1941

Ciano and Ribbentrop

Ciano and Ribbentrop

 

EVENTS OF 1941

compiled by David Aldea

decimaflottigliamascommandos@gmail.com

 

Fred Vanderschmidt, US correspondent in London, writing about the Italian fighting spirit during Operation Crusader:

“In all fairness it must be said that the Italians are fighting bravely and well in Cirenaica. The British on the scene acknowledge that they have defended themselves with skill and valor, perhaps better so than the Gemans, and against superior force …  The Italians are having their chance to go down fighting and they are proudly taking it.” (Source: Italians Making Last Dying Stand On Sands Of Desert, Gettysburg Times, 29 November 1941)

MEDITERRANEAN

7 January – Italian Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Clio’ sinks Free French submarine ‘Narval’ off the coast of Tobruk, Libya. (“The Narval was sunk on 7th January 1941 by the Italian torpedo-boat Clio, 20 miles north-west of Tobruk.”  (Source: The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean: Vol.II: November 1940-December 1941, David Brown, p. 18, Routledge, 2013 ) 

10 January – Savoia-Marchetti torpedo-bombers from 279a Squadriglia lure away the Fulmar fighters protecting HMS ‘Illustrious’. (“While Italian SM 79 torpedo bombers approaching low lured away her defending Fairey Fulmar fighters …”  Stukas Over The Mediterranean, 1940-45, Peter C. Smith, p. 20, Frontline Books, 1999 )   The British aircraft-carrier comes under repeated Italian attacks, suffering severe structural damage from near-misses and about 30 killed when the aft lift is hit and badly damaged by a heavy bomb delivered by Italian Stukas from  96° Gruppo led by Captain Ercolano Ercolani.(Source: http://www.aereimilitari.org/forum/topic/13401-danneggiamento-della-portaerei-britannica-illustrious/  Danneggiamento della portaerei britannica ILLUSTRIOUS). With the lift and steering mechanism badly damaged, the carrier limps back to Malta. (“In the afternoon, Ju.87s from the 237 Squadriglia scored a direct hit on the aircraft carrier and forced her to leave the formation and head towards Malta for shelter and repairs.” (Source: http://worldatwar.net/chandelle/v3/v3n3/articles/stuka.html Italian Stukas, 1940-42)

According to British Vice Admiral Sir Wilbraham Ford the Stuka attacks with heavy bombs were mainly Italian:

“H.M.S. ILLUSTRIOUS was attacked at 1240 by about 25 dive bombers, by high level bombers at 1330 and again by 15 dive bombers at 1610 and by torpedo aircraft at 1920 and received six bomb hits and several near misses from heavy bombs estimated about one thousand pounds. Five bombers were JU. 87 with German markings … Steering gear was put out of action and ship brought into Malta steering by engines.” (Source: The Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War, Ben Jones, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2012). The Italian success allows the safe arrival of the Afrika Korps.

10 January – Italian destroyert ‘Vega’ is sunk off Pantelleria by British light cruiser HMS ‘Bonaventure’. (Source: http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-06CL-Bonaventure1.htm  SERVICE HISTORIES of ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS in WORLD WAR 2)

 

ALBANIA

13 January – Greek troops capture Tepelene. The commander of the Italian Army in Albania is replaced.

20 January – Italians capture over 1,000 Greeks of the 77th Infantry Regiment. (“The Italian counterattack west of Rahowitze dispersed the 77th Greek Infantry Regiment with over one thousand men captured.”   World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 179)

 

 

EAST AFRICA

17 January – Italian East African forces withdraw to new positions from Agorbat to Barentu to Celga. This new defensive line provided better defence against armoured attack.

18 January – Heavy artillery exchanges take place at Gallabat.

19 January – Indian troops capture Kassala.

21 January – Ground fighting takes place at Uccai and Tessenei, both near Kassala.

 

OPERATION COMPASS

3 January – Australians attack and capture Bardia taking some 25,000 prisoners. (Source:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19410106&id=Ju4nAAAAIBAJ&sjid=p2kDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4473,5225826&hl=en.  Bardia Falls to British, 25,000 Fascists Captured, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 January 1941) The report filed by the British journalist Jan Yindrich for the Australian Associated Press on 5 January was headlined SMASH WAY THROUGH MODERN HINDENBURG LINE: FEW CASUALTIES IN CAPTURING 25,000 PRISONERS (Source: The Longest Siege: Tobruk, The Battle That Saved North Africa by Robert Lyman, Pan Australia, 2009, p.59)

According to Australian reports at the time, many of the prisoners were weak from hunger and thirst, and still they fought:

“The impact of insufficient food and drink on the Italian defenders at Bardia was soon quite clear to the Australians … many were dying and weak with hunger and thirst … They went down on their knees and drank up puddles of water … Warrant Officer R. Donovan, 2/21 Field Regiment was haunted by mass cries for ‘aqua, aqua,’ … Some died of exhaustion and thirst.”‘ (Source: Bardia: Myth, Reality and the Heirs of Anzac, Craig Stockings, UNSW Press, 2009, p.319 )

Despite the lack of food and water, an Italian battalion nearly overruns part of an Australian battalion, but this counterattack is repelled by the 2/6th Battalion. According to an Australian war correspondent, the Italian military battlefield surgeons and medics were dedicated professionals and would soon win the admiration of the attackers. An Australian soldier claimed that one of the bravest men at Bardia proved to be an Italian combat medic:

“We were so surprised when we first saw him, and before we realised … we ceased fire. Followed by two stretcher-bearers, he walked calmly to where two of our men were lying wounded. He brought both men through our line, and attended to them, and then walked back and picked up two wounded Italians. I talked to him in French when he was with us. He said there was a brotherhood among doctors.” (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1301&dat=19410113&id=BedjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BZUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7263,1261865&hl=en  “Tales from Bardia”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 January 1941)

15 January – The Minister for the Australian Army, Percy Spender explains that the Battle of Bardia had been hard and that Allied firepower had proved decisive:

“Bardia was reduced because of brilliant staff work, by perfect coordination and understanding between the services, by amazingly accurate intelligence as to the Italian defences, by able leadership, by the weight of terrific naval bombardment, by the incessant attacks of the air arm in which Australian pilots participated, by the surprise qualities of the attack itself, by the efficiency of the British mechanized forces, and by the dash, daring, and great bravery of Australian troops.” (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1301&dat=19410116&id=COdjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BZUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2807,1636143&hl=en  AUSTRALIANS AT BARDIA, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 January 1941)

The Australians later inflated the number of prisoners to nearly double the real number, with books in recent years making the exaggerated claim that 45,000 Italians were captured at Bardia.

22 January – After a two-day battle, the Australians capture Tobruk. Approximately 15,000 prisoners are taken. (“Early next morning, January 22nd, the Australian commander received the surrender of Tobruk in due form and the fighting had come to an end everywhere. Four generals and an admiral, with their staffs, over 15,000 prisoners, 200 guns, and quantities of other material of war, were among the trophies of a victory which had cost us less than five hundred casualties … .” The Army from January 1941 to March 1942, p. 18, Eric William Sheppard, Hutchinson & Company, Limited, 1943) (“On the other side were ranged 15,000 Italian prisoners, including a number of high-ranking officers, and immense quantities of war materials” (Source: Prelude to Battle: New Zealanders in the First Libyan Campaign, p. 22, Army Board, 1942)

Italian units defending Tobruk had repelled the Free French Marines attack, forcing the British to come to their rescue. (“On January 21, as the Australians assaulted the city itself, the French marines were given the task of taking out five blockhouses in the south-east sector, all protected by minefields and wire. The marines attacked with their usual vigor, but were driven back … A second effort, aided by the 25-pounders of the British and with Bofors 40 mm antiaircraft guns used in direct fire, succeeded” (Source: Tricolor Over the Sahara: The Desert Battles of the Free French, 1940-1942, Edward L. Bimberg, p. 97, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002 )

During the fighting, Italian infantry and tanks had again counterattacked, overrunning part of an Australian battalion. British tanks came to the rescue of the Australians. (“The Italians counter-attacked with infantry and tanks just as the 2/8 was reorganizing. Private Neall, using his boys anti-tank rifle, managed to knock out three tanks in quick succession … Nevertheless the Italians continued their attack until two Matilda tanks made an appearance” (Source: The Western Desert Campaign, 1940-41, Glenn Wahlert, Big Sky Publishing, 2009).

The Australians later doubled the real number of Italians captured during the battle and mopping-up operations, with Australain authors in recent years making the exaggerated claim that 30,000 Italians were captured in the Tobruk fighting.

24 January – The first tank battle takes place at Mechili. The ‘Brigata Corazzata Speciale’ (Special Armoured Brigade or BCS) destroys 7 British tanks and forces the remainder of the armoured column. They then successfully disengage from a British counterattack (Source: http://www.reocities.com/Pentagon/quarters/1975/g_itawna.htm The Italian Tanks in WWII ).

