Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

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Dguts1813
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Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Dguts1813 » Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:29 pm

After Hitler first came to power in 1933 there was a brief period when the French & Italians contemplated an Anti-German Alliance. These plans came to naught when the Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Suppose the Italians had more forthcoming about their plans for East Africa & the alliance had continued for a time. When Hitler moves to reoccupy the Rhineland France & Italy mobilize and force Hitler to back down. The ensuing political crisis in Germany brings down the Nazi Government, halts German rearmament & prevents the outbreak of a general European War in 1939.

Instead,as a result of the Spanish Civil War & the 1939 Italian seizure of Albania, Franco-Italian relations break down. In the Fall of 1940 war breaks out between the former allies over Italian ambitions in the Balkans. Such a war would be primarily Naval as, in my opinion, the Franco-Italian Frontier in the Alps would quickly turn into something resembling the Austo-Italian Front in WWI, i.e. much blood spilt with either the French or Italian armies able to make much headway.

Well balanced forces with lots of opportunity here for all types of Naval Actions. Fleet Actions, Shore Bombardments, Convoy Battles, you name it.

Ed B.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:13 am

Yes, but the British would be involved as allies of the French. Italy couldn't prevail even if it could avoid the fiascos of the actual WW2 campaigns such as the attack on Greece. Also it is likely Turkey would declare war on Italy to seize the Dodecanese islands.

Strategically even if the French were on their own against Italy they couild still blockade the whole Med with their navy and cut off East Africa. They could easily invade Libya from Tunisia and seize Tripoli, and also use Tunisia as a launch pad to make landings in Sicily.......
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:50 pm

Dguts1813 (Ed B.) -

Having my database limit the ships of the two navies to whose completed on or before September 1940, I get the following list for Italy

4 old BB
2 new BB
7 CA
12 CL
59 DD
4 DE
43 TB
112 SS
+ miscellaneous smaller warships

My database calculates their "power" as 107,412

For France, it is

1 old CV
3 old BB
1 new BB
2 new BC
7 CA
11 CL
66 DD
15 TB
8 frigate
4 corvette
21 minesweeper
78 SS
+ miscellaneous smaller warships

My database calculates their "power" as 104,281

The ratio of Italy:France = 1.030 or Italy is 3% better

My database also has planes. I limited the search to models first operational from January 1935 to September 1940. Any models produced later are ignored. However, in counting the planes, the database does include any planes of these models built after September 1940 until the end of production for that model. Trainers, transports, and the like are ignored. With that disclaimer, the numbers are:

Italy: 11,225 planes
"worth" is 7,655 as calculated by my database

France: 6,760 planes
"worth" is 5,050

The aircraft "worth" ratio of Italy:France = 1.516
French planes tend to be "worth" slightly more but there are far fewer planes.


The planes counted were those built by the countries including those sold elsewhere. I assumed that they would have retained them if a war was approaching. My database also produced numbers for planes used by the countries; built minus those sold elsewhere but plus those obtained elsewhere (purchased, lend-lease, etc). Here the numbers are more even because Italy sold more aboard while France bought planes from the US (mainly):

Italy: 10,302 planes
"worth" is 6923

France: 7108 planes
"worth" is 5324

Italy:France ratio is 1.300 which is much closer than 1.516

It isn't surprising that the Italian and French navies were so close in power. They basically watched each other and built warships to counter the other's production.

RF, I think you overstate the ease with which the French Fleet could operate east of Tunisia. They would have had difficulty transiting the Strait of Sicily. Sicilian ports were Italian and other Italian ships would be available at ports like Taranto and Naples, both of which are much closer to Sicily than the French port of Toulon. Therefore, any sizable French force leaving Toulon would be detected and then intercepted by a stronger force before it could pass through the Strait. That means that any French adventures east of Tunisia are going to have to be overland. Lots of luck given the lack of railroads and even roads. The supply lines would be tenuous and vulnerable to attack from Italian naval forces since all traffic basically moves very near the coast. This Italian naval intervention couldn't be opposed by French naval forces because they couldn't get through the Strait of Sicily as discussed earlier.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:41 am

Keith Enge wrote:
RF, I think you overstate the ease with which the French Fleet could operate east of Tunisia. They would have had difficulty transiting the Strait of Sicily. Sicilian ports were Italian and other Italian ships would be available at ports like Taranto and Naples, both of which are much closer to Sicily than the French port of Toulon. Therefore, any sizable French force leaving Toulon would be detected and then intercepted by a stronger force before it could pass through the Strait. That means that any French adventures east of Tunisia are going to have to be overland. Lots of luck given the lack of railroads and even roads. The supply lines would be tenuous and vulnerable to attack from Italian naval forces since all traffic basically moves very near the coast. This Italian naval intervention couldn't be opposed by French naval forces because they couldn't get through the Strait of Sicily as discussed earlier.
This assumes a defensive war by a country without either belligerent or non-belligerent allies. If you reread my earlier post you will see that I don't envisage France operating alone.

