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STORMO! © 2005 5 (2005) 1-2

Aerial Operations in the Greek Campaign October 1940 - April 1941

Giulio Gobbi

June, 2005

This is the translation of an article first published on Modellismo Piu.

This article covers the aerial operations during the Italian Campaign of Greece in 1940/41. Of interest are several references to historical documents and letters.

On 28 October 1940, the beginning of operations in Greek territory, Comando Aeronautico Albania della Regia Aeronautica was based at Tirana, Albania and had at its disposition 38° Stormo da bombardamento at Valona with SM.81s, 105° Gruppo da bombardamento at Tirana with SM.79s and 160° Gruppo Caccia CT (Fighter Squadron) with two squadrons of Fiat CR.32s at  Drenova and the 72° Gruppo Osservazione Aerea providing aerial observation with the IMAM Ro.37 composed of the 25°, 42° and 120° Sq. based at Coriza, Valona and Argirocastro. On 5 November these small forces were increased with the addition of the 104° Gruppo da bombardamento at Tirana with SM.79s and the 24° and 154° Gruppo Caccia CT operating from Berati with two squadrons of Fiat G.50s and the 150° Gruppo Caccia with 363°, 364° and 365° Sq. each equipped with the Fiat CR.42 at Tirana, Valona and Argirocastro. In all on 5 November, the Regia Aeronautica could support the movements of the Regio Esercito with the following forces in Albania:

31 SM79

24 SM81

47 Fiat G50

46 FIAT CR42

14 FIAT CR32

25 IMAM Ro37

In Puglia Italy, maritime forces that could participate in the invasion of Greece included the 4° Zona Aerea Territoriale which would eventually become the 4° Squadra Aerea with the 35° Stormo da bombardamento marittimo (Maritime Bombers) using the Cant Z. 506 based at Brindisi. On land, 37° Stormo da Bombardamento with SM.81s and Fiat BR.20s were at Lecce, the 47° Stormo da bombardamento at Grottaglie with the CANT Z.1007 bis, and the famous "Picchiatelli" of the 96° Gruppo bombardameto a tuffo at Lecce with Junkers Ju87B/R2.  Fighter cover was provided by the 2° Gruppo Caccia with Fiat G.50s and Fiat CR.42s with the two squadrons 150a and 152a Sq. at Grottaglie and Bari.  The 41° Gruppo da bombardamento with CANT Z.1007 Bis and the 372 Squadriglia Caccia with Macchi MC.200s were based at Brindisi. In total airbases in Puglia could support operations in Greece with the following forces:

60 CANT Z.1007bis

23 CANT Z.506

20 Ju.87B/R2

12 Macchi MC.200

33 FIAT G.50

9 FIAT CR32

In total, from airbases bases in Albania and Puglia there were 135 bombers, 151 fighters and 25 reconnaissance aircraft.

Greece could not oppose this air force on equal footing. The fighters available to the Greek Air Force included 36 PZL P24F of Polish design divided into three Squadrons the 21st, 22nd and 23rd with ten aircraft each and in which the defense of Salonicco, Kastoria, Kozane and Larisa were entrusted.  There were 9 Bloch MB.151 of French design equipping the 31st Squadron to protect Athens. Greek bombers included 9 modern French designed Potez 633 equipping the 31st Squadron, 12 Bristol Blenheim Mk I equipping 32nd Squadron and 10 Fairey Battle Mk I equipping the 33rd Squadron. Reconnaissance units were equipped with 16 German Henschel Hs.126 and the navy had 10 Avro Ansons and 9 obsolete fighter biplanes, the Fairey IIIF.

On paper the disparity was remarkable, not just in quality, but even the modern equipment such as the Potez and the Bloch were hardly available due to pilot training and limited supplies of spare parts. Thus the Regia expected to sweep the Greek Air Force in a maximum of 5 days and then concentrate its support on army operations undisrupted, however this did not happen, and until the German participation the combined Greek and British Air Forces continued to harass the Regia Aeronautica.

As mentioned in a previous article on the campaign in Greece (http://modellismo.lineaweb.net/modules/news08/article.php?storyid=25), the Regia Aeronautica and the Regia Marina were held outside of operations planning and consequently Superaereo received "enigmatic" demands such as the letter of Benini Undersecretary of State for Albanian Operations Planning to the Gen. Pricolo Chief of the General Staff of the Regia Aeronautica dated 6 September 1940:

"6 September 1940 : n. 195520/2784 – Dear Pricolo, please be informed of preparations to be carried out at the soonest possible moment for signed actions against Albanian territories subject to Greece (I emphasize the "signed action" n.d.r.), the points are summarized as follows:

a) to prepare air borne units for air assaults on Ciamuria and to prepare the necessary units with arms and supplies.

b) have the R.Ministero dell'Aeronautica study the possibility of the use of air borne units to assault Ciamuria. To such a purpose it is suggested to rapidly train Albanians who wish to join  such an action. On the whole the Ecc. Ciano has approved of such proposals, provided they are thought feasible from the R.Ministero dell'Aeronautica. Please let me know your thoughts - Affez.mo Benini."

