Military history of Italy during World War II
During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 (1939–1945), the Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

 had a varied and tumultuous military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

. Defeated in Greece, France, East Africa and North Africa, the Italian invasion of British Somaliland
Italian conquest of British Somaliland
The Italian conquest of British Somaliland was a military campaign in the Horn of Africa, which took place in August 1940 between forces of Italy and those of Great Britain and its Commonwealth...

 was one of the only successful Italian campaigns of World War II accomplished without German support.

In addition to the official Italian Army which fought under Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

, many Italians in 1943-45 fought for the Allied cause in the Italian Co-Belligerent Army
Italian Co-Belligerent Army
The Italian Co-Belligerent Army , or the Army of the South , was the army of the Italian Royalist forces fighting on the side of the Allies during World War II....

 (which at its height numbered more than 50,000 men) and the Italian Resistance Movement
Italian resistance movement
The Italian resistance is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II...


Outbreak of World War II

World War II started when Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, but Italy remained neutral for the following ten months even though it was one of the Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...


Mussolini's Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa
Carlo Favagrossa
Carlo Secillano Favagrossa, during the World War II-era, was the Italian Under-Secretary for War Production. Participated in the Spanish civil war on the side of Francisco Franco....

, had estimated that Italy could not possibly be prepared for such a war until at least October 1942. This had been made clear during Italo-German negotiations for the Pact of Steel
Pact of Steel
The Pact of Steel , known formally as the Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Germany and Italy, was an agreement between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany signed on May 22, 1939, by the foreign ministers of each country and witnessed by Count Galeazzo Ciano for Italy and Joachim von Ribbentrop...

 whereby it was stipulated that neither signatory was to make war without the other earlier than 1943. Although considered a major power, the Italian industrial sector was relatively weak compared to other Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an major powers. Italian industry did not equal more than 15% of that of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 or of Britain in militarily critical areas such as automobile
An automobile, autocar, motor car or car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor...

 production: the number of automobiles in Italy before the war ranged at ca. 372,000, in comparison to ca. 2,500,000 in Britain and France. The lack of a stronger automotive industry made it difficult for Italy to mechanize
Mechanization or mechanisation is providing human operators with machinery that assists them with the muscular requirements of work or displaces muscular work. In some fields, mechanization includes the use of hand tools...

 its military. Italy still had a predominantly agricultural-based economy, with demographics more akin to a developing country
Developing country
A developing country, also known as a less-developed country, is a nation with a low level of material well-being. Since no single definition of the term developing country is recognized internationally, the levels of development may vary widely within so-called developing countries...

 (high illiteracy, poverty, rapid population growth and a high proportion of adolescents) and a proportion of GNP derived from industry less than that of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Sweden, in addition to the other great powers. In terms of strategic materials, in 1940, Italy produced 4.4 Mt
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

 of coal, 0.01 Mt of crude oil, 1.2 Mt of iron ore and 2.1 Mt of steel. By comparison, Great Britain produced 224.3 Mt of coal, 11.9 Mt of crude oil, 17.7 Mt of iron ore, and 13.0 Mt of steel and Germany produced 364.8 Mt of coal, 8.0 Mt of crude oil, 29.5 Mt of iron ore and 21.5 Mt of steel, respectively. Most of the raw material needs could be fulfilled only through importation, and no effort was made to stockpile key materials before the entry into war. Also, approximately one quarter of Italy's merchant fleet were located at foreign ports and given no forewarning of Mussolini’s rash decision to enter the war, and were immediately impounded. Another handicap was the large number of weapons and supplies given by Italy practically free to the Spanish forces fighting under Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 between 1936 and 1939. The Italians also sent the "Corps of Volunteer Troops
Corpo Truppe Volontarie
The Corps of Volunteer Troops was an Italian expeditionary force which was sent to Spain to support General Francisco Franco and the Spanish Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War...

" (Corpo Truppe Volontarie) to fight for Franco. The financial cost of this war was between 6 and 8.5 billion lire, approximately 14 to 20% of annual expenditure. Added to these issues was Italy's extreme debt position. When Benito Mussolini took office in 1921 the government debt was 93 billion lire
Italian lira
The lira was the currency of Italy between 1861 and 2002. Between 1999 and 2002, the Italian lira was officially a “national subunit” of the euro...

, un-repayable in the short to medium term. Yet only two years later this debt increased to 405 billion lire.

The Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) therefore remained comparatively depleted and weak at the commencement of the war. The Italian tanks were of poor quality, and radios were few in number. The bulk of the Italian artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 dated from World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

) primary fighter was the Fiat CR-42, though an advanced design for a biplane
A biplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with two superimposed main wings. The Wright brothers' Wright Flyer used a biplane design, as did most aircraft in the early years of aviation. While a biplane wing structure has a structural advantage, it produces more drag than a similar monoplane wing...

 with excellent performance characteristics, it was obsolete compared to the then current generation monoplane
A monoplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with one main set of wing surfaces, in contrast to a biplane or triplane. Since the late 1930s it has been the most common form for a fixed wing aircraft.-Types of monoplane:...

 fighters of other nations. The Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

) had several modern battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s, but no aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s. In addition, the Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

) could field approximately 1,760 aircraft, of which only 900 of them could be considered as "front-line machines".

Yet whilst equipment was lacking and outdated, Italian authorities were acutely aware of the need to maintain a modern army and were taking the necessary steps to modernize in accordance with their very own relatively advanced tactical principles. Almost 40% of the 1939 budget was allocated to military spending. Awareness existed, albeit belatedly, of the need to have close air support for the Navy, and the decision was made to build carriers. Yet whilst the majority of equipment was obsolescent and poor, appropriate steps were being taken whereby quality equipment was being developed. For example, the three series 5 fighters were capable of meeting the best allied fighters on equal terms, but only a few hundred of each were produced. The Carro Armato P40 tank, roughly equivalent to the M4 Sherman
M4 Sherman
The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States during World War II. Thousands were also distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and Soviet armies, via lend-lease...

 and Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

, was designed in 1940, but no prototype was produced until 1942 and developers/manufacturers were not able to start production before the Armistice. This was owing, in part, to the lack of sufficiently powerful engines, which were themselves undergoing a development push. Total tank production for the war (~3,500) was less than the number of tanks used by Germany in its invasion of France. The Italians were also reported to be the first to use self-propelled guns, both in close support and anti-tank roles. Their, for example, 75/46
Cannone da 75/46 C.A. modello 34
The Cannone da 75/46 C.A. modello 34 was an Italian anti-aircraft gun used during World War II. The designation means it had a caliber of 75 mm, the barrel was 46 caliber-lengths long and it was accepted in service in 1934.- See also :...

 fixed AA/AT gun, 75/32
Cannone da 75/32 modello 37
The Cannone da 75/32 modello 37 was an Italian field gun used during World War II. .- History :...

) gun, 90/53
Cannone da 90/53
The Cannone da 90/53 was an Italian designed cannon, and one of the most successful anti-aircraft guns to see service during World War II. It was used both in an anti-aircraft role and as an anti-tank gun...

 AA/AT gun (an equally effective but less famous peer of the German 88/55
88 mm gun
The 88 mm gun was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognizable German weapons of the war...

), 47/32
Cannone da 47/32 M35
The Cannone da 47/32 M35 was an Austrian artillery piece produced under license in Italy during World War II. It was used both as an infantry gun and an anti-tank gun....