Why would the French fleet be based on Toulon? Tunisia is of far greater strategic importance to the French, with bases at Tunis and further west at Algiers as a springboard for aggressive action. In WW2 the British were able to supply and reinforce Malta in the face of both Italian and German opposition, so I don't see the French as having much of a problem moving around the toe of Italy into the eastern Med. I would expect that the ports of Valletta, Alexandria and Haifa would be available to them, with the possibility of Greek and Turkish port facilities as well. If the French were really daring I would fancy a surprise seaborne assault to take Tobruk.
The blockade of the Med would be completed by the forces in French Somaliland - not only to choke off the Red Sea, but also to create a new front in East Africa in co-operation with resistance forces in Ethiopia. Again use of British bases can facilitate further naval and army moves against East Africa from the Indian Ocean.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Dguts1813 » Fri Jan 06, 2012 4:08 pm

RF wrote "Yes, but the British would be involved as allies of the French"

My scenario assumes that without the potential threat from Germany, Britain is far more interested in trying to contain Japanese ambitions in the Far East. While most definitely pro-French, the British remain neutral. Certainly any long war would result in a French victory, but an early victory at sea for either side would likely end the war in short order. As for the "Italian Fiasco's" in Greece and elsewhere, the French Army's performance early in WWII was hardly much better.

At any rate,from a Gamer's perspective, it would make for a very interesting and well balance campaign.

Ed B.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Fri Jan 06, 2012 6:44 pm

British interests are at stake, every bit as important as protecting the Far East from a Japanese threat. The fact that Italy and Japan are allied to each other, albeit loosely, underlines that point. It would be as significant to the British as it was to trhe Americans - the Asiatic ''nuisance'' bringing in a threat closer to home.

The vital British interests are the Suez Canal, and the route to the Canal, principally Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt but also Sudan and Kenya. Realistically unless the French also posed a threat to British interests - which at that time they didn't - I can't see Britain having no interest in seeing the French win, and to do so openly.

Strategically and geographically France has the advantage in the Med. Italy is a peninsula, exposed on three sides to naval power, while the interior of France and indeed most of its Med coastline are protected by the highest mountain range in Europe. I can't see any early Italian naval success actually forcing France to capitulate, France can only really be defeated on land.

With regards to the French Army in 1940 - well even though France was comprehensively beaten by the Germans, look at its fighting record. There were three areas the French put up a far better performance than the Italian Army did in 1940. Firstly the small French force sent to Norway achieved as much as it could, without being the centre of attention, returned to Britain in late May/June 1940 and readily formed the first forces of the Free French.
Secondly on 5 June 1940 the French Army on the Somme, outnumbered two to one by the Germans, put up a stubborn resistance to the blitzkrieg for four days of bloody fighting before Guderian got the breakthrough. And thirdly the French Army on the Italian border from 10 June 1940 held off a token Italian invasion.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Fri Jan 06, 2012 6:50 pm

Dguts1813 wrote: At any rate,from a Gamer's perspective, it would make for a very interesting and well balance campaign.
Ed B.
Its certainly an interesting scenario. It may indeed be well balanced to start off with, but really this won't be an equal fight between two evenly matched opponents.
Without Germany Italy is in no position to start a war. Proof of that is that Fascist Italy only became an expansionist power once Hitler was in power and Germany re-armed; Mussolini was in power for ten years prior to this and threatened no-one outside Italy.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:00 pm

RF,

I really don't think that the British would allow belligerents to use ports like Valletta, Alexandria, Haifa, or East African ports. Furthermore, the port of Algiers is basically useless against the Italy; Italy has no interest in anything in that direction. Tunis was a marginal port, not a fleet base, and so was incapable of hosting more than a handful of small warships. I would also dispute your implication that the British were able to supply and reinforce Malta fairly easily. It was incredibly difficult and the British convoys and warships suffered drastic losses. Often, only a single damaged transport made it through; Malta spent much of its time on starvation rations. Despite the fame of Force K based in Malta, the Royal Navy was only able to have it there for a total of less than three months (early April to early May 1941 and late October to late December 1941); at other times, it was too dangerous to base surface ships there. Furthermore, even submarines had difficulty; for a period of time, they actually spent the daylight hours submerged in the harbor to survive.

The French Fleet would be based at Toulon because it is the only Mediterranean French base capable of supporting it. Your implication that being a peninsula made Italy vulnerable is wrong. Actually, it's the reverse. Being a peninsula made the Italian Fleet safer and more flexible because it meant that many ports were available to host the fleet. On the other hand, having only one usable Mediterranean fleet port does make France vulnerable.

