• Get Paid to Write for Comando Supremo: We are looking for talented researchers/writers who are fluent in English and can write original content on Italy in World War Two. Please reach out to webmaster@comandosupremo.com if interested!

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

DrG

Member
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.
My mistake: I was thinking about the Army divisions "Cirene" and "Catanzaro", which were raised mostly from Italian men living in Libya, who were also blackshirts (they were all members of the PNF) but fought as soldiers of the Regio Esercito, not of the MVSN.
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames

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.

Thank you. Excellent article! I like Stockings and have his book with Hancock on the Greek campaign. Very good, but more focused on the Greeks than the Italians.

There is nothing truly new in the article. Stocking's comments echo those of Knox, Sullivan, Sadkovich, etc. in pointing out that there were many other factors affecting the RE's performance. Cowardliness generally wasn't one of them.

The article did confirm what I suspected about Maletti's statement: the issue was careerism. Bottomline, service in the RCTC was less desirable than in the metropolitan army. Service in troop assignments was less desirable than service in staff. You can observe the same dynamic in the UK: an Indian Army commission was less desirable than a British Army commission.

For example, I found similar issues in my research on the Italian paratroopers. When Balbo was creating the « Fanti d'aria » in 1938, there were many volunteers from the Libyan ranks, but very few officers volunteer to join the new unit. Only one officer S.P.E., Goefferdo Tonini, asked to be transferred. All the other officers were junior di complemento officers of the RCTC.

As I believe you have already indicated in your edit of your original statement, Maletti's comment doesn't support any theory discussing the deployment of the 10ª Armata units during Compass. It is a neutral statement on that matter.

Pista! Jeff
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
I have some time (it has been busy the past few days), so let me comment on the theory.

The theory predicts that the CC.NN. and Libyan divisions should be the furthest east into Egypt while the metropolitan divisions should be the furthest west and possibly not in Egypt at all. What we actually observe on 9 Dec is that two of the three CC.NN. divisions are still in Libya, and two of the three metropolitan divisions are in Egypt.

The theory states that the Libyan and CC.NN. divisions are in the front line while the metropolitan divisions are safely behind. Graziani lays out his defensive concept in a 25 Novembre directive (see La prima offensiva britannicia pp.59-61). The defensive is organized in three sectors. In settore Sidi el Barrani, the two Libyan divisions are in the first (front) line, while the CC.NN. division is in the second line. In the settore Bugs Bug, «Maletti» and «Cirene» are in the first line, and «Catanzaro» is in the second line. So we find a metropolitan division in the front, not in the second line as the theory should predict.

So the theory fails to predict that historical locations of the units.

To leave the gap uncovered requires explanation. I offered mine.

And here is mine.

The defensive layout was based on each position capable of a 360º defense. Penetration between positions was expected. The concept was that each individual position could hold until reinforcements/counterattack forces could arrive. To shorten the line to completely close the gaps would allow the UK to easily sweep around the souther flank and cut off the entire army. Lacking a mobile offensive capability, the army would need to retreat. Beda Fomm would have happened between 10-15 December 40 instead of 5-7 February 41.

The breakdown of that plan was that:

-instead of aggressively patrolling the gaps to provide earlier detection of an enemy attack, they abandoned the effort.

-this allowed them to be surprised. The minefield gap could have been closed if they had received several hours of warning (assuming they had a plan to do so).

These two errors happened because of leadership failures, not the type/location of units or the desire to protect the metropolitan divisions. .

-the Matildas allow the rapid destruction of the Maletti group before any other Italian force could react.

-the Italians lacked an effective reaction force, hence once Nibeiwa fell, the only option open to the Italians was to retreat.

I'm discussing one battle and not later battles.
This is a campaign. You can't argue the position of units if you ignore the overarching objective of the campaign that drives decisions.

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.

Correct, and « Cantanzano» was in a central position for the 10ª Armata.

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?"

There wasn't a choice. By the time «Cirene» knew what was happening to «Maletti», the unit had been destroyed. «Cirene» wasn't a mobile unit; they couldn't just jump into the trucks they didn't have and drive to Nibiewa and counterattack with the tanks they didn't have. So I agree, they had no other viable choice. So they retreated not because of your theory; they retreated because they lacked any offensive capability to change the situation. Their actions don't support your theory.

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.
I have already made the argument. The road you keep discussing was covered by «Maletti». The Italians lacked the number and types of forces to cover everything. They knew it and their positioning reflected that fact. Roads aren't that important when you have tracked vehicles and the entire area was 'good going'.

