Region: Greece / Balkans
Group: Balkan countries
Classification: Military Occupation
Prior Regime: Italian Occupation of Albania
1940, Oct 28 – Italy invades Greece using Albania as a staging area
1940, Dec – Greek troops drove back the Italians, occupying northern Epirus
1941, Mar – Italian troops stage a major counterattack which again were repelled by the Greeks
1941, Apr – Nazi Germany attacks Greece, saving Italy from an embarrassing defeat
1941, Apr 20 – The Greek army surrenders to the Germans in Epirus
1941-1944 – Germany and Italy occupy Greece
Following Regime: German Occupation of Albania and Greece.
Scott Catalogue: (Epirus) #N202-N238, NJ38-NJ42, NRA1-NRA3
Pick Catalogue: none
Epirus, taken from the Greek for “mainland” is a rough mountainous region located along the Ionian Sea in the border area of Greece and Albania. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years, the area primarily consisted of an ethnic Greek population.
Greece became independent in 1830 and began a slow expansion of their borders to include areas where ethnic Greek populations lived. As the Ottoman Empire weakened, and Greece influence grew in the ethnic Greek populations, Epirus was essentially split into two parts in 1881, and the southern part became part to Greece, while northern Epirus was retained by the Ottoman Empire.
During the First Balkan War (1912-1913), which pitted the Balkan League of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria against the Ottoman Turks, Greece occupied the northern part of Epirus and for the balance of the Balkan wars all of Epirus was under Greek administration. After the Second Balkan War (1913), the northern part of Epirus, was awarded to a newly created Albanian state, and in early 1914, Greek troops withdrew from the region, while retaining south Epirus.
Unwilling to be a part of Albania, the people of Northern Epirus revolted in February, 1914, and a provisional government proclaimed the formation of the Autonomous Republic of Epirus. After fierce guerrilla fighting, the revolutionaries eventually managed to gain full autonomy under a nominal Albanian sovereignty. The Protocol of Corfu was signed in May of 1914, officially recognizing the Autonomous Republic of North Epirus, and would allow for self government and recognition of the rights of the Greek population.
As World War 1 broke out in July, 1914, and in September Albania collapsed into chaos. This caused the Greeks to send forces into Northern Epirus, to re occupy the territory. The Autonomous Republic of Epirus, ceased to exist. During the war, the region was occupied by the Greeks, the Italians and subsequently the French. At the end of the war, Northern Epirus was awarded to Greece, however following the Greco-Turkish war in 1924, and at the insistence of the Italian’s, Northern Epirus again became part of Albania.
In April of 1939, Italy invaded Albania and declared it as an Italian Protectorate. As World War 2 was beginning, Albania became a staging area for an Italian attack on Greece. After Greece rejected an ultimatum from Mussolini to occupy Greek territory, Italy launched an attack on Greece on 28 October, 1940, beginning the Greco-Italian War.
Despite the stronger forces and air support, the Italians were surprised by the ferocity of the Greeks, and their ability to repel the Italian army. By mid-December, Greek forces had driven back the Italian attack and occupied the entirety of Epirus and southern portion of Albania.
Humiliated by the defeat, Mussolini ordered a large offensive to retake the region, which was launched in March of 1941. Again the attack was repelled by the Greek army. To avoid total embarrassment of the Italians, Nazi Germany joined the battle and launched an attack on Greece on 6 April, 1941. Overwhelmed by the superior German forces, the Greek units in northern Epirus surrendered to the Germans on 20 April, 1941. The combined Italian and German Army continued onward to invade and occupy all of Greece for the duration of the war.
During the approximately 6 months that Greece controlled north Epirus / southern Albania, Greek authorities overprinted stamps of Greece in black or carmine “ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΔΙΟIΚΗΣΙΣ”, which translates Hellenic Administration. This overprint was applied to various Greek definitive issues including the Greek Heritage issues, King George issues, and the Greek National Youth issues. Additionally, air-post stamps, postage due stamps and semi-postal stamps were overprinted.
It is interesting to note, the font chosen for the Greek overprints used a stylized “C” in place of the usual Greek symbol “Σ”.
The overprinted issues were withdrawn from sale in June 1941.