Region: Aegean / Ionian Sea
Group: Ionian Islands
Classification: Military Occupation
Prior Regime: Italian Occupation of the Ionian Islands in WW2.
1941, Apr – Germany and Italy invade Greece including Crete, the Ionian and Aegean Islands.
1943, Sep 14 – Facist Italy fell and Nazi Germans invaded and took control of the Ionian Islands
1944, Oct 14 – The British Marines liberated Corfu and the Ionian Islands from the Germans
Following Regime: Kingdom of Greece
Scott Catalogue: (Ionian Islands) N26-N27, NC13
Pick Catalogue: none
The Ionian Islands lie off the western coast of Greece, and in the 1800’s were a British Protectorate, which was transferred to Greek rule in 1862. The Greeks controlled the islands until World War 2. Initially, Italy invaded Greece in October 1940, but the invasion was halted after the Greek army was able to push the Italian army back into Albania. This forced the Germans, allies of Fascist Italy, to shift military plans in the north and come to the aid of Italy. The combined forces were able to engage the Greek forces in April 1941, and by the middle of May, Greece was occupied by the Nazis. While Germany occupied and administered the important cities, such as Athens and Thessaloniki, the Bulgarians controlled the eastern portion of the country, while Italy controlled the majority of the Peloponnesian peninsula, including the Ionian Islands.
The invasion and control of Corfu and the Ionian Islands, was part of Mussolini’s strategy to resurrect the Roman Empire, as Corfu has been an important outpost in the Adriatic. It was less than 20 years prior, in 1923, the Italians invaded Corfu in a feeble attempt to annex the island, but the occupation only lasted for a short period. The Italians ruled the Ionian Islands as a separate entity from the rest of Greece, and several proposals for annexation had been put forward in Rome, none was actually carried out during the war due to pressure from the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, and from the Germans, who were concerned of further alienating the Greek population, which was already strongly opposing the Bulgarian annexations.
On the 14 Sept 1943, after fascism fell in Italy, the Nazis attacked Corfu, bombarding island. The Italians surrendered and the Germans took control of the islands. On the island of Cephalonia, General Antonio Gandin, commander of the 12,000-strong Italian Division Acqui decided to resist the German attempt to forcibly disarm his force. The battle raged from 13–22 Sept, but the Italians were eventually defeated. After the Italians surrendered, the German army massacred several thousand Italian prisoners of war, which stands as one of the worst single war crimes committed by the Nazi’s.
In early June 1944, while the Allies bombed Corfu as a diversion from the Normandy landings, the Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city and temporarily incarcerated them in the old fortress. On the 10th of June they sent them to Auschwitz where very few survived. However, on Zankynthos (Zante) the southernmost of the Ionian Islands, history records that when the order from the Nazi’s came for all Jews to be turned over for deportment to Germany, all of the 275 Jewish people inhabiting the island were hid by the local community, and survived the Holocaust.
As the British Marines moved in to drive out the Germans, Zakynthos was liberated on 12 Sept, 1944, and by 14 Oct, 1944, the Ionian Islands were free of German occupation.
During the Italian Occupation, Italian stamps (postage, air post and postage due) were overprinted “Isole Jonie” for use across the Ionian Islands.
When the Germans assumed control of the islands from the Italians in 1943, two definitive stamps (25c and 50c) and one air post stamps (50c) with the “Isole Jonie” overprint were crudely hand stamped in black or red with the inscription “ΕΛΛΑΣ/2-Χ-43”. According to Scott, the 10c overprint is a proof.
While the stamps were overprinted in Zakynthos, it is unknown (by me) whether they were used elsewhere in the Ionian Islands. If anyone has additional information, please let me know.