the loudest of the senior officials of fascism, Marinazzi and Gianetti, as well as the son-in-law of Mussolini Galeatso Ciano.
- At the end of February everything was ready for the new attack against the Greek forces, codenamed ‘PRIMAVERA’ (SPRING) by the Italians and was organised and prepared to the last detail by Mussolini, who had placed himself in charge of it. Indeed, when the Duce was convinced that he had completed all preparations, he departed in the morning of March 2, with his personal aeroplane which he piloted himself, for the airfield of Tirana, where he was received by the Commander in chief Cavallero, the Governor appointed by the Italian Crown Giacomonti and General Ranza.
Cavallero assured him that the situation in Albania had improved and that everything was ready for the attack.
From the speech delivered by Mussolini, on June 11, 1941, it can be concluded that the forces provided for this purpose comprised twenty five full divisions and three Cavalry regiments, four Bersaglieri regiments, one Grenadieri regiment and a number of Blackshirt battalions, which were equivalent to five additional divisions. As he added himself this was ‘an assembly of forces which were truly imposing’.
As soon as he arrived in Albania, Mussolini visited and inspected all forces of the front, even the battalions of the Albanian volunteers, he delivered speeches and dined with officers, stressing the importance for Italy of this new attack.
In the event that this great effort, with which Mussolini had associated his personal prestige and the honour of Italy, would be successful and his legions, as he had hoped and promised Hitler, managed to break through the Greek front and flood Greece, the Balkan Peninsula would belong to the Axis by the end of March 1941. Thus, Germany would not be forced to send the enormous strength of 24 divisions against Greece and Yugoslavia. On the contrary, it would be able to orient its forces towards the eastern front and to commence the attack against Russia by mid May, thus gaining time, of about 40 days.
The development of the situation according to those predictions would have influenced the outcome of the Russian resistance, the duration of the war as well as the final victory, as is accepted by military experts all over the world, including the Russians.
Warnings of the Italian Attack and the Decisions of the Greek High Command
- The concentrations of the enemy forces in the Central Sector, against the B’ Army Corps, had been noticed since February l0, by both ground and air reconnaissance. Simultaneously, intelligence reports, provided by prisoners and other sources refered to an impending serious operation in the direction of Glava-Boubessi-Klissoura. Thus, the General Headquarters, as of February l8, drew the attention of the EFAS to a possible Italian attack in the zone of the B’ Army Corps and placed the IV and VI Divisions at the disposal of the EFAS by the end of February.
During a meeting, in Athens on February 25, with the attendance of the King, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Military and the Commander in Chief, the Commander of the EFAS delivered a detailed account of the situation of his units. Furthermore, he expressed his personal opinion about a large-scale operation, to gain possession over the area of mount Tepeleni, which held the particular interest of the Government. His belief was that it could not be undertaken with great chances of success, unless there was a relief of the I, XI and XV Divisions of the B’ Army Corps or of their greatest part and only following the replacement of their casualties and a rest period of 20 to 25 days. Moreover, he added that local operations, with the forces that were already deployed in the front, were not considered to be advantageous, since they would only serve to wear out the personnel, and exhaust supplies and ammunitions, producing no worthwhile results. Instead, he proposed a short period of waiting in order to reinforce, re-organise and redeploy the units and create favourable conditions for the assumption of large scale operations, as these were defined in the principal mission of the EFAS.
The Commander of the EFAS returned to Ioannina on March 1 and, on the following day, a meeting was held in the Army Headquarters and was attended by the Commander of the EFAS, the Commanders of the A’ and B’ Army Corps and Crown Prince Paul. During the meeting it was decided that the operation would be conducted in order to complete the occupation of the Medzgorani-Sendeli area, north of Aoos river and the area of Lekli in the valley of Drinos south of Aoos. Particular attention was given to the co-ordination of the actions of the A’ and B’ Army Corps.
Based on the conclusions of the meeting, the EFAS issued an order to the A’ Army Corps on the same day, instructing it to assist the action of the B’ Army Corps, that was to commence on March 7 aiming at the completion of the seizure of the area Medzgorani-Sendeli. The assistance would include artillery fire and a co-ordinated offensive effort from the area of Goliko towards Kondra, in order to seize the valley of Aoos and to cut off the Italian forces at Lekli.
The EFAS estimated that, with the occupation of the Lekli-Kondra area favourable conditions would be created in order to block off the sector of Mouzati and to complete the seizure of the ridgeline of Sefer Agait towards Tepeleni.
- While the above events took place in the Theatre of Epirus, other serious events of greater overall importance for Greece were happening in the neighbouring countries and within Bulgaria in particular. The latter had already joined the Tripartite Pact and German troops began to enter into its territory on March 2 and were advancing towards the Greek-Bulgarian borders.
The discernible immediate threat against Greece from that direction and the expected repercussions on the troops fighting in the Northern Epirus territory, forced the General Headquarters to issue an order on March l, by which it decreed that, whatever the development of the situation in the Balkans, the mission of the fighting forces in the Northern Epirus front was clear and definite and sought to:
- Secure the occupied territory and conduct active defence.
- Conduct the necessary operations with view to the improvement of defence conditions, whenever the weather conditions and the available forces would allow it.
- Protect and maintain the high morale of the Army from being possibly affected by any causes or threats regardless of their source.
At the same time, the General Headquarters, in order to prevent the potential encirclement and cut off that threatened the forces of the Northern Epirus front in the occasion of a German invasion from Bulgaria, ordered on March 7, the EFAS and the WMFAS to consider the possible withdrawal of their forces to the line of Pieria-Aliakmonas river-Venetikos river-Smolikas mountain-Merdzani and from there on to the Greek-Albanian borders or even further to the south as far as the line of Pieria-Aliakmonas-Venetikos-Zygos Metsovou-Arachthos river.
Furthermore, on account of the difference of opinions that arose regarding the further continuation of the operations, on March 6, the High Command proceeded to replace the Commanders of the EFAS and the A’ and B’ Army Corps. Thus, the Commander of the EFAS, Lieutenant General Markos Drakos, was replaced by Lieutenant General Ioannis Pitsikas, who had been Commander of the WMFAS until then and whose Headquarters were abolished. The C’ Army Corps was renamed and was thereby known as WMFAS, under the command of the Corps Commander Lieutenant General Georgios Tsolakoglou. The Commander of the A’ Army Corps, Lieutenant General Georgios Kosmas was replaced by Lieutenant General Panaghiotis Demestihas, who had been Commander of the E’ Army Corps until then and whose Headquarters was abolished and his units had come under the command of the WMFAS. The Commander of the B’ Army Corps Lieutenant General Dimitrios Papadopoulos was replaced by the Commander of the III Division, Major General Georgios Bakos.
Offensive Operations towards Sendeli and Tepeleni
(March 7 – 8, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 17)
- Since February 26, the B’ Army Corps had defined that the mission of the XVII Division would be the completion of the seizure of Medzgorani area and the seizure of the area Damsi-Katsisti on the western borders of mount Sendeli. The operation would take place in two phases. During the first phase, the rocky ridgeline to the west of Medzgorani village would be taken along with heights 1232-Besisti, while in the second phase the area Katsisti-Damsi would be seized.
A proposal of the Commander of the XVII Division to free, by preliminary action, the carriage road Klissoura-Dragoti was accepted by the Army Corps, in spite of its own reservations regarding the outcome, because of the action of the Italian tanks along that road.
The terrain was rough, precipitous and with deep ravines, presenting enormous difficulties. The only approach to the Sendeli mountain was possible through the saddle of Medzgorani, which connects the Trebessina mountain to the Sendeli mountain. Despite these difficulties, in the night of March 2 to 3, the Division acted with a battalion group, reinforced with an Engineers company, from the north towards the village of Medzgorani, in order to create footholds and a base of attack. The Group managed, by raiding action, to infiltrate deep into the defile, establish its forces on the height 730 and cut off the carriage road, by digging a ditch 7 meters wide and 2.80 meters deep. Thus, it managed to cut off and then capture the entire company, the tanks, the anti-tank and the anti-aircraft guns that covered the defile, extending the control of the Division by nine kilometres west of Senegol.
After the success of this probing attack, the Division launched its attack, on March 7, in the direction of Medzgorani-Sendeli. Despite the adverse weather conditions and the snow depth which in many places had risen to one meter, by 1400 hrs, benefiting from the fog and the excellent co-ordination of the artillery fire, the Division managed to pass through the village of Medzgorani, seize the rocky foot to the west of the village and to halt the retreat of the Italians. During the same period, the stone bridge on the carriage road was taken and destroyed in order to block off the movement of the enemy tanks eastwards.
Thus, as the area north of the village of Medzgorani was being tightly constricted, by 1700 hrs, the enemy resistance gave in and the enemy forces began to surrender in large groups. By dusk, the village of Medzgorani with the entire area around it had been seized. More than 1,000 prisoners were taken (including 20 officers) along with their armament, and 4 field guns, 3 anti-tank guns and many automatic weapons and mortars were captured along with depots filled with war supplies and food.
During the night of March 7 to 8, the advance westwards continued and the height 1437 on the eastern slopes of Sendeli was seized.
On the following day, March 8, the effort to occupy the ridgeline of Sendeli continued, but the adverse weather conditions, the precipitous terrain and the drastic fire of the defending troops, which were continuously reinforced, did not permit an advance beyond the eastern ridges of the Sendeli ridgeline, whereon the line of defence was finally consolidated.
- During the same period, in the zone of the A’ Army Corps, the II Division, in co-ordination with the XVII Division operations towards Medzgorani-Sendeli, launched an attack against the area of Goliko (between Drinos and Aoos, east of Tepeleni), at 0615hrs, on March 7 and, in the area of Bouzae Sefer Agait (west of Drinos), it adopted a defensive attitude , in order to cover its left flank as well as the right flank of the VIII Division. The attacking troops managed to repulse the enemy by close combat west of the Goliko height and to seize the height 1615, taking about 200 prisoners. An effort towards the height 556, in order to envelop Lekli village and place Louzati bridge of river Drinos under control, failed, because in the meantime, the enemy had created a strong wall of forces and equipment, east and south of Tepeleni.
A parallel action towards the height 739, to place the Dragoti bridge of Aoos river under control, recorded no progress. It was finally seized on the following day, March 8, after a fierce close combat, during which 300 Italians were taken prisoners, including the commander of the defending battalion and his staff. Further advance was halted, due to the enemy resistance.
In the other sectors of the front, during the same period, no noteworthy events took place, except for the usual artillery and patrol activity and the action of the enemy’s airforce. The units dealt with the organisation of the terrain, the improvement of the road network, their regrouping and the resupply. Meanwhile, administrative movements of units took place, in order to make relieves on the front-line or return to their parent formations.
The Great “Primavera” (Spring) Attack of the Italians
( March 9-15, 1941 )
( Sketch-map no. 18 and 19 )
- So far, the feverish preparations of the Italians in order to inflict a decisive blow against the Greeks have been referred. The Italian Army in Albania, after a three month desperate resistance, had been considerably reinforced in personnel and means and was already in a position to launch a general attack. An impressive victory was expedient, in order to save its prestige, before the Germans launched their own attack against Greece.
However, contrary to the hopes and aspirations of the Italian Leadership and of Mussolini himself for an impressive victory, the plan that had been worked out by Cavallero had limited goals, since its final objective was Ioannina. The entire operation was assigned to the Eleventh Army, under the command of General Gelozzo, while the Ninth Army, that was deployed further to the north, was not even notified that the Italian Army would be engaged in its greatest effort since the beginning of the war.
According to the plan of Cavallero, the Italian attack would be launched on March 9 and along a limited front between the rivers Aoos and Apsos, in the general direction Glava-Boubessi, so as to create a gap and break through the valley of Desnitsa river. The main effort, along a front of six kilometres, was assigned to the VIII Army Corps, under the command of General Gabara, with the ‘Cagliari’, ‘Puglie’, ‘Pinerolo’ and ‘Bari’ Divisions as well as two Blackshirt Battalions. The VIII Army Corps would operate between the ‘Sforzeska’ Division of the XXV Army Corps on the right (south) and the ‘Alpine Hunters’ Division of the IV Army Corps on the left (north).
More specifically, the plan provided for an attack in three directions. The main effort would be directed to the sector of the Greek I Division. The first objective would be the line Podgorani-Souka, and the second the line Klissoura-Fratari-Mali Kressova. Thereafter an advance towards Leskoviki-Ioannina would be anticipated. The final result would be pursued by frontal attack in conjuction with local enveloping actions, immediately after the creation of the gap.
From the abovementioned and also from other evidence, it turns out that the Italians were planning to advance, after breaking through the front in the sector of the I Division, between Trebessina and Boubessi, towards the road junction of Klissoura. Thus, having cut off the V and XVII Greek Divisions in Trebessina and Sendeli and having repulsed the XV and XI Divisions towards Garonin, they would break through the valley of Desnitsa. Afterwards, they would advance through the valley of Aoos, towards Premeti-Leskoviki-Merdzani and the area of Erseka, in order to separate the north front from the south front and would then proceed in the direction of Ioannina.
- The B’ Army corps, in the zone of which the final attack would be launched, had the XVII, V, I, XV and XI Divisions at its disposal, from Aoos to Apsos. Behind the front-line on a second echelon, as reserves of the EFAS, there were three regiments, one from each of the XV, XVII front-line Divisions and one from the VI Division, which was in the area north of Klissoura. Furthermore, in the area of Liebhova village (SE of Argyrokastro), the IV Division was ready for a possible move within the zone of the B’ Army Corps.
Against the forces of the B’ Army Corps, the Italians were provided with a first echelon which comprised, from north to south, the 22nd ‘Alpine Hunters’ Division, the 59th ‘Cagliari’ Division, the 38th ‘Puglie’ Division, the 152 and 155 Blackshirt Battalions (on the saddle Sisiput and astride the carriageable road), the 24th ‘Pinerolo’ Division and the 2nd ‘Sforzeska’ Division. On a second echelon they had the 47th ‘Bari’ Division and, later on, the 5lst ‘Sienna’ Division and the 7th ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ Division. Lastly, their reserves in the area of Tepeleni were the 29th ‘Piedmonte’ Division and the 131st ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division. Apart from the abovementioned forces, between Apsos and Aoos they had various Bersaglieri regiments as well as Alpine and Blackshirts battalions at their disposal, the total strength of which amounted to about fifteen Infantry battalions and two Machine-gun battalions.
- The Greek forces, however, did not lack in preparation for the confrontation of an impending Italian attack. The preparations of the Italians had attracted their attention, as previously mentioned, as of the first ten-day period of February and, on February 9, the B’ Army Corps, in accordance with the General Headquarters instructions, while still continuing its local offensive operations, had issued an order of defensive organisation. Thus, time was given to the necessary preparation for the confrontation of the Italian attack. This period was decisive in order to complete the defence and to create the high morale of the troops, who had got used to the idea of the impending enemy assault and its repulsion.
During the last few days before the outbreak of the attack, the Italian airforce escalated its activity with bombardments along the front-line and the rear area. On March 8 in particular, it bombed reserves, concentrations, artillery positions, command stations and observation posts.
- The expected great Italian attack was launched at 0630 hrs, on March 9, with artillery preparation that lasted on for two and a half hours along the entire front of the B’ Army Corps. In the sector of the I Division, along a six kilometre zone, the density of fire corresponded to that of 300 guns, -which fired about 100,000 shells- not to include the shells of the 60 mortars of 8lmm calibre of each Italian division engaged in the attack. The heights 717 (Bregou Rapit) and 731 were dug up and everything was destroyed. The telephone communications were cut off and the smoke, dust and flames did not allow the fuction of visual signals’ equipment. The Italian Airforce also supported the attack, by bombing the area.
The attack was launched along the entire front of the I Division, from height 1308 on the northern slopes of Trebessina mountain and as far as the village of Boubessi, where the enemy also directed its main effort in order to create a gap. The enemy attacked with similar intensity against the height 731 as well, but the defenders of the height decimated the attackers by close combat and forced them to fall back. A new effort of the Italians, with another unit, managed to seize the height 717 (500m west of 731), an advanced outpost which was outside the defensive area. The height was soon recaptured by counter-attack. At approximately 1200 hrs, the Italians launched a new attack against the heights 1060, Kiafe Louzit, 731 and 717, only managing to recapture height 717 that was off the defensive disposition.
At 1400 hrs and 1650 hrs, two new attacks against the heights Kiafe Louzit-731 and Bregou Rapit failed as well, with the enemy suffering considerable losses. Thus, during the first day, the enemy attack against the sector of the I Division, where the main effort was directed, was a flat failure, despite the successive attempts and the overwhelming support of the abundant means of fire and the 190 aircraft, of which 70 were bombers. The Italian losses were extremely heavy.
- The B’ Army Corps, after ascertaining during the course of the battle that the enemy was directing its main effort in the zone of the I Division, proceeded to reinforce the division with a new regiment from the VI Division and with two additional battalions from its own reserves.
In the zone of the XV Division that was engaged in defence further to the north of the I Division, the enemy met with a similar fate and its successive attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties. At the right flank of the Army Corps that was occupied by the XI Division, the enemy sought to gain possession of the Bregou Lioulei and the Mali Spandarit heights with fierce attacks that were, however, repulsed by the defending troops. The same fate befell the attack in the zone of the V Division, which was engaged in defence further to the south of the I Division in Trebessina.
The XVII Division -which, as mentioned, was conducting offensive operations since March 7, to the north of Aoos river as far as the saddle of Medzgorani- also succeeded in confronting the Italian attack within its zone that was directed with greater intensity against the height 1437 and the saddle of Medzgorani.
In the sector of the II Division, south of Aoos, the Italian activity was confined to severe shelling with artillery and mortars. Thus, the first day of the great ‘Spring’ attack of the Italians ended with entirely insignificant territorial gains on their part, despite their enormous effort and to the great disappointment of Mussolini, who had been watching its development during the whole day from his observatory on the Komarit height (Glava). The B’ Army Corps kept the main defensive area intact, and its troops that had suffered the attack fought back with exceptional courage and high morale.
- By 0645 hrs in the following morning, March l0, the Italians renewed their offensive effort by attacking the area of the I Division with the sustained fire of the artillery and infantry, the intensity of which were similar to the shelling of Verden during the First World War. Everything was dug up again, but the heroic fighters remained unshaken. Successive attacks ensued against the heights 73l, Bregou Rapit and Trebessina, that lasted the entire day, failing, however, to produce any result and causing heavy casualties on the Italian side. The fight was hard and, in many cases, the Greek troops were forced to confront the enemy by force of bayonet.
