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The Italo-Greek War, 1940-1941

   In October 1940 Italian forces based in occupied Albania launched a surprise invasion of Greece. Mussolini and his advisors anticipated a quick and painless victory, but the Greeks—who had already begun mobilizing in secrecy—resisted fiercely, halted the Italian advance, and pushed the invaders back. During a snow- and mud-clotted winter in the rugged mountains, the campaign settled into a bloody stalemate. In the spring the reinforced Italians launched a fresh offensive, but their campaign—and the entire Italo-Greek War—was soon overshadowed by the German blitzkrieg in the Balkans, the rapid Allied evacuation, and the dramatic air assault on Crete.
   A significant number of books cover the campaign in Greece in 1940 and 1941, but these tend to written from the British perspective (notably Playfair's British official history, the Australian official history, and the New Zealand official history volumes) and many of them concentrate on Crete in particular (including, besides the official histories, Stewart and MacDonald and Clark).
   Much less can be found, especially in English, written specifically on the Italo-Greek War. Here is a survey of the main books available, mostly in English but with a few key volumes in other languages thrown in as well.

 

Bitzes, John G. Greece in World War Two to April 1941. Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1989
   Written from a very Hellenic perspective and quite favorably disposed toward Metaxas. More than half the book covers the Italo-Greek war and surrounding diplomatic events. No great detail, but some interesting insights.

Bragadin, Commander Marc. Italian Navy in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1957
   There seems not to be a great deal of material available in English specifically about naval aspects of the campaign, but Bragadin offers a few pages in his history of the Regia Marina.

Cervi, Mario. The Hollow Legions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971
   Cervi's is one of the principal English-language sources for the Italo-Greek War. Translated from the Italian, it covers the military aspects of the campaign especially well, both in the front lines and in the Italian higher headquarters. Focuses more on Italian operations, but also utilizes Greek materials to balance the equation.

Hellenic Army General Staff. Abridged History of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German War. Athens: Army History Directorate, 1997
   This is a hefty (350 pages), invaluable source prepared by the Greek Army as an abridgement of The Greek Army in World War II (see below) and translated into English. Excellent detail on combat operations, orders of battle, weapons, and combat strengths. Detailed, multi-color maps. About half the book covers the war through March 1941, with the remainder covering the German invasion including the final phase on the Albanian front. Not well known and not easy to acquire, but a necessity for anyone studying the Italo-Greek War.

Hellenic Army General Staff. The Greek Army in World War II. Athens: Army History Directorate
   For those who can read Greek, these seven volumes are a gold mine:

The Causes and Pretexts of the Greek-Italian War, 1940-41

The Italian Invasion (28th October - 13th November 1940)

The Greek Counter-attack (14th November 1940 - 6th January 1941)

Winter Operations and the Italian Spring Attack (7th January - 26th March 1941)

Operations in Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace (6th - 10th April 1941)

The End of an Epic War (27th March - 30th April 1941)

The Battle of Crete (20th - 30th May 1941)

Higham, Robin. Diary of a Disaster: British Aid to Greece, 1940-1941. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1986
   Less about the Italo-Greek War and more about British reactions to the war, diplomatic maneuverings, and the eventual German intervention and Allied defeat. Nonetheless, more than half the book covers the pre-German period and provides a good overview of Anglo-Greek consultations and British support.

Knox, MacGregor. Mussolini Unleashed, 1939-1941. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982
   One of the best books on Italian plans and strategies—or perhaps that should be Mussolini's plans and strategies—through the end of 1941. Not much on actual operations, but very good on the top-level decision-making, the balance of forces, and the folly of it all.

Lazzarini, Mario. Ottobre 1940: La Campagna di Grecia. Campobasso, Italy: Italia Editrice, 1995
   Available only in Italian, but packed with photos, tables, charts, maps, and diagrams that make it easy to pick out much useful material. For anyone who reads Italian, or with a little effort and a pocket dictionary, the text also yields a great deal of information. Especially good on OBs, tables of comparative forces, and maps showing positions of units.

Ministero della Difesa. La Campagna di Grecia [three volumes]. Rome: Ufficio Storico, 1980
   These three official history volumes from the Italian Ministry of Defense contain just about everything there is to know about the Italian side of the war. Unfortunately, they're more difficult to come by and considerably more intimidating than the volume from Italia Editrice. The first volume provides detailed accounts of all Italian operations against Greece during the 1940-1941 campaign. The second volume contains page after page of orders, reports, memoranda, and other documents. The third volume comprises photos and illustrations. Great stuff, but denser than the Lazzarini, requiring more effort unless you already know the language.

Papagos, General Alexander. Battle of Greece, 1940-1941. Athens: Alpha Editions, 1949
   Surprisingly difficult to obtain, this is a very nice English-language history by the Greek commander. A fair number of somewhat self-centered (and self-serving?) pages, but a great deal of very solid information on OBs, TOEs, strengths, plans, and combat operations. Weak maps, but great orders of battle including Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Italian forces in proximity to Greece.

Shores, Christopher et al. Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece, and Greece. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1987
   For air operations, this is the only real choice. Fortunately, Chris Shores and his co-authors do their usual fine job. The first chapter covers the aerial combat between Italian and Greek forces during the opening phase of the war. The next three chapters cover arrival of British air assets and the ongoing air campaign prior to the German invasion. Detailed air OBs for all concerned.

Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
 

 

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