25 January – The Australian 2/11th Battalion attacks the ‘Sabratha’ Division and BCS Bersaglieri units defending Derna airfield and t nearby ridge but make slow progress in the face of determined resistance. Italian bombers and fighters intervene and bomb and strafe the Australian battalion. (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1301&dat=19410201&id=FudjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BZUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7277,3450456&hl=en  “Fight for Airfield”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1941)

27 January – The Australian 2/4th Battalion barely manages to survive strong Italian counterattacks from the ‘Sabratha’ in the Wadi Derna area . (“At one point the 2/4th Battalion was pinned down and almost overrun by a force of about 1000 enemy infantry. It was only the timely arrival of the Northumberland Fusiliers that checked the Italian attack” (Source: The Western Desert Campaign, 1940-41, Glenn Wahlert, Big Sky Publishing, 2009)

27 January – The BCS ambushes a column of armored vehicles of the Australian 6th Cavalry Regiment.

The Italians lose a good part of the ‘Sabratha’ and BCS but the Italian soldiers are reported to have fought very well:

“Jan. 30.—The third major Italian bastion to fall in Libya—Derna, 175 miles west of the Egyptian frontier—was occupied today by British imperial troops after four days of the bitterest resistance offered by the Fascists in the whole of the African campaign. The town had been defended by less than 10,000 Italians, British sources disclosed, but they fought with a violence encountered nowhere else in General Sir Archibald P. Wavell’s long continued thrust to the west.” (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19410131&id=utZaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dmkDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2787,6394016&hl=en  “British Take Derna After Fierce Fight”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 31 January 1941)

 

EAST AFRICA 

29 January – The Italians hold out at Agordat and Barentu. (“In East Africa, British units continued at Agordat and Barentu. The Italian East African Army continued to hold out in those areas.” (Source: World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 180, Lulu Press, 2012)

30 January – Italian forces contain the British attack on Barentu, Gallabat and Metemma.” (“In East Africa, Italian East African forces stopped the British attack on Barentu. Heavy artillery fire continued at Agordat. The Italian line was holding from Gallabat to Metemma.”  World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 180, Lulu Press, 2012)

31 January – The Italian Army falls back to the Keren Plateau. ( “In East Africa, after three days of heavy fighting, the Italian army withdrew to the Keren Plateau.”  World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 180, Lulu Press, 2012)

 

 NORTH AFRICA

5 February – British encircle and capture part of the retreating Italian 10th Army at Beda Fomm. The 10th Bersaglieri Regiment counterattack and one point nearly overruns the British infantry HQs. (“…the Italians mounted a series of fierce night attacks against the 2nd Rifle Brigade’s positions at Sidi Saleh. Although the first attack penetrated the Rifle Brigade’s defences the onslaught was held, the combination of mines anti-tank fire and the 25-pounders of the RHA proving too strong even for the gallant Bersaglieri. The attacks continued, accompanied by heavy Italian shellfire, on the morning of 7 February, and once again the Rifle Brigade positions were penetrated. this time by M13 tanks, one of which was only halted outside battalion headquarters” (Source: The Longest Siege: Tobruk, The Battle That Saved North Africa, Robert Lyman, p. 73, Pan Australia, 2009).

 

 ITALY

9 February – British naval forces bombard Genoa, Livorno and Pisa.

 

ALBANIA

13 February – General Papagos, the Commander-in-Chief of the Greek army, opens a new offensive with British air support, but the Greek divisions encounter stiff resistance, stalling the offensive that practically destroys the Cretan 5th Division. (“General Papagos, Commander-in-Chief of the Greek army, opened an offensive against Tepelenë with the objective of driving on to seize the port of Vlorë … However, the Greeks failed to capture Tepelenë, for the attack found the Italians determined to die rather than yield any further ground … The Greek attack was repulsed, and their Cretan division, which traditionally possessed great fighting spirit, was literally mown down. Although the R.A.F. gave close ground support to the Greek formations in the attack, they had little success….” (Source: Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume II: Albania in Occupation and War, 1939-45, Owen Pearson, p. 122, I.B.Tauris, 2006)

 

EAST AFRICA

13 February – The Italians counterattack the British that had captured Elgena. (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2194&dat=19410213&id=hBwvAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0tsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1663,2181598&hl=en “Italian Attack In Eritrea Repulsed”, Ottawa Citizen, 13 February 1941)

19 February – South African troops capture Jumbo after heavy fighting. (“Two crossings were made in quick succession: on the night of 17th/18th February by the South Africans at Yonte, and on the 19th by the Gold Coast Brigade at Mabungo, about twenty-five miles north of Gelib. Crossing the river at Yonte, the South African Brigade captured Jumbo and turned north against Gelib” (Source: The King’s African Rifles, Volume 2, Lieutenant-Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett, p. 511, Andrews UK Limited, 2012)

25 February – The 11th King’s African Rifles capture Mogadishu.

 

NORTH AFRICA

February – By mid February, the British have taken a total of 110,000 Italian (including Askari POWs), 845 guns and destroyed or captured 380 light and medium Italian tanks. (“By 6 February 1941, when the Italian Tenth Army surrendered … the Western Desert Force (renamed XIII Corps on 1 January 1941 and augmented by an Australian division) had captured Tobruk, Benghazi and Beda Fomm, had covered 700 miles, taken 110,000 prisoners including twenty-two generals and an admiral, and captured 845 artillery pieces, 380 tanks and huge numbers of soft-skinned vehicles” (Source: The Second World War: A Military History, Gordon Corrigan, p.128, Atlantic Books Ltd, 2010).

The British had also managed to destroy or capture 700 Italian aircraft of all types during Operation Compass. (“The Regia Aeronautica had also suffered heavy losses during Compass, with nearly 700 aircraft being destroyed in total.” Spitfire V vs C.202 Folgore: Malta 1942, Donald Nijboer, p. 38, Atlantic Books Ltd, 2010)

The British, on the other hand have lost through combat and wear and tear, 80% of their vehicles and most of their tanks. Australian, British, Indian and French infantry losses amounted to 2,000 well-trained troops, with 1 in 10 troops that engaged the Italians killed or wounded in the ground fighting. At the end of Operation Compass, the British Commonwealth Forces were in an exhausted state. (“At the end of the operation, however, the British forces were in an exhausted condition.” British Army Communications in the Second World War: Lifting the Fog of Battle, Simon Godfrey, p. 98, A&C Black, 2013) (“By the end of February 1941, the British were at the end of their tether logistically, and speculation that O’Connor could have waltzed into Tripolitania is at best idle. His own chief of staff advised against it, as his supply lines were stretched to the limit, his troops exhausted, and his equipment so reduced that he was forced to use Italian armour.” The American Experience in World War II, Walter L. Hixson,  p. 247,  Taylor & Francis, 2003)

With HMS ‘Illustrious’ out of action, General Erwin Rommel arrives safely in Tripoli with the Deutsches Afrikakorps (Afrika Korps or DAK) and receives much assistance from the Regia Aeronautica that wins back control of the skies. (“The Royal Air Force had sent the best squadrons in the Middle East to support the operations in Greece, leaving the bombers and fighters of the Regia Aeronautica a free hand to harass the retreating British mercilessly.” Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel, Daniel Allen Butler, p. 210, Casemate, 2015)

 

GREECE

19 February – No. 33 RAF Squadron sent to Eleusis to help the Greeks fighting in Albania. By the end of February, all three RAF fighter squadrons in Greece were re-equipping with Hurricanes.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

25 February – The RM cruiser ‘Armando Diaz’ is sunk off Tripoli by the British submarine ‘Upright’.

 

OPERATION ABSTENTION

25-28 February – Italians defeat 500 British commandos attempting to seize Kastellorizo Island off Turkey (“So right at dawn on February 25, 1941 some 500 British commandos were put ashore here, apparently preparatory to an attack on Rhodes. The islands resisted and called for help. The Regia Aeronautica immediately began bombing the British positions. That afternoon, four destroyer types left Rhodes with 240 Italian reinforcements aboard … On the 27th the Italians succeeded in landing the remainder of their troops. The next morning the surviving British commandos gave up.” (Naval Warfare in the Aegean, 1941-1946, Charles W. Koburger, p. 32, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999)

 

MALTA

8 March – 152,000 pounds of Axis aerial bombs fall on Malta. ( “A prelude to the bin-national attempt  began auspiciously enough on 8 March 1941 when a flying armada of CANTs, Cicognad, Sparvieros, and Junkers medium-bombers blasted Malta as it had never been hit before, winning it the luckless sobriquet, “the most bombed real estate on earth”. The Axis Air Forces: Flying in Support of the German Luftwaffe: Flying in Support of the German Luftwaffe, Frank Joseph, p. 105, ABC-CLIO, 2011)

 

PRIMAVERA OFFENSIVE

9-20 March – With fresh reinforcements, and much artillery, Marshall Ugo Cavallero goes on the offensive. The Greek center was the objective of the hardest attacks, and it barely manages to hold on. (” Mussolini was still in Albania on the 9th when his great March offensive was set in motion by General Cavallero. The ensuing struggle was bitter, bloody, and often hand to hand.” Greece in World War II, to April 1941, John G. Bitzes, p. 129, Sunflower University Press, 1989) (“Greek casualties amounted to 1,200 dead and 4,000 wounded, Italian to 12,000 dead and wounded. Greece: The Legacy: Essays on the History of Greece, Ancient, Byzantine, and Modern, John T. A. Koumoulides, p. 120, University Press of Maryland, 1998) (“On 9 March Cavallero’s offensive got under way; the Italian troops advanced slowly and suffered bloody losses. The ground they gained initially was immediately retaken by Greek counter-attacks. The battle was fiercely fought at close quarters with bayonet and hand grenade.” Perilous Commitments: The Battle for Greece and Crete 1940-1941, Matthew Willingham, p. 38, Spellmount, 2005) (“The battered 1st Division, which had shattered the Spring Offensive against its immovable wall, was sent for a rest in the reserves.” The Defence and Fall of Greece 1940-1941, John Carr, p. 160, Pen and Sword, 2013)

GREECE

7 March – The leading element of the British 1st Armoured Brigade lands at Piraeus, the port of Athens.

15 March – The first battalions of the New Zealand 2nd Division begin arriving to take over the Aliakmon defence lines. The British already have eight RAF squadrons in Greece helping the Greeks against the Italians.

 

BATTLE OF KEREN

16 March – A British amphibious force from Aden captures Berbera in British Somaliland.

17 March –  General Orlando Lorenzini, commander of the Italian 2nd Colonial Brigade, is killed during the Battle of Keren.

