Greek Bayonet fighting

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OldBill
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Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby OldBill » 17 Oct 2017 01:27

I just finished John Carr's "THE DEFENCE AND FALL OF GREECE 1940-41" and was struck by the sheer amount of bayonet charges and fighting, between the Italians and (in particular) by the Greeks. Did the Greek army train extensively on bayonet tactics?

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jwsleser
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby jwsleser » 18 Oct 2017 19:38

I am not aware of any special or additional training on using the bayonet in the Greek Army. The period Greek army manuals give it the same emphasis that you see in other armies.

You read about the same intense close combat in Italian accounts. This was due to the terrain (very mountainous), the weather (a lot of rain, snow and fog), and the limited amount/size of supporting arms (artillery, air, etc.) available to both sides. As the Greeks were mainly on the offensive most of the time, they initiated most of the attacks.

The terrain and weather severely restricted the use of supporting arms. Most of the artillery used by both sides was pack artillery (65mm and 75mm), with limited amounts of heavy guns available. Air was generally ineffective (earlier bombers using lighter bombs, not used in mass, poor weather, etc.). ranges were restricted, making it was easier for infantry to approach enemy positions. Close combat for the Greeks was by necessity; they lacked the firepower to dominate the Italians. For the Italians, it was partially due to the chaotic situations created by the failure of their initial advance (units rushed to Albania by air, meaning no supporting arms with them, inability to move material through the mountains, etc.), and the fascist belief/focus on elan and individual superiority. Overall, Greek units were better trained and motivated, and their equipment was better suited to the environment. So infantry assaults became the tool by necessity as the Greeks lacked everything else.

It was this lack of modern equipment (meaning trucks, adequate number of supporting arms, etc.) that limited what the Greek Army could achieve. They were very a/t gun poor, which forced them to push their attacks in areas were the Italian superiority in tanks and trucks had less effect.

Reading about the Monte Cervino (an Italian ski battalion) defending the crest of the Mal Trebessina against Greek attacks is a story of courage and endurance on both sides. Fighting at 2,000m in the dead of weather, the soldiers on both sides endured freezing rain, snow, and constant wind. Hand-to-hand combat was the only way to win. Supplies had to be carried up the ridge from 5km away. Surviving was challenging.
battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
5th Greek Regiment
9th reggimento bersaglieri

OldBill
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby OldBill » 19 Oct 2017 09:56

Thank you for that. The conflict between the Greeks and Italians has long held my interest.

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jwsleser
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby jwsleser » 19 Oct 2017 16:42

You are welcome.

If you haven't read it, the best book in English on the Albanian front (actually the only book in English) is The Hollow Legions by Mario Cervi. He served as an infantry officer in Albania. A well written and researched book that still holds up today as good history.

Hollow Legions1.jpg


From the book Il battaglione sciatori Monte Cervino sul fronte Greco-Albanese by Rino Cossard. He was a lieutenant platoon leader in the 2a compagnia sciatori: January 22 (my translation).

It started to snow, but the wind did not stop. The icy snow removes the breath. How to attack and [against] who, in this swirling world in infinity? It gets darker. Searching for the sentinels I put here half an hour ago, 15 feet from the platoon, I am lost in the fury of the elements. My courage has melted in the wind, in the night of ice. When I find the rock where my alpini are, without finding the sentinel, I feel like a wreck that has reached the outcasts, long elusive, one meter on a rabid wave, and I wanted to cry. The rock overwhelms me with the snow accumulated on its vertical face.

How and who can be attacked this night, if it is already so difficult to maintain this wavering body swaying to the reality of the four dark palms that are granted? At last I return and find a place in the tent as I struggle with the torment, with the rhythm of the icy canvas, in the dark for half an hour, an hour, for eternity, until exhaustion, weeping of despair, and the four canvas sections bang in the night and we throw on our overcoats and better spread our backpacks on the snow. "


On 23 Jan he writes:

“The survivors of the 1st company leave us, down to the valley and we stay here, between the dead and tarpaulins, blankets, the empty boxes of ammunition, in the ugly darkness. Now rainwater mixes with snow. I throw myself on the ground between the rocks and backpacks, and Alpini huddle around me, fall on me, cover me and I am warm. The Bersaglieri that arrived late yesterday and were not able to sustain the attack of our company, they do not know how to stack in this way and the cold wins. They get the higher commander's permission to go down a little more towards the bottom in search of shelter.”