 AT gun, and the 20 mm AA
Breda Model 35
The Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 modello 35 , also known as Breda Model 35, was a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun produced by the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda of Brescia company in Italy and used during World War II. It was designed in 1932 and was adopted by the Italian armed forces in 1935...

 autocannon were not obsolete. Also of note were the AB 41
AB 41
The Autoblinda 41 was an Italian armored car in use during World War II. It was armed with a 20 mm Breda 35 autocannon and a coaxial 8mm machine gun in a turret similar to the one fitted to the Fiat L6/40, and another hull mounted rear-facing 8mm machine gun.-Description:The AB 41 was based...

 and the Camionetta AS 42
SPA-Viberti AS.42
The SPA-Viberti AS.42 Sahariana was an Italian reconnaissance car of World War II. The AS 42 Sahariana was developed by SPA-Viberti using the same chassis as the AB 41 armored car, including its four-wheel steering, specifically for desert operations, primarily in a reconnaissance role...

 armoured cars, which were regarded as excellent vehicles of their type. None of these developments precluded the fact that the bulk of the equipment was obsolete and poor. The relatively weak economy, lack of suitable raw materials and consequent inability to produce suitable quantities of armaments and supplies were therefore the key material reasons for Italian military failure.
On paper, Italy had one of the largest armies, but this was far from reality. According to the estimates of Bierman and Smith, the Italian regular army could field only about 200,000 troops at the start of World War II. Irrespective of the attempts to modernize, the majority of Italian army personnel were lightly armed infantry lacking sufficient motor transport. There was insufficient budget to train the men in the services such that in World War II, the bulk of the personnel received much of their training at the front, when it was too late to be of use. Air units had not been trained to operate with the naval fleet and the majority of ships had been built for fleet actions, not the convoy protection duties which they were mostly employed for during the war. Regardless, a critical lack of fuel kept naval activities to a minimum.

Senior leadership was also a problem. Mussolini personally assumed control of all three individual military service ministries with the intention of influencing detailed planning. Comando Supremo (the Italian High Command) consisted of only a small complement of staff that could do little more than inform the individual service commands of Mussolini’s intentions, after which it was up to the individual service commands to develop these into proper plans and execute. The result was that there was no central direction for operations and the three military services tended to work independently, focusing only on their fields, with little inter-service cooperation. Discrepancies in pay existed for personnel of equal rank, but from different units.

Following the German conquest of Poland, Mussolini would change his mind repeatedly as to whether he would enter the war. The British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 commander in Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, General Archibald Wavell, correctly predicted 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."

Some historians believe that Mussolini was induced to enter the war against the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 by secret negotiations with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, with whom he had an active mail correspondence between September 1939 and June 1940. The journalist Luciano Garibaldi wrote that "in those letters (which disappeared at Lake Como in 1945) Churchill may have extorted Mussolini to enter the war to mitigate Hitler's demands and dissuade him from continuing hostilities against Great Britain as France was inexorably moving toward defeat. In light of this, Mussolini could urge Hitler turn against the USSR, the common enemy of both Churchill and Mussolini". However, the limited correspondence on which these claims are based has been inspected and rejected as false.

Initially, the entry into the war appeared to be political opportunism (though there was some provocation), which led to a lack of consistency in planning, with principal objectives and enemies being changed with little regard for the consequences. Mussolini was well aware of the military and material deficiencies but thought the war would be over soon and did not expect to do much fighting. This led to confusion amongst ordinary Italians and soldiers who had little idea of what they were fighting for and, hence, had little conviction and saw little justification for it. As the war progressed and one disaster followed another, Comando Supremo were forced to take more serious steps in their planning.

Italy enters the war: June 1940

On 10 June 1940, as the French government fled to Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

 before the German invasion
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, declaring Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 an open city
Open city
In war, in the event of the imminent capture of a city, the government/military structure of the nation that controls the city will sometimes declare it an open city, thus announcing that they have abandoned all defensive efforts....

, Mussolini felt the conflict would soon end and declared war on Britain and France. As he said to the Army's Chief-of-Staff, Marshal Badoglio
Pietro Badoglio
Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Abeba, 1st Marquess of Sabotino was an Italian soldier and politician...


Mussolini had the immediate war aim of expanding the Italian colonies in North Africa by taking land from the British and French colonies.

Of Italy's declaration of war, Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

, President of the United States, said:
After Italy entered the war Jewish refugees living in Italy were interned in the Campagna concentration camp
Campagna concentration camp
Campagna concentration camp, located in Campagna, a town near Salerno in Southern Italy, was an internment camp for Jews and foreigners established by Benito Mussolini in 1940.The first internees were 430 men captured in different parts of Italy...


Italian forces in France: 1940–1943

In June 1940, after initial success, the Italian offensive into southern France stalled at the fortified Alpine Line
Alpine Line
The Alpine Line or Little Maginot Line was the component of the Maginot Line that defended the southeastern portion of France...

. On 24 June 1940, France surrendered to Germany. Italy occupied some areas of French territory along the Franco-Italian border. During this operation, Italian casualties were 1,247 men dead or missing and 2,631 wounded. A further 2,151 Italians were hospitalised due to frostbite
Frostbite is the medical condition where localized damage is caused to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. Frostbite is most likely to happen in body parts farthest from the heart and those with large exposed areas...


In November 1942, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) participated in invading south-eastern Vichy France
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

 and Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

 as part of what was known as Case Anton
Case Anton
Operation Anton was the codename for the military occupation of Vichy France carried out by Germany and Italy in November 1942.- Background :...

. From December 1942, Italian military government of French departments east of the Rhône River
Rhône River
The Rhone is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in Switzerland and running from there through southeastern France. At Arles, near its mouth on the Mediterranean Sea, the river divides into two branches, known as the Great Rhone and the Little Rhone...

 was established and continued until September 1943 when Italy quit the war. This had the effect of providing a de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

temporary haven for French Jews fleeing the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

. In January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trials.-Early life:...

 complained to Mussolini that "Italian military circles... lack a proper understanding of the Jewish question."

The Italian Navy
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

 established a submarine base at Bordeaux, code named BETASOM
BETASOM BETASOM BETASOM (an Italian language acronym of Bordeaux Sommergibile. was a submarine base established at Bordeaux by the Italian Regia Marina Italiana during World War II....

 and thirty two Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic. Plans to attack the harbor of New York City with CA class midget submarine
CA class midget submarine
The CA class were a group of midget submarines built for the Italian Navy during World War II.-Design:These submarines were designed by the Caproni Company and built in great secrecy...

s in 1943 were disrupted when the submarine converted to carry out the attack, the Leonardo da Vinci
Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was a of the Italian navy during World War II. The unit operated in the Atlantic from September 1940 until its loss in May 1943, and became the top scoring non-German submarine of the all war.-Construction:...

, was sunk in May 1943. The armistice put a stop to further planning.

Hostilities commence in North Africa: 1940

Things did not go well for the Italians in North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

 almost from the start. Within a week of Italy's declaration of war on 10 June 1940, the British 11th Hussars
11th Hussars
The 11th Hussars was a cavalry regiment of the British Army.-History:The regiment was founded in 1715 as Colonel Philip Honeywood's Regiment of Dragoons and was known by the name of its Colonel until 1751 when it became the 11th Regiment of Dragoons...

 had seized Fort Capuzzo
Fort Capuzzo
Fort Capuzzo was a fort in the Italiancolony of Libya, near the Libyan-Egyptian border. It is famous for its role during the World War II.Within a week of Italy's 10 June 1940 declaration of war upon Britain, the British Army's 11th Hussars captured Fort Capuzzo...

 in Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

. In an ambush east of Bardia
Bardia is a geographic region in the Democratic Republic of Nepal.Bardia comprises a portion of the Terai, or lowland hills and valleys of southern Nepal. The Terai is over 1,000 feet in elevation, and extends all along the Indian border...

, the British captured the Italian Tenth Army's Engineer-in-Chief, General Lastucci. On 28 June, Marshal Italo Balbo
Italo Balbo
Italo Balbo was an Italian Blackshirt leader who served as Italy's Marshal of the Air Force , Governor-General of Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa , and the "heir apparent" to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.After serving in...

