The Battle of Leros was the central event of the Dodecanese Campaign of the Second World War, and is widely used as an alternate name for the whole campaign. The Italian garrison in Leros was strengthened by British forces on 15 September 1943. The battle began with German air attacks on 26 September, continued with the landings on 12 November, and ended with the capitulation of the Allied forces four days later.
On 12 November 1943 at 4.30 am, after almost fifty days of air strikes, an invasion fleet landed troops at Palma Bay and Pasta di Sopra on the north-east coast. The Italian coastal gunners were not able to prevent these landings. There were other landings at Pandeli Bay, near Leros town, that were heavily contested by the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Fusiliers stopped the capture of some key defensive positions but were unable to stop the landings.
The positions of the British units were spread around the island with poor communication between them. The attacking German forces did not only have the advantage of numerical superiority but also that of air control. In the early afternoon Luftwaffe fighter-bombers machine-gunned and bombed the area between the Gurna and Alinda Bays, followed by Junkers 52s which dropped some 500 parachutists from the Brandenburg Division, most of whom landed safely despite British efforts. The position of these landings effectively divided the island in two, separating the Buffs and a company of the King's Own on the south side of the island from the rest of the garrison. Counterattacks during the rest of that day failed. During the night of 12/13 November more German reinforcements arrived. Counterattacks by the King's Own and the Fusiliers failed during the 13th with heavy casualties, but the Buffs on the south side of the island managed to capture 130 prisoners and reclaim some control of their area. On the night of 14 November two more companies of the Royal West Kent Regiment and their commanding officer, Lt Col Ben Tarleton, from Samos landed at Portolago Bay. The fighting on the 14th and 15th was mostly inconclusive with more casualties on both sides, although a counter-attack by two companies of the King's Own succeeded in recapturing part of Apetiki. Lt Col French was killed in this attack. On the night of the 15th the fourth company from the West Kents was landed and 170 German prisoners were taken to Samos. The Germans, on the other hand, landed an estimated 1,000 troops and artillery during that night.
On the morning of 16 November it became apparent to the British commander, Brigadier Tilney, that his situation was untenable and he surrendered; 3,200 British and 5,350 Italian soldiers went with him into captivity. The 4th Bn, The Buffs, in their isolated position, were unaware of the surrender so did not attempt to escape; consequently nearly the whole unit was captured. As with the Buffs, only
ninety men from the West Kents managed to escape from the island.