This Day In History: Hitler Is Enraged Over Mussolini’s Invasion Of Greece (1940)

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On this day in 1940,  Hitler makes his feelings about the Italian debacle in Greece known.  Hitler meets with Italian Foreign Minister Ciano over Mussolini’s disastrous invasion of Greece. Mussolini had surprised everyone in Rome when he had announced the invasion of Greece, which has been technically neutral. Not even senior Italian commanders had been consulted, including the Chief of Staff. Previously, the Duce had told Hitler that he had no intention of invading Greece. Hitler did not want the Axis to become involved in the Balkans at a time when the Germans were fighting the British and the Italians had been defeated in North Africa.

However, Mussolini was jealous of the German successes in France and elsewhere and he was determined to emulate these successes. Moreover, the Duce was eager to create a great Italian Empire and he was eager to acquire more territories. Mussolini was also encouraged to invade by a number of prominent Fascists who believed that the occupation of Greece could make them rich.

Greek_Army_during_Primavera_Offensive_Klisura_March_1941
Greek soldiers during the Primavera Offensive in 1941

Mussolini had been warned off invading Greece by his own army. The argued that the army was already engaged in North Africa and more men were needed to prevent the British from driving them out of their possessions in Libya. The Chief of Staff also argued that a mountainous country such as Greece would be difficult to conquer. Mussolini ignored all the warnings and he ordered the Italian army in Albania to invade Greece. He believed that he could bribe the Greek government to surrender. However, it seems that the money that was destined for the Greek politicians was stolen by Fascist agents.  The actual invasion was a disaster and not only did the Greeks defeat the Italians but they managed to push them out of southern Albania. The Italian army was on the verge of collapse and their situation became precarious when the British began to supply the Greeks with arms and provided them with air cover. To make matters worse the British had sunk several Italian battle ships at Taranto.

Hitler when he met Ciano, abused the Italian and made his anger at Mussolini’s invasion clear. The Nazi leader was angered by the fact that the invasion allowed the Greeks to enter into an alliance with the British. Despite his anger Hitler knew that he had to intervene. He was especially concerned that the British could use Greece as a staging post for an invasion of the Balkans. Moreover, the British had been able to establish an air base near Athens that could hit the vital Romanian air fields. Initially, Hitler considered offering the Greeks peace terms. The Greeks launched the Primerveria Offensive in the Spring of 1941 and the Italians were once more on the retreat.  Hitler decided that the Germans had to invade and occupy Greece and in April 1941 the country was occupied. It is widely believed that this invasion fatefully delayed the timetable of Operation Barbarossa.

 

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