, the Governor-General
A Governor-General, is a vice-regal person of a monarch in an independent realm or a major colonial circonscription. Depending on the political arrangement of the territory, a Governor General can be a governor of high rank, or a principal governor ranking above "ordinary" governors.- Current uses...

 of Libya was killed by friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

 while landing in Tobruk
Tobruk or Tubruq is a city, seaport, and peninsula on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt. It is the capital of the Butnan District and has a population of 120,000 ....


Mussolini ordered Balbo's replacement, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani, 1st Marquis of Neghelli , was an officer in the Italian Regio Esercito who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.-Rise to prominence:...

, to launch an attack into Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 immediately. Graziani complained to Mussolini that his forces were not properly equipped for such an operation. Graziani further complained that an attack into Egypt could not possibly succeed. Mussolini ordered Graziani to attack anyway.

On 13 September, elements of the Italian Tenth Army retook Fort Capuzzo, crossed the border between Libya and Egypt, and advanced into Egypt as far as Sidi Barrani
Sidi Barrani
Sidi Barrani is a town in Egypt, near the Mediterranean Sea, about east of the border with Libya, and around from Tobruk, Libya.Probably named after Sidi Mohammed el Barrani, a Senussi fighter in the early 1900s, the village is mainly a Bedouin community...

. Sidi Barrani was about 100 kilometers inside Egypt from the Libyan border. The Italians then stopped and began to entrench
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 themselves in a series of fortified camps.

At this time, the British had only 36,000 troops available (out of about 100,000 under his Middle Eastern command) to defend Egypt against 236,000 Italian troops. However, the Italians were not concentrated in one place. They were divided between the 5th army in the west and the 10th army in the east. Hence, they remained spread out from the Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

n border in western Libya to Sidi Barrani in Egypt. With reluctance Graziani’s invasion of Egypt commenced on September 13 with four divisions and one (ad hoc) armoured group crossing the border. The advance stopped at Sidi Barrani, where Graziani, not knowing the British lack of numerical strength, planned to build fortifications and stock them with provisions ammunition
Ammunition is a generic term derived from the French language la munition which embraced all material used for war , but which in time came to refer specifically to gunpowder and artillery. The collective term for all types of ammunition is munitions...

 and fuel
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

, establish a water pipeline and extend the via Balbia to that location, which was where the road to Alexandria began. This task was being obstructed by the British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 forces operating in the Mediterranean by attacking Italian supply-ships. At this stage, Italian losses remained minimal, but the efficiency of the British Royal Navy would improve as the war went on. Mussolini was fiercely disappointed with the sluggishness of Graziani. However, according to Bauer he had only himself to blame as he withheld the trucks, armament and supplies that Graziani had deemed necessary. Wavell was hoping to see the Italians over-extend themselves before his intended counter at Marsa Matruh.

In addition, Graziani and his staff lacked faith in the strength of the Italian military. One of his officers wrote: "We're trying to fight this... as though 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 Ethiopians now."(This was a reference to the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a colonial war that started in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire...

 where Italian forces had fought against a relatively poorly equipped opponent.) Balbo
Italo Balbo
Italo Balbo was an Italian Blackshirt leader who served as Italy's Marshal of the Air Force , Governor-General of Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa , and the "heir apparent" to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.After serving in...

 had previously documented: "Our light tanks, already old and armed only with machine guns, are completely out-classed. The machine guns of the British armoured cars pepper them with bullets which easily pierce their armour."

Italian forces around Sidi Barrani had severe weaknesses in their deployment. The five fortifications were placed too far apart to allow mutual support against an attacking force and the areas between were weakly patrolled. The absence of motorised transport did not allow for rapid reorganisation, if needed. The rocky terrain had prevented an anti-tank ditch from being dug and there were too few mines and 47 mm anti-tank guns to repel an armoured advance.

Campaigns in East Africa: 1940–1941

In addition to the well-known campaigns in the western desert during 1940, the Italians opened an additional front in June 1940 from their East Africa
East Africa
East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 19 territories constitute Eastern Africa:...

n colonies of Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Italian Somaliland
Italian Somaliland
Italian Somaliland , also known as Italian Somalia, was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy from the 1880s until 1936 in the region of modern-day Somalia. Ruled in the 19th century by the Somali Sultanate of Hobyo and the Majeerteen Sultanate, the territory was later acquired by Italy through various...

, and Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...


As in Egypt, the Italian forces with ~70,000 Italian soldiers and ~180,000 native troops outnumbered their British opponents. But Italian East Africa
Italian East Africa
Italian East Africa was an Italian colonial administrative subdivision established in 1936, resulting from the merger of the Ethiopian Empire with the old colonies of Italian Somaliland and Italian Eritrea. In August 1940, British Somaliland was conquered and annexed to Italian East Africa...

 was isolated and far away from the Italian mainland. The Italian forces in East Africa were thus cut off from re-supply. This severely limited the operations that they could seriously undertake.

The initial Italian attacks in East Africa took two different directions, one into the Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

 and the other into Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

. Then, in August 1940, the Italians advanced into British Somaliland
British Somaliland
British Somaliland was a British protectorate in the northern part of present-day Somalia. For much of its existence, British Somaliland was bordered by French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. From 1940 to 1941, it was occupied by the Italians and was part of Italian East Africa...

. After suffering and inflicting few casualties, the British and Commonwealth garrison was evacuated from Somaliland by sea to Aden
Aden is a seaport city in Yemen, located by the eastern approach to the Red Sea , some 170 kilometres east of Bab-el-Mandeb. Its population is approximately 800,000. Aden's ancient, natural harbour lies in the crater of an extinct volcano which now forms a peninsula, joined to the mainland by a...


The Italian invasion of British Somaliland
Italian conquest of British Somaliland
The Italian conquest of British Somaliland was a military campaign in the Horn of Africa, which took place in August 1940 between forces of Italy and those of Great Britain and its Commonwealth...

 was one of the only successful Italian campaigns of World War II accomplished without German support. In the Sudan and Kenya, Italy captured small territories around several border villages. After doing so, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) in East Africa adopted a defensive posture against an expected British counter-attack.

The Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) maintained a small squadron
Squadron (naval)
A squadron, or naval squadron, is a unit of 3-4 major warships, transport ships, submarines, or sometimes small craft that may be part of a larger task force or a fleet...

 in the Italian East Africa area. The Italian "Red Sea Flotilla
Red Sea Flotilla
The Red Sea Flotilla was a unit of the Italian Royal Navy based in Massawa, Eritrea, when Massawa was part of Italian East Africa...

" was based at the port of Massawa
Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa Massawa, also known as Mitsiwa (Ge'ez ምጽዋዕ , formerly ባጽዕ is a city on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea. An important port for many centuries, it was ruled by a succession of polities, including the Axumite Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate,...

 in Eritrea. It consisted of seven destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s and eight submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s. Despite a severe shortage of fuel, the Red Sea Flotilla posed a threat to British convoys traversing the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

. However, Italian attempts to attack British convoys resulted in the loss of four submarines and one destroyer.

On 19 January 1941, the expected British counter-attack arrived in the shape of the Indian 4th
Indian 4th Infantry Division
The Indian 4th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, is an infantry division of the Indian Army.The division was formed in Egypt in 1939 and was the first Indian formation to go overseas during the Second World War. As with all formations in the Indian Army prior to independence,...

 and Indian 5th
Indian 5th Infantry Division
Indian 5th Infantry Division was an infantry division in the Indian Army during World War II which fought in several theatres of war and more than earned its nickname the "Ball of Fire".- History :...

 Infantry Divisions, which made a thrust from the Sudan. A supporting attack was made from Kenya by the South African 1st Division, the 11th African Division, and the 12th African Division. Finally, the British launched an amphibious assault from Aden to re-take British Somaliland.