A Regiment of the ‘Puglie’ Division moving as of 1115hrs along the carriage road, which attempted to envelop the height 731 from the south, was hit by the sustained fire of all Arms from the occupied heights Trebessina-Kiafe Louzit and 73l, and was thus overthrown and forced to disband. Another enveloping action of the Italians through the ravine of Proi Math was similarly halted before the height 731.
The B’ Army Corps, acknowledging the outstanding action of the I Division during the two-day fight, issued the following order on March 10.
Before your indefatigable heroism since yesterday all desperate enemy attempts have been shattered. Before your lines of steel, three new Divisions were crushed during the two day period. I am proud of being in command of such heroes. The Fatherland is also proud of you. This order should be communicated down to the last soldier of the Division.
Major General G. Bakos ‘
‘ Fighters of the I Division
As of 0700hrs, in the sector of the XV Division, the heavy shelling of the artillery and mortars that was mainly directed against the Boubessi (height 710) and the height 869 centre of resistance, was followed by successive attacks which were repulsed with serious losses on the enemy’s side.
In the sector of the XI Division, the sustained fire of the artillery and mortars lasted from 0650 hrs to 0800 hrs with particular intensity against the height Mali Spandarit, against which a powerful Italian attack was launched at 0930 hrs. The close combat that ensued, under thick fog and pouring rain, ended in a Greek victory. Enemy troops that had managed to infiltrate through to the south of Mali Spandarit, hidden in the fog, were destroyed by the counter-attacks of a battalion that advanced in time to regain control of the area.
The XVII Division, according to a previous plan, launched an attack to seize the height 1623 of Trebessina west of the height 1437, but the extremely adverse conditions and the barrage of fire forced it to halt its attack.
In the sectors of the II and V Divisions, the enemy attacked with its artillery and mortars, pounding mainly against the height of Punta Nord.
- The third day of the offensive effort to break through the area commenced at 0430hrs, with the same momentum as on the previous days and with the main effort once again directed against the height 73l. The defenders were on the alert and counter-acted with a barrage of fire and an immediate counter-attack, thus causing the attackers against both the height 731 and the Bregou Rapit to break up.
The enemy, together with the frontal attack, proceeded in the direction of Hani Vinokazit, continuing the enveloping action that had been launched through the ravine of Proi Math and which had been halted temporarily. Despite the thick fog that prevailed, the anti-tank artillery troops positioned in the ravine were able to perceive the Italian infiltration in time and directed their sustained fire against it from the sides and the rear. Pandemonium followed. The Italians frantically rushed to their safety, but as they were fired against from all directions, they were eventually decimated. The fire finally ceased at noon, when the Italians raised white kerchiefs all along the Proi Math ravine and surrendered unarmed with their hands in the air. The mop up of the ravine delivered 521 prisoners, including three senior officers. There were 250 dead counted and all kind of war supplies were seized.
Meanwhile, there was an escalation of the bombings of the Greek positions in Trebessina-Kiafe Louzit and 731, against which the enemy launched a new powerful attack. The fight continued with obstinacy on the entire front of the I Division until 1300hrs, whereupon the attack was finally confronted with terrible losses for the enemy. A new attack following strong bombarding against the height Bregou Rapit faced a similar fate.
In the sector of the XV Division, after heavy shelling by the artillery, the Italians launched two attacks (at 0800 hrs and at 1600 hrs), which were repulsed with heavy losses.
In the sector of the XVII Division, after an equally heavy shelling, the enemy attacked the heights Medzgorani and 1437, but here too, its forces were repulsed with great losses. Two new successive attacks at 1700 hrs and at 1930 hrs were once again repulsed.
In the sectors of the V and XI Divisions, the pounding of the area with sustained artillery and mortar fire was continued, while small-scale enemy attacks were successfully repulsed.
In the sector of the II Division too, the activity of the enemy artillery did not display the intensity of the two previous days.
Thus, the third day of the attack ended, without the Italians being able to ‘set foot’ on the main defensive area of the B’ Army Corps. The losses of the Italian ‘Puglie’ Division that was fighting against the I Division and those of the Blackshirts battalions were enormous, forcing the Italian command to advance the reserve ‘Bari’ Division to the above area on March 11 and on the night of 11 to 12.
- At 0045 hrs on March 12, a new Italian attack was launched in the sector of the I Division, against the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit, with the support of artillery. The attach also spread on the height Kiafe Louzit was extremely vigorous and was conducted by intact units of the newly-committed to action ‘Bari’ Division. The enemy had velied on the surprise, but the Greek troops, that had stepped up the alert, confronted the attackers with a dense barrage of fire and repulsed them by close combat.
At 0530 hrs, the attack was repeated without any preparation -it was the eleventh in a row- in the sector from the height 1060 of Trebessina to the height Bregou Rapit. The counter-action of the defending Greek troops was immediate and decisive, forcing the Italians that were engaged in the attack against the heights 1060 and Kiafe Louzit to be held in position by the barrage of defence fire. Meanwhile, on the height 73l, the fight continued until 0645 hrs, whereupon the attackers were finally repulsed by hand-grenades and bayonet.
At 0930 hrs enemy troops attempted to infiltrate through to Kiafe Louzit, but were hit by the heavy fire of the artillery and fell back. As of 1100 hrs, the enemy activity was confined to artillery shelling throughout the entire area of the I Division front.
In the sector of the XV Division, the Italians conducted two attacks against Boubessi, which were repulsed.
In the sectors of the II, V, and XI Divisions, the artillery fire continued during the entire 24-hour period.
In the sector of the XVII Division, a raid towards the south-west of Medzgorani, conducted by two squads headed by a First Lieutenant, resulted in capturing 12 Italian officers and 223 soldiers at their base of attack. The glorious success of this small detachment came as a surprise even to the Italian prisoners, as soon as they realised its actual strength.
The fourth day ended, like the previous one, with a flat failure of the Italians. This situation greatly alarmed Mussolini, who had been watching the development of the attack from the day of its commencement. On the morning of March l2, the fourth day of the Italian attack, Mussolini received a report of General Gelozzo, Commander of the II Army, by which he claimed that the whole operation was to be regarded as a failure. After this, on the evening of the same day, Mussolini convoked a meeting of all the Large Unit commanders, in order to assess the situation, as it had developed and which was turning into a flat failure for the attackers.
During the meeting, Mussolini stressed the need to continue the offensive with all available forces, in order to achieve the objectives before the Germans launched their own attack against Greece in the beginning of April, as was expected, and concluded as follows:
‘I have always done my utmost to keep the name and prestige of the Italian Army high but it is now expedient to alter the situation. I have told his Excellency Guzzoni to send all existing supplies in Italy here, because the Italian Army is here, the war is here, and it is here that we must win’.
On the basis of this decision of his to provide all the means of support required for the success of the offence, at 2115 hrs, he summoned General Priccolo, Chief of the Airforce General Staff and ordered him to place the entire Airforce at the disposal of the offensive operations.
- On the following day, by noon, the front of the I Division displayed the usual shelling action of the artillery and mortars. As of 1330 hrs, a vigorous bombardment started throughout the entire front of the Division, covering the entire depth of its zone.
At 1530 hrs an extremely powerful attack was launched against the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit, while simultaneously, 31 fighter aircraft, which escorted 20-25 bombers, which were bombing in groups of 5, were continuously flying over the Division sector and bombing the artillery and reserve positions, while incessantly strafing the front-line troops.
The fight was conducted with unprecedented obstinacy. Wherever the attackers managed to approach the trenches, their brave defenders would spring from them with fixed bayonets and would overrun them by a hand to hand fight. The fight lasted until the evening, whereupon the attackers were finally overrun. The losses were great on both sides. At 1800 hrs, the Italians launched a new attack without artillery preparation against the height 73l, the thirteenth in a row, which was also repulsed.
In the sectors of the V, XI, XV and XVII Divisions, there was only artillery action taking place, with particular intensity against the Centre of resistance of height 710 (Boubessi) and south, as far as Kiafe Louzit. The Italian Airforce, with 200 sorties in consecutive waves, bombarded the entire zone of the B’ Army Corps and, in particular, heights 1308, Kiafe Louzit and Mali Spandarit.
Thus the fifth day of continuous fighting ended, with a complete failure for the Italians, in spite of the exhortations, admonitions and agonised pleas of Mussolini, the massive use of the Airforce and the terrible barrage of their Artillery. The brave defenders of the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit retained their positions unshaken and overran the successive attacks against them.
- The night of March 13 to 14 displayed the usual artillery and mortar activity. Within the sector of the I Division, the Italians, as of 0030 hrs, began to advance small sections to the Proi Veles ravine, north of Bregou Rapit, which were, nevertheless, perceived at dawn and were thereafter held in position. A Greek counter-attack was launched and the Italian troops were forced to retreat in disarray, abandoning, apart from the war supplies, about 25 prisoners as well.
In the morning, heavy shelling by the artillery recommenced against the right flank of the Division without interruption until 1000 hrs, whereupon the Italians once again launched an extremely vigorous counter-attack against the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit with a regiment of the ‘Bari’ Division and a regiment of the ‘Cagliari’ Division respectively. The fight lasted until 1230 hrs and the attackers were repulsed with extremely grave losses. The shelling of the artillery and the bombing of the airforce against the front of the Division continued and at 1500 hrs a new attack, the fifteenth, was launched against the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit.
The fight was relentless with alternating phases until 1700 hrs. During this period, the Italians succeeded in ‘setting foot’ on the west of the height 717 and for the first time on the front-lines of the height 73l, but only for a very short while. With a strong counter-attack, their heroic defenders overran the attackers, who abandoned on site a considerable number of automatic weapons, mortars and prisoners.
An attempt of the enemy to concentrate its forces in the Proi Veles ravine and to reorganise them for a new attack against the height 717, was impeded by the fire of the artillery.
At 1800 hrs, the Italians launched a new surprise attack against the height 73l, the sixteenth in a row, with no artillery preparation, yet with a vigorous bombardment of the remainder of the Division zone. The attack was repulsed at 1930 hrs. The same fate befell the attack that was launched against the height 1060, on the left flank of the Division.
The fight was marked by such violence from the very first day of the attack, that the forest covering the heights 731 and 717 (Bregou Rapit) disappeared as if full-scale timberfelling had been conducted beforehand.
In the sectors of the XI, XV and XVII Divisions , only limited artillery action was recorded.
In the sector of the V Division, two attacks were launched against the height Punta Nord, at 0700 hrs and at 1200 hrs, and were repulsed. During the sixth day of the attack the Italians also failed completely.
The successive attacks and the continuous bombings of the Italian Airforce, that came in waves and which had exceeded 300 sorties during that day, could not shake the heroic fighters of the I Division.
- On the following day, until 1300 hrs, calmness prevailed, though a little later, the enemy artillery again began to fire effectively against the heights 731 and Bregou Rapit and, from time to time, against the heights Kiafe Louzit and Maziani.
The shelling continued until 1830 hrs and at 2000 hrs the Italians launched a surprise attack against the height 73l, without any artillery preparation. With the commencement of the attack, however, the artillery support was immediate and almost covered the entire front of the Division simultaneously. The fight was stubborn, but, in the end, the attack was repulsed at approximately 2100 hrs, by hand-grenades and direct counter-attacks. The losses were considerable on both sides.
In the sectors of the II, V, XI, XV and XVII Divisions, only artillery action was recorded, without any offensive moves.
The seventh day of the Italian attack March 15, was decisive, since its final flat failure, convinced the Italian Leadership that the ‘Spring Attack’, on which it had placed so many hopes and which had been prepared in every detail, supported by numerous troops, was an unmitigated disaster.
On the previous day, March l4, in a discussion between Mussolini and Marshal Cavallero, the latter had supported that if the attack of the next day was to fail, the action would have to be suspended and strength would have to be saved so as to resume action at a later date.
Thus, after the failure of the attack on March l5, the Italian Leadership decided the gradual suspension of operations, awaiting more advantageous conditions, yet with the fixed perspective of Mussolini, to secure even a small success before the German attack against Greece.
- The Greek Commander in chief, in appreciation of the glorious feat of the B’ Army Corps units and, above all, the self-sacrifice and heroism of the men of the I Division, that had taken on the weight of the Italian attack and had repulsed it successfully, communicated his following Order of the Day, on the night of March 15 :
‘The seven-day effort that the enemy is making against you, has not shaken you, it has given you a new occasion to prove yet once again your glorious virtues and above all your faith as to the righteousness of your struggle.
The struggle of over four months which you are victoriously conducting has covered you with laurels of unsurpassable glory. The effort of the enemy is crushed, your will remains unbowed and your conviction as to the victory undiminished.
Our Entire Army that You of the Central Front so gloriously represent and to the history of which you have added new glorious pages, is watching you and admiring you. I address the warmest of congratulations.
Long Live the Greek Army
Commander in chief ’
Gradual Slackening off and Suspension of the Italian Offensive
( March 16-26, 1941 )
( Sketch-map no. 19 )
- From the morning of March 16 and until March l8, the front of the B’ Army Corps presented the usual picture before the attack, i.e. the exchange of artillery fire, patrol activity and limited action of the Italian Airforce.
The Greek Command, estimating that the Italians had exhausted the possibilities of repeating their offensive actions on a large scale, decided to redeploy the forces in the Central Sector, in order to relieve those units which had been sorely tried. Thus, on March l6, the EFAS, by approval of the General Headquarters, ordered the following redistribution of the divisions within the sector of the B’ Army Corps: On the first echelon, Divisions IV, V, VI and XVII, were placed, the VI between the rivers Apsos and Desnitsa, the XVII between Desnitsa and the eastern slopes of Trebessina, the V from the village of Artza di Mezzo and as far as Punta Nord-saddle of Medzgorani and the IV (moving from the area of Argyrokastro) astride Aoos, from the saddle of Medzgorani to Goliko.
On the second echelon, the I and XV Divisions east of Klissoura would remain as reserves of the EFAS, and the XI Division in the area Roden-Psari as a reserve of the General Headquarters. The replacement of the I Division by the XVII Division would take place by March 23, while the re-arrangements of the other divisions would have to be completed by the end of March.
- After a three day respite, on March l9, the Italians launched a new attack, the eighteenth in succession, against the height 73l, that stood like an impregnable rock, on which all raging attacks of the enemy were shattered.
The attack was launched at 0630 hrs, after intense shelling of the 731-Kiafe Louzit heights and Trebessina, by elite troops of the ‘Sienna’ Division, that had been specially trained for this operation and were supported by light combat tanks. The infantry troops, taking advantage of the sustained shelling, managed to approach the southern shoulders of the height 73l. However, there they were encircled by the counter-attacking Greek troops and after being depleted, they were pushed back at approximately 0740 hrs, abandoning more than 100 killed in action. As for the tanks, two of them fell into the Proi Math ravine, one was destroyed before height 731 and the others retreated to their base of departure.
The repulsion of the attack was followed by an extremely heavy shelling by the Italian artillery, due to which most of the field defences at 731 height were swept away. In the remaining sectors of the B’ Army Corps, no noteworthy activity was recorded.
- In the area of the XVII Division, at 2200 hrs, on March 20, the Italians launched a powerful attack from Aoos to the height 1437, west of Medzgorani. Even though the attack was supported by a volume of artillery and mortars, it was repulsed at approximately 2400 hrs. As of the evening of March 2l, the XVII Division troops at Sendeli began to be replaced by troops from the IV Division. The XVII Division, concentrated in the area Panariti, Riba, Goritsa. There, it attended to the re-organisation and repose of its units until the evening of March 24, whereupon it commenced, with delay, the gradual replacement of the I Division troops and parts of the XV Division, terminating its task on April 2. The delay in the commencement of this replacement was due to the abovementioned Italian attack against the XVII Division.
In the sector of the V Division there was no important activity recorded from March 20 to 28.
In the sector of the I Division, March 21 went by without any noteworthy events. At 0930 hrs on March 22, a group of Italian messengers, comprising three army priests and a number of litter bearers, appeared before the Greek lines on the height 73l. Representing the Italian Command, they proposed a cease-fire of 4 to 6 hours, to bury the dead. The Greek Command, after a communication between the I Division and the B’ Army Corps, accepted the Italian proposal. In parallel, it set terms of which the most basic one was that, the cease-fire had been requested by the Italians, and that, the burial of the dead from the height 717 and further east as far as the Proi Math ravine southwards, would be conducted by Greek troops in the presence of unarmed Italians from their medical corps.
The proposals of the Greeks were not accepted by the Italians and the fight re-commenced. Nevertheless, the representative of the Greek Command, Commander of the 1/67 battalion of the XVII Division, had the opportunity to traverse the terrain in front of the Greek lines and ascertain the terrible massacre suffered by the Italians in their attacks against the height 73l. The same officer, in a report with regard to the situation, related that, even though he had witnessed pictures of massacre in the battlefields of Macedonia and Asia Minor, the macabre and horrifying spectacle that he was faced with, in the area between the heights 731 and 717, went beyond all bounds of his imagination. The entire visible zone (approximately 150 meters wide) of the ridgeline between the two heights was covered with corpses strewn in heaps, amongst which mutilated members of the slaughtered fighters protruded. The macabre picture was heightened by the view of the deadly embrace of adversaries, many of which were Greek. A similar sight was also bound to be encountered on the slopes towards the Proi Math and Proi Veles ravines.
The terrible losses suffered by the Italians before the height 73l, justify their decision to build the monument to honor their men who fell fighting in Albania, on that height, which they named ‘the Sacred Ground’.
- On the night of March 22 to 23, the Italians shelled the zone of the I Division with intensity, in retaliation for the Greek refusal to accept the cease-fire to bury their dead on their own terms. The shelling continued during the entire day and was particularly heavy against the height 731. At 0020 hrs on March 24, they launched another surprise attack against the height 73l, where they we repulsed once again at 0120 hrs by its brave defenders. The attack was repeated at 0330 hrs, but it was also repulsed with heavy losses for the attacking side.
March 25 and 26 went by with limited activity and the Division troops dealt with the terrain organisation and strove to increase the strength of their position.
In the sector of the XV Division, no noteworthy events took place from March 20 to 26, except for artillery and patrol activity, terrain organisation and the preparation for the relief that would occur at the end of the month.
In the sector of the XI Division, there were no noteworthy actions during the same period. From the evening of March 26, its relief by the VI Division commenced. The XI Division was to complete its concentration in the area Roden-Bali-Psari, by the night of April 3 to 4, as a reserve of the General Headquarters, leaving one detachment ( Colonel Yiannakopoulos) north of Apsos under the command of the WMFAS.
