Battle of Grammos-Vitsi

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The Battle of Grammos-Vitsi was fought during the Greek Civil War between the country's National Forces and the communist Democratic Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Elladas or DSE).

Background

By 1948, the superiority of the Greek national forces, numbering some 150,000 men with weaponry and ammunition supplied by the British and Americans, had forced the DSE, through several clean-up operations, to abandon their former strongholds in Northern Greece and take refuge in positions on Grammos and Vitsi mountains. Mt Grammos is part of the Pindus Mountains, separating Epirus and Macedonia; Mt Vitsi is part of Mount Verno in western Macedonia between Florina and Kastoria prefectures. Unable to compete with the national forces in a pitched battle, the DSE had extensively fortified the two mountains. A defeat here would mean have meant the total defeat of the communist forces and the end of the Civil War.

The national army had attempted in the summer of 1948 to take Grammos but, after battles that were costly on both sides, failed to make its full objectives though limited success was achieved.

In August of 1949, General Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos prepared another attack to be conducted in three phases:

Operation Torch A'

On the night of August 2 towards August 3, the A' Army Corps, launched Operation Torch A' which was an attack on Grammos designed to pin elements of the DSE to this mountain, while a bigger attack was planned for Vitsi. The national forces consisted of two divisions and a brigade supported by artillery, armoured vehicles and air force. They faced two under-strength divisions and a brigade with some artillery pieces, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft pieces.

After a six-day battle, the national forces not only achieved their objective of pinning down the DSE forces defending Grammos but also overran several of their positions in the NE as well as the South.

Operation Torch B'

On August 10 the main attack of the national forces began against Mt Vitsi. Though figures vary, it is believed that the national forces consisted of about six divisions supported by several other infantry units, tanks, artillery and 87 aircraft - a total of 60,000 men - against two DSE divisions, two brigades and some units of communist youths - about 8,000 men.

The superior numbers and training of the national forces contributed to a decisive victory which sent the DSE into full retreat. Many of its fighters, however, were able to join their comrades on Mt Grammos by going through Albanian territory.

Operation Torch C'

The final phase of the battle was a second attack against Mt Grammos, the very last refuge of all DSE forces in Greece. King Paul of Greece and US General James Van Fleet arrived in the area to witness the battle.

Finally, on August 25, 1949, the national forces consisting of five divisions, one brigade, several infantry support units, tanks and aircraft, launched the final assault against the remaining 12,000 men of the DSE. The following day, the national forces succeeded in securing Porta Osman - the main passage of the DSE fighters into Albania. Faced with the danger of total anihilation, the political leadership of the Communist Party of Greece ordered all DSE fighters to abandon their positions and flee into Albania through the Bara pass, the last remaining route into that country.

The battle of Grammos-Vitsi ended on August 29, 1949 with the National Army of Greece in full control of the country. The Greek Civil War was for all practical purposes, over.