Italian Fiascos

World War II: Blitzkrieg

Europe 1941.0226

Italian Fiascos

World War II in Europe from the fall of Poland to Stalingrad (26 February 1941)

Historical Map of Europe & the Mediterranean

By late 1940, Mussolini's invasion of Greece had become a debacle, with the Greeks instead invading Italian Albania. Meanwhile, Britain devastated the Italian fleet at Taranto and overran Italian possessions in Africa. All this worried the Germans, who began sending troops to aid the Italians, and encouraged the Americans, who announced the start of Lend-Lease.

Main Events

Battle of Taranto

British Royal Navy forces, under Admiral Andrew Cunningham, launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history against Italian naval forces anchored in Taranto harbor, Italy. In the strike, a small number of obsolescent Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers were launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the neighboring Mediterranean Sea, sinking one Italian battleship and heavily damaging two more for minimal losses.

Greek counter-offensive

After repelling the Italian invasion, the Greek army went on the offensive, expelling the Italians from northern Greece and crossing the border into Albania. On 22 November they captured the Albanian city of Koritsa (Korçë), followed by the port of Sarande in December.

Operation Compass

In Operation Compass, some 30,000 British troops with air and tank support attacked an Italian force double their size at Sidi Barrani in western Egypt. The swift defeat of the Italians encouraged the British to extend what had been intended as a five-day raid into a full-scale invasion of Libya, pursuing the remnants of the Italian 10th Army to El Agheila. By the time fatigue and the diversion of men to Greece had forced the British to call a halt, they had taken 138,000 Italian prisoners, hundreds of tanks and over 1,000 guns and aircraft for a loss of just 1,900 men killed and wounded.

German support for Italy

After increasing German support of Italy starting in June 1940, German leader Adolf Hitler announced that he would begin direct military support for Italy. In Operation Sonnenblume ('Sunflower'), two German divisions would be sent to Libya, including anti-tank units, aircraft, and panzers. At the same time, another two and a half divisions would travel to Albania to reinforce the Italians against the Greeks in Operation Alpenveilchen ('Alpine Violets').

British invasion of Ethiopia

On 20 January 1941 exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, accompanied by British troops, crosses the border from Anglo-Egyptian Sudan into Italian-controlled Ethiopia at Um Idla. He is supported in the north by the 9th Indian Brigade, which retakes Gallabat and invades Ethiopia, occupying the border town of Metemma on 31 January. Meanwhile to the south in Kenya, the 1st South African Division reoccupies Moyale and, on 30 January, launches a feint attack in the Mega region of southern Ethiopia.

Operation Abstention

Two British forces sailing from Crete and Cyprus converged on Kastellorizo, the easternmost island of the Italian Aegean Islands (Dodecanese), capturing it by surprise on 25 February. The Italian counterattack began at sunset the following day, pressuring the British to withdraw.

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