- The casualties of the Greek units that had participated in the fight to repulse the Italian ‘Spring’ attack, were 47 officers and 1,196 soldiers killed in action, l44 officers and 3,872 soldiers wounded and 42 soldiers missing in action. The I Division, which had taken on the principal load of the Italian attack, suffered the heaviest casualties.
The casualties of the Italians during the same period, according to the records of official Italian sources, exceeded 11,800 killed in action and wounded. Furthermore, the number of the Italian prisoners, from January 7 to the end of March 1941, were 189 officers and 7,645 soldiers.
- The Italian ‘Spring’ attack did not have any serious effect on the other sectors of the front, nor did it negatively affect the morale of the forces. In fact, in reply to a relevant sounding by the General Headquarters with regard to the assumption of diversionary offensive operations in the sector of Kamia-Pogradetz, the WMFAS reported that it was ready and fully convinced of the success of its actions. In the end, the General Headquarters did not undertake to implement the abovementioned action, in order to economise mainly on artillery ammunitions.
Thus, its activity in both the Southern and Northern Sectors was limited to artillery and patrol action. Attacks were launched only against troops of the II Division in the Southern Sector and troops of the XVI in the Northern sector, that were adjoining the area of the B’ Army Corps. However, all these attacks were repulsed successfully and with great losses for the Italians.
The Inglorious End of the Italian Attack
- All the above is a detailed account of the development of the Italian ‘Spring’ attack, which constituted the most serious effort of the Italians since the beginning of the war. The momentum of the attackers began to gradually slacken off since March l4. One last effort made by the Italians in order to seize the fought-for 731 height, with the use of tanks, was an unmitigated disaster and convinced Mussolini of the inability of the Italian army to resolve the situation, despite the great sacrifices and the heroic attitude of its troops.
In the morning of March 21, Mussoli humiliated and disheartened, departed from the airport of Tirana to Rome.
In his report submitted to King Umberto, an attitude of resentment approaching hostility towards the military leadership is prevalent, as underlined by General Cavallero and confirmed by the Chief of the Airforce General Staff and trusted colleague of Mussolini, General Priccolo, to whom he stated on the eve of his departure for Rome: ‘I have summoned you, for I have decided to return to Rome within the following day. I have been disgusted by this environment. We have not moved one step forward. So far I have been deceived. I have deep contempt for all these people’. He refered to his military leaders.
On his return to Italy, Mussolini was still nourishing a small hope that, the repetition of the attack against the Greeks, prepared for the end of March, would give him at least a small success in order to be able to face his German allies without shame. He was once again disillusioned, however, for in the meantime, a coup d’ etat in Berlgrade, overthrew the pro-axis Government of Cvetkovitch which, on March 25, had aligned Yugoslavia with the Tripartite Pact.
The coup d’ etat brought the Government of Simovich into power, which sided with the western allies. Thus, the new situation created in Yugoslavia forced the Italians to take measures in the direction of the Yugoslavian borders on Albania, and to cancel the new attack planned against the Greek front, awaiting the German assault against Greece that would relieve them from the dead-end situation to which they had been led by the heroic resistance of the Greek Army and the national solidarity of the Greeks.
A General Review of the Operations during the 2nd and 3rd Period of the Greek – Italian War ( November 14, 1940 to March 26, 1941 )
- The operations conducted from November 14, 1940 until March 26, 1941, constitute the second and third periods of the Greek-Italian war.
During the second period, from November 14, 1940 to January 6, 1941, the Greek Army, after having contained the advance of the intruders, assumed a general counter-attack, in order to restore in full the integrity of the national territory. Confronted with adverse conditions, due to the superiority of the adversary in armament and airforce, the roughness of the terrain, the great difficulties in the re-supply and the severity of the untimely winter, the Army made superhuman efforts, that bore results beyond any expectation.
In the Southern Sector, the A’ Army Corps, after occupying the harbour of Agii Saranda on December 6 and the town of Argyrokastro on December 8, continued its offensive operations and by January 6 had taken the line Himara-Vranitsa-Boliena, thus creating favourable conditions for the full-scale breakthrough of the Siousitsa river valley and the continuation of the advance towards Avlonas.
In the Central Sector , the B’ Army Corps, after occupying Premeti on December 5 and securing in full the free use of the carriage road Leskoviki-Koritsa, managed to reach, by the end of December and despite the stubborn resistance of the enemy, approximately 15 kilometres east of the road Klissoura-Hani Balaban and was ready to seize the junction of Klissoura.
In the Northern Sector, the WMFAS (C’ and E’ Army Corps), after occupying the mountain bulk of Morova-Ivan on November 21 and the junction of Koritsa on the following day, advanced west of the junction to a depth of approximately 40 kilometres along the line Ouyianikou-mount Soukagora-Grambova-mount Kamia-Pogradetz, securing the high plateau of Koritsa from the west and north-west.
During the operations of the second period, the Italian Command committed eight new Infantry Divisions to the action, the 2nd Alpine ‘Tridentina’, the 4th Alpine ‘Kouneense’, the 11th ‘Brennero’, the 33rd ‘Aqui’, the 37th ‘Modena’, the 48th ‘Taro’, the 50th Alpine ‘Pousteria’, the 53rd ‘Arezzo’, as well as a large number of various other units, of regiment or battalion strength.
During the same period, the Greek Command committed seven new Infantry Divisions, to the action, namely the II, III, IV, X, XI, XIII, and XVII Divisions.
In total, the Italian forces in the Albanian Theatre of Operations amounted to 15 Infantry Divisions and one Armoured Division, against 11 Infantry Divisions, one Infantry Brigade and one Cavalry Division of the Greek forces. Furthermore, what must be taken into consideration is that the Italian Airforce had total numerical supremacy and that the Greek Army was completely lacking tanks.
Nevertheless, the offensive operations of the Greek forces were crowned with success. The Greek Army, however, lacked in armoured and motorised vehicles, thus there was no possibility to take advantage of the offensive actions, even if there had been opportunities which could have borne important results. This weakness compelled the Greek forces to avoid the zones of the plains and to conduct their moves and manoeuvres from mountainous directions mainly. This resulted in the extension of the columns, added to the fatigue of troops, and pack animals and created difficulties in the re-supply.
On the contrary, by virtue of the means available to the enemy forces, in the zones of the plains, with the use of motor vehicles, the adversary was able to withdraw in haste and establish its troops elsewhere at relative ease. In the mountainous areas, the enemy was able to delay the Greek advance with a relatively small number of forces. Moreover, the Italian units that were newly committed to the action, were quickly transferred to the front with motor vehicles, whereas the Greek ones lacked such means of transportation and arrived at the front after long night marches unable to join the action.
The Greek troops, preserving a high morale and emanating a spirit of self-sacrifice defying the hardships and their disadvantageous position against the adversary, had managed, within, a month and a half not only to chase away the intruder but also to repulse him into the Northern Epirus territory, to a depth ranging from 30 to 80 kms, adding new pages of glory to the age-long Greek History.
- The third period, from January 7 to March 26, 1941, covers the offensive operations of the B’ Army Corps towards Klissoura-Verati, the local Italian attack to recapture Klissoura and the great ‘Spring’ attack of the Italians.
The B’ Army Corps, seeking to take possession of the road junction of Klissoura and to advance its forces in the direction of Verati, seized Klissoura on January l0, after a series of hard struggles, and by January 25, had advanced to the general line of the height 1308 (of Trebessina)-Boubessi- Mali Spandarit. There, it suspended its further operations, on account of adverse weather conditions and difficulties in the re-supply of its troops.
On January 26, after stabilising their positions to a certain degree, the Italians attempted to recapture the road junction of Klissoura, to which they attached great importance. The Italian attack was launched by the ‘Leniano’ Division, which was reinforced with an Alpine battalion along with troops from the semi-armoured ‘Centaurs’ Division and was supported by a strong air force. During its first day, the attack recorded only small local successes.
The B’ Army Corps, realising the danger that a possible loss of Klissoura would entail, hastened to advance strong forces in that direction and to repulse the Italians with relentless fights, that lasted until January 30. Thereafter, the Italians terminated their effort, which had caused them heavy losses in both manpower and supplies.
- However, the most important event of that period of the Greek-Italian war, was the third phase, the great ‘Spring’ attack of the Italian Army. The Italian High Command, after the stabilisation and the actual suspension of the operations due to the extremely severe winter, was seeking to inflict a serious blow against the Greeks, in order to propitiate the Italian people and its German allies and to atone for its failures up to that point.
Mussolini, aware of the fact that the Germans were ready to invade Greece but uninformed as to the actual time of the attack, was agonising over the possibility that his ally would forestall him and that Italy would thus find itself in the extremely humiliating position to owe the Germans its relief from the dead-end situation to which it had been driven by its deplorable failure in the Albanian front.
The expected Italian attack was launched in the morning of March 9. In total and only on a frontage of approximately six kilometres, five divisions and one Blackshirt battalion had been deployed on a first echelon and five divisions operating as reserves.
Mussolini, full of hope, had positioned himself on the Komarit height (Glava) as of that morning, and from there he observed the development of the attack together with the Commander-in-Chief and the Leaders of the attacking forces. The attack continued with undiminished momentum until March l4, yet failed to record any success, due to the indomitable courage and self-sacrifice of the Greek soldiers, who did not surrender not even one inch of their land to the attacking Italians.
By March 15, the Italian effort had begun to lose momentum and it was abandoned completely after the 25th of the same month. Mussolini disappointed, departed from Tirana on March 21, for Italy, planning to repeat the attack at the end of the month. However, the siding of Yugoslavia with the Allies, which had occurred in the meantime, did not permit for this new attempt to be carried out. The German attack against Greece that ensued, finally cancelled the hope of the Italians to present a success of any kind against Greece.
 Sketch-map no. 14
Intentions of the General Headquarters regarding Future Operations
(Sketch-map no. 8)
- During the first period of war and after the containment of the Italian offensive and the favourable outcome of the operations conducted by the Greek Army, the General Headquarters began to examine the question of the line which would have to be occupied and secured before the advent of winter, whereupon serious resupply difficulties were bound to occur. Various solutions were considered to that effect. In the end, the decision taken was to move all Greek forces west of the Pindos mountain bulk and to secure their resupply by using the carriage road of Koritsa-Erseka-Mertzani-Ioannina.
This solution was selected, because it would greatly facilitate the resupply of the forces allocated to the mountainous areas. Moreover, it presented an additional advantage, i.e. the capacity to transport troops from one part of the Theatre of Operations to the other rapidly, as compared to the long stretch of road, used up until then, that travelled through Koritsa-Kastoria-Grevena-Kalambaka-Metsovo-Ioannina-Elea.
- In order to implement the above intensions of the High Command, by November 13, 1940, the Greek forces successfully accomblished the advancement and the strategic concentration so as to take on, as of November 14, large scale offensive operations. The objective of these operations was to repulse the intruder beyond the borders and to occupy the mountain bulk of Morova and the road junction of Koritsa.
The general deployment of the Greek forces in the Albanian Theatre of Operations on November 13, the eve of the Greek counter-attack, was the following :
In the area of Epirus: The A’ Army Corps, with the VIII Division and the Cavalry Division, in contact with the enemy and the II Division, moving towards the zone of operations, via Metsovo.
In the area of Pindos: The B’ Army Corps with the I Division, the V Infantry Brigade and the Cavalry Brigade.
In North-western Macedonia: The C’ Army Corps, with the IX, X and XV Infantry Divisions.
The forces of Pindos and North-western Macedonia were under the command of the Western Macedonia Field Army Section (WMFAS). In addition, the latter had, as reserves, close to the area of the front, the XI Infantry Division, which, as of November l4, had been placed under the command of Major General of the Reserve Nikolaos Tsipouras, and the XIII Infantry Division which, as of November 3, had began to move from Alexandroupolis towards the Albanian Theatre of Operations.
The General Reserves of the Commander in Chief: The III Division which, as of November 7, had been placed under the command of Major General Georgios Bakos and was moving towards the area of Arta-Philippiada, the IV Division and the XVI Infantry Brigade, that were concentrating their forces in the area Trikala-Kalambaka-Koutsoufliani, the XVII Division, that was concentrating its forces in the area of Kozani and the V Division in the area of Thessaloniki.
- The above manoeuvre and the general disposition of the Greek forces in the Albanian Theatre of Operations provided the basis for the final orders of the Commander in chief. The orders were issued to the A’ Army Corps and the WMFAS, on November 12, 1940. They defined the objective of the operations that were to follow, which was to secure the free use of the road artery Koritsa-Erseka-Mertzani or at least to prevent the free passage of the enemy forces. The abovementioned two strategic formations were assigned the following missions:
-The A’ Army Corps was assigned to act in the general direction Ioannina-Tepeleni and to provide wide coverage to the area of Mertzani. If unable to accomplish the above, it was to confine its activity to the task of consolidating the free use of the Hani Bourazani- Konitsa road.
-The WMFAS (B’ and C’ Army Corps), after the occupation of the mountain bulk of Morova and if according to its estimate, the conditions were favourable, then following orders by the General Headquarters to advance further, as deep as possible, in order to block off, the northern and western routes towards the plain of Koritsa, at least as far as lake Maliki. Further to the south, the WMFAS had been assigned to reach the carriage road that led towards Erseka or at least to place that road under its control by power of fire. Further advance of the forces to the west would be ordered once conditions were assessed as favourable.
-The left flank of the B’ Army Corps, would assist the A’ Army Corps from the right, by operating in the direction of Leskoviki.
A’ Army Corps Operations in Epirus
(14 to 23 November 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 9)
- On the evening of November l3, the A’ Army Corps comprised the VIII and II Infantry Divisions as well as the Cavalry Division. As mentioned previously, the VIII Division and the Cavalry Division were in contact with the enemy, while the II Division was moving towards the zone of operations and it was estimated that its units would be able to enter into action within 3 to 4 days.
In order to accomplish its mission, the A’ Army Corps ordered:
-Offensive action by the VIII Division, which would direct the bulk of its forces towards Kakavia and concurrently secure the occupied area. In parallel, the advance of the division’s left flank towards the coastal sector, was also ordered so as to restore the integrity of the national territory.
-Converging action by the Cavalry Division in conjunction with the right flank of the VIII Division towards the road junction of Mertzani, in anticipation that the II Division would take over the action of the VIII Division within a short period of time.
- The VIII Division which, until November l2, had been operating as an independent large unit, was reinforced with the 39th Evzones Regiment of the II Division, and the 40th Evzones Regiment of the III Division and had formed three teams : the Team of Thesprotia, (7 Infantry battalions, 3 Cavalry companies and 4 batteries), under the command of Major General Nikolaos Liubas, the Team of Kalamas, (6 Infantry battalions, l Machine-gun battalion and 3 and 1/2 batteries), under the command of Colonel Dimitrios Yiatzis and the Team of Negrades, (8 Infantry battalions and 10 batteries) under the command of Colonel Georgios Dres.
The Italian forces deployed opposite the Divisional front, were the following:
-Opposite the team of Thesprotia, in the area between the sea and Keramitsa (not included) were the ‘Siena’ Division (except for one regiment and an artillery battalion), the 3rd Grenadieri Regiment, the 6th Cavalry Regiment and 2 Albanian irregulars corps (approximately 600 men).
-Opposite the rest of the Divisional front were the ‘Ferrara’ Division, that was additionally reinforced with the 2nd Bersaglieri Regiment, the ‘Centaurs’ Armoured Division and one regiment from the ‘Siena’ Division.
The VIII Division commenced the assault in the morning of November l4. By the evening of November l6, following a hard three-day fight, it managed, using the teams of Kalamas and Negrades, to seize the line that lay beside the villages of Ano Lavdani -Doliana-Mavrovouni and to take a large number of prisoners. An enemy counter-attack with tanks, in the area of Mavrovouni, was contained by the accurate fire of the Greek artillery.
In the coastal sector there was no significant progress to be recorded. An attempt on the part of the Thesprotia Team to break through the area at the lower flow of Kalamas river failed, mainly due to the severe bombardment by the enemy airforce.
- On November 13, the Cavalry Division that had been reinforced with the 4th Infantry Regiment of the I Division, was in contact with the enemy at Prophitis Elias of Konitsa-Itia-Lithari, which was occupied by the 9th Alpine Regiment and the 139th Regiment of the ‘Bari’ Division. On November 14 and l5, reconnaissance operations of the area were conducted and an exchange of heavy artillery and mortar fire took place with heavy casualties on the Greek side. In the night of November 15 /16, a regiment of the Cavalry Division operated in the direction of Itia, so as to reinforce the effort of the I Division of the B’ Army Corps which was operating on the right flank of the Cavalry Division.
On November l6, reconnaissance operations of the Cavalry Division revealed that the town of Konitsa had been deserted and that most of it had been set on fire. Division sections (3rd Cavalry Regiment and 4th Infantry Regiment) entered the town without delay and advanced westwards for about 3 kilometres. At that point they interrupted their advance, because of the continuous and vigorous bombardment by the enemy artillery and airforce.
- In the meantime, on November l5, the General Headquarters ordered the A’ Army Corps to accelerate the pace of the attack and to secure, as soon as possible, the passage of Kakavia and the junction of Mertzani. On the following day, with another order, the General Headquarters once again stressed that the Corps ought to increase its activitiy and ordered the advance of the III Division from the area of Arta to the south of Ioannina.
Then, as of the night of November 16/l7, the A’ Army Corps placed the 39th Regiment of the Negrades Team under the II Division and it ordered the Division to begin operations in the morning of November l7, in order to continue the offensive, that had been commenced by the VIII Division towards the junction of Merdzani. At the same time, it placed the Team of Thesprotia (hereon referred to as the Liuba Detachment) under its command and ordered it to cross the river Kalamas and continue its offensive action, with the bulk of its forces towards Kotsika-Aghii Saranda and, with a group of two battalions and the necessary artillery, in the direction of Menina-Keramitsa-Tsamandas, so as to secure the liaison with the VIII Division.
The VIII Division was to continue its offensive effort, with the Team of Kalamas, in the direction of Kakavia-Bourato and, with the remaining forces of the Negrades Team, in the direction of Doliana-Vissani-Drymades.
On the basis of the above missions, as of November 17, the offensive operations of the A’ Army Corps continued throughout the entire front.
- In the sector of Thesprotia, in the evening of November l8, the Liuba Detachment, with courage and determination, forced the enemy to withdraw to the north of Kalamas river. During their withdrawal, the Italians set fire to the town of Igoumenitsa and killed three notables.
