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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Military/History Related Hobbies > Alternate Timelines

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Alternate Timelines The plausible "what if's" of military history.

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  #1  
Old 26 Feb 17, 16:36
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Could proper planning have won WW2 for Italy?

Or at the very least, made it less of a humiliating ordeal?

I have looked at the slap-dash nature of the Italian military and its operations in WW2, and then at how Japan went about it. In December of 1941, Japan didn't have any aircraft or ships sitting idle wondering what to do, and it was all about proper planning.
Like the Italians, the Japanese had poor logistics, some good (and some not very good) aircraft, lousy small-arms and artillery, horrible tanks and a navy that looked good on paper but which proved to be brittle in action.
Without question, Japanese esprit was much higher, but the main factor in that is winning victories.

The most shocking deficiency was in their planning for war, they just didn't do any of that sort of thing!
Yes, the decision to enter the war was purely Political and based on short-term gains, pure greed, in other words. However, that does not excuse the Military from setting up some operational plans to cover that eventuality. After October of 1939 (let's start there) Italy knew it would be a real war and they knew what side they would be on. If they had started formulating plans at that point, and done a good job of it, they would have had a much better chance of forcing an early decision... which would have been the only way they could win.

Italy could have attacked the following places simultaneously on June 10th; France (the only one they did) and supportive landings in the Riviera, Tunisia, Malta, Cyprus, British Somalia, Aden and the Sudan.

And I can back that up, they had the forces to do all that.
However, I need to dash out, I'll be back with facts and figures later on.
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  #2  
Old 26 Feb 17, 17:00
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Their only hope for a planned win would have been to have remained neutral(but pro Axis) until after d day and then joined the allies,bit like they did against France.
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Old 26 Feb 17, 17:01
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Exorcist View Post
Or at the very least, made it less of a humiliating ordeal?

I have looked at the slap-dash nature of the Italian military and its operations in WW2, and then at how Japan went about it. In December of 1941, Japan didn't have any aircraft or ships sitting idle wondering what to do, and it was all about proper planning.
Like the Italians, the Japanese had poor logistics, some good (and some not very good) aircraft, lousy small-arms and artillery, horrible tanks and a navy that looked good on paper but which proved to be brittle in action.
Without question, Japanese esprit was much higher, but the main factor in that is winning victories.

The most shocking deficiency was in their planning for war, they just didn't do any of that sort of thing!
Yes, the decision to enter the war was purely Political and based on short-term gains, pure greed, in other words. However, that does not excuse the Military from setting up some operational plans to cover that eventuality. After October of 1939 (let's start there) Italy knew it would be a real war and they knew what side they would be on. If they had started formulating plans at that point, and done a good job of it, they would have had a much better chance of forcing an early decision... which would have been the only way they could win.

Italy could have attacked the following places simultaneously on June 12th; France (the only one they did) and supportive landings in the Riviera, Tunisia, Malta, Cyprus, British Somalia, Aden and the Sudan.

And I can back that up, they had the forces to do all that.
However, I need to dash out, I'll be back with facts and figures later on.
When Mussolini declared war on 10 June 1940, 218 ships of some 1,215,000 tons, amounting to 35% of the Italian Merchant Marine were caught in enemy or neutral ports outside of the Med. Within the context of this thread whether a ship is sunk by torpedo off Cape Bon, is of over some 25,000 tons and unable to enter any North African ports, or is trapped in an enemy port because of Mussolini’s dim-witted impulsiveness, its tonnage is still lost for the transport and supply of Axis forces in North Africa. Even given the tonnage lost to enemy action in 1940; 186,631 tons of shipping over 500 tons, and 4,326 tons under 500 tons, only 35,299 tons worth of shipping was launched. Italy never came close to recouping her losses, regardless where or how they occurred.

The Italian Navy was not able to properly defend its convoys. Co-ordination with the air force was almost non-existent, there were insufficient fuel reserves, it had no radar nor night fighting capability, no ASDIC/Sonar and minimal ASW capability, was lacking purpose built ASW types, and was composed of many ship types whose abilities were exaggerated. Ultimately 90% of the Italian Merchant Marine was sunk - that is a failure to protect.