What I find contradictory in your statements is that you say «Cirene» exercised good judgement,
My position is that they both exercised good judgment.
yet you then condemn tham for using that good judgement?
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.

So which is it Wargames?

Beda Fomm happening in December, as that would have been the likely result if the 10ª Armata had bunched up to close all the gaps around Sidi el Barrani.

There are too many sound military reasons for what happened. I don't need a theory of intentional sacrifice of colonials to explain the events.

Occam's Razor.

Pista! Jeff
 
Last edited:

Wargames

New Member
Jeff:

My congratulations on your well thought out reply. I agree that Cirene is positioned to defend Buq Buq and not Maletti and which would put it on the front line even though it does not look that on the map, so my theory is contradicted there. Also, I agree there are two Blackshirt divisions in the rear (one couldn't reach the front after having been stripped of all transport.). The other was at least able to move, suggesting it should have been at Rabia instead of Cirene by my theory which is another fault. I also see where the British did not enter Rabia until December 11, allowing time for an orderly withdrawal for Cirene.

It appears you win. Again, my congratulations. Should I delete my post?
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames

It appears you win. Again, my congratulations.
This isn't a forum where individual participate to win. This is a forum where individuals discuss and learn from each other. Offering a point of view that can be discussed to find an historical truth is a win, regardless how the discussion ends.
I agree that Cirene is positioned to defend Buq Buq and not Maletti and which would put it on the front line even though it does not look that on the map, so my theory is contradicted there.
I am puzzled why you believe that «Cirene» e «Cantazano» are not on the front line. I have attached the map for Le prima operazione britannicia schizzo 13.
SidiBarraniMap.jpg

The green line is the Italian front line. Due to the open desert to the south, the Italian southern flank is echeloned back. It is the front line because the UK can advance and attack it without going through other friendly units.

The blue line is «Cirene» moved to cover «Maletti», closing the gap between the two. The UK can now move their attack further west and focus on initially destroying «Cirene». It is only a shift of 15 or so kms for the UK. Following that by attacking «Maletti», while the bulk of the 7th Armoured isolates «Cantazano» by moving to the west of it. This likely means that that neither «Cirene» or « Cantazano» will reach Bardia with any significant combat power (IBWs, less than what historically reached the fortress).

Pista! Jeff
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
DrG

My mistake: I was thinking about the Army divisions "Cirene" and "Catanzaro", which were raised mostly from Italian men living in Libya, who were also blackshirts (they were all members of the PNF) but fought as soldiers of the Regio Esercito, not of the MVSN.
You were partially correct. While the 142º regg. f. and some of the support units came from Italy, the 141º regg. f. was formed in Libya from former CC.NN. and local Italian settlers. The 141º is not listed as an Italian regiment in the USSME lineage books.

«Cirene» was rasied in A.S. in 1937 from units sent from Italy.

Pista! Jeff
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Franco

You are correct. When I looked for the regiment in L'esercito Italiano verso il 2000, volume secondo, tomo I, it wasn't listed in the list of infantry regiments. After reading your post, I dug into the books again and found it listed under 'Fanteria Meccanizzata e Corazzata' in volume primo, tomo I. I sometimes need to remember that the volumes are organized based on whenever the units are currently part of the EI. Units in the EI are listed together, the remaining units whose history stopped after 2GM are listed separately.

Pista! Jeff
 

Wargames

New Member
Wargames


This isn't a forum where individual participate to win. This is a forum where individuals discuss and learn from each other. Offering a point of view that can be discussed to find an historical truth is a win, regardless how the discussion ends.

I am puzzled why you believe that «Cirene» e «Cantazano» are not on the front line. I have attached the map for Le prima operazione britannicia schizzo 13.
View attachment 922
The green line is the Italian front line. Due to the open desert to the south, the Italian southern flank is echeloned back. It is the front line because the UK can advance and attack it without going through other friendly units.

The blue line is «Cirene» moved to cover «Maletti», closing the gap between the two. The UK can now move their attack further west and focus on initially destroying «Cirene». It is only a shift of 15 or so kms for the UK. Following that by attacking «Maletti», while the bulk of the 7th Armoured isolates «Cantazano» by moving to the west of it. This likely means that that neither «Cirene» or « Cantazano» will reach Bardia with any significant combat power (IBWs, less than what historically reached the fortress).

Pista! Jeff

I regard your map as inaccurate as well as your statement that "Cirene moved to cover Maletti" when Cirene did no such thing. They would have met the 7th R.T.R if they did. Your own map shows two British formations that passed right through the blue circle with neither British attack encountering Cirene for the simple reason it was never there. Cirene was in full reverse, leaving the Rabia sector without firing a shot.