You also stated that the British would oppose Italy because of its "loose" alliance with Japan. However, the Tripartite Pact was signed on September 27, 1940. That is after this scenario starts and so would be unlikely to ever occur.

So, basically, I see France doing whatever it wants in the western Mediterranean while Italy does the same in the eastern half. The land forces have difficulty traveling to engage the enemy because of the logistic problems due to lack of overland transportation (the lack of infrastructure that I mentioned in the earlier post).


Ed B.-

The forces involved on June 1940 got me wondering what the force compositions were like at earlier times. So, I worked backwards at three year intervals back to 1925. Here is the result (Italy listed first, France in next line):

______6/25__6/28__6/31__6/34__6/37__6/40
CV_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0
CV_____0_____1_____1_____1_____1_____1

BB_____4_____4_____4_____4_____4_____6
BB_____3_____3_____3_____3_____3_____4

BC_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0
BC_____0_____0_____0_____0_____1_____2

CA_____0_____0_____2_____7_____7_____7
CA_____0_____2_____5_____7_____7_____7

CL_____0_____0_____3_____6____10____12
CL_____0_____3_____3_____5_____7____11

DD_____3____19____31____38____43____59
DD_____0____24____37____50____56____66

DE_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0_____4
DE_____0_____0_____0_____0_____0_-___0

TB____10____10____10____11____26____43
TB_____0_____0_____0_____0____11____13

SS_____0_____2____31____44____70___111
SS_____3____20____46____62____74____78

power 15403 20627 34915 50745 64362_106749
power 11259 27591 41733 53907 68445__95318

Sorry about the format of the table. This editor doesn't understand TABs and concatenates spaces, hence the underlines. The things that I noted were that, when one side got a lead in some category, the other usually tried to catch up. The first side then typically kept their lead at the next three year interval but that lead was proportionally smaller than it was previously. The other interesting thing is that France had the "power" lead throughout the time frame except at the very end. Therefore, this meant that, with the late surge, Italy tended to have more newly constructed ships, presumably more capable than the older French ships. This is especially noticeable in submarines. Italy built 41 in the last three years versus 4 by France. Even going back another three years, on 6/40 Italy had 67 subs less than six years old; France had only 16. On the other hand, 20 French subs were at least twelve years old versus only 2 Italians. That trend is also evident but to a much lesser extent in cruisers. France built them first and paid the price for "early adoption".

The majority of the big jump in "power" in the last three years comes from the new capital ships available. By the way, Jean Bart wasn't completed yet so isn't included (in fact, she was only completed postwar). In this scenario, I assume that she would have been completed earlier. However, it took 17 months between launch and completion for Richelieu. If Jean Bart followed a similar arc, her March 1940 launch would lead to an August 1941 completion, a long time after the 6/40 start of this scenario.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:36 pm

Keith Enge wrote:RF,

I really don't think that the British would allow belligerents to use ports like Valletta, Alexandria, Haifa, or East African ports.
I am inclined to think that if British interests are at stake they probably would in this type of scenario. I can't see Britain being an innocent uninterested by-stander.
I would also dispute your implication that the British were able to supply and reinforce Malta fairly easily. It was incredibly difficult and the British convoys and warships suffered drastic losses. Often, only a single damaged transport made it through; Malta spent much of its time on starvation rations. Despite the fame of Force K based in Malta, the Royal Navy was only able to have it there for a total of less than three months (early April to early May 1941 and late October to late December 1941); at other times, it was too dangerous to base surface ships there. Furthermore, even submarines had difficulty; for a period of time, they actually spent the daylight hours submerged in the harbor to survive.
This line of argument avoids disclosing that most of the Axis activity here came from the Germans. The Italians were far less effective and on their own would have posed nothing like the threat the Germans did.
The French Fleet would be based at Toulon because it is the only Mediterranean French base capable of supporting it. Your implication that being a peninsula made Italy vulnerable is wrong. Actually, it's the reverse. Being a peninsula made the Italian Fleet safer and more flexible because it meant that many ports were available to host the fleet. On the other hand, having only one usable Mediterranean fleet port does make France vulnerable.
You have not understood why being a peninsula makes Italy vulnerable. It is not the number of bases available to the Italians - in itself a double-edged problem in that they would be vulnerable to seaborne asault by regular and irregular forces - but the fact Italy can be blockaded and threatened from three directions. This would especially be so if Yugoslavia was allied to France (which it was) and Greece was hostile (it almost certainly would be) as well as the British supporting the French. Its not much use to the Italians if their fleet is pinned to its bases, no matter how numerous those bases are.
You also stated that the British would oppose Italy because of its "loose" alliance with Japan. However, the Tripartite Pact was signed on September 27, 1940. That is after this scenario starts and so would be unlikely to ever occur.
You ignore the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1937.
ally, I see France doing whatever it wants in the western Mediterranean while Italy does the same in the eastern half. The land forces have difficulty traveling to engage the enemy because of the logistic problems due to lack of overland transportation (the lack of infrastructure that I mentioned in the earlier post).
Again you have not followed my post. Libya would be vulnerable to French attack from Tunisia, as indeed would Sicily.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:55 pm

Keith Enge wrote:
The French Fleet would be based at Toulon because it is the only Mediterranean French base capable of supporting it....... having only one usable Mediterranean fleet port does make France vulnerable.
If this were purely a naval conflict then logically yes the loss of Toulon would ''snooker'' the French.

