ITALIAN OCCUPATIONS WWII **** Occupazioni ed Annessioni Italiane nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Albania, Francia, Grecia, Jugoslavia – 1939-1943 La Posta Civile


Country: ITALY


Item Id #: 528

42 in stock



Occupazioni ed Annessioni Italiane nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Albania, Francia, Grecia, Jugoslavia – 1939-1943 La Posta Civile by Valter Astolfi. Published March 1996 by Fiorenzo Zanetti Editore, Milan. 640 pages, several maps; 6 1/2” x 9 1/2”; black and white illustrations throughout. Perfect bound.
Quite a few volumes have been published during the last two decades about Italian military mail of World War II; most of them were well received both by reviewers and the collecting public. Some of their success story is contributed by the information given on the exact location of the various field post offices — a very important detail for postal history collectors of the various countries and territories occupied by Italy. Another crucial factor is that Italian military mail of WWII is still in relatively large supply, and although stocks and trouvailles had been cherry-picked in the 1950s and early 1960s by pioneering specialists, chances of an occasional lucky find keep collectors’ adrenaline going.
Once occupied and/or annexed the various territories and countries had to be governed, sometime by a civilian administration, sometime by military rule, and in some instances by a combination of both, depending on circumstances which had strategic, political and diplomatic ramifications. The postal service for civilians was a rather important aspect of public administration and the plethora of occupation stamps listed by the various catalogues is, for the serious specialist or postal historian, the classical “tip of the iceberg”. In some of the occupied territories definitive stamps of Italy were used, in other places specific overprinted stamps were issued, and in one case local definitives continued in use. In each case the adopted course had been influenced by circumstances, and although some mistakes were made, Italy was quite careful not to step on Germany’s toes while devising some long-term policy as to better incorporate the newly acquired territories without hurting local sensitivities and pride. Germany, on the other hand, had none of these complexities to contend with and her approach was – to put it in one word – rather brutal. On the whole, war cover enthusiasts will find this collecting field quite exciting and challenging.
On 10 June 1940, Mussolini issued declarations of war against Britain and France; as a result Italian troops began to occupy bordering areas on the western front. Two weeks later France had agreed to sign an armistice. The acquisitions were pitifully modest and included Mentone where Italian stamps were introduced by mid-March 1941. Additionally, as a result of the disruption of postal service between Italy and France, mail from Italians residing in France and her colonies were forwarded through special arrangements and concessions. Covers benefitting from such concessions are usually recognizable by official “straight line” hand-stamps.
The partition of Yugoslavia after the annexation by the Axis powers resulted in the birth of two new countries, Croatia and Serbia, and the subdivision of the other areas into smaller entities under German or Italian rule. Southern Slovenia became the Province of Lubiana, the Italianized name of its main city, Ljubljana. Here the annexation caused no disruption of the postal service and Yugoslav stamps continued to be used for a short time. The Fiume-Kupa zone, in the vicinity of Fiume, included Arbe and Veglia – two of the nearby islands – and was eventually incorporated into the pre-existing Province of Fiume.
Other acquisitions included the Dalmatian coast where the administrative subdivision included the provinces of Zadar (Zara), Split (Spalato) and the offshore islands, and Kotor (Cattaro). From a strictly philatelic point of view it is interesting to notice that Yugoslav stamps with an Italian (Co.Ci.) overprint were issued for Lubiana, and a similar measure was implemented for the Fiumano-Kupa zone. Montenegro followed a similar pattern but here there were some “sensitivities” that had to be carefully dealt with. Firstly, Queen Helena (nee Petrovic), the consort of King Victor Emmanuel III, was also a Montenegrin princess, and a special administrative arrangement had to be adopted. Therefore, on 3 October 1941 Mussolini issued a special decree making Montenegro an Italian Governorship. The special status of Montenegro under Italian occupation is also reflected by its stamps, which include a set commemorating Prince Bishop Petrovic Njegosh, author of the Montenegrin national poem. Each of the ten stamps bore a few lines of the poem inscribed on the back. Undoubtedly Queen Helena had a lot of influence in all of this; and having a famous Sicilian collector at the top of the newly established Governorship made things easier.