On November l9, Detachment troops constructed an improvised bridge across the river Kalamas in the area of Menina and in the following morning began to move towards the height of Megali Rahi (height 861) which they seized on November 23, in the evening.
At the lower flow of Kalamas (north of Igoumenitsa), there was a delay in the advancement of bridge construction equipment, because of the lack of wheeled vehicles and the adverse weather conditions. Consequently, the bridging of the river Kalamas, in the area, was carried out on the night of November 22 to 23. As of the next day, the Detachment troops resumed their offensive effort in the area north of the river and, by that evening, had managed to occupy the line fixed by the villages of Smerto and Paravryso, forcing the Italians to withdraw to the frontierline.
- In the sector of the VIII Division, on the outbreak of the offensive of the Greek troops in the morning of November l7, the enemy reacted with a severe bombardment of long duration, against the entire area of the Divisional front. The enemy resisted with vigour and thus, the attack of the VIII Division recorded but little success during that day.
On the following day, the offensive was resumed with greater intensity. Despite the resistance of the enemy and incessant and fierce counter-attacks, with infantry troops and tanks, on November 20 after close combat, the VIII Division managed to occupy the town of Vissani and its westerly heights. During the struggle, the Commander of the Delvinaki Battalion, Major Tzanis Alevizatos, was killed on the battlefield, while fighting at the front line.
On November 2l, the height 597 south-west of the Hani Delvinaki defile was seized and many Italians were taken prisoners. Successive Italian counter-attacks to recover the height 597, during that day as well as on the next, were destined to fail with many losses for the Italians.
After these events, the Italians withdrew from the Hani Delvinaki defile on the night of November 21 to 22, moving towards Kakavia so as to occupy and organise a new line near the borders. The VIII Division troops continued their offensive efforts during the next two days and, in the evening of November 23, managed to fully occupy the western exit of Hani Bourazani defile. During this struggle, the Commander of the ‘Ferrara’ Division came close to being captured and was forced to abandon his vehicle and retreat on foot.
- In the evening of November l6, the II Division concentrated its forces in the area of the villages Kipoi-Elati, east of Kalpaki. The Division troops along with the pack animals arrived there from the area of Kalambaka-Volos, after a continuous march under adverse weather and road conditions, all extremely worn out, to such an extent that the pack animals were no longer able to support their loads. Nevertheless, the morale of the troops remained high. Thus, on November l7, only the 39th Regiment of the Negrades Team, that had been placed under the II Division since that date, was operating whereas in the night of November 17 to l8, the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the above Division also entered into the action.
The Division, continuing its offensive, crossed the river Gormos, moved rapidly towards the Northwest and on November l9, after a severe fight, managed to seize the village of Agios Kosmas and the area around it. On the following day, despite the stubborn resistance of the enemy and the bombardment of its airforce, Division troops managed to break through the area and advance towards Aidonochori, forcing the Italians to retreat in disarray, abandoning a multitude of war supplies on site. At the same time, other sections of the Division seized the village of Drymades, without any resistance.
The Division exploited this success at once and by November 23, it had reached the frontier line and deployed its forces there.
- The Cavalry Division also continued its offensive. On November 20, it arrived at the bridge of Bourazani, and discovered that it had been destroyed by the Italians
On the next day, continuing its offensive, it seized the village of Melissopetra and the vicinity after engaging in close combat, and forwarded its troops towards the bridge of Mertzani, in order to cut off the Italian defenders.
In the night of November 21 to 22, Division troops forded the river Sarandaporos (the enemy had already destroyed the Mertzani bridge at Sarandaporos and the Mesogefyra at Aoos river) moved towards the Northwest and on 23 November seized the village Tsarsova and the area of Randachova west of Leskoviki. On the same day, the bridge of Bourazani was restored and thus the motor vehicle communication between Ioannina and Konitsa was restored.
- Following the above successes of the Greek forces, the enemy withdrew about 10 kilometres to the east of Premeti, to a new line of defence that extended from the snow-covered northern slopes of Nemertska mountain, along the western bang of the river Legatitsa to Fraseri, just before it.
Thus, after a fierce ten-day struggle, the A’ Army Corps managed to repulse the invaders beyond the borders and succeeded in restoring the integrity of the national territory, due to the unequalled bravery and sacrifice on the part of its worthy combatants.
The losses were extremely numerous on both sides. On the Greek side, the casualties amounted to more than 600 dead and wounded. Most of them from the VIII Division. On the Italian side, the exact number of casualties, as regards the dead and wounded, is unknown, more than 950 officers and soldiers were taken prisoners.
The B’ Army Corps Operations in the area of Pindos
(14 to 23 November 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 9)
- The B’ Army Corps regarded the assumption of a general offensive by the Greek forces throughout the entire area of the front, as a sequel to its own counter-attack, which had been conducted in the area of Pindos, in order to repulse the Italian forces.
In the evening of November l3, the B’ Army Corps, comprised within its zone of operations, the I Infantry Division, the V Infantry Brigade, the Cavalry Brigade and the IX, X and B’ Reconnaissance Groups. The continuation of the counter-attack was assigned to the I Division which the B’ Army Corps had provided with the V Infantry Brigade, as well as the IX, X and B’ Reconnaissance Groups. The Cavalry Brigade retired from action and concentrated its forces in the area of Doutsiko-Samarina, as a reserve for the Army Corps.
- After their defeat in the valley of the river Aoos, the Italians presented a powerful front, on November l4, at the western ridges of the Peklari-Itia-Tzournsko-Lithari pass, that covered the direction towards Konitsa.
In order to break through the position of the front, the I Division had organised two combat teams which were the following:
-The Southern team, that was under the command of Colonel Panaghiotis Spiliotopoulos and was assigned to cover the right flank of the A’ Army Corps units, which had been instructed to act towards Mertzani. Furthermore, it was assigned to advance its Cavalry troops towards the Bourazani bridge, so as to cut off the carriage road of Ioannina-Konitsa.
-The Northern Team, that was under the command of Colonel Anastasios Kalis, Commander of the V Infantry Brigade, and was assigned to complete and secure the border line, and, furthermore, to block off, with fire, the transverse road Mertzani-Erseka-Koritsa.
- In the morning of November l4, the I Division commenced its attack and occupied the Batra pass on the Greek Albanian borderline and, further to the south, the frontier line as far as the Ptetsio height. In the southern sector, its troops recorded but little success, due to the vigorous resistance of the enemy.
On the following day, November l5, the Division continued its offensive and, after a fierce battle, seized the Tzournsko height in the southern sector as well as the eastern ridges of the Maria height. In the northern sector, it seized the heights Ptetsio-Batra-Rosdol, on the border line, thus placing the carriage road Mertzani-Erseka-Koritsa under the control of the Division’s artillery fire.
In the night of November 15 to l6, the Italians withdrew from the heights of Itia and Lithari and, on the following day, November l6, the Division seized the Kamenik height. There were no other essential changes within its sector.
After the turn of events until November l6, the Commander of the I Division proposed to the B’ Army Corps that the bulk of the Division forces be directed westwards, in order to occupy Leskoviki and provide cover to the right flank of the Cavalry Division. The latter had been operating within the zone of responsibility of the A’ Army Corps, in the direction of Mertzani. Initially, the B’ Army Corps approved the Division. With another order, however, the Corps informed the Division that the enemy appeared to be withdrawing from the entire area of the front and ordered it to advance its troops towards Leskoviki, Randani and Erseka, as soon as possible.
- Meanwhile, incoming intelligence reported that the enemy was reinforcing its troops in the defile of Tsagoni and in the southern passes of Morova, in the area of Kiafe Kiarit, hence, the WMFAS ordered the B’ Army Corps to secure, as of November l8, the area that was under its occupation. Furthermore, to orient all available Corps Forces towards the northern section of its zone of action and to keep them at a state of readiness to move north of Grammos. The blocking off of the road Leskoviki – Koritsa would be secured with fire.
Following the above mentioned, the B’ Army Corps suspended its operations towards Leskoviki and issued an order that the saddles and passes along the border line should only be held with light troops, in order to secure the largest possible number of troops towards the northern section of its zone. Thus, the I Division troops, that occupied Erseka on the evening of November 17 and the villages Kiouteza and Borova in the morning of November l8, also withdrew to the border line. However, on November l9, the General Headquarters decided to assign the B’ Army Corps with the mission of providing wide covering to the area of Leskoviki from the Northwest and instructed the Corps to co-ordinate its operations with those of the C’ Army Corps in the direction of Koritsa. Following that the B’ Army Corps notified the I Division that the reasons for the suspension of operations had ceased to exist and ordered the resumption of the Division westwards.
- The offensive of the I Division commenced in the morning of November 2l. By that evening, the Division had managed to regain control of the line Kiouteza-Borova-Erseka and, on November 22, it recaptured Leskoviki. Thus, the cross carriage road Leskoviki-Erseka-Koritsa was fully controlled by the Greek forces. During the following day the Division troops mainly dealt with the conduct of reconnaissance and the improvement of their positions.
The repulsion of the Italians beyond the borders into the zone of the B’ Army Corps, from Grammos to the junction of the rivers Aoos and Sarandaporos, constituted the epilogue to the battle of Pindos and raised the morale of the struggling Greek troops.
The losses of the enemy were relatively small. The verified casualties on the Greek side amounted to 1 officer killed in action and 3 wounded, and 24 soldiers killed in action and 118 wounded. About 100 Italians were taken prisoners.
- Meanwhile, after the favourable development of the A’ and B’ Army Corps operations, the General Headquarters issued a set of general guidelines on November 20, defining their future assignments. The A’ Army Corps, that had been additionally provided with the III Division, was assigned to occupy the harbour of Agii Saranda and to fully secure the cross road road Kakavia-Agii Saranda. The B’ Army Corps was assigned to fully secure the area of Leskoviki.
The accomplishment of the above objectives and the use of the harbour of Agii Saranda would serve to shorten the resupply route Preveza-Frontiers and would facilitate any further operations within the territory of Northern Epirus.
The Battle of Morova-Ivan and the Occupation of Koritsa by the C’ Army Corps (14-23 November 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 10)
- On the basis of the intentions of the General Headquarters, regarding the assumption of offensive operations for the occupation of the mountain bulk of Morova-Ivan and the junction of Koritsa, the C’ Army Corps conducted a series of offensive operations within its zone of responsibility. These were conducted from November 1 to 6, and aimed at securing a suitable base for further operations.
These offensive operations, conducted by the C’ Army Corps, were completely successful and enabled its units to improve their positions, by advancing their deployment into the northern-Epirus territory, as far as the eastern ridges of the upper valley of Devolis river.
Meanwhile, on November 5, the General Headquarters ordered the WMFAS to apply, together with the C’ Army Corps, as soon as possible, the strongest possible pressure, so as to attain the final objective, the occupation of Koritsa. Subsequently, on November 6, the WMFAS assigned the C’ Army Corps its new mission and pointed out the need to assume operations in haste, in order to complete the occupation of the Pyxos peninsula and Morova mountain. The precise moment whereupon the C’ Army Corps would commence its offensive was to be determined after the WMFAS had received the relevant proposal of the Corps.
- The naturally strong area of Morova-Ivan covered the road junction of Koritsa and, as of 1939, the entire area had been organised, with particular attention paid to the passes of Tsagoni and Darza. The C’ Army Corps, seeking to break through the above area, decided to attack it from the flanks, with the main effort on the left, in the direction of Nestori-Darza-Koritsa. It was seeking thus to avoid any serious involvement in the Tsagoni defile, which, owing to its flat terrain, was suitable for the passage of enemy tanks along the road Koritsa-Tsagoni-Biglista.
The offensive action of the Army Corps had been planned to commence on November 11, with the forces that were already on site, the IX, X and XV Divisions. The idea was, on the one hand, to afford the enemy with no time to reinforce its troops and, on the other, to hold the enemy troops in position within their zone, so as to prevent their employment against the fronts of the A’ and B’ Army Corps in Epirus and Pindos.
The Italian forces that were deployed opposite the C’ Army Corps during that period comprised the 49th ‘Parma’ Division, the l9th ‘Venezzia’ Division and the 29th ‘Piedmonte’ Division.
- The WMFAS did not agree with the proposal submitted by the C’ Army Corps, by which the date for the commencement of operations had been set on 11 November since it considered that the Army Corps did not have sufficient forces. Thus, it submitted its own proposal to the General Headquarters, requesting the suspension of operations and the timely advance of two additional divisions.
Finally, after a series of repeated contacts with the WMFAS and the C’ Army Corps, the General Headquarters fixed November 14 as the date of the attack. Furthermore, it placed the XIII Division, that was concentrating its forces in the area of Andartiko-Vatochori, at the disposal of the WMFAS.
The C’ Army Corps, in accordance with its own manoeuvre and in order to secure the surprise, ordered the attack, without any artillery preparation, in the following directions:
-Nestori-Darza-Koritsa, which was the main effort, with the X Division.
-Vratsa-height 1700 (Sveti Atanas)-Koritsa with the IX Division that was obliged to retain a constant liaison between its left flank and the X Division, so as to assist in the occupation of the height 1259 east of Sinitsa-Propa.
-Pyxos-Ivan-Koritsa, along with the XV Division.
- The attack was launched, as authorised, on November l4, at 0630hrs, in the entire area of the C’ Army Corps front, which extended from the height of Goubel up to the shores of lake Megali Prespa.
In the southern sector, the X Division sallied forth, as authorised, without artillery preparation and was engaged in action during the whole of that day. By that evening, despite the vigorous enemy resistance, the Division succeeded in penetrating to a depth ranging from 1 to 3 kilometres and seized Bataros height as well as the villages Nikolitse and Vozigrad.
The IX Division, in the middle of the offensive deployment, after a fierce struggle due to the stubborn enemy resistance, advanced to a depth ranging from 2 to 5 kilometres and occupied the west bank of Devolis river by the same evening. On the night of November 14 to l5, the Regiment of the X Division, that was assisting the left flank of the IX Division, was placed under the command of the latter.
In the northern sector, the XV Division also attacked without artillery preparation and, despite the fierce enemy resistance, managed to advance to a depth of approximately four kilometres and occupied the line Bitinska village-Tsernik height-height 1285. In many cases the battle was extremely ferocious and was conducted by bayonet and hand grenade. Many casualties were suffered by the XV Division, amounting to 42 dead and 161 wounded.
The results of the first day of action were regarded as satisfactory by the C’ Army Corps, taking into consideration the considerable breadth of the attack front, and the vigorous resistance of the enemy that had been supported by the artillery, mortars and airforce. The WMFAS reported that it had committed its entire strength to the action, and that it was lacking in reserves. Furthermore, it supported the view that in the course of the following day the enemy would be employing motorised vehicles. The WMFAS ordered its forces to continue the attack, by shock action along a narrow front and to support it with all available means of fire.
After the favourable outcome of that first day and upon receiving the WMFAS order, the C’ Army Corps, having no time to alter its plans, ordered the continuation of the attack, starting on the morning of November l5, in order to accomplish the set objectives.
- The X Division launched its attack at daybreak on November l5. Despite the fact that it encountered great resistance, it succeeded in completing the occupation of the Bataros height and in seizing the Stavroeides height (two and a half kilometres west of Nikolitse village), which constituted a strong foothold to the south of the Darza pass.
The IX Division, in the centre, began the attack at 0700 hrs and by that evening, after a difficult struggle, succeeded in its effort to seize the heights 1259 and 1271, despite the vigorous resistance and the counter-attacks of the enemy. Furthermore, 11 officers and 250 soldiers were taken prisoners and an abundance of enemy supplies were seized, including 18 guns, 40 machine-guns, 200 pack animals etc.
In the northern sector, the XV Division continued its offensive effort, in order to improve the occupied positions and it managed to repulse local enemy counterattacks.
On the following day, November l6, the C’ Army Corps had ordered Divisions X and XV, to increase their activity, in order to accomplish their objectives. The IX Division was ordered to act in the direction of Propa height-Darza pass-height 1878 (Nikolitse pass), so as to support the efforts of the X Division.
- The offensive continued and, the X Division completed on the left flank the occupation of Stavroeides height and occupied height 1827 and Arza village, along with its northern heights.
The IX Division managed to occupy the range of Hepets, after a fierce struggle, and advanced its troops towards the heights 1779 and 1700 (Sveti Atanas).
The XV Division, despite its forceful assault, did not succeed in advancing significantly, because of the vigorous resistance of the enemy forces and the dense barrage of fire by their machine-guns, mortars and artillery.
Thus, on November l6, before nightfall, in the sector of the X and IX Divisions, significant heights situated at the principal defensive area of the enemy in the Darza pass had been taken and a serious break was achieved through the enemy’s area.
During the course of that same day, prisoner interrogations revealed that a new Italian division, the 53rd ‘Arezzo’ Infantry Division had entered into action. Thus, the enemy divisions increased in number within the zone of the C’ Army Corps, amounting to four.
- After the above mentioned successes and the break through of the hostile position, the WMFAS, on the evening of November l6, ordered the active and daring advance of its units, that would occur mainly from the left, so as to complete the occupation of mount Morova and it placed the XIII Division at the disposal of the C’ Army Corps.
The C’ Army Corps then, assigned the missions for the next day, as follows:
-The X Division to attack and seize the height 1878.
-The IX Division to conduct its attack in the direction of the Darza-Lotto pass and at the same time, to take action northwards along the ridgeline of mount Morova, in order to threaten the rear area of the enemy and immobilise the enemy forces in that area.
-The XV Division to attack and seize Ivan mountain.
- On the following day, November l7, after a hard fight, the X Division managed to occupy the southern feet of height 1878 and repulsed successive enemy counter-attacks against the heights of Stavroeides and 1827.
The IX Division completed the occupation of the ridgeline of Propa-Sveti Atanas (height 1700), in spite of the repeated counter-attacks of the enemy.
In the north, the XV Division seized villages Motsoritse and Goloberda, after a tough fight, without however managing to advance any further, owing to the natural strong terrain, the existing organised positions and the vigorous resistance of the enemy. There were grave casualties on both sides. The XV Division had 4 officers killed in action and 5 wounded during that day, as well as 79 soldiers killed in action and 280 wounded. The Italian prisoners, that were taken by the Division that same day, were 7 officers and 120 soldiers.
For the operations of the following day, November l8, the C’ Army Corps was reinforced by the WMFAS with an Infantry regiment of the IX Division. The C’ Army Corps assigned later this regiment to the X Division. In parallel, the Corps ordered the XIII Division to attack with an Infantry regiment detachment in the direction of Kapestitsa-Zeblac, between the IX and XV Divisions.