From February to March, the outcome of Battle of Keren
Battle of Keren
The Battle of Keren was fought as part of the East African Campaign during World War II. The Battle of Keren was fought from 5 February-1 April 1941 between the colonial Italian army defending it's colonial possession of Eritrea and the invading British and Commonwealth forces. In 1941, Keren was...

 determined the fate of Italian East Africa. In early April, after Keren fell, Asmara
Asmara is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people...

 and Massawa followed. The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia...

 also fell in April 1941. The Viceroy of Ethiopia, Amedeo, Duke of Aosta
Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta
Prince Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta was the third Duke of Aosta and a first cousin, once removed of the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III. His baptismal name was Amedeo Umberto Isabella Luigi Filippo Maria Giuseppe Giovanni di Savoia-Aosta...

, surrendered at the stronghold of Amba Alagi in May. He received full military honors. The Italians in East Africa made a final stand around the town of Gondar
Gondar or Gonder is a city in Ethiopia, which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder Province. As a result, the old province of Begemder is sometimes referred to as Gondar...

 in November 1941.

When the port of Massawa fell to the British, the remaining destroyers were ordered on a suicide attack in the Red Sea. At the same time, the last four submarines made an epic voyage around the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

 to Bordeaux in France.

Some Italians, after their defeat, waged a guerrilla war
Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia
The Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia was as an armed struggle fought from the summer of 1941 to the autumn of 1943 by remnants of Italian troops in Italian East Africa, following the Italian defeat during the East African Campaign of World War II.-History:...

 mainly in Eritrea and Ethiopia, that lasted until summer 1943.

Italian forces in the Balkans: 1940–1943

In early 1939, while the world was focused on Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's aggression against Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, the Italian dictator set his eyes on Albania, across the Adriatic from Italy. Italian forces invaded
Italian invasion of Albania
The Italian invasion of Albania was a brief military campaign by the Kingdom of Italy against the Albanian Kingdom. The conflict was a result of the imperialist policies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini...

 Albania on 7 April 1939 and despite some strong resistance, especially at Durrës
Durrës is the second largest city of Albania located on the central Albanian coast, about west of the capital Tirana. It is one of the most ancient and economically important cities of Albania. Durres is situated at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Sea, opposite the Italian ports of Bari...

, swiftly took control of the small country.

On 28 October 1940, Italy started the Greco-Italian War
Greco-Italian War
The Greco-Italian War was a conflict between Italy and Greece which lasted from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. It marked the beginning of the Balkans Campaign of World War II...

 by launching an invasion of the Kingdom of Greece
Kingdom of Greece
The Kingdom of Greece was a state established in 1832 in the Convention of London by the Great Powers...

 from Albania
Albania under Italy
The Albanian Kingdom existed as a protectorate of the Kingdom of Italy. It was practically a union between Italy and Albania, officially led by Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III and its government: Albania was led by Italian governors, after being militarily occupied by Italy, from 1939 until 1943...

. In part, the Italians attacked Greece because of the growing influence of Germany in the Balkans. Both Yugoslavia and Greece had governments friendly to Germany. Mussolini launched the invasion of Greece in haste after Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, a state which he perceived as lying within the Italian sphere of influence, allied itself with Germany. The order to invade Greece was given by Mussolini to Badoglio and Roatta
Mario Roatta
Mario Roatta was an Italian general, Mussolini's Chief-of-Staff, and head of the military secret service.-SIM:From 1934 to 1936, Roatta headed up the Italian Military Intelligence Service .-Spain:...

 on 15 October with the expectation that the attack would commence with 12 days. Badoglio and Roatta were appalled given that, acting on his orders, they had demobilised 600,000 men three weeks prior. Given the expected requirement of at least 20 divisions to facilitate success, the fact that only eight divisions were currently in Albania, and considering the inadequacies of the Albanian ports and connecting infrastructure, adequate preparation would require at least three months. Nonetheless, D-day was set at dawn on 28 October.

The invasion went badly for the Italians. The initial Italian offensive was quickly contained, and the Greek Commander-in-Chief, Lt Gen Papagos, taking advantage of Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

's neutrality, was able to establish numerical superiority by mid-November, prior to launching a counter-offensive that drove the Italians back into Albania. In addition, the Greeks were naturally adept at operating in mountainous terrain, while only six of the Italian Army's divisions, the Alpini
The Alpini, , are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino ....

, were trained and equipped for mountain warfare. Only when the Italians were able to establish numerical "parity" was the Greek offensive stopped. By then they had been able to penetrate deep into Albania.

The following passage aptly summarizes the episode from the perspective of both the brilliant Greek defence of their homeland and the ill-prepared Italian debacle:
An Italian "Spring Offensive" in March, that tried to salvage the situation before the German intervention, amounted to little. The Italian Army was still pinned down in Albania by the Greeks and the Albanian resistance when the Germans invaded Greece. Crucially, the bulk of the Greek Army (fifteen divisions) was left deep in Albania, while the German attack approached.

After British troops arrived in Greece in March 1941, British bombers operating from Greek bases could reach the Romanian oil fields, vital to the German war effort. Hitler decided that he had to help the Italians and committed German troops to invade Greece via Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 (where a coup had deposed the German-friendly government).

On 6 April 1941, the Wehrmacht invasions of Yugoslavia (Operation 25
Invasion of Yugoslavia
The Invasion of Yugoslavia , also known as the April War , was the Axis Powers' attack on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which began on 6 April 1941 during World War II...

) and Greece (Operation Marita) both started. Together with the rapid advance of the German forces the Italians attacked Yugoslavia in Dalmatia and pushed the Greeks finally out of Albania. On 17 April, Yugoslavia surrendered to the Germans and the Italians. On 30 April, Greece too surrendered to the Germans and Italians, and was divided into German, Italian and Bulgarian sectors. The invasions ended with a complete Axis victory in May when Crete fell. On 3 May, during the triumphal parade in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 to celebrate the Axis victory, Mussolini started to boast of an Italian Mare Nostrum in the Mediterranean sea.

Some 28 Italian divisions participated in the Balkan invasions. The coast of Yugoslavia was occupied by the Italian Army, while the rest of the country was divided between the Axis forces (a German and Italian puppet State of Croatia (NDH) was created, under the nominal sovereign of an Italian Savoia
Savoia may refer to:-*Savoy*Savoie*House of Savoy, a royal house of Italy until 1946.*Savoia-Marchetti, an Italian aircraft manufacturer.*Savoia Castle, a castle near Prague, Czech Republic....

). The Italians assumed control of most of Greece with their 11th Army, while the Bulgarians occupied the northern provinces and the Germans the strategically most important areas. Italian troops would occupy parts of Greece and Yugoslavia until the Italian armistice with the Allies in September 1943.

In spring 1941, Italy created a Montenegrin client state and annexed most of the Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

n coast as the Governorship of Dalmatia
Governorship of Dalmatia
The Governorate of Dalmatia was a province of Italy, created in April 1941 from occupied Yugoslav territory annexed after the German blitzkrieg Invasion of Yugoslavia.-Characteristics:...

 (Governatorato di Dalmazia). Yugoslav Partisans fought a guerrilla war against the occupying forces
Military occupation
Military occupation occurs when the control and authority over a territory passes to a hostile army. The territory then becomes occupied territory.-Military occupation and the laws of war:...

 until 1945.

In 1942 the Italian military commander in Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

 refused to hand over Jews in his zone to the Nazis.

The Italian Navy in the Mediterranean: 1940–1943

In 1940, the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) could not match the overall strength of the British Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. After some initial setbacks, the Italian Navy declined to engage in a confrontation of capital ships. Since the British Navy had as a principal task the supply and protection of convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

s supplying Britain's outposts in the Mediterranean, the mere continued existence of the Italian fleet (the so called "fleet in being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

" concept) caused problems to Britain, which had to utilise warships sorely needed elsewhere to protect Mediterranean convoys. On 11 November, Britain launched the first carrier strike of the war, using a squadron
Squadron (aviation)
A squadron in air force, army aviation or naval aviation is mainly a unit comprising a number of military aircraft, usually of the same type, typically with 12 to 24 aircraft, sometimes divided into three or four flights, depending on aircraft type and air force...

 of Fairey Swordfish
Fairey Swordfish
The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War...

 torpedo bombers. This raid at Taranto
Battle of Taranto
The naval Battle of Taranto took place on the night of 11–12 November 1940 during the Second World War. The Royal Navy launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history, flying a small number of obsolescent biplane torpedo bombers from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea...

 left three Italian battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s crippled or destroyed for the loss of two British aircraft shot down.

