Aegean Islands (Dodecanese)
Italian Islands of the Aegean
Isole Italiane dell’Egeo
LOCATION: Aegean Sea – Group of 12 islands, plus Rhodes and Castelrosso
GOVERNMENT: Military occupation and intermediate colony of Italy
POPULATION: 132,289 (est. 1936)
FIRST STAMPS USED: Turkish stamps up to 1912
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: Overprinted Italian stamps 1912
LAST STAMPS ISSUED: 1940
100 Centesimi = 1 Lira
The Dodecanese are a group of twelve islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Although the name literally means “the twelve islands”, the group actually comprises 15 larger and 150 smaller islands, of which only 26 are occupied. They were civilized in ancient times and formed part of the base for Venetian merchants, played a minor role in the history of Classical Greece and subsequently joined the Roman Empire. They belonged to the Knights of St. John from 1309-1522 but were then conquered by the Turks and included in the Ottoman Empire. Due to their rich history, many of even the smallest inhabited islands boast dozens of Byzantine churches and medieval castles.
In the midst of the Italo-Turkish War over Libya, the Dodecanese Islands were seized by Italy in April 1912, becoming Italian colonies. Italy agreed to return the islands to the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Ouchy signed on 18 October 1912 but the vagueness of the text allowed a provisional Italian administration of the Dodecanese. Although there were 13 islands occupied by the Italians (12 plus Rhodes), the name “Dodecanese” remained unchanged. The occupation continued after Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 21 August 1915 during the First World War. During the war, the islands became an important naval base for Britain and France; Italy was allied with both nations during this time. The Dodecanese were used as a staging area for numerous campaigns, most famously the one at Gallipoli.
Turkey renounced all claims on the islands in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the Dodecanese were formally annexed by Fascist Italy as the Possedimenti Italiani dell’Egeo. Britain attempted to capture the islands during World War II without success. After the Italian armistice in 1943, the islands were occupied by German forces. Britain finally occupied them from 1945-47 after which they were ceded to Greece.
Before seizure by the Italians, the Dodecanese had a limited postal service under Turkish control. Italian interests in the Aegean region date from the 1897 blockade of Crete and the opening of an Italian civilian post office at Canea in 1900. An Italian fleet began occupying the archipelago in May 1912.
Before official Italian government stamps could be released, a “Commissione del popolo” on the island of Calino decided to issue postage stamps for use on all the islands. Three denominations were released in May 1912 by this Autonomous Administration and were only used on philatelic covers with favor cancels. A decree by the Commissioner for Civilian Affairs of the occupying forces was issued on 10 September 1912 authorizing the overprinting of two Italian definitive stamps (25c and 50c) with the inscription EGEO. These were placed on sale in the islands on 22 September.
On 1 December 1912, a set of seven Italian stamps were issued for each of the individual islands with the Italian name of the island overprinted. These were Astypalaea (Stampalia), Kalimnos (Calimno), Karpathos (Scarpanto), Kasos (Caso), Khalki (Carchi), Kos (Cos), Leros (Lero), Lipsos (Lipso), Nisyros (Nisiros), Patmos (Patmo), Rhodes (Rodi), Syme (Simi), and Telos (Piscopi). Regardless of the overprint, all of these new stamps were valid for use throughout the Dodecanese. Between 1912 and 1924 these stamps were used concurrently with Italian stamps.
In January 1916, Italian stamps without overprint were issued. Katelorizo (Castelrosso) was added to the Dodecanese in 1921, having been under French occupation since 27 December 1915. Italian stamps overprinted with the island’s name were issued on 11 July 1922. The Italian occupation ended on 24 July 1923 when the archipelago officially became an Italian colony. On 19 May 1929, a nine-value definitive series was issued for Rhodes, inscribed with the Italian RODI.
On 20 October 1930, a set honoring Italian hero Ferrucci was issued for each island with the name again overprinted. There was also a general issue of the same set with the overprint ISOLE ITALIANE DELL’EGEO. The 20th anniversary of the Italian takeover of the Dodecanese was commemorated with a ten-value set inscribed RODI. There was a further issue in 1932 for the individual islands but, after that, only Rhodes was given its own stamps. For the rest, the general issues applied.
During the Second World War, the airfields of Rhodes, Cos and Leros became the main Axis bases for air raids against British forces in Egypt. Greece capitulated in April 1941 and during the following month Italian forces completed the occupation of the Cyclades Islands. The ousting of Mussolini during the summer of 1943 was followed by Italy’s signing of an armistice with the Allies. On 8 September, the Germans invaded Rhodes and the occupation was completed in a matter of days.
Under German military rule, the Dodecanese was administratively run by Italian civilians. Between November 1943 and February 1945, several Italian colonial stamps were overprinted with surcharges in aid of refugees and victims of war. During this time, there were eight internment camps for Italian soldiers on Rhodes. In October 1944, German forces evacuated Greece and their counterparts in the Aegean were cut off from sea-route supplies and mail. Only air links were possible, thus impacting the influx of mail to and from German soldiers in the area. As a result, rationed concessionary stamps for the German Field Post were overprinted INSELPOST (Island Post) and issued. On 22 December 1944, Italian postal authorities made quantities of the 5c Rhodes definitive stamps available to the Germans who overprinted them with the inscription WEIHNACHTEN 1944 (Christmas 1944).
In May 1945, the German capitulation in the Aegean was formally ratified in Berlin and a British Military Administration was established in Rhodes. British stamps were overprinted M.E.F. (Middle East Forces) and placed in use. The British occupation ended on 31 March 1947 and the Greeks took over. The following day, a Greek stamp overprinted SDD (Stratiotiki Dioikisis Dodecanissou – Dodecanese Military Occupation) was issued. Seven denominations with the same overprint were added on 21 September. These were withdrawn on 20 November and replaced by Greek general issue stamps, beginning with the “Restoration of the Dodecanese” definitive series.
The Aegean Islands were officially annexed by the Kingdom of Greece on 7 March 1948. The current status of the islands is that they remain a constituent part of Greece and continue to use Greek stamps.
There were a total of 116 stamps – 65 general issue, 47 air mail, and 4 air mail special delivery – issued for the Dodecanese Islands. Of these, I have but one – a used copy of Scott #2. Many have a high catalogue value, particularly in used condition. As with all occupied regions, the area is an interesting one to study and I hope to add to my collection. I will deal with stamps for the individual islands as well as the German, British, and Greek occupations in separate “Stamp Issuer” installments.