Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

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Francis Marliere
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Francis Marliere » Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:46 am

Gentlemen,

I don't agree that in the case of an Italian - French war in 1940-1941 Italy would have the upper hand. I think that France has too many strategic advantages that make a French defeat unlikely.
IMHO both navies can challenge the sea lines of communications of the other side. Both had large submarine fleet and lacked ASW capacities. French planes and light forces could also operate from Bizerta.
But France could move troops and supply safely by the Atlantic while Italian ships had to cross the Mediterranean under the threat of French attacks.
Even unchallenged Italian logistic chain was not good enough to supply their army in Libya. They lacked merchant ships, the Libyan ports were to few and too small to accomodate the shipping and the roads and railways couldn't accomodate the supply. The French had more ships, more and bigger ports and their roads / railways, while far from perfect, were a bit better than the Italian ones.
France could still get food, steel, oil, etc. from everywhere in the world since most of the French ports are in the Atlantic while the Italian could not. French industry was also stronger than the Italian one and was able to build more planes, ships, weapons and ammunitions.
Italian armed forces (with the exception of the Navy) was designed for small, colonial wars, and could not easily perform well in a full scale, modern war. French army - while not perfect, has battle of France has proven - army was larger, stronger and designed for a full scale war. The Air Force was replacing in mid 1940 its obsolescent aircraft by new ones (such has the Dw.520) that were better than the Italian ones.
Last, France had basis and allies in the eastern Mediterranean. One cannnot know how the Turks and the Greeks would react but both countries knew too well that Italy wanted to invade them as soon as possible. It is possible that one or two of these countries joins the war. With Turkey and / or Greece in the war, it will be difficult for Italy to get some oil.

Regards,

Francis Marliere

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:14 pm

Francis -

While I agree that France had a better army and economy, I contend that they couldn't bring them to bear in the conflict considered because the better North African ports that they had were too far from Libya. Moving enough of the army to Libya without Mediterranean sealift would have been very difficult. If the army could be transported around Africa and up the Suez Canal, it would be another matter. However, that would take the compliance of Great Britain. The original assumption for this thread was that France and Italy were allied during the 1930s until they suffered a break in the relationship that led to war in 1940. In this scenario, I assume, therefore, that Italy hadn't irritated everyone by invading Abyssinia and things of the like. With Italy being a better neighbor, Great Britain, Greece, Turkey, etc would then be less likely to help France against Italy.

By the way, Italian ASW was actually quite good, considering. The Gabbiano class corvettes were no slouches. The Italians sank 33 British subs during the war which is a respectable record. Even before the Gabbianos, they did an acceptable job. Of the 33, 8 were sunk in 1940, 6 in 1941, 13 in 1942, and 6 in 1943. Also, as I pointed out in a previous post, the French submarine fleet was considerably older than the Italian one and thus probably of lesser capability.

In the conflict proposed, Italy wouldn't be as short of merchant ships as it was in WWII. When Italy entered WWII, fully a third of their merchant fleet was outside of the Mediterranean. They thus could never come home and were wasted (Mussolini's lack of foresight was truly amazing). In this scenario, they might have made it home and been adequate for Italy's needs. Furthermore, any lack of Italian merchant ships in WWII was due to British killing so many in convoys in the eastern Mediterranean. In this scenario, Italy would control the eastern Med and the losses would be much less. The convoys would be out of the reach of French ships and planes while the success of French subs was problematical (as per the paragraph above).

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Francis Marliere » Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:17 am

Hello Greg,

I fear I don't totally agree with all your arguments. There is no doubt that roads and railwaysin French North Africa were far from perfect but I am not sure that it would make a French attack on Libya impossible. My point is that the French army, despite the difficulties, could still bring more troops and supply than the Italian. I would add that man for man, the French was better since the armament and tactical leadership were better.

The bad relations between Italy and the eastern countries (Greece and Turkey) don't start with the invasion of Abyssinia. Both countries fear an Italian invasion sonce the end of WWI and there was very little that Mussolini could do to make G & T feel better with Italy.

