- Nov 13, 2011
ITALY'S TEN YEARS WAR
This is my first AAR with Hearts of Iron 3 TFH. Please apologize any grammatical mistakes, I still need to gain experience in writing long texts in English!
Ante Scriptum: in this AAR, history has been voluntarily altered, in order to reach the goal of my military campaign.
I used a custom vanilla mod: I added unique units (desert armoured divisions or the infamous railway gun...) for Italy and some for all the countries; I reworked the ITA OOB 1936 and changed some technologies (added many naval ones) and created about 20 custom events. Maybe you won't see this but one of my aim is not to loose too many land units, since all of them are historically recreated and most of them will be activated through events!
What else can I say? I hope you all will enjoy the reading!
CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION
SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES BETWEEN 1924 and 1935
SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES BETWEEN 1924 and 1935
With the signature of the London Pact, Italy officially (and secretly too) joined the Entente. The aims were clear: Italy would have fought along with France, United Kingdom and Russia against the German Empire and Austro-Hungary. As a reward, the British and the French promised Italy the Dalmatian coast and a deep influence sphere over Albania. When the Great War ended, Italy was on the victor side but the right-wing part of the population begun to talk about a 'mutilated victory', term coined by a famous poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio. In the immediatley aftermath of the Great War, Italy was on the brink of a civil war. While strikes were the daily bread of many industrialised cities and farmers too were pressing to have reforms, D'Annunzio, together with a group of veterans of the war, occupied the village of Fiume, and decleared it part of the Italy. Only in 1920, the Army forced D'Annunzio and his followers to leave the village. It was the so called 'Red Biennium'. Fearing an Italian Communist Revolution, many industrialist asked the intervention of the 'Squadracce', squads of Fascist militians who crushed without any mercy most of the Socialist opposition. Due to the fact that the Italian Communist and Socialist were much divided, and thanks to the vast use of violence to suppress the opposition, the Fascist movement begun to arise. After the elections of 1922 and of 1924, Benito Mussolini officially become a dictator with his 'March on Rome', on October 28th, 1924. Crushed the opposition by persecutions, imprisonments and reprisals, Mussolini, also called 'Il Duce' (the leader), quickly explained his future plans: Italy needed its empire, just like Britain or France, but not a normal one. According to him, it was Italy's destiny to expand its borders as far as those of the Roman Empire. Yes, Italy would become in the following years the Second Great Roman Empire.
By giving a simple look to any map representing the European Continent, one thing becomes immediately evident: Italy is located in a strategically interesting position, since its fleet can control all the naval routes East-West, connecting, for example, Gibraltar with Egypt or the French Syria with the homeland. Since the Romans managed to conquer all the lands wet by the Mediterranean Sea, one of the first objective of Mussolini was gaining control of the Mediterranean Sea. Mare Nostrum, 'our sea' the Fascist called it. But 'their sea' was not only theirs. West of Italy, France had the port of Toulon, as well as many other ports in the North Africa. The Island of Corsica acted instead as a kind of groun carrier, from which French planes or even warships could have interfered with Mussolini's plans. But Italy's enemy number one was Britain: the Brits held the Gibraltar, the gate to the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side of the Mediterranean, they held the Suez Strait, as well as the one of Alexandria, the door to the Indian Ocean and the shorter way to bring supplies to the Italian colonies in Eritrea and Somalia. Although in the north-east, there were Greece and Turkey which both had their own ports facing the Mediterranean, but Mussolini thought that these nations were not a great problem to face with. Furthermore, the British held a very tiny island, right in the path of the Italian convoys running from Sicily and southern Italy to Lybia: Malta, Fortress Malta. Despite having only a surface of 316 km2 (122 sq miles), Mussolini, as well as the Navy Chief of Staff and the Staff himself, recognized the danger that Malta could have posed to Italian sea traffic in case of war.
Despite this, Italy had already the card with wich gain control of the Mediterranean Sea: its Navy. Not only Italians Naval Engineers were excellent in designing ships, from battleships to liners, but the Italian Royal Navy had at her disposal a great number of powerful and fast warships. The combination of speed and armour has been a tradition in the Italian ship designing and under the Fascist Government, Mussolini hoped to find a good team of engineers, in order to have a strong Navy, with which to fight the Royal Navy.
