war in Europe became increasingly inevitable Greece hoped
all to remain neutral. To survive, Greece needed to
continue its long-established trade with various countries
on opposite sides of the war including Germany and Britain.
Mussolini seeking to bolster his prestige conquered Albania
in 1939 and then a year later invaded Greece. Expecting an
easy victory he suffered instead a humiliating defeat as
Greece fought back and pushed the Italian forces all the
way back to Albania. Hitler was forced to come to Mussolini's
aid and Churchill saw the opportunity to enlist Greece
in the British/Allied cause
initially refusing, the troops were later accepted which
sealed the fate of Greece, as Hitler could not tolerate British
troops on Greece, as he needed the country for a route into
On the 6th of April 1941, Germany launched an attack on Greece
and Yugoslavia. Within three weeks, it had driven the British
army to the edge of the sea and forced the Greeks to surrender.
Conquered Greece was divided among German, Italian and Bulgarian
zones of occupation. The Ionian Islands, of which Kefalonia
is the largest, went to Italy.
On the 30th of April 1941, Italian parachutists drifted onto Kefalonia
a few days ahead of the main force that landed on the shores
by boat. With a small unit of German overseers all three
nationalities got on well. Many of the Italians felt no kinship
to Mussolini and therefore no obligation to crack the whip
on his behalf on the Kefalonian people.
However the situation
changed radically after the fall of Mussolini's government
on the 25th of July, 1943. 2,000 German soldiers arrived on the
island, as Hitler now no longer trusted the Italians. On the
of September Italy signed the armistice with the Allies and
the following day the Germans instructed all the Italian
troops in Greece to surrender their arms.
While soldiers on other islands obeyed, the Italian Acqui
Division of roughly 10,000 men under General
Antonio Gadin were deeply reluctant to do so.
Gadin called the whole division to express an opinion through
a referendum on three points of the German proposal: fight
with them, against them or surrender arms. For the first
time in Italian military history, who for 20 years had not
known what it was like to vote freely were called to choose
between life and death!
Unanimously, after a dramatic night between the 14th and 15th September, the Acqui Division voted to fight against the Germans.
On the 16th of September, despite strong opposition from the Italian artillery, the German units succeeded in landing at Cape Akrotiri. Against continued opposition, the Germans rapidly reached the assigned positions to the left of the 910th Division in Kardakata.
On that same day, the 1st Battalion of the 317th Acqui Division, stationed in Sami, received orders to reach Kardakata and hit the left flank of the enemy forces.
Meanwhile, on the arrival at the front line the 12th Company of the Gebirgsjäger, patrols were sent out on reconnaissance and destroyed the bridge at Kimonico to prevent attacks from the left flank. This halted the passage of the Italian troops marching towards Kardakata.
By dawn on the 17th of September, the bridge still remained impassable. The troops left the road and advanced in single file, climbing the slope at the side of the river in order to bypass the bridge. They managed to regroup in Divarata, having to abandon their heavy weapons at the Kimonico bridge.
The artillery, which had played a key role in the action, ran out of ammunition and was unable to help. At this point, the Acqui Division was annihilated. During this period roughly 1,300 Italian soldiers were killed in several dive-bombing raids. Resistance was useless Gadin had no option but to surrender at 2 pm on the 22nd of September.
Hitler was incensed and personally ordered brutal retaliation
on the "Acqui". For the ensuing massacre the German 1st Special
brought in commanded by Major von Hirschfeld. This division
was part of a series of Germany's army corps specialised
in the bloody suppression of every attempt of uprising or
resistance. Recruitment had been carried out among the most
and determined men of Germany, many of whom were notorious
It is said that Hirschfeld announced to his men
that the following 48 hours belonged to them; they were beyond
any limit or law, free from any discipline and were free
to indulge in any vengeful act that they so wished. When local people saw how cold-bloodedly the Germans slaughtered Italian soldiers, they were horrified. The people of Kefalonia were actively involved in the Greek Resistance and fought for the country’s liberation throughout World War ll. Enemies became allies as Greeks hid Italians to save them from death.
More than 5,000 Italians were massacred by the Germans and approximately 3,000 were drowned when the ship taking the prisoners to concentration camps hit a mine off the island.