20 March –  Italians put up a tough fight at Babile Gap and Bisidimo. “At each of these locations the Italains managed to hold up the enemy for a couple of days.”  (Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 57, Lulu Press, 2010)

27 March – The British capture Keren. The Italian East African forces (Italian and Ascari troops) had lost 3,000 men killed and 4,500 wounded in the seven-week battle. (“Riprende la battaglia a Keren a metà marzo e, nonostante la strenua difesa, le divisioni di Platt forzano la stretta, conquistano il 1° aprile 1*Asmara e 1*8 aprile Massaua. Le perdite italiane a Keren sono elevatissime (3000 morti, compreso un generale, e 4500 feriti ” Storia Delle Forze Armate in Italia, Lucio Ceva, p. 296, UTET libreria, 1999) (” It had been a hard and sanguine fight in which Italian casualties were close to 10,000; the casualties suffered by the two Indian Divisions were 500 officers and over 3,000 men killed or wounded.”  The Indian Armour: History of the Indian Armoured Corps, 1941-1971, Gurcharn Singh Sandhu, Vision Books, 1987, p.106)

 

NORTH AFRICA

21 March – The Australians capture the Italian garrison at Giarabub, after a siege lasting more than 15 weeks. The wounded Italian commander, Major Salvatore Castagna wins the Medaglia d’Oro al Valore Militare (Gold Medal of Military Valour ), Italy’s  highest military honor. The Italians suffered about 250 casualties, while the Australians suffered 17 killed and 77 wounded.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

14 March – RAF aircraft from Paramythia, Greece sink Italian hospital ship ‘Po’ off Valona, Albania. One of the survivors aboard the ship was nurse Edda Mussolini, the Duce’s eldest daughter.

17 March – Italian destroyer escort ‘Andromeda’ is sunk off Albania by British bombers.

 

CRETE

26 March – While at anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, the heavy cruiser HMS ‘York’ is badly damaged by Decima Flottiglia MAS naval commandos carried in by the RM destroyers ‘Francesco Crispi’ and ‘Quintino Sella’. The British cruiser is later completely wrecked by demolition charges when Crete was evacuated in May

 

BATTLE OF CAPE MATAPAN

27-29 March – The pressure to disrupt British supply lines in Eastern Mediterranean resulted in Admiral Angelo Iachino to set sail towards east of Crete with the flag ship ‘Vittorio Veneto’, 4 escort destroyers, the heavy cruisers ‘Trieste’, ‘Trento’, and ‘Bolzano’. East of Sicily, they were joined by 3 heavy cruisers, ‘Zara’, ‘Pola’, and ‘Fiume’ along with 2 light cruisers from Brindisi. They were promised full aerial support by the Luftwaffe which the Germans fail to deliver and the Italians were soon spotted by reconnaissance aircraft. The British using intercepted Enigma messages, dispatch the battleships ‘Warspite’,  ‘Barham’ and ‘Valiant’, the aircraft-carrier ‘Formidable’ and escorting destroyers to the same heading as the Italian force.

The battleships keep at a safe distance, but Swordfish torpedo dive-bombers begin bombing Iachino’s fleet once in range. The  battleship ‘Vittorio Veneto’ is hit by torpedoes, but remains operational. The cruiser ‘Pola’ is hit and immobilized by a Swordfish and left behind as the Italian squadron turns about. Admiral Iachino orders 2 heavy cruisers, ‘Zara’ and Fiume’  with escorting destroyers to pick up survivors. On 29 March, the heavy cruisers and escorting destroyers, along with the ‘Pola’, are sunk as the British lay waiting. As the Royal Navy tried saving the survivors on the 29th, the Luftwaffe belatedly appears and the British are forced to abandon the rescue operation. An Italian hospital ship is then dispatched to the scene to pick up other survivors. The Luftwaffe had greatly failed the Regia Marina, but the Italian Navy still took on British naval aircraft.and radar-equipped warships.

 

GREECE

21 March – Thirty Regia Aeronautica fighters put out of action several British aircraft parked at Paramythia. (“But in the meantime the Italians had finally discovered Paramythia, now visible through the melting snow. On 22 March thirty Macchi MC200s hurtled down on the parked RAF Wellingtons, destroying them all plus a Gladiator”. The Defence and Fall of Greece 1940-1941, John Carr, p. 169, Pen and Sword, 2013)

2 April – The first battalions of the Australian 9th Division disembark at Piraeus.

4 April – Italian Stukas sink the Greek destroyer ‘Proussa’ in Dafnila Bay. (“At about 1720 six 239a Squadriglia aircraft sunk the RHN destroyer Proussa in Dafnila Bay.” Air War Over Greece and Albania 1940-1941, Alexis Mehtidis, p. 67, Ravi Rikhye)

 

ALBANIA 

10 April – Italians troops capture Mount Lepre in Albania. ( “In Albania, Italian troops took Mount Lepre, northeast of Postumia.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 375)

10 April –  Italians force Greeks to retreat near Circhina. ( “Greek troops were pushed back to the Greek border at Circhina, west of Udine.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 375)

10 April –  Greek attack on Shkumbin is derailed. ( “Another Greek Army attack on Shkumbin, Albania was halted.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 375)

 

MEDITERRANEAN

28 March – The Generali-class destroyer ‘Antonio Chinotto’ sinks after hitting a mine near Sicily.

31 March – British cruiser HMS ‘Bonaventure’ is sunk off Crete by the RM submarine ‘Ambra’.

 

EAST AFRICA

1 April – Italians in Asmara surrender to the British. In total, the British forces to take 40,000 prisoners of war and destroy 6 Italian divisions in 3 months. (“Asmara falls to Platt on 1 April after the Italians abandon it.” Archibald Wavell, Jon Diamond, p. 29, Osprey Publishing, 2012) Italian destroyer ‘Leone’ runs aground off Eritrea and is scuttled by its crew to prevent it from being captured by the British.(“One destroyer, the “Leone,” hit an uncharted rock that afternoon, punctured its hull, and began flooding. After fires started the Leone was abandoned.” World War II in Colonial Africa: The Death Knell of Colonialism, Richard E. Osborne, Riebel-Roque Pub., 2001, p.189)

12 April – Italians defeat two British attacks on Giarso and Alghe. (“In East Africa, Italian troops fought off two British attacks on Giarso and Alghe.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 376, Lulu Press, 2010)

 

ROMMEL’S FIRST DESERT OFFENSIVE 

31 March – British General Sir Philip Neame writes a damning report concerning the Australian 9th Division defending Benghazi, warning their that penchant for alcohol and women could whitewash the British Commonwealth gains during Operation Compass.  (‘Gen Neame wrote a scathing letter on 30 March 1941 to Gen Morshead regarding discipline and control within the 9th Div, citing incidents of drunkenness, theft, disobedience, stealing, shooting, pilfering supplies and rustling which had occurred on a large scale ever since the Australians arrived at Barce. Expressing his contempt for such soldiers who lacked discipline, sobriety and obedience to orders, Neame closed Benghazi and Barce to most of the troops and requested Morshead to do all in his power to enforce military law and expectation. Focusing on the Australian officers, he blamed them for the apparent lawlessness as they ‘seldom do enforce discipline or orders and more often endeavour to condone or whitewash the offence’. He considered that they were incapable of commanding their men and concluded: ‘Your Division will never be a useful instrument of war unless and until you can enforce discipline’. In fact Neame argued, such men who behaved in this manner were helping the enemy.” Tobruk’s Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth’s Date with Rommel’s Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith, p. 18, Boolarong Press, 2011) (“These incidents include the murder of Italian women in Benghazi (the murder scene being photographed by Germans during the advance), photographs of a looted ossuary (reputedly by New Zealand troops), and general reports of destruction, rape, and some reports of murder.” Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene, Alessandro Massignani, p. 133, Da Capo Press, 2007)

 

1 April – The ‘Ariete’ Division enters El Agheila unopposed. (“The Italian ARIETE Division moved into El Agheila and captured thirty trucks.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 373) The failure of the British 2nd Armoured Division to defend the town, encourages Rommel to continue his advance. (“The seeming ease with which the 5th Light had captured El Agheila encouraged Rommel to press deeper into Cyrenaica …” Operation Barbarossa: The Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis, Nigel Askey, Lulu Press, 2013, p.434)

3 April – Italian motorcycle-equipped spearheads from the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Sabratha’ Divisions enter Benghazi without opposition from the Australians. They are informed of cases of torture, rape, and murder of Italian women. (“These incidents include the murder of Italian women in Benghazi (the murder scene being photographed by Germans during the advance), photographs of a looted ossuary (reputedly by New Zealand troops), and general reports of destruction, rape, and some reports of murder.” Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene, Alessandro Massignani, Da Capo Press, 2007, p.133)

 

4 April – With sixty Italian tanks near Jebel el Akdar, the British Commonwealth Forces start withdrawing and Italian civilians and soldiers welcome the arrival of the German 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Benghazi with wine bottles. (“Rommel decided to make a bid for all of Cyrenaica in a single stroke, although the only support for his Germans was two weak Italian divisions. He ordered a double envelopment, sending the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion straight along the Via Balbia toward Benghazi, while directing the 5th Panzer Regiment and the Italian Ariete Armored Division (sixty tanks) across the chord of the Cyrenaican bulge to El Mechili, just south of the “Green Mountain” of Jebel el Akdar. If the panzers continued northward, they could block the British retreat along the coast. The effect was instantaneous; the British hurriedly evacuated Benghazi and fell back in confusion.” How Great Generals Win, Bevin Alexander, W. W. Norton & Company, 2002 , p.248)

7 April – Derna is captured along with 1,000 British Commonwealth soldiers. (http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Remembering-WWII/ROMMEL-TO-THE-RESCUE)

 

7 April – The ‘Brescia’ Division captures Tmimi, after its evacuation by the 9th AIF Division. (http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Remembering-WWII/ROMMEL-TO-THE-RESCUE ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE) Finding their escape route packed with retreating Australians, British Generals Richard O’Connor and Philip Neame are forced to make a detour and are captured in their staff car. (“What happened was the Australians were now in front of us, and they’d started to withdraw. Dick O’Connor and Philip Neame and their staff went off together in a car to go back to Tmimi … We started along the road along the top of the jebel, but it was blocked by the Australian withdrawal … So instead of going back along the top road I decided to go down the coast road. On the way we were fired at by a German fighting patrol, but we managed to get through and we managed a clear run to Tmimi, where we found a small group our people there already under fire from a German reconnaissance group …. It was then that I was told that my two generals hadn’t arrived. We were preparing to send out a reconnaissance group to search for them when we got a report from the air cooperation squadron that one of their aircraft had seen British troops being taken prisoner near Martuga, which was on the top of the jebel. It seemed clear that O’Connor and Neame were with them … ” Desert Rats, John Parker, p. ?, Hachette, 2013)

 

8 April – The 8th Bersaglieri Regiment, in Rommel’s first big victory in North Africa, surround and capture 3,000 British, Indian and Australian defenders at Mechili.  (“The victory must have been especially sweet for the men of the Ariete Division, partly as recompense for past humiliations at British hands, and partly because it was an all-Italian triumph; Generalmajor Streich, Oberstleutnan Dr. Olbrich and Panzer Regiment 5 arrived too late to take part in the action and Gambier-Parry actually surrendered to Colonna Montemurro.” (Tobruk: The Great Siege, 1941–42, William F. Buckingham, p. ?, Random House, 2010)

 

German reinforcements catch up with the Bersaglieri spearhead at Mechili and capture 800 Australians retreating along the coastal road. (“On April 8, von Prittwitz cut off and captured one of the Australian rearguards (800 men), but he was unable to prevent Morshead from retiring into the fortress.” The Rise of the Wehrmacht: Vol. 1, Samuel. W. Mitcham, p. 433, ABC-CLIO, 2008)

 

RED SEA

 

3 April  – Italian destroyers ‘Daniel Manin’ and ‘Nazario Sauro’ are sunk off Eritrea by British bombers. The destroyers ‘Pantera’, ‘Tigre’ and ‘Cesare Battisti’ are scuttled near Massaua.

