Chapter 2.4 - Operation Corkscrew
Italy had joined the war. In Rome, Mussolini declared that the violent aggressions of the Allies, who refused to permit a country it's legal territory, was a worriesome threat to all Italians. He warned that if Germany fell, they would be next, and that Italy must fight now to preserve her future. The crowds in Rome cheered his charismatic oratory, oblivious of the consequences of his actions.
Australian troops redeploying on the Alpine Line border, in preparation for a potential offensive.
530 kilometres north-northwest, in Turin, the mood was not so bright. Although Mussolini boldly declared that they had joined the war, and although Italians outnumbered Frenchmen 2:1 on the Alpine Line, no orders had been made to advance. French Fortifications along the front were impressive, nearly as strong as the Maginot in places - even with superior numbers, attempting to take these locations in the rough mountainous terrain was likely to end in disaster for any attacking forces. The Italians were not overeager to rush to their deaths.
Air Raids over the Alpine Line
Although Italian forces were reluctant to advance on land, the Regia Aeronautica was out in full force. With most of the Royal Air Force and Armťe de l'Air occupied in battles with the mighty Luftwaffe, they felt that they would have an easy, free reign over the Mediterranean. They had underestimated the readiness of the Royal Australian Air Force, which had been recuperating for the past month in the lush paradise of Southern France. With their planes in good repair and full number, they were more than ready to meet the Italians in the air. A group of Italian light bombers made an attempt to attack the fortifications of the Alpine Line with precision bombing strikes. Many were lost and no significant damage was done, forcing them to retreat across the line. They had learned a painful lesson about Australian air presence.
The Belgian Front as of May 1st, Little has changed and the line has mostly devolved into stalemates and German pressure on the line has petered out.
Allied Command was in a buoyant mood despite the Italian declaration of war. The Alpine Line and Maginot Lines were viewed as impenetrable and the Belgian rivers were holding. The German offensive in the Ardennes had weakened under the weight of increasing numbers of French troops and tanks. As the French tank crews gained in experience they were beginning to adapt to the difficult driving conditions. When they could manage a head-on fight, the German armour was almost no match and the Germans were being worn down. Fewer and fewer German tanks were seen on the front line and soon the offensive ground to a complete halt. There was no thrust on the German front, the Hun's spearhead had been blunted.
More Italian bombers made an attempt on the harbour of Marseille. Again they were unescorted.
Reconnaissance aircraft caught a lucky break near Marseille when a large force of naval patrol bombers were spotted heading towards the harbour. The bulk of the Australian fleet was currently deployed at this location and the RAAF had to immediately scramble for intercept. Just 50km from the harbour, an intense battle erupted over the sea. Again, RAAF Hurricanes dealt a painful blow to the Italian bombers, forcing them to retreat to Italian airspace for safety. The way was clear.
Divided into two seperate taskforces, the ships leave harbour immediately, heading south-southeast.
With the airspace cleared for a change, the Australian Fleet left under the safety of friendly fighter cover and the escort of the HMAS Vanguard. The fleet was large, including numerous troop transports, supply convoys, escorts and ships. Simultaneously, the British Royal Navy began to conduct active operations throughout the Mediterranean with the support of a number of French ships. The aim was to pin and distract the Italian fleet while the Australians did the hard work; the British had been long prepared for the entrance of Italy into the war, and it was their aim to go on the offensive early and hard.
Aerial Reconnaissance over Liguria - Italian positions seem well entrenched.
The RAAF was also active in helping with destruction. Using the distraction of a strike against the Italian port facilities at La Spazia and Genoa, they conducted reconnaissance missions deep into the Italian coastline. Although there had been hopes of launching a naval invasion there, there seemed to be large amounts of troop activity. No ships were sighted and plans to strike behind Italian lines were momentarily shelved. The mission, however, would go on.
Early on the morning of May 3rd, the Australians began their invasion of Sardinia.
