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Why Graziani choose to motorise a Lybian division instead of AS one?

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Hummmm.... I will look to see if I have anything that discusses that decision. Size is likely one consideration.
 
Certainly the slenderness factor of the Libyan division played a significant role in the choice of units to be used for a campaign which, according to the calculations of the Italian Command, had to be quick and fast and not encounter excessive problems. It should be considered, however, that according to the calculations of the Italian command to completely truck a CCNN or truck-mounted AS40 type, 600 Lancia Ro trucks (heavy) would have been needed, while to fully truck a Libyan division it would have taken half. It should also be borne in mind that the 10th army had around 900 of them, of which at least 300 were out of order. Even if he wanted, there was not much room for then to truck the supplementary troops.
all the best
Maurizio
 
However, it must also be said that the colonial divisions were considered by the Italians to be lean and manageable and in the imaginary of the time more useful in the short and moving campaigns what the campaign towards Sidi el Barrani should have been. Which in fact proved itself even if the British practically did not fight by deluding the Italians of their weakness. Which would have been denied shortly thereafter with Operation Compass.
All the best
Maurizio
 
As of 17/9/1940 there were 3,350 light trucks, 3,700 heavy trucks and 3,900 trailers in Libya, but many of these were of requisitioned civilian origin that were ill-suited to war in the desert and the remaining at least 30% were under repair
All the best
Maurizio
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
I wasn’t able to find any information on how the the decision was made in terms of motorizing the Libyan units. An operational/tactical decision of this type is not normally documented as these tend not to be the focus of a staff appreciation or other form of an official decision-making process.

I can only speculate:

1. The decision to motorize these units was made prior to any detailed plan to invade Egypt. Therefore the logic likely followed a different path.

2. The Libyans were understood/seen to be the best units to operate in the desert were motorization was seen as a requirement.

3. They already had a greater degree of motorization due to their mission to operate as independent units.

4. As independent units, they were already organized as semi-combined arms units with artillery and logistical assets.

5. As previously mentioned, their smaller size required fewer trucks.

6. No reason to break-up a division by motorizing only a portion when you have the Libyans.

What I need to check is whether the Maletti Group was the only Libyan unit fully motorized or whether the two Libyan division were also motorized. IIRC, only Maletti was fully motorized.

Maurizio

What is the source of your truck numbers? Are they from the official histories or a different source?

Pista!
 

Dili

Member
I have read mine in Diario Storico del Comando Supremo, Badoglio telling Graziani that he already had pretty much all trucks he requested.
 

Wargames

New Member
To add my opinion to the others expressed here, I suspect the regular Army SA40 divisions had no desire to invade Egypt whereas the B. S. divisions had arrived and the Libyan divisions were raised specifically for that purpose. I base my comment on three things. First, the December 1940 Italian defense of Sidi Barrani includes only the 4th B.S. division at Sidi Barrani to serve as the reserve for the three Libyan forces defending the west and southwest. There are no regular Army troops anywhere on the line. This, in spite of the fact that two Army divisions were available, one at Buq Buq's water wells (the 64th) and another (the 63rd) south of it and 19 miles SW of the Maletti Group. Neither of these divisions appear to be positioned to defend Sidi Barrani but, rather, Buq Buq.

Second, there are no troops guarding Maletti's SW flank, a flank that includes a road/trail right across their rear. This is the now famous huge gap in the Italian line. Maletti was aware the British had found this road for they had engaged a British patrol on it. This road/trail ran north in almost a straight line all the way to Sidi Baranni.

The 63rd should have moved into this gap and covered the road/trail. It did not. the 64th could have moved to Bir Enba, the only way for the British to reach Buq Buq. It did not.

Which brings me to my third point. Both Graziani and Maletti knew about this southern road to Sidi Barrani. Graziani had ordered Maletti to use it on September 9, 1940 to reach Sidi Baranni and Maletti knew about it again to order it patrolled until his patrol actually met the British patrols on it, losing 100 men and 5 tanks. He then ceased his patrols and had his tanks face west behind his position, the very direction of the British attack. It seems he had a premonition of what was coming.

