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Egypt not occupied by Britain in WW 2

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by T. A. Gardner, Dec 1, 2015.

  1. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The British occupation of Egypt was really something of a fluke. While Britain wanted access to the Suez Canal they also had stated goals of withdrawing troops from Egypt before WW 2 began on more than one occasion. In this what-if, the British as they proposed, withdraw from Egypt in 1922 and it becomes an independent nation.

    If this had occurred, Britain would have no military presence in that nation in 1940 when Italy enters the war. Would Italy invade? Would the Egyptians side with the Axis? The Suez Canal really makes no difference at that point since:

    A. The RN would not be based in Egypt or Alexandrea, but more likely in Aden or South Africa.
    B. Convoys couldn't be run through the Med in any case so its use for shortening movement to India and the Far East would be much more problematic.

    For the Italians control of the canal in either neutral or friendly hands means they have access to their base at Massawa and Italian East Africa for reinforcement. The Italian fleet could, theoretically, operate in the IO and Persian Gulf in this scenario.

    Could the British have managed to get a force together to take out Italian possessions in the time they historically did it in this scenario? I doubt it. On the other hand, it is likely Singapore would have had much better units defending it and that Japan might well have lost that campaign.

    Malta would have been almost certainly doomed. Greece, Cyprus, and Crete would not be economically feasible to support by Commonwealth troops. Given the stalemate in Greece, without British intervention, the Germans might not invade Yugoslavia and Greece as they did.
     
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  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Have at it boys. A well thought out premise.
     
  3. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Intriguing indeed. Italy had colonized Italian Somaliland in 1888, Eritrea in 1898, Libya in 1911-12, and would go on to take Ethiopia in 1935-36, so they might well have taken an interest in Egypt and the Sudan before 1940 and independently of any major European war.

    Presumably when the British left Egypt, they would insist on a guarantee that the canal be open to shipping of all nations and would expect Italy or any other new governing entity to respect that. Come to think of it, the Italians would likely offer that guarantee if they invaded Egypt to avoid making other countries come to Egypt's, or the canal's, defense.

    Presumably the British would retain their mandate in Palestine and their interests in their client kingdoms of Transjordan and Iraq. This could include military, naval, and air bases, but their logistics in case of war with Italy would be overland back to the Persian Gulf. A significant Mediterranean Fleet based on Haifa seems problematical. Aden would also be in a difficult position.
     
  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    Welcome back, T.A.. I look forward to more of your posts on the Sherman :)
     
  5. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Not entirely sure Britain would have no presence in Egypt in 1940. If the 1922 split is amicable enough, Egypt might allow 'token' air and naval assets and possibly some sort of assistance program for the training and equipping of the Egyptian military. Even without this possibility, if Italy starts getting grabby before the ascension of the Third Reich, Egypt might look askance at the prospect of trading one Imperial overlord for another and seek 'British' aid on the promise that they are not there for the long haul.

    Certainly a smaller footprint could offer possibilities.
     
  6. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Even if Britain had some minor presence, say a couple of battalions of infantry and some armored cars or light tanks in support, that's a far cry from having an armored division in theater along with a Commonwealth infantry division. It also doesn't address what the Egyptian military might do. If Egypt throws in with Italy then the British face an internal fight as well as an external one if the Italians are allowed into Egypt. The British also wouldn't be able to move to the Libyan border most likely if their presence is limited to say the Suez canal area.
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I doubt that Egypt would throw in with the Italians. The British had already shown they were willing to leave while the Italians not so much. Egypt likely would have designs of their own on some of the neighboring territory and would be in competition with the Italians for it while the British were gradually leaving.
     
  8. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    In my mind there are two primary scenario's.

    If Britain withdraws in 1922, there is a period of say 15 years before Germany becomes a serious factor on the world stage. Does Italy keep a hands off policy? To me even money says no since occupation of Egypt would allow Italy a contiguous empire in NE Africa, and with a occupation of Somalia, control of northern half of the Eastern Africa. A huge swath of land directly astride the shortest path to India and within striking distance to a whole slew of weakly defended British positions.

    Does Egypt meekly submit or fight? The evidence says yes they fight. Libya resisted for some 9 years (1923-32) and Ethiopia during 1935-36, so I expect the same from Egypt. Besides, why trade one imperial overlord for another? This then leaves Britain and possibly France.

    Granted as the OP suggest's, Italy might offer assurances of free movement to Great Britain (and possibly France), but will this be enough? To be honest I am not sure. Germany did a great deal from 1936 to early 1939 with no response save stern words from Britain, but Germany's moves did not directly impinge on British interest's. Possible closure of the short route to India, as well as movement close to elements of the Empire Britain is not willing to part with, might not too be easily digestible to Whitehall.

    Then there is the potential reaction at home for Britain. The government might 'go wobbly', but will the public demand action?

    A Anglo-Italian war of 1933-34 does not seem that far fetched to me since it would be a 'Imperial war' rather than a general bloodletting against a continental power like the Great War. Italy would have no ally and France might side with Britain. It would largely be a naval war to cut off Italy from her 'Empire' allowing for relatively small, but supplied, force to roll up Italian forces, at least as far as the Libyan border.

    A severe enough drubbing of Italy (not a invasion of the mainland) might keep Italy out of the Spanish Civil War or even lead to the end of Mussolini's run as Il Duce. What kind of break effect upon Hitler this has is another thread.

    The other scenario is one where Italy holds their water till 1940, but that's another post. :)
     
  9. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    For exactly the reasons you state Italy will not go on a collision course with Britain, Mussolini was and idiot but not that big an idiot. What they may get is at max an international treaty, like the one for the Dardanelles, preventing the British from closing the canal to supplies for the forces in Ethiopia, anything more the British will not stand for and Italy, with no navy to speak of in the early 30 (the battleships have not been updated since WW1 and I believe some are even partly decommissioned) , cannot risk that. The only way they can expand is if the French start rocking the boat, and Darlan is not unlikely to do that.

    After the fall of France things are different, an undefended Egypt and the canal may be a more tempting target than a basically valueless Greece, and the British are busy with the Germans. The British problem is that without control of the canal stationing ships east of Malta is a big risk, there are no good repair facilities and sailing a damaged ship through the whole length of the Med is very chancy, with no RN to block supplies the British will need troops and planes, and they don't have much to spare in 1940. On the other hand the Italian army is not really capable of fast mobile operations, so will take months before it gets close to British held areas and by then some troops will be sent. Keeping control of Palestine and Iraq may still prove problematical.
     

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