But Italy needed more than cruisers, battleships and submarines. By giving a deep look at the later stages of the Great War, Mussolini realised that planes would play a major role, even in future naval battles. Between 1925 and 1926, during various meetings with the Chiefs of the Royal Air Force and of the Royal Navy, he explained his thoughts. However, the two branches of the Armed Forces were not willing to cooperate, due to many problems that arose in that period, in Italy. A deep analysis of the major problems was then drawn by Mussolini himself, as well as another list regarding the solutions of those problems: the Air branch of the Navy would have remained under the command of the Navy, while the Aviation Industry would have been responsable for manufacturing planes and spare parts. In 1925 started the production of the first seaplane carrier, named 'Roma' (Rome). However, the construction was stopped after a few months. Between 1925 and 1930, important news were coming from the Japanese shores: thanks to some ocean-going submarines, Italy begun some secret talks with Japan, another nation whose Navy was to become a great power. So, while outside almost the entire world was crumbling after the US crack of Wall Street, Italian submarines 'Archimede', 'Torricelli' and 'Scirè' were surfing the Indian Ocean waves and were coming back in Italy with the projects of an aircraft carrier. Many Italian Naval Engineers studied these projects but it was not until 1936 that Mussolini gave green light on the practical research.
Luckily for Italy, the economic crisis that weakened many European nations did not touch the 'boot of Mussolini': this can only be explained thanks to the policy of autarky. In prevision for a future, and maybe long, war with France and Britain, Italy needed to become self-sufficient, especially from a resources and raw material point of view. The policy of autarky was coupled with the policy of free market in 1932, due to a particular, unique and revolutionary event: the discovery of oil in Lybia by Ardito Desio, a famous Italian geologist, in 1928. Despite further researches needed to be made to exploit the 'black gold', this news shocked the entire world, half still drowned by the crisis of 1929. Setting a low and competitive price, Italy quickly gained the upper hand in the European oil market and begun to trade important resources, such us aluminium, woods and rubber from other countries, such Hungary, Germany and France. After almost four years of drilling and analysis, in the early days of 1936 Ardito Desio reported that the oilfields in Lybia were going at full speed and that within two years, Italy would have had enough fuel to fight a war for almost five years.
The discovery of oil in Lybia revolutioned Mussolini's mind: what has always been believed being the 'sand-box', became the 'oil-box' and needed to be exploited at its maximum. To do so, not only Mussolini ordered the construction of better ports and infrastructures in Lybia, but also financed the construction of important highways all across the country. This would have had its impact not only on the transportation of resources but also of troops and supplies across Italy: the faster the supplies would have came to their destination, the faster Italy would have won the war.
The matter of supplies became Mussolini's second great interest, linked to the need of having a large, modern and fierce Navy. If he was to regain all the territories of the Roman Empire, his Armed Forces needed to be supplied. Troops in Eritrea Somalia and Lybia needed to receive their monthly amount of ammunitions, fuel, food, water, medicines and other good stuff and this was mainly done by naval convoys. The appearance of the first fighter planes in the skies of north-eastern Italy, after the shameful defeat of Caporetto, enlighted Mussolini. In 1929, in a meeting with the Air Force Chief of Staff and a team of twenty aeronautical engineers, he discussed about realizing a big and with a great load capacity transport plane. The resoult came in 1934 as the first quad-engine transport plane, a Caproni Ca.170, flew from Milan to Tobruk and from Tobruk to Asmara, an important Air base in Eritrea. This was an awesome record and from now on, it was decided that the Air Force too would have collaborated with the Navy to bring supplies to the colonies in the African Horn. Despite Mussolini and the Air Force high chiefs came very close to forging the idea of an 'air-bridge', they did not studied in deep the question.
Coupled with the modalities of sending supplies to the colonies in Africa, Mussolini came with his thrid great project: to win a war, he realized the necessity to disrupt the enemy supply lines, destroy enemy bases, even those located well inland and sink enemy convoys across the Mediterranean Sea. To achieve this goal, a famous Italian aviator, Giulio Douhet, headed for him. Giulio was the first officer of the Italian Air Force to believe that to win the war against the Austro-Hungary, Italy needed something like 500 bombers, to disrupt enemy lines and stop the enemy from bringing supplies to the front. When the war erupted, he criticised the Army incompetence and was then imprisoned one year. Following the disaster at Caporetto, he was then released, right on time to see his early theories being adopted from the pilots of the Fighter branch, who were targeting the enemy supply columns. His masterpiece, however, came in 1921, when he published his revolutionary book: 'The Command of the Air'. Amongst its pages, Douhet showed what would have happened barely twenty years later: the Air Force needed to be an indipendent branch of the Armed Forces and needed to have a large number of fast, high altitude and high speed bombers, that were to destroy enemy vital centres. Not only supply lines, but factories, cities, supply dumps, oil depots, infrastructures, bridges... The faster the enemy morale was destroyed by 'strategic bombing', the faster the war would have ended. Unfortunately for Mussolini and for the entire Italy, Douhet passed away in 1930, struck by a heart attack, while he was cultivating pinks in his garden. However, his theories did not died with him. Thanks to the funds received by exporting oil and by trading other goods with the other European nations, Mussolini invested much time and resources to give the Italian Air Force his strategic bomber branch. In 1933, the first strategic bomber of the world, the Piaggio P.108, made its first flight, beating all the records (of course, it was the only competitor!).
