The Second Battle of Ponte Perati (19-22 April 1941) took place near Perati Bridge in the Albania-Greek border during the Italian Second Spring Offensive under General Ugo Cavallero.
The Greek Army High Command ordered a retreat of Greek troops from Albania on April 12, 1941. This order, with the 3rd Yugoslav Army invasion of northern Albania completely frustrated, appeared to mark the beginning of the end of organized Greek resistance in Albania and Greece. General Cavallero now had his chance to defeat tens of thousands of retreating Greek soldiers and one of the most fiercest aerial onslaughts in the European Theatre began. The first supporting British pilots to arrive at the Greek frontlines returned to their base after a successful mission against the port of Valona on April 14. They protested not taking further part in the defence of Albania, but, under threat of court martial, they concentrated instead in defending Greece against the German invaders.
On 20 April, Italian.recce troops observed thousands of Greeks trying to escape up the highway leading to Ponte Perati. The 4th Bersaglieri Regiment attacked the retreating soldiers from the high ground, overrunning a Greek division and destroying or capturing many vehicles trapped in a miles-long traffic jam to Perati Bridge. Italian Stukas also intervened, repeatedly attacking Ponte Perati with heavy bombs. The Stuka attacks started on 14 April and continued in spite of fierce anti-aircraft fire that cost at least one Stuka on 16 April. Cavallero’s orders to General Pirzio Biroli were "Successo dipende da vostra celerità."
The Greek retreat extended south of Klisura Pass, where the two main roads going into Albania split at Përmet
Because the main road was so jammed, Greek units were being diverted along a coastal route. These soldiers suffered the same fate as those on the Përmeti-Perati mountain pass. According to an Italian war correspondent on the scene (the coastal road) that day:
"[the Greek Army was losing] four-fifths of its permanent forces and all the war material supplied by Britain... the Greek route of retreat, on the road from Ioannina to Arta, 35 miles south, was littered with the wreckage of hundreds of motor vehicles.”
On April 21, the first reports about this battle hit the newsstands of the outside world. However, it still would be a few more weeks until photographs and newsreels of the battle made their way to the public. A reporter with the Italian 9th Army wrote: “The Greeks had lost the best part of fourteen divisions, sacrificed in a battle at Perati bridge.”
By the morning of April 21, the 5th and 8th Alpini Regiments arrived on the scene. Other units from the Bari Division followed. Now, the fierce Italian infantry attacks on what has become to be known as the Second Battle of Ponte Perati began in earnest. A Greek Evzones Regiment in the vicinity of Ponte Perati was attacked by the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, commanded by Colonel Maggarti. He estimated that his Bersaglieri alone buried about 500 Greeks.
Italian troops also suffered heavy losses. According to an Italian 9th Army report on April 23 to General Cavallero:
"I want to give you only the news that will make you appreciate the effort that was made: from 1600 hours on the 21st till 9:30 yesterday morning, that is, in the space of one night, the Bari Division, which has conquered the Perati Bridge position, has lost 30 officers and 400 enlisted men. Here is proof of the effort! "
More than 5,000 Italian soldiers were killed or wounded in the Second Spring Offensive, the majority during the fighting for Perati Bridge. Benito Mussolini took great pride in the battle. He said:
"After six months of most sharp fighting, the enemy has laid down his arms. The victory consecrates your bloody sacrfices, especially severe for the land forces, and illuminates your flags with new glory. The fatherland is proud of you as never before.”
- ↑ Diario, 1940-1943, Ugo Cavallero, Giuseppe Bucciante, p. 15, Ciarrapico, 1948
- ↑ Allies Fall Back to New Defense Lines, The Evening Independent, 21 April 1941
- ↑ Greeks Caught in Trap, Says Italy, The Milwaukee Sentinel, 23 April 1941
- ↑ “Voglio darvi solo una notizia perché possiate valutare lo sforzo che è stato fatto:dalle 16 del giorno 21 alle 9,30 di ieri mattina, cioè nel giro di una notte, la divisione “Bari”, che ha espugnato la posizione di Ponte Perati, ha perduto 30 ufficiali e 400 uomini di truppa. Ecco un indice dello sforzo!” Diario, 1940-1943, Ugo Cavallero, Giuseppe Bucciante, p. 86, Ciarrapico, 1948
- ↑ The “Victory” in Albania, Ottawa Citizen, 30 April 1941