Italian Spring Offensive
|Italian Spring Offensive|
|Part of the Greco-Italian War|
Unit of the Greek Army awaiting the Italian offensive
|Fascist Italy||Kingdom of Greece|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Carlo Geloso||Alexander Papagos|
|9 divisions||6 divisions|
|Casualties and losses|
|11,800 total||1,243 killed
The Italian Spring Offensive, also known as the Primavera Offensive, was a military conflict of the Greco-Italian War that lasted from 9 to 16 March 1941. This offensive was the last Italian attempt of the war to defeat the Greek forces that had already advanced deep into Albanian territory. The opening of the offensive was personally supervised by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini himself, but ended a week later in complete failure.
On 28 October 1940, while World War II was in full swing, Fascist Italy declared war upon Greece. The Italian units unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate from Albania into northwestern Greece. They were soon pushed back and the Greek army launched a counter-attack deep into Albanian territory.
In February 1941, intensive preparations to strengthen the Italian front line began. By the end of the month, the 15 Italian divisions fighting in Albania had been reinforced by an additional 10. In order to raise the morale of the soldiers, Benito Mussolini ordered the units to be accompanied by the most aggressive fascist cadres, and also by government ministers and high-ranking officials.
The operation was to be directed and observed by Mussolini himself, who arrived in Tirana on 2 March 1941, while Italian radio announced that the dictator himself would personally lead the Italian attack. This was launched on 9 March, under General Carlo Geloso and started with heavy bombardment of Greek positions by Italian artillery and aircraft. The assaults were carried out by 11 infantry divisions and the 131st Centauro Armoured Division.
The attack was mainly directed against the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 11th, 15t and 17th divisions of the Greek Army, and was followed by repeated infantry assaults. Intense fighting occurred between the rivers Osum and Vjosë, an area dominated by the Trebeshinë heights. On 14 March, Italian General Ugo Cavallero, realizing that the attacks were failing to break through the Greek lines, advised Mussolini to stop the offensive. Fierce fighting occurred on a height codenamed "731", which was unsuccessfully assaulted by the Italians at least 18 times. On the other hand, the Greek forces implemented a strategy of active defense, which included counter-attacks when the Italians approached, and systematic exploitation of terrain advantage. A decisive factor for the final Italian defeat was that the Greek artillery could not be neutralized, along with the high morale of the Greek troops.
After the Italian failure the Germans could no longer expect any appreciable support from their Italian allies when they marched against Greece, since Greek forces were only ten miles away from the strategic port of Vlorë. With the German intervention and the subsequent capitulation of Greece in April 1941, the sector around height "731" was proclaimed a holy area by the Italians and a monument was erected by them, due to the heavy casualties they suffered. Hitler later conceded that his forces were able to have an easy victory in Greece due largely to the heroic effort of the Italian army which had pinned down and worn out the bulk of the Greek army on the Albanian frontier.
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