Amazon SearchBox

Monday, November 11, 2013

Italian buffonery at the outset of World War II

I'm reading The Second World War by Antony Beevor, which is yet another general account of World War II, distinguished by two things: 1) With the exception of Weinberg's World At War, this is probably the most global depiction of the entire war that I have read; and 2) Antony Beevor wrote it.

As always, reading a history of World War II can be dehumanizing or brutalizing: endless statistics and battle formations on one hand, a parade of endless atrocities on the other. Luckily, Beevor is an expert at the telling details and little anecdotes to help ground it.

And, at the moment, having reached the point where the Italians got involved in the war at earnest, there is lots of comic opera buffoonery from the Italian military. Here are some of the disasters that the Italians had inflicted upon them (or inflicted upon themselves) between June and October of 1940:


  • The British took 70 Italian soldiers prisoner in Libya on June 11. The Italian soldiers were confused because no one had told them their countries were at war.
  • During another raid a few days later, the British took captive about a hundred soldiers, as well as "a fat Italian general in a Lancia staff car accompanied by a 'lady friend', who was heavily pregnant and not his wife" (p 147).
  • Marshal Balbo, the Italian military commander in Libya, died on June 28 because his plane was accidentally shot down by "over-enthusiastic Italian anti-aircraft batteries in Tobruk" (still 147).
  • In September 1940, when the Italians finally started their invasion of Egypt, they "managed to get lost even before reaching the Egyptian frontier" (seriously, still on the same page, 147).
  • Finally, in October 1940, Mussolini decided to invade Greece because he thought the Germans had sent troops into Romania without mentioning it to him first. Unfortunately, Ribbentrop, the German foreign secretary, had mentioned it to Count Ciano, Mussolini's foreign secretary. Ciano had just forgotten to tell Mussolini.
This is the kind of behavior you expect from Republic serial villains, not from a member of the Axis powers. I'm not trying to downplay the atrocities the Italians committed in Libya and Ethiopia. But, you got to take your levity where you can find it in this period.