Victorious Italian Arms

Blame the title on Scott, but everything else on me.  Written in response to a challenge to improve Italy’s performance in the war.

Historically, the Italians have had a bad reputation from their service in WW2.  That’s not undeserved; they had too many incompetent officers, a bad supply system, unprepared troops and consequently low morale.  That meant that Italian units tended to be unpredictable; some fought well, others surrendered at once.

I tend to see the main problem as lying with Mussolini.  These changes may require ASBs, but in theory they could be done.  Give him a smart ‘tactical advisor’ – Ciano would be best with some minor changes – and allow him to set tactical policy.  Mussolini gets to do grand strategy; implementation is left to others.

1)      Act on the assumption that Italy will join the war (despite Mussolini’s ranting about a separate war) in early 1940.

2)      Order the reorganisation of the troops in Libya.  Grazianni was hopeless – relive him and replace him with someone else.  I vaguely remember an Italian cavalry commander who fought well in Ethiopia; appoint him.  (Or hire Rommel if necessary.)

3)      Reorganize the troops in Libya to allow a small fast detachment with tanks, trucks, PLENTY of supplies and the best troops to be formed.  The rest of the troops to be used for defense.  Train both groups hard.

4)      Prepare the navy for war on a much more organized basis.  Immediate priority is to invade Malta, ideally before the declaration of war.

5)      Begin a comprehensive training program for the troops and officers.  Relieve any incompetent officers.  Hold as many exercises as possible in the time available. 

6)      Make private contact with Egyptian nationalists and prepare for a rear-area insurrection when the Italians invade.

7)      Stockpile any vital war materials where they’re needed.  Organise a signal to order every merchant ship into harbour on 48hrs notice.

Now, we need a good date to begin the war.  Historically, Mussolini chose a really bad date to begin, just after it was clear that the Germans had lost the Battle of Britain.  I suggest just after the Italians invade France in the wake of the German invasion.  At that time, then, have the Italians begin a march towards Cairo and the Suez, while Egypt rises up in the British rear. 

Ideally, the invasion fleet for Malta should have been launched before the declaration of war (for real confusion have the war kick off during the British attempts to corral the French fleet).  At the time, Malta had few defences; the invasion should be easy, even for Italians.

If their commander is aggressive and determined, and well supplied, the Italians should be able to make it to Cairo before the British (still worried about sea lion) can send in more troops.  If the Egyptians rebel, the British will probably pull back to Palestine, fighting a confused series of battles with Arab, Jewish and Iraqi factions.  Mussolini gets to ride through Cairo on his white horse.  

Italian success here would mean that the British would be unable to support the Greeks, should Mussolini order their invasion.  I suspect that the Greeks would have agreed to join the Germans to prevent their invasion, although its quite possible that Mussolini won’t invade them, particularly if its impressed on him just how difficult it would be.

Without commitments to the Balkans and Egypt, Hitler’s grand invasion goes ahead much sooner.  Italy, pushed forward by victory, contributes far more men to the invasion, perhaps trading them for technical help.  Without a major war right next door, Italy has time to fix most of their economic problems.  (They did make some progress in OTL).  By 1945, Italy has taken most of their sphere in Africa.  Vichy France would be forced into formal alliance to escape Italian and Spanish designs on their territory.

Assuming that Pearl Harbour happens and Hitler declares war, the Allies face a far more serious war.  I suspect that they’d go for overlord in 1943 instead and Italy would be in the war to the bitter end.