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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Dodecanese Islands Campaign

8 September to 20 November 1943

Theatre: Mediterranean
Location: The Dodecanese islands of Rhodes, Kos, Leros and Samos.
Players: Allies: 234th Brigade, 74 Squadron RAF and 7 Squadron Royal South African Air Force; Long Range Desert Group; Special Boat Section. Overall commander in Middle East Command, General Henry Maitland Wilson. Axis: Italian garrisons commanded by Admiral Inigo Campioni; German 22nd Infantry Division and Brandenburg Regiment.
Outcome: These Italian-held islands were taken by Germany despite Allied intervention.

Italy took the Dodecanese islands in 1940, during its ill-fated invasion of Greece. Following the removal of Mussolini in July 1943, Churchill proposed that the Allies 'turn' the Italian governors of the islands, thus gaining control of the Dodecanese and opening a sea route to the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower, suspicious of British imperial ambitions and preferring to concentrate Allied effort on the Italian mainland, resisted the proposal. A planned invasion of Rhodes - codenamed Operation Accolade - was called off; troops and equipment earmarked for the operation were transferred to Italy, France and India.

After Italy's surrender on 8 September, General Henry Wilson contacted the Italian Admiral Inigo Campioni on Rhodes and urged him to hold out until the 15th, when British troops could be supplied. Campioni surrendered to the Germans on 11 September.

Wilson then contacted the Italian governors of Kos, Leros and Samos, all of whom agreed to take British reinforcements: paratroops, Special Boat Squadron units and squadrons of the RAF and South African Air Force (SAAF). However, the Germans' occupation of Rhodes gave them effective air superiority; by October the RAF and SAAF forces were beaten.

Deprived of air cover, the islands could not resist for long. Kos fell to the Germans on 4 October; Leros fell, after prolonged bombardment, on 16 November; Samos, finally, was evacuated on 20 November. Whether it was a promising initiative or a quixotic diversion, the Dodecanese campaign was doomed from the outset by under-resourcing and Allied disagreements.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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