Mussolini, tired of playing second fiddle to Hitler, had launched his surprise invasion of Greece at the end of October. He intended to occupy Greece very quickly, hoping to emulate the German success in Poland. Such a success would give him the military prestige that he craved for his “Italian Empire”.
It had all gone terribly wrong very quickly. The Greek Army had responded with unexpected vigour, halting the Italians in their tracks. They were far better equipped for the rugged mountains in northern Greece and had a much better understanding of the terrain. The Greek reserves were mobilised within days – and soon they were pushing the Italians back.
Dr Theodore Electris, a 32 reserve Medical officer, had spent just days in uniform. He was to find the rigours of the Army life hard to adjust to. Somehow he managed to maintain his daily diary despite the conditions they were enduring. On the 15th they had all got wet making a river crossing, on the 16th it was another hard climb into the mountains:
November 16, 1940
We woke up very early and marched for 11 hours; now we are getting ready to move again. My clothes are still damp. It is an exhausting march again; we are climbing 1,000 m to the village of Fourka.
Along the way, for the first time, I saw a dead Italian soldier and my hair stood on end. I thought of his parents, his brothers and sisters, his wife, who were all waiting for him while he lay flung on a mountainside in Epirus, to complete the part of the unknown soldier.
It is possible that we might meet the same fate.
Just now my colleague Sites has arrived. He is in charge of the officers’ meals. He came from Fourka to our camp site, Tampouri, near the village of Zouzoulia, with pork chops, potatoes, livers, leeks and bread. I have to stop writing now so I can eat.
Since morning the Italians, who are close by, have been bombing us. I am diverting from the description of the march to add just these few things.
From Kerasovo we split into two units; one went ahead and we lost it. We went down to the village of Fourka and wandered around for two hours. Happily we were not discovered by enemy planes.
Later we learned that we should have gone towards Tampouri. Meanwhile Sites and I ate a can of salmon and leouramana in secret, away from the other soldiers. I felt guilty because they had not eaten anything in 12 hours.
Finally we walked towards Tampouri, where we found the rest of our unit. We set up our tents, beds and blankets. The officers had lentil soup while the rest of the soldiers had one-fourth of a leouramana loaf. Tonight, my sleeping arrangements will be better than last night.
See the recently published (2015) Written on the Knee: A Diary from the Greek-Italian Front of WWII.