Operation Battle of Pindos

The 'Battle of Pindos' was fought between Italian and Greek forces in the Pindus mountain region of Epiros and West Macedonia in north-western Greece after the Italian 'Emergenza ''G''' invasion of Greece (28 October/13 November 1940).

Generale di Divisione Fedele de Giorgis’s elite 3a Divisione alpina 'Julia' invaded Greece from the Pindos mountain sector. After its initial advance, the division was surrounded by Greek formations and units, and forced to retreat after suffering heavy losses. In the aftermath, the Greeks were able to push back the Italians, advancing deep into Italian-occupied Albania.

After the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939, the Greek general staff became concerned about the possibility of an Italian attack from Albanian territory, which in fact began on 28 October 1940. The Italian command deployed the 3a Divisione alpina 'Julia' with the objective of capturing the strategic mountain passes of the Pindos range as swiftly as possible. During an Italian war council, the Italian commander in Albania, Generale di Corpo d’Armata Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, stated that the Pindos mountain range would be no problem for Italian units, and foresaw no difficulty in getting his divisions straight through to Athens.

The Greeks divided the theatre of operations into the Epiros and Macedonia sectors linked by the 'Pindos' Detachment. This last, commanded by Syntagmatarchis Konstantinos Davakis, was deployed along a 22-mile (35-km) line in the Pindos mountain range with some 2,000 men and four pieces of artillery. The primary Greek formations in this region were Hypostrategos Vasileios Vrachnos’s 1st Division and Hypostrategos Georgios Stanotas’s Cavalry Division.

The primary objective of the 3a Divisione alpina 'Julia', which initially deployed 10,804 men and 20 pieces of artillery was to advance toward the Pindos mountain range and seize the strategic pass at the town of Metsovo. This would have a crucial effect on the outcome of the battle, since it would break the Greek supply lines and separate the Greek forces in Epiros from those in Macedonia. The Italian division managed to cover 25 miles (40 km) of mountain terrain in freezing rain and captured the village of Vovousa, but was not able to reach Metsovo. On 2 November, Davakis was severely wounded during a reconnaissance mission near Fourka. By this time, however, it had become clear to the Italians that they lacked the strength and the supplies to continue in the face of the flow of Greek reserves arriving in the area.

On 3 November, the Italian spearhead was surrounded on all sides, and de Giorgis requested the Italian headquarters that relief attacks be undertaken. Italian reserves were then committed to the battle, but these reinforcements from Albania were unable to reach the isolated Italian forces and the 3a Divisione alpina 'Julia' suffered heavy losses. Throughout this period, Greek reinforcements were arriving in the Pindos sector, in which the assistance of the entire local population was invaluable. The situation became still more acute for the Italians, whose pocket came under pressure from Greek units which had advanced into the area.

The 3a Divisione alpina 'Julia' was eventually able to break out of the encirclement, but lost about one-fifth of its strength and retreated to Koritsa. The villages that had initially been captured during the Italian advance, namely Samarina and Vovousa, were recaptured by the advancing Greek forces on 3/4 November. Within less than a week, the remaining Italian troops had been driven back into roughly the same positions they occupied along the frontier before Italy’s declaration of war.

By 13 November, when the Italian strength had risen to 23,000 men and 112 pieces of artillery, the entire frontier area had been cleared of Italian forces, thereby ending the 'Battle of Pindos' as a complete victory for the Greeks, whose strength was now 32,000 men and 114 pieces of artillery. Highly significant in the Greek success was the failure of the Regia Aeronautica to attack and disrupt the mobilisation and the deployment of the Greek forces as they moved to the front. As a result of this failure to interdict Greek movements, the geographical and technical obstacles faced by the Greeks in transporting men and matériel in the mountainous terrain to the front line proved surmountable.

In this failed invasion, the Italians lost 5,000 men. After their successful defence in Pindos and the Elea/Kalamas sectors, the Greeks were able to push back the Italians and themselves advance ever deeper into Albanian territory.

It has been argued that the assistance provided by local women during the conflict was crucial to the outcome of the battle. The women of the surrounding villages assisted the Greek forces in several ways, but their most important contribution was the movement of guns, food, clothing and other important supplies to the front as vehicles could not reach the battlefield as a result of adverse weather conditions and the very poor nature of the area’s roads.