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Wehrmacht massacres Italian soldiers on Cephalonia

Italian soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans in Corfu, September 1943.
Italian soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans in Corfu, September 1943.

Following the Italian surrender there were disputes surrounding the status of Italian military units. Most of the Italian saw themselves as having to abide by the orders of the new Italian government. Yet some units already fell under the command of German senior officers, particularly those in occupied Greece. The German view was that by not abiding by the orders of the Germans they were committing treason.

The Acqui Division, on the island of Cephalonia, was amongst those that fell into this position. The commander received orders from Italy that he must regard the Germans as hostile and resist attempts to give up his weapons. From the Germans he received the ultimatum that he must either fight with them, fight against them, or surrender peacefully. Negotiations broke down as the Italians sought fought further clarification from their higher authority.

Fighting broke out in which the numerically superior Acqui Division were initially successful. However, when the Germans landed battle hardened Gebirgsjäger, Mountain troops, on the island, the largely conscript Acqui Divison was easily overcome. By now the German High Command had now issued orders:

because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour [of the Italians] on Cephalonia, no prisoners are to be taken.

This was interpreted as authority to execute all of the surrendering Italians. There were few survivors, Battista Alborghetti was one of them:

A nightmare. This is still for me, Kefalonia. I’m a survivor. I was in that hell from November 1942 to November 1944, along with other 11,600 Italians. After September 8, 1943 – as a result of our refusal to surrender to the German army – 10,500 Italian soldiers were massacred.

A terrible massacre, that still remains in my eyes and on my mind. There are so many images about those awful days of terror: stories of war and death, written in the blood of so many young people who pursued the dream of a better Italy.

I was nineteen years old when I was assigned to the Divisione Acqui – at 33th Artillery, First group, Second battery – on the Greek-Albanian front, already controlled by German Army. The armistice proclaimed in Italy by General Badoglio changes our destinies.

Germans claim our surrender, but they do not offer sufficient guarantees about of the Italian troops repatriation. Italian officers called a consultation between the departments: it’s an unprecedented event in the modern army history. We decide to refuse surrender and not give our weapons to the Germans. And after that, the Apocalypse…

In the early hours of the battle I see my three companions dying. They fall down close to me. Some minutes later, a splinter of a grenade explosion hits my left leg. The Acqui Division – poor in weapons – is destroyed. People who do not succumb in the fighting they become prey of the Wehrmacht. German soldiers rakes the island, inch by inch. I escaped from the capture in a couple of occasions; I hide myself between mules and I repaire inside water pipes in the undergrowth. They capture me on September 21.

About 300 Officers (captains, lieutenats and second lieutenants) were captured and transferred to that, sadly, is now known as the “Red House”, in San Teodoro. Against every principle of the international conventions, they are shot within 36 hours, four people a turn… The corpses, weighed down with rolls of barbed wire, they were then thrown into the sea, sprinkled with petrol and burned in bonfires, whose light illuminated the night, leaving a foul smell in the air.

My companions were loaded onto trucks and taken somewhere: I won’t see them anymore. My friend, the second lieutenant Giampietro Matteri – from Dongo (Como), twenty-two years old – is killed on September 24. The same destiny for another friend, the second lieutenant Pillepich, from Trieste: I still remember the terror in his eyes when, together with eleven companions, he was dragged from the group. Few minutes later we heard the shots of machine guns, followed by cries of pain, yells, invocations. And then other shots. The finishing strokes.

At the concentration camp we were treated worse than beasts. In the morning, Wehrmacht officers assembled us, offering – as they were saying – “the chance to return to Italy”. But I always said to myself: if they want to kill me, I prefer that they do it here. We now know: who accepted that proposals they were shot. They were shipped on steamers, as easy targets for Stukas airplanes or for floating mines. It’s what that happened to my compatriot, Ferdinando Mangili. He climbed aboard of one of those ships that were full of soldiers who looked forward to reach home… But the ship was sunk off and the waves returned the corpses… The Germans forced me to bury the dead, all around the island. Chaplain father Luigi Ghilardini and I, we recomposed corpses or what was left of bodies mangled by bullets and then devoured by ravens and vultures…

One day the nazis picked up us suddenly and they brought us in the square of Lixouri, where they deployed 13 Greeks accused of being partisan. Those poor people were hunged under our eyes. It happened that one of them – because of a broken rope – fell to the ground. He was still alive. The Germans took him and hung him again …

The full account can be read at the website of his son Roberto Alborghetti.