 

4 April – Italian destroyer ‘Giovanni Acerbi’ is sunk near Massaua by British bombers.

 

ALBANIA

 

6 April – The Yugoslav 3rd Army launches ‘R-41’, an offensive aimed at expelling the Italian Army in Albania. (“On 6 April the Yugoslav Third Army went on the offensive against Italian units located along the Yugoslav-Albanian border. It was the enemy’s intention to capture Scutari and roll up the left flank of Italian forces engaged against the Greeks, but General Ugo Cavallero foresaw this move … the Zetska Division advanced along the shore of Lake Scutari, toward the city of Scutari until 8 April, then paused until it was reinforced by the Herzegovacke Division on 11 April. But they got no closer than nine miles (15km) from the city, for the Centauro Armoured Division and the Guide Cavalry Regiment blocked the road down which they were advancing.” (Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 67, Lulu Press, 2010)

 

14 April – Yugoslav ‘human wave’ attacks in Albania are reported to have been beaten back by Italian counterattacks along the 420-mile front. “For 48 hours the Serbs have been moving in wave upon wave through rain and snow against Scutari, on the southern shore of a lake of the same name, only to be mowed down by Fascist machine-gunners and scattered by Italian airmen, war front advices said. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1917&dat=19410415&id=JHtGAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_ucMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1084,5315859&hl=en Serb Attacks Beaten Off By Italians, Schenectady Gazette, 15 April 1941)

 

15 April – Italian 9th Army captures Koritza practically forcing the British Commonwealth Forces to abandon the defence of Greece. (“Their courage, like that of the defenders of the Metaxas line, was to no avail; as so often happens to troops occupying a static position in mobile warfare, the battle was being decided elsewhere … List now detached SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ from the main axis of advance of XXXXth corps and sent it forward in the direction of Koritsa. Far from counter-attacking, however, the demoralized Greeks gave way and thus allowed the Italians to occupy the town without resistance on 15 April. With 9th armoured division crossing the upper Aliakhmon and reaching Servia on the next day, the British forces on the Olympus found themselves surrounded on both flanks. following a decision made by Wilson three days earlier they now started falling back across Thessaly to Thermopylae, leaving in their wake 20,000 Greek troops who, being less well endowed with motor vehicles, failed to escape in time and were captured by the Germans.” Martin van Crevald, Hitler’s Strategy 1940-1941: The Balkan Clue, p. 162, Cambridge University Press, 1973)

 

18 April – Italian 11th Army breaks through Greek lines and captures Klisura.

 

20 April – The Regia Aeronautica destroys hundreds of trucks packed with troops and equipment as the Greeks sought to escape across Perati Bridge. The 4th Bersaglieri Regiment overruns a Greek division and smash their way through the Greek Evzones rearguards with the use of flamethrowers . Many Greeks are burned alive in their bunkers. A war correspondent with the Italian spearheads reports that “Two regiments of the Evzones were wiped out almost to a man”, and that “a single Greek battalion had 500 dead.” (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19410424&id=ZE9QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=TQ0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6373,5433130&hl=en FIGHTING ENDS UNDER TERMS OF ARMISTICE, The Milwaukee Sentinel, 24 April, 1941)

 

21 April – General Georgios Tsolakogloou, commander of the Greek forces in Albania, enters into surrender negotiations with the Italian 9th Army Headquarters:

 

“The news came that at 9 p.m. Lieutenant-General George Tsolakoglou, the other commander in the Epirus and Macedonia, sent plenipotentiaries to General Carlo Geloso, commanding the Italian Eleventh Army, to seek acceptance of surrender. General Tsolakoglou capitulated on behalf of the commanders of all the Greek armies on the Albanian front, but without the sanction of the Greek government.” (Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume II: Albania in Occupation and War, 1939-45, Owen Pearson, p. 146, I.B. Tauris, 2006)

 

Anxious to avoid dealing with the Italians, the General Tsolakoglou had the previous day offered to surrender the whole Greek Army to SS General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich. To his dismay, the Germans turn their backs on the Greeks and Ioannina and the Port of Kalamatas in southern Greece come under attack from Luftwaffe bombers. The Regia Aeronautica mercilessly bombs Ioannina and Arta, forcing the Greek generals to admit defeat to General Alberto Ferrero, Chief of Staff of the Italian Army in Albania. (“The Italian air force, now unrestrained and unstoppable, bombarded Ioannina in blind fury. The capital of Epirus blazed. Two bombs fell on the operating theatre of the 1st Military Hospital, killing a great number of people. Arta was also hit.” “The” Greek Epic: 1940-1941, Ángelos Terzákis, p. 176, Army General Staff, 7th Staff Office, 1990)

 

22 April – The Commanding Officer of the 139th Infantry Regiment (‘Bari’ Division), Lieutenant-Colonel Achille Lauro is gravely wounded and posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour, for his outstanding leadership in the Battle of Ponte Perati.

 

23 April – Hostilties on the Albanian front are finally declared at an end at 14.45  local time with the Italian high command reporting that:

 

“The enemy Army of the Epirus and Macedonia has laid down its arms. The capitulation was made at 9.45 last night by a Greek military delegations to the command of the Italian Eleventh Army on the Epirus front.” ( Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume II: Albania in Occupation and War, 1939-45, Owen Pearson, p. 147, I.B. Tauris, 2006)

 

YUGOSLAVIA

 

6 April – Italian bombers defeat Yugoslav Navy attack on the Italian enclave at Zara, while Italian San Marco Marines disembark and practically capture the entire Yugoslav Navy. (“One destroyer, 4 small torpedo boats, and 10 MTBs of the Yugoslav navy deployed to assist in an attack on the Italian enclave at Zara, but Italian bombers soon put them to flight. The Italians improvised several battalion-sized (and many smaller) landings in the Dalmatian islands. Italy captured nearly the entire Yugoslav navy. Only four ships escaped this fate; one destroyer was blown up in harbor, while 1 submarine and 2 MTBs were able to join the Allies …”  World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Spencer Tucker, ABC-CLIO, 2011)

 

7 April – Italian Air Force wins control of the skies in southern Yugoslavia. (“The German and Italian air attacks on the airfields essentially wiped out the Yugoslavian Air Force. Italian air attacks on Spalato, Cattaro and Mostar cause a lot of damage.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 374, Lulu Press Inc, 2012)

 

11 April – The Italian Second Army attacks Delnice in western Croatia, capturing 30,000 Yugoslav soldiers. San Marco Marines capture Croatia’s largest island, Krk. (“On 11 April, 30,000 Yugoslav Army soldiers surrendered to the Regio Esercito at Delnice. On the same day, Italian Marines make an amphibious landing on the Croat island of Krk.” Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 67, Lulu Press, 2010)

 

12 April – Italian Army captures Zara and Bencovae. ( “In northern Yugoslavia, Italian motorised units advanced via Sagna south along the Adriatic coast reaching Zara and occupied Bencovae.” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 376, Lulu Press Inc, 2012)

 

13 April – The Italians capture Koplik. ( “In Western Yugoslavia, the Italian Army reached Koplik, north of Skutari and advanced via Okrida. ” World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 376, Lulu Press Inc, 2012)

 

RED SEA

 

8 April – The last Italian warship in East African waters, the Giuseppe Sirtori-class destroyer ‘Vincenzo Giordano Orsini’, is scuttled by its crew prior to the British entering the harbor.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

 

15 April – Italian destroyers ‘Baleno’ and ‘Luca Tarigo’ and five merchant ships are sunk off Tunisia, but manage to sink the destoyer HMS ‘Mohawk’.

