November 16th, 75 years ago: Nazi troops capture the Greek island of Leros

On November 16, 1943, Allied forces, including British and Italian troops, surrendered control of the Greek island of Leros to Nazi troops after over a month of fighting. The seizure of the garrison island was part of a broader scramble between the German regime and the Allied powers over control of the strategically critical Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea.

On September 3, a new Italian government, formed after the ouster of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini by the king and sections of the military, signed an armistice with the Allies, after the mass landing of British, US and Canadian troops. Italian forces, which had occupied many of the Dodecanese islands on behalf of Mussolini’s regime, largely surrendered to the Allies.

German troops, based in occupied Greece, were mobilized to prevent the loss of the islands. At the same time, the Third Reich orchestrated Mussolini’s escape from prison, and the establishment of a fascist Italian Social Republic in the northern and central Italy, propped up by the German military.

Beginning on September 26, the German air force carried out a massive bombardment of Leros. They sank three Allied warships on the first day of battle, and wiped out much of the island’s civilian and military infrastructure over the following two weeks.

On November 12, German warships landed on the north-east coast of the island. The fascist troops were able to reach shore successfully in part as a result of confusion among Allies forces. They were able to seize several Italian batteries. Over the following days, hundreds of German parachutists were deployed to the area, aiding in the consolidation of military dominance in the center of the island.

The following days were dominated by heavy fighting, resulting in significant casualties on both sides. On November 16, British troops formally surrendered after it became clear that their position was hopeless.