Battle of Elaia–Kalamas

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Battle of Elaia–Kalamas
Part of the Greco-Italian War
Kalamas1939.JPG
Trench construction in Elaia–Kalamas line by Greek military personnel, March 1939
Date 2-8 November 1940
Location Epirus
Result Greek defensive victory
Belligerents
 Fascist Italy  Kingdom of Greece
Commanders and leaders
Gen. Rossi (XXV Army Corps)
Gen. Giannini (23rd Div "Ferrara")
Gen. Maglie (131st Armoured Div "Centauro")
Mj. Gen. Charalambos Katsimitros (8th Infantry Division)[1]
Mj. Gen. Nikolaos Lioumbas (Thesprotia Sector)[1]
Col. Dimitrios Giatzis (Kalamas Sector)[1]
Col. Georgios Dres (Negrades Sector)[1]
Strength
42,000 men
23 Infantry Division Ferrara
6 battalions
2 battalions of blackshirts
44 guns
131 Armoured Division Centauro
3 motorized battalions
170 light tanks
32 guns
Elements of the 51 Infantry Division Siena
Air Force:
400 aircraft
15 battalions[1]
56 guns (14 batteries[1])
Casualties and losses
unknown total
partial data:
28 October – 5 November:
160 killed
41 missing
561 wounded
unknown total
partial data:
1–5 November:[2]
59 killed
208 wounded

The Battle of Elaia–Kalamas (Greek: Μάχη Ελαίας-Καλαμά) took place in Epirus on 2-8 November 1940. The battle was fought between the Greeks and the Italians during the initial stage of the Greco-Italian War. The Italian Army, deployed on the Greek-Albanian border, launched a major offensive against Greece on 28 October 1940. The main thrust of the Italian invasion occurred in the Epirus sector, with a further flanking move through the Pindus mountains. In Epirus, the Greeks held the ElaiaKalamas river line, but the Greek units were outnumbered and their General Staff was pessimistic as to the outcome of the fight. Nevertheless, the local Greek forces, under Major General Charalambos Katsimitros, managed to successfully stop the Italian advance.[3] Along with the Italian failure in the Battle of Pindus, these Greek successes signified the complete failure of the Italian invasion, leading to the dismissal of the Italian commander in Albania, Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, on 9 November. In the next few weeks, the Greek forces managed to initiate a full-scale counteroffensive which forced the Italians to retreat deep into Albanian territory.

Background[edit]

After the Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939, the Greek General Staff became alerted to a potential Italian attack from Albanian territory. Faced with the strong likelihood of a concerted Italian-Bulgarian attack against both Epirus and Macedonia-Thrace, the main Greek contingency plan, codenamed "IB" (for "Italy-Bulgaria"), essentially prescribed a defensive stance in Epirus. Two versions of the plan existed: the first suggested forward defence on the border line, while the second dictated initial defense in an intermediate position prior to a gradual retreat to the Arachthos River-Metsovo-Aliakmon River-Mt. Vermio line, leaving most of Epirus in Italian hands. It was left to the judgment of the local commander of the 8th Infantry Division, based in Ioannina, Charalambos Katsimitros, to choose which plan to follow.[3] A significant factor in the Greeks' favor was that they had managed to obtain intelligence about the approximate date of the attack, and had just completed a limited mobilization in the areas facing the expected Italian plans.[4]

Battle[edit]

Greek soldier sitting on a captured Italian tankette.

The attitude of the Greek High Command during the first days of the conflict was pessimistic about the ability of the Greek Army to repulse an Italian attack against a position which was difficult to defend.[3] In general, the defensive line near the Greek-Albanian border could only be thinly manned before the general mobilization could offer the necessary reinforcements, and thus was expected to fight the enemy forces only in order to delay their advance.[3]

The commander of the only Greek division (VIII) in the area, General Ch. Katsimitros, realized the strategic value of the area, in which the Italian superiority in men and armour had limited value because of the mountainous and marshy terrain. Contrary to the Greek HQ directives, he concentrated the main forces of his division there, with the intention to give an all out battle in that position. The Greek HQ under General Alexander Papagos had reluctantly approved Katsimitros's plan after sending as a new chief of staff in the division the Brigadier Drakos, who after careful study of the area also agreed with the division's original plans.[5]

The Italian forces initiated their offensive on the morning of 28 October. The Italian "Ciamuria" Corps, spearheaded by the 51st Siena and 23rd Ferrara Infantry Divisions, as well as by the 131st Centauro Armoured Division, attacked toward Kalpaki (Elaia), while on its right it was supported by a small brigade-sized "Littoral Group" of ca. 5,000 men.

According to the plans the Greek screening units started a slow retreat toward the main defensive line of Elaia-Kalamas, ca. 30 km (19 mi) southward of the Greek-Albanian border, north of Ioannina. On 2 November, the Greek forces were positioned according to the defensive plan in the line: Kalamas-Elaia-Grabala-Kleftis hill. On this day, after repeated air and artillery strikes, the Italian infantry of the Ferrara Division attacked unsuccessfully in order to advance the bulk of their forces closer to Elaia sector.[6]

The Italians faced difficulties because of the harshness of the terrain. The next day, their light L3/35 tankettes and medium M13/40 tanks were unable to cope with the hilly terrain and the muddy ground. The Greek defensive line could not be breached. On its right, the Littoral Group managed a slow advance along the coast and was able to secure a bridgehead over the Kalamas River on 5 November. However, as a result of harsh weather conditions, poor leadership, and the presence of minefields, the Italians lost many men.[7]

On 8 November, the fruitless Italian offensive was suspended.[6] Because of the complete failure of the Italian operations, commander Sebastiano Visconti Prasca was relieved of his command after only two weeks, and replaced with General Ubaldo Soddu.[8]

Aftermath[edit]

After the successful Greek defense in Elea-Kalamas as well as in the mountains of Pindus, the Greek forces were able to push back the Italians, advancing into southern Albania. Before the German intervention in April 1941, the Greeks penetrated 30 to 80 kilometres (18 to 49 miles) deep into Albanian territory.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Η Ιταλική Εισβολή, Έκδοσις Διευθύνσεως Ιστορίας Στρατού, Αθήναι 1960, page 49
  2. ^ Η Ιταλική Εισβολή, Έκδοσις Διευθύνσεως Ιστορίας Στρατού, Αθήναι 1960, page 114
  3. ^ a b c d Giannēs Koliopoulos, Koliopoulos John S., Veremis Thanos M. (2009). Modern Greece: A History Since 1821. John Wiley and Sons. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-4051-8681-0. 
  4. ^ Sakellariou M.V.. Epirus, 4000 years of Greek history and civilization. Ekdotikē Athēnōn, 1997. ISBN 978-960-213-371-2, p. 389.
  5. ^ Epirus promachusa, Ch. Katsimitros
  6. ^ a b c Army History Directorate (Greece). An abridged history of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German war, 1940-1941. Hellenic Army General Staff, 1997. ISBN 978-960-7897-01-5.
  7. ^ Willingham Matthew. Perilous commitments: the battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941. Spellmount, 2005. ISBN 978-1-86227-236-1, p. 28.
  8. ^ Mitcham Samuel W.. Eagles of the Third Reich: Men of the Luftwaffe in World War II. Stackpole Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8117-3405-9, p. 114.