This is a short supplement to my recent reviews of new books on the Dodecanese campaign of 1943.
After the failure of the 1943 campaign, no further efforts were made to capture the islands, other than raids and some resistance activity. Churchill’s indirect strategy of attacking the Balkans was largely relegated to deception and SOE operations.
While researching these operations in the National Archives, I came across a memo from Middle East command in April 1944 regarding a possible German garrison mutiny. Even this late in the war, I haven’t seen accounts of German morale resulting in an approach to the Allied forces to mutiny.
The memo reports that a liaison officer operating in the Amalias area of the north-west Peloponnese was approached by a private from the German 999 Fortress Regiment. He indicated that in the right circumstances, his battalion would be prepared to mutiny.
Fortress regiments were static, lightly equipped units, often with older or less reliable troops. It appears that this private was the leader of a communist element in his battalion and he had been a political prisoner for five years. There was an underground communist organisation in Germany throughout the Nazi era, but it was weak and had a limited infrastructure.
The memo suggests that the successful mutiny of a battalion might encourage others in the Peloponnese and the islands to follow suit. The exception was Crete and Rhodes, which included high quality German troops. The memo was clear that they needed whole units to mutiny, as the Allies had limited means of dealing with individual desertions.
The plan was to support any mutinies in place, or evacuate them to Zante, which could then be held against counter-attacks. There was a concern that German reprisals would limit the spread of mutinies. Apart from the propaganda benefits, it was hoped that such mutinies would draw more good quality troops into the Balkans and away from the second front in Europe that was only months away.
That’s the end of the story in the memo, but I understand it was developed into an SOE Force 133 operation codenamed ’Kitchenmaid’. Perhaps not the most inspiring of names and therefore not surprising that it didn’t succeed. However, Bernard O’Connor in his book ‘Sabotage in Greece’ claims that SOE did encourage a number of desertions. James Crossland looks at the planned operation in a wider context in an article in the journal ‘Intelligence and National Security’.
For wargamers, the defence of Zante, with German and Allied troops fighting together would certainly be a different scenario. Unlike the Leros campaign, the Allies could have supported Zante from the sea and air, from nearby bases in Italy.
|Allied wartime map of the Peloponnese from the National Archives.