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Better Italy during WW2

TheIO

Hamster Warrior of Holyrood
Patreon supporter
I'm not sure they had anything as embarrassing as Operation Compass or Greece 1940.
I often wonder what went through Benny the Moose's mind in 1940. He went from "Shit, how the hell are the Germans suddenly beating the French??? I need to get into this war now so that I can loot as much as I can from the Peace that my best pal and man that I in no way despise Adolf will be able to dictate" in June to "Everything I touch turns to shit, or catches fire and then turns to shit" in December.
No, not December. June too. The Italian army was not faring well against the French defensive position in the Alps.
Yes, Italy did not have a good first six months of the war, did it? IIRC it had exactly one great success, the capture of British Somaliland. Oh and it captured Sidi Barrini in Egypt, prompting the great claim in the Italian press that the trams of Sidi Barrini were soon running again! (For those unfamiliar with Sidi Barrini in 1940, it had never seen a tram in its life.)
And after that it's the fiasco of the Greek invasion, the stalling of Graziani at SB, the Taranto Raid taking out three Italian Battleships and then Operation Compass.
Oh woe.
Inspired by discussions earlier today I thought I'd make a thread for the matter.

Italy, going into WW2, was supposed to be a serious power, with one of the world's larger militaries, and at times it did perform with good results. Unfortunately, said record is marred by a performance in 1940 to about spring 1941 that can be charitably described as shambolic; losing East Africa, losing half of its army in Libya to a British force at most half its size, attempting to invade Greece but instead being pushed halfway up Albania, and so on.

The question then is how could Italy have performed better during those critical months; the fewer major chances before May 1940 the better.
 

Cymraeg

Well-known member
Inspired by discussions earlier today I thought I'd make a thread for the matter.

Italy, going into WW2, was supposed to be a serious power, with one of the world's larger militaries, and at times it did perform with good results. Unfortunately, said record is marred by a performance in 1940 to about spring 1941 that can be charitably described as shambolic; losing East Africa, losing half of its army in Libya to a British force at most half its size, attempting to invade Greece but instead being pushed halfway up Albania, and so on.

The question then is how could Italy have performed better during those critical months; the fewer major chances before May 1940 the better.
Frankly Italy's best option was choosing not to play at all. Italy only entered the war because Mussolini was convinced that the war was about to end in June 1940 and that he might not get a few choice cuts when the British and French colonial empires were divided up. Given the fact that he wanted Egypt, Malta, Tunisia, Algeria and possibly even Syria - the man was thinking with his greed and ego rather than his actual brain.
 

Artaxerxes

Borders are for closers Marge.
Location
#VALUE!
Inspired by discussions earlier today I thought I'd make a thread for the matter.

Italy, going into WW2, was supposed to be a serious power, with one of the world's larger militaries, and at times it did perform with good results. Unfortunately, said record is marred by a performance in 1940 to about spring 1941 that can be charitably described as shambolic; losing East Africa, losing half of its army in Libya to a British force at most half its size, attempting to invade Greece but instead being pushed halfway up Albania, and so on.

The question then is how could Italy have performed better during those critical months; the fewer major chances before May 1940 the better.
Massive command and control reform and clear objectives. Also it had hit the peak of its kit development to soon before the war and wasn't able to keep up once war started, either in research or kit.

So it's fairly screwed.

A very large build up in Libya and improvements to logistics there might see it able to drive into Alexandria and Suez but it's doubtful it'll hold it. That might just be enough to get the UK negotiating and Greece to fold or Turkey to be less neutral.
 

Geordie

Big Ol' Soviet Deltic
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My understanding is that there are some deep, systemic problems - chronic, if you'll allow the medical metaphor - and others that are because of a particular confluence of events - acute, if you will. This second category, I'd then split into "last few years" and "last twelve months".

Chronic:

The morale, training and leadership of the Italian armed forces - especially the Regio Esercito - is woeful. Officers and NCOs are not up to snuff. Cause and effect in this are rather cyclical.

Italy is rather lacking in essential resources such as coal and petroleum. If they are relying in an alt to provide them, they are always in danger of being second in line for the good stuff. Also, if they are beholden to this ally, then Italian strategic concerns may be ignored in favour of said ally.

Procurement is a mess, too. Some lovely elements of corruption that would be right at home North of the Brenner.

