Italian strength in Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia comprised thirty-one division-sized units, the bulk of them under the Italian Army Group East in Tirana, and a total of 380,000 men at the time of the signing of the Italian armistice on 3 September 1943. Though in the process of withdrawing from the Balkans at the time their government capitulated and realigned itself on the side of the Allies, these forces still held most of Albania; portions of Slovenia, Dalmatia, and Montenegro; the Ionian Coast and Islands of Greece; and a number of the Aegean Islands. In addition, they had troops in Croatia, in the interior of Greece, and under German command on Crete.
Negotiations between the Allies and the Badoglio government were conducted in great secrecy, thus the abrupt capitulation of Italy caught both Italian and German commanders by surprise. The immediate German reaction was to put Operation KONSTANTIN (seizing control of the Italian-occupied areas) into effect, and to disarm those Italian units that refused to continue the war on the German side. The capture of Foggia, with its great air base, and the adjacent ports in Italy by the Allies on 17 September made it imperative for the Germans to secure control of the Dalmatian coast and ports without delay. Unable to advance farther in Italy for the moment, the Allies might well attempt a crossing of the Adriatic in force.
The opportunity to procure much-needed weapons and equipment was not lost by the guerrillas, who immediately called upon the Italian garrisons to surrender. Fearful of guerrilla vengeance, however many Italian units waited in place to be disarmed by the Germans, and the situation developed into a race between Germans and guerrillas to reach them.
II. Yugoslavia and Albania
Some 4,000 men of the Isonzo, Bergamo, and Zara Divisions in Dalmatia, Slovenia, and Croatia deserted their units to join the Partisans and Chetniks when the Italian armistice was announced. The Firenze Division, under its commander, went over as a unit to the guerrillas in Albania. A number of higher commanders and staffs managed to obtain transportation by air or sea to Italy, while the remaining Italian troops were disarmed by the Germans and guerrillas. Incensed by what they considered treachery on the part of their former allies, the Germans made it a point to single out Italian units and installations in their continuing antiguerrilla operations. Italian troops disarmed by the irregulars were bombed and strafed in their unit areas by German airmen, and German ground troops hunted down Italian groups and units with the guerrilla forces opposing them.
The Dalmatian port of Split, with enormous stocks of food, clothing, fuel, and ammunition for the Italian occupation forces fell to the Partisans and their thousands of adherents among the dock workers and left-wing elements of the population. Though the Partisans were forced to evacuate Split, they managed to remove considerable quantities of stores before the arrival of German forces. Nor were the Chetniks idle during this period of changing authority Strong detachments moved into Dalmatia, seizing long stretches of the coastal areas and obtaining stocks of arms from Italian' units sympathetic to them in the past.
The Croatian state, truncated by the Italian annexation of Dalmatia, moved forces into the coastal areas, fearing the Italians would try to hold Dalmatia until confirmed in its possession by the Allies as part of the reward for changing allegiance. Too, the Poglavnik had to impress his restless population, and a show of force against the former Italian overlords in their weakened state appeared to be an ideal opportunity.
'The confused situation and sporadic fighting of the next few weeks ended with the Germans in control of the ports, main centers of population, and exposed coastal areas. The Partisans, laden with loot, were busily re-equiping and regrouping their forces in the mountains and carrying out a harrassing campaign against the new occupation troops. In Slovenia and Dalmatia, to relieve their own troops of many routine security duties, the Germans banded together the Italian-sponsored "White Guard" of Rupnik and the "Blue Guard" of Novak, the latter a Chetnik commander, into the "Domobran," a home guard-type of organization. Large numbers of Chetniks turned to the Partisans, and others gave up the struggle to return to their homes. The Croat units came under German control or returned to Croatia to support the weakening government of Ante Pavelitch.
Farther away from home than the troops in Yugoslavia, thousands of Italians in Greece chose to surrender to the Germans rather than continue the war on the German side, and numerous Italian troops from other units were integrated into labor battalions. Unlike their countrymen in Yugoslavia, most of the remaining Italian troops in Greece were disarmed by the Germans and immediately interned.
Several major units, however, elected to aline themselves on the Allied side. The Pinerolo Division and Aosta Cavalry Regiment went over to the ELAS-EDES forces, and plans were made to commit them as units. When one proposed operation was refused by the Italians and another was complete]v unsuccessful, the Greeks disarmed both the division and the regiment and accepted volunteers from them into regular guerrilla units. A few of the Italian troops in Greece managed to make their way back to Italy or fled to the mountains as individuals or in small groups eventually to be captured by the guerrillas or to join the bands on their own initiative. A force of 1,100, war-weary and not desirous of fighting on eitber site, made its way to internment in central Turkey. The situation on the Greek islands presented a different picture to that on the mainland. While Italian forces on Crete were disarmed without difficulty by the Germans, those on Rhodes surrendered only after a pitched battle and a strong show of force. On Cephalonia, the commander and 4,000 of the garrison were shot for resisting a German demand to surrender and units on other islands established contact with British forces in the Middle East by radio to request reinforcements.
Augmented by British troops, the garrison of Leros held out against heavy German attacks for several months finally surrendering with 5,350 Italians and 3,200 British on 17 November. Samos, the last of the larger Greek islands held by the Italians, surrendered a days later.
It was proposed by some planners that the Germans abandon the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula and withdraw to a more defensible line in northern Greece. Hitler, however, would not permit it, nor could Germany risk exposing; the sources of so many strategic raw materials to attack by aircraft the Allies would certainly bring with them to Greek bases. An estimated 50 percent of Germany's oil, all of its chrome, 60 percent of its bauxite, 24 percent of its antimony, and 21 percent of its copper were procured from Balkan sources. Hence, despite the advance of Allied troops in Italy to a point below Rome and the superiority of the Allied air forces over southern Greece and the Greek islands, the German defenders were ordered to remain in place.
It would seem that some of the Italian troops were more aggressive after the surrender then before. I hadn't realized that the Germans were ready to kill so many also. Especially on Cephalonia where they shot the Italian commander and 4,000 troops who resisted.