Italian invasion of France
|Italian Invasion of France|
|Part of the Battle of France during World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Umberto di Savoia||René Olry|
|Casualties and losses|
1 submarine sunk
1 destroyer damaged
1 sloop damaged
On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and Britain. The French government was already fleeing to Bordeaux and Paris was an open city. Feeling that the war would soon be over, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini said to Pietro Badoglio, the Chief of Staff of the Italian Regio Esercito (Royal Army), "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought".
However, Italy was not prepared for war and Italy's armed forces made little impact during the last few days of the Battle of France. Mussolini was well aware of Italy's military limitations at the time, but he still sought to profit from Germany's successes. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described Italy's declaration of war as "the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor".
Much of June was lost as the Italian armed forces prepared for an invasion. But, even after additional time for preparations, the hastily-prepared Italian forces were not at their prime. The Royal Italian Army massed 32 divisions in two armies on the French border. The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) supported the Royal Army and flew 716 missions and dropped 276 tonnes (304 short tons) of bombs. The Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) did little to support the invasion. Overall, the Italian forces numbered about 700,000 troops. However, while they enjoyed a huge numerical superiority to the French, they had several deficiencies. The Italian armored regiments were from the 133rd Armored Division Littorio and included between 150–250 L3/35 tanks each. But these vehicles were often classified as "tankettes" and were little more than lightly-armored machine-gun carriers not suited for modern warfare. Most Italian units had inadequate or obsolete artillery and lacked motor transport. Specific to this front, the Italians were not equipped for the cold Alpine environment.
The French armed forces were in no shape to resist the Italians. The French Army (Armée de Terre) was already defeated in the north and only a relatively small force was maintained on the border with Italy. The Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) was relocating to French North Africa by the time of the Italian declaration of war and the subsequent offensive.
The Marine Nationale (French Navy) was the only service in a position to act against the Italians. At dawn on 14 June, the French 3rd Squadron based in Toulon carried out an operation in Italian waters. Four heavy cruisers and 11 destroyers opened fire on the oil storage tanks and military installations on the Ligurian coast and in the port of Genoa. No Italian aircraft appeared and the coastal artillery scored only one hit. The French destroyer Albatros received a 155 mm (6.1 in) round on her boiler room, which killed 12 seamen.
On 16 June, the French sloop La Curieuse forced the Italian submarine Provana to surface off Oran and then sank it by ramming. La Curieuse also sustained heavy damage. This was the first Italian submarine to be sunk by the French Navy. During the night of 16 June and into the morning of 17 June, Marshal Philippe Pétain proposed an armistice with the German government. On 20 June, the French government asked the Italian government for an armistice.
Italians cross the border
On 20 June, the Italian campaign began and, on 21 June, troops of the Italian Royal Army crossed the French border. One force attempted to advance through the Alps and another force attempted to advance along the Mediterranean coast towards Nice. Initially, the Italian offensive enjoyed a limited level of success. The French defensive lines on the Italian border were weakened due to French High Command shuffling forces to fight the Germans. However, the Italian offensive soon stalled at the fortified Alpine Line (as the southern portion of the fortifications that included the Maginot Line was called) in the Alps and along the Mediterranean coast. The attack through the Little Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps had to stop due to a massive snow storm. The Italian forces attacking through the French Riviera advanced only about 5 mi (8.0 km) and were stopped in the vicinity of the town of Menton, which was partially occupied by the Italian army. On the same day, the French battleship Lorraine opened fire on the port of Bardia in Italian Libya. French naval aircraft also attacked Livorno in mainland Italy during some of the last actions of the French against the Italians.
On 25 June, following the French surrender to Germany, France and Italy signed an armistice. Mussolini had sought to reconstitute an Empire at French expense, but after the debacle of the Italian army in the Alps,
the strutting Italian dictator had been quickly deflated—all the more so because of the miserable showing of the Italian army against a handful of French troops.
In the Franco-Italian Armistice, Italy dropped its claims to the Rhône Valley, Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti, settling for a modest 50 km (31 mi) demilitarized zone. With Germany′s blessing, Italy did occupy Corsica and the Alpes-Maritimes, in addition to areas along the Franco-Italian border further north.
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