I don't agree with you on the quality of Italian ASW. Without sonar and with light armament they were not up to the task. I fear that both navies were badly armed against submarines. French submarines were indeed generally older than Italian ones. Please note that Italian submarines were not good designs, being too large, with a too big conning tower. They suffered a lot and achieved little during the war. The Italian had more subs than the French (116 vs 80) but their subs had to be spread on a larger area. With hindsight, I can't see any advantage for any country.

I would add that with better and bigger aeronautic industry and better access to raw materials, France would soon gain the upper hand on the air. Bomber operating from Corsica and Provence would bomb Northern Italy, where are most of Italian industry. In the other hand, Italy would have more difficulties to bomb French industry, since Italian Air Force would be weaker and operating too far away from French industry (which mostly is in northern part of France).

Best regards,

Francis Marliere

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:56 pm

Francis -

Who's Greg? I think you were addressing me and I'm Keith. Anyway, to your points.

I agree that the roads and railroads were better in French North Africa than elsewhere. However, to reach the Italians in North Africa, the French would have to leave those roads and railroads behind and cross considerable non-French territory; it would have been difficult.

Yes, Mussolini was a dolt and irritated everyone. However, without actions like Abyssinia, I'm not sure that other countries would actually have gone to war against Italy or actively supported other countries which did so.

Italian ASW was good. The 33 British subs sunk was over half that they lost during the war. Of the 33, some were sunk by planes and other causes, of course. However, 22 were sunk by surface ASW forces using depth charges, gunfire, and/or ramming.

I agree that Italian subs were by no means ideal. However, they accomplished little because there was little to accomplish. Subs are designed (or should be designed at least) to sink merchant ships. Warships are too difficult of a target and chances to attack one will be rare. However, there were few merchant ships in the Mediterranean for the subs to attack. The convoys to Malta were seldom and well defended, hardly ideal targets.

Your point is well taken about Italian industry being within range of French bombers while, conversely, Italian bombers couldn't reach French industry. However, the only fleet port in the Med, Toulon, is in range. Furthermore, when I look at planes like the Farman F.122 and Amiot Am.143, I wonder if I should be worried if I were Italian. Those ungainly planes look incapable of flight. More aerodynamic planes like the LeO.451 are better but not available in large numbers (of course, neither are the F.222 nor Am.143). There are very few French torpedo planes too.

Keith

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:04 pm

I inadvertently slighted the Royal Navy in a previous post. Someone had claimed that the Germans had done most of the sinking of RN ships and that the Italians contributed far less. I pointed out that the Germans sank 84 British Commonwealth warships while the Italians had nearly as many at 74. There was a problem with this. I forgot to tell my database to ignore shared sinkings (of which there were six which were thus counted twice, once in each list). Therefore, the correct sinking totals are 78 German, 68 Italian, and 6 shared (1 minelayer and 5 destroyers). The RN in the Med also lost three warships in November 1942 to the French (shore batteries and naval gunfire). Two other warships were lost in separate collisions with friendly ships. Actually, since collisions were involved, make that overly-friendly ships.

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:54 pm

Keith Enge wrote: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.
I don't think that I am overstating the effectiveness of the Germans viz the Italians. This analysis does bear out my assertion - the Germans did sink more ships than the Italians. Moreover the Germans did this without having a substantial surface battle fleet in the Med like the Italians had.
I might add that one effect of the Germans would be to make the job easier for Italian attacks, even where the Germans weren't present. I would suggest that without the German presence in the Med that the Italians would not have been able to sink as many of the 74 or revised figure of 68 ships later quoted.

Equally it would also be true that without Italian efforts the Germans would have sunk less than they did.

My reference to the more effectiveness of the Germans was actually referring not so much to shipping losses per se but in the weight and effect of aerial bombing, particulary on Malta. During 1942 Malta was for a while the most heavily bombed place on Earth and it was the Germans who posed the most dangerous threat. The Italians on their own would have achieved nothing like the devasting impact of the Luftwaffe - for example between June and December 1940, when the Italians had Malta to themselves, their air attacks didn't seem in the eyes of the British to be a major problem and certainly not to the Maltese inhabitants....
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:06 pm

Keith Enge wrote: 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.
I'm not so sure that Libya couldn't be attacked from Tunisia.