“From 1939 sugar and soap were rationed, and coffee was unobtainable. Fats were rationed in the Autumn of 1940. Newspapers were reduced to 4 pages then further reduced to 2. One pair of shoes or a few items of clothing could be purchased each year but not both. Food intake was reduced to below 1,000 calories a day: 200 grams (7 oz.) of bread (later reduced to 150), and 400 grams of meat, 500 grams of sugar, and 100 grams of olive oil a month. Only those engaged in heavy physical labour were allowed more” I should add that these draconian measures ensured that a black market would flourish. – Source is Professor Lucio Ceva, University of Pavia (Faculty of Political Science), author of "The North African Campaign 1940-1943".

As far as the British Royal Navy vs. the Italian Navy and supply and reinforcement goes, unlike the Italian Navy’s surface forces, the Royal Navy was tasked with fighting in the Atlantic, the Arctic, and the Far East, as well as the Med. and what’s more, with the loss of the French Navy soon after Mussolini’s declaration of war, the Royal Navy was consistently outnumbered by the Italian Navy in all types i.e. BB’s, cruisers, and destroyers, other than carriers, which could have been negated with co-ordinated land based air power, until late 1942 and TORCH.

From my North Africa bin,
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Last edited by Marmat; 26 Feb 17 at 17:14..
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Old 26 Feb 17, 17:17
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The biggest problem with Italy's military in WW 2 was a social one. There was a very wide gap between officers and enlisted. Officers took their positions as ones of privilege while enlisted were treated poorly.
Many units had officers that interacted only in the most peripheral ways with their troops. This often led to poor morale and an unwillingness to fight on the part of the enlisted, particularly in infantry units. The more elite divisions and units suffered less of this problem
Compounding that was the existence of the Black Shirts within many units. These were the Italian political equivalent of the SS but neither elite, nor particularly well trained or organized.

Overall, Italy's lack of resources and production means were going to doom them.

Italy's best course would have been to stay out of the war until late 1942 or 43 then enter on the Allied side to reap the benefits of being on the victorious side. Italy, like Turkey, could have played both sides to get supplied with arms and materials they lacked. They could have remained a conduit for supplying Germany critical materials too.
Without Italy in the war the British would have had little means other than the air war to continue to fight Germany. Yes, they could have supplied more material to Russia once Germany attacked that country, but Britain really needed the US to jump in if they were going to invade Europe itself.
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Old 26 Feb 17, 17:42
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No matter how you slice it, Mussolini was still in charge and that means impetuous decisions being made with no visible means of support. If Italy delay entry, They might not have invaded France or Greece.

There was no real support base in Italy to conduct a war. They were a customer of Romania for oil and other places (USA?) were far away. Control of East Africa, Libya and Albania were not profitable and secured no resources.

The only way they could have made a surprise was to sail the Battle Fleet into Valetta and landed two or three divisions before declaring war. Casualties would have been huge, but they would have got Malta.

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Old 26 Feb 17, 17:56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
No matter how you slice it, Mussolini was still in charge and that means impetuous decisions being made with no visible means of support. If Italy delay entry, They might not have invaded France or Greece.

There was no real support base in Italy to conduct a war. They were a customer of Romania for oil and other places (USA?) were far away. Control of East Africa, Libya and Albania were not profitable and secured no resources.

The only way they could have made a surprise was to sail the Battle Fleet into Valetta and landed two or three divisions before declaring war. Casualties would have been huge, but they would have got Malta.

Pruitt
If Italy didn't get involved in the war, it is distinctly possible that Britain would have made overtures to them to either stay neutral or enter on their side. That could mean access to the Suez Canal for Italy along with Britain supplying some of Italy's oil needs from the Middle East.
Similar politics occurred with the Allies and Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. I see no reason why Britain, and then the US wouldn't do similar with a neutral Italy. Mussolini really wasn't any worse than Franco so...
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Old 26 Feb 17, 21:37
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I have read all of what you have posted above, and I have to say that I agree with almost ever word of it.
In fact, it is ever worse than you made it look, in many ways. More about that later, but I still believe that Italy could have entered the war like a Bull in a China shop and perhaps have knocked Britain out of the war with either shock by September of 1940, or by making the war effort itself impossible by the end of that year.