No map of any accuracy includes a continuous front between Cirene and Maletti. We all all know there was a 19 mile gap between them that Cirene, at all times, made zero effort to cover. It never moved to where you show it in the blue circle either. It was never closer to the British attack than Rabia, it's starting position. Likewise, Marmarica was never a part of a defensive line with Cirene. Your green line has more holes than Swiss cheese.

I don't understand your reply. I have conceded defeat and now you are claiming Catanzaro was on the front line? At Buqbuq? You can't get anymore to the rear than Catanzaro. And Marmarica was linked to Cirene?

If you're trying to give me an easy win, don't bother. I don't need one. I raised my argument simply because no one else did when the Italian defense was laid out such that not a single regular army division defended Sidi Baranni and the only nearby regular army division was neither linked up with Maletti nor ever attempted to do so. This, in spite of the fact that Maletti's own patrols demonstrated the British had found the road behind him and without any Italian division moving to fill the gap in spite of two regular army divisions being available to do so (Cirene and Catanzaro). Three regular divisions if you count Marmarica. It seemed worthy of debate but you handled it very well.

Unless you think I'm wrong, I would suggest the means to continue our debate is in how the Cirene/Maletti gap should have been covered. As you previously noted:

The road you keep discussing was covered by «Maletti». The Italians lacked the number and types of forces to cover everything. They knew it and their positioning reflected that fact. Roads aren't that important when you have tracked vehicles and the entire area was 'good going'.

This, again, is incorrect. Malettit did not cover the road. It covered the SW flank of 2nd Libyan (And only just barely if at all.). The road passed behind Maletti, the very reason he faced his tanks west. You are also incorrect that the roads were unnecessary because the "entire area was 'good going'." To reach the southern flank of the Italians the British had to go up the 400 meter (600 foot) escarpment which, without roads, nothing could go up including your tracked vehicles. Covering such roads was critical to the defense.

So which is it Wargames?

Beda Fomm happening in December, as that would have been the likely result if the 10ª Armata had bunched up to close all the gaps around Sidi el Barrani.

This is a problem and which is why I say Cirene used "good judgment" and withdrew. A serious defense of Sidi Baranni invites an even earlier Beda Fomm.

So was Italian incompetence in the defense actually an act of good luck for them?
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames

I don't understand your reply. I have conceded defeat and now you are claiming Catanzaro was on the front line?
Sorry, that was my error. «Cirene» and «Marmarcia» are on the front line, not «Cantanzano». I should have caught that error.

I regard your map as inaccurate as well as your statement that "Cirene moved to cover Maletti" when Cirene did no such thing.
Read my sentence again.
The blue line is «Cirene» moved to cover «Maletti», closing the gap between the two.
That entire paragraph was discussing your point that «Cirene» should have been positioned closer to «Maletti». It is not discussing what historically happened, it was addressing your hypothetical.

Unless you think I'm wrong, I would suggest the means to continue our debate is in how the Cirene/Maletti gap should have been covered.
Which is what my paragraph discussed. The bottomline line it that against a mobile enemy with armor, the Italians could not cover the gaps without fatally bunching up into an easier target to be surrounded and destroyed.
You are also incorrect that the roads were unnecessary because the "entire area was 'good going'." To reach the southern flank of the Italians the British had to go up the 400 meter (600 foot) escarpment which, without roads, nothing could go up including your tracked vehicles. Covering such roads was critical to the defense.
And yet the UK units moved through this terrain and drove north. Moving «Maletti» to cover one road only opens another road to UK movement. It was the destruction of «Maletti» that allowed the UK free use of the road.

Where would you position the Italian forces to cover all the roads? I marked on the map that if you move «Cirene» further east, you only open the roads where «Cirene» historically was placed. Who covers those roads? If «Maletti» needs to move north to better cover 2ª d.f. Libica, what replaces «Maletti»? if you spread the Italian divisions across great distances (each division covers more ground), you have created many small defensive positions that are easier to defeat.

So what is your better option?

There wasn't any better defensive deployment for the 10ª Armata when it was 60kms in Egypt. The army lacked mobility, it lack armor, and it lacked radios; all necessary for operations in the desert. Because it lacked all of these things, it had to cover the open desert flank from Sidi el Barrani all the way back to Egypt. Hence the positioning of «Marmarcia» and « Cirene».