 

YUGOSLAVIA

 

17 April – Yugoslavia surrenders to Axis forces.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

 

21 April – British naval forces bomb Tripoli.

 

24 April – The Rosolino Pilo-class destroyer RM ‘Simone Schiaffino’ sinks after hitting a mine off Tunisia.

 

NORTH AFRICA

 

17 April – The ‘Trento’ Division launches a courageous but futile attack against Tobruk. Despite the failure of Rommel to issue clear orders and a German Panzer unit failing to show up, the Italians press forward but are soon forced to stop and dispersed because of heavy artillery fire. (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19410421&id=2T8uAAAAIBAJ&sjid=aNgFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6237,1497666&hl=en Italian Troops In Africa Complain Germans Give Them The Runaround, The Miami News, 21 April 1941) The Australians reported at the time that “The Italians attacked our 48 Bn and whilst withdrawing they (the Italians) were fired upon by German tanks believed to be supporting the attack.” ( 2/43rd Battalion War Diary) The Australians send out Bren-Gun carriers to outflank and capture the Italians caught in the crossfire. This extra firepower finally breaks the will of the Italians, and all firing ceases. Italian casualties turn out to be 24 dead, 112 wounded and 436 prisoners, including their commanding officer. The Italian colonel was so furious at having his unit shot up from behind by supporting German tanks that he fully cooperated with Tobruk Headquarters. (Tobruk 1941: Capture-Siege-Relief, Chester Wilmot, p.564, Angus and Robertson Ltd, 1944)

 

25 April – German Chief-of-Staff General Franz Halder sends General Friedrich von Paulus to North Africa to “correct matters which had got out of hand.” (“If I go to North Africa, I must have command authority. Brauchitsch has reservations, and mentions difficulties with the Italian High Command. I know this is only a pretext, but perhaps it would be preferable to sent Generalleutant Paulus. He is on friendly terms with Rommel, from former times and may be in a position to use his personal influence to put an end to the initiatives of this lunatic.” Field Marshal Von Manstein, Marcel Stein, Gwyneth Fairbank, pp. 124-125, Helion & Company Limited, 2007)

 

GREECE

 

30 April – The Italian 2nd Paratroop Battalion from the ‘Folgore’ Division drops in on Zante, Cephalonia and San Mauro, capturing the Greek islands and 250 Greek troops. That same day, a Blackshirt unit captures Corfu and a Greek battalion that had regrouped in the local woods. (http://www.avalanchepress.com/FolgoreAtAlamein.php  Folgore at Alamein)  (“A Greek battalion which made a last-ditch stand against the Italians in the woods on the island of Corfu  was reported by Stefani, Italian news agency, to have been overwhelmed yesterday by a Blackshirt landing force.”  (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19410501&id=gg5HAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MvgMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5210,2830605&hl=en  Italian Forces Seize Three Greek Islands, The Day, 1 May 1941)

 

BATTLE OF THE SALIENT

 

1 May – The ‘Ariete’ & ‘Brescia’ Divisions with the help of Bersaglieri, Guastatori and Fiat flamethrower tanks smash a large hole in the Australian defences, capturing 7 strongpoints ( R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7 and R8) outside Tobruk. . (“La sera del 29 il 1° plotone della 3a, agli ordini del Sototenente Ernesto Betti, andò in azione con un gruppo comandato dal Tenente dei Bersaglieri Melis. Questo reparto era costituito di un plotone Arditi dell’8° Bersaglieri e di 2 carri M13. Guastatori aprirono un varco nel campo minato protetto da filo spinato, antistante la Ridotto R3, I’assaltarono e la conquistarono utilizzando lanciafiamme e cariche cubiche … Un commento al Bollettino di Guerra, trasmesso alle 13:00 del 10 maggio, informava che reparti del Genio Guastatori avevano espugnato 5 fortini della cerchia di Tobruk.” (Genio Guastatori, Silvestri Angioni Lombardi , p. 47, Edizioni R.E.I., 2015)  (http://www.guastatori.it/i-guastatori-nel-2%C2%B0-conflitto-mondiale/xxxii-btg-g-gua/ GRUPPO NAZIONALE GUASTATORI DEL GENIO) (“The little Fiat-Ansaldos go up in front with flame-throwers in order to clean up the triangle. Long streaks of flame, thick smoke, filthy stink. We provide cover until 2345 hours, then retire through the gap.”  (Source: http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/firefly1002000/tobruk.html&date=2009-10-25+22:14:28 THE EARLY ATTEMPTS and SEIGE)

3 May – On the night of 3 May, the Italians defeat an Australian counterattack to recover the lost strongpoints. (“On 4 May, the positions held by 5 Battalion of 8 Bersaglieri under Major Gaggetti around Redoubts 6, 7 and 8 were counter-attacked by the Australians. The Italians responded with strong defensive fire and launched a counter-attack supported by three L3 light tanks. The latter were quickly destroyed at close quarters, and the Australians captured Redoubt 7. The Bersaglieri supported by one M13 tank and three armoured cars, and forced them back.” (Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood, 2012)

Australian morale is severely dented with at least 234 cases of self-inflicted wounds and shell-shock reported in the 9th AIF Division by the end of the month. (“More disturbing was the large number of self-inflicted wound (SIW) cases. During a single week in May the division reported thirty SIW cases…”  Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, p. 86, Cambridge University Press, 2011) (“In May 1941 a ‘war neurosis clinic’ of 70 beds was established in an underground concrete shelter in the city. Of the 204 admissions treated by Lt Colonel E.L. Cooper and Captain A.J.M Sinclair 61% were reported as serving with fighting units… ” (Source: Shell Shock to PTSD: Military Psychiatry from 1900 to the Gulf War, Edgar Jones, Simon Wessely,  Psychology Press, 2005, p.67)

 

MEDITERRANEAN

 

1 May – British submarine HMS ‘Usk’ is sunk off the coast of Sicily by Italian destroyers

 

3 May – Italian Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Canopo’ is sunk off Tripoli by British bombers.

 

4 May – Italian Giuseppe La Masa-class destroyer ‘La Farina’ sinks after hitting a mine.

 

EAST AFRICA

 

20 May – Generals Alan Cunningham and William Platt receive the surrender of Prince Umberto Amedeo, commander of the Italian armies, allowing the return of Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie. Italian resistance under General Guglielmo Nasi continues in the Gondar region.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

 

13 May – Italian Spica-Class destroyer escort ‘Pleiadi’ sinks British submarine ‘Undaunted’ off the coast of Tripoli, Libya.

 

OPERATION BREVITY

 

15 May – 8th Bersaglieri Regiment under Colonel Ugo Montemurro derails British offensive (Operation Brevity). German Colonel Maximilian von Herff  later praised the Bersaglieri anti-tank gunners and protecting riflemen, saying they defended Halfaya Pass “…with lionlike courage until the last man against stronger enemy forces. The greatest part of them died faithful to the flag.” (Italians’ Bravery Praised By Nazi Chief in Africa. New York Times, 5 August 1941) (“The Italian Bersaglieri did their part by blunting the enemy attack at the Halfaya Pass, putting out of action seven Matildas. This was an Italian first in inflicting serious damage to Britain’s much feared, if lumbering, heavy tanks.” (Source: Mussolini Warlord: Failed Dreams of Empire, 1940-1943, H. James Burgwyn, Enigma Books, 2013).

 

16 May – ‘Brescia’ infantry and Guastatori with flamethrowers attack the Australian 2/9th and 2/10th Battalions, forcing the Australians to abandon the S8, S9 and S10 strongpoints. (http://www.guastatori.it/i-guastatori-nel-2%C2%B0-conflitto-mondiale/xxxii-btg-g-gua/ GRUPPO NAZIONALE GUASTATORI DEL GENIO) (… il reparto tedesco penetrò profondamente nel campo minato ma fu scoperto e fatto segno di una forte resistenza nemica. Essendo venuto a mancare l’effetto sorpresa i Sturpioneer tedeschi subirono gravissime perdite. Riuscirono a conquistare la posizione ma non riuscivano a tenerla, causa i contrattacchi delgi Australiani. A questo punto il Maggiore Franceschini, di sua iniziativa, mando la 3a ad attacare sul fianco gli Australiani mentre la 4a si oppose frontalmente ai nemici.Cosi le due compagnie conquistarono la quota. I tedeschi, fortemente provati, ebbero oltre 100 caduti, si ritirarono lasciando i soli Guastatori a presidiare la quota. Il Maggiore Betz, informo il comando del comportamiento dei Guastatori, Qualche giorno piu tardi arrivo Rommel, per vistare il reparto, si fece dare 4 nomi e li premio con la Coce di ferro II classe: Ten. Mario Pazzaglia, Ten. Aroldo Anzani, Sten, Rolando De Angelis e Serg. Mario Venturi.” Genio Guastatori, Silvestri Angioni Lombardi , pp. 50-51, Edizioni R.E.I., 2015) (“Today we lost posts S8, S9 and S10, the occupants having been taken prisoners in the circumstances set out in the attached document. This is the second time that portion of our garrison has vanished. As far as can be ascertained the number of casualties was negligible, the posts having been just mopped up – rather a new experience for the AIF.” Australia in the War of 1939-1945, 4 volumes, Chapter 7: ‘Midsummer in the Fortress’, Australian War Memorial, 1952-1968, p.251)

 

24 May – The ‘Brescia’ Division defeats British Commonwealth infantry and tank attack from Tobruk. (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19410525&id=oVNQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HA4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6305,4280723&hl=en   BRITISH MOVE ALONG LIBYAN FRONT HALTED, The Milwaukee Sentinel, 25 May 1941)

 

MEDITERRANEAN SEA

 

20 May – Italian destroyer ‘Curtatone’ sinks after hitting a mine in the Aegean Sea, part of the Mediterranean.

 

GREECE

 

21 May – Italian destroyer ‘Carlo Mirabello’ sinks after hitting a mine off Greece.

 

BATTLE OF CRETE

19 May –To support the German invasion, eleven Italian submarines (‘Nereide’, ‘Tricheco’, ‘Uarsciek’, ‘Fisalia’, ‘Topazio’, ‘Adua’, ‘Dessie’, ‘Malachite’, ‘Squalo’, ‘Smeraldo’ ‘Sirena’, take up their assigned positions off Crete and the British Sollum and Alexandria bases in Egypt. (“To support the German attack on Crete, Italian submarine Nereide was positioned north of Crete, while submarines Tricheco, Uarsciek, Fisalia, Topazio, Adua, Dessie, Malachite, Squalo, Smeraldo and Sirena patrolled between Crete, Alexandria, Egypt and Sollum, Egypt.” (Source: World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, Lulu Press, 2012, p.505)

 

20 May – Regia Aeronautica aircraft bomb and straff British, Australian and Greek troops defending the Rethimnon-Heraklion sector. (“Together with Italian aircraft, Richthofen’s formations thus attacked targets in the middle and eastern sectors (primarily near Rethimnon and Heraklion), but, contrary to plan, the transport aircraft did not follow them immediately. As a result, the paratroops of the second wave were often dropped unprotected and, because of the large dust-clouds at the Greek airfields, with considerable delays.” Germany and the Second World War, Volume 3, Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Oxford University Press, 1995, p.546)

 

21 May – Italian bombers from 41 Gruppo on Rhodes sink HMS ‘Juno’. ( “A single Italian Kingfisher scored precision hits on the lead enemy destroyer, HMS Juno, which exploded and sank southeast of the Aegean island, allowing German naval forces to make their landngs unopposed at sea.” (Source: The Axis Air Forces: Flying in Support of the German Luftwaffe, Frank Joseph,  ABC-CLIO, 2011), p.33)

 

26 May – In the face of the fierce resistance, the German commanders request Mussolini to send Italian Army units to Crete to divert Allied forces. (“When the German attack around Galatas stalled and the attackers suffered high losses, on 26 May the Wehrmacht operation staff requested Mussolini to send army units to Crete and thus take some of the pressure off the German forces there. Mussolini immediately agreed, and two days later an Italian regiment, reinforced with armour and artillery, landed near Sitia in the eastern part of the island. By the end of the month these formations reached Ierapetra on the south coast without encountering significant resitance.” Germany and the Second World War, Volume 3, Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt,  Oxford University Press, 1995, p.549)

27 May – A brigade of the ‘Regina’ Division, protected by the RM destroyer ‘Crispi’ and the Spica-class destroyer-escorts ‘Lira’, ‘Lince’, and ‘Libra’, land unopposed at Sitia and link up with the Germans.