As a result, not a single regular army division was on the line. In my opinion, the regular army wanted no part of Egypt and, instead, volunteered the "new guys" (the Blackshirts and Libyans) as the sacrificial lambs, even going so far as to volunteer their own divisional trucks to get the sacrificial lambs there. It's why they would not move into the gap they knew to be there.

And, when it was known the British had found the road, again neither regular army division present moved up to cover it, because whoever did was going to be in a very unpleasant position.

So my argument is that the regular army voted to send the Libyans and Blackshirts there as expendable troops using the excuse that it was easier to motorize them as smaller units. Libyan and Blackshirt troops were inferior and were never raised as divisions again. All the Italian moves support my position. I await correction.
 
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jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames

Interesting comments. Before I can say anything what are your sources for:

Second, General Maletti complained of his Italian officers asking to be transferred out of his command to "safer" positions.
Pista! Jeff
 

DrG

Member
Both the Libyan divisions and the Blackshirt divisions were raised by the conscription of local men, i.e. Libyan natives and Italian colonists. They were dispatched in the first line because they were regarded as more suited to bear the weather of the desert, given that their men had been living there for years.

Graziani, after all, was also the Chief of Staff of the Regio Esercito, I cannot see any reason for an alleged conflict of interests with the same Armed Force which he commanded.
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames

I have been considering what you have said. I am not sure whether I can agree to your proposition that the defensive layout at Sidi el Barrani reflect considerations other than operational reality. I can’t comment on your theory that officers were scared and requested safer postings until you can provide evidence that those requests were happening.

No doubt that Graziani didn’t wish to advance, but the execution of the advance and defensive layout overall makes sense consider the tool with which Graziani had to wield. I have use the detailed maps found in La prima offensive britannica in Africa settentrionale schizzo 13 and 14 to examine the Italian position at Sidi el Barrani.

My overarching consideration when discussing this battle is that the events don’t unfold in the historical manner without the use the MK II Matilda. It is this tank that makes the overwhelming UK success possible. The fighting lasted over two hours at Nibeiwa, with the Italian surprised and unable to defeat the Matildas. Without the Matildas and the UK employing cruiser tanks, the result could have been different. Note that attacks on the other camps where Matildas weren’t used were all initially repulsed. This isn’t meant to knock the UK planning and execution; they understood the tool they had and used it effectively. It was why the Matilda was developed. The Italians had no counter to it. The Italians shouldn’t have been surprised; the fighting that happens after the start of the attack shows that they could fight.

Okay, the defense layout.

The Libyan and CC.NN. units were generally smaller and had less equipment/weapons. They were placed in forward, fixed locations where these issues could be minimized. The two metropolitan divisions were placed in key locations; «Cirene» was securing the open southern flank, while «Catanzaro» was in a central reserve position. The distances that had to be covered meant that the positions wouldn’t be mutually supporting. Make the line too short and it becomes too easy for the enemy to bypass around to the south and get to your rear. The Italian line would be stretched regardless of positioning.

The layout reflects the lack of mobility of the 10ª Armata and the problem of defending in the desert with an open southern flank. Note the UK had the same problem at Gazala in 1942, but they had two armored divisions and a mechanized brigade to protect the flank. The bulk of their army was fully motorized. Yet Bir Hackim was still isolated and was cut off, the Axis only lacking a Matilda type capability in 1942 to overwhelm it in short order.

The only issue I see is that «Maletti» shouldn’t have been in a forward position. It was the only fully mobile unit and had the M11/39s. Given the reality of the UK attack, it likely would not have made much of a change, but at least the Italians would have a mobile counter attack force to use offensively. As it was destroyed, the Italians now lacked the means to act offensively and were forced to retreat to establish new defenses to stop the UK offensive. «Catanzano» should have been at Nibeiwa and «Maletti» in the central location.

One also must remember the Italian lack of radios. This had significant impact on conducting mobile operations. The generally successful defense of Mechili by the «brigata corazzata speciale» was limited by the lack of radios. This was again seen at Beda Fomm were mobile operations required rapid communication.

In all, I don’t see any issue with the Italian defense given they are ordered to advance and the army wasn’t suitable for mobile operations. I also agree with DrG post.