The Italians could not set up a defensive line like the UK did at Gazala (straight north-south) as they lacked the two powerful armored divisions to cover the open flank. Even with their greater force, the Bir Harkim Box was isolated from the main defensive and didn't have anyone 'covering its flank'. Its 'flank' was covered by dense minefields. It was placed so far south to force the Axis to make a longer march to get around the open flank, a move that would consume more time and fuel. Time gave the UK the ability to reposition the armored divisions to meet the threat if the Axis attack around the southern flank. The divisions were also positioned to counterattack any penetration of the line of boxes.

The 10ª Armata couldn't do this.

Imagine if «Maletti» could hold out as long as the Free French did at Bir Harkim and how that would have changed Compass?

Closing a gap in one place only opens a gap in another. The Italian defense required:
- The defensive 'boxes' (using the UK term as that is what the Italians were attempting to do) needed to be 360º and able to hold for at least several days without relief.
- A strong, mobile counterattack force able to defeat any penetration.
- Early warning through aggressive patrolling using mobile, armored forces (armor cars), something the Italians also lacked.
So was Italian incompetence in the defense actually an act of good luck for them?
One can make that argument. The fact that Nibiewa fell so quickly trigger the rapid Italian retreat. Image if they had stayed in place for a day or two?

The real decisive point in the campaign was the Italian inability to hold Bardia. They had the forces, they had the defenses, and yet they quickly lost the fortress. Hold Bardia and Compass is over. The loss of Bardia took out all the main Italian forces left to the 10ª Armata. Not enough troops to hold Tobruk.

Pista! Jeff
 

Wargames

New Member
There wasn't any better defensive deployment for the 10ª Armata when it was 60kms in Egypt. The army lacked mobility, it lack armor, and it lacked radios; all necessary for operations in the desert. Because it lacked all of these things, it had to cover the open desert flank from Sidi el Barrani all the way back to Egypt. Hence the positioning of «Marmarcia» and « Cirene».

By this description you have also placed Marmarica on the front line. You have also described the Marmarica/Cirene section of the line as "covering the open desert flank... all the way back to Egypt" which, if true, explains 2nd Blackshirt at Sollom. If 2nd B.S. defends Sollom and Marmarica defends Halfaya Pass, then we are seeing a defense designed to prevent the British from trapping the Italian army in Egypt (as would happen if the British bypassed Sidi Baranni and attacked Sollom and Halfaya Pass.). Opinion?

Oddly, Maletti Group does not come under the Libyan corps command (4th Blackshirt does) but under XXI Corps of Cirene and Catanzaro. Marmarica and 2nd blackshirt form the XXIII Corps with 1st Blackshirt in Bardia. It seems the only purpose of the command structure was to make all corps number three divisions and not in how they're defending.

Where would you position the Italian forces to cover all the roads? I marked on the map that if you move «Cirene» further east, you only open the roads where «Cirene» historically was placed. Who covers those roads?

I would have assigned Marmarica to the Bir Enba gap between Maletti and Cirene. Marmarica could have been replaced by 2nd Blackshirt in defending the road to Buqbuq (I consider defending Sollom as too far for the British to go.). I observed something like this wasn't done in my original post. General Graziani and Maletti both had to know this road was uncovered and Maletti knew the British knew it. The gap was known and deliberately left uncovered. It wasn't even mined and Maletti ordered the patrols on it ended.

The effect of not doing this is two fold. First, Maletti becomes another Bir Hacheim. He's the southern tip of the line for the British 7th Armor to go around. Second, the Italian Army is composed of two unconnected defensive lines. There is the Libyan line of three defensive camps running southeast from Maktilla on the coast to Nibeiwa. There is a second line that runs from Sollom with 2nd Blackshirt to Sidi Omar, defended by Marmarica, to Sofafis/Rabia held by Cirene (Again, there is a gap between Marmarica and Cirene but this not a problem due to no road to Buqbuq here.). This second defensive line has no connection at all to supporting Maletti but, instead, with blocking the roads to Buqbuq which, in turn, was defended by Catanzaro to protect the Army water supply and to act as a reserve to both Marmarica and Cirene.

If I have this correct, the regular army divisions of Marmarica, Cirene and Catanzaro are all defending Buqbuq while all the Libyans and 4th Blackshirt are defending Sidi Baranni. Opinion?

Thus, the Italians deliberately left open the Bir Enba road which provided the British not only the means to get behind the Libyans and the 4th B.S. but also with unobstructed cross country travel by tracked vehicles to Buqbuq, thereby bypassing Cirene and Marmarica completely. Opinion?

Once the British offensive began, both Cirene and Catanzaro withdrew from Egypt with Marmarica at Sidi Omar covering their withdrawal but with Catanzaro taking a severe beating with too far to go. Opinion?