The Italian Navy found other ways to attack the British. The most successful involved the use of frogmen and riding manned torpedoes to attack ships in harbour. The 10th Light Flotilla, also known as Decima Flottiglia MAS
Decima Flottiglia MAS
The Decima Flottiglia MAS was an Italian commando frogman unit of the Regia Marina created during the Fascist regime.The acronym MAS also refers to various light torpedo boats used by the Regia Marina during World...

or XMAS, which carried out these attacks, sank or damaged 28 ships from September 1940 to the end of 1942. These included the battleships and (damaged in the Harbor of Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 on 18 December 1941), and 111527 LT (113,317 t) of merchant shipping. The XMAS used a particular kind of torpedo, the SLC (Siluro a Lenta Corsa), which crew was composed by two frog men and a strange motorboat, called MTM (Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato).

Following the attacks on these two battleships, an Italian-dominated Mediterranean Sea appeared much more possible to achieve. However, this was only a brief happy time for Mussolini. The oil and supplies brought to Malta, despite heavy losses, by Operation Pedestal
Operation Pedestal
Operation Pedestal was a British operation to get desperately needed supplies to the island of Malta in August 1942, during the Second World War. Malta was the base from which surface ships, submarines and aircraft attacked Axis convoys carrying essential supplies to the Italian and German armies...

 in August and the Allied landings in North Africa, Operation Torch
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

, in November 1942, turned the fortunes of war against Italy. The Axis forces were ejected from Libya and Tunisia in six months after the Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

, while their supply lines were harassed day after day by the growing and overwhelming aerial and naval supremacy of the Allies in what had just been the Mussolini's Italian Mare Nostrum
Italy's Mare Nostrum
Italy's Mare Nostrum was the name given, during World War II, by Benito Mussolini and his fascist propaganda to the Mediterranean Sea under the domination of the Kingdom of Italy, mainly in 1942.-The Mare Nostrum of Mussolini:...


Italy in North Africa: 1940–1943

On 8 December 1940, the British Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...

 began. Planned as an extended raid, it resulted in a force of British, Indian and Australian troops cutting off the Italian troops. Pressing the British advantage home, General Richard O'Connor
Richard O'Connor
General Sir Richard Nugent O'Connor KT, GCB, DSO & Bar, MC, ADC was a British Army general who commanded the Western Desert Force in the early years of World War II...

 pressed the attack forward and succeeded in reaching El Agheila
El Agheila
El Agheila is a coastal city at the bottom of the Gulf of Sidra in far western Cyrenaica, Libya. In 1988 it was placed in Ajdabiya District; between 1995 and 2001 the district name is not known; however, it was again placed into Ajdabiya District in 2001...

 (an advance of 500 mi (804.7 km)) and capturing tens of thousands of enemies. The Allies nearly destroyed the Italian army in North Africa, and seemed on the point of sweeping the Italians out of Libya. However, Winston Churchill directed the advance be stopped, initially because of supply problems and because of a new determined effort that had gained ground in Albania, and ordered troops dispatched to defend Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. Weeks later the first troops of the German Afrika Korps
Afrika Korps
The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

 started to arrive in North Africa (February 1941) to reinforce the Italians.

German General Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 now became the principal Axis field commander in North Africa, although the bulk of his forces consisted of Italian troops. Under Rommel's direction the Axis troops pushed the British and Commonwealth troops back into Egypt but were unable to complete the task because of the exhaustion and their extended supply lines which were under threat from the Allied enclave at Tobruk
Siege of Tobruk
The siege of Tobruk was a confrontation that lasted 240 days between Axis and Allied forces in North Africa during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War...

, which they failed to capture. After reorganising and re-grouping the Allies launched Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader was a military operation by the British Eighth Army between 18 November–30 December 1941. The operation successfully relieved the 1941 Siege of Tobruk....

 in November 1941 which resulted in the Axis front line being pushed back once more to El Agheila by the end of the year.

In January 1942 the Axis struck back again, advancing to Gazala
Gazala, or Ain el Gazala , is a small Libyan village near the coast in the northeastern portion of the country. It is located west of Tobruk....

 where the front lines stabilised while both sides raced to build up their strength. At the end of May Rommel launched the Battle of Gazala
Battle of Gazala
The Battle of Gazala was an important battle of the Second World War Western Desert Campaign, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya from 26 May-21 June 1942...

 where the British armoured divisions were soundly defeated. The Axis seemed on the verge of sweeping the British out of Egypt, but at the First Battle of El Alamein
First Battle of El Alamein
The First Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought between Axis forces of the Panzer Army Africa commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Allied forces The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert...

 (July 1942) General Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

 halted Rommel's advance only 90 mi (144.8 km) from Alexandria. Rommel made a final attempt to break through during the Battle of Alam el Halfa but Eighth Army
Eighth Army (United Kingdom)
The Eighth Army was one of the best-known formations of the British Army during World War II, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns....

, by this time commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, held firm. After a period of reinforcement and training the Allies assumed the offensive at the Second Battle of Alamein (October/November 1942) where they scored a decisive victory and the remains of Rommel's German-Italian Panzer Army were forced to engage in a fighting retreat for 1600 mi (2,574.9 km) to the Libyan border with Tunisia.

After the Operation Torch landings in the Vichy French territories of Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 and Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 (November 1942) British, American and French forces advanced east to engage the German-Italian forces in the Tunisia Campaign
Tunisia Campaign
The Tunisia Campaign was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, between Axis and Allied forces. The Allies consisted of British Imperial Forces, including Polish and Greek contingents, with American and French corps...

. By February, the Axis forces in Tunisia were joined by Rommel's forces, after their long withdrawal from El Alamein, which were re-designated the Italian First Army
Italian First Army
The Italian First Army was an Italian army formation, in World War I, facing Austro-Hungarian and German forces, and in World War II, fighting on the North African front.-World War I:...

 (under Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe was an Italian general, politician, and Field Marshal . He is considered by many to have been the best Italian general of the Second World War.-Early life and career:Born in Mesagne, Apulia, Giovanni Messe pursued a military career in 1901...

) when Rommel left to command the Axis forces to the north at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass
Battle of the Kasserine Pass
The Battle of the Kasserine Pass was a battle that took place during the Tunisia Campaign of World War II in February 1943. It was a series of battles fought around Kasserine Pass, a wide gap in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains in west central Tunisia...

. Despite the Axis success at Kasserine, the Allies were able to reorganise (with all forces under the unified direction of 18th Army Group commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander) and regain the initiative in April. The Allies completed the defeat of the Axis armies in North Africa in May 1943.

Italian troops on the Eastern Front: 1941–1943

In July 1941, some 62,000 Italian troops of the "Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia
Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia
During World War II, the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia was a corps-sized expeditionary unit of the Regio Esercito that fought on the Eastern Front...

" (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) left for the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 to aid in the German invasion of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 (Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...


In July 1942, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) expanded the CSIR to a full army of about 200,000 men known as the "Italian Army in Russia
Italian Army in Russia
The Italian Army in Russia was an army-sized unit of the Italian Royal Army which fought on the Eastern Front during World War II...

" (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR). The ARMIR was also known as the "Italian 8th Army."

