Almost unknown outside of Italy, this event ranks with Katyn as one of the darkest episodes of the war.
21–26 September 1943
On the Greek island of Cefalonia, in the Gulf of Corinth, the Italian ‘ACQUI DIVISION' was stationed. Consisting of 11,500 enlisted men and 525 officers it was commanded by 52 year old General Antonio Gandin, a veteran of the Russian Front where he won the German Iron Cross.
When the Badoglio government announced on September 8, 1943, that Italian troops should cease hostilities against the Allies, there was much wine and merriment on Cefalonia. However, their German counterparts on the island maintained a stony silence and soon began harassing their Italian comrades, calling them 'traitors'.
The German 11th Battalion of Jäger-Regiment 98 of the 1st Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, commanded by Major Harald von Hirschfeld, arrived on the island and soon Stukas were bombing the Italian positions. The fighting soon developed into a wholesale massacre when the Gebirgsjäger troops began shooting their Italian prisoners in groups of four to ten beginning with General Gandin.
By the time the shooting ended four hours later, 3,339 Italian soldiers lay dead in twenty five different locations all over the island. But that was not the end for the Acqui Division, some 4000 survivors were later shipped to the mainland for further transportation to Germany for forced labour. In the Ionian Sea three of the ships hit mines and sank soon after leaving port taking around 3,000 men to their deaths.
The final death toll in this tragic episode was 9,646 men and 390 officers. Major Harald Hirschfeld was later killed by a bomb splinter during the fighting at Duklapass in Warsaw in 1945 after he was promoted to Lieutenant General. General Hubert Lanz, commander of the Gebirgsjäger troops, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He was released in 1951.
In the 1950s, the remains of over 3,000 soldiers, including 189 officers, were unearthed and transported back to Italy for proper burial in the Italian War Cemetery at Bari. Unfortunately, the body of General Gandin was never identified. In 2002, the investigation into this massacre was reopened in Germany and ten ex-members of the 1st Gebirgs Division, of the 300 still alive, have been investigated and may be charged. The youngest is 81 and the oldest is now 93. There is no Statute of Limitations for murder.
Photo: On the Piccolo Yiro, (coast road between lassi and Argostoli ) there is a pit decorated with commemorative plaque, another place where a number of soldiers were slaughtered. At least 135 lost their lives.