Geography is against Italy. For all Benny's wish to be the world statesman, the Royal Navy can shut him off from the world with two weird tricks (you'll never believe Number 2). Going to war against the UK means losing East Africa, unless you think you can topple Egypt very quickly indeed, and fight off the inevitable counter from the Middle East, India and East and South Africa. Franco didn't even give them any Balearic bases from which they could strike Gibraltar.

Economically and industrially, Italy is far weaker than the others present at the top table. Oh, it's bigger than most nations, but they're not proposing fighting most nations. They're taking on the British and French Empires.

And that leads us to the main problem. Benny saw this as a short victorious war. He didn't expect Britain to fight on. Nor did anybody else, mind, so that can't really be held against him, but it might explain some of the problems being overlooked or ignored.

ACUTE (last few years):

The armed forces are exhausted in material and physical terms. East Africa was harder, longer, and rewired more men than expected, and this then led straight into a large intervention in Spain. There's still a wrong spot of rebellion in the former Ethiopia. Frankly, they need refit, refurb and reinforcement.

The air force particularly is at the end of a rather large equipment cycle. Lots of half decent equipment that's now long in the tooth and needs replaced (Fiat biplanes, for instance), too few modern designs, and many of those of teething problems or just aren't good enough (Breda 88 being a good example of the latter).

The binary divisions of 1938. A stupid decision based solely on Benny wanting to brag about the number of divisions he had. All it did was ensure each division was (at best) 2/3s the strength of any opposing division. Plus, it disrupted chains of command and cohesion.

Tankettes. Just no.

Not interested out expert in small and, but I believe they weren't great. Plus, units had too little in the way of support elements.

Typing on my phone, so I'll have missed many other things I could have included, but this feels like a start.

ACUTE (since war broke out until the start of Compass):

Declaring non-belligerence was a galaxy brained take. All it did was tell the world "when, not if". Wavell said as much. I recently posted a thread where I used the very quote.

The attack into France was ill-thought through. A proper rush job across bloody hard terrain with prepared troops in powerful fortresses.

The merchant marine wasn't recalled in time, so huge amounts of shipping were lost; Suez and Gib being closed to them.

Istr that Benny gave the army in Albania two weeks' leave about a day before ordering the advance into Greece, which caused havoc. In fact, one book I read (don't remember the name, sadly) reckoned that Commando Supremo were all prepared for an attack Yugoslavia, rather than Greece, but I've not found anybody else who'll back that up.

Benny interfered a lot, both due to politics and thinking he knew best. This didn't help.

They attacked on too many fronts, and didn't manage any of them properly.

Malta acted as a massive spoiler on transport between Italy and Libya.

Taranto screwed the RM's fleet in being, but they had too few hulls to come out and fight, and the Med doesn't lend itself to commerce raiding.

Italo Balbo's plane crash rather disrupted Libya at a crucial time. I may be too influenced by the sadly unfinished Viva Balbo! on AH.com, but losing him at such a juncture can't have helped organisation.

So, I'd say the only winning move is not to play, but that's cheating. I think we could gobble up Yugoslavia quite happily, if properly planned, but that's not the deal. I'll post in a minute what I'd try differently.
 
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Arthur_Phuxache

Shadow Minister for Snollygosters & Lollygaggers


Paul Kennedy had it right - Nazi Germany had it X7 times easier than Italy, and still lost.

Italy's military exploits were for domestic consumption - weak enemies conveniently close to Italy/its colonies were overwhelmed, its military was NOT capable not facing off against the British Empire and its Dominions, the USSR AND the USA.

Once the Italians declared war on the British they were cut off from their importers by a naval blockade their navy could not break. The Regia Marina consumed resources the Italian army coveted, and needed.

The poor performance of the Italy in WW1 effectively hamstrung its performance in WW2. Industrial output, or a large military, but not both.
 

Geordie

Big Ol' Soviet Deltic
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So, what would Geordie Mussolini do?

Well, the OP has said the fewer changes before May 1940, the better, so no touching the chronic issues.

If I am allowed one thing from before September 1939, I'd keep the tertiary division structure. There are no upsides to this move. None.

If I'm allowed one change between September '39 and May '40, I'd recall the merchant marine in time to get back to the Med. Without the benefit of hindsight, I'd say February 40', to definitely beat the campaign season. That would lose me a few months of revenue, but at least the ships are back. If I can order the ships to stuff themselves to the gunwhales with essential resources, even better. If I'm allowed a second one, let's just say that we're neutral at present, rather than non-belligerent. Nobody will believe it for long, but hey, it's still better than OTL.