Australian forces began to move onto Sardinia early in the morning. Shelling from the flotilla's escorts pounded the city and its defenders for almost an hour as transports approached the coastline. Australian fighters swept through the skies, searching for enemy aircraft. The Australians swarmed onto the beaches mostly unopposed, except at Cagliari where fierce fighting immediately ensued as the local garrison was slowly pushed back into the streets.
A fuel depot at the Cagliari docks is hit by shelling from HMAS Sydney.
Enemy Aircraft attempt to depart from Milano, hoping to disrupt or damage the landing fleet from the air. The Australians were waiting for them.
By mid-afternoon, news reached the Australians of a huge swarm of aircraft heading south from the Ligurian coast. The Australians, on patrol near Corsica, were quick to intervene. Although outnumbered, the pilots bravely risked their lives to stop the Italian air strike. The Italians were so numerous that they were completely disorganized when the Australian strike hit. The fighters had orders not to abandon their bombers, the bombers had orders to stay on course no matter what. The Australian fighters were able to weave in and out, shooting down numerous bombers and fighters and causing horrendous casualties amongst the tightly packed and confused Italians. Reluctant to defy orders, the Regia Aeronautica was delivered its most painful and embarrassing defeat at the hands of the RAAF. They had brought too many planes to the battle with poor leadership and poor instructions. Australian wolfpack tactics picked them apart for over an hour before orders were given to fall back before the entire force was lost. Once again, Australia had won the day and shielded her valuable Navy from the Italian bombers.
Not far off 30,000 men had landed on the island so far.
Although the initial resistance had been stiff, the bombardments from the Australian fleet combined with the sheer number of Commonwealth soldiers was overwhelming. It was rapidly becoming clear that the Italian defensive positions were untenable due to the numbers game. Although the Australians were expecting response from further inland, it soon became clear that the Italians had not predicted this assault and were in no position to respond effectively. A large fleet had attempted to sortie near Taranto but had been blocked by a large Royal Navy force. The British were currently in complete control of the Mediterranean.
Contact is made in the Gulf of Tunis.
This did not, however, stop a few ships from getting through. Along the Tunisian coast, a group of Italian cruisers sailed to try and intercept and damage the attacking Australian fleet, slipping by a French patrol and barreling on its way down the coast. Although the HMAS Vanguard's scout planes were working hard, they didn't notice the Italians until it was nearly too late. A close-range battle erupted between the Vanguard's patrol group and the Italians.
Although both sides were caught by surprise, just a few miles off of each other, the Australian group immediately attempted to disengage, steaming away from the Italians at high speed. The Vanguard immediately launched its fighters; consisting mostly of biplanes and not true modern aircraft, the addition of aircraft to the battle was still of the utmost importance. As the cruisers traded fire, rapidly gaining distance from the slower Italian heavy cruisers, the first dive bombers fell upon the taskforce, unleashing their torpedoes and bombs against the enemy. The cruisers were forced to take evasive actions and their pursuit broken up. The Gorizia suffered a direct hit from a torpedo and was forced to take emergency actions in order to try and save the ship.
A platoon from the 7th division advances through the ruined streets of Cagliari.
The streets of Cagliari were dangerous and pocked with craters, shattered masonry and bullet holes. The Australians advanced mercilessly through, clearing the city street by street, building by building. Many Italian strongpoints simply surrendered outright once they realized there was no relief coming to save them. To many, it did not help that they were being rapidly encircled by enemy infantry, who were making excellent time across the rough ground.
French commanders gaze across the border from the safety of the Maginot Line.
Although the troops in the south had not heard of it yet, disaster had struck. The Maginot Line, in light of the Belgian push, had been left lightly defended by the French who felt that their fortifications were more than adequate to repulse German invasion. As the German offensive had slowed and ground to a halt in Belgium, no one had thought to question why the pressure had abated. The answer came in the form of a massive concerted attack on the northern line. The French held their lines valiantly in the face of massive numbers of Germans, dealing many times their own losses in casualties, but the deathknell came when word spread through the front that the Germans had pierced the line, as scouts had seen armour approaching from the rear. Panicked, an entire section of the line thought that they had been outflanked and retreated to avoid encirclement. The tanks were not German, they were French, coming to counterattack against the German armoured push. The abandoned section of line was occupied by the Germans with a minimum of effort.