Imagine if «Maletti» could hold out as long as the Free French did at Bir Harkim and how that would have changed Compass?

I believe this was the intention. It would explain the presence of M11/39 tanks with Maletti and why they faced west (To engage 7th Armor in their rear.).

Closing a gap in one place only opens a gap in another. The Italian defense required:
- The defensive 'boxes' (using the UK term as that is what the Italians were attempting to do) needed to be 360º and able to hold for at least several days without relief.
- A strong, mobile counterattack force able to defeat any penetration.
- Early warning through aggressive patrolling using mobile, armored forces (armor cars), something the Italians also lacked.

- If the defensive camps/boxes are to hold out "for several days without relief" then their possible surrender had to be considered by the Italians when they would be surrounded and their only reserve was 4th Blackshirt. Opinion?

- The "strong, mobile counterattack force" should be Maletti's tanks but they are incorrectly positioned inside Nibeiwa in that, while they are at where the British attack in their rear will take place, they will be immediately surrounded and lost (Maletti, though experienced with motorized formations, was not an armored division commander and so placed his infantry tanks with his infantry.). They should not be at Nibiewa but east of it or perhaps north at Sidi Baranni itself. Opinion?

- "Early warning through aggressive patrolling" was ordered by Maletti but canceled after November 20.
 
Last edited:

Wargames

New Member
The real decisive point in the campaign was the Italian inability to hold Bardia. They had the forces, they had the defenses, and yet they quickly lost the fortress. Hold Bardia and Compass is over. The loss of Bardia took out all the main Italian forces left to the 10ª Armata. Not enough troops to hold Tobruk.
I would like a separate discussion with you of the defense of Bardia. Should we start a new topic for that?
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames
If 2nd B.S. defends Sollom and Marmarica defends Halfaya Pass, then we are seeing a defense designed to prevent the British from trapping the Italian army in Egypt (as would happen if the British bypassed Sidi Baranni and attacked Sollom and Halfaya Pass.). Opinion?
Basically yes.
I would have assigned Marmarica to the Bir Enba gap between Maletti and Cirene. Marmarica could have been replaced by 2nd Blackshirt in defending the road to Buqbuq
Okay. One issue we haven't touched upon is the ability to supply these units. I believe part of the issue is that Italians were unable to supply more than what they already had forward in Egypt.
(I consider defending Sollom as too far for the British to go.)
At this time in the war, I agree that the British were unlikely to risk going that far.
It wasn't even mined and Maletti ordered the patrols on it ended.
A minefield that isn't covered by fire is useless. An unprotected minefield at most would cause less than a hour delay, if that.
The effect of not doing this is two fold....
The forces can't support each other as they lack a mobile offensive capability. If «Maletti» and Cirene» were only 10kms apart, what could «Cirene» do to help «Maletti» when the latter is attacked. Besides artillery support (which at 10kms would stretch the range of most of the Italian guns), the bulk of the metropolitan division could only watch the destruction of the group. Infantry can't attack across open ground against a mobile armored force.

Given the depth of the Italian penetration into Egypt, Italy would need several more infantry divisions to even attempt to make a solid defense without gaps. Logistics alone would like prevent that from happening.
If I have this correct, the regular army divisions of Marmarica, Cirene and Catanzaro are all defending Buqbuq while all the Libyans and 4th Blackshirt are defending Sidi Baranni. Opinion?
I see one defensive scheme. It is a layered defense.
Thus, the Italians deliberately left open the Bir Enba road which provided the British not only the means to get behind the Libyans and the 4th B.S. but also with unobstructed cross country travel by tracked vehicles to Buqbuq, thereby bypassing Cirene and Marmarica completely. Opinion?
Graziani didn't want to advance. He was ordered to do so. All the decisions that followed are from that poisoned well. If you can't cover everything, something must be left uncovered. So yes, deliberate because something wasn't going to be covered.
Once the British offensive began, both Cirene and Catanzaro withdrew from Egypt with Marmarica at Sidi Omar covering their withdrawal but with Catanzaro taking a severe beating with too far to go. Opinion?
No opinion, that is what happened. Graziani order the two divisions to retreat the evening of 10 Dec.
- If the defensive camps/boxes are to hold out "for several days without relief" then their possible surrender had to be considered by the Italians when they would be surrounded and their only reserve was 4th Blackshirt. Opinion?