"6 Settembre 1940 - n. 195520/2784 - Caro Pricolo, nel programma che si và preparando per essere pronti in ogni eventualità , a svolgere la nota azione contro le regioni albanesi soggette alla Grecia (sottolineo il "nota azione" n.d.r.) sono stati compresi i seguenti punti:

a) approntare dei paracadute per lasciar cadere in Ciamuria, in località convenienti. armi e munizioni.
b) Far studiare dal R.Ministero dell'Aeronautica la possibilità di approntare un reparto di paracadutisti destinato ad operare eventualmente in Ciamuria. A tale proposito si suggerisce di costituire un rapido corso d'addestramento per Albanesi che desiderassero unirsi a tale azione.
In linea di massima l'Ecc. Ciano ha approvato tali proposte, sempre che esse siano ritenute attuabili dal R.Ministero dell'aeronautica. Mi fò premura perciò d'informartene e ti sarò grato se vorrai farmi conoscere il tuo pensiero al riguardo.- Affez.mo Benini."


To such a strange letter, Pricolo replied of only knowing of indirect ways of attacking Greece and that while he thought feasible the plan of an airborne drop of troops and ammunition, he expressed strong doubts on the ultimate effectiveness of such an operation.  Fortunately the operation did not come to pass due to time and cost constraints.  On 9 September Superesercito officially contacted Supermarina and Superaereo in order to agree to operations against Epiro and the Joniche islands and on 12 September was transmitted the following letter:

“ ...... 1 – OPERATIONS AGAINST the YUGOSLAVIA (Emergency "E") the political situation in Jugoslava requires the operations be executed swiftly as indicated by the Duce. Therefore by the end of October the operations must be completed so as to be in a position to profit from the eventual internal turmoil in Jugoslava.

2- OPERATIONS AGAINST GREECE (Emergency "G") We must consider the possibility of an armed intervention in order to occupy the Ciammuria, Epiro and the Joniche islands. The transport of troops must be carried out by the end of September........."

To gain their first successful campaign the Army wanted to be sure that Air Force and Navy played only a marginal part and informed their two respective general staffs only at the last possible moment. In mid October 1940 at Tirana, HQ did not fully understand the condition of some of its airfields for example at Valona, Durazzo and Argirocastro there did not exist lodging and shelter for staff and ostensibly referred to existing barracks as an "air terminal". The fuel reservoirs amounted 1500 drums, spare parts were insufficient, there was only 2500 tons of ammunition, some supplies of clothing, a few motor vehicles and only a single unit of engineers at Tirana. Outside those airfields equipped with telegraphic or telephone lines, communications were conducted via radio or via aerial courier. Radiometric assistance was done from Brindisi, Italy. Moreover efforts of shipment of material from the mother land were hampered due to sinkings by Royal Navy submarines which sunk the Chisone, Hermada and Olympia cargo ships with precious communications equipment, fuel and supplies.

The choice of the date for the beginning of operations was particularly unfortunate, the start of winter which benefited the Greeks tremendously: Until 1 November the weather was so bad to render what ever type of flight activity impossible and on 2 November with weather worsening the Albanian air fields were reduced to marshes and therefore, bombers and ground attack aircraft operating from Puglia alternated themselves on important objectives such as the Corinto canal, the railway port of Salonicco and the ports of Corfù, Kastoria and Gianina without appreciable results. On 3 November "strategic targets" had to be abandon and Italian bombers were employed on secondary targets in an attempt to check the Greek counter-offensive.  The engagement of Italian pilots was remarkable during this time, according to various sources flying as many as 200 to 400 sorties in a single day.  All Ju.87s available were diverted to the Greek Front at the cost of neglecting the important task of anti-shipping and attacking Allied supply convoys directed toward Libia, tasks in which they were more adapted to. The SM.79 and the CANT Z.1007 could do little not having true targets to strike.  On 2 November Greek P24Fs shot down an SM.81 to the north of Giannina. In the succeeding days, Italian bombers bombed Greek supply lines losing 2 Cant Z.1007bis, a SM.79 and a CR.42, against the loss of a P24F. On 15 November all missions were concentrated on Corciano. Although the few Greek bombers did little damage and with a sacristy of forces they found the courage to push their attacks to Bari although enduring very serious losses. British reinforcements arrived at Valona on 15 November with 6 Vickers Wellingtons and without escort attacked and were intercepted by Fiat G.50s losing four planes, two shot down and two that forced landed. The British supported the Greek counter offensive with the 33rd Fighter Squadron composed of Gloster Gladiators and the 30th Bomber Squadron composed of Bristol Blenheims. At the end of the month Blenheims of the 84th and the 211th Squadrons arrived together with the 80th and the 112th Squadrons of Gladiators.

