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Churchill's Folly: The Battles for Kos and Leros, 1943



In autumn 1943 the Italian-held Dodecanese was the setting for the last decisive German invasion of World War II—and the last irreversible British defeat. After the Italian armistice that followed the downfall of Il Duce Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill seized the opportunity to open a new front in the eastern Mediterranean, thereby increasing the pressure against Germany and at the same time hoping to provide an incentive for Turkey to join the Allies. Rejected by the Americans, it was a strategy fraught with difficulties and, ultimately, one doomed to failure. Spearheaded by the Long Range Desert Group and the Special Boat Squadron, British garrison troops were dispatched to the Aegean with the support of naval units, but with little or no air cover. They were opposed by German assault troops with the advantage of overwhelming air superiority. Within three months, German forces had seized nearly all of the Dodecanese, which would remain under occupation until the end of the war.