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Acqui text head

Acqui Division-001

A peaceful setting for The 'Acqui' Division Memorial

I have made every effort to ensure that the information contained in this KEFALONIA & ITHACA SECTION is as accurate as possible. However, I cannot be held responsible for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies. I have merely included information to share with anyone interested in Kefalonia & Ithaca and not for profit making. Anyone using this information should have it verified from a different source.

As war in Europe became increasingly inevitable Greece hoped above 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 and offered troops. After 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 Russia.

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 8th 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 Alpine Division was 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 bloodthirsty and determined men of Germany, many of whom were notorious criminals.

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.

TROIANATA: 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, was transformed 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 in bodies.

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 story.

Along Lithostroto, the main street in Argostoli, just to the side of Saint Nicholas Catholic Church, there is a very small museum dedicated 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 there 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 pannikin!

In a peaceful setting on a hill overlooking the capital Argostoli, stands a memorial to the brave men of the 'Acqui' Division, 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.

When I visited Faraklata someone from the village showed me where to find the tree with the cross. Whilst 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 with me.

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