Pista! Jeff
 

Wargames

New Member
JwLesser:

Brigadier General Pietro Maletti wrote to his commanding officers seeking to remedy an “undignified hunting for safe positions”

file:///C:/Users/Clark/Downloads/58011-Article%20Text-157861-1-10-20120511%20(4).pdf
 

Wargames

New Member
Both the Libyan divisions and the Blackshirt divisions were raised by the conscription of local men, i.e. Libyan natives and Italian colonists. They were dispatched in the first line because they were regarded as more suited to bear the weather of the desert, given that their men had been living there for years.

I believe this statement is incorrect and all the Blackshirt divisions arrived from Italy. I agree the Libyans were raised locally as colonial troops. But, even if the Blackshirts were raised in Libya, it would have no effect on my post. No regular army Italian troops were placed on the front line of the defense of Sidi Baranni.
 

Wargames

New Member
I can’t comment on your theory that officers were scared and requested safer postings until you can provide evidence that those requests were happening.

I never used the word "scared". Do not confuse me with those who have called the Italians "cowards". I have no such belief at all. I am letting the facts speak for themselves. Maletti's southwest flank was not only uncovered but had a road leading right to their rear on which they engaged a British patrol on. Presumably Maletti informed Graziani of this, making both of them aware the British knew of the road.

I have use the detailed maps found in La prima offensive britannica in Africa settentrionale schizzo 13 and 14 to examine the Italian position at Sidi el Barrani.

Then you know General Maletti's south flank was not covered. To what do you attribute this to?

Catanzaro» was in a central reserve position.

Not according to the map. 4th Blackshirt occupied the reserve position at Sidi Baranni in order to equally be able to reinforce the three Libyan forces.

Catanzaro is defending the water wells at Buq Buq, the same as Cirene to the south. To further my argument, the next most Italian division in line for attack was Catanzaro, created in part from troops from a disbanded Blackshirt division. This reinforces my argument that "last to be created is the first to be shot at." This happened everywhere in the defense of Sidi Baranni.

My overarching consideration when discussing this battle is that the events don’t unfold in the historical manner without the use the MK II Matilda.

I won't argue this. The British could have attacked anywhere they wanted with Mk II tanks and would have won the battle. This still does not justify the gap between General Maletti and the 63rd division. To leave the gap uncovered requires explanation. I offered mine.

The Libyan and CC.NN. units were generally smaller and had less equipment/weapons. They were placed in forward, fixed locations where these issues could be minimized. The two metropolitan divisions were placed in key locations; «Cirene» was securing the open southern flank,

I disagree. If Cirene was covering Maletti's flank. the division would have been on Maletti's flank. To argue they were there when historically they weren't, is an uphill argument.

I sincerely doubt you'll be presenting any evidence they were.

The layout reflects the lack of mobility of the 10ª Armata and the problem of defending in the desert with an open southern flank.

There were problems with defending the southern flank. Your argument that Maletti was too far forward has some merit but no more merit than my argument that Cirene was too far to the rear. Neither one covered the road. My observation is that no regular army divisions covered anything but Buq Buq.

To move Cirene to cover Maletti's flank was an open invitation to Cirene being not only the focal point of the British attack but exposed to the elements. Cirene avoided both by its position. I find this hard to ignore.

Catanzano» should have been at Nibeiwa and «Maletti» in the central location.

I agree that neither Cirene nor Catanzaro are not where they are needed. One of the two must be moved to cover the gap.

To all, I appreciate my lone opinion has not been attacked as "anti-Italian" as that was not my intent. My intent was only that the regular army preserved itself from British counter attack once they knew (on October 4) of the British landing of additional tanks in Egypt. The regular army always knew they could not take Mersa Matruh, universally objecting to it on August 8, 1940. Yet taking Sidi Baranni not only was feasible but prevented British aircraft attack on Tobruk from Sidi Baranni's airfield as well as met Mussolini's demands for an invasion of Egypt. The invasion followed.

Taking it was one thing. Defending it was another. I see no army divisions volunteering for frontline service in defending it. If there was even one on the line I stand corrected. That none are on the front is hard not to notice.
 
