Tag Archives: Greco-Albanian Front 1940-1941

Italians in Greece and Albania

Italian soldiers captured in Greece and Albania arrived in Australia on 13th October 1941 on the Queen Mary into Sydney. A number of Italian officers from the Greek Campaign arrived in Sydney on the Queen Mary’s previous voyage: 16th August 1940.

Unfortunately, these Italian prisoners of war, due to clerical processing oversights, are not clearly identified. It is difficult to know how many Italians from the Greek Campaign arrived in Australia. It appears that they were processed as prisoners of war in Egypt and the clerical staff recorded their place of capture as LIBYA.  Some Italian soldiers must have requested the addition of Greece or Albania, so we have this confusion: Place of Capture- Libya (Greece) or Libya (Albania).

A special thank you to Giulia Sigon. Her nonno Vinicio Sigon was the impetus for me to delve into this theatre of war. 

2nd Lieut Raimondo Uda serving with the airforce was captured on 30th July 1940: Antichitera Greece.

Italians Invade Greece

At 3 p.m. on Monday 28th October 1940, Italian troops crossed the border into Greece. In the first18 hours the Italians captured one small border town, but the Greeks counter attacked and advanced eight miles into Albania.  

On 30th October 1940, the newspaper reported Italy’s invasion of Greece: with the headlines: Italy Invades Greece, Duce’s Ultimatum Rejected.

On 30th October 1940 2nd Lieut Francesco Tieri an accountant serving with the 18th Regiment is captured

On 1st November 1940, Gino Volpi 2nd Lieut, a student from Firenze is captured.

On the 3rd November 1940, Gabriele Masulli a mechanic from Portenza is captured in Greece.

On 7th November 1940, Captain Alfredo Moricone from Ascoli Piceno is captured.

Reported 7.11.40

ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE SHATTERS AXIS PRESTIGE

LONDON, Wednesday

Greek artillery is shelling Korca from the heights, six miles to the south of the city…  The newly captured heights mentioned in today’s Greek communique- are believed to be south-west of Korca.

Yugoslav reports state that the Greeks captured a  bridge on the Bechlista-Korca road above the Devoli River. The Greek advance in this sector was resumed after consolidating the positions beyond Bechlista, and attacks were continued throughout the night. Monastir, a point on Lake Presba, where the Yugoslav and Greek frontiers meet, was again bombed to-day, but there were, no casualties.

1940 ‘ITALIANS’ SLOW PROGRESS IN GREECE’, Glen Innes Examiner (NSW : 1908 – 1954), 7 November, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178545565

Antonio Damiani serving with an Alpine division is captured on 10.11.40 as is Luigi Mattei a Doctor, Corrado Celbrin, Ventruino Bacchschi Infantry.

Corporal Giovanni Bassignani with the 42 Fanteria is captured at Tepeleni on 13th November 1940.

Reported 21.11.40

The War in Greece Italians on Defensive

Threatened Supply Line Threatened

LONDON, November 12.

Latest reports of the fighting between the Greek and the Italians disclose that the Greeks have consolidated their positions on the centre front. It is also reported that Italian attacks on the Macedonian front have been repulsed.

The weather is clear on the Greek-Albanian frontier and the battle is still raging on the heights of Coritza. A Greek official statement claims farther successes in the air, Greek bombers being reported to have blown up ammunition dumps. The report also claims the further capture of Italians.

A message from Athens states that the smashing of the Italian Alpine divisions in the Pindus sector is considered an important victory. Italian generals pinned their hopes in the Alpine divisions being able to penetrate the Pindus mountains… The main Italian offensive against the Greek centre has been liquidated one week after the date set by Mussolini for the triumphal entry of Italian troop into Athens. The Italian drive against Salonika from Korca has also been flung back.

Only 8000 Alpine troops out of 12,000 escaped the Greek trap. A relieving infantry column was also routed.

1940 ‘THE WAR IN GREECE’, The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 21 November, p. 15. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75441236

Giovanni Brondo was captured in Albania on 26th November 1940.  On the 29th November 1940, Raffaele Carrozzo and Giovanni Formasieri were captured. On 30th November 1940, Pietro Lazzarin, Alfredo Bianchi, Pietro Bruscagin, Giuseppe Bellon were captured in Greece while Angelo Fattorello was captured in Albania.

Reported 7.12.40

3 ALBANIAN TOWNS FALL TO GREEKS

ARGYROKASTRON, last of the main bases from which the Italians launched troops for the invasion of Greece, fell to Greek troops yesterday, completing a black week for the Italians. Premeti on the Voyusa River, north of Argyrokastron, fell on Wednesday, night  and Santi Quaranta, the seaport base in the south-west was occupied just before Argyrokastron.  This straightens the Greek line’ in the southern sector. 

