Brief Military History of Leros
and the Dodecanese (1911 - 1947)

A timeline through history

  • 1911
    Italo-Turkish War

    September 1911: Beginning of the Italo-Turkish War (1911 -1912).

  • First Italians arrive in Leros

    May 1912: The first Italians arrive in Leros.

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  • 1923
    Treaty of Lausanne

    July 24, 1923: The Treaty of Lausanne is signed, according to which the Dodecanese become definitive possession of the Italians.

  • Italy Surrenders

    September 8, 1943: Italy unconditionally surrenders to the Allies, who begin to claim the Dodecanese alongside Germany

  • 1943
    Occupation of Kastelloriso

    September 10, 1943: British troops occupy the island of  Kastelloriso

    Photo: British anti-aircraft unit in Pera Meria, the western quay of Kastelloriso’s main port, taking aim at passing German aircraft

  • Occupation of Rhodes

    September 11, 1943: German troops  occupy the island of  Rhodes

  • 1943
    British occupation of Kos

    September 13 – 15, 1943: British troops land on Kos island.

    Photo: Allied landing party, probably on their way to meet the Italian commander, Colonello Felice Leggi. Second from left is SBS Major David Sutherland, to his left is Lieutenant Commander Frank Ramseyer, RNVR

  • British land on Samos

    September 16, 1943: British troops land on Samos island.

  • 1943
    British land on Leros

    September 17, 1943: British troops begin landing on Leros and Symi island.

  • Germans prepare their attacks on Kos and Leros.

    September 22–October 3, 1943: Germans prepare their attacks on Kos and Leros.

  • 1943
    Vasilissa Olga (Queen Olga)

    September 26, 1943: The Germans bomb and sink the Greek destroyer "Vasilissa Olga (Queen Olga)" and the British "Intrepid" in the port of Portolago, Leros. The air battle of Leros and the 52-day bombardment begins.

    Photo: ML 351 witnessing Vasilissa Olga sinking

  • Operation "Eisbär"

    October 3, 1943: Germans land on Kos island.

  • 1943
    German occupation of Kos

    October 4, 1943: Germans occupy the island of Kos.

  • Occupation of Kalymnos

    October 7, 1943: Germans occupy the island of  Kalymnos.

  • 1943
    British evacuate Symi

    October 11, 1943: British troops evacuate Symi island.

  • Occupation of Astypalaia

    October 22, 1943: Germans troops occupy the island of  Astypalaia.

  • 1943
    Robert Tilney

    November 5, 1943: Brigadier General Robert Tilney replaces his predecessor in Command of the Leros Fortress.

  • Operation “Taifun”

    November 12, 1943: The Germans start Operation “Taifun”, the conquest of Leros, with sea landings on the northern shores and paratrooper drops into the center of the island, which was split in two by the German forces.

  • 1943
    German reinforcements, Leros

    November 13, 1943: The Germans land reinforcements in Leros. Great battles on Mount Apitiki and in the area of ​​Aghios Kirikos.

  • Night operation by the British

    13 – 14 November 1943: The British carry out an unsuccessful night operation to recapture Mount Apitiki.


  • 1943
    Recapture of Clidi by the British

    November 14, 1943: The British recapture Mount Clidi, while the fighting continues in ​​Rachi ridge and Aghios Kirikos. British and Germans land reinforcements in Leros.

  • PL211 Rachi ridge

    November 15, 1943: Fighting continues in the vicinity of Rachi. Germans and British land more reinforcements.

    This image by Propagandakompanie photographer Schilling appeared in the Wehrmacht newssheet Wacht im Südosten - PL211 Rachi ridge

  • 1943
    Surrendering Leros to Germans

    November 16, 1943: Brigadier General Tilney is taken prisoner at the British Headquarters on Mount Meraviglia and surrenders the island of Leros to the Germans.

  • 1943

    November 19, 1943: The British troops  evacuate Samos island.

  • 1943

    November 22, 1943: The Germans occupy the island of Samos. All the Dodecanese, except Kastelloriso, are now in German hands.

  • The surrender of German troops

    May 8, 1945: The German commander of the military forces of the Dodecanese, Commander-in-Chief Otto Wagener signs, in Symi, the surrender of the German troops in the south-eastern Mediterranean and hands over the Dodecanese to the British Brigadier General James Moffat.

  • 1947
    The Integration Of The Dodecanese With Greece

    31 March 1947: The British commander of the Dodecanese Occupation Forces, Brigadier General A.S. Parker hands over the Military Command to Rear Admiral Pericles Ioannidis.

    The official ceremony for the Union of the Dodecanese with Greece took place on March 7, 1948.

  • English

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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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