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jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Thank you for your comments. I will answer in two posts. I will first address the comment by Maletti. The second post that will come later will address your argument about the defensive arrangement. I wish to get the issue of the officers statements resolved before moving on. Your are partially basing your argument upon that data point.

file:///C:/Users/Clark/Downloads/58011-Article%20Text-157861-1-10-20120511%20(4).pdf

Your link does’t work, nor could I create a functional url to access it. Please provide a full cite for the article. If it is on the web and allows public access, I will find it. If it is article that you have found, you can Drop Box the article to me. Until then I can’t comment on that statement.

I never used the word "scared". Do not confuse me with those who have called the Italians "cowards"

Correct, you didn’t use the word, but that is the reality of your statement. You offered the quote to support your argument that the defensive position was faulty and these officers knew it. Rather than address the supposedly 'legitimate concerns about the dispositions' with the leadership, these officers are asking to abandon their troops and be placed somewhere 'safer' (your word).

Second, General Maletti complained of his Italian officers asking to be transferred out of his command to "safer" positions.

I find it interesting that you equate ‘exercising good judgement and leaving their men behind’ to those thousands of Italian officers whom, understanding that success was unlikely, chose to remain with their soldiers and lead them during desperate battles. These officers often gave their lives trying to give their soldiers a fighting chance by motivating them and guiding them in their fights.

You might wish to rethink that line of argument if I were you if you truly believe Italian officers aren’t cowards.

Without the article you are basing your comments upon, this is the only proper conclusion given your statements. If the motivation was to challenge a perceived tactical error, why request a transfer? Why not do everything in their power to enhance their soldiers' ability to survive such an error by better preparation and decisive leadership when the problem arises?

Once I can read the article, I might agree that my understanding of your comments are wrong but I need the article. Don't argue the case, provide the source.

Pista! Jeff
 

Wargames

New Member
Here is my source for Maletti's comment:

Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, VOLUME 14, ISSUE 1, FALL 2011, Something is wrong with our army…’ Command, Leadership & Italian Military Failure in the First Libyan Campaign, 1940-41. Dr. Craig Stockings, page 11.

It is available on the web. However, I see I misquoted it. The key words are:

"Before the Italian advance to Sidi Barrani, Brigadier Pietro Maletti wrote to his commanding officers seeking to remedy an “undignified hunting for safe positions” where too many officers sought to abandon combat units claiming they would be more usefully employed at headquarters locations."

I failed to spot that Maletti dealt with this problem before the assault on Sidi Baranni and thought it happened afterwards. My error. I will edit my previous posts to reflect that.

I find it interesting that you equate ‘exercising good judgement and leaving their men behind’ to those thousands of Italian officers whom, understanding that success was unlikely, chose to remain with their soldiers and lead them during desperate battles. These officers often gave their lives trying to give their soldiers a fighting chance by motivating them and guiding them in their fights.

You might wish to rethink that line of argument if I were you if you truly believe Italian officers aren’t cowards.

I'm discussing one battle and not later battles. But let's use your argument. The Cirene Division was in the area of Rabia when the British attacked. While 10th Indian attacked Maletti, the 7th Armor moved on Rabia and Buq Buq. When the British reached Rabia, there was nothing there. Cirene had already abandoned the position.

Cirene had two choices. They could have advanced to relieve Maletti's Group or they could retreat. They opted to hurriedly retreat without firing a shot, thereby leaving thousands of Libyan soldiers and 4th Blackshirt to their fate. Catanzaro did the same, retreating along the coastal road. My position is that they both exercised good judgment. Is it your position that Cirene and Catanzaro "gave their lives trying to give their soldiers a fighting chance by motivating them and guiding them in their fights?"

I'm thinking you won't make the argument here that you just made above. It doesn't work. If anything, its evidence, once again, that the regular army division Cirene avoided becoming a part of the battle and it reached that decision in a hurry and with no consideration at all of aiding Maletti's flank. It reinforces my position that Cirene had no intention of ever covering Maletti's flank and that's why Cirene wasn't covering the road.

Again, I have no claims of cowardice, including Cirene. One certainly cannot accuse General Maletti of cowardice or General Tellera at Beda Fomm. I didn't come here to make enemies but to make friends and share information.
 
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