In the northern sector the westerly wing of the Greek Army, operating

from Koritza and Pogradetz, has pushed into Albania’s main oil

territory, the valley between the Skumbi and Delvino rivers.

1940 ‘Black Week For Italians’, Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 7 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48366880

Between 9th December 1940 and 23rd February 1941 the following soldiers are captured:

Vinicio Sigon (Nevizze). Luigi Cremaschi, Angelo Crippa (Pogredes), Riccardo Minari, Rodolfo Morelli (Pogradecci), Rocco Dolci, Francesco Lima, Primo Facchielli (Progradecci), Bettino Betti, Vitale Bartalucci (Pogradec), Adriano Bergamini (Goriza), Lodovico, Mario Barollo, Nello Avanzini (Nevizze), Luigi Di-Filippo (Clisuro), Gino Grandi (Chiusure), Gaetano De Mario, Antonio Pignatelli (SPI-Camarate) Donato Di Gregorio (Clisuro), Armando Continenza (Tepelene), Giuseppe Curti, Francesco Bernardini, Ezio Giorni, Alfredo Bellini, Pietro Franco, Gaetano Pavone, Giovan Battista De Gandenzi

Reported 3.3.41

SNOW ON THE BATTLEFIELDS

With mountain battlefields covered by fresh snow and hidden in storm clouds, and with visibility nil, operations in the Telelene area have been seriously hampered.

Ousted-from strongpoint after strongpoint and reeling back under the hammering of Greek artillery and the relentless pressure of tireless Greek infantry, the Italians once again found the weather an ally when they needed it most.

On battlefields a mile above sea-level snow once again lies deep, shrouding unburied dead and covering shell-scarred slopes and ridges with a mantle of dazzling white. Biting winds like blasts from the Arctic howl down ravines, and it is cold-bitterly, terribly cold.

Pack-mules slip on mountain paths treacherous with ice. Soldiers find snowdrifts five feet deep in front of their posts, making movement well-nigh impossible. Artillery observers trying to watch the enemy’s lines from positions carefully selected, can see nothing but a blanket of impenetrable fog.

It has been raining heavily for days. The Drinos and Aoous rivers are running bankers…

ITALIAN MORALE LOW

The Italians badly needed the respite the weather afforded them. Despite a stiffening of reinforcements of Bersaglieri and Blackshirts fresh from Italy they had lost position after position, and there had been convincing evidence that their morale was very low.

I saw a paper which was taken from a dead Italian officer. It was a long general order, exhorting Italian soldiers not to abandon their arms on the battlefield. The order stated: “Guard the arms which have been entrusted to you by the Fatherland. Cherish your cannons, machine-guns, and rifles. Those who abandon them are cowards and traitors. The enemy will use weapons you leave on their field of battle against you and your brothers.”

Considering the quantity of material of all kinds the Italians invariably jettison when defeated, the order was not without point.

The Greeks are using not only hundreds of Italian lorries, but Italian cannons, mortars, machine-guns, hand grenades, and even rifles captured since the war began.

I also saw papers found on a lieutenant colonel who was captured in this sector some days ago, when the Alpine battalion he commanded was smashed in a Greek attack. They included an order to captains of companies stating that it had come to his attention that men were surrendering and abandoning their lines. The colonel ordered the captains to post men with automatic rifles, with orders to fire on any soldier attempting to surrender

or retreat.

 Prisoners frequently tell me they have been machine-gunned by their own troops when attempting to surrender. They say that this task is usually given to Blackshirts, who are posted to the rear of the front line.

1941 ‘SNOW ON BATTLEFIELDS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3 March, p. 10. , viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17728649

The shaded section of the map indicates the territory now in Greek hands. Progress of the fighting since the Italians invaded Greece in October is also shown.

1941 ‘HISTORY OF ALBANIAN CAMPAIGN’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas.: 1900 – 1954), 17 March, p. 1. (LATE NEWS EDITION), viewed 19 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52408671

From the 1st March to the 17th March 1941, the following men have been taken prisoners: Albertin Almerino (Monaster), Calligari Angelo, surgeon Boldrini Walter (Albania Pesdani), Graneri Lazzaro, Gaiassi Eugenio, Fraschini Bruno,  Cacciamali Giovanni and Gabrieli Stefano (Telepeni) Tancredi Domenico (Albania Anivinocasit) Benzoni Bartolo, Giuseppe Gentile, Michele Locantore (Greece/Albania)

For a more comprehensive account:

Il Fronte Greco was published in February 1942.