A picture of the alpini of the Cervino huddling:

Monte Cervino Greece.jpg
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Last edited by jwsleser on 19 Oct 2017 16:59, edited 1 time in total.
battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
5th Greek Regiment
9th reggimento bersaglieri

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jwsleser
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby jwsleser » 19 Oct 2017 16:54

This is from the battalion's war diary for 24 Jan. (My translation)

“At 7 am at dawn’s first light, the enemy opened fire on our positions. The 2nd company of the Cervino is positioned on q. 1392. The company commander orders the I Platoon to move on the spur that descends towards the Desnizza valley to avoid the possibility of bypassing the valley that rises from the valley bottom to q. 1426. At 7:30 a platoon from the battaglione [alpini] Bolzano comes from Arza as reinforcement. The commander of the position, Major Riva, detaches two squads, one of which is machine-guns, beside the right-hand platoon of the Cervino.”

“At 7.45 arrive two assault platoons of the 2 "reggimento bersaglieri and, shortly after, the machine-gun platoon of the same unit”

“The machine gunners take a position on the far left of the position.”

“The enemy violently beats our positions with mortar fire and direct machine gun fire and seriously hinders our every move.”

"The fire comes from q. 1308, upon which are fortified enemy positions to which the enemy can access using numerous concealed approaches. As the violent fire continued, we can see the movements of isolated individuals or in small groups that descend into the valley in front of our portion where a defile blocks our sight. We fear an outflanking maneuver on the right. The platoon extends its deployment lower into the Desnizza valley.”

“At 14.30 the platoon commander reports to the company commander that he had noticed enemy movement on his right, and fear of an attack along the shoulders of the slopes of q. 1,446”

“Major Riva ordered the platoon machine gunners to move from the left and back to q. 1446 to avoid the possibility of being bypassed on the right side. A patrol immediately leaves to reconnoiter the ground.”

“At 16 hours, while the machinegun platoon is in motion, the enemy launches the attack. Our platoon is attacked on the right flank and the fighting is violent. The enemy mortars beats our positions with precision. The platoon counterattacks the enemy with grenades, but the vast numerical superiority of the enemy on our right breaks the momentum of our platoon and it is almost completely destroyed. The few survivors, however, do not abandon the position and, under cover of their better positions, are able to contain the enemy”

“The reconnaissance patrol that preceded the machine gun platoon to q. 1446 has meanwhile met the enemy, whose flank attacked from above, onto the shoulder of the right platoon. The few survivors of the platoon huddle resisting at the top of q. 1392, where the III Platoon can only deploy four men in addition to the company commander and the bersaglieri unit. The situation becomes more critical every minute. The enemy attacks on the left, the front and attempts to bypass on the right.

“Until 17 hours the enemy pressure is contained by the heroic resistance of the III Platoon of the Monte Cervino, which was reinforced by two squads from battaglione [alpine] Bolzano and a platoon of bersaglieri. The enemy losses are very heavy, but ours too are heavy. The enemy attacked, but was repulsed by hand grenades. The enemy’s encirclement is meanwhile developing without it being possible to hamper it. Major Riva orders to withdraw. The only escape route is to overcome the successive valleys near q. 1392 and the mouth of the valley that descends into Arza, and they are scoured by enfilade [fire] by the enemy a short distance away. The abundant snow hampers movement. Only a few can retreat. Near our last hope, Major Riva is seriously injured and cannot continue. The officers who follow try to carry him, but are also machine-gunned by the enemy and only one survived.”

“The enemy reached the edge from which it dominates Arza di Sopra, but meanwhile comes the night.”

“The Cervino battalion commander immediately organizes the survivors of the two companies, including the II Platoon of the 2a Company, which has returned from q. 1514, with the company Lambardini and a platoon of the battaglione Bolzano, a defensive line that connects Arza di Sopra and the crest of Mali Trebeshines at q. 1514.”


Picture of the Cervino on top of the Mali Trebeshines.

Monte_Cervino_in_Albania_sul_Mali_Trebeshines.jpg
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battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
5th Greek Regiment
9th reggimento bersaglieri

OldBill
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby OldBill » 21 Oct 2017 01:41

Thank you for that. In some ways it is reminiscent of "The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919" by Mark Thompson. It was Italy's misfortune that she lost her young men in two wars to senior officers who were not worthy of them. It always annoys the hell out of me when people disparage other nations soldiers with stereotypes (such as the Italians and French) when those men were as brave as any, doing the best they could. Books and stories such as these deserve to be told.

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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby Stephan » 29 Oct 2017 20:44

I suspect bajonett attacks were not seldom caused by sheer lack of ammo. As must have happen quite frequently in such moveable, distand field situations with unsure logistics.

