THE HOLLOW LEGIONS: Mussolini's Blunder in Greece, 1940-1941 by Mario Cervi

THE HOLLOW LEGIONS: Mussolini's Blunder in Greece, 1940-1941

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Drawing on memoirs, new Italian annals, and new Greek evidence, this acute reconstruction of the Italian campaign against Greece attributes Italian military confusion, corruption, unpreparedness and irresponsibility to the political and administrative dislocations of Italian fascism. Cervi, a patriotic bourgeois anti-fascist who praises the Italian soldiers for ""doing their duty,"" hates the Mussolini regime most of all for its ""incompetence"" and ""amateurism."" The campaign was cooked up by the Duce himself and his foreign minister Ciano over the general staff's objections; it had nothing to do, Cervi insists, with any broader Axis plan, and indeed Hitler didn't know the invasion date. After an ultimatum to the Greek dictator Metaxas in October the inadequate Italian forces moved to the Albanian-Greek frontier, having lost the advantage of surprise, and the intended blitz became an ill-equipped war of position through a deadly winter. Jealous ambitions among the generals form a prominent part of the narrative, which is more compressed after March 1941, dealing briefly with the British and German interventions and Yugoslav battles; the wider context of the European war is not provided. Cervi dwells rather contradictorily on Mussolini's motivation for the offensive. ""Puerile pique"" against Hitler and his move into the Balkans, and the desire to show the world that he too could launch a lightning success, are two main hypotheses, but Italy's grudge against Greece since 1923 is mentioned, and at one point the campaign is said to have been waged ""only for the sake of the pickings."" Cervi's descriptions of the dramatis personae are memorable (Metaxas as ""a less pliable and more provincial Franco""). As a study of the regime's objective needs and goals, the book is limited, but as a study in ""political improvidence, military incompetence, petty ambition, and strategic and tactical shortsightedness,"" it offers a great deal -- including the chaotic side of ""the vaunted efficiency of Fascist government."" Documentary appendices, index, and a good introduction by F. W. Deakin. Three maps, no bibliography; battle diagrams would have been useful.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1971
Publisher: Doubleday