The present strategic situation offered a challenge that would have to be overcome before the knockout shot on France could even be attempted. The extraction of the large Italian force in East Africa was crucial to the plan. It is this force that would be used to secure the Suez and then to deliver the KO blow in France. It consisted of four veteran corps, consisting of regular Italian troops, camicie nere (Blackshirts), colonial troops and tankettes.
With British and Iraqi forces pushing hard over the Suez. It was important that these troops be brought into play in this sector as soon as possible. The I-AOI Corps was identified as a corps which could be immediately transferred to the Nile Delta, firstly because of the proximity of its divisions to the Red Sea coasts and secondly for the fact that its divisions were not directly involved in subduing the remains of the British 3rd Army.
The I-AOI Corps in AOI. These divisions are flagged for the Suez Operation.
The other corps, the II-AOI, III-AOI and Eritrean would have to follow later once the British 3rd Army was annihilated and the Suez secured. These Corps would be shipped to mainland Italy for refit before the new campaign in France would begin.
The current state of the II-AOI, III-AOI and Eritrean Corps.
Alpine-Rhone Front – Marshal Badolgio
Mussolini and Badoglio
Marshal Badoglio’s Army Group West had achieved the objectives outlined in the Drin-Drin Plan, the capture of the Maritime Alps, Marseille and Corsica (see THIS THREAD). The Alpine-Rhone Front and the war in France had now become the most important strategic zone in the war. This importance would not be assumed right away for it would firstly require the relocation of several key Italians Corps from East Africa to Italy for rest and refit. Then these troops would be shifted to the front. This would take time.
Marshal Badoglio's objectives from the Drin-Drin Plan - objectives acheived (Note: the blue and red colour should be in reverse).
This did not mean that the front would become inactive, to the contrary, General Pintor and Marshal Badoglio had already initiated a plan to establish a defensive front along the Rhone River. It was now planned that this front would now be augmented with the inclusion of the French city of Lyon as the northern shoulder of the Front. From Lyon, it would run northeast into the foothills of the Alps up to the Swiss border. To the south of Lyon the defensive front would follow the course of the Rhone all the way to the Mediterranean.
TOP: The proposed Rhone-Lyon Front will be secured by the Italian 1st, 4th and 8th Armies (Army Group West). BOTTOM: Forces of Army Group West.
Establishing the Rhone-Lyon Front would be the primary objective of Marshal Badoglio before the arrival of the veteran Corps from East Africa. In the meantime, planners would be working out strategies for the conquest of the main part of France.
It was also decided that once the Rhone-Lyon Front was set, the divisions of V Corps of the 2nd Army be relocated back to the Italio-Yugoslav border. Here territorial claims by each nation on the other made for a possible diplomatic flashpoint. Currently Italy only had two divisions on the border compared to at least nine divisions of the Yugoslav army a ratio of 1:4.5. With the return of the V Corps this ratio would fall to weak but more favourable 1:2.25.
Africa Orientale Italiana(AOI) – Marshal Graziani
Mussolini and Graziani
Although the focus was now shifting to the Suez and Europe, Graziani’s priority continued to be the elimination of the remnants of the British 3rd Army currently trapped in western Sudan. This was a continuation of Balbo’s original grand plan, dubbed the “Drin-Drin” plan by none other than Mussolini himself.
The East African Campaign had reached such a stage that the elimination of the British 3rd Army was a forgone conclusion. Given this, spare units would need to be immediately transferred to other high priority fronts and this would also assist with alleviating looming supply issues. Unfortunately the original units of the Northern and Southern Fronts of the Abyssinian War were scattered over the entirety of East Africa. They were not able to be quickly transferred to ports for disembarkation to the other fronts. The I-AOI Corps was identified as a corps which could be immediately transferred to the Nile Delta (see above).
Apart from these primary considerations, Graziani was also set another task.
In the south, unknown British forces still held out in Tanganyika. A two pronged attack would be undertaken to subdue this region. Priority would be given to taking the key port Dar es Salaam. Reports from Count ‘Jacare’ Ciano, whose destroyer flotilla were patrolling the area, indicated that no British troops were garrisoning the port. A powerful British carrier fleet was prowling the area making the amphibious invasion risky. Transports were scarce and would be prioritised for the shipment of troops north to the Suez. While waiting for the transports to be free for action, Italian forces would continue their advance down the western shore of Lake Victoria deep into the heartland of Tanganyika and on to capture the important copper and industrial centre of Ndola in Northern Rhodesia.
East Africa and the western half of the Indian Ocean.
Harassing and seizing Allied territories in and around the Indian Ocean was also on the table. There were many targets of opportunity, particularly ports of which access by the Royal Naval could be denied. Socotra of the Horn of Africa was considered one such important target due to its proximity to the Red Sea where British raiders might prey on Italian convoys.
Africa Settentrionale Italiana(ASI) – Marshal Balbo
Given the expanded extent of territory covered by this region and the strains on the forces at the Suez Canal, it was decided that North Africa would be split into two zones of control. Marshal Balboa would retain overall control of while the old warhorse Marshal de Bono (currently the commander of Army Group south in Sicily) would be dusted off and be given command of the Tunisian forces. In Egypt, the newly promoted General Marinetti (currently in East Africa) would take command of Army Group Libya.