In 1901 Italy opened a post office at Scutari; the following year two additional offices were opened at Janina and Durazzo (Durres) and in 1908 Valona (Vlone) also had its Italian post office. This was simply another indication of Italian long-term interest in the area. The 1913 Treaty of London gave independence to Albania; the stamps of the new country depicting Skander-Beg (also known as Gjergji Kastrioti) were printed by the Italian Government Printing Works in Turin. Following a period of anarchy and unrest during World War I, and with the help of Italy, the country stabilized itself. The cordial relationship with Rome improved as years went by, and quite a few pre-war stamp issues of Albania were printed by the Italian Government Printing Works which had by then moved to Rome. The situation deteriorated in 1939, when King Zog refused to align Albania with the Axis; Mussolini, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, occupied the country in a matter of days. On 12 April 1939 Victor Emmanuel III became King of Albania and Albanian stamps were overprinted at first, to be followed by definitives depicting the Italian monarch. The idea of overprinting Italian definitives was discarded because it would have met with stern resistance and incensed the Albanians whose national pride was well known. Instead, a definitive series blending the image of Victor Emmanuel with local pictorial elements and featuring Albanian inscriptions and currency was issued. The inevitable fasces were also a design element, but to circumvent local criticism many of the later issues also featured the Albanian coat of arms. Metropolitan postal rates were adopted and the use of Italian definitives was tolerated for about twelve months. In 1941 Albania expanded its boundaries at the expense of Yugoslavia. As a result some 15 post offices became part of the Albanian postal network. Covers with stamps of Albania under Italian rule cancelled by postmarks of these post offices are quite elusive, and even the advanced collector would never know what he is dealing with unless he has Astolfi’s book.
After declaring war on Greece (28 October 1940), Italy found out that it was not an easy task and only in the spring of 1941 with massive help from Berlin the occupation was successfully completed. From a postal history point of view evidence of the Italian occupation on the mainland was only marginal. Stamps featuring King George II and/or members of the royal family were declared obsolete and withdrawn; however, all the other definitives remained in use. The only postal vestiges of the Italian occupation of Greece to be found on mails from civilians are the often bi-lingual (Italian and Greek) censor marks and labels.
The approach with the offshore islands was quite different. In the Ionian Islands, at first, Greek stamps were overprinted locally at Corfù, Cephalonia, Ithaca, and Zante; then, in an attempt to wipe out even the minutest visual link with the mainland, Italian definitives overprinted “ISOLE JONIE” were introduced. On Crete and throughout the Cycladian and Sporades Islands Greek stamps were used. The occasional use of Italian and Rhodes’ definitives was only marginal.
Astolfi makes a very good point when he discusses the Cephalonia and Ithaca overprints in used condition. As we all know the format of these rather large and clumsy overprints required two stamps to leave a full impression. The acquisitive mind of collectors combined with the money-grabbing attitude of most dealers resulted in marketing these issues as “pairs”. As such they have been catalogued and collected from day one, irrespective of evidence to the contrary; in fact, the overprint did not actually modify the face value of each stamp. It was simply an expedient method due to the emergency. For generations now, catalogues have been penalizing single stamps with half of the overprint, but the often rare pieces of mail of non-philatelic origin that have been recorded so far show clearly that the overprinted pairs were invariably separated to make up the required postal rates. Scott says that used halves (sic!) are worth 50% of their already ridiculously low-priced pair counterparts. Sassone, who should know better, adopts an even more absurd approach when it states that used “singles” (a more fitting description than halves) with half impression of the overprint are worth 10% of the price given for used pairs. However, Sassone says, such “singles” on cover are worth the same as pairs. Ironically enough, Sassone does not give prices for pairs on cover — a clear indication that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Unsevered pairs are usually found on philatelic covers which can be easily recognized since they are invariably “over-paid” and do not reflect an actual postal rate of any kind. In this respect Astolfi’s book is a very valuable tool for spotting philatelic covers since he devotes detailed chapters to the various postal rates used in the occupied territories.
What has just been said reminds us of what Walter G. Weisbecker wrote in 1958 in an article on WWII Occupation Overprints published by “Stamps” magazine (4 January): “The failure of the Scott catalogue to provide detailed listings of these occupation series (in particular, the recognized varieties and reasonable price quotations) is, in the final analysis, really a matter of no great importance except to the collector who relies upon it. Every leading European catalogue…carries the great majority of them as readily marketable items. Scott, I fear, is still struggling off to a very late start. Thus, assuming that you recognize that Scott is certainly no collector’s ‘bible’ in this field, the way lies open for you to probe a highly specialized, little known area that may well be as profitable as it is fascinating.” This is certainly a mouthful, especially knowing that it was said almost 40 years ago and that Scott has made little progress since then. What are the “shakers and movers” of the American philatelic world doing? Sleeping, we assume.
