Category: Mediterranean Operations

This section covers not only operations in the Mediterranean theater itself, but also the British campaign against the Italians in East Africa and military activities in Iraq and Iran, which are inseparable from operations in the Mediterranean proper. Since naval and air warfare are considered separately (see sections 12. Developments in Naval Warfare and 13. Developments in Air Warfare), the emphasis is on the land campaigns -in Egypt, Libya, East Africa, French North Africa, Crete, Syria, Italy (including Sicily), and numerous Mediterranean islands.

The Mediterranean theater varied in importance as World War II progressed. Before the entry of Italy in June 1940 it was inactive; from that time onward, until the German attack on the USSR in June 1941, it was the main operational area and the only one where there was fighting on land. With the Anglo-American landings in French North Africa in November 1942 (Operation Torch) until August 1943, when plans for the invasion of northwestern Europe (Operation Overlord) were approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, it assumed increasing significance, but when Overlord was mounted in June 1944, the Mediterranean became a secondary theater.

Background to Conflict: 1933-1939

The six and one-half years after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933 were a period of mounting tension in the Mediterranean and nearby areas as in other regions. In October 1935, Italy, correctly judging the impotence of the League of Nations, decided to extend her already considerable empire in Africa by invading Ethiopia, and by May 1936 she had completed the annexation of the country.

Later that year, on August 26, AngloEgyptian relations were put on a more satisfactory basis by the conclusion of a treaty, the effect of which was that in war Egypt would be Britain’s ally. The Suez Canal was to be safeguarded by the continued presence of a British force, but to assuage Egyptian susceptibilities the troops were to be confined to a narrow zone along the canal itself. The British were also to enjoy certain harbor and dock facilities and the use of railway and road communications.

The somewhat loose alliance between Germany and Italy subsequently known as the Rome-Berlin Axis was concluded on October 25. On Jan. 2, 1937, British and Italian relations were eased by the signing of a joint declaration (known ironically as the Gentlemen’s Agreement), the main clause of which recognized freedom of movement for both parties in the Mediterranean. The declaration was reaffirmed in April 1938, when the two governments also agreed to exchange information annually concerning any major changes or proposed changes in the strength and dispositions of their respective armed forces. Just at this time, Britain’s position in the Middle East was complicated by unrest in its mandate of Palestine, where open rebellion had broken out. A year later, on April 7, 1939, Italy invaded Albania, and within a short time occupied the whole country.

Meanwhile, Hitler’s various acts of aggression, culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, and his threatening attitude toward Poland were bringing Europe to the brink of general war. Under an agreement announced on August 25, Britain guaranteed that it would go to the assistance of Poland in the event of German aggression. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, and two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. By September 10, the other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations had made similar declarations.

WW2 Italy Campaigns

Conquest of Sicily: June-August 1943 Some weeks before the end of hostilities in North Africa detailed planning had begun for the capture of Sicily, to be followed by the invasion of the Italian mainland. On June 11, 1943, the island of Pantelleria, with its Italian garrison of 15,000 men, surrendered to the Allies, and the […]

WW2 Campaigns in Africa

French and British staff conversations, which began in London at the end of March 1939, included the broad outline of plans for conducting joint operations in the Mediterranean. Later, in May and June, meetings between British and’ French commanders in the Mediterranean and the Middle East were held at Rabat, Aden, and Jerusalem. With the […]