The War Illustrated No 64 Vol 3 November 22nd 1940

534 T lx War Illustrated November 22thI, 1940 Mussolini’s Men Checked in the Mountain Battle After a fortnight of war the Italians had made an inglorious showing in their invasion of Greek territory. The outstanding event was th*defeat of the Alpini, described below, while the occupation of Crete made Italy’s position even more vulnerable than hereto­fore. But the main Italian effort yetis to come. Shortly before he launched his attack on Greece Mussolini is stated to have expressed his confidence that the Italian troops would be in Athens within 12 days. A fortnight after the offensive opened, however, the Italians had still along way togo so far from having reached Athens, they had not yet sighted the roof­tops of Janina. Moreover, in one section of the front the invaders had been driven back, and Koritza— one of the chief Italian supply bases in Albania— was threatened by Greek detachments which had succeeded in carrying at the point of the bayonet the heights which dominate the town. Then on November 11 came the news of another reverse to the Italian arms, one even more spectacular and unexpected. “Between October 28 and November 10,” ran an official bulletin issued in Athens on the latter date, “operations proceeded on a large scale in the mountainous and thickly wooded region of Smolika and Grammos in the north of the Pindus range, which resulted in the complete defeat and breaking-up of an Alpini division, one of the crack enemy divisions, supported by cavalry, Bersaglieri and a Fascist militia formation.” The Alpini division— it was the Third, from Venice— was mobilized long ago, and had seen service in Albania before the- war began. N o doubt it was selected by the Italian Command as being the one most capable of dealing a quick, decisive blow at the Greek forces in Epirus. When it made its attack it was supported by strong forces of artillery and tanks, with which it was con­fidently hoped the Greek communications would soon be threatened and severed. The Alpini attempted a dash across the mountains with a view to reaching Metsovo, some 20 miles to the north-east of Janina, whence it might debouch onto the plains of Thpssaly and Epirus and cut the Salonika- Athens railway at Larissa. .The Alpini made some progress down the Sarantaporo and Aeos valleys, and as the enemy advanced the Greek light covering forces withdrew before them. Indeed, they did their best to draw the Italians ever deeper into the mountainous gorges, and for a week the northern entrance to the Aeos valley was deliberately left open so that more and more of the enemy might be enticed into the trap. While the Italians were making their way along the rough mountain tracks— roads is hardly the word to use— the Greeks were being steadily reinforced, and night after night little bodies of Greek soldiers clambered into position on the lofty peaks, which dominated the gorges along whose bottoms, several thousands of feet below, the Italians were making their painful way. Then, at the opportune moment, the Greeks launched their counter-attack. For days they fought with characteristic stubbornness over most difficult country in cold and rain, often going hungry because of the difficulty of obtaining their viands such supplies and stores as reached them in their eyries were brought up with the aid of women from the neighbouring villages. At length the fierce fighting came to an end the enemy forces were completely overthrown and, in their haste to avoid -being surrounded they retreated in disorder, hotly pursued by the Greeks. In their mad rush down the gorges they carried away with them Italian rein­forcements which had been landed at Valona, and which were being rushed in motor-lorries to the aid of their comrades. Whole platoons of the enemy flung away their arms and plunged into the mountain torrents, already considerably swollen by the autumn rains. Scores were swept away by the rushing stream before they could make the opposite bank, and were drowned. Hundreds more sought safety inflight across the mountains, and days afterwards the Greeks, patrolling the wooded heights, came upon heaps of enemy corpses already showing signs of having been mauled and half­ devoured by, mountain bears and .wolves. Large numbers of prisoners were taken, and a great quantity of all sorts of war materia! fell into the hands of the victors. By November 10 the fighting was over the Alpini division had been destroyed. Italy Sends aNew General That the seriousness of the defeat was realized in Italy was demonstrated by, the appointment to the command of the Italian troops operating in Greece of General Soddu, who was formerly Italian Under-Secretary for War, and who was now recalled from Egypt, where he had been acting as Graziani's Vice-Chief of Staff. Generals Vercellino and Geloso were also dispatched to Albania to takeover the command of the 9th and 11th Army Corps. These appointments presaged a determined effort to wipe out the shame of the Alpinis- defeat. Elsewhere in Greece, almost the only signs .of military activity were in Crete, which was occupied by British troops early in Novem­ber. As the little British Expeditionary Force came ashore in Suda Bay they received a vociferous welcome from the Greek shep­herds, shopkeepers and fishermen, who poured down to the waterfront and cheered wildly as the soldiers, in full war kit, were landed from British warships. Gifts of fruit and nuts, fresh milk and wine, were showered upon them, and in avery short time the newcomers had made themselves comfortable in a land whose hills and fields made a *pleasant and welcome contrast with the sandy deserts of Egypt. Though the weather was calm and the landing was made in day­light, the Italians did nothing to hinder it. aBut day or two later Italian bombers overflew Rhodes and dropped bombs in the neighbourhood of Candia and Canea and on, or rather near, the warships assembled in Suda Bay. They were soon driven off, however, by the ships’ anti-aircraft guns. By the occupation of Crete, Britain not only established herself across the lines of In the mountainous country on the frontier between Albania and Greece, Greek pack artillery (lig h t guns carried on mule-back) has proved a valuable arm .Here a train of these guns is marching towards the^A lbanian fro n tier, where they can traverse such rough mountain tracks as that seen in page 536, impassable even by the lightest mechanized vehicles Photo, WorldWide
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