A Doomed Offensive
John Carr, Mussolini’s Defeat at Hill 731, (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The Italian invasion of Greece in 1940 was, at best, a disaster. There are very few parts of it that show the Italian Army in a good light, and the final offensive of that invasion is no exception. In this book, John Carr takes us through the final Operazione Primavera (Spring Offensive) that was carried out at Mussolini’s behest. It focusses on the fight for Hill 731, the key part of the Greek Defensive line some 20km north of Këlcyrë in Albania. The Italian plan saw the main strength of their assault fall upon a 6km long line of the Greek positions. This relatively small tome comes in at 213 pages long, with some black and white photographs and a rundown of the overall commands involved in Operazione Primavera.
For being a short book there is a lot of detail, and the author’s prose brings that to life so that it never gets dull even when discussing the minutiae. The author has taken the source material and woven a story from it, not just a military history. He concentrates on the soldiers doing the fighting and their experiences whilst still providing the reader with the overall strategic view. Carr does an excellent job of discussing the Italian Army, highlighting their problems, of which there were many, without falling into the lazy trap of dismissing them as rubbish as so many people do. He does an even better job of piercing that stereotype towards the end of the book. There are also some nice personal touches of the more humane side of war taken from both sides.
It’s not all rosy in this military history garden; my main gripes are the lack of maps, and the ones that are there are flat. I am someone who needs detail in maps so I can try and understand the areas being talked about; with the maps provided, you would be forgiven to think the fighting took place on a plain as there are no topographical differences between Hill 731 and the Proi Math ravine. There is also no traditional bibliography in the book; the author makes the case that most the sources are in Italian and Greek, and provides some suggestions for further reading, but I would have preferred a full bibliography. The book is also told mainly from a Greek perspective; whether this is because of the available source material or the author’s bias is not clear, but some more balance would have been good.
This is a well written tale of a doomed Italian offensive in the Greco-Italian war. It has enough detail to satisfy most without the dryness such detail can often suggest. For me as a wargamer it has me wondering if I could recreate some of the fighting in a satisfactory manner. That might be difficult, but I do know I have the book I need if I want to do that. If you have any interest in this theatre of World War 2, then this book is probably a must have.
Reviewed by Dom Sore