From August 1942-February 1943, the Italian 8th Army took part in the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

. At Stalingrad, the 8th Army suffered heavy losses (some 20,000 dead and 64,000 captured) when the Soviets isolated the German forces in Stalingrad by attacking the over-stretched Hungarian, Romanian, and Italian forces protecting the German's flanks.

By the summer of 1943, Rome had withdrawn the remnants of these troops to Italy. Many of the Italian POWs captured in the Soviet Union died in captivity due to the harsh conditions in the Soviet prison camps.

The fight for Italy: 1943–1945

On 10 July 1943, a combined force of American and British Commonwealth troops invaded Sicily
Allied invasion of Sicily
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis . It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat. It launched the Italian Campaign.Husky began on the night of...

. German generals again took the lead in the defense and, although they lost the island after weeks of bitter fights, they succeeded in ferrying large numbers of German and Italian forces safely off Sicily to the Italian mainland. On 19 July, an Allied air raid on Rome
Bombing of Rome in World War II
The bombing of Rome in World War II took place on several occasions in 1943 and 1944, primarily by Allied and to a smaller degree by Axis aircraft, before the city was freed from Axis occupation by the Allies on June 4, 1944...

 destroyed both military and collateral civil installations. With these two events, popular support for the war diminished in Italy.

On 25 July, the Grand Council of Fascism
Grand Council of Fascism
The Grand Council of Fascism was the main body of Mussolini's Fascist government in Italy. A body which held and applied great power to control the institutions of government, it was created as a party body in 1923 and became a state body on 9 December 1928....

 voted to limit the power of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and gave control of the Italian armed forces over to king Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Victor Emmanuel III was a member of the House of Savoy and King of Italy . In addition, he claimed the crowns of Ethiopia and Albania and claimed the titles Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania , which were unrecognised by the Great Powers...

. The next day Mussolini met with the king, was dismissed as prime minister and then imprisoned. A new Italian government, led by General Pietro Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel III, took over in Italy. Although they publicly declared that they would keep fighting alongside the Germans, the new Italian government began secret negotiations with the Allies to come over to the Allied side. On 3 September, a secret armistice
Armistice with Italy
The Armistice with Italy was an armistice signed on September 3 and publicly declared on September 8, 1943, during World War II, between Italy and the Allied armed forces, who were then occupying the southern end of the country, entailing the capitulation of Italy...

 was signed with the Allies at Fairfield Camp in Sicily. The armistice was publicly announced on 8 September. By then, the Allies were on the Italian mainland.

On 3 September, British troops crossed the short distance from Sicily to the 'toe' of Italy in Operation Baytown
Operation Baytown
Operation Baytown was a part of the Allied invasion of Italy during World War II on 3 September 1943.The operation consisted of the landing by sea of the British 13th Corps of British 8th Army at Reggio di Calabria...

. Two more Allied landings took place on 9 September at Salerno
Salerno is a city and comune in Campania and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea....

 (Operation Avalanche
Allied invasion of Italy
The Allied invasion of Italy was the Allied landing on mainland Italy on September 3, 1943, by General Harold Alexander's 15th Army Group during the Second World War. The operation followed the successful invasion of Sicily during the Italian Campaign...

) and at Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 (Operation Slapstick
Operation Slapstick
Operation Slapstick was the code name for a British landing from the sea at the Italian port of Taranto during the Second World War. The operation, one of three landings during the Allied invasion of Italy, was undertaken by the British 1st Airborne Division in September 1943.Planned at short...

). The Italian surrender meant that the Allied landings at Taranto took place unopposed, with the troops simply disembarking from warships at the docks rather than assaulting the coastline.

Because of the time it took for the new Italian government to negotiate the armistice, the Germans had time to reinforce their presence in Italy and prepare for their defection. In the first weeks of August they increased the number of divisions in Italy from two to seven and took control of vital infrastructure. Once the signing of the armistice was announced on September 8, German troops quickly disarmed the Italian forces and took over critical defensive positions in Operation Achse
Operation Achse
Operation Achse , also called Operation Alaric, were the codenames of the German plans to forcibly disarm the Italian armed forces after their expected armistice with the Allied forces...

. This included Italian-occupied south-eastern France and the Italian-controlled areas in the Balkans. Only in Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, Corse
Corse may refer to:*Corse, the French name for Corsica, the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea*Corse , a European surname of multiple origins *Corse, a Shakespearean word for Corpse...

 and in part of Apulia
Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

 and Calabria
Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

 were Italian troops able to hold their positions until the arrival of allied forces. In the area of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 only one infantry division, Granatieri di Sardegna
21 Infantry Division Granatieri di Sardegna
The 21 Infantry Division Granatieri di Sardegna was a Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Granatieri di Sardegna Division can trace its origins to 1659 when the Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, formed a regiment of Guards. It became a unit in the national army in 1866. It...

, and some small armoured units fought with commitment but by September 11 they were overwhelmed by superior German forces.

On 9 September, two German Fritz X
Fritz X
Fritz X was the most common name for a German guided anti-ship glide bomb used during World War II. Fritz X was a nickname used both by Allied and Luftwaffe personnel. Alternate names include Ruhrstahl SD 1400 X, Kramer X-1, PC 1400X or FX 1400...

 guided bombs sank the Italian battleship off the coast of Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

. A Supermarina broadcast led the Italians to initially believe this attack was carried out by the British.

On the Greek island of Cephallonia, General Antonio Gandin, commander of the 12,000-strong Italian Acqui Division decided to resist the German attempt to forcibly disarm his force. The battle raged from 13–22 September, when the Italians were forced to surrender after suffering some 1,300 casualties. The ensuing massacre
Massacre of the Acqui Division
The Massacre of the Acqui Division , also known as the Cephalonia Massacre , was the mass execution of the men of the Italian 33rd Acqui Infantry Division by the Germans on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, in September 1943, following the Italian armistice during the Second World War. About 5000...

 of several thousand Italian prisoners of war by the Germans stands as one of the worst single war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht
War crimes of the Wehrmacht
War crimes of the Wehrmacht were those carried out by the German armed forces during World War II. While the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust amongst German armed forces were the Nazi German 'political' armies , the regular armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht committed war crimes of...


Italian troops captured by the Germans were given a choice to keep fighting with the Germans. About 94,000 Italians accepted and the remaining 710,000 were designated Italian military internees
Italian military internees
Italian military internees was the official name given by Germany to the Italian soldiers captured, rounded up and deported in the territories of the Third Reich in Operation Achse in the days immediately following the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces .After disarmament by the...

 and were transported as slave labor to Germany. Some Italians troops that had evaded German capture in the Balkans joined the Yugoslav (about 40,000 soldiers) and Greek Resistance
Greek Resistance
The Greek Resistance is the blanket term for a number of armed and unarmed groups from across the political spectrum that resisted the Axis Occupation of Greece in the period 1941–1944, during World War II.-Origins:...

 (about 20,000). The same thing also happened in Albania.
After the German invasion the deportations of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps began. However, by the time they got to the Campagna
Campagna is a small town and comune of the province of Salerno, in the Campania region of Southern Italy.-History:The town, located in a mountainous district, gradually lost importance in the 20th century...

 concentration camp, all the inmates had already fled to the mountains with the help of the local inhabitants. Rev. Aldo Brunacci of Assisi
- Churches :* The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi is a World Heritage Site. The Franciscan monastery, il Sacro Convento, and the lower and upper church of St Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228, and completed in 1253...

, under the direction of his bishop, Giuseppe Nicolini, saved all the Jewish who sought refuge in Assisi. In October 1943 Nazis raided the Jewish ghetto in Rome. In November 1943 Jews of Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

 and Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 were deported to Auschwitz. It is estimated that 7,500 Italian Jews became victims of the Holocaust.