631 men of the Italian 11th Battalion 17th Infantry surrendered
after a volley of shots. They were walked to
a ravine, machine-gunned and the bodies fell in a pile. The
Germans resorted to an inhuman trick and called out "the
stretcher bearers are here, whoever is still alive come out
and you will be
saved". Some 20 gullible ones' who managed to crawl out
were then gunned down. However, someone was still alive
and eventually returned to Italy where he was able to tell
what happened there.
FARAKLATA: 1st Battery of the 33rd Artillery
is all slaughtered. Captain Pampaloni an exhausted prisoner
of the Germans is
shot on the same spot, but is only wounded. Pretending to
be dead that night he was saved by the priest of Faraklata,
Dionisis Konstantakis. When the Germans find this out they
hang the priest's son from an olive tree outside his house.
From this day there is a CROSS on this
olive tree to commemorate the atrocity that occurred here.
On the 16th of September the German air force was raging over
the city of Argostoli committing it into flames! No military
reason could justify such an action since the 'Acqui' command
was anxious that all Italian troops were moved away from
Argostoli. The hospitable town, to which the Italian soldiers
were so sentimentally attached as if it was their own home,
to a huge pyre. This German action was caused by them wanting
revenge against the noble and brave Greek population, who
were openly on the side of the Italian soldiers. The Germans
on the Italians committed terrible crimes and some of the Greek
population were also made to pay in a most
brutal manner. The Island of Kefalonia was literally covered
On the 24th of September, General Gadin was led away by a German
second lieutenant and is believed to have been shot in the back. It
is said that to show his indignation he threw to the ground
the Iron Cross Hitler had awarded him for battlefield heroism
a year earlier.
Since 1948 the Italian government had been facing the delicate
problem of giving an honorary and final burial to the fallen
of Kefalonia. In 1952 father Luigi Ghilardini (1911-1974)
was able to continue the sad task of exhumation, in 1953,
the bodies were collected and transported to the town of
Bari where they are now resting in the Italian National
War Memorial. The final number of Italian dead was 9,646, by feigning death among the corpses just 34 were
able to eventually return home. These men, along with a few
military chaplains who survived lived to tell their remarkable
Along Lithostroto, the main street in Argostoli,
just to the side of Saint Nicholas Catholic Church, there
is a very small
to the 'Acqui' Division, inside various relics of this brave
Italian division can be viewed.
"Those who forget the errors
of the past are destined to repeat them. For this reason,
memories of such tragedies in written words and Monuments
are necessary lest we forget man's inhumanity to man!"
In August 1999, while digging his field at Spartia, a Kefalonian
found a pannikin (tin cup) and gave it to Mrs. Michaela
Panarito who has lived on Kefalonia for years. On the pannikin
were some pictures carved and an emblem with the inscription
'17th Infantry' with the name of Fortunato Algeo, and the
date 8th of September, 1943. He had written under the date "Mamma,
I will be back soon". Mrs. Panarito decided to find
the relatives of the soldier to give them the pannikin. After
an extensive search and many telephone calls to Italy, she
managed to get in touch with the son of a cousin of Fortunato's
who gave her the address of his uncle Giuseppe, Fortunato's
brother, who had emigrated to Argentina just after the war.
When Giuseppe heard of the finding of his brother's pannikin
he immediately decided to come to Kefalonia. So in September
2000 the eighty-year-old Giuseppe Algeo came to the island
to see the place where his brother lost his life and take
back the only thing that remained of him . . . his
In a peaceful setting on a hill overlooking the capital
Argostoli, stands a memorial to the brave men of the Acqui
who gave their lives for the people of Kefalonia.
I now fully understand why the Islanders proudly quote
the saying they have when they meet an Italian on their island
. . . "Una
faccia, una razza" - one face, one race!
. . . I feel proud to have been included.
from the village showed me where to find the tree with the
taking photographs a local man and his wife came out to speak
to me. With hand gestures and a little Italian he explained
how he had fought in Albania. He proudly showed me scars of the
bullet wounds he had received and gestured that he was the one who had made
the cross. Luckily for me their granddaughter came out to translate
as his wife began to recount how she witnessed the events that
occurred here all those years ago. She then recounted in great
detail how the son of the then priest of Faraklata, Dionisis
Konstantakis, was led out with his hands tied behind his back and hung from this tree. I felt a
poignant moment as I drove out of this very peaceful village
with my family to continue my journey around the Island. I
have decided that it would be inappropriate for me to publish
photographs of these Islanders . . .
My heartfelt thanks for making
me so welcome . . . and for sharing your painful memories