The weather conditions worsened and up to the beginning of December the few remaining SM.81s were transferred to Lecce where they were converted to transports in order to try to alleviate the situation regarding fuel supplies that was becoming dramatic.  Other aircraft were transferred to air bases in Puglia or were concentrated on the Albanian air fields of Berati, Devoli, Argirocastro and Tirana again to deal with fuel shortages.  In Puglia on 23 November arrived Macchi MC.200s of the 373° and 374° Sq. arriving from Veneto to Bari.  There were 27 SM 79 of the 42° Stormo at Grottaglie and at Lecce 14 Ju.87Bs of 97° Gruppo Tuffatori and 8 MC 200s of the 370° Sq. were transferred to Foggia. The 95° Stormo transformed to a land unit abandoning its CANT Z.506s for the CANT Z.1007, while 12 SM.79s and 21 Fiat G50s were transferred to Libya. The first large scale engagement between the Regia Aeronautica and the RAF occurred on 19 November when 20 Gladiators of the 80° Squadron clashed with 5 Fiat CR.42s shooting down 4. On the 27 November 7 Gladiators attacked 3 CR.42s shooting down 1 CR.42, and the day after, another duel in which 4 Gladiators were shot down for the lose of 3 CR.42s.  Aerial combat intensified to the end of the month with about 20 or 30 aircraft lost on each side before the forced pause of December. During this time the Italian pilots were gallant and in those few days in which weather permitted, never did the RA respite in carrying out close support of ground troops when it was required.  For example the pilots of the 97° Sq. on 9 December succeeded in carrying  out 23 missions/day/crew with a total of 150 sorties without suffering any losses while slowing down the Greek counter-offensive each time, and giving a much need break to Italian troops in which the front was less than twenty minutes flying time from Italian airfields.

In February 1941 with an improvement in weather conditions, air combat between the Regia Aeronautica and the RAF resumed.  On 9 February, 24 CR.42s escorting BR20s met with a mixed formation of Gladiators and PZLs, both sides losing two fighters each. On 13 February, 12 Blenheims on a mission to Tepeleni were attacked by 12 G.50s with five Blenheims shot down. On 20 February arrived the first Hurricanes. At the beginning of March SM.81s of 38° Stormo were replaced by BR.20s.  The CR.42s of 150° Gruppo were replaced by MC.200s. Also arrived were 12 Ju.87Bs at Valona as well as 32 Macchi MC.200s and 8 Ro.37s. On 4 March, 11 CR.42s attacked a formation of Blenheims protected by Hurricanes and in the ensuing clash two CR.42s were shot down for the loss of one Hurricane. Between the 9 and 14 March losses included 2 MC.200s, a Gladiator and a Hurricane. On the 16 March, 2 Wellingtons were shot down at Tirana. On 22 March the RA executed a surprise attack on the Greek air port of Paramythia in which two Blenheims and a Wellington were destroyed on the ground. In sight of the impending invasion of Yugoslavia, on 2 April at Tirana arrived 9 Ju.87Bs of 208°  Squadriglia, 9 Caproni CA.311 of the 87a Squadriglia Osservazione Aerea and an equal number of Ro.37 of the 35° Sq.

