Second Battle of Perati Bridge

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The Second Battle of Perati Bridge (19-22 April 1941) took place near Perati Bridge in the Albania-Greek border during General Ugo Cavallero's Second Spring Offensive.

Battle

The Greek generals belatedly ordered a retreat of the Greek Army in Albania on April 12, 1941 in favour of reinforcing the Metaxas Line and the Mount Olympus stronghold. This order, with Plan R-41, the Yugoslav-Greek counteroffensive in Albania defeated, appeared to mark the beginning of the end of organized Greek resistance in Albania and Greece. General Cavallero now had his chance to defeat several Greek divisions and one of the most fiercest aerial onslaughts in Operation Marita, the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece began. The first supporting British fighter pilots to contest the Regia Aeronautica returned to their base after a successful anti-shipping mission against the port of Valona on April 14. The Hurricane pilots protested not taking further part in the defence of Albania, but, under threat of court martial, they concentrated instead in defending Greece against the German Luftwaffe.

On 20 April, Italian spearheads observed thousands of Greeks retreating along the highway leading to Perati Bridge. The 4th Bersaglieri Regiment attacked the retreating soldiers from the high ground, overrunning a Greek division and destroying or capturing many vehicles trapped in a miles-long traffic jam to the bridge. Italian Stukas – nicknamed Picchiatello in Italian service from 208 Squadriglia and 209 Squadriglia also intervened, repeatedly attacking Perati Bridge with heavy bombs. The Stuka attacks started on 14 April and continued in spite of fierce Greek anti-aircraft fire that shot down at least one Picchiatello on 16 April. Cavallero had earlier on emphasized on the need for speed in a meeting with General Alessandro Pirzio Biroli (commander of the Albanian front) "Successo dipende da vostra celerità."[1]

The Greek retreat soon extended south of Klisura Pass, where the two main roads going into Albania split at Përmet. Because the main road was so jammed, Greek units were also being diverted along a coastal route. These soldiers suffered the same fate as those on the Përmeti-Perati mountain pass. According to an Italian war correspondent on the scene (the coastal road) that day: "[the Greek Army was losing] four-fifths of its permanent forces and all the war material supplied by Britain... the Greek route of retreat, on the road from Ioannina to Arta, 35 miles south, was littered with the wreckage of hundreds of motor vehicles." [2]

On 21 April, the first reports about this battle appeared in the world's newspapers. However, it still would be a few more weeks until the complete picture of the battle in the form of photographs, first-hand accounts and newsreels made their way to the public. A reporter with the Italian 9th Army wrote: "The Greeks had lost the best part of fourteen divisions, sacrificed in a battle at Perati bridge."[3]

By the morning of April 21, the 5th and 8th Alpini Regiments reinforced the Perati bridgehead. Other units from the Bari Division soon followed. Now, the fierce Italian infantry attacks on what has become to be known as the Second Battle of Ponte Perati began in earnest. A Greek Evzones Regiment was attacked by the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, commanded by Colonel Guglielmo Scognamiglio. The Italian Commanding Officer (CO) estimated that his Bersaglieri alone buried about 500 Greeks in the vicinity of Perati Bridge.

Italian troops also suffered heavy losses. According to an Italian 9th Army report on April 23 to General Cavallero:

"I want to give you only the news that will make you appreciate the effort that was made: from 1600 hours on the 21st till 9:30 yesterday morning, that is, in the space of one night, the Bari Division, which has conquered the Perati Bridge position, has lost 30 officers and 400 enlisted men. Here is proof of the effort!" [4]

With Greek cities suffering from unrestrained Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica attacks, Lieutenant-General Georgios Tsolakogloou, commander of the Greek forces, reluctantly entered into surrender negotiations with the Italian 9th Army Headquarters:

"The news came that at 9 p.m. Lieutenant-General George Tsolakoglou, the other commander in the Epirus and Macedonia, sent plenipotentiaries to General Carlo Geloso, commanding the Italian Eleventh Army, to seek acceptance of surrender. General Tsolakoglou capitulated on behalf of the commanders of all the Greek armies on the Albanian front, but without the sanction of the Greek government." [5]

Aftermath

More than 5,000 Italian soldiers were killed or wounded in the Second Spring Offensive, that included the fighting for Perati Bridge. Nevertheless, Benito Mussolini took great pride in the hard-fought victory saying:

"After six months of most sharp fighting, the enemy has laid down his arms. The victory consecrates your bloody sacrifices, especially severe for the land forces, and illuminates your flags with new glory. The fatherland is proud of you as never before." [6]

Notes

  1. Diario, 1940-1943, Ugo Cavallero, Giuseppe Bucciante, p. 15, Ciarrapico, 1948
  2. Allies Fall Back to New Defense Lines, The Evening Independent, 21 April 1941
  3. Greeks Caught in Trap, Says Italy, The Milwaukee Sentinel, 23 April 1941
  4. “Voglio darvi solo una notizia perché possiate valutare lo sforzo che è stato fatto:dalle 16 del giorno 21 alle 9,30 di ieri mattina, cioè nel giro di una notte, la divisione “Bari”, che ha espugnato la posizione di Ponte Perati, ha perduto 30 ufficiali e 400 uomini di truppa. Ecco un indice dello sforzo!” Diario, 1940-1943, Ugo Cavallero, Giuseppe Bucciante, p. 86, Ciarrapico, 1948
  5. Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume II: Albania in Occupation and War, 1939-45, Owen Pearson, p. 146, I.B. Tauris, 2006
  6. The “Victory” in Albania, Ottawa Citizen, 30 April 1941

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