About two months after he was stripped of power, Benito Mussolini was rescued by the Germans in Operation Eiche ("Oak"). The Germans re-located Mussolini to northern Italy where he set up a new Fascist state, the Italian Social Republic
Italian Social Republic
The Italian Social Republic was a puppet state of Nazi Germany led by the "Duce of the Nation" and "Minister of Foreign Affairs" Benito Mussolini and his Republican Fascist Party. The RSI exercised nominal sovereignty in northern Italy but was largely dependent on the Wehrmacht to maintain control...

 (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI). Many Italian personalities joined the RSI, like Marshal Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani, 1st Marquis of Neghelli , was an officer in the Italian Regio Esercito who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.-Rise to prominence:...


The Allied armies continued to advance through Italy despite increasing opposition from the Germans. The Allies soon controlled most of southern Italy, and Naples
Four days of Naples
The Four days of Naples refers to the popular uprising in the Italian city of Naples between 27 and 30 September 1943 against the German forces occupying the city during World War II...

 rose against and ejected the occupying German forces. The Allies organized some Italian troops in the south into what were known as "co-belligerent" or "royalist" forces. In time, there was a co-belligerent army (Italian Co-Belligerent Army
Italian Co-Belligerent Army
The Italian Co-Belligerent Army , or the Army of the South , was the army of the Italian Royalist forces fighting on the side of the Allies during World War II....

), navy (Italian Co-Belligerent Navy
Italian Co-Belligerent Navy
The Italian Co-Belligerent Navy , or Navy of the South or Royal Navy , was the navy of the Italian royalist forces fighting on the side of the Allies in southern Italy after the Allied armistice with Italy in September 1943...

), and air force (Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force
Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force
The Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force , or Air Force of the South , was the air force of the Royalist "Badoglio government" in southern Italy during the last years of World War II. The ACI was formed in southern Italy in October 1943 after the Italian Armistice in September...

). These Italian forces fought alongside the Allies for the rest of the war. Other Italian troops, loyal to Mussolini and his RSI, continued to fight alongside the Germans (among them were the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
The National Republican Army was the army of the Italian Social Republic from 1943 to 1945 that fought on the side of Nazi Germany during World War II....

, the National Republican Army). From this point on, a large Italian resistance movement
Italian resistance movement
The Italian resistance is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II...

 located in northern Italy fought a guerrilla war
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 against the German and RSI forces.

Winston Churchill had long regarded southern Europe as the military weak spot of the continent (in World War I he had advocated the Dardanelles
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

 operation, and during World War II he favored the Balkans as an area of operations, for example in Greece in 1940 and so on). Calling Italy the "soft underbelly" of the Axis, Churchill had therefore advocated this invasion instead of a cross-channel invasion of occupied France. But Italy itself proved anything but a soft target: The mountainous terrain gave Axis forces excellent defensive positions, and it also partly negated the Allied advantage in motorized and mechanized units. The final Allied victory over the Axis in Italy did not come until the spring offensive
Spring 1945 offensive in Italy
The Spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, was the Allied attack by Fifth United States Army and British 8th Army into the Lombardy Plain which started on 6 April 1945 and ended on 2 May with the surrender of German forces in Italy....

 of 1945, after Allied troops had breached the Gothic Line
Gothic Line
The Gothic Line formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.Adolf Hitler...

, leading to the surrender of German and RSI forces in Italy on 2 May shortly before Germany finally surrendered ending World War II in Europe on May 8.

Italy's declaration of war on Japan

Although Italy and Japan were part of the Axis Powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

, Japan reacted with shock and outrage to the news of the surrender of Italy to the Allied forces in September 1943. Italian citizens residing in Japan and in Manchukuo were swiftly rounded up and summarily asked whether they were loyal to the King of Savoy, who dishonored their country by surrendering to the enemy, or with the Duce and the newly created "Repubblica Sociale Italiana", which vowed to continue fighting alongside the Nazis. Those who sided with the King were interned in concentration camps and detained in dismal conditions until the end of the war, while those who opted for the Fascist dictator were allowed to go on with their lives, although under strict surveillance by the Kempeitai
The was the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945. It was not an English-style military police, but a French-style gendarmerie...


The news of Italy's surrender did not reach the crew members of the three Italian submarines Giuliani, Cappellini and Torelli traveling to Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, then occupied by Japan, to take a load of rubber, tin and strategic materials bound for Italy and Germany's war industry. All the officers and sailors on board were arrested by the Japanese army, and after a few weeks of detention the vast majority of them chose to side with Japan and Germany. The Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

assigned new officers to the three units, who were renamed as U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 U.IT.23, U.IT.24 and U.IT.25, taking part in German war operations in the Pacific until the Giuliani was sunk by the British submarine Tallyho in February 1944 and the other two vessels were taken over by the Japanese Imperial Navy upon Germany's surrender.

Alberto Tarchiani, an anti-fascist journalist and activist, was appointed as Ambassador to Washington by the cabinet of Badoglio, which acted as provisional head of the Italian government pending the occupation of the country by the Allied forces. On his suggestion, Italy issued a formal declaration of war to Japan on 14 July 1945. The purpose of this act, which brought no military follow-up, was mainly to persuade the Allies that the new government of Italy deserved to be invited to the San Francisco Peace Conference, as a reward for its co-belligerence
Co-belligerence is the waging of a war in cooperation against a common enemy without a formal treaty of military alliance.Co-belligerence is a broader and less precise status of wartime partnership than a formal military alliance. Co-belligerents may support each other materially, exchange...

. However, the British Prime Minister Churchill and John Foster Dulles
John Foster Dulles
John Foster Dulles served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against communism throughout the world...

 were resolutely against the idea, and so Italy's new government was left out of the Conference.

Although Italy and Japan negotiated the resumption of their respective diplomatic ties after 1951, and later signed several bilateral agreements and treaties, a formal peace treaty between the two nations was never sealed.


Nearly four million Italians served in the Italian Army during the Second World War and nearly half a million Italians (including civilians) died between June 1940 and May 1945.

The Regio Esercito suffered 161,729 casualties between 10 June 1940 and 8 September 1943 in the war against the Allies, and 18,655 casualties in Italy plus 54,622 casualties in the rest of Europe in September/October 1943 against the German Army after the Italian Armistice.

There were even 12,000 casualties in the northern Italian guerrilla war (Guerra di Liberazione) and in the "Army of Badoglio" on the side of the Allies. In the fascist army of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI) there were 45,424 casualties.

After the armistice with the Allies 650,000 members of the Italian armed forces who refused to side with the occupying Germans were interned in concentration and labour camps. Of these, around 50,000 lost their lives while imprisoned or while under transportation. A further 29,000 died in armed struggles against the Germans while resisting capture immediately following the armistice.

Reputation of Italian fighting efficiency during World War II

Allied press reports of Italian military prowess in the Second World War were almost always dismissive. This is primarily the result of British wartime propaganda produced when the Italian 10th Army was destroyed by significantly smaller British forces during the early phase of the North African Campaign
North African campaign
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

. The propaganda from this single event, which was designed to boost British morale during a bleak period of the war, has left a lasting impression. It is also a consequence of propaganda pertaining to the later exploits of Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 and German accounts of events, which tended to disparage their wartime allies and ignore their contributions yet have been uncritically repeated almost verbatim in Anglo-American historiography. Compounded by the racist attitudes of the period that have been perpetuated in the historiography, the actions of the Italians have been largely ignored or distorted as a result. Prior to this period, due largely to their exploits in World War I and prior, Italian soldiers were generally considered to be brave fighters, and their feats exceptional.

Like any other army, the Italians suffered their fair share of reversals, but it should be remembered that their equipment was not up to the standard of either the Allied or the German armies. More crucially, they lacked suitable quantities of equipment of all kinds and their high command did not take necessary steps to plan for most eventualities. However, the circumstances which lead to Italy's plight and distorted historiographical perception are far more convoluted than these universally acknowledged factors suggest. For example, lack of planning stems partly from the nation facing a wide range of continually changing strategic threats on every front since through the 1920s and 1930s, such as France and Yugoslavia, Bolshevism, Greece, Britain via the Middle East, and even Germany, which Italy stood against alone in 1934. Each of these threats required completely different contingencies, resources, and a degree of time commitment to planning that the circumstances did not permit. This was compounded by Mussolini assigning unqualified political favourites to key positions.