- On November l8, the IX Division assumed action with an Infantry regiment detachment (the Beyetti Detachment) in the direction of Darza, in order to facilitate the offensive efforts of the X Division, and advanced strong forces towards Drenovo village and further to the north. In parallel, it managed to place the road Erseka-Koritsa, as well as the barracks and the base camp of Koritsa under its artillery fire.
During the same day, in the sectors of Divisions X and XV, there was no significant progress to be recorded, due to the vigorous enemy resistance.
At 0200 hrs, during a torrential rainstorm, the XIII Division Detachment concentrated its forces at its jump off base, south of Kapestitsa village. At 0230 hrs, the Division received an Army Corps order that altered the direction in which the Detachment was to attack and dictated that the latter should move towards the Hotsiste height. This decision was taken by the C’ Army Corps, after the intelligence reported an impending retirement of the enemy forces from the line Hotsiste-Tsagoni.
This alteration imposed specific movements, that were conducted during the night under heavy rain, which, weakened the link between the various sections and created a state of disorder and confusion. Only two of the first echelon battalions that belonged to the Detachment were able to gain contact with the enemy. Eventually, however, these were held in position before Hotsiste height and lost all means of contact with the command of both the Detachment and Division. As for the second echelon of the Detachment, in spite of the fact that it was only forced to confront airborne bombing attacks, its troops were overcome with panic and withdrew in a state of total disarray.
Because of this unfortunate event, which, nevertheless, escaped the attention of the enemy, the commander of the XIII Division Detachment was replaced along with the Division commander. The command of the Division was entrusted to Major General Sotirios Moutousis, who had been Artillery Commander of the C’ Army Corps up to that point, while the command of the Detachment was assumed by its Deputy commander, Lieutenant Colonel Georgios Kyvelos. After co-ordinating their efforts, the new commands were quick to restore the order and managed to raise the combat effectiveness of the Division troops to a satisfactory level.
- The prolongation of the operations against the mountain range of Morova-Ivan and the gradual reinforcement of the enemy, forced the WMFAS to successively commit into action the XIII Division between IX and XV Divisions and the XI Division further to the south, between IX and X Divisions.
Meanwhile, since November 11, the General Headquarters had assigned the Commander of the D’ Army Corps, Lieutenant General Georgios Kosmas, to the WMFAS. He was provided with the staff required in order to assume command of the left flank of the C’ Army Crops, where X and XI Divisions were operating. This new command was named Division Group ‘K’ (DivGr‘K’). The C’ Army Corps would be confined to the north of the line Vozigrad-Darza-Bobostitsa (all to the C’ AC), with the IX, XIII, and XV Divisions under its command. The resupply of Division Group ‘K’ would be conducted care of the C’ Army Corps.
At the same time, the General Headquarters decided to organise a mobile reserve force for any case of exploitation. On November l4, as the Cavalry Division had been transferred to Epirus, the GH ordered four Reconnaissance groups to concentrate their forces in Plati and to advance in haste to the area of Florina. These comprised the VI, VII, XII and Division groups, that belonged to the Eastern Macedonia Field Army Section (EMFAS) and, as of November l8, were placed at the disposal of the WMFAS.
Finally, the GH gradually advanced part of its reserve forces towards the northern front of the Albanian Theatre of Operations. Thus, the EMFAS was ordered to provide an entire Infantry regiment for the area of Amyndaeo, while the XVII Division advanced to the area of Nestori-Argos Orestiko. On November 20, the division advanced to the area of Ieropigi-Komninades-Mesopotamia, where it was placed at the disposal of the WMFAS, under the binding condition that its use would be subject to GH approval. The V Division had concentrated its forces in the area of Philotas-Ptolemaida and the XVI Brigade was in the area of Grevena-Kivotos, so that it could be committed to action in the Pindos Sector.
- At 0700 hrs on November l7, Lieutenant General Georgios Kosmas arrived in Kozani, accompanied by a number of staff officers from the Headquarters of the D’ Army Corps and two Signal companies. There, he was briefed by the commander of the WMFAS in regard to the tactical situation and the mission of Division Group ‘K’. Directly afterwards, he advanced to Kastoria, where he assumed the command of Division Group ‘K’ (X-XI Divisions).
The Commander of WMFAS arrived in Kastoria almost simultaneously and issued his own orders to the Commanders of the C’ Army Corps and Division Group ‘K’. Both formations were instructed to continue operations within their respective zones of action, which had been redefined after the formation of Division Group ‘K’. Furthermore, he underlined that after the occupation of Morova, any further advance in the plain of Koritsa was conditional on the issue of a WMFAS order.
Division Group ‘K’ then, ordered the continuation of operations in the general direction Nikolitse-Kamenitsa with the XI Division on the left and the X Division on the right (the main effort), aiming at the occupation of the line Moutke village -1508 height- Sepotista height (1570). Furthermore, in an attempt to keep contact with the enemy, reconnaissance troops were ordered to advance, at least as far as the Erseka-Koritsa road.
Since November l9, Reserve Major General Georgios Dromazos assumed the command of the X Division.
- On November 19 and 20, the Division Group ‘K’ divisions mainly dealt with improving their positions and advancing some of their troops, in order to prepare for the attack that would be launched on the following day. Patrol units, sent by a detachment of the XI Division, advanced to the left flank of the disposition, as far as the road Erseka-Koritsa, without encountering any resistance on the part of the enemy. In the sector of the C’ Army Corps, during the two-day period of November 19 and 20, the IX Division continued its offensive effort under adverse weather conditions and snowfall, in the direction of Darza and the height 1805 (the summit of mount Morova). By evening of November l9, the height 1805 was taken, being indispensable in the effort to complete the occupation of mount Morova. The following day, November 20, because of the adverse weather conditions, the Division did not undertake any important offensive action. However, it succeeded in placing the Bobotista-Darza road under the control of its fire.
The XIII Division seized the Hotsiste height and applied its efforts to the task of reinforcing the antitank protection of the Devolis river valley.
The XV Division improved its occupied positions and kept close contact with the enemy.
- On November 2l, the divisions of Division Group ‘K’ continued their offensive. The XI Division occupied Moutke village and assisted in the occupation of the height 1878. The X Division seized the height 1878 after a hard and stubborn fight. Due to the strong resistance of superior enemy forces, the division failed to occupy the Loto height.
On the same day, the offensive effort of the C’ Army Corps continued mainly in the sector of the IX Division, where the western ridges of the heights 1805 and Hotsiste were seized. After being defeated, the enemy withdrew towards the plain of Koritsa. The left flank of the Division continued the pressing towards the Darza pass.
On November 2l, the WMFAS issued an order for the continuation of the offensive operations, instructing the C’ Army Corps and Division Group ‘K’ to continue their offensive, in order to complete the occupation of mount Morova and Tsagoni defile.
- After the abovementioned successes of the Greek troops at the front of Morova, the Italians began to withdraw towards the valley of Devolis river on the night of November 21 to 22, so as to avoid encirclement within the plain of Koritsa.
At daybreak on November 22, the divisions of the C’ Army Corps resumed their offensive action.
The IX Division occupied the remaining southern shoulders of Tsagoni pass and linked up with the XV Division at Zemlac. Further to the south, the Detachment of Colonel Beyetis, of the same Division, seized the village of Drenovo south-east of Koritsa. At 1745 hrs, detachment troops (the 1st Battalion of the 33rd Regiment and a company from the 1st Battalion of the 27th Regiment) entered the town of Koritsa without encountering any enemy resistance, and the native Greek population expressed to them their enthusiasm with displays of delirium.
By that evening, the Division advanced its outposts west of Koritsa and established its defence on the western feet of mount Morova, on the same level as the XV Division.
The XV Division occupied the pass of Tsagoni and the summit of mount Ivan, where it established its defence.
The XIII Division concentrated its forces in the area south-east of the Tsagoni pass.
Division Group ‘K’ continued its offensive action westwards on November 22. By nightfall on the same day, it succeeded in occupying the line Moutke village-Kiafe Kiarit height, with the XI Division and the line Kamenitsa-Bobostitsa, with the X Division.
The WMFAS suffered considerable losses in the course of the Morova-Ivan battle. The casualties have been estimated to 34 officers and 590 soldiers killed in action and 82 officers and 2,226 soldiers wounded, even though these numbers are thought to be far lower than the actual ones.
The New Objectives of the General Headquarters
(Sketch-map no. 8)
- Since it became evident that the offensive action of the Greek troops was developing favourably in Epirus as well as in the sector of Koritsa, the General Headquarters began to consider the issue of the further continuation of the operations. This consideration was directed towards the two general axes of Ioannina-Avlona and Florina-Koritsa-Elvasan. The development of the operations would be decisively affected by the transportation for their support and by the advent of winter, the mountainous terrain as well as by the adverse weather conditions prevailing in the northern and central sectors, that is to say in the high plateau of Koritsa and the mountain bulks surrounding the valley of Aoos river.
Until then, the A’ Army Corps had procured its supplies via the harbour of Preveza, while the B’ Army Corps had used the central railway terminals of Kalambaka-Kozani and the C’ Army Corps, the towns of Florina and Amyndaeo. From there on, the transportation of supplies to the front-line was conducted by motor vehicles and pack animals. The harbour of Agii Saranda and the cross road Agii Saranda-Kakavia-Merdjani-Leskoviki were critical locations for the support of any future operations due to the fact that the transportation route was bound to be shortened, if use was made of the above locations after managing to have them both secured. This fact assumed even greater importance, given that the motor vehicles of the Greek Army were numerically inadequate, of many different types, and in a bad state of repair. Most of these vehicles had been requisitioned and therefore could not be replaced with new ones from foreign sources and, what is more, there was no reserve stock of spare parts, so as to repair the damages. If used to their full capacity the vehicles were only expected to last as far as the area of the borders.
On the basis of the abovementioned facts, the General Headquarters decided to focus its main effort along the axis Ioannina-Avlonas, without ruling out the additional possibility of exploitation deep inside the northern sector of Koritsa. To that end, the A’ and B’ Army Corps were reinforced with the III and XI Divisions respectively.
- In general, the manoeuvre of the General Headquarters aimed at :
-Securing the free use of the carriage roads Leskoviki-Koritsa and Kakavia-Agii Saranda, with the mountain bulks of Mali Ger (west of Argyrokastro)-Korie (Northeast of Argyrokastro)-Mali Kokoika (north of Premeti) as the desired objectives.
-Advancing the left flank of the A’ AC northwards using the right flank of the entire disposition (C’ AC-DivGr ‘K’) as a strong and secure pivot. The centre (B’ AC) was assigned to follow and assist this advance, and also to provide a stable link between the two flanks.
The missions assigned to the Large units of the front were as follows:
-The A’ Army Corps would operate in the general direction of Elea-Argyrokastro-Tepeleni-Avlonas, co-ordinating its move with the B’ Army Corps on the right.
-The B’ Army Corps would operate in the general direction Mertzani-Verati, through the valleys of river Aoos and Apsou (Ouzoun), co-ordinating its action on the right with the A’ Army Corps and linking up with the two other flanks of the front (A’ AC-WMFAS).
-The WMFAS (C’ AC-DivGr’K’) would secure the highland of Koritsa from the northern and western directions and apply strong pressure against the enemy forces, in order to engross their attention and detain them, to the advantage of the other Large Units of the front (A’-B’ AC). The carriage roads, west of Koritsa, towards Moschopolis – Devolis -Pogradetz sould be the starting points for the respective directions of attack, in order to achieve the deepest possible infiltration. The aim of the promotion north of Pogradetz was to block off that direction and hinder the enemy from moving westwards.
The forces, that remained as general reserves of the Commander in chief of the Army, were the V and XIII Division, the XVI Brigade in North-western Macedonia and the IV Divisions in Epirus.
In the letters of instruction of the Commander in chief, there was no final definition of the objectives so that the commands may display their initiative, in order to take advantage of their successes until the time limit imposed by the onset of winter, when operations would essentially come to a halt.
The Advance of the A’ Army Corps towards the valley of Drinos river
(November 24-30, 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 11)
- Since November 24, the A’ Army Corps resumed its pursuit of the enemy within the northern Epirus territory. In parallel, it began to orient its units in the general direction of Ioannina-Avlonas, so as to prepare for any further operations, in accordance with the General Headquarters instructions.
In the coastal sector, the Liubas Detachment continued its offensive inside the northern Epirus territory, after having occupied the boundary line north of the village Sayada, on November 25, at the end of a fierce fight. By the evening, on November 26, it had managed to gain contact with the enemy position south of the river Pavla, despite the vigorous counter-action of the Italian Airforce. The latter succeeded in destroying the bridges of Vrysela and Menina on Kalamas river, an action which created considerable difficulties in the resupply of the Detachment troops.
Meanwhile, in order to assist the offensive of the Liubas Detachment, the Military Command of Kerkira had organised, by order of the General Headquarters, a detachment comprising 5 officers and 190 elite troops. This was transported by motor boats and landed at the area of Kato Aetos on November 23, at 0630 hrs. Its mission was to move towards Vangalati, in order to attack the rear area of the enemy. However, instead of acting as instructed, it moved southwards and along the coastline during the day, arriving at Konispolis, where it spent the night. On the following day, it continued to move southwards, in order to link up with the Greek troops that were acting towards the north. However, the Italian troops became aware of its presence and attacked it. The detachment disbanded and the majority of its troops were taken prisoners. Eventually, only 2 officers and 45 soldiers were able to link up forces with the Liubas Detachment.
On November 27, the Liubas Detachment resumed its offensive, continuously pressing the enemy positions and forcing the Italians to withdraw towards the valley of Bistritsa river, in the night of November 27 to 28. The pursuit of the enemy commenced on the following day. By the evening on November 30, the Detachment troops had reached the east bank of Bistritsa river and had established their forces there, in contact with the Italians who were occupying the west bank of the river.
- In the sector of the VIII Division, the Greek troops continued their effort to occupy the defile of Kakavia, which had been organised by the enemy and was strongly occupied by the troops of the Alpine Division.
On November 24, the VIII Division launched an attack, in order to break through the abovementioned pass, but was contained, having encountered the vigorous resistance of the enemy. On November 27, after a fierce fight, in which the scales were constantly wavering between the two sides, the Division managed to occupy the mountain range of the heights 669 and Bourato. Nevertheless, it was not able to hold them, due to the strong resistance of the Italians in conjunction with the severe blizzard that had broken out in the meantime. By November 30, continuing its effort, the Division managed to occupy the line Kakavia village-Bouna forest-height 1672 (Makrykambos), where it consolidated its position.
- As of November 25, the II Division began to act in the direction Drymades-Politsani. On the following day, after occupying the village of Politsani, it proceeded towards a defile of great tactical significance, the Sucha defile, extending over a distance of eight kilometres with a breadth of 200-600 meters and steep slopes on both sides.
In the evening of November 29, the Division managed to occupy the south-western exit of the defile and to establish its forces on the northern heights of Soucha village.
On the night of November 29 to 30, the Italians launched a powerful counter-attack which, nevertheless, was successfully repulsed. The next day, the Italians continued their counter-attacks, supported by their airforce. The struggle was fierce and lasted until the evening hours, whereupon the combat troops of the Division that were on site withdrew towards the entrance of the defile.
The Italian Airforce, with the exception of the units engaged in action, bombed all populated areas of the region, causing the death of more than 30 civilians.
- As of November 2l, the III Division, which had been moving towards the zone of operations, was placed at the disposal of the A’ Army Corps. On November 23, it had reached the area south of Ioannina, having covered a distance of 350 kilometres with its troops marching under adverse weather conditions. On November 24, the Division was ordered to advance to the area of Doliana in order to commence operations by November 28 in the area south of the Delvinaki-Kakavia-Argyrokastro road.
During the two days November 26 and 27, the Division units continued their advance, in order to seize the positions from which their attack was to be launched, in the area of the villages Pepeli and Boularat. Nevertheless, the troops were not able to reach them in time and thus the attack was launched in the morning of November 30. By that evening, at the end of a fierce struggle, the Division managed to seize the eastern ridges of height 1297 (Kazania) and the southern outskirts of Boularat village.
The Advance of the B’ Army Corps towards Fraseri
(24-30 November 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- In parallel to the advance of the A’ Army Corps towards the valley of river Drinos, the B’ Army Corps conducted new efforts, aiming at repulsing the Italians even further inside the northern Epirus territory and to fully secure the road of Mertzani-Leskoviki-Erseka-Koritsa within its zone.
On November 23, the B’ Army Corps reinforced the Cavalry Brigade with Reconnaissance Groups B’, D’ and a pack battery and proceeded to order the speedy concentration of the Brigade in the area of Borova village. The Brigade was assigned to act in the direction of Premeti, in order to assist the operations conducted in the valley of the river Aoos.
The XI Infantry Division and the Cavalry Division, that by order of the General Headquarters had been placed at the disposal of the B’ Army Corps, were incorporated in the latter as of November 27 and 28 respectively.
- By November 27, after having seized the eastern ridges of the height 1500 (Mali Piscalit) on November 24 and having improved the positions it was occupying, the I Division resumed its action in the general direction of Mali Piscalit-Mali Kokoika. By the evening of the following day, the Division had completed the occupation of Mali Piscalit height, while some of its troops, that had advanced, entered the village of Gostivisti where they took 48 prisoners and seized 8 guns, 8 machine-guns, hundreds of rifles and other war supplies.
On November 29 and 30 the Division continued its offensive action, but was forced to slow down, owing to the vigorous enemy resistance. The occupation of a height range at the south-east of the Mali Kokoika height constituted its sole achievement during that time.
- The Cavalry Brigade began to move in the direction of Borova-Navosela-Fraseri since the morning of November 25, without waiting to complete the concentration of its forces. By the same evening, it was able to gain contact with the enemy at the south-eastern ridges of the height 1305. However, due to the lateness of the hour it did not take any further action.
On November 26, Brigade troops occupied the height 1305 and the village of Zavalani. During the following days and up until November 30, the Brigade efforted to advance towards Fraseri, but its effort was not successful due to the strong resistance and successive counter-attacks of the enemy against the vulnerable troops of the Cavalry Brigade.
- The V Infantry Brigade operated in parallel with the Cavalry Brigade, further to the north, in the direction of the heights Mali Kelkes-Mali Lires.
On November 27, after a close combat , it managed to occupy the height Mali Kelkes and advanced towards the south-west, as far as the height Kiafe Lires.