On 6 April the German participation in the Balkans began with VIII FliegerKorps of Luftflotte 4 in Bulgaria commencing attacks in Greece and Yugoslavia with Ju.87Bs of the I and III St.G,  Messerschmitt Me 109Es of the II and III JG.27 and Me 110Cs of the II/ZG26.  Reconnaissance was provided by Hs.126 and Storch of the I(H)/4, transport was provided by Ju.52s of the IV/KGzbVI. Other units in Austria, Hungary and Sicily were ready. The Jugoslava air force was rendered ineffectual in 48 hours and for the Greeks things didn’t go much better in which a (un)fortunate blow on a ship loaded with 250 tons of explosive was hit by a Ju.87 and completely devastated the port of Athens sinking 10 ships with a single bomb.  On the 9 April, the Germans were at Salonicco and after 5 days the Greek Air Force ceased operations, 113° Squadron of the RAF was destroyed on the ground and the same fate awaited the remaining RAF air bases.  On the evening of 14 April the RAF could count only 35 aircraft in flying condition. German losses up to this point were only two fighters! On 6 April CANT Z.1007s attacked the port of Mostar in Yugoslavia losing one aircraft while shooting down two, at Spalato one Ju.87B was lost. On the 13 April 300 fighters and bombers of the Regia Aeronautica attacked Mostar and the arsenal of the Cattaro, losing one Ju.87B. On the 26 April the last day of the Greek campaign, 13 Hurricanes were destroyed on the ground by Me.110s thus destroying the final elements of the RAF in Greece.  The next day came the signing of the armistice. For the Regia Aeronautica the strategic task ended and now began the equally hard task of anti-guerrilla.

I suppose a small analysis is worthwhile of the statistics of the operations carried out during the campaign, beginning from the days available for the missions in relation to the time of operations:

November, 17 days up to the 31st November

December 14 days up to the 31st December

January 10 days up to the 31st Jnauary

February 9 days of 28th February

March 25 days up to the 31st March

April 11 of 22 days.

Also when it rained the cloud ceiling remained quite low and so rendered impossible for bombers to identify targets accurately and consequently to act in order to avoid collateral damage. Thus reduced about half the effective employable aircraft in actions that were of some war value. An idea of the conditions of airbases in Albanian is provided in the following letter dated 28 October 1940:

"Tirana: reduced 700X200 wet. - new Scutari: PROHIBITED. - Drenova: PROHIBITED. - Coritza: reduced 500X300, flooded, PROHIBITED HEAVY. Valona: reduced 900X300 wet, bad. - BERAT: PROHIBITED. - PROHIBITED Devoli."

On the first day of the Greek Campaign there was only a single airfield available of seven! Its interesting to note that Papagos mentions clearly in his book "Greece at War" that hundreds of Italian Aircraft swarmed the skies on the 28 October 1940 in support of ground operations.  I would like to know from where these supposed hundreds of aircraft had taken off from? In all, the Regia Aeronautica carried out 7777 missions bombing missions of which 5560 were tactical support, with total bombs dropped equaling 4547 tons, of this load 3539 tons were dropped by Italian Ju.87s. The activities of transport and refueling were quite notable, above all airborne drops of fuel totaled 200 tons to isolated units, often with antiquated aircraft whose crews accepted missions without fighter support and metrological equipment. It can be said the Regia Aeronautica played a critical role in allowing the Italians to successfully reform their lines in Albania. The cooperation between the Army and the Air force was at times strained and can be summarized in the following letter dated 15 January 1941 addressed to Rome:

"Letter 021202 from Armed Forces High Command FFAA Albania and p.c. to the Aeronautical Command in Albania: Please note the general situation and in particular the operations of our troops and the enemies, and draw attention to the following facts:

1) impossibility of counter offensives due to the remarkable and tenacious efforts of the enemies rested troops who are at peak efficiency; the lack of availability of Italian reserves for continued field operations.

2) deficiency of the availability of medium-caliber guns and artillery and the near absence of long range artillery.

3) serious deficiencies in the means of transport that for a long time has rendered the re-supply and refueling of our troops at long distances problematic or impossible, thus limiting offensive operations.

4) material conditions of combat units for long months go unanswered and are having serious repercussions on moral.

All this has induced me to request the air arm all that it is capable of to help remedy this situation. Although the air arm has conducted itself with the maximum spirit of sacrifice and dedication to the common cause; it turns out the results are less than expected.

Areas of concern:

a) the lack of timeliness of the participation.

b) the lack operating necessities in action.

The first cause is easily understood, knowing the procedures and the demands for participation. In the second case I will say instead that the understanding of the operating necessities is a result to which detailed study can only be reached through one and to one exact appraisal of the our situation and that of the enemy; in such appraisal the understanding of the particular conditions of the actions and of the material employed by the staff enter into question. Now I also believe that the close cooperation of the air arm with the land forces can not occur if such conditions lack. In order to obtain the best results the Commander of the Air forces is destined to concur in the tactical field and should reside at the side of he who leads the action. In this way both the commander of the air would benefit from understanding clearly the necessities of ground operations and vice versa. The air arm would better be able to succeed in carrying out immediate actions at vital points at the front at opportune moments. In order to obtain close cooperation between the two armed services, I propose the following:

a) put under the direct control of the Army, air units that are located near the center of the Armed Command of: one squadron of Junkers Ju.87 and a group of G.50s.

b) that the commander of these forces resides with the Comando d'Armata under my direct control."

