World War Two was a truly global war. The war in the Mediterranean took military conflict beyond the areas in Europe hit by Blitzkrieg. However after the events surrounding Dunkirk and the closeness of victory in the Battle of Britain, the events that unfolded in the Mediterranean did much to stir the hearts of the civilians in Britain and other Allied powers occupied by the Nazis.
In June 10, 1940, Mussolini declared war on Great Britain and France. Fighting between British and Italian troops started almost immediately as British troops were stationed in Egypt and Italian troops in neighbouring Libya. The Italian general in Libya (General Balbo) complained to Rome about the uselessness of his troops weapons, especially tanks that were cut open by bullets as their armour plating did not work.
On 28th October ,1940, Italy invaded Greece. It proved to be a disaster for the Italians as they took insufficient ammunition, equipment etc. Mussolini’s generals complained that he had no idea on how to run a campaign – it is said that Mussolini believed that there was no difference between fighting a campaign in the mountains or on flat ground as fighting spirit would suffice !!
Hitler decided to help his ally fearing a British invasion of Europe via Greece. In April 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and then Greece. It took one month to beat the Greeks and 40,000 troops from Britain, Greece and New Zealand were evacuated to Crete.
On 20th May, 1941, the Germans attacked Crete. The island fell in eight days and only 18,000 troops escaped; however, the Germans also experienced heavy casualties.
The Italians had fared no better in North Africa. A British force lead by General O`Connor, and outnumbered eight to one, raided Libya and found the Italians in no mood to fight. Both Tobruk and Tripoli were taken and once again Hitler had to send help.
In January 1941 the British attacked the Italians in Abyssinia and by May 1941 they had been defeated and Haile Selassie was put back in charge of the country.
Mussolini had made no gains in the Mediterranean region but his involvement was of huge consequence for Hitler as he had to assist his ally in areas of Europe that had no intrinsic value to Nazi Germany. Germany’s involvement in Greece, the old Yugoslavia etc. were all to greatly hinder the input that the Wehrmacht could make in the attack on Russia. Also, the German involvement in North Africa tied up valuable equipment, valuable fuel supplies and men who could have been used in Russia. One of Germany’s most able generals was also tied up here – Erwin Rommel. Germany got nothing positive out of her involvement in Northern Africa but was left, as a result, short of men, equipment and fuel on the European mainland. The Mediterranean theatre of war greatly affected the war in Europe.