- The "strong, mobile counterattack force" should be Maletti's tanks but they are incorrectly positioned inside Nibeiwa in that, while they are at where the British attack in their rear will take place, they will be immediately surrounded and lost (Maletti, though experienced with motorized formations, was not an armored division commander and so placed his infantry tanks with his infantry.). They should not be at Nibiewa but east of it or perhaps north at Sidi Baranni itself. Opinion?
These must be considered together. If only one, then it doesn't work. The camps need to hold out to give time for the mobile armored counterattack to succeed.

As I previously stated, «Maletti» should have been the mobile reserve and not in the front line.

Pista! Jeff
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
I would like a separate discussion with you of the defense of Bardia. Should we start a new topic for that?
If you wish. Yes, a separate thread.
 

Wargames

New Member
If 2nd B.S. defends Sollom and Marmarica defends Halfaya Pass, then we are seeing a defense designed to prevent the British from trapping the Italian army in Egypt (as would happen if the British bypassed Sidi Baranni and attacked Sollom and Halfaya Pass.). Opinion?
Basically yes.

This goes back to my original post. If we agree the defense is designed to avoid being trapped in Egypt and the reserve for the three Libyan "boxes" is 4th Blackshirt at Sidi Baranni and with the "boxes" themselves otherwise to survive on their own as "islands" with Maletti the equivalent of Bir Hacheim (with no mobile reserve), then it makes sense the Bir Enba road is not covered and the British allowed to go up it as far as Maletti. The Italians expect this attack and expect to be surrounded. Hence, the reason for the "boxes".

The decision to cancel patrols on Bir Enba or mine it (even if the delay is only for an hour), is a deliberate Italian concession and not one made out of stupidity. It is why Catanzaro is at Buqbuq. The British can bypass Cirene, head cross country to Buqbuq and take the Italian's water well.

Although Catanzaro is positioned to act as a reserve for Marmarica and Cirene both, and even under the same corps command to do so, it is a long ways (25 miles) to reinforce either one (as well as 25 miles from Sidi Baranni. On foot, that's a two day march (By comparison, 4th Blackshirt was one day's march from reinforcing any of the three Libyan boxes.). For Catanzaro to act as a reserve from this distance, it needs trucks (*). While Catanzaro can act as a reserve for both Marmarica and Cirene (or even 4th Blackshirt), it also defends Buqbuq directly via the Bir Enba road.

* Maybe someone has the number of trucks the Italian divisions then had? The British claimed 1,000 trucks captured which is only 200 trucks per division and not enough to motorize anything but a few small battalions.

My original argument was 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. You have disproven this argument as it applies to the Blackshirts but not to the Libyans. The Libyans are left in isolated island positions with only 4th Blackshirt to provide support. No one else is coming to their rescue.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Italian Army (except Catanzaro) was positioned to prevent itself from being trapped in Egypt so that it might escape back to Libya. And this is exactly what it did. I see no plans in the defense (outside of 4th Blackshirt and possibly Catanzaro) of rescuing the Libyans but rather use them to cover the planned retreat. If so, the Libyans are the "sacrificial lambs". In my view, no Italian army division was volunteering to defend the Bir Enba road between Cirene and Maletti even though 2nd Blackshirt and 64th Catanzaro were available to do so. that road led north-south and not west back to Libya. Any division there (and there were no more Libyan divisions to put here) was not likely to get back to Libya but become yet another "first day" casualty at worst or a thirty day surrender within a "box" at best.

Of course, the Libyans are not the only sacrificial lambs. 4th Blackshirt and Catanzaro will soon find themselves cut off from retreat as well.
 
Last edited:

Wargames

New Member
I would have assigned Marmarica to the Bir Enba gap between Maletti and Cirene. Marmarica could have been replaced by 2nd Blackshirt in defending the road to Buqbuq
Okay. One issue we haven't touched upon is the ability to supply these units. I believe part of the issue is that Italians were unable to supply more than what they already had forward in Egypt.

Correct. The Italians were limited by their number of trucks of what could be sent from Tripoli to reach Tenth Army. By my calculations, Italy could supply seven semi-motorized divisions in Tenth Army (I did not include the trucks landed in September for this calculation.). That's enough to supply Cirene, Catanzaro, and Marmarica with enough left over for at least five (maybe six) Libyan and Blackshirt divisions of which there are six. So - yes - Italian supply is maxed out. I made this calculation based on the supply line ending at Sidi Baranni (Technically, another 15 miles as well which would include two of the three Libyan camps but not Maletti.).

Including Maletti and another division southeast of it could be accomplished by early October by building a supply dump at Sidi Barrani which these camp "boxes" would draw upon. Whether or not the Italians built a supply dump at Sidi Baranni is unknown to me but I assumed one was as it was the only way to reach Mersa Matruh.