Captured in Albania… where to next?

It is with special thanks to Vinicio Sigon that we know the answer to this question. Vinicio was captured in Nevizza Albania. He was transferred from Albania to Greece to Egypt to Australia.

 Possibly, this is a similar journey to other Italians who were captured in this theatre of war. Nevizza [I think] is Nevich or Neveçisht now on the outskirts of Korca [Korytza].

Vinicio Sigon served with ‘Alpine Troops’ when he was captured at Neviza Greece on the 30th December 1940. He was a 2nd Lieutenant and had served six years in the army. He is seated second from the left in the photo below.

Myrtleford, Australia. 5 November 1943. Group of Italian officer prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 5 POW Camp. Back row, left to right: Sambo; Rabusin; Fabiano; Papa; Marchi; Nebiolo. Front row: Vergani; Sigon; Lanza; Rosano; Socini; Bandirali. (AWM Image 030153/14 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)

Vinicio Sigon kept a log including his movements and dates.

Vinicio Sigon’s Journey

30.12.40 Captured at Nevizza

31.12.40 Agrinorasto [Argyrokastro]

1.1.41 Gianina [Janina/Ioannina]

5.1.41 Prevese [Preveza]

6.1.41 Patosso [Patras]

7.1.41 Atene [Athens]

11.1.41 Piseo [Pireas]

2.3.41 Creta- Canea [Crete- Chania]*

3.5.41 Alexandria**

17.5.41 Geneifa

26.7.41 Suez

27-28.7.41 Mar Rosso [Red Sea]

2.8.41 Selon [Ceylon – Trincomalee]

5.8.41 2 Antimeridiane passagio equatore

10.8.41 Porto Commerciale di Perth [Fremantle]

15.8.41 Arrivo a Sidney

*Italian prisoners of war Crete: Reported that 16,000 Italian prisoners of war including 576 officers were held in four camps: Heraklion sector, Agio Thomas sector, Chania sector and Rethymno sector.

** The date of Vinicio’s arrival in Alexandria Egypt on 3rd May 1941 is significant. 

***In the last week of April 1941, the British Commonwealth Forces were evacuated from Greece via Crete.

Allied Evacuation of Greece

Most likely the Italian prisoners of war held in Crete were evacuated under threat of a German assault on Crete. The German assault on Crete began 20.5.41.

Canea (Hania), Crete. 1941-04. Members of the 6th Division Signals stand on the wharf next to a ketch which is moored there. Two of these boats delivered 120 men from Greece during the evacuation to Crete. (Original print housed in AWM Archive Store) (Donor G White)

Khania (also known as Canea), Crete, photographed in May 1941 by Corporal Goodall.

1941-05. ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION ENTRAINING FOR CAMPS IN PALESTINE AFTER DISEMBARKING FROM CRETE FROM WHERE THEY HAD BEEN EVACUATED.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. 1941-05. DISEMBARKATION OF TROOPS OF 6TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION AFTER EVACUATION FROM CRETE.

***Greek Campaign 1941

Australian and New Zealand troops (redesignated the ANZAC Corps) undertook some very successful local fighting [in Greece] but withdrawal was soon inevitable. The occupation of historic Thermopylae Pass by Vasey’s 19th Brigade was merely a respite in the retreat down to Athens. The evacuation began on 24 April and over 50,000 troops were removed over five successive nights. A number of small, isolated groups and individual Allied soldiers who had been cut off from the retreat were left behind in Greece. Many of these escaped largely owing to the bravery of the Greek people who assisted them.

Over 26,000 weary Allied troops landed on Crete in the last week of April 1941. They remained on the island for less than a month. In a brief, savage campaign, the Australians inflicted heavy losses on the German paratroopers. One German battalion lost more than two-thirds of its men. Another rearguard action by the 2/7th Battalion, AIF, and the New Zealand Maori battalion left 280 German dead and allowed the retreating forces to reach the evacuation point in Suda Bay. HMAS Perth was hit while carrying members of the AIF back to Egypt. The British admiral in charge of evacuation called it “a disastrous period in our naval history”.

Although 15,000 men were evacuated by ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, some 12,000 Allied troops, including 3,000 Australians, were left on Crete and most became prisoners of war of the Germans. As in Greece, some made daring escapes. Many were sheltered by the people of Crete.

 (https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/greek_campaign)