Yes, there were few roads or railways in southern Tunisia. But that hadn't stopped the French from constructing a chain of fortifications on their side of the border, variously known as the Mareth Line or the Medenene Line, according to whichever source you take. This Maginot Line type of structures was a sustantial undertaking and demonstrates that the French were capable of concentrating their forces in this inhospitable location. The French would not need large forces to go round the southern end of this line and head for Tripoli. Foreign Legion forces presumably would make the initial penetration - the distances to Tripoli and Homs were nothing like the distances covered by Wavell, Montgomery, Rommel or indeed Graziani.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:19 pm

Keith Enge wrote:-
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.......... as I claim, the French fleet couldn't operate in the eastern Med.
I infer from this that you mean that the Italians would interpose their battle fleet in the Straits of Sicily and engage the French Jutland style to prevent them from passing by Malta into the eastern Med?

If this is so then I can only say that the Italian battle fleet in the summer of 1940 failed to show any inclination to closely blockade Malta in this way, or to challenge the British battle fleet. Would they have been less reticent against the French? I'm not convinced they would be.

There is another point here - I don't believe the Italians could effectively block these Straits, certainly not against submarines. Remember the difficulties the British had with the Straits of Gibraltar, only seven miles wide at the narrowest point, with both German and Italian submarines getting through.

As for the eastern Med itself - don't forget that the French held Syria and Lebanon, they already had a presence there.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:24 pm

Keith Enge wrote: I agree that the roads and railroads were better in French North Africa than elsewhere. However, to reach the Italians in North Africa, the French would have to leave those roads and railroads behind and cross considerable non-French territory; it would have been difficult.
Keith
I don't understand ''cross considerable non-French territory'' - what territory is that?

Surely you go from the Mareth Line straight into Tripolitania?
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:31 pm

Keith Enge wrote:
Italian ASW was good. The 33 British subs sunk was over half that they lost during the war. Of the 33, some were sunk by planes and other causes, of course. However, 22 were sunk by surface ASW forces using depth charges, gunfire, and/or ramming.
Keith
Yes, but don't forget that the Med is a shallow sea, and the outline of submerged subs can be seen easily by low flying aircraft in daylight. That factor was also a problem for the German U-boats sent to the Med.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:36 pm

Keith Enge wrote: I agree that Italian subs were by no means ideal. However, they accomplished little because there was little to accomplish. Keith
To demonstrate that I am not being ''anti-Italian'' in these posts, can I give a mention to the Leonardo Da Vinci.

This was Italys' most successful sub in WW2, albeit its success was in the Atlantic and not the Med, after passing submerged under the Straits of Gibraltar in October 1940. This sub sank more Allied shipping than the majority of individual German U-boats, and its tally included US Liberty ships.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Francis Marliere » Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:56 pm

Keith Enge wrote:Francis -

Who's Greg? I think you were addressing me and I'm Keith. Anyway, to your points.

I agree that the roads and railroads were better in French North Africa than elsewhere. However, to reach the Italians in North Africa, the French would have to leave those roads and railroads behind and cross considerable non-French territory; it would have been difficult.

Yes, Mussolini was a dolt and irritated everyone. However, without actions like Abyssinia, I'm not sure that other countries would actually have gone to war against Italy or actively supported other countries which did so.

Italian ASW was good. The 33 British subs sunk was over half that they lost during the war. Of the 33, some were sunk by planes and other causes, of course. However, 22 were sunk by surface ASW forces using depth charges, gunfire, and/or ramming.

I agree that Italian subs were by no means ideal. However, they accomplished little because there was little to accomplish. Subs are designed (or should be designed at least) to sink merchant ships. Warships are too difficult of a target and chances to attack one will be rare. However, there were few merchant ships in the Mediterranean for the subs to attack. The convoys to Malta were seldom and well defended, hardly ideal targets.

Your point is well taken about Italian industry being within range of French bombers while, conversely, Italian bombers couldn't reach French industry. However, the only fleet port in the Med, Toulon, is in range. Furthermore, when I look at planes like the Farman F.122 and Amiot Am.143, I wonder if I should be worried if I were Italian. Those ungainly planes look incapable of flight. More aerodynamic planes like the LeO.451 are better but not available in large numbers (of course, neither are the F.222 nor Am.143). There are very few French torpedo planes too.