"Lettera 021202 dal Comando superiore FFAA Albania e p.c. al Comando Aeronautico Albania:
Nota la situazione generale e particolare delle truppe operanti nostre e del nemico, ritengo opportuno richiamare in modo particolare l'attenzione sui seguenti fattori negativi:
1) impossibilità di contrapporre validamente agli sforzi notevoli e tenaci del nemico truppe riposate ed in piena efficienza, impossibilità derivante dalla mancata disponibilità di riserve sia nel campo delle P.U. che in quello della G.U. in prima schiera.
2) deficienza della disponibilità delle artiglierie di medio calibro ed assenza quasi completa di quelle a lunga gittata.
3) grave deficienza dei mezzi di trasporto che per lungo tempo ha reso problematico od impossibile il rifornimento per le truppe dislocate a grande distanza dalle rotabili di alta quota.
4) condizioni materiali dei Reparti combattenti da lunghi mesi, troppo note per essere ancora poste in evidenza, e che hanno serie ripercussioni sul morale.
Tutto ciò mi ha indotto a chiedere all'Arma Aerea tutto il concorso di cui è capace.
Tale concorso è stato concesso in misura piu' larga e condotto con il massimo spirito di sacrificio e di dedizione alla causa comune; ma i risultati ottenuti rare volte sono stai quelli desiderati e che forse avrebbero potuto essere raggiunti.
Ciò si deve:
a) alla mancanza di tempestività dell'intervento.
b) alla mancanza di aderenza alle necessità operative in atto.

La prima causa è facilmente intuibile, conoscendo la procedura da osservarsi per la richiesta di intervento.
Nei riguardi della seconda dirò invece che l'aderenza alle necessità operative è un risultato al quale si può pervenire solo attraverso uno studio particolareggiato ed ad una esatta valutazione della situazione nostra e del nemico; in tale valutazione entrano in gioco la conoscenza perfetta dell'ambiente particolare della lotta e quella materiale del personale impiegato.
Ora io credo che l'intervento dell'aviazione in stretta ed intima cooperazione con le forze terrestri non può condurre ai risultati voluti, pure attraverso i sacrifici dei camerati dell'aria se mancano tali condizioni.
Per ottenere ciò è a mio avviso, indispensabile che il Comandante delle Forze Aeree destinate a concorrere in campo tattico, risieda al fianco di chi conduce l'azione.
Non vi è dubbio che il Comandante delle Forze Aeree destinate a concorrere in campo tattico, acquisterebbe in tal guisa un perfetto spirito di comprensione, potendo constatare di persona le molteplici pressanti necessità delle truppe di terra e che la realizzazione del concorso dell'Arma Aerea ne riuscirebbe notevolmente avvantaggiata per tempestività d'intervento e risultati.
Si riuscirebbe a portare con sicurezza l'offesa nei punti vitali del nemico nel momento opportuno, con economie di forze nei riguardi del materiale e del personale.
Allo scopo di giungere a questa ancora piu' intima cooperazione, rappresento l'opportunità:
a) che siano messe a disposizione diretta dell'Armata le seguenti unità da dislocarsi nei campi vicini alla sede del Comando di Armata: una squadriglia di Junkers ed un gruppo di G50.
b) che il comandante di questo complesso di forze risieda del Comando d'Armata a mia diretta disposizione."

According to this letter Aerial Command and not the army was at fault since it did not acquire the proper knowledge of land operations. Was it necessary for Air Command to be always present and how if the action developed in two various places? If the task of the Air Arm was to attack and to destroy the enemy on the ground, the army had to establish where. Would the Regia Aeronautica make up for the deficiencies the army lacked in reserves, refueling, guns and thus raise the moral of the troops? Enough of my comments.

However whatever mistakes there were are not entirely one sided and Comando Aeronautico is partly to blame as it did not do enough to assure valid communications with the other branches, even if the other branches we’re ostensibly unwilling to cooperate.

Giulio Gobbi, Roma, Italy, Modellismo Piu

REFERENCES:

[1] AA.VV. - MACH1 Encyclopedia of Vol.4 Aviation - EDIPEM Giuseppe Santoro - the Italian Air Force in the Second World War - Ed.Danesi 1960.

[2] Alberto Borgiotti, Cesar Gori, 97° Independent Group Dive bombing 1940-1941 Athenaeum & Bizzarri 1980.


Courtesy of Modellismo Piu.


 
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