Extract from ‘Revised strategic appreciation of the Southern question’, German General Staff briefing paper OKW ZB4/20/5/43/1, June 1943
…5. The unfavourable turn of political events in the south, notably the Italian betrayal, has in part blinded us to the heavy odds we would in any case be facing in that theatre, above all arising from the yielding of air superiority to masses of American aircraft… taking all these factors into account we can look for no useful offensive action anywhere in the Mediterranean theatre. We must therefore turn our attention to anticipating enemy initiatives.
6. We have noted a tendency to downplay the significance of the Southern theatre on the part of officers who have mainly taken the East as their field of activity. They emphasise the need to concentrate all forces for CITADEL in order to achieve decisive effects. Clearly CITADEL represents our main offensive effort for 1943, but an over-emphasis on it betrays a misapprehension of the stakes in the South. Although Anglo-Saxon, French and Greek formations muster fewer men than Soviet, they now generally employ greater firepower. Their Air is a factor counting against us to an extent not true on the Eastern front.
7. It is worth dwelling on this point. The re-equipment of French and Greek forces with American materiel, now largely complete, means that these forces cannot be estimated at the same value as in 1940-1. Hitherto the successes of French and Greek forces have chiefly been against Italian opposition; in the future we must treat them as threats almost on a par with Anglo-Saxon formations. This despite the fact that French forces in particular include large numbers of inferior racial elements. Party circles lay heavy emphasis on this point in order to downplay the threat, but this under-estimates the degree to which materiel can compensate.
8. The enemy threat in the south resembles a trident, with prongs pointing towards Salonika, Rome and the south of France, and the enemy can choose at will which prong they will push with greatest force.
9. The recent build up of French forces in Corsica and Sardinia is of very great concern. Several factors indicate a Franco-American invasion through the Riviera this year.
10. Firstly, the large build-up of French and American air forces in Corsica and Sardinia (see annex B). This is on a scale quite exceeding the requirements of defence, or of providing flanking support to operations in Italy.
11. Secondly, the extraordinary growth of radio traffic in the region, which our analysts have demonstrated has always signalled large-scale operations in the near future. Much of the content of this traffic has been decrypted, thanks partly to poor enemy cyphers, and it indicates a large build up of forces and stores in Corsica.
12. Thirdly, the likely attitude of the Algiers regime, which came close to collapse last year and therefore urgently needs to re-establish itself in metropolitan France. Recently many Algiers parliamentarians and newspapers have assailed the government for its tardiness in recovering French territory and its subservience to Anglo-Saxon strategy. We should note the political opportunities that might arise if a French-led effort against the Riviera were to be defeated, which we detail further in annex F.
13. Fourthly, the withdrawal of French forces from other fronts. We note that the enemy have reduced V Corps in Greece to two divisions, and only XIX Corps remains in Italy. By our calculations they could by late summer have an army of 10 divisions available, supplemented by American forces which continue to flow into the theatre.
14. Given that the Riviera and Rome constitute the points in the South which we must hold in 1943, we propose a thorough review of the forces allocated to the Greek front, with a view to handing over greater responsibility there to the Bulgarians. This review must of course take into account the need to maintain forces in the Balkans sufficient to maintain Sofia’s loyalty…
Leoni, La Follia
, ch. 15
During the summer we slowly reorganised. We all hated Caserta, but found we could not get anywhere better. We went hungry often - the food situation had begun to improve, and the Americans were generous with their rations, but I could not bring myself to eat much more than the locals, who showed the effects of war in their gaunt faces. More than ever we cursed the madness that drove our rulers into this war.
Yet the war continued to rage, and honour demanded that we participate in driving the Nazi scourge out. Our Army had largely disintegrated, but we still had a few brave men with the right spirit. By June we had a weak division at the front, under American command, with which I had the honour to serve for a time…
One day in July the General called me to his office. With some trepidation, I went, concerned that he might wish to upbraid me concerning the Termoli affair. Instead, he welcomed me graciously and invited me to join our mission in the Aegean, where my friend Fabio was already present.
Matters had become difficult there. The Greeks, of course, wanted to annex the Dodecanese islands, and we could put up only a rearguard action - in a diplomatic sense, of course. London, Washington and Algiers were united on this question. Much as it pained us, we understood that the folly of our rulers meant the loss of these islands by our country. But also, we must shed blood to redeem Greece from the enemy. We hoped this would help to restore our standing with the new masters of the world.
The British and Greeks had taken the other islands, and now showed interest in Samothrace. They and the Americans had begun to mount escorted bombing raids against Ploesti, which evidently the islands in the north would assist with. But it seemed academic, by all accounts the Germans had by now put a garrison there, which by all accounts would need at least a brigade to handle. We had learnt that there were not enough troops or landing craft for the operation. Not long after we heard of the Borneo invasion, and we understood. Still, we felt there might still be possibilities. We had retaken Thessaly - I now found myself thinking “we” in a quite opposite sense to before - but the generals disliked going any further north on the mainland without first securing the remaining islands. Besides in those days all available supplies and reinforcements had to go to support the operations south of Rome. So during August I joined British and Greek officers looking at our options.
