Mussolini was compelled to attack Greece as he saw Italy becoming a second-rate partner to Hitler’s Germany. Germany’s early successes in 1939 and 1940 put more pressure on Mussolini to exert its dominance in the Mediterranean: “Mussolini deliberately chose a Mediterranean war even before the magnitude of German triumph became apparent. It was more than a question of prestige or ‘honor’, or of fulfilling Italy’s Pact of Steel commitments.” As Knox advises Mussolini’s entry into the war and subsequent attack on Greece was to satisfy his domestic political program – a war of revenge on the Italian establishment; and, to prove that Italy was also a warrior nation, similar to that of Hitler’s Germany.
On to Greece
In what would be one of the more complex strategies among all the Second World War’s belligerents, Italy’s direct reasoning for the invasion of Greece included the need for dominance of the Balkans in light of Nazi Germany’s impending control of Eastern Europe. Once ready to invade Greece, the Greek government had advance warning of the invasion from their ambassador in Rome. Once alerted, the Greek forces that mobilized were comparable in strength to the Italians. The artillery advantage went to Greece while tanks were the Italians strong suit – but suffered from being too lightly armored. The Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) suffered from a lack of training coupled with the lack of navigational equipment for flying in inclement weather. Italian ground forces lacked proper or adequate winter clothing – essential for cold-weather warfare in rugged terrain. The Regia Aeronautica was unable to provide any close air support due to bad weather; instead targeting Greek cities. Unable to rely on a strong supply system, the Italians were driven back into Albania by Greek forces. Meanwhile, the Italian Navy suffered losses which affected the ground troops in Greece and ultimately Albania. The Royal Navy damaged three Italian battleships, and sank four merchant ships tasked with supplying Italian ground troops. Attacks and counter-attacks raged on between Italy and Greece in Albania throughout the winter and into February of 1941. Resulting in a stalemate and failure for Italy, Nazi Germany’s intervention in the theater took hold in Spring 1941.
1 MacGregor Knox, Mussolini Unleashed 1939-1941: Politics and Strategy in Fascist Italy’s Last War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 102.
2 Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000) 96-97.