 

28 May – Italian bombers damage beyond repair the destroyer HMS ‘Imperial’. ( “Italian SM.84 bombers damaged the destroyer HMS Imperial (later scuttled) and damaged the cruiser HMS Ajax on 28 May.” Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, Lulu Press, 2013 , p.71)

 

29 May – The Allies are forced to scuttle the destroyer HMS ‘Hereward’ that had been seriously damaged by German aircraft, and abandoned when Italian motor torpedo boats approached to deliver the coup de grâce. (“On 29 May German aircraft badly damaged the cruisers Dido and Orion (causing 540 casualties among the thousand soldiers crowded aboard Orion) and crippled Hereward, which was likewise loaded with troops. She was later scuttled in the face of an attack by Italian MAS boats.” Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945, Vincent O’Hara, Naval Institute Press, 2009, pp.122-23)

 

Two senior Australian officers, Brigadier George Alan Vasey and Lieutenant-Colonel William Cremor would criticize New Zealand Gemeral Bernard Freyberg, commander of the Allied forces in Crete, for not properly defending Maleme airfield. (http://neoskosmos.com/news/en/Battle-of-Crete-Dr-Maria-Hill-Diggers-and-Greeks  Battle of Crete: Greece sacrificed much for the greater good ) Brigadier Hargest, commander of the 5th New Zealand Brigade, also blamed Freyberg for the loss of the airfield. (https://lawrencewattskiwiwarhistory.wordpress.com/tag/battle-of-crete/  The battle of Crete – who’s to blame for the loss?) British historian Saul David in his book Military Blunders: The How and Why of Military Failure ( Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc, 1998) has described the German invasion as a reckless gamble that paid off only because “of the ineptitude of the defenders, particularly the New Zealanders”.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

29 June – Italian Stukas from 239th Squadriglia sink the Australian destroyer HMAS ‘Waterhen’. (http://uncleted.jinak.cz/safrica8.htm Stukas, Spuds and Scrap Iron (29-Jun-41))

 

OPERATION BATTLEAXE

Mid-June Italian anti-tank gunners under Major Leopoldo Pardi help derail Operation Battleaxe. (“It was here the German 88’s and Italian 100/17mm’s under Major Pardi, combined with newly laid minefields, inflicted heavy losses on the British and helped retain the pass for the Axis.” (Source: Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Combined Books, 1994, p.72)

 

EASTERN FRONT

10 July – The 61,000 men of the Italian Expeditionary Corp in Russia (Corpo Spedizione Italiano in Russia  or CSIR) begin their long trek to the Eastern Front. General Francesco Zingales briefly commands the CSIR until General Giovanni Messe takes over on 17 July 1941.

 

MALTA

30 July – Generali-Class destroyer RM ‘Achille Papa’ sinks submarine HMS ‘Cachalot’ off Malta. (“She was rammed and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Generale Achille Papa on 30 July 1941.” (Source: Admiralty Ships lost between 1939 and 1946, p. 141, AnVi OpenSource Knowledge Trust)

 

NORTH AFRICA

July – Australian General Thomas Blamey, decides to cut his losses and evacuate Tobruk. (“From July, Blamey urged that the 9th Division be withdrawn from Tobruk, a request supported successively by the Menzies, Fadden and Curtin Governments. Auchinleck considered the relief would unnecessarily endanger naval ships and impede preparations for a desert offensive. The issue reached Cabinet level with Churchill supporting Auchinleck and Curtin supporting Blamey who was concerned the troops were becoming physically weak and run-down.” (Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20060920064321/http://www.ausvets.com.au/alamein.htm Veterans Support and Advocacy Service Australia Inc.) (“The historians say General Auchinleck, on the eve of a major battle, refused Canberra’s request to relieve the Australian 9th Division in Tobruk because they said the Australians’ health was suffering “to the point where it was not longer capable of resisting attack.”” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19640914&id=N0BVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1ZQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7058,2486754&hl=en  Australians at Tobruk; ‘General’s Clash With Government’, The Age, September 14, 1964)

 

“The 9th Division tried sixty-four soldiers between June and October 1941 … Patrols grew less popular and more dangerous as the siege went on … Soldiers became more reluctant to take risks, or even to go out on patrol at all. Lieutenant Samuel Cooper of the 2/12th Battalion ‘nearly had a mutiny on my hands’ when he had to order some recalcitrant soldiers to join a patrol … In a few cases, patrollers did not go so far as ordered or faked their reports … Corporal C.B. went on patrol in June and returned alone, having become separated from the rest of his patrol. He reported that he had gone more than 9000 yards into Axis lines and gave valuable information about enemy armour. The story was actually a complete fabrication.” (Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp.88-87)

 

On the night of 11/12 July, two Australian night-fighting-patrols from the 2/12th Battalion attack the forward elements of the ‘Pavia’ in the form of a reinforced rifle platoon, dug-in near El Adem Road. Under the cover of artillery fire, one patrol marched off into the night, but soon came under machine-gun fire and seeking cover suffered three casualties due to Italian booby-traps before being able to resume their advance and capture three and kill or wound a number of Italians, but at the cost of another three casualties. In the meantime, the other patrol managed to reach the other part of the Italian platoon at grid reference 40934185 with the help of artillery fire, killing or wounding (according to 2/12th Battalion’s war diary) “between 30 and 40” Italians and capturing two, but at the cost of seven more Australian casualties. During the action, Second Lieutenant Cesare Giacobbe, the Italian platoon commander from the 27th ‘Pavia’ Infantry Regiment, won posthumously the Gold Medal of Military Valour. Despite being wounded, the young officer personally fired an automatic rifle and employed hand grenades, helping cover the retreat of the remainder of his platoon, before being shot a second time and killed. (L’Italia In Africa: Le Medaglie D’Oro D’Africa (1887-1945), Massimo Adolfo Vitale,  Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, 1961, p.158)

 

ITALY

7 August – Captain Bruno Mussolini, commander of the 274a Squadriglia, dies while in a training flight on a P108 Bomber in Pisa. Mussolini never fully recovers from the loss of his son.

 

NORTH AFRICA

2 August – 7th Bersaglieri Regiment plays a direct rolet in defeating the 2/43rd and 2/28th Battalions in the final Australian attempt to recover their lost strongpoints.

28 August – The Australian 18th Brigade leaves Tobruk, with the remainder of the 9th AIF Division leaving in September and October.  (“On 28 August Tobruk was warned that the moon would soon be coming up and that all destroyer operations would end, for the time … On that date the last of the 18th Brigade was evacuated.”  Tobruk 1941: The Desert Siege, Timothy Hall, p. 211, Methuen Australia, 1984) (“… in August, one Australian brigade was evacuated by sea, with the rest leaving in September and October, 1941.” The Big Book of Australian History, Peter Macinnis, National Library of Australia, 2015, p.180)

 

EASTERN FRONT

26 August – During Mussolini’s visit to Ukraine to review his troops, General Messe informs Mussolini that morale was high, but some important shortages, especially in good quality anti-tank rounds, were apparent. (Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, Casemate Publishers, 2010, p.142)

 

GIBRALTAR

20 September – Decima Flottiglia MAS sinks 2 tankers ‘Fiona Shell’ and ‘Denby Dale’ and the freighter ‘Durham’. The Italian naval commandos successfully escape by swimming to Spanish shores.