A memory arises. A totally another era, a novel by the good amateur historian Sienkiewicz, from the 1655 wars. Whom is letting his hero talk admiringly about the brave disciplined Mazurian infantery formed of the polish mazurian peasants. " Whom could attack without firing straight into the smoke, with just their musketoes". Nice and swell But it dawns on me, the infantry WAS brave and nicely disciplined, but them not shooting although shooten at was because they probably didnt had no ammo, nor even proper bajonets... So willy nilly they attacked bravely "straight into the smoke" with just their musketoes as clubs...

Although I notice the Greeks were decently well armed and equipped.

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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby Idomeneas » 14 Jan 2018 20:05

According to the official history of the Hellenic Army, on 24 January 1941 the II/4 battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment faced an Italian attack that launched at 02.30 and lost control of q. 1308 and retired 700m on the south. I/4 battalion attacked at 16.00 and reoccupied q. 1308 after a 2 hours battle. A patrol launched later pushed 500m forward without meeting the enemy. Enemy concentration on q. 1030 in northeast dispersed after an attach by I/16 battalion and being pursued beyond the road. By the end of the day 16th Regiment had 2 dead and 23 wounded, while captured 50 prisoners (2 officers). There was no action by part of the Hellenic Army against q. 1392 or Arza di Sopra, southwest of q. 1308.

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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby saviour » 06 Apr 2018 11:35

Subscribed just to reply this.

Don't even ask me how I got here.

Greek army has long had a fascination with bayonet charges.

I was a 1st Lieutenant in the mid 90s and they still practiced bayonet fighting then.
We loved it, it was always good fun.

I got in trouble when in basic training for bayoneting a telegraph pole - the bloody thing went inside it 2 inches or so and I could not get it out.

Had to tow it out with a G Wagen.

Can't make this stuff up tbh.

Kind regards,
Saviour

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Steve
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby Steve » 11 Apr 2018 17:23

That the Italians and Greeks would often engage in bayonet fighting seems odd unless they had run out of ammunition. If someone comes towards you with a bayonet and you have a loaded rifle surely you shoot him.

The British army seems to have had a fascination with bayonet fighting. WW2 films of the Home guard and army training often show troops charging while screaming and then sticking bayonets into stuffed sacks. I believe the German army did a study of how often bayonet fighting actually occurred, no surprise there. The conclusion was not very often and training for it in WW2 was cut back.

Have recently been reading the diary of a British soldier who went through most of WW1 in or near the front line. His usual weapons were a rifle, hand bomb, pistol and Lewis gun. He does mention seeing Germans who had been bayoneted but never mentions fighting with a bayonet himself. Several times he comments on the inordinate amount of time spent practising bayonet fighting when out of the line. His view was that the upper ranks were out of touch with what actually went on in the trenches.

In WW2 it seems that several armies still thought the bayonet an effective weapon the Japanese perhaps most of all. Their bayonet charges against the Americans are good examples of what happens when good well equipped troops are charged by men wielding bayonets.

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jwsleser
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Re: Greek Bayonet fighting

Postby jwsleser » 18 Apr 2018 19:10

Lack of ammunition was not usually the reason for the number of close-combat events.

When you read detail accounts of these actions, it is clear that the statements 'hand-to-hand' or 'bayonet fighting' is more of an euphemism for close combat. Many of these action describe extremely close-in fighting that might or might not have involved physical contact with the enemy. Grenade throwing is often the key element in these accounts, which indicates the soldiers were within ~30m or less. That is very close when describing combat.

Close combat is all about firepower. Terrain in the mountains hinders positioning a lot of offensive firepower to support an attack. Both the Greeks and Italian infantry units lacked significant numbers of light automatic weapons that could move with the attack or defend the multiple small unit avenues of approach. The broken terrain contributed to breaking down defensive positions into small isolated sections that were attacked by a small number of attackers. The weather was a significant factor in limiting both the size of attacks and the ability to use long-range fires. All these together tended to make the man with a bolt-action rifle the decisive element.

Given the small size of the individual defender positions, the attackers were usually able to working in close without huge losses. Likewise the defenders would have taken few losses as the attackers closed. The rush therefore became the decisive action, not the winning of the firepower battle one normally sees. Examining the fight for Hill 731 demonstrates how the Italians were often able to close, but the last 30-50 meters became the decisive battleground. Even so, the Italians swept the hill several times, only to become vulnerable to defender supporting fire. Exposed on the top of hill, the Greek supporting weapons now had clear fields of fire and could support the Greek counterattacks. it is interesting how closely these accounts from Greece read like the accounts of combat on the Italian Front in WW1. Same challenges.

Pista! Jeff
battaglione Alpini sciatori Monte Cervino (Reenacted)
5th Greek Regiment
9th reggimento bersaglieri


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