Italian occupation of Leros (1912 - 1943)

During this period, military works were implemented on the island and military installations were constructed in order to make Leros an important Italian naval and air base, due to its location and the unique morphology of the protected harbor in Lakki.

From 1916 to 1918, the British used Leros as a naval base. After October 28, 1922, the Italian fascist regime that prevailed actively tried to "Italianize" the Dodecanese. After the end of 1936, these efforts were reinforced by the Italian conquerors with a series of decrees concerning education (abolition of Greek schools and their subordination to the control and administration of Italian authorities), mandatory learning of the Italian language, prohibition of practicing professions such as doctor or lawyer for those who had not studied at Italian universities, extensive forced deportations, granting of the so-called small Italian citizenship to residents, etc.

As a military and political governor of the Dodecanese during this period was De Vecchi. The Italian intervention in the region was catalytic. The mountains, military installations, and a large part of Leros constituted a military zone. Then, the central axis of the road is constructed with side eucalyptus plantations. A new city, Porto Lago, will be created in Lakki, with impressive buildings and infrastructure.

During the 31 years that the Italians remained on Leros, they created an important urbanization and fortification plan for the island. The fortification of Leros, as well as the construction of a large naval base in Lakki, ensured Italian control over an area that was of vital importance to the Allies (the Aegean, the Dardanelles, and the Middle East).

The Battle of Leros (1943)

The battle began with German air attacks on September 26, continued with the landings on November 12, and was completed with the surrender of the Allied forces four days later.


The bombardment of Leros lasted 52 days
September 26 – November 16, 1943

On the eve of the attack on Leros, the Germans had 357 aircraft in the Dodecanese. However, despite their superiority in the air, their naval forces in the area were poor and limited to three Italian torpedo boats that had been captured, some submarines, minesweepers, and 30 small transport landing craft. On the ground, the situation was better as the Battle Group was formed under General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, which included 4 Infantry Regiments, reinforced with sections of light artillery and engineers. There was also a Commando Regiment, a Parachute Platoon, and an Amphibious Commando Platoon from the elite "Brandenburg" Division. Finally, a parachute regiment was also transported from Italy.

During the night between October 6th and 7th, in the bay of Astypalaia, the Royal Navy destroyers Sirius and Penelope and the destroyers Faulknor and Fury attacked a German escort convoy consisting of the auxiliary submarine chaser Uj 2111 (formerly the Italian gunboat Tramaglio), the freighter Olympus, and seven Marinefährprahme (MFPs), sinking all except one MFP. These troops were intended as reinforcements for the force that had undertaken Operation "Leopard," and the destruction of the escort convoy caused a delay in the operation.

The people of the battle of Leros

Italians: 8,320 soldiers and sailors, British: 3,500+ soldiers 74 Squadron, RAF 7 Squadron, SAAF, Germans: 2,800 soldiers and strong air force


512 killed, 900 injured, at least five MFPs


254 killed or missing, 5,350 prisoners, 1 destroyer wrecked, 5 auxiliary and merchant ships wrecked, 5 armored vessels and torpedo boats wrecked


600 dead, 100 injured, 3,200 prisoners, 115 RAF aircraft lost, 3 destroyer ships sunk


Built in strategic positions, the batteries protected  the island from sea and air raids

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Fortification of Leros

Among the islands of the Dodecanese, Leros, due to its geographical position in the eastern Mediterranean and its special morphology, was chosen for the creation of Italy's main air and naval base in the Dodecanese.

The purpose was purely strategic: the fortification of Leros and the creation of a large military base ensured the Italians control of an area of ​​vital interest to the Great Powers. This Base, according to the planning, would have facilities for the Navy, the Air Force and the Army, as well as the necessary workshops of private companies manufacturing military equipment.

The main construction projects of the Italians in Leros, for the fortification and defense of the island, were carried out as early as 1923 and were completed at the end of the 1930s.

Among these are:

  • "Gianni Rossetti" Seaplane Base in the area of ​​Lepida 
  • Submarine Base in the adjacent area of ​​Aghios Georgios
  • New town of Portolago (nowadays Lakki), created in order to cover the housing needs created by the construction of the Aeronautical Base
  • Centro Radio Lero – the installation of the Italian telecommunications center in the area of ​​Aghios Nikolaos in Lakki
  • The headquarters of FAM - DICAT, the “FAM -  Fronte A Mare” - Coastal Defense Command and the “DICAT - Difesa Contraerea Territoriale” -  Anti-Aircraft Land Defense Command on Mount Patella, with the unique installation of the Aerophone and the Acoustic - Parabolic Wall

Along with the other defense installations of Leros, the fortification of the island with artillery began already in the mid-1920s, initially mainly for naval defense. Gradually, until the middle and mainly at the end of the 1930s, 103 guns of caliber from 76mm to 152mm were installed on almost all the heights of Leros, most of them from decommissioned battleships and cruisers of the Italian Navy from WW I, composing a network of 25 batteries, responsible for the defense of the island, both from the sea and from the air. Along with the construction of the gun emplacements, other military facilities were developed in each artillery barracks, such as material and ammunition storages, shelters, barracks and logistics buildings, as well as various other facilities. The defense network of Leros is considered a model of interwar fortification architecture (1918 – 1939).

Especially since 1936, when military zones were officially created on the island, fenced with barbed wire, the mountains and heights of Leros acquired a purely military character. The granting of compensation stops, since the cutting of the bushes was first prohibited by decree, and thus the fields were turned into forest land, and by extension they are considered the property of the Italian State. Thus, livestock breeders and farmers, losing their properties, are forced to resort to day labor, since there is indeed a lack of labor force, due to the excessive number of projects in progress. For the construction of the defense and public works of Leros, artisans are transferred from Italy, with a daily wage of 40-50 italian lire, while the Greeks receive 6-10 italian lire.

The outbreak of World War II led to the expansion and improvement, on a large scale, of military installations, but this was opposed to economic criteria and above all the lack of availability of means and the difficulties in maritime transportations. The serious shortcomings of the hasty Italian military preparation led to the dispersion of the scarce available means in many areas, all of them of high importance and therefore did not allow the care imposed on any of them.

Thus, in the Dodecanese, although the level of preparation could be described as satisfactory, in relation to infrastructure and logistics facilities, the field of armaments, and especially that of Artillery, lagged far behind, since the Dodecanese had been sent almost exclusively old-style and dissimilar weapons caliber, which did not allow the organization of defense to develop to a sufficient and satisfactory degree, which will have a huge impact on the events of September - November 1943.

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