By mid-1943 Hitler was already highly suspicious that the Italians were going to betray him. After Mussolini’s ousting (25 July) Italy signed an armistice with the Allies (8 September), followed by a declaration of war on Germany (13 October). German take-over of just about all territories and islands occupied by Italy was marked by a series of atrocities. Those perpretrated in Juguslavia and Greece have been widely publicised, but little has been said about the 5,000 Italians on Cephalonia put to death by the Germans after the surrender. The remaining 4,000 were embarked for Greece but their ships hit mines and sank. The few who jumped into the sea were machine-gunned by the Germans. Similar atrocities were committed in Corfu and Rhodes involving thousands. But Astolfi’s book does not deal with the German take-over and his postal history of civilian mails ends exactly on that fateful 8 September 1943. Astolfi hopes to tackle the postal history of civilian mails in former Italian territories taken over by Germany in a separate volume to be published at a later date. We wish him every success in this new venture.
What Astolfi has provided for us in these 640 pages will keep us busy long enough for him to accomplish his new project.
Astolfi is not one of Italy’s most prolific writers, but when he decides to put pen to paper he does so in the most authoritative fashion. This is all too evident in the volume under review which, interestingly enough, belongs to a new series appropriately named “Le Pietre Miliari” (The Milestones). What we have here is a monumental monograph filled with previously unpublished research. One only needs to look at the existing bibliography to realise how little had been written previously on the postal history of civilian mails from Italian Occupations of World War II. Each section has substantial chapters outlining the historical events, the administrative status, stamps and postal stationery, postal rates, post offices, postal service, postmarks, stampers, registration labels, and censorship. Additionally, for those who want to put a cash value on everything, Astolfi’s book also provides evaluations based on a point system.
Stamp issues of the occupied territories are not the main objective of this publication; however, the clarity imparted by Astolfi to his listings and the added information gathered by him make this section alone worth buying this book. His approach is realistic and unbiased and, therefore, at times conflicting with time-honoured but not time-tested sources such as stamp catalogues. He sticks to the facts and as a postal historian his penchant for detail is never fastidiously boring. The reader’s reaction is quite often – “Oh, I didn’t know that”.
Astolfi also gives clear exaustive explanations on various “too good to be true” bogus overprints; these include the 1940 “SOLLUM” overprints on stamps of Libya; the 1942 Siwa overprints (“OCCUPAZIONE ITALIANA” on two lines) on Egyptian definitives to celebrate the Axis counter-offensive in Libya; and the hilarious 1942 “TOBRUCH” overprints on the Rome-Berlin Axis stamps. Justifiably maligned, these stamps were also the target of another invention of forgers when a two line overprint “C.S.I.R. / VINCEREMO” (Italian Expeditionary Force in Russia / We will Win) was added to them by some practical joker. The bogus overprints of Santa Maura, Cerigo, and Paxo on Greek stamps; and the Lassithi (Crete) overprints on stamps of Rhodes are also discussed.
The book requires a good knowledge of the Italian language, but don’t let this influence you because the many illustrations and the abundance of maps, charts, synoptic tables and Astolfi’s use of plain language will make your task rather easy. The information is carefully researched and well documented, and all the pertinent facts are discussed in a lucid style. If criticism, for the sake of criticism, must be made, then it may be said that an index would have been an added asset; but, quite honestly, the subject matter is arranged and organized in such a way that the lack of an index is only to the regret of the printer who would have benefitted from printing the few extra pages.
From a practical point of view, most postal history material of these territories is far from common; additionally this collecting area is marred by dressed-up (philatelic) covers and outright forgeries. Putting all of these in the right contest and finding out their relevance and worth from a collecting point of view can be rewarding and can easily justify the purchase of this book. For the specialist, this is a veritable goldmine; you will go back to it time and again and you either purchase two copies (one for your bookshelf and one for research purposes and annotations) or you make sure you go to a bookbinder to give it a solid hardback.
All the illustrations are crisp and clear, including maps and postmarks; the book is lavisly produced and is complimented by a dust jacket. From a commercial point of view, Fiorenzo Zanetti, the publisher, has been very generous because this is clearly “five books in one”. He could have easily serialized this “opus magnus” in five tomes, but then Fiorenzo comes from a family of collectors/dealers that has earned the highest accolades in Italian philately. This is his way to contribute to the hobby and we are very grateful. This book is a must for all philatelic libraries and for anyone interested in this rather difficult collecting area. —
Giorgio Migliavacca (COPYRIGHT) ******


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