Whether the trucks landed in September effect my calculation depends upon how they were used. Likely they were added to the Sidi Barrani supply run to ease the truck shortage or to replace trucks in maintenance.

Given that some semi-mototized divisions had their trucks returned by December 1940, it would seem the supply situation was solved by then.

It wasn't even mined and Maletti ordered the patrols on it ended.
A minefield that isn't covered by fire is useless. An unprotected minefield at most would cause less than a hour delay, if that.

The Bir Enba road went up the escarpment. Mining it's narrow points would cause any vehicle hit on the road to block the way for those behind, creating delays. The British must use sappers the whole way up or accept the delays. Even just three mines on that road would cause a one hour delay.
Then there is the fact that Maletti Group could have covered the mined road closer to their south for several thousand yards with artillery against sappers. My understanding is the box was mined but not the road, allowing the British to simply go up the road until reaching the west side of the box, then use the Italians own tire tracks to attack the camp while avoiding the mines.

(I consider defending Sollom as too far for the British to go.)
At this time in the war, I agree that the British were unlikely to risk going that far.

Which, by 2nd BS in Sollom, tells us the Italians were considering a "worst case" scenario of the 10th Army being cut off in Egypt, a scenario requiring the British have a nearly unlimited fuel range.

The forces can't support each other as they lack a mobile offensive capability. If «Maletti» and Cirene» were only 10kms apart, what could «Cirene» do to help «Maletti» when the latter is attacked. Besides artillery support (which at 10kms would stretch the range of most of the Italian guns), the bulk of the metropolitan division could only watch the destruction of the group. Infantry can't attack across open ground against a mobile armored force.

Cirene would be at least 10km from Maletti and so they would not be mutually supporting just as you say. However, Cirene would not be positioned here to create a continuous line, only to cover the Bir Enba road from its top, the same as Cirene was doing at Sofafis and Rabia and the reason the Marmarica and Cirene weren't linked as there was no road between them for the British to use to go up the escarpment. Without a road up to the top, the British can't get up there. If they can't up there, they can't get between Cirene and Maletti.

Although I may be wrong because I believe there was another road up the escarpment some miles east of Bir Enba and near where the British built their refueling station. When I look at Operation Compass maps, they don't actually show the British using the Bir Enba road but possibly this road (to attack Nibeiwa first with artillery from the southeast). It might be that 10th Indian took this first road and 7th Armored took Bir Enba.

And that would change everything.

These must be considered together. If only one, then it doesn't work. The camps need to hold out to give time for the mobile armored counterattack to succeed.
But the mobile armored counterattack does not exist in order to succeed, leaving the Libyans in a position of possible surrender but even inevitable surrender.

As I previously stated, «Maletti» should have been the mobile reserve and not in the front line.

It reasons the ideal location for Maletti's motorized force is Buq Buq as it can equally support Sidi Baranni and both Cirene and Marmarica, all at an equal distance of 25 miles (40 km). It also defends Buq Buq from direct attack via the Bir Enbi road. This position may have even been considered as Maletti comes under the corps command of Cirene, Marmarica and Catanzaro, suggesting it was originally intended for Buq Buq and Catanzaro somewhere else (most like Bir Enba in order to cover the north/south escarpment roads the same as Marmarica and Cirene.).

Now I have no evidence for the following but neither do I have evidence against it. Suppose Maletti at Buq Buq was the original plan? It could reach anywhere it was needed in one day (or less) including acting as a counter attacking force against the British in the Libyans rear. Is this not exactly as it should be?
But then suppose Cirene, Marmarica and Catanzaro objected to having Maletti's command as their mobile reserve? The arguments against Maletti Group would be numerous. Maletti's Libyans did not speak Italian, could not read maps or use a compass, got lost out in the desert and had to be found by search planes, used reserve Italian officers that were too few (no regiment or brigadier officers), incompetent (Colonel D’Avanzo) or applying for transfers to safer positions (Maletti's own complaint), lacked machineguns and mortars, and likely only knew how to fire their artillery pieces by line of sight as GAF artillery exists in their ranks. Finally, they produced only 65 British casualties in taking Sidi Baranni to 500 of their own. They already have a poor record.

Given this argument, the decision might have been made to place Catanzaro at Buq Buq instead, with the addition of a battalion of L3 tanks. As to what to do with Maletti?

Let them join the other Libyans.


Given the depth of the Italian penetration into Egypt, Italy would need several more infantry divisions to even attempt to make a solid defense without gaps. Logistics alone would like prevent that from happening.