19 thoughts on “Wehrmacht massacres Italian soldiers on Cephalonia”

  1. How very tragic that this horrific aspect of World War II has gone so under-reported. Please forgive us.

  2. Dear all, anyone looking for the definitive account should try to read Lost Sons of the Mediterranean, September 1943 by Pietro Giovanni Liuzzi. He travelled over the island substantiating eye witness accounts and recording them. It’s a brilliantly sobering book – and as a returning visitor to Kefalonia myself, I never go without it. Available as an ebook in English, and paperback and hardback in Italian.

  3. My mother’s family was from Cephalonia, Im not going to give an account that can’t be substantiated, instead I’d suggest some simple math be used to disprove the accounts claiming very few were killed. How long did the fighting go on, what resources did Hitler need to commit when they were needed elsewhere. A massacre took place, any other conclusion is ridiculous.

  4. Hi. Can anyone point me to subject-matter-experts on this (Italians in Kefalonia/Corfu) during 1943 and specifically the role of Italian Partisans on the island. My father was born to a Greek mother and Italian father but of course, neither talked of the war. Unfortunately my father passed away before I could document the family history… I’m trying to now piece the parts together.

  5. I have read a lot about the conflict on Kefalonia and I am wondering if anyone can give me a link to conclusive proof of what happened.
    So much from WW2 has been heavily distorted and many things I believed as fact have proved to be untrue.
    I would be grateful for anything at all.

  6. I always find asking myself if it wasn’t for this world war, in today’s times by having killed off so many good generations would we be a better world, evolving together with ingenuity and humility. Instead, we are overran with terrorism, extremism, and backwardeness with mules of people over running countries and leading them down.

  7. I was born on this day and I’m trying to get as much info, especially what happened in the uk
    Many thanks

  8. My father was in the RAF in Greece in one of the few squadrons sent to help he always told me how the Italians always pretended to bomb the airstrips at night but always deliberately missed but then how this changed when the Germans took over and they were driven from Greece
    The squadron was overrun and the ground crews left to try and find there own way back which he and many did thanks to Greek fisherman , travelling at night to avoid patrols he was never sure which islands sheltered them on this voyage but we spent many hours discussing this over the years and whenever we watched the film captain Corelli we always spent hours listening to the time he spent in Greece a terrible chapter of the war which many people are not aware off
    God rest there souls

  9. My wife and I visited Cephalonia last year. We always read the history of places we visit, so on our walks we visited places of remembrance. We paid our respects and thought of those poor young men. May they rest in peace.

  10. My father angelo stagno was a prisoner of war but never spoke of what happened there in Greece.

  11. In fact, the book of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is much better than the film, much much better. It tells the tale of the war in the Balkans where the truly heroic Greeks fought back the Italians – which was why the Germans came to “help” their Axis power allies. As an aside, how did the British reward Greece for its heroism after the war? Why, by making quite sure that communism – even socialism was crushed, leading directly to the civil war and the take over of the junta. I’m surprised they give us the time of day nowadays. Thank goodness for the EU.

  12. Living in a modern world with all it’s trappings it’s hard to bellive that man can be so cruel and non avoid of human emotion . Murdering came so easy to the Germans on kefalonia . In today’s world education off the young of this cruel act will mean it should never ever happen again .

  13. Thanks for having posted an abstract from my father story in Cephalonia!

    Two days ago, Italian military judges gave life sentence to Nazi corporal Alfred Stork. It’s the first time that a Nazi soldier is condemned for the massacre!

  14. my uncle always told me a story that some people from cefallonia promised some Italian soldiers that they’re gonna ship them to Italy. When they took them to the place the both is supposed to be they executed them and took their clothes from them.

  15. This entry is immediately recognizable as the history behind the movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” The outline of the military events actually seems to correspond fairly well with the movie, which surprised me. How historical was the movie? Well I came up with: So, okay, the movie has some problems, (surprise, surprise) but it is more rooted in reality than I thought it was when I saw it, I guess.

    Anyway, thanks for the site, I come here every day.

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