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British military history of World War II

This page is intended to serve as a focal point for information pertinent to understanding British activity during World War II.

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The Beginning of WWII

Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Following this event, Mussolini would change his mind repeatedly as to whether or not he intended to enter the war. The British commander in Africa, General Wavell, was correct in arguing that Mussolini's pride would ultimately cause him to enter the war. Wavell would compare Mussolini's situation to that of someone at the top of a diving board, "I think he must do something. If he cannot make a graceful dive he will at least have to jump in somehow; he can hardly put on his dressing-gown and walk down the stairs again."

Yet, despite Mussolini's description of the German-Italian alliance as an "Axis of Blood and Steel", his response to the German invasion was to declare that Italy was neutral and a "non-belligerent". However, on June 10, 1940, as Germany's General Rommel reached the English Channel, Mussolini felt the war was coming to an end and declared war on Britain and France. As he said to the Army's Chief of Staff, Marshal Badoglio, "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought." On June 21, France would surrender.

Italy Enters the War

See also: Italian military history of World War II

Within a week of Italy's declaration of war, the British 11th Hussars had seized Fort Capuzzo and, in an ambush east of Bardia, the Tenth Army's Engineer in Chief, General Lastucci[?], was captured. Mussolini ordered Marshal Graziani, commanding the Tenth Army[?] in Libya, to attack into Egypt. Graziani wondered how he was possibly expected to suceed, but tried anyways. On September 13, 1940, the Tenth Army crossed the border. Meanwhile, the Long Range Desert Group reached Siwa Oasis and would first engage the Italians on the 15th.

The initial Italian assault would carry through to Sidi Barrani, ~95km inside the Egyptian border, the Italians would then begin to entrench themselves. At this time there were only 30,000 British available to defend against 250,000 Italian troops. The Italian decision to halt the advance is generally credited to them being unaware of the British strength, and the activity of Royal Navy forces operating in the Mediterranean to interfere with Italian supply lines. There were Royal Navy seaports at Alexandria, Haifa, and Port Said. Following the halt of the Italian Tenth Army, the British would use the Western Desert Force's Jock columns to harrass their lines in Egypt.

Italy attacks Greece

In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece. After 3 weeks, the Italian force was repulsed. In London, a popular song went:

"What a surprise for the Duce, the Duce"
"He can't put it over the Greeks!"
"What a surprise for the Duce, they do say"
"He's had no spaghetti for weeks!"

Britain Goes on the Offensive

On November 11, Britain launched history's first carrier strike, with a squadron of Fairey Swordfish. The raid at Taranto left three Italian battleships crippled or destroyed; two British aircraft were shot down. Then, on December 8, Operation Compass began



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