On the following day, November 28, it managed to mop up the area of the Mali Kelkes height and advanced as far as Apsos river. At the same time, it also directed its action towards the village of Fraseri, but the effort did not succeed due to the counter-action of the enemy forces that held their ground strongly at the occupied heights around the village.
The Brigade troops, that occupied the height of Kiafe Lires, remained at their positions awaiting their relief by the XI Division which, in the meantime, had been incorporated in the B’ army Corps and had been assigned to pass through the lines of the V Brigade and act in the direction of the Kiafe Lires height. However, due to the favourable development of the operations within the zone of the V Brigade, the B’ Army Corps issued a new order, by which the V Brigade was to continue to occupy its sector, while the XI Division was to remain as a reserve in the area of the Mali Randomit height. The Division was instructed to place a single Infantry regiment at the disposal of the Cavalry Brigade, in order to enable the latter to continue its action towards Fraseri.
- The Cavalry Division had remained under the command of the A’ Army Corps until November 27 and was operating in its right flank, closely liaising with the B’ Army Corps. During this period, it managed to advance as far as Legatitsa river, where it ascertained that the enemy was firmly holding its ground with strong forces in the area of the west bank. On the following day, it managed to cross the river and moved towards Premeti.
By November 30, at the end of a stubborn struggle, the Division troops reached the eastern bank of Aoos river. Their attempt to move towards the western bank failed, due to the strong counter-action of the enemy, but they were able to ascertain that the Italians had begun to abandon Premeti and were in the process of withdrawing towards Klissoura.
The WMFAS (C’AC-DivGr’K’) Operations,
for the complete securing of the Highplateau of Koritsa
(24-30 November, 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- By order no. l3342 of the General Headquarters, issued to the WMFAS on November 22, the following was decided :
‘Following my order No. 13174/1-11-40, continue your effort with intensity according to your judgement, aiming at blocking off the routes towards Koritsa highplateau and the carriage road Koritsa-Leskoviki, from the West and the North, and as far deeper as you can reach, in order to achieve safe and free use of the said road.’
The WMFAS, in order to relieve its troops that had been overcome with fatigue, decided to suspend its operations temporarily and raised objections to that effect against the order of the General Headquarters. Subsequently, the General Headquarters issued the following supplementary order :
‘The continuation of the operations for the accomplishment of the order 13342/22/11 is to be sought after in haste. We acknowledge the fatigue of our troops, however, the enemy’s condition is worse. It is not to our advantage to allow the enemy to reorganise and redeploy its forces. Each and every day that goes by actually serves to aggravate rather than facilitate your efforts. You must stress the above to the commanders of your units and demand positive results’.
- On November 23, the WMFAS issued its own operation instructions, which comprised the following main points :
- During the first phase : The C’ Army Corps was to secure the mountain bulk of Ivan, the defile of Tsagoni and the section of Morova that was included within its zone. Simultaneously, it would keep contact with the enemy towards the arterial roads that ran along the lakes Maliki and Prespa Major. Division Group ‘K’ was assigned to occupy Kiafe Kiarit defile, hold its ground firmly at that position and cover the left flank of the C’ Army Corps. Furthermore, it was to keep contact with the enemy in the directions of Moschopolis and Ostravitsa. The B’ Army Corps was assigned to cover Leskoviki from the northwest, in close cooperation with the Cavalry Division, and was to link up with Division Group ‘K’.
During the second phase : The C’ Army Corps was to advance its deployment between lakes Megali Prespa and Maliki, as far as the northern exits of the defiles, and was ordered to hold its ground firmly inside the defile of Devolis river, as far as Prespa (Tsagoni). Division Group ‘K’ and the B’ Army Corps were to continue and consolidate the efforts of the first phase.
During the third phase : The C’ Army Corps was to advance its disposition between lakes Achris and Maliki, as far as the defile of Devolis river as far as Tresova, with a strong bridgehead in the area of Pogradetz. Division Group ‘K’ was to cover the left flank of the C’ Army Corps, while the B’ Army Corps would provide full covering to the arterial road Melissopetra-Erseka-Koritsa within its zone.
- The C’ Army Corps assigned the IX and XIII Divisions with the offensive operations, in order to widely secure the highplateau of Koritsa from the Northwest. The XV Division was assigned to secure the Tsagoni defile and the mountain bulk of Ivan.
The IX Division commenced its action on November 24, in order to occupy the heights that lay to the Northwest of lake Maliki. By November 26 its troops had reached the line of the villages Tresova and Tseresniko without encountering any serious resistance of the enemy.
On the following day the Division resumed its offensive effort. After having successively seized the heights 1434 and 1652, it launched an attack against the height 1548 and managed to seize the latter on November 29, despite the stubborn resistance of the enemy. The enemy abandoned on the battlefield 55 killed in action and 120 wounded, including 10 officers.
On November 30, the Division had planned to operate towards the height 1532, but due to heavy snowfalls, this operation was not carried out.
The XIII Division commenced its offensive action on November 25. By that evening, the saddle of Grambotitsa was occupied. On the following day Division troops shifted their action to the west of the saddle, in order to link up with the IX Division and seized the height 1210. On November 27 and 28, the Division focused its activity on the effort to improve its positions and prepare its troops for the attack against the height 1292 which towered over the area as far as Pogradetz and had been powerfully organised.
The attack against the height 1292 commenced in the morning of November 29, without the required coordination between the artillery fire and the movement of the attacking infantry, mainly due to the inactivity of the latter. This had as a result the slow down of the entire operation and the seizure of the height in the morning of the following day. The fall of the height 1292 had a decisive effect on the Italians defending at Pogradetz who began to evacuate their defensive area as far as lake Achris and were in the process of withdrawing towards Elvasan. Reconnaissance troops of the C’ Army Corps entered Pogradetz at 1000 hrs and occupied the town.
- The advance of Division Group ‘K’ westwards, began in parallel with the advance of the C’ Army Corps to the area Northwest of Koritsa.
On November 24, the X Division occupied Moschopolis and, in the course of the following day, it proceeded to advance towards the North-western heights, where it established its defence by order of Division Group ‘K’ . On November 26 and 27, the necessary rearrangements were conducted on the left flank of the Division, in order to facilitate the extension of its zone of action towards the left, that would occur after the assignment of the IX Division to the B’ Army Corps. As of November 28, the offensive was resumed, and, by November 30, the line Maskoulori height-Pounemira village- Krousiva height had been occupied.
By November 25, while operating on the left flank of the X Division, the XI Division had managed to occupy the line Treska village-height 1843-Kourora height, having encountered no resistance on the part of the enemy, where it established its defence, having been assigned to cover the directions from Ostravitsa and Apsos valley to Belavonda and Koritsa. As of November 27, it was placed under the command of the B’ Army Corps.
- The operations conducted by the C’ Army Corps and Division Group ‘K’ up until November 30, were entirely successful and as a result the Greek forces advanced as far as the eastern slopes of mount Kamia. Thus, the area of Koritsa was fully secured.
Following a request of the C’ Army Corps, the XVII Division was assigned to it as of November 27. The XVII Division, which had just arrived at the area of Mesopotamia, was ordered by the C’ Army Corps to gradually relieve the XIII Division, that after been relieved would act as a reserve of the General Headquarters.
The relief of the XIII Division was considered necessary, in order to allow its units sufficient time to rest and re-group, due to the weaknesses they had displayed during the most recent operations. These weaknesses being mainly the result of lack of professionlly competent senior and regular junior officers, did not fail to affect the cohesion of the Division, despite the active and continuous presence of its Commander on the field of action and notwithstanding the success of the Division during the battle of height 1292-Pogradetz.
The Occupation of Agii Saranda and Argyrokastro
(1-12 December 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 11)
- At the end of November 1940 and after a series of fierce battles, the A’ Army Corps, that had been advancing in the direction of the Ioannina-Avlonas axis, deployed its forces along an almost 65 Km width front. This front extended from the shores of the Adriatic sea right up to the river Aoos.
In the coastal sector, the Lioubas Detachment operated in two directions. The left flank (Team of Colonel Konstantinos Papadopoulos) was able to reach Bistritsas river right before the town of Agii Saranda, while the right flank (Team of Colonel Panaghiotis Raftopoulos) managed to occupy the inaccessible bulk of the Tsamandas mountains.
The III Division, that had been committed to the action as of November 28, took over the sector that lay south of the carriage road Delvinaki-Kakavia and as far as the mountains of Tsamandas.
The VIII Division conducted a series of fierce battles, which lasted ten days, against the enemy forces occupying the area of Kakavia pass-Bourato, but eventually failed to break down their resistance.
The II Division operated on the right flank of the Army Corps and on either side of the rocky, steep and inaccessible mountain range of Nemertska, having placed the bulk of its forces on the north-eastern side of the Soucha defile.
- As of December l, the A’ Army Corps resumed its advance within the territory of Northern Epirus, according to the instructions of the General Headquarters.
From December 1 to 4, the left flank (Papadopoulos Team) of the Liubas Detachment dealt with the reinforcement of its occupied positions located south-east of river Bistritsas. Furthermore, it directed its efforts towards the re-organisation of its troops. As of December l, the right flank (Raftopoulos Team) was placed under the command of the III Division, which acted on the east of the Detachment. By the morning of December 4, the latter Team had managed to cross the upper valley of Bistritsas river and had succeeded in enveloping the enemy area facing the Detachment. Subsequently, the Italians withdrew to the Northwest on the night of December 4 to 5, after having destroyed the bridge in that area. The withdrawal was perceived on the morning of December 5, whereupon a new improvised bridge was constructed with the abandoned inflatable boat materiel and with the additional assistance of the local inhabitants. After the completion of the bridge, light troops belonging to the Liubas Detachment used it to cross the Bistritsas river. Further to the south, they forded the river at Mesopotamia village and proceeded to seize the heights which secured the control of the cross road Agii Saranda-Delvino.
By the morning of December 6, the rest of the Detachment troops had crossed over to the other side of the river, having had to endure the severe cold and facing grave hazards due to the dark and the high level of the frozen waters of the river. The troops continued their forward movement and, at 0900 hrs, entered and occupied the town of Agii Saranda, without encountering any serious enemy resistance. The Italians withdrew, setting fire to stores and warehouses and abandoning large quantities of war supplies, especially engineers equipment and fuel supplies.
The occupation of Agii Saranda created a great impression internationally. The repercussions were detrimental to the prestige of Mussolini, since the Italians had changed the name of Agii Saranda to Porto Enda, to honour Enda, the daughter of Mussolini and wife of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, count Ciano.
However, the advance of the Detachment troops beyond Bistritsas river served to increase the difficulties of their already problematic resupply even further. For this reason and due to the general requirements of troop re-organisation and rest, instructions were issued ordering the hasty transportation of supplies from Sayada to Agii Saranda by motor boats. Furthermore, the sector of the Liubas Detachment was assigned to the II Division.
Nevertheless, the Detachment continued its advance and by December 8 it had occupied Pikerasi village and Tatezati pass where the Detachment linked up with the III Division which was acting on the east of Kalasas river. By December 11, the Detachment troops arrived before the village of Borsi and at the height of Koniak, where they awaited their replacement by the III Division.
- During the third ten-day period of November, the III Division advanced from the area of Ioannina to the area of Kastaniani. Thereafter, in the end of November, it took over the left section of the VIII Division zone, where it deployed two regiments, in order to conduct offensive action in the direction of Mouzina village.
On December l, under extremely adverse weather conditions, it launched the attack and managed to seize the eastern ridges of Platyvouni height as well as the village of Boularat. On the following day, an assault launched by Division troops seeking to occupy the main core of the Platyvouni height ended in failure. The height, which covered the areas of Delvino-Argyrokastro and had been strongly fortified, was protected by a barrage of fire, by guns of various calibres.
On December 3, the above height was taken after a fierce fight and the enemy withdrew towards Mouzina village. Further to the left, the Raftopoulos Team, assigned to the Division from the Liubas Detachment managed to occupy the southern bank of Bistritsas river on the same day, after a fierce battle. On the following day, it forded the river and deployed its forces on the opposite bank.
On December 5, continuing its movement it proceeded to occupy the village of Peza as well as the surrounding heights. Thus, the road of Mouzina-Agii Saranda was placed under the control of the Division. On the same day, the Reconnaissance Group of the Division crossed Bistritsas river and entered Delvino which had already been evacuated by the Italians who had left large quantities of food and other supplies behind.
On the following day, December 6, the Team Commander Colonel Raftopoulos entered Delvino, where the inhabitants welcomed him enthusiastically and their Mayor, in a symbolic gesture, offered him the keys to the town.
Meanwhile, the A’ Army Corps ordered the successive relief of the III Division units by IV Division units. By order of the General Headquarters the latter Division was placed at the disposal of the A’ Army Corps on the night of December 6 to 7. The III Division was to move further to the west and had been assigned to relieve the Liubas Detachment and to continue the offensive in the direction of Tatezati village-Koniak height-Mali Dzoret height.
However, the commencement of the relief was postponed for the night of December 7 to 8, because the IV Division troops did not arrive in time at their designated positions, due to the adverse terrain and weather conditions. Thus, the III Division continued its offensive action and, by December 7, had reached the line Makrykambos height (1537 height)-Souvliani village.
After its relief by the IV Division, the III Division concentrated its forces in the area of Delvino-Mouzina. The necessary administrative movements followed and by December l2 its units had replaced the Liubas Detachment troops and had gained contact with the enemy. The relief of the troops on the mountain bulk Koniak-Galitsi was conducted under a severe blizzard and encountered many adversities.
- By the end of November, the VIII Division was in close contact with the strongly occupied position of the enemy on the heights of 669-Bourato. On December 1 and 2, under extremely bad weather, the Division failed in its successive efforts to seize the heights 669 and Bourato, suffering extremely heavy losses in the process.
On December 3, Division troops managed to occupy the Bourato height after another arduous offensive effort. Thereafter, they continued southwards, in order to envelop height 669, since a frontal attack against it had already been repulsed. The action south of Bourato also continued on December 4 but failed to seize the height 669.
In the evening of December 4, the Commander in chief arrived at the Headquarters of the A’ Army Corps, in Kalpaki, accompanied by the Crown Prince where they had a briefing by the Commander of the VIII Division about the accomplishments up to that point. After congratulating the Division Commander on his work, the Commander in chief proceeded to demand the seizure of the height 669 by the following day, whereupon the Division would retire to become reserve of the Army Corps.
However, on the night of December 4 to 5, the Italians managed to withdraw from height 669 without being noticed by the Greek troops. The evacuation of the fought for height 669, was discovered in the morning of December 5. The enemy abandoned there about 100 unburied dead and more than 150 graves that attested the fierceness of the struggle and the perseverance of both parties for the control of the above height. During their withdrawal through the pass of Kakavia, the Italians abandoned large quantities of ammunitions, a fact which also revealed their hasty withdrawal.
The occupation of heights 669 and Bourato opened the way towards the valley of Drinos river. On December 6, a Combut Team of the VIII Division operated towards the village Libhova and seized it. Thereafter, it linked up with the II Division in the area east of Soucha. On the following day, the greatest part of the Division was relieved by the III Division and it remained as a reserve at the area north of Kakavia, for re-grouping.
Thus the forty-day continuous and uninterrupted struggle of the VIII Division ended on 7 December. During the operations it captured 46 officers and l,490 soldiers of the enemy and seized approximately 30 tanks, of which 15 were in a good state, an entire 65mm battery, 3 Skoda guns, a large number of automatic weapons, rifles, radios etc. Most of these tanks were repaired and employed thereafter by the Greek troops.
The casualties suffered by the Division were heavy and amounted to 34 officers and 280 soldiers killed in action, 48 officers and 1,360 soldiers wounded and 84 soldiers missing in action.
- On December lst, the II Division troops of which held the north-eastern side of the Soucha defile repelled an attack by the enemy forces, while organising two combat teams, both of regimental strength, for the further continuation of operations, one to be employed south and the other north of the Loudzeritse mountain range. On December 2, the southern team launched an attack to seize the defile of Soucha. Despite the ferocious enemy counter-action in conjunction with the barrage of lethal machine-gun and artillery fire, the Team succeeded in reaching as far as the village of Seltska by the same evening. After a fierce and continuous struggle on 3 and 4 December it managed to force its way into the defile and to occupy the south-western exit.
This success surprised the enemy forces deployed at the area of Soucha village who were overcome with panic and fled, abandoning large quantities of weapons and supplies. The evacuation of the town of Argyrokastro commenced simultaneously, according to reports of the Italian prisoners.
On December l, the team that acted in the northerly direction, between the mountain bulks of Loudzeritse and Nemertska-Debelit, managed to seize height 2145 of mount Nemertska. Nevertheless, because of the arctic cold and the resupply difficulties, the team retired to the western side of the height on December 3.
Since December 4, according to the order of the A’ Army Corps, the Division resumed its offensive towards the saddle of Tsayioupi, in order to block the canalization of forces from the valey of Aoos river to and from the valey of Drinos river.
In the southern direction, the Division seized the village of Lambova Major, at the south of the Tsayoupi saddle as well as the heights to the east of Hormova village, both by December 10. In the northern direction, Topova village and its area had been seized by December 7, while the saddle of Tsayoupi was seized -without a combat- on the following day. The effort conducted by the Division in the direction of the Mouskes saddle was unsuccessful until December l2, mainly due to the adverse weather conditions and the numerous losses suffered by the Division in manpower and pack animals during the operations.
- By November l9, the IV Division, which was mobilised in Nafplio and advanced to Kalambaka, had concentrated its forces in the area of Koutsoufliani. As of November 24 it began to move by night marches to the west of Ioannina, where it arrived on December 2. Thereafter, according to the order of the General Headquarters, it became subordinate to the A’ Army Corps. By December 6, it had advanced to the area of the villages Kastaniani-Kerasovo-Baltsista, near the Greek -Albanian borders.
On the night of December 7 to 8, by order of the A’ Army Corps, it replaced the III Division troops at the line Peza-Mouzina-Souvliani and on December 8 it began to advance to the Northwest of Argyrokastro. In the same evening, it managed to occupy the town of Dervitsani and the surrounding heights, despite the adverse weather conditions. At the entrance of Dervitsani, the troops were welcomed by about 700 young men and women, who were waving the Greek Flag and sang the National Anthem and the Easter hymn ‘Christ is Risen’.
By the following day, the Division continued its advance and, on December 11, seized by a surprise attack the southern ridges of Mali Spat height as well as the Bouzae Sefer Agait saddle, continuing southwards towards the Skivovik height.
