THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Mussolini’s dream of extending Italy’s Colonial Empire

From the News Letter, August 10, 1940

Nazi Party official Rudolf Hess (1894 - 1987, right) in a car with Italian leader Benito Mussolini, circa 1938.  (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nazi Party official Rudolf Hess (1894 - 1987, right) in a car with Italian leader Benito Mussolini, circa 1938. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“As the German High Command now seems to realise that invasion of the United Kingdom must prove a most costly and doubtful enterprise, it is encouraging Mussolini to set out on his vaunted mission - that of ‘driving the British Navy out of the Mediterranean’ and extending widely the boundaries of Italy’s Colonial Empire,” commented the News Letter on this day in 1940.

The News Letter’s editorial continued: “The Rome-Berlin alliance finds it necessary, in order to maintain the morale of the two peoples, to report successes from day to day, even if it has to manufacture them, and the plans for striking deadly blows at Britain include, in addition to intensification of attacks upon shipping and cities and towns in the United Kingdom, the waging of a great war in North-East Africa.

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“Mussolini has long dreamt of converting the Mediterranean into an Italian lake by depriving this country of Gibraltar, at one entrance, and of the Suez Canal zone, at the other, and establishing an Empire in Africa which would incorporate Egypt, the Sudan, British Somaliland, and Kenya.”

The editorial added: “Some ecclesiastical authorities in Rome advise him to add the Holy Land.”

The editorial on Mussolini’s Mediterranean ambitions continued: “He chose carefully the moment for entry into the war, as by the collapse of France he was relieved almost at once of anxiety about the safety of the Western frontier of Libya.”

The News Letter warned the Italian duce that his forces would face if the invaded Egypt with it’s “waterless desert”. And above all, Britain remained committed to supporting their Egyptian allies.

“Italy has large forces on the Egyptian border and sent troops into British Somaliland, but her High Command can be under no delusion about the difficulties that confront them.

“An advance in Egypt would have to be made across a waterless desert, stretching for hundreds of miles, and the invaders would have to transport, in addition to munitions, enormous quantities of water, and to face attack by land, sea, and air.

“The Egyptian Army is a well-organised and good fighting force, capable of giving excellent support to British troops, who would know how to use the terrain to the best advantage.”

And while “British Somaliland” seemed promising, difficulties would also lie ahead for the Italian forces.

“Italian operations in British Somaliland may seem promising at the outset, but eventually they must meet with great difficulties.

“The colony is not strongly held, but the terrain is of the kind that lends itself to guerilla tactics, form of military activity in which the defending troops excel.

“Any success which the Italians achieved, of course, would be a serious blow to British prestige and would discourage the Abyssinians, who are now preparing to rise against the occupiers of their country.”

The News Letter’s editorial concluded: “This, however, is certain - that as long as the British Fleet controls the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, Italian operations in North- East Africa must be fruitless.

“A few months ago military authorities in Rome described Britain as the ‘decrepit mistress’ of those seas, but since then they have been compelled to revise their views.

“At all events Mussolini’s dream can never be realised against a Britain that is determined to fight on until victory has been gained the decisive theatre of war and the Axis Powers have been made to return all the territory which they have seized.”