Mussolini and Balbo
Egypt - Army Group Libya (Marshal Marinetti)
The situation along the Suez was on a knife edge. The Italian VI and X armies were both battered and worn out. With supply problems hampering the Italian Divisions, the 27th ‘Sila’ and the 2nd ‘Emanuele Filiberto’ Division were now the only combat ready divisions left. Rest of the other divisions and new reinforcements were critical to the front.
MAIN: The condition and position of the Libyan Army Group Divisions in Egypt. There are five known Allied Divisions currently in play (2 British, 3 Iraqi). BOTTOM INSET: Italian intelligence on the Iraqi Divisions.
A transport fleet would immediately be sent from the mainland to pick up the fresh 1st Blackshirts Division currently garrisoning Cyrenaica. These troops would be disembarked at Alexandria and directly replace the battered 102nd ‘Trento’ Division. The ‘Trento’ Division would be shipped back to Cyrenaica for recoupment. When the battered 7th Blackshirts were ready to be transported out of Alexandria, they too would be picked up and transported to Cyrenaica for recoupment.
From East Africa, de Stefanis’s 30th ‘Sabauda’ Division would be transported from Aden, where it had recently driven back the Yemeni Royal Army, to as close to the Suez front as possible. It was expected that the 5th Alpine Division would be the next division of I-AOI Corps to then be transported north.
In this sector Balbo hoped to at least conquer the Sinai after the arrival of the full I-AOI Corps. If matters worked out better than this then Palestine and Syria would be up for grabs.
Tunisia/Algeria/Tripoli/Sicily – Army Group South/Tunisia (Marshal de Bono)
To strengthen the forces under de Bono’s new command, the 5th Blackshirts Division currently on garrison duty in Tripoli, would be put under his control. In addition, he would retain control of Army Group South (his current posting) and the 5th Army which consisted of 2 binary infantry divisions and which was currently garrisoning Sicily. The 5th Blackshirts would be incorporated into Army Group South and would serve as thinly spread garrison over Sicily, Malta, Tripoli and Tunisia. This would free up the Eritrean and Ethiopian irregulars of the 3rd Eritrean Division which was currently garrisoning Tunisia. The 3rd Eritrean Division would be sent west to aid in the invasion of French Algeria.
PROMOTIONS, DEMONTIONS, TRANSFERS AND NEW APPOINTMENTS
After the stirring meeting of the Grand Council, both the fascist Blackshirts and the monarchists, the officer core was whipped into a fever pitch for the coming military operations. This allowed Mussolini to push through a series of promotions and demotions that were seen to assist the long term war effort. In particular a number of higher ranking officer were willing to temporarily take lesser posts for a chance to get into some of the action.
Field Marshal de Bono – as commander of Army Group South de Bono has now also taken control of the IX Army in Tunisia.
General Marinetti – promoted to Marshal for his outstanding services commanding the Eritrean Army in the 2nd Abyssinian War, the campaign in French Somaliland, the campaign in Northern Sudan and most recently in Yemen. Marinetti was then transferred to take command of Army Group Libya. Army Group Libya included the VI and X armies in Egypt.
General Umberto (Prince of Piemonte) – appointed to command the Eritrean Army (after vacancy left by Marinetti)
Lt General Ambrosio – appointed as commander of the VI Corps of the VIII Army (currently serving on the Alpine/Rhone Front).
Lt General Gambelli – temporarily demoted to take position in Tunisia with the 3rd Eritrean Division
Lt General di Baldessero – temporarily demoted to take position on the Alpine/Rhone Front with the 3rd ‘Julia’ Alpine Division of the Vi Corps VIII Army.
Lt General di Cei – temporarily demoted to take position on the Alpine/Rhone Front with the 12th ‘Sassari’ Division of the V Corps II Army.
Lt General di Lisi F.– temporarily demoted to take position on the Alpine/Rhone Front with the 6th ‘Cuneo’ Division of the III Corps I Army.
Lt General di Biroli – temporarily demoted to take position on the Alpine/Rhone Front with the 15th ‘Bergamo’ Division of the V Corps II Army.
Lt General Ago – temporarily demoted to take position in AOI with the Ovest Bassacampi ‘Celere’ Division of the Eritrean Corps Eritrean Army.
REINFORCEMENTS AND UPGRADES
Faced with chronic upgrade and supply problems several initiatives were put in place in an attempt to alleviate these issues:
1) Upgrades were prioritised to the following units
a. I and IV Armies on the Alpine/Rhone Front;
b. X and VI Armies on the Suez Front; and
c. The entire Regina Aeronautica
2) Upgrades to all other land units were stopped with the exception of the I-AOI Corps in East Africa.
3) Reinforcements to land troops in East Africa were stopped with the exception of the I-AOi Corps which was earmarked for transferral to the Suez Front .
It was hoped that these initiatives would direct equipment upgrades to units that needed them the most and that the reduction in reinforcements in East Africa may reduce supply problems in this area.