The reality was Italian military performance in the face of these disadvantages was not the one sided affair historiography portrays, nor was 'cowardice' prevalent.
Moreover, Italy's war effort was often damaged by her German allies. Questionable German advice, broken promises, and security lapses had direct consequences at Matapan
Battle of Cape Matapan
The Battle of Cape Matapan was a Second World War naval battle fought from 27–29 March 1941. The cape is on the southwest coast of Greece's Peloponnesian peninsula...

, in the convoy war and North Africa. Rommel often retreated leaving immobile infantry units exposed, withdrew German units to rest even though the Italians had also been in combat, would deprive the Italian's of their share of captured goods, ignore Italian intelligence, seldom acknowledge Italian successes and often resist formulation of joint strategy.

Below are a series of passages and quotations providing examples of actions involving Italian forces that contrast with the legacy of stereotyped cowardice and incompetence in historiography.

Italian forces displayed stubborn resistance at the Battle of Keren in East Africa, for which the participating Italian Savoia battalions, Alpini, Bersaglieri and Grenadiers were acknowledged as being equal to the best opposition the British and Indians had faced during the war with the possible exception of the German parachute division in Italy and the Japanese in Burma. In the account of the battle by Compton Mackenzie
Compton Mackenzie
Sir Compton Mackenzie, OBE was a writer and a Scottish nationalist.-Background:Compton Mackenzie was born in West Hartlepool, England, into a theatrical family of Mackenzies, but many of whose members used Compton as their stage surname, starting with his grandfather Henry Compton, a well-known...

 in Eastern Epic, an officially sponsored history of the British Indian army
British Indian Army
The British Indian Army, officially simply the Indian Army, was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947...

 in World War II, Mackenzie wrote:

Italian soldiers also fought with determination at the battle of Mersa Matruh, in which the Littorio, Brescia and Trento Divisions, and 7th Bersaglieri Regiment played an important part and at El Alamein
El Alamein
El Alamein is a town in the northern Matrouh Governorate of Egypt. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it lies west of Alexandria and northwest of Cairo. As of 2007, it has a local population of 7,397 inhabitants.- Climate :...

 in the North African Campaign. Bierman and Smith indicated that Italian artillery gunners of the North African campaign tended to serve their guns until they were overrun, an observation similarly made by others.

Rommel was later to write about the fighting at Alamein in July:

The Italian soldiers were unlucky to have been left stranded without water or transport, deep in the southern sector at the Second Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

. The 7th Bersaglieri Regiment, in particular, exhibited a strong regimental spirit which impressed Rommel as he observed the battle for Hill 28 at El Alamein. "The German soldier has impressed the world", Rommel wrote in a plaque dedicated to the Bersaglieri that fought at Mersa Matruh and Alamein. "However the Italian Bersaglieri has impressed the German soldier."'

The Italian Royal Army fought this battle in a way that can be summarized by the sacrifice of the Folgore Division
185 Airborne Division Folgore
185. Airborne Division Folgore or 185. Divisione Paracadutisti Folgore was an Parachute Division of the Italian Army during World War II.-History:It was formed in September 1941, as the 1 Division Paracadutisti...

: the historian Renzo De Felice wrote that "...of the 5.000 "Folgore" paratroopers sent to Africa 4 months before, the survived were only 32 officers and 262 soldiers, most of them wounded. Before the surrender, they shot until the last ammo and the last hand-grenade...."

The Folgore paratroopers used in this battle everything at their disposal, including Molotov cocktails — from small hidden holes where they buried themselves in the ground — to knock out the advancing tanks after they passed over them.

At the end of the Second Battle of El Alamein on 4 November 1942, the Ariete division was able to fight a dramatic day-long rear-guard action to prevent the Allies from encircling the bulk of the retreating Axis armoured formations.

Whilst both German and Allied records leave the impression that the Ariete voluntarily immolated itself, Walker, points out that remnants were successfully able to disengage, as they later, with elements of the Centauro division on 12 December, successfully fended off further Allied armoured attacks to the rear of the Axis forces.

In the Tunisian Campaign, at Kasserine Pass, Mareth, Akarit and Enfidaville, as the North African campaign drew to its close, Italians fought with courage and determination. In fact, it was observed by General Alexander
Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis
Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis was a British military commander and field marshal of Anglo-Irish descent who served with distinction in both world wars and, afterwards, as Governor General of Canada, the 17th since Canadian...


The Italian's German allies often blamed them for any Axis failure but they nevertheless widely praised their bravery. Ripley has asserted: Steinberg wrote that:
Interestingly, the special study (German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II) from Generalmajor Alfred Toppe of the Wehrmacht, written with the assistance of nine middle-rank officers who served in the Afrika Korps is very positive in regard to Italian fighting abilities.

The following passage from Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts praises the courage of Italian tank crews at El Alamein:
But by the end of February 1941, although the Commonwealth forces had achieved comprehensive success against inconsistent opposition, they had met during Operation Compass some determined fighting. As Sadkovich observes:
Between 10 and 27 July 1942, the Italians were in the thick of the fighting around Tel El Eisa, Ruweisat Ridge, and Miteiriya Ridge with the Sabratha's 1st Battalion 85th Regiment overruning the Australians in the form of 2/48 Battalion on Tel el Eisa and the Trento's 3rd Battalion 62nd Regiment overruning the Australians in the form of 2/32 Battalion on Ruin Ridge. The action of the Italian divisions during the First Battle of El Alamein has been commented upon by Sadkovich:
As Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo notes, the Trento's 3rd Battalion 61st Regiment mauled the Australians on 27 July, and according to the Italian veteran, the Reconnaissance Group of the Trieste destroyed thirty British armoured fighting vehicles and accounted for the vast majority of the 1,000 POWs taken on 27 July.

Later when Bersaglieri units fought their former allies in an attempt to defend Rome from German occupation, historian Irving Werstein wrote: The Bersaglieri fought for two days and surrendered only after assurances that there would be no reprisals; a guarantee the Germans kept, so impressed were they by the fighting spirit of these troops.

See also

  • Black Brigades
    Black Brigades
    Black Brigades were one of the Fascist paramilitary groups operating in the Italian Social Republic , during the final years of World War II, and after the signing of the Italian Armistice in 1943...

  • Italian Army equipment in World War II
    Italian Army equipment in World War II
    - Infantry weapons :*Bodeo Model 1889 10.35mm revolver*Glisenti Model 1910 9mm Glisenti semi-automatic pistol* Beretta M1934 .380 ACP semi-automatic pistol |image= *Beretta M 1935 .32 ACP semi-automatic pistol |image=...

  • Italian war crimes
    Italian war crimes
    Italian war crimes are a well documented but poorly publicized aspect of the history of Italy during the 20th century.-War crimes:During the first half of the 20th century, Italy was involved in several colonial wars, notably against the then only independent African states, Ethiopia , and in World...

  • List of World War II Battles
  • MVSN (Blackshirts)
    The Blackshirts were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II...

  • North African Campaign timeline
    North African Campaign timeline
    - 1940:* 10 June: The Kingdom of Italy declares war upon France and the United Kingdom* 14 June: British forces cross from Egypt into Libya and capture Fort Capuzzo* 16 June: The first tank battle of the North African Campaign takes place, the "Battle of Girba"...

  • Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947
  • Paris Peace Treaties, 1947
    Paris Peace Treaties, 1947
    The Paris Peace Conference resulted in the Paris Peace Treaties signed on February 10, 1947. The victorious wartime Allied powers negotiated the details of treaties with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland .The...

External links

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