Courtesy Reuters

Britain and the Axis in the Near East

MUSSOLINI'S hope, like that of Stalin, has been to reap the rewards of victory without sharing in its risks. On June 10, 1940, it was logical enough for him to assume that these rewards would be his by a mere declaration of war against the Western Powers. Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries had been overrun by German troops, France was on the verge of collapse, and even the British Isles seemed wide open to Nazi invasion. "There came a moment -- let it now be acknowledged," The Times reminisced editorially on September 3, "when imminent defeat stared the British Empire in the face. That was the time when the retreating Army stood at bay in the Channel ports and the informed judgment of the High Command estimated that not more than 30,000 of them would escape the enemy's clutches. Had that prophecy been fulfilled . . . the British Isles would have lain naked to the invader." But though the prophecy was not fulfilled, Mussolini was in the war and the Mediterranean had become a battlefield.

The Fascist Government has managed to concentrate a very imposing force in North and East Africa. The number of troops in Libya at the end of the summer was certainly in excess of 250,000 and was perhaps as high as 350,000; and some 200,000 troops, including natives, are believed to be located in East Africa.

Mussolini's preparations for the campaign against Egypt, unlike those for the abortive blitzkrieg against Greece, were most careful. The men were seasoned for desert warfare and supplies were available in abundance. British observers expressed admiration and surprise at the speed with which supply dumps followed the advancing units. There appeared to be plenty of motor vehicles, and apparently endless supplies of all types of artillery and ammunition, especially of 75 mm. guns, also anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. The small Fiat tanks, though no match in direct combat against the larger British models, demonstrated their effectiveness in the early days of the Italian advance. Oddly enough, the Italians seemed to be

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