We both agree 2nd Blackshirt at Sollom is an unnecessary "gap" to cover. So it could have been moved to Bir Enba. No division is necessary to cover between Marmarica and Cirene due to the escarpment. The gap between Cirene and Maletti would now no longer exist, the very existence of which was the basis for the British attack.

Where I see the problem is any division on the Sidi Barani to Bir Enba line (including my just moved 2nd Libyan) has no chance of getting back to Libya given a successful British attack. The chances of the Libyans not surrendering are exactly equal to the chances of the 4th Blackshirt driving the British back to Mersa Matruh.

I see where no Italian troops are on that line with the Libyans. Yet I also see it as "good judgment". Grazziani can tell Mussolini he defended Sidi Baranni while defending Bardia with Italian troops. If one wanted to develop a plan of defense for Bardia using four Italian divisions, the defense of Sidi Baranni accomplished it. Any attempt at plugging that gap will result in at least one less division defending Bardia.
 
Last edited:

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
At this point, there isn't much more I can offer. We are speculating on why decisions were made without access to primary sources that might provide insight to the whys.

I feel there are sound military reasons for the dispositions of the Italian forces invading Egypt. Does that exclude your theory? No, it doesn't. It does, however, provide a rational reasoning into the why without seeking an outlier i.e. offering up sacrificial units for no military gain. That reason requires a complete different line of thinking. That thinking needs to be established in primary documents. Until then, it is speculation. Without finding a some primary sources that provide the logic behind the decisions, we can discuss all day and never reach a conclusion.

Plausable? Possibly. Probability needs to be established.
 

Wargames

New Member
The original question was why did Graziani choose to motorize a Libyan division over an SA40 division. For which the following information was added:

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

If this is correct, enough trucks (600) existed to motorize one AS40 division. The most likely initial reason for motorizing a Libyan formation instead was that none of the AS40 division generals had experience with motorized troops. Hence, General Maletti was brought in who did have such experience (Having commanded a "flying column in Ethiopia under Graziani.). The AS40 divisions already all having generals, he was given the Maletti Group. This situation still existed on 13 September 1940 when Maletti led his motorized column into Egypt against Sidi Baranni where his Libyans first got lost and then accomplished very little (if anything) against Sidi Baranni with British losses being 65 for 500 Libyans. This was a poor showing and it was already realized that Maletti had inferior Italian reserve officers (I used Colonel D’Avanzo as the example) who were requesting transfers to "safer" positions (Maletti's own words) in the rear with a provided citation.

By December, the Maletti Group had lost two-thirds of its M11/39 tanks and was no longer a mobile force at all but dug into a box similar to Bir Hacheim and surrounded by mines, Except for a few M11/39 tanks it was no different than 1st and 2nd Libyan and might just as well be called the 3rd Libyan. It was certainly not a mobile reserve. It suggests the thinking of July-September of using the Libyans as a motorized formation had been rethought. Instead, all the Libyan formations are positioned closest to the British and protecting Sidi Baranni using defensive islands surrounded by mines with the clear expectation the British would be in their rear. They even knew how the British would get there (via Bir Enba).

The only divisions selected to be so surrounded by the British were the Libyans (Perhaps because they thought the Libyans better suited to the climate when so surrounded?). There is nothing on the map indicating the Italian forces planned to relieve any of the three Libyan boxes other than by 4th Blackshirt and perhaps 64th. Otherwise, the Libyans were "on their own". Yet their sacrifice played a very important part in allowing the bulk of the Italian Army to withdraw. That the Italian Army planned to withdraw is indicated by positioning 2nd Blackshirt at Sollom versus Bir Enba where it was needed to close the gap. All of which indicates the Libyan troops were expendable and is consistent with Maletti now being used as static infantry. I claim this is exactly the defense you would employ in order to evacuate 10th Army out of Egypt behind a Libyan rear guard. As otherwise, it makes no sense and was viewed at the time as a serious mistake by the British and by virtually the entire world since then who can only puzzle over a 19 mile gap in the Italian line.

Any other general who engineered such a defense would have been replaced.

At this point, there isn't much more I can offer. We are speculating on why decisions were made without access to primary sources that might provide insight to the whys.

I remind you that the original question required speculation on your part and yet you answered anyway.

But - yes - my position that after September the Italians had decided the Libyans unworthy of motorization but worthy of being left behind is speculation though speculation clearly supported by a map and the arrival of four purely Italian divisions in Bardia and the fact that no more Libyan divisions were ever raised again.

So end of discussion as I also have nothing else to add. I look forward to hearing your views on the defense of Bardia. Please feel free to start one. Maybe others will join?
 
Last edited:
Top