Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Italy took the Dodecanese Island in 1940 during the invasion of Greece. The "Twelve Islands" as they were known to the Greeks served as bases for the German invasion of Crete. With Mussolini's government gone, Winston Churchill wished to take control of these islands as bomber bases to attack Adolf Hitler's oil fields in Romania. His plans were opposed by American General Dwight Eisenhower based on his suspicion of British imperialistic ambitions as well as Eisenhower's favor for a direct confrontation with German forces in Western Europe. Churchill proceeded with his own plans to align the Dodecanese Islands with the Allies despite Eisenhower's decision that he could only spare some air cover for Churchill's detachments. Eisenhower believed that the number of troops the Allies could send on such an expedition would be insufficient since he could not be certain whether the Italian troops would assist the Allies or simply back off; further, even if such an invasion succeeds, Eisenhower did not believe the Allies had enough forces to form occupation garrisons.
During September, 4,000 British troops from the Middle East command were welcomed by eight of the twelve islands. The German forces in the region fought back from Rhodes, from which air raids took off and attacked the British. German troops took Kos on 4 Oct, Leros on 16 Nov, and finally Samos on 20 Nov. With this failed campaign, Churchill lost almost 5,000 men, large numbers of aircraft, six destroyers, and two submarines. German losses were minimal.
Upon recapturing of the islands, German troops carried out severe reprisals on the Italians who cooperated with British forces.
After the war, Eisenhower noted that while he saw the strategic importance of the Dodecanese islands, the importance of the campaign in Italy outweighs this deviation from the masterplan. He claimed that the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed with him on this view, but Churchill chose to ignore the advice against such an attack.
Sources: BBC, Crusade in Europe, the Second World War.
Dodecanese Campaign Timeline
|11 Sep 1943||Italian forces in various Aegean islands surrendered to the Germans, including those at the island of Rhodes.|
|13 Sep 1943||Allied aircraft bombed Rhodes, a Greek island recently under Italian occupation, now garrisoned by German troops.|
|14 Sep 1943||Kos Island, Greece was occupied by British Royal Navy Special Boat Service troops.|
|16 Sep 1943||Leros Island in the Aegean Sea was captured by British troops.|
|3 Oct 1943||Germans invaded Kos Island under a heavy air umbrella.|
|4 Oct 1943||German forces captured Kos in the Dodecanese Islands.|
|12 Nov 1943||A combined German sea and airborne attack began on the British-held Greek island of Leros.|
|15 Nov 1943||The British attempt to retake Leros, Greece failed.|
|16 Nov 1943||Greek island Leros again surrendered to the Germans; Germans carried out severe reprisals against the Italians who cooperated with British forces.|
|20 Nov 1943||On Samos Island, Greece, nearly 5,000 British prisoners were taken by the Germans.|
|22 Nov 1943||The German occupation of the Dodecanese Islands was completed.|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945