On today in 1940, Mussolini’s forces finally cross the Libyan border into Egypt, reaching what the Duce calls the “glory” Italy had sought for 3 centuries.
Italy had occupied Libya since 1912, a purely economic “expansion.” In 1935, Mussolini began sending thousands of Italians to Libya, farmers along with other rural workers largely, in portion to alleviate overpopulation issues. So by enough time of the outbreak of the Second World War, Italy had enjoyed a lengthy-term presence in North Africa, and Mussolini started dreaming of expanding that presence-always having an eye toward the same territories the old “Roman Empire” had counted among its conquests. Chief among these was Egypt.
But sitting in Egypt were British troops, which, below a 1936 treaty, have been garrisoned there to safeguard the Suez Canal and Royal Navy bases at Alexandria and Port Said. Hitler had presented to assist Mussolini in his invasion, to send German troops to aid fight a British counterattack. But Mussolini have been rebuffed when he previously supplied Italian help throughout the Battle of Britain, so he insisted that as a matter of national pride now, Italy would need to develop a Mediterranean sphere of influence on its own-or risk learning to be a “junior” companion of Germany’s.
As the Blitz commenced, and the land invasion of Britain by Germany was “imminent” (roughly the Duce thought), Mussolini believed the British troops in Egypt were particularly vulnerable, therefore announced to his generals his plans to create his transfer to Egypt. Gen. Rodolfo Graziani, the brutal governor of Ethiopia, yet another Italian colony, disagreed, believing that Italy’s Libya forces weren’t strong sufficient to wage an offensive over the desert. Graziani also reminded Mussolini that Italian claims of air superiority in the Mediterranean were only propaganda.
But Mussolini, the correct dictator, ignored these protestations and ordered Graziani into Egypt-a choice that could disprove the adage that war can be imperative to leave to the generals.