Italian colonization of Leros island

In 1912, during the Libyan War against the Ottoman Empire, the Italians occupied all of the Dodecanese islands (except Kastelorizo). On May 12, 1912 the island was seized by the sailors of the Italian Navy cruiser “San Giorgio”. The Greek inhabitants of the islands declared the autonomy of the islands under the title “The Aegean State”, with the aim of unification with Greece, but with the outbreak of the First World War, these moves came to nothing, and the Italians retained control of the islands.

From 1916 to 1918, the British used Leros as a naval base. In the Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement of 1919, the island was to be returned to Greece, along with all of the Dodecanese except Rhodes, but after the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War the Italians canceled the agreement. As a result, the Treaty of Lausanne confirmed the Italian possession of Leros and the Dodecanese.

Portolago harbour

The new Italian Fascist regime actively attempted to Italianize the Dodecanese, by making the Italian language compulsory, giving incentives to locals to adopt the Italian nationality, and clamping down on Greek institutions. In the 1930s a new model town, Portolago, was built by the Italian authorities. It is one of the best examples of Italian Rationalist architecture. The Greeks later renamed it Lakki.

During the 31 years of Italian colonization , they set up a great plan to build and fortify the island, since its strategic position and its large natural harbours (the largest of which, Lakki, is the largest deep water harbour in the Mediterranean Sea), made it an ideal naval base. The fortification of Leros and the creation of a major naval base at Lakki, ensured that the Italians had control over an area.

Bombing raids

From 1940, when Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany, Leros suffered bombing raids by the British Royal Air Force. As a result of the excellent anchorage provided to warships by the many natural coves, the island was the second most bombed during World War Two. On 8 September 1943, as Italy could not continue the war on the German side, it signed an armistice and came over to the Allied camp.

After the Italian armistice, British reinforcements arrived on Leros and other Dodecanese islands and the island suffered continuous German aerial bombardment.One of the largest attacks was on the Greek Navy’s flagship, the Queen Olga, sunk by German bombers on Sunday September 26, 1943,  while they were anchored in Portolago. The island of Leros was finally captured by German troops. The island remained under German occupation until the end of the war.