How?
Well, the first one ain't gonna be easy. Of all the nations involved in the war, Britain was the least susceptible to psychological warfare. What Italy would have to do is set up a purely defensive front in the central Med., and a fully offensive one in the Eastern Med. This is feasible, especially in the Summer of 1940.
I have a source below that shows 125 Destroyers and Frigates ("torpedo" boats) vs. 35 for the RN down there, and 113 Submarines. A 40/60 split west/East for the DDs and 60/40 Split in the same way for Subs leaves a good reserve and makes for impressive force in itself... and we have not even gotten into the Heavy units and shore-based airpower yet.


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When Mussolini declared war on 10 June 1940, 218 ships of some 1,215,000 tons, amounting to 35% of the Italian Merchant Marine were caught in enemy or neutral ports outside of the Med ....
Yes, but that still leaves 2.5 million tons available. If operations are planned correctly, using shipping instead of trucks (which they were short of) for most logistical operations it could have saved them a lot of fuel.

And fuel was a killer, they were only getting about 600 tons per month out of Albania and had no other internal sources, just Romania. However, this is weird; when the Germans occupied Italy, they found about 100,000 tons stashed away in various hoarded supplies here & there.

Here is my take on it; an all-out push to get it over with quickly seems more in character and more likely than what actually happened; Italy sticking to a grinding war of attrition for three years and only giving up in September of 1943.
How could they last so long under those conditions, and yet never gird their loins for a serious push?


here is a vid that got me thinking-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqoOk5nZEKw&t=253s



I will be referring to it a lot.

Notice how the air force went from less than 50% readiness in Sept 1939 to 75% in June of 1940?
Clearly, somebody in Italy could see the writing on the wall, and could take appropriate measures.
Why not the rest of them?


At 4 minutes, the number and state of Italian Army Divisions is shown, and I intend to have some fun with that, but since I was talking about the Navy too, here is something interesting-

http://www.icsm.it/regiamarina/redsea.htm

Now, I don't intend to boost that force at all, the only thing I would do is send more guns so the DDs don't have to give up anything. But a considerable amount of mischief could be done with that stuff, especially on the first day of the war. They mention that there are about 50 merchant ships trapped in Massawa (Eretria), and that is more than enough to transport enough men to take Aden, and to dump a bunch of mines all over the place.
THAT is the kind of thing I am talking about; Planning ahead of time to maximize the impact of what you have. Shipping old guns and mines to that front before the start of the war is just common sense... the very thing that seems to have been lacking.
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Old 26 Feb 17, 22:25
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Well, as far as their army went, it could have been far better organized and even to a good degree, equipped than it was.

The Italians could have done the following to make a big difference in this:

First, starting about 1936 they reorganize all their infantry divisions into trinary units. That is, they have 3 regiments instead of two across the board. They did have some 3 regiment divisions, but these were the exception, not the rule.
This would reduce the number of divisions in existence by about a quarter to a third. But, the resulting divisions would be far stronger, and not just in infantry. The divisions that were disbanded would also provide the remaining ones more artillery, and other support weapons.

Next, the standard Italian infantry company needed to be reorganized on WW 2, not WW 1 principles. As it was, this unit consisted three platoons of an infantry each with two rifle sections and two machinegun sections.
A reorganization here would have given three platoons of three squads each with a single machinegun. Adding a weapons section with 3 additional machineguns and 3 45mm Brixia mortars would have given it considerable additional firepower.
At battalion the 8 heavy machineguns could be complemented by 6 to 8 81mm mortars that historically were usually found at regiment level.

To this add a battery of 6 to 8 37mm (license built German Pak 35) or their 47mm for antitank work.

The armored divisions just needed a much larger infantry component based on the same reorganization as the infantry. For 1939 a single three battalion regiment with full motorization would have been sufficient.

This would have also reduced some of the strain on the Italian artillery park and given the new divisions better support, even it if twas still light and heavily dependent on 75mm guns and howitzers.