27 September –  Italian Air Force cripples the British battleship HMS ‘Nelson’.

 

EASTERN FRONT

30 September – Italian troops overrun several units near Petrikovka, capturing 10,000 Russian troops. (” in late September 1941 they were even able to encircle some sizeable Red Army units near Petrikovka. The Italians took more than 10,000 prisoners of war.” The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, I.B.Tauris, 2014, p.73)

20 October – The 20th Bersaglieri Battalion forces the Russian the 383rd Rifle Division to abandon the Ukrainian steel manufacturing city of Stalino. (” The situations for the Soviets became very serious on the northern flank of the 383rd Rifle Division, around the suburban railroad station of Stantsia Stalino, where the Italians were advancing. With the capture of Grishino and Grodovska from the 296th Rifle Division the Pasubio Division had maneuvered to the north of the Celere Division, thus securing the left flank of the Bersaglieri and cavalrymen. General Marazzini decided it was an opportune time to attack the 383rd Rifle Division’s unprotected flank, in the viciniity of Yasinovataya. A reinforced battalion from the 291st Rifle Regiment, under 1st Lieutenant Shcherbak, was sent to the threatened area. The Soviet battalion fought bitterly to prevent an Italian breakthrough and delayed them long enought to allow the “Miners” Division to retreat. Nevertheless, the XX Bersaglieri Battalion captured Stalino Station. Threatened by the Italians to the north, and with Germans vanguards already in Stalino, the Russians had no choice but to abandon the city.”   (Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, Lulu Press, 2010, p.67)

27 October – In a new action Italians win praise from the German High Command for defeating attacks in the Donets Basin and capturing several hundred Russian prisoners. (“In the Donets Basin an attempt to retard our advance was prevented by Italian troops. The enemy was thrown back with heavy and bloody losses and left several hundred prisoners in the hands of our allies.” German High Command Communique, 27 October 1941)

29 October –  Italian forces defending Stalino, throw back several Russian counterattacks. (“The official Stefani agency reported today that Italian troops on the Eastern front had been halted and put on the defensive for the past eight days by Russian counter-attacks …The dispatch said Russian attacks and aerial bombardments were “furious” but added that the Italian troops “never ceded a millimeter of ground.” (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19411030&id=psRRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MmoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5278,1433802&hl=en Units Halted, Italians Admit, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 October, 1941)

2 November – Italians capture Gorlovka on the Eastern Front. (“Together with the XXXXIX German Mountain Corps, the CSIR captured the industrial centre of Stalino on 20 October, whereas Pasubio units took the iron and steel works of Gorlovka in the Donets province on 2 November 1941”  The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, I.B.Tauris, 2014, p.73)

14 November – The Italian Supreme Command reports the ‘Pasubio’ Division has smashed the defences in the Donets Basin forcing the Russian defenders to retreat to Voroshilovgrad. (“Two infantry battalions of the Pasubio Division broke through the Soviet line in the Donets Basin yesterday after two days of hard fighting in a blizzard and intense cold and forced the Russians to fall back toward Voroshilovgrad, 100 miles north of Rostov, on the Donets River The Russians rushed reinforcements from the north and east until they had amassed four divisions to halt the Italian advance, but the Italians continued to push ahead.” The New York Times, 15 November 1941)

 

MEDITERRANEAN

 

13 October – The Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Pleiadi’ is sunk off Tripoli by RAF bombers.

20 October –  Spica-class destroyer escorts ‘Aldebaran’ and ‘Altair’ sink after hitting mines in the Aegean.

 

BATTLE OF GONDAR

13-27 November – The last battle in East Africa takes place. During General Nasi’s last stand in East Africa, the King’s African Rifles sufffer crippling losses. (“Excluding Patriots, the casualties were eight officers and 108 soldiers killed, fifteen officers and 370 soldiers wounded.” (Source: King’s African Rifles: A History, Malcolm Page,  Pen and Sword, 2011, p.107)

.

OPERATION CRUSADER

“On the night of the 13th Rommel ordered another withdrawal, and now the animosity between German and Italian broke into conflict. In several cases Germans who had no vehicles stole Italian vehicles at gunpoint, and some German battalions stealthily crept out of the line without bothering to notify let alone coordinate with, the Italians on the flank. The sun had risen before some Italians learned of the retreat. This meant that much heavy equipment was left behind, including precious anti-tank guns, and tens of thousands of Italians began walking across a flat desert swept by a cold wind under the eyes of every pilot in the Allied air force.” (The Forgotten Axis: Germany’s Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II, J. L. Ready, McFarland, 1987, pp 313-314)

19 November – ‘Ariete’ blunts the British offensive with the 102mm naval guns from a RM warship now mounted on FIAT trucks. 40 British Crusader tanks are knocked out. (“…meeting the Italian Ariete Division around Bir el Gubi, putting in a spirited attack – and promptly losing 40 tanks before the enemy’s dug-in anti-tank guns.” Eighth Army: (The Triumphant Desert Army that Held the Axis at Bay from North Africa to the Alps, 1939-1945, Robin Neillands,  Overlook Press, 2005, p.72)

20 November –  Reginaldo Rossi, a 24 year-old corporal of the 39th Infantry Regiment (‘Bologna’ Division), wins posthumously the ‘Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare’, Italy’s second-highest military decoration while fighting off tanks. His Silver Medal for Valour citation reads:

“As an anti-tank gunner, he was an example to all for his discipline and the care and maintenance he took of the units weapons. In the bloody and arduous combat that took place against numerous armoured vehicles, he showed complete and total disregard to the danger present and with absolute calmness, he stuck to his gun that he refused to abandon it, even when he found himself surrounded by the enemy.”

In his hometown Roccagorga in Italy, a carefully maintained monument in memory of this Italian war hero survives to this day. (Source: http://comuneroccagorga.it/index.php/monumemti/monumento-c-le-reginaldo-rossi MONUMENTO ALLA MEMORIA DEL C.LE REGINALDO ROSSI)

21 November – ‘Bologna’ defenders at the ‘Tugun’ strongpoint derail the advance of the British 70th Division from Tobruk.

(“The front was a series of strongpoints and not continuous trench lines. One was the Tugun position held by the Bologna infantry division, anything but an elite formation. The New Zealand Official History states, “The more elaborate attack on Tugun went in at 3 p.m. and gained perhaps half the position, together with 250 Italians and many light field guns; but the Italians in the western half could not be dislodged and the base of the break-out area remained on this account uncomfortably narrow.” The Official History goes on to comment on the “…strong Italian opposition at Tugun as part of the reason for the decision to halt the sortie at this time.”” (Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani, Combined Books, 1994, p.110)

 

23 November 1941 – The ‘Pavia’ Division defeats another British attempt to smash through the ‘Bologna’. “(After a sudden artillery concentration the garrison of Fortress Tobruk, supported by sixty tanks, made an attack on the direction of Bel Hamid at noon, intending at long last unite with the main offence group. The Italian siege front around the fortress tried to offer a defence in the confusion but was forced to relinquish numerous strong points in the encirclement front about Bir Bu Assaten to superior enemy forces. The Italian “Pavia” Division was committed for a counterattack and managed to seal off the enemy breakthrough.” (Source: German Experiences in Desert Warfare During World War II, in 2 volumes, Generalmajor Major Alfred Toppe (et al), Combat Studies Institute/Combined Arms Research Library, 1952)

24 November – Captain Sergio Falletti, a company commander with the 27th Infantry Regiment (‘Pavia’ Division) is killed while calling down artillery and mortar fire on a strongpoint, during a British attack. The Italian captain is awarded posthumously the Gold Medal of Military Valour for his efforts in containing the British Tobruk garrison. The posthumous citation noted that “although mortally wounded by machine gun fire, he didn’t hesitate in calling in artillery and 81mm mortar fire on his strong point, now occupied in part by the enemy.” (Source: http://www.quirinale.it/elementi/DettaglioOnorificenze.aspx?decorato=13225 Medaglia d’oro al valor militare)

 

26 November – ‘Trieste’ defeats renewed British attempt to smash through the ‘Bologna’ (“When the New Zealanders attacked again after the onset of darkness, they were able to take Balhamed in the course of the night. Early in the morning of 26 November, a portion of the Tobruk garrison, supported by 50 tanks, broke out once again. A crisis arose when El Duda fell. It was only through a bitter and bravely conducted immediate counterattack by the Bersaglieri of the Trieste Division that the positions in the north could be held.” (Source: Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941-43, Franz Kurowski, Stackpole Books,  2010, p.117)

 

29 November – ‘Ariete’ overruns the 21st New Zealand Battalion. 8th Bersaglieri Regiment captures 1,800 Allied wounded, medical staff & guards, and liberates 200 unwounded German POWs. (“The Official History of the 21 Battalion recounts the entire episode in considerable detail, but completely fails to name the enemy formation involved, or even to acknowledge that it was Italian.” Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood Press, 2006)

 

30 November – Lieutenant Francesco Coco of the 28th Infantry Regiment (‘Pavia’ Division), although wounded, leads the remnants of his company in an attempt to retake the ‘Leopard’ strongpoint. For his brave action the Italian officer is posthusmously awarded the Gold Medal for Valour. (Source: L’Italia In Africa: Le Medaglie D’Oro D’Africa (1887-1945), Massimo Adolfo Vitale,  Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, 1961, p.150)

1 December – ‘Trieste’ cuts off the link the 2nd New Zealand Division had established with the Tobruk garrison.  (Source: The Encyclopedia of Codenames of World War, Christopher Chant, Routledge & Kegan Paul Books Ltd, 1987, p.37)

4 December – Major Giuseppe Ragnini of the ‘Pavia’ Division wins posthumously the Gold Medal for Valour, after leading his battalion forward and capturing 137 Tobruk defenders. (Source: L’Italia In Africa: Le Medaglie D’Oro D’Africa (1887-1945), Massimo Adolfo Vitale,  Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, 1961, p.43)

6 December – Germans abandon the ‘Walter’ and ‘Freddie’ strongpoints without a fight, but the ‘Pavia’ fights a brave delaying action on Point 157. (The Sidi Rezeg Battles, 1941, John Augustus Ion Agar-Hamilton, Leonard Charles Frederick Turner, Oxford University Press, 1957, p.467)

7 December – The ‘Bologna’ covers the retreat of the German 90th ‘Afrika’ Division.

10 December – The ‘Brescia’ from their White Knoll position covers the retreat of the ‘Bologna’ in the Tobruk area.

13 December – Rommel in a state of panic, orders a full-scale retreat with DAK units failing to inform their Italian comrades. Generals Ettore Bastico and Gastone Gambara intervene, ordering Rommel to send back the 15th Panzer Division to help the Italians holding the Gazala Line.

15 December – The ‘Brescia’, ‘Pavia’ and ‘Trento’ Divisions repel a strong Polish-New Zealand attack. The Italian defence allows the remaining 23 tanks of the 15th Panzer Division to hook up with the  ‘Ariete’ and 7th and 8th Bersaglieri Regiments and deliver a devastating counterattack on the Royal East Kent Regiment (“The Buffs”). Nearly 1,000 British are killed, wounded or captured in the largely Italian effort. (Source: http://www.comandosupremo.com/bologna-division.html/6)

16 December – General Giulio Borsarelli di Rifredo of the ‘Trento’ Division is killed in action.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

1 December – Italian destroyer ‘Alvise Da Mosto’ is sunk by British Force K off Tripoli.  An Italian mine sinks submarine HMS ‘Perseus’ off Zante, Greece. Also on this day, torpedo bombers from 279° Squadriglia cripple the British destroyer ‘Jackal’ off Derna, Libya.

