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Nicholas Whithorn @NickWhithorn
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1. Thread on events on the Greek island of Cephalonia 8-28 September 1943, culminating in the massacre of Italian soldiers of the Acqui Division >>
2. On 8th September 1943 an armistice was announced between Italy & Allies. Italian troops were caught by surprise & left in a perilous situation. The Greek island of Cephalonia was occupied by about 12,000 Italian troops of the Acqui Division, commanded by Gen. Antonio Gandin >>
3. On evening of 8 September Gandin received order from HQ to surrender heavy weapons to Germans & engage nobody unless attacked. On 9 September further orders were received to surrender positions and all heavy weapons to Germans >>
4. Italian officers were split on how to react. Some, especially senior officers, wanted to continue fighting alongside Germans, most junior officers wanted to resist, others favoured surrender as resistance would be futile >>
5. On 10 September Gandin met the German commander, whose garrison was much smaller but could be quickly reinforced, asking for more time. Many junior Italian officers did not trust Gandin, who was on good terms with the German commander & had been awarded the Iron Cross >>
6. Communication with Italian High Command was interrupted due to King of Italy & senior officers fleeing from Rome to Brindisi to escape capture by Germans. Also on 10 September, German commander received orders that in event of resistance all Italian officers were to be shot >>
7. On 11 September feelings among junior officer and rank & file strengthened in favour of resistance following a German ultimatum demanding the surrender of all weapons, including light ones >>
8. The ultimatum made no reference to allowing troops to return to Italy, as many hoped, vaguely promising honourable treatment. In any case the German Operation Achse provided for Italian troops to be deported to Germany for forced labour without prisoner of war status >>
9. Later on 11/09 Gandin finally received a message from Italian High Command specifying that German troops were to be considered as enemies following the sinking of the Battleship Roma by German aircraft >>
10. On 12 September senior Italian officers continued to negotiate with the Germans, who still had numerically inferior forces on the island, though much better equipped and trained and easily reinforced and supplied. Desire to resist strengthened among Italian troops >>
11. Also on 12 September the Germans captured some Italian artillery positions, taking numerous prisoners. On 13 September Italian artillery opened fire, without orders from Gandin on 2 German landing craft bringing troops to the island. One was sunk and 8 Germans were killed >>
12. Later on 13 September news arrived that 400 soldiers of the Acqui Division had surrendered on Zakynthos & been deported to Germany, confirming fears that surrender would not lead to repatriation to Italy >>
13. At this point General Gandin organised a 'referendum' among the Italian troops asking whether they preferred to fight the Germans or surrender. No official record exists of the result but there was a very large majority in favour of fighting >>
14. At noon on 14 September Gandin officially informed the Germans that the Italians refused to surrender. Gandin was unaware that the Allies had refused permission for Italian ships and aircraft to intervene in his aid, possibly for fear of them defecting to the Germans >>
15. On 15 September hostilities commenced with the Germans being reinforced by mountain troops of 1 Gebirgs Division & 104 Jager Division, far superior to the Italian conscipts. The Germans also used Stuka aircraft against which the Italians had almost no defence >>
16. The battle raged for a week, with the Italians putting up stiff resistance against superior forces until Gandin finally decided to surrender on 22 September, as the Italians had practically run out of ammunition >>
17. The Italians lost 1,315 men in the battle. As part of Operation Achse, German High Command had already ordered that Italian officers offering resistance be shot & in case of Cephalonia this was extended to all ranks >>
18. On conclusion of the battle, the Germans immediately executed all prisoners and began to round up and shoot all surviving Italian troops. German soldiers who protested were also threatened with execution. The massacre continued until 28 September >>
19. Estimates of number of victims vary but were probably around 5,000. Bodies were burnt or dumped at sea. Survivors were put on ships for deportation to Germany & Poland as forced labourers. Approx. 3,000 died when ships carrying them hit mines or were sunk by allied aircraft>>
20. Only one man was tried & convicted for Cephalonia massacre: Gen. Hubert Lanz, Commander of German 22nd Mountain Corps. He was sentenced to 12 years at Nuremberg only for the murder of the Italian officers as insufficient evidence was presented. He was released in 1951 //ends
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