On December l2, following orders of the A’ Army Corps, the IV Division directed its forces westwards, so as to occupy the saddle on the east of Skivovik height and from there to have under its artillery fire the Koutsi village, as well as the saddle east of Mali Djoret height. The IV Division troops situated at the area of Bouzae Sefer Agait, were releived by troops of the II Division.
- Meanwhile, as of December 5, the A’ Army Corps had organised a Combat Team in the area of Kakavia, comprising one Infantry battalion, two Field batteries and an Antitank Artillery battery. The Combat Team was principally assigned to provide antitank covering of the flanks of both divisions that were operating north and south of the Kakavia-Argyrokastro road.
On December 7, the above Combat Team advanced to Dervitsani, where on the following day, it was informed that the enemy had already evacuated Argyrokastro since the night of December 5 to 6, due to the advance of the Greek divisions. Following these reports, the Team proceeded in haste and occupied the town, establishing its forces on the heights situated approximately 4 kms north and Northeast of Argyrokastro. During their withdrawal, the Italians left the town intact and abandoned a multitude of war supplies. The entrance of the Greek troops into the town caused a storm of enthusiasm amongst the inhabitants, who welcomed them with flags and festivities. The same enthusiasm also prevailed throughout the Greek mainland.
The Occupation of Premeti and Fraseri
(1-12 December 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- Towards the end of November, the B’ Army Corps that was also advancing within the territory of Northern Epirus, had arrived in the area east of Premeti and Fraseri, while further to the north it had managed to occupy the Randomit heights.
As of November 30, the Army Corps ceased to be subordinate to the WMFAS and was placed under the direct command of the General Headquarters. Meanwhile, on November 29, it had issued orders to its units by which they were instructed to continue operations and occupy the area of Premeti-Mali Kokoika-Fraseri, assigning them the following missions:
-The Cavalry Division were to attack in the direction of Delvina-Hotova, covering the left flank of the I Division.
-The I Division was to attack in the direction of Royanni-Selenitsa.
-The Cavalry Brigade, that had an additional XI Division Regiment under its command, was to operate in the direction of heights Mali Kelkes-Kiafe Lopouses and envelop the enemy position of Fraseri from the north.
-The V Brigade was to secure heights Mali Kelkes and 1305.
-The XI Division was to secure further north the area of Kiafe Lires and to cover the right flank of the Cavalry Brigade.
- On December 2, the Cavalry Division, which was operating on the left of the B’ Army Corps zone, had managed to place Premeti under its fire, and the bridge by Aoos river. That bridge was blown up by the Italians the following morning. On December 3, the Division resumed its offensive and, at around 1000 hrs, its troops (the Detachment of Lieutenant Colonel Dimokostoulas) occupied the town and took about 250 prisoners. The withdrawal of the Italians from Premeti was conducted under the covering of their tanks and a large number of aircraft. Further to the north, another section of the Division occupied the village of Gostivisti and the surrounding heights in the same day.
On December 4, the Division continued its offensive towards the north-west. Encountering no serious resistance during the occupation of the Mali Bodarid mountain range and Hotova village, it proceeded to advance beyond Loumnitsa river and by December 8, had taken possession of height 1150, on the Northwest of the village of Ali Postivani.
Since the following day, the Cavalry Division suspended the conduct of any further offensive operations. Following a B’ Army Corps order, that was issued on December 3, the I Division was to gradually take over the zone of the Cavalry Division. The latter, after its replacement, was to concentrate its forces Northwest of Premeti, placing them at the disposal of the General Headquarters.
- On December 3 and at the end of a fierce fight, the I Division had managed to occupy the southern ridges of Kokoika height, while acting on the right of the Cavalry Division. On the following day, it continued its offensive effort and, by the evening hours of December 6, its troops had reached the eastern ridges of height 1292, in close contact with the enemy.
From December 6 to l2, the Division mainly focused its efforts on the task of improving its occupied positions and relieving gradually the Cavalry Division, a task that was completed by the evening of December 10.
- On December lst, the Cavalry Brigade occupied the Kiafe Kortses height and on December 2, the village of Seropouli west of Fraseri. This bold offensive action of the Cavalry Brigade was the decisive factor of the battle of Fraseri and forced the enemy to withdraw to a new position east of Klissoura.
On the following day, the Brigade continued its offensive and by December 5, it had arrived at the area of Malidi village, east of the Garonin mountain bulk. This action concluded the mission of the Cavalry Division, which remained, thereafter, as a reserve in the area of Fraseri. According to the orders of the B’ Army Corps, further operations within the Brigade zone were assigned to the XI Division. The regiment of this Division, which had been temporarily assigned to the Cavalry Brigade since November 29, returned to its parent unit.
- In December 3, after the required reconnaissance and preparation, the XI Division launched a strong attack against the entire front of its zone of responsibility and by the same evening, it had managed to seize the Mali Potomit height.
In December 5 the Division continued towards the height 1200 and seized it in the following day, after a fierce and wavering battle. Despite the adverse weather conditions and the ferocious counter-action of the enemy, the Division continued its offensive effort. Thus, by December l0, it had managed to take possession of the Galina height. The Italian troops withdrew westwards, abandoning 15 machine-guns, about 50 light machine-guns and over 200 rifles on the battlefield.
The Division casualties during the offensive against the Galina height were considerable, amounting to 9 officers and 24 soldiers killed in action, 8 officers and 122 soldiers wounded and 20 soldiers missing in action.
- The incessant struggle of the B’ Army Corps units as of November 14 and the adverse weather conditions wore out the men and created serious deficiencies. Thus, the Command of the Army Corps addressed the General Headquarters, requesting a rest period of 8 to 10 days for its troops after the occupation of Fraseri or, at the very least, the reinforcement of the Corps with an additional division before resuming operations.
In December 5, the Commander in chief and the Crown Prince arrived at the Headquarters of the B’ Army Corps. After a briefing about the situation, the General Headquarters acknowledged the request of the B’ Army Corps, regarding the urgency of its reinforcement, and decided to provide it with the XV Division in the place of the V Brigade and the Cavalry Brigade. These Brigades had already endured many hardships and were deficient in resupply equipment, a fact which further aggravated their efforts. After their relief they were to remain as reserves, at the disposal of the Commander in Chief.
The XV Division was relieved by the XIII Division , that was once again at the disposal of the WMFAS. The V Division was summoned to fill in for the XIII Division, as a reserve of the Commander in chief and had concentrated its forces at the area of villages Philotas-Perdika and was ordered to move to the area of Kastoria-Argos Orestiko.
On the night of December 5 to 6, the XV Division moved away from the area of Koritsa and by December 8, its forces had been placed at the disposal of the B’ Army Corps. On December l2, in the course of the afternoon, the Division arrived at the area of Fraseri in full strength.
On December l2, the V Brigade was situated in the area of Seropouli, been under the command of Infantry Colonel Panaghiotis Kritikos since December ll. On the same day, the Cavalry Brigade was in the area of Fraseri.
During the evening of December l2, the I Division occupied the line Grambove village-1150 height, having been assigned to occupy the height.
Thus, after the occupation of Premeti and Fraseri, the B’ Army Corps had completed the required administrative movements of its troops and held its ground firmly along the line Grambove village-height 1150-Tserevonda village.
The Operations of the WMFAS in the Northern Sector of the Front (Koritsa)
(December 1-12, 1940)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- The WMFAS continued its operations in the northern sector of the front (Koritsa), while the A’ and B’ Army Corps were conducting their operations from December 1 to 12.
In the zone of the C’ Army Corps the IX Division while holding its ground firmly at the heights 1652 and 1548, by the eastern feet of mount Kamia, continued on December 1 the frontal attack in order to occupy the height 1532 which towered over the area of Pogradetz and was of particular tactical importance. The progress recorded by that evening was minimal, because of the vigorous enemy resistance and the adverse weather conditions.
Meanwhile, as of December l, the XVII Division took over the sector of the XIII Division and was ordered by the C’ Army Corps to attack in the direction of Prenista village-height 1532-Tservenaka village. Subsequently, the action of the IX Division towards height 1532 was suspended, since the height was thereby included in the zone of the XVII Division.
On December 4, the IX Division attacked and seized the heights 1687 and 1642, without encountering any serious resistance by the enemy. With the occupation of the above heights the Division completed the occupation of the ridgeline of Kamia mountain. On December 6, it seized the height 1538, in an attempt to create a diversion in order to assist the XVII Division. However, it was unable to proceed towards the height of Koritsa, due to the enemy counter-action and a severe blizzard. On December l0, the Division repeated the offensive action against the Koritsa height, but once more the effort was not successful. Subsequently, the Division suspended its offensive operations and began the defensive organisation of its occupied positions.
- On December 1 and 2 and under extremely difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions, the XVII Division took attack formations and advanced its units to the departure areas.
On December 3 the Division launched its attack, notwithstanding the prevailing weather conditions that had remained unchanged. After a hard and uncertain struggle, the Greek troops managed to occupy the height 1532. The contribution of Deputy Commander of the 3lst Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel of the regular reserve Sotirios Basiakos, to this success was instrumental, for his action was one of unequalled courage and audacity. This officer, despite his age, took the initiative and placed himself in command of a force which surprised the enemy at its rear area, by virtue of a daring manoeuvre that was conducted from a precipitous slope using climbing ropes. Bayonnet fighting ensued, at the end of which the height was finally occupied and 13 officers and 400 soldiers were taken prisoners. Furthermore, the casualties of the XVII Division were quite considerable, amounting to 6 officers and 50 soldiers killed in action, l7 officers and 350 soldiers wounded and 36 soldiers missing in action.
The bad weather and the limited visibility due to the fog and the heavy snowfalls, prevented the further exploitation of the above success. On December 6, the Division resumed the offensive and managed to occupy the northern ridges of the heights 1532 and 1211, despite the stubborn resistance of the enemy. On the following day, Division troops entered Pogradetz and proceeded to replace the reconnaissance troops of the XIII Division, that had already occuppied the town since November 30 and had remained there.
The offensive effort of the Division continued during the following days as well. However, nothing significant was accomplished, because of the vigorous enemy resistance, the inaccessible terrain and the extremely adverse weather conditions that caused numerous cases of frostbite and deaths due to the extremely low temperatures.
Hence, the C’ Army Corps temporarily suspended the offensive operations of the Division, ordering it to retain the areas it had occupied, that is, the line of height 1532-height 1211- Northwestern outskirts of Pogradetz.
The casualties suffered by the Division during the above operations were over 100 killed in action, 650 wounded and 80 missing in action. Furthermore, a large numbers of weapons were lost. The Italian losses were quite considerable, even though they were not confirmed. More than 500 Italians were taken prisoners.
- The Division Group ‘K’ assigned its XI Division as a reserve to the B’ Army Corps, after an order of the General Headquarters, and then advanced southwards along with the X Division, as far as Ostravitsa mountain.
On December l, it was designated the ‘K’ Team, having as subordinate only the X Division and assigned to defend the occupied line, to cover the left flank of the C’ Army Corps and to keep conduct with the B’ Army Corps on the left.
On December 2, the ‘K’ Team repeated its offensive effort and by December 4, it had occupied the Marta saddle of Ostravitsa mountain, at the left of its zone, and the southern ridges of the Moglitsa height at the right of the zone, a venture that was carried out during a severe snowstorm.
On December 5 and 6 there was no significant activity to be recorded. On December 7, despite the continuing bad weather and the severe cold, the Division continued its offensive activity. Thus, by December 12 it had managed to occupy mount Ostravitsa and proceeded to advance as far as the heights Mnima Liamit and Skembi Bard with its left flank, while the right seized the Moglitsa height.
Crisis within the Ranks of the Italian High Command
- The repeated successes of the Greek Army alarmed the Italian High Command and created a crisis within its ranks.
On November 26, the Chief of the Army General Staff Marshal Badoglio submitted his resignation. On the same day, General Pricolo, Chief of the Airforce Staff, returned to Rome from Albania, where he had been sent by order of Mussolini, and depicted the bleak situation at the front.
On November 30, Mussolini convoked a meeting, in order to brief his Cabinet Ministers, who were unaware of the situation. Furthermore, his move was an attempt to rid himself of the liabilities attributed to him by the whisper campaign of certain military circles and Badoglio’s friends.
By December 3, this state of affairs that was both serious and dangerous for the Italians, turned into a panic. The occupation of the heights 1292 and 1532 by the Greek forces inflicted an additional blow to the already shaken morale of the Italian Commander in Chief in Albania. In his report to Mussolini, written on the night of December 3, he stressed the tragic situation of the two Italian Armies on the Albanian front. Flatly and without hesitation he expressed his opinion that ‘any military action to reverse the situation that has been created, is no longer possible, and this can only be settled by political intervention’. In other words, he was aiming at concluding a truce.
On the following day General Kavallero was dispatched over to Albania to examine the situation and on December 6 he was assigned as Chief of the Army General Staff. In his report to Mussolini, dated December 5, he characterized the situation of the XI Italian Army, as very bad.
‘The ‘Bari’ Division has lost everything. The 8th Alpine has lost 80% of its strength. The 9th Alpine suffered fewer losses. The ‘Vincenza’ and ‘Aquila’ battalions conducted themselves heroically. It is worth honouring the land upon which they fought. The ‘Giulia’ Division has been weakened but continues to fight. Three field battalions have not been completely damaged, however they have no pack transportation. The 4lst and 42nd Infantry Regiments have suffered badly, especially the 4lst, which was ill-treated by Colonel Manai, who was court-marshalled for unjustified withdrawal. The 139th Infantry withdrew due to lack of ammunition. The Army is provided with a day’s supply of ammunition for rifles or automatic weapons, no hand-grenades and half a day’s supply of artillery ammunition. Under these circumstances, the Army will be able to resist for eight days’.
Greece, isolated, according to Mussolini, and forced to fight alone, had crushed its powerful adversary to such an extent, that the enemy’s leaders were calling this disastrous defeat ‘the greatest military crisis of the entire Italian history, which could cover Italy with shame for centuries on end’, and were seriously considering to be subjected to the indescribable humiliation of requesting a cease-fire from the Greek forces.
- In order to avoid such humiliation and to deal with this critical situation, the Italian Leadership finally decided to turn to its great ally, Germany, for help.
Consequently, Ciano summoned Alfieri, the Italian Ambassador to Berlin, who was recuperating in Rome, and ordered him to depart for his post and to plead the Germans to hasten to Italy’s aid, to make every effort possible in order to convince Hitler.
Alfieri indeed arrived in Berlin on December 7 and immediately had a meeting with the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Von Ribbentrop. However, Ribbentrop was evasive in his reply to the urgent Italian plea for immediate help through the Romanian territory. He stressed the meteorological impediments and the military difficulties of such an intervention and cited the political and military situation in Europe as a major obstacle that did not allow such actions.
On the following day, the Italian Ambassador, who had naturally become totally pessimistic, was accepted by the ‘Fuehrer’. In plain terms, laying aside the usual diplomatic conventions, Alfieri explained the situation in Albania. Hitler was shaken by this unvarnished presentation and, enraged by Mussolini’s continuous inability to come up with solutions, made a few brief remarks concerning the Italian campaign and the fighting abilities of the Italian Army. After giving vent to his rage, he discussed the possible solutions.
Eventually, he promised to offer air transportation assistance to Italy. A few days later, the 3rd Team of the no.1 Airforce Squadron (49 ‘Younger 52’ aircraft) would begin the operation of transporting Italian soldiers and supplies from Foggia in Italy to the airfields of the zone of operations, near Avlonas and Dyrrachio.
The New Intentions of the General Headquarters
regarding the Further Development of the Operations
- The Commander in chief, seeking to be briefed on site and to form his own conclusions with regard to the situation, visited the zone of operations from December 2 to l0, accompanied by the Crown Prince Paul. During his trip, the Commander in chief conducted the following meetings with the commanders of the Large Units:
In Zitsa, with the Commander of the A’ Army Corps. In Elea, with the Commander of the VIII Division, in the presence of the Commander of the A’ Army Corps. In Konitsa with the Commander of the B’ Army Corps and in Koritsa with the Commanders of the WMFAS, the C’ Army Corps and ‘K’ Team.
During these meetings, the Commander in chief presented his new intentions and gave instructions with regard to the conduct of further operations. The instructions of the Commander in chief were formulated in a directive of the General Headquarters, on December 12, and assigned the following missions:
-The A’ Army Corps was to operate, in order to seize and secure the junction of Tepeleni, seeking, furthermore, to break through the valley of the river Siousitsa.
-The B’ Army Corps was to operate, in order to seize the junction of Klissoura-Tepeleni as well as the mountain bulks north of Klissoura-Tepeleni.
-The WMFAS was to operate on the basis of the above instructions. Furthermore, it was to consolidate the liaison with the B’ Army Corps and to cover the left flank of the latter from the directions of the valleys of Devolis and Tomoritsa rivers.
- For the most effective co-ordination of the future operations, an advanced General Headquarters echelon was organised and became operational on December l7, under the direct command of the Commander in chief, who held the overall command of operations along with his other duties.
On the basis of the above mentioned future operations and for the improvement of the organisation of the Command, Lieutenant Generals Kosmas and Demestihas were mutually transferred to the A’ Army Corps and to the ‘K’ Team respectively. As of December l5, this particular Team was redesignated as the E’ Army Corps and was additionally reinforced with certain non divisional units.
The Operations of the A’ Army Corps towards Tepeleni
and the Valley of the River Siousitsa
(December 13, 1940 – January 6, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 11)
- On December l2, the A’ Army Corps occupied the general line of Borsi village-Galisti height-south-eastern ridges of the heights Skivovik and Mali Spat-saddle of Bouzae Sefer Agait-Malesova village, with the III, IV and II Divisions deployed in contact with the enemy. The VIII Division and the Liubas Detachment remained inside its zone, in the areas of Delvinaki and Delvino respectively, as a reserve of the Commander in chief.
On December 13 and l4, the Corps units dealt with the preparation of further offensive operations and with the additional task of improving their positions. Because of the continuing bad weather, the rough terrain and the vigorous resistance of the enemy forces, the II and III Divisions recorded but little progress. The IV Division, in spite of the above adversities, was able to occupy Pousi defile on south-east of Mali Spat, by employing a successful manoeuvre, and managed to gain contact with the strongly occupied line Gusmari-Progonati. More than 50 dead were found later on the battlefield, including the Commander of the 42nd Italian Regiment and his adjutant. Furthermore, l92 prisoners were taken, including a battalion commander.