The food situation in the north Aegean was bad, perhaps even worse than the Greek mainland, with hunger common. The poor folk lived largely by fishing, and this had stopped due to the constant clashes between Germans and Allies by air and sea. Even without the fighting, we and the Germans had scooped up most of the boats for various purposes the previous year, and they were never replaced or compensated. I felt a certain culpability in this.
Furthermore, we had reports that some of our countrymen remained there. Many of our men had been barbarously murdered by the Germans after surrendering, but reports said a handful were under guard on Samothrace, either as hostages or for intelligence reasons, it was not quite clear. Rumour had it the Germans kept only a weak garrison there, and we enjoyed air superiority. So General Alexander (a good name for this theatre!) gave permission for a raid, with the goal of rescuing as many people as possible from the place, and “to keep Jerry on his toes” as my friend Major Easonsmith put it...
We presented an exotic mixture. The British provided a company of Royal Marines under Major Easonsmith. Then we had a reinforced battalion of Greek troops from the Crete garrison, the Sacred Band, a name to conjure with: I saw them drill, and thought of how wonderfully they carried on the great martial tradition of Epaminondas and Philopoemen. They had trained specially for this operation. At my insistence, we added a battalion of our men. I addressed the men of our Regina division. Many of them were very war-weary and wanted nothing more than to go home, but I reminded them that we had a score to settle; so as it turned out we did not lack for volunteers. We did lack landing craft, though. I asked around and called in some favours, and we obtained the use of the old landing ship Garigliano
. By good fortune she was in those waters, and had just come out of repair.
There was also a party of volunteers from the Jews of Rhodes, naturally thirsting for the chance to hurt the Germans, and a company of South Africans, who had turned up from somewhere, apparently just looking for some fun. As an aside, I should say I saw much of the South Africans in those days. I remember saying to Fabio that they seemed to me the most imposing and manly of all the troops of the British Empire. Fabio thought them great fighters, but also added: ‘but you haven’t seen the Anzacs.’
This whole assemblage, violating every principle of national cohesiveness, went aboard the Garigliano
plus some old Greek and French corvettes and destroyers, and some British light craft. Since we had arranged our participation, Fabio and I insisted on joining the force. We set sail on the eve of the solemnity of the Assumption, and I prayed long for courage, that I should make a fine figure, and for the success of our mission…
We landed on the east coast, as I recall. Fabio was with a party that set off to find the Italian prisoners, while I stayed with the main body of our troops, who pushed inland to attack a German strongpoint that had been shown by air reconnaissance. With my heart in my mouth, I fired the red flare to signal the start of the assault, and our men surged forward. Within minutes they fired a green flare to show the capture of the objective. The rest of the men and I went forward, and found the place empty. ‘No-one at home,’ said the captain in command…
Fabio came on the radio, and said he had found the same. None of our men - no Germans either. ‘What do we do?’ he asked.
Perhaps it was a rush of blood to the head, but I heard myself saying, ‘let’s push on, this raid might become a liberation.’ And so it was… The Greeks had pushed north as well and found only a handful of Germans, most of whom they captured. Some time after midnight the Rhodians turned up with a captured MG42 and a couple of helmets as souvenirs: no need to ask what had happened. The South African commander, a bearded rascal who was called just ‘Olly’, came with me to the beach just before dawn, where we met the British naval officer, a very young lieutenant, who was supposed to take us off. ‘We’re staying’, said Olly, ‘we like it here.’ He turned to his signaller. ‘Tell the flyboys we’re here, or the dumb beggars will bomb us by mistake. Again.’
‘Just as well we’re staying,’ said the lieutenant, ‘you do realise Garigliano
has broken down?’ The poor old thing was still stuck on the beach. Evidently my guardian angel, or someone’s, had been working hard. As the sun rose a flight of fighters - the curious twin-fuselage American type that the French and Greeks loved - appeared overhead, to our great comfort.
To this day it’s not very clear exactly what had happened. General Muller likes to say that he had temporarily withdrawn the German garrison to strengthen the garrison in Thasos, or Chalkidike, where they feared a landing, and that it was all planned. Also there has been a suggestion that the Army troops were to have been replaced by a Luftwaffe unit, and that poor inter-service communication caused the fiasco. But that is not the story we heard from the German prisoners, none of them more senior than a lieutenant. ‘They said it was just a rotation,’ they said. ‘We were just keeping things quiet here until fresh troops arrived. They were supposed to come tomorrow.’ Having had much experience of disasters, I must say that the whole affair appears like one of those “God-awful cock-ups” (Translator’s note: English in original
) that all too often occurs when a military machine, in this case the German one, is under great stress. Whatever the truth of it, I must say that this affair was in many ways the high point of my war…