But all these projects, despite trying to modernise Italy's Armed Forces, had their negative aspects too, the worst of all of them was their weight on the lifestyle of the medium Italian citizens. When funds were not enough to subsidise a research project, the Government took them from the Italians, by increasing the fuel taxes or by adding new ones. For about three years, from 1929 to 1932, the situation remained almost the same. But with the beginning of 1933, the population begun to show its adversities toward the Government and the increasing taxes. To relax the Italians, Mussolini introduced some minor reforms: pensions, loans, free holidays for workers and other small advantages for the medium class. Although these changes reassured the northern half of the country, the southern half was still pressing for major reforms. Instead of calling again the fascist squads, Mussolini financed in 1934 the construction of new factories in southern Italy. Despite a good start, works were almost stopped in middle 1935, when France, Portugal, Greece and Spain cancelled all the trade agreements they had with Italy. Without enough money to finance the construction of new plants, Mussolini playes his last card: WAR!
But against who declearing war? In Eastern Africa, Ethiopia was the only nation not already colonised by the European powers. Mussolini accepted the challenge and in early September 1935, the Italian Royal Navy begun transporting troops in Eritrea and Somalia, while the new wings of Caproni Ca.170 heavy transport planes were flying over Lybia and Egypt, bringing ammunitions for rifles, mortars and guns. The plan, drawn during a military conference with Mussolini, Balbo, de Bono and Graziani, was relatively simple: from Eritrea, the bulk of the Italian Army would have advanced along three different axes, while the troops in Somalia would have remained in a passive state, ready however to counterattack any hostile penetration in that territory.
To achieve this goal, the Italian Army fielded a considerable number of forces: excluding some colonial formations, seven divisions were transferred to Eritrea and one to Somalia. All of them had their own artillery regiment and most of them had a battalion of 'Camicie Nere' (Black Shirts) attached. Amongst them, there was the 5th Alpine Division 'Pusteria' and the 27th Division 'Brescia': this was a quite particular division, as being classified as a 'North African Truckmobile' division: although not fully motorised, it was equipped with halftracks which have been modified in order to best perform their job in a desert environment. The entire Army was to be supported by the Air Force, and with this occasion, the 1st Strategic Bombing Division was sent to Asmara. The Second Italo-Ethiopian war will serve as a testing ground, to show all the destructive power of the new Piaggio P.108. However, it will demonstrate all the lacks and deficiencis that were still affecting the Italian Armed Forces and Mussolini himself: amongst them, a poor infrastructure in both Eritrea and Somalia, bad supply conditions and a large quantity of incompetent generals, who were still matched to the principles of the Great War and who considered the tank 'a futile, useless and timeconsuming innovation'.
War officially broke out on October 3rd, 1935, when the first artillery shell was shot against the Ethiopian position located south of the Mareb River. Despite some air raids undertaken by the Italian Royal Air Force, no serious penetrations have been made by Italian soldiers. Time passed and on December 29th, 1925, Mussolini decided he had enough. After many reproaches to General Arturo Vacca Maggiolini [born in Pinerolo, my hometown!], he left Rome aboard a quad engined Caproni Ca.170. His destination? Asmara, Eritrea. When he arrived, the sentinels at the air base were really astonished to see Mussolini as the first person that got off the plane. 'Bring me to the HQ' he ordered. Immediately, a capitan arrived with a liaiason car and brought the Duce to the General HQ of All the Italian Armed Forces in Eastern of Africa (A.O.I.). There, he found his generals complanining about which strategy they would have adopted to subdue the Ethiopians. Mussolini, angry, shouted: "Bunch of incompetent. The war started about two month ago and you are still here? Excellent. If you like it or not, I don't care: from the first day of the incoming year, I will stay here, directly directing the military operations in Ethiopia".
Three days later, finally arrived January 1st, 1936. With Mussolini in Ethiopia arguing with his Generals, the Ethiopians well entrenched on the mountains and with half of the Italian population still causing disorder and slowing down the military production, Italian soldiers crossed the Mareb River, officially beginning their invasion of Ethiopia.