Isle of Calypso
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Operazione C.3, the Italian plan for the invasion of Malta, originated during the Ethiopian Crisis of 1935-36 when open war between Britain and Italy seemed at least possible. Planning moved ahead slowly, and began to take shape more firmly after Italy joined the Second World War in June 1940.
While the plans differed in scope and forces committed, all of them included an invasion of Gozo, the smaller island about four miles to the northwest of Malta. Gozo is noted for its fine beaches, and as the place where Odysseus remained for seven years as the love-slave of Calypso. Despite these charms, the island has practically no military value: no airfields and no sizable port facilities. Gozo is just over a quarter of the size of Malta, but scantly populated; even today only 31,000 people live there (compared to 388,000 on Malta itself). Some in the Italian command questioned whether Gozo needed to be invaded in the first hours of C.3, or if it could not wait until after the main island had been secured.
Not taking the British for fools, others pointed out that Gozo might have auxiliary airfields that would allow the British to prolong their resistance and render the continued Italian occupation of Malta difficult. However, the British took little interest in the neighboring island, sending troops across a battalion at a time for live-fire exercises but keeping no permanent force on Gozo. The island could have sheltered much of Malta's civilian population, and been used to grow food, but little was done toward either of these ends.
In short, the Italians were probably correct to assume that the British would make use of Gozo. That the British failed to do so was to their own disadvantage.
The Italian Navy had the sea-lift capability to put three divisions on the beaches in assault landing craft: two on Malta, and one on Gozo. Placing an entire division on Gozo — the 1st "Superga" Infantry Division was slated to make the assault — would have been overkill for a nearly unprotected island. Landing a third division on the main island would give the assault much greater weight while also stretching the Allied defenses. First Division had trained intensively since early 1941 — as had the other two divisions — hitting the beaches of Tuscany. The division fought well in Tunisia in 1943 and would have been the equal of 4th "Livorno" and 20th "Friuli," the two divisions slated to come across Malta's beaches in the first assault wave. Like the other divisions, Superga had two infantry regiments and one of artillery; it lacked the Blackshirt component attached to Friuli.
In a variant for Island of Death, the 1942 scenarios in the Fortress Malta expansion book allow the Axis player to land all three Italian divisions on Malta and includes a fulls et of fine laser-cut pieces for the Superga Division.
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