9 November – Italian destroyers ‘Fulmine’ and ‘Libeccio’ are sunk by the British Force K off Tripoli.

 

ITALY

December 8 – The Penetration Section (P) of Italian Army intelligence (SIM or Servizio Informazioni Militari) lead by Captain  Manfredi Talamo breaks into the U.S. embassy in Rome and photographs the “Black Code” used by Colonel Bonner Fellers, the US military attache in Cairo. The “Black Code” is always managed by SIM that passes only the decyphred messages to German headquarters in Rome which then forwards the information to the Afrika Korps. Rommel is able to obtain crucial information about British strength and weaknesses on a daily basis. According to Wilhelm F. Flicke, an officer with the Afrika Korps, the “Black Code”, allows Rommel to survive the hammer blows of Operation Crusader:

“The British were much surprised. Preparations for the offensive had been so thorough that destruction of the Axis troops in its very first phase had been considered certain. Something had not clicked. General Auchinleck, Commander in Chief in the Near East and Wavell’s successor, flew from Cairo to Cunningham’s headquarters and on 26 November relieved him of his post. A young general of 44 years, Ritchie, was appointed commander of the British Eighth Army. On 8 December Rommel pushed through a weak point in the British encirclement, disengaging his troops without being detected. Before the British recovered from their surprise he had escaped to the westward. On 11 December Churchill stated in the House of Commons that the Libyan campaign had not gone as expected.” (Source: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol3no4/html/v03i4a06p_0001.htm  THE LOST KEYS TO EL ALAMEIN )

11 December – Mussolini declares war on the United States of America. His speech was short, he knew the Italian people were uneasy about a war with America. Most Italians had relatives there and many hoped to one day come to America to live the “American Dream”.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

11 December – Pegaso-class destroyer escort RM ‘Alcione’ is sunk off Crete by the British submarine ‘Truant’. Also on this day, the British destroyer ‘Farndale’ sinks the RM submarine ‘Caracciolo’ off Bardia.

13 December – Italian cruisers ‘Alberico Da Barbiano’ and ‘Alberti Di Giussano’ are sunk off Tunisia by British destroyers.

 

FIRST BATTLE OF SIRTE

15-19 December – The Italian Navy breaks the British blockade when a supply convoy from Naples, ‘M42’, safely reaches Benghazi with much needed fuel and tanks for Rommel. The protecting Italian warships (under Angelo Iachino, the commander in chief of the Italian Navy), that includes the RM battleships ‘Caio Duilio’, ‘Littorio’, ‘Andrea Doria’ and ‘Giulio Cesare’, four cruisers, 13 destroyers and six submarines, had attempted to engage Rear-Admiral Pilip Vian’s 15th Cruiser Squadron reinforced by Force K,  the British Flotilla assigned to protect Malta and its shipping. The British surface group comprising the cruiser ‘Carlisle’, two cruisers ‘Neptune’ and ‘Ajax’ and seven destroyers protecting the naval auxiliary tanker ‘Breconshire’, disengage after the Italians score several near hits. The Italians resume escort duties soon after dusk. On 19 December, while heading to intercept part of the ‘M42’ convoy, Force K hits an Italian minefield 20 miles east of Tripoli. The cruiser HMS ‘Neptune’ and destroyer HMS ‘Kandahar’ are sunk, and the cruiser HMS ‘Aurora’ is badly damaged.  (“Luck now deserted the Royal Navy. In what became know as ‘The Fist Battle of Sirte’ … the German merchant ship Ankara reached Benghazi on 19 December with a cargo of 21 tanks. Three more ships, including the Mongenevro with a further 23 tanks, arrived at Tripoli on the same day. Worse still, Force K,  in an attempt to attack the Tripoli-bound convoy, ran into a minefield. One cruiser and a destroyer were lost, and two other cruisers damaged. Hinsley remarked that ‘it was the arrival of these supplies in north Africa which permitted Rommel to mount his successful conter-offensive of 21 January 1942’. (Source: Malta and British Strategic Policy, 1925-43, Douglas Austin, Psychology Press, 2004, p.136)

 

NORTH AFRICA

18-20 December – The Carabinieri Paratroop battalion repeatedly engages the 4th Indian Division and fights off the 3/1 Punjabis throughout 20 December. The paratroop unit finally reaches the Italian lines after suffering 35 dead and 251 wounded and captured. (“The Carabanieri paratroops fought from 18 to 20 December … but at dusk a bayonet charge overran the last stubborn defenders.”  (Source: Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene, Alessandro Massignani, Da Capo Press, 2007, p.175)

 

LA BATTAGLIA DI NATALE (THE CHRISTMAS BATTLE)

“The Italo-German advance represented one of the few instances that winter, in which Axis forces were not losing ground to the Red Army and were even capturing additional territory. Having fought to exhaustion, both sides settled down and passed New Year’s Eve without serious incident. The influence of the CSIR’s Chritsmas 1941 victory on the course of the war on the Eastern Front is entirely overlooked. The Soviet Command had high expectations of an operation against the CSIR, and expected to destroy the German 49th Mountain Corps as well. Sucess against those Axis formations might have allowed the Russians to follow up with an offensive against the rest of 1st Panzer Army, instead of the 17th Army. In those circumstances, the Wehrmacht could have been threatened with a Stanlingrad-type defeat in the first winter of the war.” (Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1941, Patrick Cloutier, 2012, p.141)

12 December – The commander of the ‘Torino’ Division, General Ugo de Carolis, is killed and posthumously awarded the German Knight’s Cross.

26 December – Italians overrun part of the Russian 733rd Rifle Division at Mikhailovka. (“At 1030 hours the German 318th Regiment, supported by fifty tanks, went into action to relieve the besieged defenders of Mikhailovka. Attacking from the western end of the valley, the panzers reached the Italians. With their newly arrived support, the Italians turned their bayonets against the Russians, who minutes earlier were about to overwhelm them. With this sudden reversal in fortune, the Soviet soldiers attempted to escape. Those Russian units which resisted were destroyed by the combined efforts of the Blackshirts, Bersaglieri and German tanks. As a result, the 733rd Rifle Regiment (136th Rifle Division), which had trapped the Italians in Mikhailovka, was encircled in turn and completely destroyed.” (Source: Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1941, Patrick Cloutier,  2015, p.139) 

27 December – Italians recapture the high ground at Kurgun Ostriy on the Eastern Front. (“On 27 December the Italo-German counter-attack was reinforced by the 2nd Airborne Regiment (3rd Airborne Division). The Axis troops restored the situation and also captured the commanding height at Kurgun Ostriy. Petropavlovka, which the Russians had recaptured the previous day with infantry and cavalry, was once more in Italian hands. (Source: Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1941, Patrick Cloutier,  2015, p.140)

28 December – The 63rd Blackshirt & 25th Bersaglieri Battalions capture Kolkhoz Voroshilova & Rassipnoy. (” The Italo-German force in the Celere Division’s sector experienced more success,as German paratroopers captured the stretch of double railroad track at Kulinatskiy, and the 63rd Blackshirt Battalion, captured Kolkhoz Voroshilova, which was below the commanding height at Kurgun Ostriy. The German 318th Regiment captured the village of Greko-Timofeyevskiy from the Rifle Division, while the XXV Bersaglieri Battalion took Rassipnoy..” (Source: Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1941, Patrick Cloutier, 2015, p.140)

30 December – The 18th Bersaglieri Battalion overruns part of the Soviet 296th Rifle Division. (“On 30 December the 296th Rifle Division managed to capture Height 311.7 from the Germans, but this was recaptured the next day by the XVIII Bersaglieri Battalion, with tank support, in a surprise move.” (Three Kings: Axis Royal Armies on the Russian Front 1941, Patrick Cloutier, 2015, p.140)

 

MEDITERRANEAN

19 December – The British battleships HMS ‘Valiant’ and HMS ‘Queen Elizabeth’, are badly damaged in a Decima Flottiglia MAS raid (Italian commandos delivered by the RM submarine ‘Scire’) while anchored off Alexandria, Egypt. The two Italian officers captured, Lieutenants Luigi Durand de la Penne and Emilio Bianchi, refuse to divulge any information until moments before the explosion). This attack, which neutralizes the ability of the Royal Navy to oppose the Italian Regia Marina with its supply convoys, allows Rommel to resume the offensive in early 1942.

31 December – Italian destroyer escort ‘Orsa’ sinks the British submarine HMS ‘Triumph’.

(Sources: Battle Maps Credit to Afrika Korps; Ballantine’s Illustrated History of World War Two; Campaign Book, No. 1; Major K.J. Macksey, M.C. Siege: Malta 1940-1943 by Ernle Bradford, World War II : 4,139 Strange and Fascinating Facts . World War II, Time Life Books, ‘Italy at War’; World War II, Time Life Books, ‘The War in the Desert’; Destroyers of World War 2 and Cruisers of World War 2 by Mike J. Whitley; courtesy Stefan Schlemmer. “The North African Campaign 1940-1943: A Reconsideration” by Lucio Ceva. Decisive Campaigns of the Second World War, edited by John Gooch: Journal of Strategic Studies. Volume 13. March 1990. “Of Myths and Men: Rommel and the Italians in North Africa, 1940-1942” by James J. Sadkovich, The International History Review, XIII. 2. May 1991, pp.221-440. I Paracadutisti Italiani 1937/45 byGiuseppe Lundari, Pietro Compagni. Editrice Mili e Italiano-Serie “De Bello” 09

“In all fairness it must be said that the Italians are fighting bravely and well in Cirenaica. The British on the scene acknowledge that they have defended themselves with skill and valor, perhaps better than the Germans, and against superior force …  The Italians are having their chance to go down fighting and they are proudly taking it.” (Source: https://news.google.com/newspapers,Eugene Register-Guard, 29 Nov 1941)