The little L3/33 tankette could have been handed out to the infantry divisions in large numbers for scouting and close support of the infantry itself.
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Old 26 Feb 17, 23:03
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Mussolini could not cut the number of Divisions because the Generals would have overthrown him. Fewer divisions would have left some Generals without a job. He did whatever his Generals told him to do. The state of the Italian economy and the industrial plant also got in the way of production. To finance the Ethiopian War Mussolini asked Mothers and Housewives to donate their wedding rings! The Industrial also did not have enough steel and strategic metals to produce more than they did. The Italians built Tankettes because they could not find enough steel to build larger tanks. Besides Tankettes were popular in the 30's.

The same shortage of steel got in the way of building more Artillery. The Italians used some Artillery built before WW1! They also took all the Austrian Artillery they could get as war loot and most of it was still in use in 1939.

I read somewhere that the Italian Infantry Divisions were supposed to get Black Shirt Regiments and/or Battalions assigned to them. I would venture there were not enough Black Shirt Volunteers to give every division a third Infantry Regiment. There were some decent Artillery Howitzers and Guns in the inventory, but not nearly enough for even a second Artillery Battalion (keep in mind the British Army also made do with two Artillery Battalions as well. Rommel was always after the Italians to send more 100mm Guns.

The Italians could not afford to buy licenses from Germany.

While the Army was waiting for Artillery, the Italian Navy was still building Capital ships. Think how many tanks and artillery pieces you could build from just the steel in one Battleship!

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Old 27 Feb 17, 00:23
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Quote:
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Mussolini could not cut the number of Divisions because the Generals would have overthrown him.

Really?

Fewer divisions would have left some Generals without a job. He did whatever his Generals told him to do.

Well, I kinda doubt that. He pushed them to do a lot of things they didn't want to, and the biggie was the war itself.


While the Army was waiting for Artillery, the Italian Navy was still building Capital ships. Think how many tanks and artillery pieces you could build from just the steel in one Battleship!

Pruitt
That IS a good point, and one I was going to get into later. In 1940 it would have made a lot of sense to cancel the last pair of Roma-class BBs... from a standpoint of greed and quick returns.
Why build ships that won't be available until 1943 if the whole idea is a smash & grab kind of war?
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Old 27 Feb 17, 00:46
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Mussolini was actually nervous about the Army staging a coup, so he tried to give his generals what they asked for before the war. With Hitler making such a reputation for German Arms, Mussolini felt a bit jealous and wanted to show what the Italians could do. That is why he pushed the Army into invading France, Yugoslavia and Greece. Mussolini was once the biggest "Leader" in Europe until Hitler ran past him. Italy had prestige and influence in the Balkans, until it blew up in Mussolini's face.

The Army did have the troops to overthrow Mussolini.

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by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"
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Old 27 Feb 17, 01:24
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Italy's army was intended to fight colonial wars for the largest part.

The invasion of Ethiopia cost materials that would have better spent elsewhere, and its annexation likewise drew off resources which were immediately lost once war started.

The start of the war, besides the shipping crisis noted above, also caught the Italians in the midst of changing calibers for its small arms.

If they had waited another year, and used that time to work on their small arms transition, and obtained German advice for tank design and unit structures, they could have made a planned entry into the war in a far better shape than they did.

Interestingly, this would have meant no Africa campaign in 1940. Possible no German invasion of Greece. One or two more mobile divisions going into Russia.
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Old 27 Feb 17, 11:48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marmat View Post
The Italian Navy .... there were insufficient fuel reserves
The Italian Navy had accumulated reserves prior to the start of the war. However Italian industry had not. The result was that the Italian government transferred some of the Italian navy's reserves to industry.
Sadkovich's book has the exact numbers, IIRC
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Old 27 Feb 17, 13:54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
...
The Army did have the troops to overthrow Mussolini.

Pruitt
So did Al Capone, but I get the point.

So, what we need here for a starting point is a different clique of Generals, one that would demonstrate a relatively average level of competnce, instead of the world's worst.
Okay, maybe Chaing's boys were worse, but you get my point now, right?

Dating back to the days of Columbus, Italian potentates had a habit of blaming their own troops for lost wars, when as often as not it was the leaders themselves that were to blame. Half a millennium of this kind of internal abuse took it's toll, but it was all psychological.... and thus it was the kind of thing that Fascists are supposed to be masterful at dealing with.