The French evacuation had left Metz completely open and the Maginot Line was broken. The city and the extensive iron mines around it now lay in German hands.
Allied Commanders were furious that the troops had abandoned their stations, and the officers responsible for making the call were immediately stripped of their commands and relegated to desk jobs. A massive number of reinforcements would need to be shifted to try and push the Germans back across the line, but now there was a hole in their grand defensive system and the Germans were pouring reinforcements through them. With most of the Army busy in Belgium, things looked bleak for the French defensive lines as they were forced to defend open terrain against numerically superior Germans.
Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, a second fleet arrived to contest the invasion of Sardinia. They tried once again to breach the air cover of the Vanguard, but were again repulsed by dive bombers who broke up formations and fighters that strafed any enemies in sight. Occasionally the Italians got close enough to fire off a few shots, but nothing substantial hit and the Australians seemed invincible so long as Vanguard was in the waters. Submarines tried to stalk her and sink her from a surprise attack, but they had difficulty locating the highly mobile aviation platform. The few times they got close enough to fire even a distance shot, their torpedoes were easily avoided and the response came in the form of patrol bombers flying out of Tunis, dropping depth charges onto them from the skies. It soon became clear that the Regia Marina was not equipped to fight aircraft carriers in any way, shape or form.
On the morning of May 5th, the news finally went out that Cagliari had fallen. It was Australia's first victory on land, and an extremely decisive one. The casualty ratio was heavily in the Empire's favour due to the number and quality of the Australian troops. In spite of landing in an urban environment under heavy gunfire, the 7th Infantry had performed with admirable skill and tenacity. It was clear from the start that the Australian infantryman was in most ways a better soldier than the Italian, but the question remained whether Australian quality could overcome Italian quantity.
Australians move to encircle the retreating Italian infantry.
The Italians had little stomach for the fight and after it was clear they could not win, they began to fall back towards Tortoli. They did not and probably could not have known that Australia's finest, the 1st Cavalry Division, were on their way to Tortoli already. They would find little friendship waiting for them as the fast-moving Australian troops made their way across the Sardinian countryside. If the Italians did not send reinforcements soon, Sardinia was certainly lost to them. Australian morale was boosted by this victory, but there was still a dark cloud in the minds of the commanders. The Maginot Line was broken - could France survive this setback?
May 1st 1940 - May 5th 1940 Casualties
ANZAC Expeditionary Army:
81 soldiers killed
Royal Australian Air Force:
54 Hawker Hurricane fighters
8 Supermarine Spitfire fighters
15 Sunderland Shot bombers
427 soldiers killed
114 soldiers captured
267 Fiat G-50 fighters
85 Macchi MC.200 Saetta fighters
69 Reggiane Re.2000 Falco fighters
72 Cant Z.501 Gabbiano patrol bombers
55 Cant Z.506B Airone patrol bombers
43 Breda Ba.88 RC.40 light bombers
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To be clear, I'm absolutely furious with the AI. So far as I can tell, they simply marched out of Metz and left it empty and my objective markers did little to persuade them to not leave the bloody province. It's made all the more frustrating by the fact that Germany had stopped making gains in Belgium and it seemed like they could hold out if they just focused on holding the rivers. All that said, the Italians took hilarious air casualties, first they threw unescorted bombers around, and then a huge doomstack of fighters that achieved nothing more than getting shot up before having to retreat. I've slightly fibbed about the lengths of the air battles, but a two day air battle doesn't make much sense given the range of these planes. Still, it ruined my hopes of spearheading an assault across the Alpine Line, as ANZAC may have to evacuate France before long.
Oh, and to clarify, I have probably 4 more updates of screenshots to post before I reach the point where I am in the save. So, I can't actually accept any advice/thoughts yet as I'm already too far along. Sorry guys. :P