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Italian military history of World War II

This page is intended to serve as a focal point for studying Italian military history during the WWII-era.

See also: List of World War II personas

Table of contents

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 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.

Mussolini's Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa, had estimated that Italy could not possibly be prepared for such a war until, at least, October 1942. Italy was a minor industrial power (one of the poorest in Europe), one might not consider Italian industry to have equalled more than 15% of what was seen in France or Britain should one compare the number of automobiles in Italy (~372,000) to those of Britain and France (~2,500,000). The lack of a stronger automotive industry made it difficult for Italy to mechanize its military.

The Italian Army was comparatively weak and had been stressed by the April 1939 annexation of Albania. As Bierman and Smith[?] wrote, "The Italians were, militarily, barely on the same planet." The Italian tanks were of poor quality. Italian radios were virtually non-existant. The Italian artillery was of World War I-era quality. The Regia Aeronautica's primary fighter was the Fiat CR-42, a biplane. The Italian Navy[?] had no aircraft carriers. Bierman and Smith state (p. 13-14) that the Italian regular army could field only ~200,000 troops at the start of WWII. They estimate the Regia Aeronautica could field ~1,760 aircraft, of which only 900 are considered to be "front-line machines".

Italy Enters the War Within a weak 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 and the assault would eventually carry through to Sidi Barrani, ~95km inside the Egyptian border. The Italians would then begin to entrench themselves.

The initial Italian assault would carry through to Sidi Barrani, ~95km inside the Egyptian border before the attack came to a halt. At this time there were only ~30,000 British troops available to defend against ~250,000 Italian troops. However, Graziani did not know how weak the British were and instead chose to stockpile fuel and ammunition, a task which was made difficult due to the activity of Royal Navy forces operating, within the Mediterranean, to interfere with Italian supply lines. In addition, Graziani lacked faith in the strength of the Italian miltiary, one of his officers wrote (1 - p.28[?], "We're trying to fight this...as thought it were a colonial war...this is a European war...fought with European weapons against a European enemy. We take too little account of this in building our stone forts...We are not fighting the Abyssinians now."

Italy attacks Greece

In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece. After 3 weeks, the Italian force was repulsed.

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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