Point of Departure for this thread --
Mussolini and his crew engineer a revolution from within the military sometime in the 1930s, and the only result that concerns us here is that the Officer Corps is lead by a Young Turk sort of group. My notion here is that they rise to a level that is certainly nothing spectacular, lets call it the equivalent of what you could find in the US Military of that time.
Handy for me, since I can reference that off the top of my head. But keep in mind, the US did its homework when it had to, they even had that infamous Red Plan, dealing with the unlikely contingency of war with Britain.

In October of 1939, it became obvious to everyone that France and Britain were not backing down and that Germany was sticking to it's guns, so a constantly updated contingency plan for war on either side was required.
Required, and I think that it is nothing but common sense that tells us so, and a requirement that could have been filled by a few dozen full-time officers and less than a hundred staffers.

Now, to the 4-minute mark in that vid from above-
It says that Italy had 67 Divisions in 1939 as follows;
43 x Infantry Divs, 3 x Tank, 2 Motorized, 3 x "Fast", 5 x Mountain and 11 x "Other" Divisions.... one of those must have been Airborne and the rest probably Static Defense.

This is outside of what was in East Africa.

In 1940, we don't get that breakdown. Instead we have 73 Divs with the following handicaps;
19 x at full strength
34 x with shortfalls of men and transport
20 x were at half strength in manpower and trucks, and had "significant" shortages of equipment, including artillery.

One easy move is to take those last 20 and reduce them to 10 Divs, and now you have 10 + 19 to give you 29 full-strength Divisions.
This is your Expeditionary Corps. THIS is what you can go adventuring with, the rest is strictly for defending what you already have; Italy including Sardinia and Sicily, Albania, Rhodes and Libya.

Now we get to the part about 2 Regiments vs 3. This gets a little complicated, some Divisions are just fine that way, such as Coastal Defense and Airborne. Perhaps the Mountain Divs too, but that would be more of a question of qualified personnel.

And what exactly was a "Fast" Division... Cavalry? Could they have been paired down to Brigades and function more effectively that way?
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Old 27 Feb 17, 14:34
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The Italians didn't need 5 mountain divisions. Reduce it to 3 and bring them up to 3 regiments each. You reduce the infantry division count by one third. This results in just 30 divisions in existence, all three regiments, and all full strength including artillery and transport.

The three armored divisions are reinforced by adding portions of the motorized divisions to them to form larger more capable units.
The Celere (Fast) divisions are disbanded and their cavalry component is turned into separate brigades for home use since these are useless in Africa. Their tank and motorized components are turned over to the armored divisions or added into the infantry divisions.
As it was these divisions were pretty much useless. They combined a battalion of L3/33 tankettes (52) with two brigades of cavalry (each of two "regiments" of battalion size), and a bersaglieri regiment of three small infantry battalions that was partially motorized.
It's basically a weak cavalry division that was given some useless tankettes. Disbanding these is a better option. The bersaglieri could go to the armored divisions. The tankettes to motorized infantry divisions and the rest broken up into smaller units.

So, in Libya the Italians would now have say, 2 fully equipped and powerful armored divisions with M13/40 tanks. The third has the older M11/39's and is held in reserve. There are two fully motorized infantry divisions with tankettes supporting the armored divisions. In addition, there are 6 infantry divisions supporting these and these divisions have sufficient transport, communications equipment, and artillery to be effective in offense or defense. Another 2 infantry divisions are in reserve.

An early decision to drop the CR 42 biplane fighter in favor of the Fiat G 50 puts the former out of production in 1938 instead of 1942 and the G 50 available in somewhat larger numbers.

At sea, the carrier Aquila is started in 1938 and finished by 1940 rather than laying down and constructing the Roma and Impero. A second carrier is started in 1939 and will finish in 1941. Italy uses Japanese assistance on carrier operations and design rather than Germany.
Reggiane is to supply the aircraft and a naval air arm established over the objection of the air force itself. Initially, the carrier will have 30 Re 2000 or 2001 fighters aboard.
The Italians seek to get a small number of Ju 87R or Fi 167 from the Germans.

This means when or if Italy goes to war, they have better carriers and more naval aircraft than Britain or France in the Med.
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