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What if Mussolini concentrated on North Africa?

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by Carronade, Feb 11, 2013.

  1. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Apparently the original thread on this topic deteriorated, but I thought the idea was intriguing. As I recall the premise was that Hitler wired Mussolini prior to their October 28, 1940 meeting (the one at which Il Duce announced "Fuhrer, we are on the march!"), persuaded him to hold off until they could meet, and then persuaded him to forego the invasion of Greece. Everything up to that point happens as it did historically, the invasion force in Albania is primed to go, followon echelons in Italy are preparing to deploy, and the army in Libya has advanced to the Sidi Barrani area and dug in in its series of fortified camps.

    That army comprised almost entirely infantry, so the first big change is to reinforce it with armored units. The only armor present is two battalions detached from the Ariete armored division and assigned to the Maletti motorized group; they are equipped with M11/39 medium tanks (hull-mounted 37mm gun) and L3 lights (MGs only). Incidentally Italy's entire inventory of M11s is in North (72) or East Africa (24). Historically two more Ariete battalions would be attached to the Babini Group in Cyrenaica, so the first step in our scenario might be to station the entire Ariete there, to be followed by other divisions as time and shipping permit.

    The newer M13/40, the first Italian tank comparable to the British cruisers, was just coming into service. A few of them were in Bardia before it was invested by the British in late December 1940, but they were first used in numbers at Mechili and famously at Beda Fomm, where approximately 101 were in action against British forces including 29 cruisers. Historically M13s also served with the Centauro Division in Greece, so presumably more of them would have been present in Cyrenaica in our scenario.

    It seems unlikely that useful reinforcements, including M13s, would arrive in Egypt in time to stymie the initial Operation Compass offensive, but the subsequent British advance might have to contend with 1-2 Italian armored divisions, presumably under Italy's most capable commanders.
     
  2. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    This scenario is doomed to fail. Malta must be taken.
     
  3. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Is it not precisely this early in the game when it could be taken?
     
  4. von_noobie

    von_noobie Member

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    I don't see too much being different unless the invasion of Greece was never put on the table as such the forces would already be in Libya from the get go. Further more in said scenario the British and the Commonwealth would be able to keep there forces intact in NA, Might actually see the formation of an Australian or Anzac Corps early on. So might actually work against them rather then for them.
     
  5. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Sure thing. The earlier the better, like before going onto the offensive and invading Egypt. Start the war off by taking Malta. As long as Malta holds out Italian operations in North Africa and elsewhere in the Med will be severely curtailed.
     
  6. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    The importance of Malta is much exaggerated
     
  7. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Possibly so, but in the historical timeline Rommel probably thought it would have been a pretty good idea to take Malta. He did advocate it. If it was an insignificant British outpost in the most strategic location in the central Med, why was it bombed so much?
     
  8. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    The Italian army had bigger problems than merely a shortage of tanks. It lacked motor vehicles of all sorts, up to date artillery, trained junior leaders or any faith in their own competence as a fighting army. Italy had been on a war footing throughout the 1930s, waging war in Africa and Spain. Economic sanctions bit more than is sometimes realised. Italy wasn't in a state to go to war in 1940. Its generals were aware of the limitations and a few hundred tanks were not going to turn Graziani into Rommel.

    Avoiding the disaster of Albania would have been a good thing for Italy. Whether additional troops in Egypt would have done more than further strain Italian logistics is less certain. The British would have fought hard for Egypt and the end result may not have been different - except maybe Op Compass took place starting at El Alemein rather than Sidi Barriani.

    The other result of Italian restraint in the Balkans would have been that the Germans would not have needed to invade Yugoslavia or Greece. That might have freed up more resources to fight the Soviets, a few weeks earlier, which might have tipped the balance.
     
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  9. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Good point. But with the restrictions on seaborne re-supply, the Italias would not have been able to sustain a large force in North Afica or keep it supplied for a sustained thrust into Egypt.
     
  10. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Why were there restrictions on seaborne re-supply?
     
  11. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I figure the RAF based on Malta sortied bombing runs occasionally, and maybe the RN contributed as well. During the historic timeline Axis re-supply was seriously hampered by such activity. That's what I was going on.
     
  12. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Ah. I thought there might have been other issues.

    But supposing Italy took the island early on, instead of, for example, poking at a collapsing France, the RN would itself have had great difficulty interdicting the Axis supply route. It would also have divided the RN Med Fleet in two, no?

    I don't think anything would come of a purely Italian offensive in Africa regardless, but it would put the entire Axis effort in the Theatre in a much better position. It seems to me, Malta is key.
     
  13. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I agree, the British post there was very small and a determined Italian attack would have carried it early on right after the fall of France. Then on to Gibralter!
     
  14. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    The Italian commander, Graziani, would still have found a way to lose even with reinforcements. He spent months contemplating his navel while allowing the British time to prepare and even after advancing he just stopped and sat and waited for the British to attack. I wonder if there was any Italian senior commanders who could have served in any other army.
     
  15. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Giovanni Messe I believe.
     
  16. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    When Rommel was retreating at the end of 1941,he blamed the supply forces,who blamed the Italians,who said that the cause was Malta.And the OKW was sending Kesselring with the 2nd Airfleet.

    But,we know (it already has been discussed) that the convoys to NA lost 10 % of their transport,and,not eveything was lost because of Malta : a lot of British submarines were operating from Alexandria.
     
  17. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Yes, I remember that very informative discussion. But here, the premise is different; with a greater focus on North Africa, more supplies need to be sent, therefore they represent a greater effort, and more opportunities to interdict for the allies. This only increases the value of Malta, not decreases.

    Alexandria is what, slightly more than 100 kms from El-Alamein?

    Of course, this premise leaves totally open the question about what to do with the Yugoslavian coup.
     
  18. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    It was also Rommel you urged the Malta attack be cancelled so he could get the supplies to go into Egypt in 1942
     
  19. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Taken with what? There's also the question of how much of their navy the Italians are willing to loose attacking Malta.
     
  20. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Actually, early enough, it wouldn't be loose anything attacking Malta, as it was regarded as indefensible by the British in the face of Italian airpower, and only had minor defences. But it'd probably have difficulty retaining Malta and keeping it supplied, had the RN wished to force the issue. How desperately would the UK defend Malta early in the war (summer 1940)? Malta would have low priority in the face of the threat to England. It was only as operations in the Theatre progressed, that the defensive situation on Malta was continually improved.

    Already in 1938, the Italian army had estimated the amount of sea transport it would require to move significant military forces into North Africa and identified the seizure of Malta as a necessary prerequisite.
     

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