The Italian invasion of Greece in 1940 was one of the great military disasters of the Second World War. Despite outnumbering the Greeks in every branch, the Italian invasion was very easily repulsed. The Greeks were then able to counterattack, and the Italians were forced back into Albania, suffering one of their most humiliating defeats of the war. The Italian army was reinforced, but even then the ‘spring offensive’ of 1941 ended with another defeat, and the fighting ended with the Italians well behind their starting line! Only German intervention changed the balance of the war.
We start with a look at the background to the invasion, which large came from Italian ambition rather than any particular rivalry between the two countries. The roots of the Italian failure are then examined, looking at the poor state of the Italian high command, the over-ambitious plan, the poor state of most of the army units committed to the campaign and the limited capacity of the Albanian ports, which restricted the speed of any Italian build-up. On the Greek side each branch of their military was outnumbered on paper, but were generally well equipped, and proved to be more capable in action than their Italian rivals.
Once the invasion begins, a clear pattern emerges. Almost all Italian attacks ended in failure, and the morale of their units began to suffer. Greek counterattacks were far more effective, and the Italians soon ended up close to collapse. December 1940 was a bad month for the Italians, starting with the ‘darkest hour’ of the Italian army on the Greek front, and ending with the start of Operation Compass, and the collapse of the Greek position in North Africa. We get a clear narrative of the campaigns in the Balkans, starting with the failed Italian invasion of 1940, moving onto the successful Greek counterattacks, and ended with yet another failed Italian offensive in the spring of 1941.
This is a useful account of this key campaign, which is often overshadowed by the successful German invasion that followed in 1941, but that actually played a major role in disrupting Hitler’s timetable for 1941, forcing him to bail out his Italian allies in the Balkans as well as in North Africa.
Origins of the Campaign
Author: Pier Paolo Battistelli