Now, it's May 1940. My divisions will still be in the tertiary structure. Yeah, they're badly led and badly trained, but at least they haven't just been reorganised. My merchant marine will all be in the Med.

Now. I'm assuming that, in order to fulfill the terms of the OP, I'm declaring war on at least the British and French Empires. If possible, I'd like to leave the Greeks until later. But that's up to the OP.

My opening moves would not be against the Alps. I'd be looking South. If the RM think it can be done, then a coup de main against Malta is the order of the day. A slightly outdated Air Force should be good enough to take on Faith, Hope and Charity. If we have the ability, then the attack should start minutes after the ambassador hands the declaration of war to the relevant people. This sadly means we can't move against Corsica, but we need to be laser focussed. If we've got the ability to support something else with the Navy, then send any midget submarines to cause havcoc. I'd like to send them to Alexandria, as we know that worked in OTL, and there's no point attacking Mers-el-Kebir, as Churchill will do that soon. However, Alex and Gib are much further away, and I suspect Toulon is too well defended, so that leaves the French North African bases. Anything we can do there will help make us stronger for the inevitable peace conference. People will say I'm a back-stabbing jackal, but that's going to happen whatever, so let's do it effectively.

With the Army, I'd be tempted to look to Tunisia, rather than Egypt, in North Africa. If we can discover the Tebaga Gap, then turn the Mareth Line, while holding the British off in the East. This might be a debacle, mind, but if we're lucky, the French will be too worried about the Hexagon to have left their strongest forces there. Tell the forces in East Africa to do everything they can, but expect no help. The Somaliland advance worked, so lets do that, and just tell them to make as much of a nuisance of themselves as possible for as long as possible.

Regia Aeronautica should help suppress Malta, and bomb the Mareth Line, then use Malta as a base to help the Tunisian campaign (or, if that's gone wrong, to help wherever they can).

I'm still going to lose in the long run, I fear, but it might be slightly less embarrassing.
 
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Geordie

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Note, I only touch the opening stages of the war, because I'm assuming it will all be over relavtiely soon. This is probably a mistake, as in OTL, but that's what I can do without weighting the scales too much.
 

Roger II

Well-known member
Does GeordieMussolini have the option to to not go into Ethiopia in the first place, curb colonial adventurism, and jump in with the Allies?
 

Geordie

Big Ol' Soviet Deltic
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Does GeordieMussolini have the option to to not go into Ethiopia in the first place, curb colonial adventurism, and jump in with the Allies?
That's outside the terms of the OP, as I understand them, but it would certainly be preferable.

Not sure how realistic for any Mussolini such a course of action is, as it feels like acknowledging that we're the biggest of the second division teams, rather than a proper big deal. But, if possible, such a course of action could see (coastal, at least) Libya properly integrated as a Fourth Shore. Also leaves lots of resources for shenanigans in the Balkans.
 
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TheIO

Hamster Warrior of Holyrood
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That's outside the terms of the OP, as I understand them, but it would certainly be preferable.

Not sure how realistic for any Mussolini such a course of action is, as it feels like acknowledging that we're the biggest of the second division teams, rather than a proper big deal. But, if possible, such a course of action could see (coastal, at least) Libya properly integrated as a Fourth Shore. Also leaves lots of resources for shenanigans in the Balkans.
It's not outside, merely that I wanted to give as close PODs as possible - the earlier a change is the bigger the potential changes. But an Italy that doesn't take Ethiopia is worth consideration.
 

Roger II

Well-known member
Yea, it feels like putting Italy on the Axis side as an active player is a lose-lose, and the less Italy does stuff that pisses everyone else off (like AHEM invading Ethiopia) the less likely it is that it gets pushed that way. Granted that probably puts off Italy's colonial reckoning until after WWII with Libya...
 

TheIO

Hamster Warrior of Holyrood
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Yea, it feels like putting Italy on the Axis side as an active player is a lose-lose, and the less Italy does stuff that pisses everyone else off (like AHEM invading Ethiopia) the less likely it is that it gets pushed that way. Granted that probably puts off Italy's colonial reckoning until after WWII with Libya...
Of course, the less Italy does on the Axis side the less opportunity they have for doing stuff in the war full stop. Which, given that the aim is a less embarrassing performance, isn't entirely what I had in mind. An Italy that's still holding Libya post-WW2 is definitely interesting mind.
 
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