Blood alone moves the wheels of history. -- Benito Mussolini
Chapter Twenty Four: Storm Clouds Gather (1941)
As the year 1941 dawned, the New Roman Empire had formed an intricate defensive network that at least was able to cover all of its border, though it may have been too fragile if actually put to the test by Germany or the Soviet Union. It also had maniple mini-divisions stationed on all the islands and ports sufficient to thwart all but the most concerted amphibious assault by the United Kingdom. Mussolini felt prepared, but he loathed the reactive posture he had taken. He wanted to build up his forces to enable him to re-seize the initiative. With the help of occupied foreign factories and seized resource stockpiles, Italian industry continued to struggle to keep pace in the arms race with her neighbor to the north.
By February of 1941, the Regio Esercito was upgrading three regular artillery brigades to self-propelled artillery and raising two others from scratch. These units would be merged with the combined arms units for added indirect soft firepower. It was also upgrading four motorized brigades from trucks to armed and armored half-tracks and raising one expensive mechanized brigade from scratch. It was also raising 11 new infantry divisions. These divisions, contrary to prior practice, had three brigades: one infantry, one artillery, and one anti-tank. These units would be merged with the maniples on the border to provide mighty superior firepower divisions capable of defending the border from attack. The Regia Aeronautica continued to slowly expand the number of interceptor and fighter bomber squadrons. The Regia Marina was constructing two light cruisers to improve the escorts for its two carrier task forces, and was also building two transport squadrons. Mussolini wanted two transport flotillas: one capable of transporting the entire marine army on a moment's notice, and a second to transport troops around the Mediterranean without jeopardizing the marines' rapid deployment capability. The RADAR station in Trieste failed to provide Mussolini with the intelligence he had hoped for. So, the further development of that station was starved of funds.
The RADAR failed to perform as desired, because further research into Radio Detection Equipment was necessary. Though resources for the station were denied, further research in the area was made a top priority. Small RADAR and a new aero engine were being developed for Italian small aircraft, and techniques were being improved for ground attacks, port strikes, naval strikes and close air support generally. Research was directed at improving the engine, armor and reliability of Italy’s all important tank destroyers. Finally doctrinaire improvements were being developed for mechanized offensives, special forces, assault concentration, and tactical command structure.
The German general staff and foreign diplomats all agreed on the obvious -- the New Roman Empire presented a serious and growing threat on Germany’s southern border.
But Germany was led by a madman. Hitler could not comprehend the obvious, and he still saw Italia has his junior partner that would eventual take her rightful place under Germany’s aegis. Hitler kept insisting that his diplomats pester Mussolini with incessant offers to join the Axis. Mussolini continued to provide polite demurrers. If repeating the same conduct but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, then Mussolini had definitive proof of Hitler’s madness.
And the madness was progressive.
In April of 1941, the brutality of Axis Japan in Asia was too great for the United States of America to stand by and witness with a clear conscience. The mighty American industrial power roused itself from sleep and joined the alliance with the United Kingdom. Germany was now arrayed against the two most powerful navies in the world. That hardly made Germany’s invitation into the Axis more desirable, even if it was presumed by all that America’s attention would be focused in the Pacific. Nevertheless, Hitler further demonstrated his madness and the blind obedience of his followers.
In May of 1941, with the United Kingdom still undefeated off its shores and with America having just joined the war, Hitler cast his precious Wehrmacht against the vast territories of the Soviet Union.
Mussolini had no love for the Bolsheviks and wanted more than anyone to see communism blotted from the earth. However, he had also read his history, and the shambling Soviet Union could not be taken down by invasion. It needed to be isolated and contained, and its ideology needed to be combated wherever and whenever it was exported. Then its vast unsophisticated peasant stock and its degenerate ideology would not be an asset but a burden, and it would eventually collapse of its own weight. It may never collapse within Mussolini’s lifetime, but collapse it will. In the battle between nations and ideologies, patience is sometimes a virtue, and sometimes extra-generational patience is required.
Nevertheless, Mussolini watched with great interest the advance of Hitler’s armies. If they could quickly sweep eastward and occupy Moscow and Leningrad, then just maybe Germany could pull off the coup de main. Hitler may be crazy, but maybe he is crazy like a fox. If that were the case, Mussolini would have to reevaluate that offer to join the Axis and redirect his covetous eye from southern France to Gibraltar, Egypt and Iraq.
However, by the end of August of 1941, after more than three months of hard fighting, the Germans had taken the territory occupied by Russia as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but precious little of actual Russian territory. Minsk, Kiev and Gomel all remained under Soviet control. Mussolini deemed this advance too slow. Soon, the long supply lines will slow the German advance, and, of course, the Russian winter loomed.
If those circumstances were not enough to persuade Mussolini to reject Hitler’s next offer to join the Axis, this was.
The North Americans landed in France.
On August 30, 1941, Canadian and American forces launched a joint amphibious assault in Bretagne and Pays De La Loire. The invasion led to scattered fighting, and the Germans managed to push the Canadians back into the sea with grievous loses. The Americans also lost their beachhead, but they managed to attack south with success.
They occupied the port at Bordeaux,
and they firmly established themselves in Aquitaine. Most notably, both Germany and the United States were respecting the border integrity of Vichy France and only fighting in occupied France.
An American armored unit mopping up southern Aquitaine actually came into contact with elements of Mancinelli's mountaineers in northern Spain. Mussolini could not help but notice the friendly nature of this encounter. In fact, the Italian troops seemed to be cheering the Americans on. It was an unmistakable fact that between 1880 and 1914, before Mussolini took the reigns of power, approximately 4 million Italians, mostly from the egregiously neglected south, emigrated to America. Most families from the south had at least one family member living happily in America, and practically every Italian had a very positive image of the American nation and its people. Mussolini believed that he was well beloved by the Italian people, but he also realized that that love would be short lived if he foolishly brought his nation into conflict with America.