Operation Zwischenspiel

interlude

This was the German occupation of Sámos island in the Aegean Sea (21/22 November 1943).

In September 1943, at the time of the Italian armistice with the Allies, the local Greek resistance forces, led by Bishop Erenaios, reached an accommodation with Colonnello Giovanni Ferrari’s Italian garrison forces of Generale di Divisione Mario Soldarelli’s 6a Divisione 'Cuneo', and Erenaios became head of the temporary administration.

Measuring 27 miles (43 km) in length and 8 miles (13 km) in width, with an area of 184 sq miles (476 km²), the island had long been an objective which the British hoped to secure in the Aegean Sea, and late in September a Special Boat Squadron party paved the way for the arrival of part of the 2/Royal West Kents to garrison the island as part of Major General H. R. Hall’s Aegean Command responsible for the holding of Léros and Sámos islands and the infliction of as much disruption as possible to the German lines of communication throughout the Aegean Sea.

The key to control of the Aegean Sea was Léros, a fact that was recognised by the Germans when they launched their 'Leopard' (iii) undertaking to take the island on 13 November. The British decided to bolster their forces on Léros using elements of garrisons on other Aegean islands including Sámos, from which men and ammunition were ferried by sea on 15 November. With the loss of Léros on 17 November, it became clear to the British that Sámos, farther to the north and thus farther from any possible reinforcement and air cover from the Middle East, was not longer tenable. On 18/20 November, therefore, 18 British (including 75 men of the 2/Royal West Kents), 358 men of the Greek Sacred Regiment, 400 Greek resistance fighters and 2,978 Italians had been evacuated even as the Germans bombed the port of Vathi (at least 50 aircraft) and Tigani. Another 84 British were removed from the smaller island of Ikaria just to the west of Sámos.

The Germans were thus able to bring in their forces without meeting serious opposition from the few Italians left on the island. The assault force was the 3/1st Jägerregiment of Generalleutnant Friedrich Kühlwein’s Division 'Brandenburg'.