HOWEVER - there are two problems with this.

Firstly I can't see the Italians taking or even threatening Toulon. This isn't simply a matter of geograhy - Toulon would be difficult to get at - the Italians need a much greater degree of initiative, motivation, pre-planning and allocation of military resources required to prosecute an aggressive war. I don't see the Italians being able to undertake the type of aggressive war that would take the fight to the French. Even if they did the French would fight back with their entire forces (because there is no German threat).

Secondly - and this is a key point in my earlier post - this won't be purely a naval conflict. Losing Toulon would be awkward to the French Navy, but France unlike Britain is primarily a land power rather than a sea power. To win the Italians would have to do what the Wehrmacht did - march into Paris and dictate terms in the railway carriage in Compienge.

Long term Rome is the capital city more likely to be threatened - from the seaward. If the French can take Sardinia (via Corsica) then Italy has a long exposed coastline with its capital city half way down. No matter how many bases the Italian Navy has the Italian coast becomes the front line.
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Rick Rather
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Rick Rather » Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:21 am

I've often wondered why the french didn't empty the piers at Toulon and go after the Italians as soon as the latter declared war in June of 1940?
Just because it's stupid, futile and doomed to failure, that doesn't mean some officer won't try it.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:28 am

Well, by 10 June 1940, the Germans had broken through on the Somme and the French government was abandoning Paris for Bordeaux. I don't think that offensive actions against Italy was uppermost in their minds or that of the French Navy; indeed they were both more concerned in the naval sphere about the Germans capturing their naval bases and thus their ships......

The British were far more pro-active against the Italians in June 1940 on both land and sea, shelling Genoa for example.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Francis Marliere » Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:58 pm

RF, the French Navy was willing to get a fight with Italian Navy which, at the time was willing to avoid it. The French had nothing to loose and the Italians nothing to gain in such a fight ...
I don't know if the british did shell genoa in June 1940, but I am pretty sure that the French did it. It was the Oeration Vado which involved 4 CA and 11 DD which shelled (and missed) Genoa on the early hours of the 14 June.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:05 pm

I wouldn't dispute the liklihood of the ranks of the French Navy wanting to get stuck into the Italians. However the period of hostilities lasted only fourteen days and from the 14 June onwards (the day Paris fell) the French fleet was moving out of home waters to avoid capture by the Germans. Events would be moving fast and thus little offensive opportunity against Italy was presented.

I believe (without checking this up) that one British battleship shelled Genoa under cover of night around 17 June, then withdrew towards Gibraltar to put itself out of close range of the RA.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:00 pm

RF -

You are overstating the effect of German efforts relative to Italian efforts against the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. German ships and planes sank 84 British Commonwealth warships; Italian ships and planes sank almost as many, 74. That 74 included 1 CA, 5 CLs, 21 DDs, 3 DEs, 1 frigate, 4 corvettes, 5 minesweepers, 1 minelayer, and 33 submarines. This was not a negligible cost to the RN. By the way, by themselves, ships sank 55 of the 74, planes sank 18; one was shared between ships and planes. Of course, besides ships sunk, many more ships took damage.

You missed the point of my claiming that the solitary port of Toulon is a vulnerability. I never implied that Italy would attack it. I merely meant that having to keep only one port under observation was fairly easy. Therefore, the Italian fleet would have plenty of warning if the French had sortied. They could thus beat the French to the Straits of Sicily and prevent them from entering the eastern Med.

Libya could not easily be attacked from Tunisia, the lack of adequate roads and railroads would make it very difficult. Both the British and the Afrika Korps found moving considerable distances difficult. The logistic train was too long and tenuous. They found it difficult even with some resupply from the sea. The French land forces wouldn't have this boon because, as I claim, the French fleet couldn't operate in the eastern Med.

On the other topic - On 14 June 1940, French forces shelled both Vado and Genoa. Shelling Vado were CAs Algerie and Foch with DDs Lion, Aigle, Tartu, Chevalier Paul, and Cassard. Shelling Genoa were CAs Colbert and Dupleix with DDs Albatros, Vautour, Guepard, Valmy, and Verdun. That same night, two British CLs and four DDs shelled Tobruk. Italian forces tried to intercept the British force but failed to find them.

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