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West Central Greece

This area consists essentially of the south part of Epirus. Greece at one time claimed all of Epirus, which was part of ancient Greece. Now the northern and much of the central parts are inhabited by Albanians, who are Mohammedans and showed no desire to be annexed to Greece. Attempts by various expeditions to arouse the natives to rise and seek annexation all failed.

Epirus is bounded on the south by the Gulf of Amvrakikos, site of the Battle of Actium where Octavian defeated Mark Antony to determine control of the Roman Empire (see Greece in the Roman Empire , ch. 1). Dominated by the main Pindus Range that runs north and south and reaches an altitude of 1,800 meters, Epirus has been isolated from the rest of Greece by the lack of natural passageways running east and west. Because there are no major river valleys or basins between its steep, constricted ridges, Epirus is also a poor agricultural region, suitable mainly as pasture. Some grains are grown in the northern plains. The central mass of the Pindus Range forms the border between Epirus and Thessaly, the region to the east. The main river of Epirus is the Arakhthos, which flows southward out of the mountains and into the Gulf of Amvrakikos.

Through most of its history, Epirus either consisted of isolated villages (during the era of city-states elsewhere), or it was occupied by the Romans or the Turks. Periods of federation and self-governance occurred immediately after the death of Alexander the Great and in the thirteenth century. The populace of Epirus played an important role in the Greek War of Independence (1821- 32). The northern part of present-day Greek Epirus was ceded to Greece by the Ottoman Empire in 1881; southern Epirus became part of the kingdom of Greece in 1913. The main city, Ioannina, is a regional agricultural and commercial center.

At the south end of this sector is the port of Messolongion, across the gulf from Patras. There is a good line of communication northward from here through the entire area, but the port is shallow and obstructed by sand banks. A better landing place is in the bay of Krioneri, about 8 miles to the east.

During the winter campaign of 1940-1941 the main Greek army operated in this sector with its front roughly along the north boundary of Greece. Supplies were forwarded by motor transportation along the main road north from Messolongion, with an advanced base at Preveza. This entire sector is a mass of mountains extending in a generally north-south line, with deep valleys separating the numerous chains. Snow is deep in the mountains, and cold severe, from October to April. There were few transverse lines of communication. Consequently it was difficult to move troops or supplies in west and east directions.

The Greeks showed that the valleys could be defended by only holding the heights on the flanks, without deploying troops in the valleys. In this fighting machine guns and light artillery fired downward from the mountains. It was found practicable to use a few 150-mm howitzers. Only pack transportation could be used in the mountains, and in most cases mules had to be supplemented by human packers. The wastage of mules was very great, due in part to difficulty in providing forage for them during a winter. Trails could be developed in the mountains and it was possible to make attacks along the mountain ridges, provided proper artillery support was available.

If an invasion of this area was made, landings are practicable in the Gulf of Patras and near Preveza. Soon thereafter mountain warfare must be expected. Despite the trouble required, it will be safer to advance along the ridges rather than through the valleys. Every column must be self-supporting, as very little help can be expected from troops not immediately adjacent. All supplies must be imported. There is no information available as to enemy preparations to defend this part of Greece.

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