Italian dictator Benito Mussolini clearly had a flair for ineptitude. He may have made the trains run on time in Rome and he may have made the grapes more delicious in Tuscany. He might have even single-handedly kept Venice from sinking deeper into the Adriatic.
But on military matters…well…most people wanted him fighting for “the other guy”.
As a member of the Axis, Italy’s part (militarily speaking) was often to sit by and watch Germany and Japan pretty much do what they wanted. And that didn’t sit well with Mussolini, who became jealous of their “easy” conquests. Oh sure, there had been some gains in Africa (Abyssinia, British Somaliland, Eritrea). And don’t forget the “conquering” of Albania. But they paled when compared with Poland and China and Norway and France.
Mussolini needed a big feather in war-time cap.
Romania had, in the middle of October of 1940, accepted German protection for its massive oil fields at Ploesti, which bothered Benito badly. He had long considered Romania to be in the Italian sphere of influence, and believed Germany was overstepping its bounds a little. So he turned at Greece, sending an ultimatum demanding they allow Italy to occupy their territory.
Greece and Italy had a history of troubled relations. Italy’s conquest (I use that term lightly) of Albania put them right on Greece’s border, and Prime Minister Metaxas was showing a preference for Britain. For his part, Metaxas did what he could to maintain neutrality, going so far as to cover up the origins of the sinking of the Elli in Tinos Harbor in August…clearly an Italian operation and a topic worthy of discussion at some point.
But there was no way the Prime Minister of Greece was going to allow an Italian occupation. He refused on October 28, 1940…and was attacked by Italy on October 28, 1940. Italian Generals launched their attacks while simultaneously trying to recall the men they had sent home just weeks before to help with the harvests.
Within two weeks, Greece’s military had stopped the Italian advance. A stalemate, which would last six months, began. Hitler was, once again, angry with the Italian leader for going off and beginning an operation he couldn’t finish. Evenutally (in the spring of 1941), Germany would have to delay Operation Barbarossa and commit his own forces to finally subdue Greece.
Recommended Reading: Crete 1941 – This is a somewhat dry book dealing mostly with British naval operations around Crete, but it provides good background information on Greece as well. It should go quickly for you.