- On December l5, the A’ Army Corps drew up its own plan of action, along the following guidelines :
-In order to seize the junction of Tepeleni :
Immediate attack with the IV Division, to seize the saddles of Verniko (4kms west of Kendersitsa height) and Salaria (3kms west of the Tersnitsa height). Thereafter, the same Division was to conduct offensive action towards Salaria-Aoos river, in order to cut off the carriage road of Tepeleni-Avlonas, with the main effort towards Nivitsa-Salaria. In the valleys of rivers Drinos and Zagoria, an attack with the II Division would be conducted in the general direction of the respective river flows. The objective of this attack was to engage and fix the enemy forces and in the event of a favourable outcome of operations, to conduct mopping up operations of the above valleys as far as Aoos river.
-In order to break through the valley of Siousitsa river :
Drastic offensive with the III Division, in order to seize the saddle of Koutsi, near the homonymous village and advance of the covering detachments towards the villages of Kalarati and Boliena, with a simultaneous action by the same Division in the coastal sector, so as to foothold the enemy forces that were present there.
On the same day, the A’ Army Corps issued an operations order to its divisions, by which it assigned the conduct of the above missions and it stressed the fact that despite the efforts that had already been made and which had surpassed even the most optimistic expectations, the offensive operations would have to continue without any delay, in order to accomplish in full the objectives that had been set.
- The IV Division, which had the main effort, launched its attack finally on December l7, because of the repeated counter-attacks it had suffered on December 15 and of the severe frost. Despite the severe blizzard and the arctic cold, which caused a great number of frostbite cases among the men and numerous deaths of pack animals, the Division managed to take possession of the Mali Spat height, to capture an enemy battery and two field surgeries and was able to advance to the south of Progonati village.
The attack continued during the following days and by the evening of December 22, the line of eastern ridges of Kputs height-Gusmari village-Progonati village-Bouzae Sefer Agait had been seized.
From December 23 to 28, the units improved and consolidated their positions under dramatic weather conditions. On December 28, the village of Nivitsa was taken and the entire Italian battalion, of approximately 580 men, defending that area, was captured.
According to its mission and following the occupation of Nivitsa, the Division would conduct a offensive towards the village of Salaria. However, this operation was not carried out, due to the numerous frostbite cases that took a daily toll of approximately 200 men.
The total number of casualties suffered by the IV Division, since its entrance in the war on December 8, was 15 officers and 252 soldiers killed in action, 38 officers and 843 soldiers wounded and 9 soldiers missing in action. Furthermore, 51 officers and 2,650 soldiers were evacuated due to frostbite and approximately 2,800 pack animals perished. However, the Italian losses in manpower and pack animals were also numerous. Italian prisoners of war exceeded 1,300 , including many officers.
- The II Division launched its attack on December 15 and seized the western side of the Mouskes saddle on mount Debelit on the same day.
During the following days, the arctic cold, the depth of the snow that had reached 75 centimetres, and the resupply difficulties, did not permit the conduct of any serious offensive actions.
On December l7, the Division troops operating in the centre of its zone of action seized the village of Hormova, where they captured 150 Italians and captured an abundance of war supplies belonging to the ‘Ferrara’ Division. Enemy counter-attacks conducted on December 19 and 20, in order to reoccupy the above village, were repulsed.
On December 19, a movement by the left flank of the Division towards the village of Leskoviki encountered a strong counter-action and was eventually blocked by the enemy. Due to the raging snowstorm and the extremely severe cold, this effort was repeated on December 26 and 28, but it was again unsuccessful. Subsequently, the Division temporarily suspended the offensive operations and kept busy with the defensive organisation of the terrain and, furthermore, with the living conditions of the Division troops, and pack animals.
- The III Division launched the attack on December l5. Despite the substantial support of the artillery, the attacking troops advanced very slowly, due to the enemy counter-action, the depth of the snow and the activity of the Italian Airforce, particularly in the coastal sector.
On December l9, the Division troops operating in the coastal zone seized the Giami height, after a hard fight that resulted in grave casualties on both sides. During the same day, other Division troops operating further to the north launched a surprise attack at daybreak, with no artillery preparation, against the powerfully organised Mali e Joret height. The surprise was successful and the enemy troops in the first pill boxes were caught off their guard. A fierce struggle ensued within the defensive area which lasted for three days and resulted in the occupation of the Mali e Joret height and the Koutsi saddle by the Greek troops. The successful outcome of this battle was of particular importance, since the occupation of the Koutsi saddle opened the road through the Siousitsa valley. On the Italian side, the casualties of this battle were approximately 400 killed in action and more than 950 prisoners.
Furthermore, they lost six guns, a mortar company and a multitude of war supplies. The Greek losses did not exceed 100 killed in action and wounded.
On December 2l, the height of Tsipista, Northwest of Himara, was occupied by the Greeks. After that, the Italians abandoned Himara, into which the Greek troops entered, in the morning of December 22. The liberation of Himara from the Albanian occupation, for the third time, gave rise to intense emotions all over Greece and great enthusiasm.
The occupation of Koutsi saddle and Himara alarmed the Italian leadership to such a degree that on December 24th Mussolini addressed the following telegram to Cavallero :
‘Whatever may befall you, I order you to resist to the very end in the sector of Progonati-Tepeleni-Klissoura, even if tomorrow should find yourself completely surrounded. I hereby appoint you personally responsible to carry out my order with full awareness as to its nature.’
By December 23, the Division troops continued their movement towards the villages Kalarati and Boliena and seized both on December 27. An action conducted by a Division tactical group on January 4, against the height of Skoutara in the coastal sector, was unsuccessful, because of the vigorous counter-action of the enemy.
- In the meantime, the pace of the operations of the Army Corps kept decreasing on the entire front, due to the arctic cold and the extreme severity of winter. The difficulties of resupply became almost unsurpassable and the bread ration was often reduced to an eighth of the original portion. The frostbite casualties kept increasing and the pack animals that perished due to exhaustion and low temperatures reached alarming proportions. In the Koutsi area alone, more than 1,200 pack animals perished.
Moreover, due to the discernible serious threat created by the opening of the valley of Sioustitsa, the enemy hastened to transport by sea and air substantial reinforcements and deployed them against the zone of the A’ Army Corps. These reinforcements comprised two divisions and a number of independent battalions.
Meanwhile, the Army General Staff, which was constantly being kept informed of the losses and the terrible hardships endured due to the lack of supplies, placed the Liubas Detachment and the VIII Division, both of which had been reserves of the Commander in chief until then, at the disposal of the A’ Army Corps. From January 1 to 6, the VIII Division gradually replaced the IV Division. After its relief, the IV Division concentrated its forces south of Argyrokastro as a reserve of the Commander in chief.
The Operations of the B’ Army Corps towards Klissoura
(December 13, 1940 – January 6, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- On December l2, the B’ Army Corps occupied the line Grambove-height 1150-Tserevonda, with the I Division on the left along Aoos river, the V Infantry Brigade in the centre, the XI Division on the right to the north of river Apsos and the XV Division as a reserve in the area Fraseri-mount Randomit.
After completing the required reconnaissance and co-ordination, the Army Corps issued its operation order on December l8, which determined the following:
The Army Corps would attempt to break through the enemy position, by seizing the height 1292 at the Northeast of Fratari. Thereafter, the Army Corps would apply its main effort along the ridgeline of mount Garonin (heights 1292-1237-1248) and at the same time would operate in the direction Ali Postivani-Toliari-carriage road towards Bouzi.
The final objective would be the line of Sendeli mountain-Voskopolia village-Dobrousia village, in order to secure the junctions of Klissoura and Tepeleni.
The I Division would operate on the left, in the direction of the carriage road Klissoura-Bouzi, having been assigned to occupy the area of Artza-Bouzi.
The XV Division would operate in the centre, in the direction of height 1292-height 1248, assigned to break through the enemy position and then to pursue to cut off the road to the north of Klissoura, in the area of Souka village.
The XI Division would operate on the right, in the direction of Tsepan-Dobrousia, assigned to occupy the area of Dobrousia village.
The operations were scheduled to commence on December 23.
- In the meantime, according to various fragmentary orders of the Corps, the divisions conducted the following operations from December 12 to 22.
The I Division, continuing its offensive activity in the southern bank of Aoos river, advanced as far as the village of Brezdani. Further to the north, an effort of the Division, to seize the height 1292, did not record any progress and a further attempt was halted by an order of the B’ Army Corps, which had planned to assign the seizure of the above height to the XV Division.
The XV Division, which had arrived at the area of Fraseri on December l2, was reinforced with the V Infantry Brigade as of December 13.
On December l5, the B’ Army Corps notified the XV Division that it had been assigned to break through the enemy position at Garonin mountain, and ordered it to propose the appropriate time of attack after conducting the required reconnaissance. On December 19, the Division submitted a report by which it presented its situation as this had developed after the ten-day march under a severe and continuous snowstorm through nearly impassable paths and requested to postpone the attack.
The Army Corps, deeming that the launching of the attack was a matter of urgency, did not approve of the proposal of the Division and ordered that the attack should be carried out on December 23. In parallel, attributing irresolution to the Division Commander, the Corps initiated his replacement by the Chief of Infantry of the I Division, Colonel Panaghiotis Spiliotopoulos, who assumed command of the XV Division on December 22.
On December l3, the XI Division seized the height of Kresta (858) north of Apsos river, but failed to seize the bridge of Siarova. The continuation of its efforts became increasingly difficult because of the heavy snowfalls, the resupply difficulties and the constantly diminishing number of pack animals, which were eventually reduced by well over 60%.
On December 22, the command of the Division was assigned to Colonel Sokratis Dimaratos, who had been Commander of the Cavalry Brigade until that point. Major General Nikolaos Tsipouras was placed at the disposal of the General Headquarters.
- On December 23, the attack that had been ordered by the B’ Army Corps was launched by all three abovementioned Divisions.
The I Division, despite its efforts, managed to accomplish only a slight improvement of its occupied positions. On December 24, an action conducted by this division towards Koukiari, on the northern bank of Aoos river, came to no avail.
The XV Division having also under its command the V Brigade as well as a regiment of the XI Division, launched an attack under adverse weather conditions and dense cloudiness, directing its main effort towards the height 1292. However, its troops advanced at a slow pace due to the depth of the snow and the drastic fire of the enemy. Nevertheless, the fighting continued and, by a superhuman effort, the Division troops approached the summit. However, they were forced to withdraw to their departure base due to the combined effect of the severe enemy shelling and the extremely heavy casualties that amounted to 28 officers and 631 soldiers. On the following day, the Division did not have the chance to repeat the offensive due to the continuing adverse weather conditions and the inability to forward ammunition, especially of the artillery.
The XI Division, despite the snowfall, was also able to launch its attack westwards. After heroic efforts and close combat, its troops seized the saddle of Molasi and advanced westwards as far as the village of Dobrousia. On December 24 no significant operations took place in the Division zone, but efforts were made to improve the disposition and forward its artillery, a fact that was accomplished after many difficulties, due to the terrain, the weather and the significant reduction of its pack animals.
- Meanwhile, the units began to face serious problems due to the continuous bad weather, the exhaustion of supplies and food and the great losses in pack animals. For, the ice and the slippery paths often caused the animals to fall down the ravines along with their load of supplies, without any hope of recovery. This situation of the units forced the B’ Army Corps to temporarily suspend offensive operations, awaiting the improvement of weather conditions.
The suspension of the offensive operations lasted until December 29, whereupon the weather improved and the Army Corps ordered the renewal of operations, focusing its main effort on the task of seizing and securing the height 1292.
- The XV Division troops (which had been assigned the main effort), launched their attack at 0645 hrs, on December 30, without any artillery preparation and under severe cold, managing to seize height 1292 and 1237 by surprise. The surprise was complete and the enemy abandoned many killed in action on the battlefield, about 600 prisoners and important war supplies, including 18 pack artillery pieces, 12 mortars and a number of automatic weapons and mortars of smaller caliber. Further to the south, the heights of Fratari saddle were seized.
On the following day, December 3l, the offensive continued, yet the troops operating to the west of the height 1237 were contained before the organised position of Mali Topoyanit. Facing this situation, the Division requested the permission of the Army Corps to halt the offensive, in order to advance its artillery, supplies and ammunitions, which had lagged behind due to the snow depth, the rough terrain and the muddy surface of the mule paths because of the frequency of their use. On January 1 and 2, 1941, the Division troops retained their positions and repulsed enemy counterattacks.
The I Division, also continuing its offensive effort, seized the village of Koukiari on December 31 and proceeded to advance as far as the village of Riba, approximately 2 kms to the Northeast of Klissoura.
The XI Division seized Sirakoui saddle, west of Zalosgnia mountain, on December 30. Successive Italian counter-attacks to repossess the saddle came to no avail.
- The conclusion of the two day fight, conducted by the B’ Army Corps in order to break through the enemy position at the centre of its zone, was that the enemy, though surprised and utterly crushed at height 1292, was still holding its ground strongly at that highly organised position. Italian prisoners reported that the enemy divisions ‘Aqui’, ‘Giulia’ and ‘Bari’ were those units acting against the B’ Army Corps, assisted by an Alpine regiment and a number of Blackshirts battalions.
Subsequently, the B’ Army Corps issued an order, on January 3, for the continuation of the operations, from January 5, in order to break through the Mali Topoyanit area. The break through would conducted by the I and XV Divisions, which thereafter would move their forces towards the south-west, in order to envelop the enemy forces, in the area of Klissoura.
The XI Division would operate in parallel with the central XV Division. However, by a new order of the B’ Army Corps, the attack was postponed for January 8. The postponement was deemed necessary because of the problems that the units faced, regarding their resupply, due to the continuation of the adverse weather and to the bad condition of the roads.
The Development of the Operations in the Northern Sector of the Front
(December 13, 1940 – January 6, 1941)
(Sketch-map no. 12)
- According to the General Headquarters instructions and after securing widely the high plateau of Koritsa, the WMFAS would become the powerful pivot around which the A’ and B’ Army Corps would conduct their manoeuvres in order to seize Avlonas. Thus, due to the extreme severity of that winter, as of December l3, the operations of the WMFAS were gradually limited to actions of local significance, which mainly sought to improve the occupied positions and to foothold the enemy forces.
In the zone of the C’ Army Corps, the most noteworthy operations, after the above date, were the following :
The IX Division, which was in the area of mount Kamia, dealt with the organisation of the terrain and the problematic living conditions of its troops, and pack animals.
The XIII Division relieved the XVII Division from December 26 and undertook to block off the enemy routes from the valley of river Skoubi towards the highland of Koritsa.
The XVII Division, deployed at the Northeast of the Kamia mountain as far as Pogradetz, dealt with the problematic living conditions and the terrain organisation until December 26. On December 27 it was relieved by the XIII Division and concentrated its forces as a reserve in the area north of the Maliki lake.
- In the zone of the ‘K’ Team, on December 14, the X Division crossed Tomoritsa river and seized the villages of Miliova and Rechova on the western bank. On the same day, the command of the Division was assumed by Major General Panaghiotis Gazis. Major General Dromazos, who had been the Commander of the X Division up to that point, was transferred due to health reasons.
On December l5, the ‘K’ Team was renamed to E’ Army Corps and it received an order by phone to actively advance the X Division towards the valley of Tomoritsa river.
On December l7, the Division troops reached the village of Kovatsiani. Aiming to establish an additional liaison with the XI Division of the B’ Army Corps, the E’ Army Corps ordered the X Division to operate towards Devris saddle. However, due to the severe weather the operation was not carried out. On the following day, the height of Gouri Prer at the centre, between mountains Tomoros and Moglitsa, was seized.
In the afternoon of December 22, the troops of the right flank of the Division seized the height 1453. However, after successive enemy counter-attacks, which caused them extremely heavy casualties they were forced to withdraw to their base of departure.
From December 23 to 28 the situation remained unchanged. On December 29, the height 1732 was taken along with the village of Douska in the valley of Tomoritsa river, to the east of the Tomoros mountain. Any further action was not possible due to the continuing bad weather, the resupply difficulties and the hardships endured by the Division troops and its pack animals. Thus, the only Division of the E’ Army Corps fell into a state of inactivity and was assigned thereafter to hold its ground and provide a liaison between the B’ and C’ Army Corps.
Suspension of the Large Scale Offensive Operations
- The Italian Leadership, facing the danger of an impending occupation of Avlonas, made every possible effort to halt the Greek advance. In parallel, it reinforced the Albanian front with new forces and abundant war supplies. From mid-December and until the beginning of January, five additional divisions arrived in Albania. These were the ‘Aqui’, ‘Kouneense’, ‘Kouneo’, ‘Brennero’ and the ‘Wolves of Tuscany’.
Since December 29, the general command of the Italian forces in Albania was assumed by General Cavallero, who replaced General Soddu.
- The Greek General Headquarters was facing very serious problems during the same period. The extremely severe winter together with the transportation problems that had arisen, had in many cases created unsurpassable difficulties in the resupply and evacuations. Furthermore, there was great need to supplement the shortages that had been created after the two-month expedition, in personnel, pack animals, armament and other war supplies.
Under those circumstances, the General Headquarters decided, at the end of December, to suspend the large scale offensive operations. However, it did not abandon the local offensive actions, in particular those of the B’ Army Corps, in order to create favourable conditions for the future operations towards Avlonas.
The above decision of the General Headquarters was disseminated to the Large Units along with the instructions, issued on January 6, 1941.
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. Συνέχεια
The Military and Political Situation in the Balkan Peninsula in the Beginning of 1939 and the Expansionist Aspirations of Italy
- In July, l923, after the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece strove to organise the country and restore it from the ruins of the First World War and the Asia Minor Expedition. The enormous problem of the reception, relief and rehabilitation of approximately one and a half million expatriate refugees from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor demanded an immediate solution. Furthermore, other vital issues that needed to be dealt with, were the reorganisation of the army, the economic recovery and the restoration of order in internal political affairs.
The primary concern of the foreign policy was to secure the territorial integrity and to safeguard the national independence. Initially, Greece sought to fulfil this aim within the bounds of the general guarantees, offered by the charter of the League of Nations (LoN). However, when the collective security system and the LoN mechanisms proved powerless to guarantee the right of national inviolability, the rendering of justice and peace to the smaller countries, Greece was forced to resort to the old-fashioned practice of balance of forces and to the direct communication among the countries. Thus, after a five-year diplomatic isolation, Greece began to exercise a policy that sought to broaden the co-operation with its neighbours, in order to solve existing differences and pending issues. These acts led to the reinforcement of the bipartite ties between states and a series of friendship pacts were signed with Balkan and non Balkan states, as follows: Συνέχεια