Battle of Cephalonia (Massacre of Italian soldiers, 1943)

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Following the Italian Armistice of 8 September 1943, there was heavy fighting in the island of Corsica between the Italian defenders in the form of the Friuli and Cremona Divisions, and the German invaders in the form of the 90th and 91st Panzergrenadier Divisions.[1]The Italian occupation forces in Corsica saw themselves as having to abide by the orders of the new Italian government of Marshal Pietro Badoglio and defeated the Germans in the Battle of Corsica. Despite several Italian units electing to fight alongside the German forces, practically the entire Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) and Nembo Parachute Division, the Germans were determined to ruthlessly punish any further Italian attempts to resist German occupation.


On the night of 9/10 September 1943, fighting between the former Axis partners erupted in Bastia, the principal port of Corsica. German seaborne troops seized the harbor at midnight but Italian troops counterattacked early that morning and drove the Germans from their newly-won positions.[2]

German reinforcements, nevertheless retook Bastia and the fighting intensified over the next weeks, but the Italian conscripts knew the territory well and were able to ambush the crack German infantry and supporting Panzer columns advancing along the main roads, capturing 800 Germans in the process.[3]

With the German invasion force finally defeated, a German flotilla consisting of eight ships of various sizes evacuated the last German defenders. However, despite cover provided in the form of the Luftwaffe, the Italian destroyer-escort Aliseo, supported by several corvettes from the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) and Italian shore batteries intercepted and sank all eight evacuation ships with heavy loss of German lives, and engaged other ships in the process.[4]

In all, the fighting in Corsica resulted in the deaths of 245 Italians, 75 French and around 1,000 Germans (mostly drowned).[5]

Cephalonia Garrison

The Acqui Division, on the island of Cephalonia, were also amongst the Italian garrisons that chose to resist German occupation. The commander, General Antonio Gandin (veteran of the Eastern Front and winner of the German Iron Cross) received orders from Badoglio that he must regard the Germans as invaders and resist all attempts to disarm his division. From the Germans he received the ultimatum that he must either fight alongside them, fight against them, or surrender unconditionally. Negotiations broke down as the Italians sought further clarification from the Badoglio government.

Fighting broke out in which the numerically superior Italian conscript defenders were initially successful, sinking 2 German landing crafts, downing 1 German Stuka dive-bomber and capturing 400 German soldiers from Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Burge's 966th Grenadier Regiment.

However, the Germans landed fresh reinforcements in the form of Colonel Harald von Hirschfeld's 1st Gebirgsjäger (Mountain) Division on 16 September, with the 'Acqui' Division running out of ammunition and finally surrendering on 22 September after having suffered more than 1,300 battle casualties.[6]

Massacre of the Acqui Division

By the time of the Italian surrender, the German High Command had issued new orders claiming that because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour of the Italians in battling the German occupation of Corsica and Cephalonia, no prisoners are to be taken. This was interpreted as permission to execute all of the surrendering Italians. Consequently, despite having fought well and promised good treatment, 4,750 Italians, including wounded, combat surgeons, combat medics and conscripts were shot dead in cold blood by the German victors.


  1. "Only one hundred French troops landed on Corsica on September 12th, three days after fighting began at midnight on September 9th between the Germans and Italians when the Germans attacked Bastia ... The Italians had 74,000 men in Corsica including the "Cremona" and "Friuli" divisions. However, most of the troops were in coastal defense and support units ... When the Germans attacked Bastia on September 9th, the Italians fought the Germans alone ... the Italians ... deserve every credit for their part in the battle. The Italians on Corsica kept their arms ... The Italian units on Corsica moved to Sardinia and ... became "Gruppi di Combattimento" or Combat Groups and fought alongside the Allies. The Anglo-American version of events in Corsica, as well as those of the French, are examples of how official histories reinforced other mistaken accounts of what happened in the Italian Campaign." Forgotten Battles: Italy's War of Liberation, 1943-1945, Charles T. O'Reilly, p. 92, Lexington Books, 2001
  2. "Elsewhere, fighting between the erstwhile allies had already erupted. At Bastia, in Corsica, German navy troops seized the harbor at midnight ... Italian troops counterattacked early that morning and drove the Germans from their positions." Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945, Vincent O'Hara, p. 220, Naval Institute Press, 2009
  3. "The more the fight intensified, the more their determination to defeat the Germans and drive them out of the island increased. The Italians knew the territory well, so as each German group tried to enter the main roads where the Italians had established positions, the Germans suffered great losses. In many cases, in order to expedite their exodus to Bastia to join the other Germans, they rendered inoperable or even destroyed large amounts of their own equipment and abandoned it. They also abandoned eight hundred of their men, who were promptly taken prisoner." The Ibex Trophy, John Cammalleri; Salvatore Cammalleri, p. 124, iUniverse, 2011
  4. "After the Armistice many small unit surface actions occurred in the western Mediterranean beginning on the morning of 9 September 1943. The German navy launched a surprise attack to capture the port of Bastia in northern Corsica. When this failed, a small flotilla consisting of UJ2203, UJ22119, five MFPs, and a rescue launch fled the harbor. The Italian torpedo boat Aliseo engaged them and sank all eight (with belated help from shore batteries and a corvette). Italian corvettes had several other skirmishes with German coastal craft and shore batteries at Piombino sank TA11 before the Italian navy withdrew south in accordance with the terms of the armistice." The German Fleet at War, 1939-1945, Vincent O'Hara, Naval Institute Press, 2013
  5. "The Nazis were eventually chased to their bridgehead at Bastia, where, with air support and far superior numbers, they were able to embark for Italy. In total, the liberation of Corsica left 75 French soldiers dead, 245 Italians and around 1,000 Germans." The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis, Matthew Cobb, p. 193, Simon and Schuster, 2009
  6. "Intense fighting raged until September 22 with the Italians managing to capture 400 German troops. However, they ran through their ammunition. Without reinforcements and sustaining more than 1,300 casualties, the Italians were forced to surrenders." Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History, David T. Zabecki, p. 242, ABC-CLIO, 2014

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