29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 6



Places may play a great part in the moral influence they exert in a war. They may indeed possess a more valuable military role. But at long last they matter little. It is the defeat of the armies that counts; and it is certain that the Greek com- mander recognises the order of values. It is, indeed, more for the manner in which he has won his victory than for the victory itself that General Papagos deserves praise. The Italians, it is stated, opened the campaign with ten or eleven divisions and, striking at their own selected moment, they found the Greek Army not fully mobilised. They had an immensely superior Air Force, and at least one tank division. The country on the frontier does not, it is true, favour the use of armoured units, but it was the obvious duty of the Italian commander to pierce this intractable belt with the utmost speed, and secure ground more favourable for the deployment of his full force. For the attack he commanded a sufficient air force to break down resistance, if it were used in co-operation with the ground units.

There has been so much apparent confusion in the develop- ment of the advance that it almost seems as if there were no plan; and perhaps it is true that, expecting the walls of Jericho to fall at the first blast of the trumpet, the Italian General Staff gave insufficient attention to the plan of campaign. It is not the German way; and it has not always been characteristic of Italy to launch a course of action with so little attention to its de- velopment. Even if there were the smallest doubt about Greece giving way, it was the wildest folly not to prepare for all alter- natives. Unless, however, we are to conclude that this was exactly what Italy did, we are driven to a conclusion much less creditable to her : that she is as poor in her staff as in her fighting material. Some mingling of all these elements is prob- ably the explanation of what has happened.

As far as we can discover a plan, it seems to have consisted of a strong feint-attack along the coastal area, combined with a main blow in the vicinity of the Yugoslav frontier, in the direc- tion of Salonika. It is always difficult to yield territory to an enemy, particularly when he is so much more powerful that any giving way may appear to confirm the impression of his invincibility, and consequently tend to weaken morale by sug- gesting the uselessness of resistance. Yet that is what General Papagos revolved to do; and from his ability to impose that strain upon his countrymen can be gathered how firmly based is the Greek morale. He knew that for some distance along the coast the Italiins would not threaten any strategic centre. But it was vital to check the ducat on the north and counter- attack at the outset. Accordingly, he determined to hold the advance in the coastal sector as best he could with the forces on the spot, while throwing his main force against the northern sector. But while the units were moving into position, h.: con- trived to threaten the centre by a feint in the northern fringe of the Pindus.

Then, when he was ready, he launched his attack in the direction of Koritza; and only when the advance was assured of success did he resume the assault on the centre. Koritza fell, in spite of the reinforcements ; and once he had com- pelled its evacuation General Papagos forced the pace against the reeling enemy. They fell back on Pogradets, on Lake Ochrida. They were driven out of that town ; and the centre was put in motion, so that the southern base, Argyrokastro, was threatened ; and then the coastal troops began to advance more rapidly, until now it is difficult to discover if and how many Italians remain on Greek soil. An attempt to speed the retreat in this area has been made by means of a landing from Corfu in the rear of the Italians. This initiative involves a threat to the enemy's communications and may have the desired effect, though the Italians claim to have destroyed the small force that made it. However that may be, the Greek com- mander is aiming at the complete defeat of the Italian army in the field and in this he has been assisted by the brilliant work of the Royal Air Force. The sections in Greece are now supplied with the full number of ground troops and form a self-contained unit.

In retrospect, this first phase of the campaign is most encouraging. There has been no luck about the Greek victory. It has been due to superior skill in the command and higher courage in the troops. Is it mere fancy or wish-fulfilment to think some lack of interest and resolution has been shown by the Italian troops? When all allowance has been made for the mental confusion which launched the campaign, is it not a little strange that the Alpini should prove such a broken reed? Two divisions of these famous troops have been used against the Greeks ;- one was cut up, and it was apparently of the second that Mussolini was able to speak reassuringly. Before Koritza fell it is stated that the Italian commander had five or six divisions on that sector of the front. When it fell the centre was weakened; and although in such country actions tend to be self-contained, the advance in the north appears to have had a critical leverage upon the rest of the front.

Almost any troops would lose heart under such circum- stances, particularly if the war is not over-congenial to them ; and the hammering which they are receiving from the Royal Air Force cannot fail to have its effect. Yet it is upon their morale tuat the chances of retrieving the position will depend. They have lost heavily in material: they are actually being chased by their own tanks. Mussolini has admitted that their casualties have been serious. If there have been as many as thirteen divisions engaged the number of prisoners does not seem large. It is from such fragmentary news that we have to attempt to measure the possible reaction of the troops. The chances of reinforcement . depend upon another group of circumstances. The Royal Air Force is keeping the ports of Albania under a constant bombardment. The coastal advance is carrying the Greeks towards Sand Quaranta and throwing a greater weight upon Valona and Durazzo, the ports which have suffered most from the attentions of the aerial offensive.

It will be the endeavour of General Papagos to keep the Italians in motion. They will attempt to stand on some line covering Elbasan and Valona ; and there are obvious reasons for the Greeks not venturing too great a proportion of their force too far into Albania. But already they have done some- thing to make such a hazard less perilous. They have driven the Italians away from part of the Yugoslav frontier and to that extent given greater liberty of action to a race of fighters which made an undying name in the Great War. The Vardar valley still beckons invitingly to Salonika: but the Greeks have not only cleared one flank of Yugoslavia : they have given that nation fresh heart to stand up to the dictators. The recent moves in Turkey have performed a somewhat similar deliverance for the extreme eastern flank of Greece. Bulgaria does not look nearly so promising a field for enemy adventures as it did a month ago. And yet it is difficult to think that Germany can afford to see her ally not only rolled in the dust but also kept there. Already German staff officers have gone to Rome, and the new Italian commander, who has been as unsuccessful as the first, is said to have met them. But is it only knowledge that the Italians lack? That would be sufficiently bitter for Mussolini, though not so bitter as the recognition that an unpopular war has weakened the heart of his soldiers for fighting. The need of the moment is to infuse new resolution into the beaten armies. This might be achieved by the dispatch to Albania of a considerable number of fresh troops. The task of the Greeks, assisted by the Royal Air Force, must be to harass the Italians by every means in their power, and prevent reinforcement except in such small trickles as will have no effect and if possible sap the morale of every unit in Albania. It is impossible to determine whether we have the resources to do more than briefly delay Mussolini in the counter-attack to which every motive of pride is certain to drive him. But a delay at this time of the year might secure some months of respite, months which we could turn to the best purpose. The season is approaching when the territory over which he designs to advance will be covered deep in snow and the poor and infrequent roads rendered impassable. We cannot foresee the future; but this is certain: the Greek victory has had an influence from one end of the Mediterranean to the other.