Keith
Hello Keith,

sorry for calling you Greg, my bad.

There is no doubt that a french invasion of Libya would have been very difficult, because of poor roads and raillways network, and also because French army was not very mobile in 1940. Moving supply and artillery by horse is not a good idea in the desert. Anyway, French army is quite stronger than the Regio Esercito and a French land attack in Northern Italy is still possible. Italy lacks anti tank weapons and assault planes that could stop French heavy tanks such as the B1bis. A French attack might succeed.

I don't think that Italian ASW was good. I'd rather think it was among the worst of belligerents in WWII. According to "The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943" (by Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani), they had no sonar operational in 1940 and it took a lot of time to introduce it in service. The very first ones were available in 1942 and it was not in common use before mid 1943. The ASW weapons were not especially good too. The depth charges were too light and too fews. IMHO the British looses don't prove the quality of Italian ASW but that the Mediterranean was a dangerous place for the subs. They had to operate in waters that are very clear, and too often shallow. My guess is that both French and Italian navies are ill prepared for both submarine and anti-soubmarine warfares and would suffer a lot during the early operations.

I agree with you on the fact that some French bombers are obsolete (as Italian BR.20 and Ca-311-315 were). However, my point is that French aeronautic industry had the potential to build quickly modern aircraft (Dw520, LeO451, Bloch 175) in large numbers and that Italian could not. Within a few months, the Regia Aeronautica would face a larger force of better aircrafts. Your point on the small number of torpedo planes (this is also true for dive bombers) is true ; it is also true that the Italian had none operational in june 1940.

Best,

Francis

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by Keith Enge » Tue Jan 17, 2012 7:19 pm

Francis -

The worst ASW was the Germans. Incredibly, not one German destroyer during the whole war destroyed an enemy submarine with depth charges. The closest they got was a probable kill on the Russian sub K.22

I realize that DDs are not the prime ASW weapons but they did carry 50 DCs in two racks with four throwers. So, they were equipped to kill subs, they just didn't.

Italian ships sunk 22 British subs by depth charging, ramming, and/or gunfire. Conversely, the Royal Navy sank 28 Italian subs by the same means. This isn't that much different and the RN was a leader in ASW. The RN also got more opportunities because there were more Italian subs in the Med than British subs. The Italians sank 8 subs in 1940, 2 in 1941, 8 in 1942, and 4 in 1943. Therefore, even if they lacked first rate gear early in the war, they still did well. I'm not sure why there was only two kills in 1942; perhaps RN subs have been deployed away from the Med (hunting for the Bismarck or whatever). There is some evidence of this - British subs sank 8 warships in the Med in 1941 but 14 in 1942 so they were probably more active in 1942 than 1941.

Back to another topic in this thread - Some posters want to attribute most of the RN's problems in the Med to German rather than Italian forces. Actually, the Germans may have hurt the Italians in the Med more than they helped them. The Italians fought most battles with the odds stacked against them. Despite the numerous spies at Egyptian ports and Gibraltar, the Italians never seemed to send out a force as strong as the Royal Navy's. Part of this was the superior British air reconnaissance but the majority was because the British could read Luftwaffe codes. Therefore, if the Italians dutifully informed their ally about the operation or requested Luftwaffe aircover, the British soon knew about it. Ironically, the British had a great difficulty breaking Italian codes so, if the Germans weren't in the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that the Italians probably would have done better!

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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:12 am

Keith Enge wrote:Francis -

The worst ASW was the Germans. Incredibly, not one German destroyer during the whole war destroyed an enemy submarine with depth charges. The closest they got was a probable kill on the Russian sub K.22
Didn't Heinrich Timm sink a British sub with depth charges during the Phoney War and pick up survivors?
Last edited by RF on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Franco-Italian Naval War, 1940-41

Post by RF » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:15 am

Francis Marliere wrote: There is no doubt that a french invasion of Libya would have been very difficult, because of poor roads and raillways network, and also because French army was not very mobile in 1940. Moving supply and artillery by horse is not a good idea in the desert.
You seem to have overlooked my post above on this point.
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