By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Believing Germany close to defeating Britain
and France, Italy declared war on both of
the Western democracies on 10 June 1940.
The unprepared Italian army hurriedly mobilized
32 divisions for an assault on the French
frontier, which opened on 21 June. "I
only need a few thousand dead," Italian
dictator Benito Mussolini supposedly told
his Army chief of staff, "so that I
can sit at the peace conference as a man
who has fought." The campaign fulfilled
that need, at least figuratively, as 1,247
Italian soldiers died and 2,631 were wounded
in the three days before France surrendered.
But it accomplished little other than to
plunge Italy into a war for which it was
Like every other military on the planet,
Italy had made war plans during the tense
years before World War II — but Mussolini
had assured his generals and admirals that
there would be no war before 1943. No plans
were made for a sudden entry in 1940. Though
the invasion of France is rightly portrayed
as a dismal failure, for it to occur at all
required Herculean efforts by Italian staff
and supply officers. Without the opportunity
to mobilize troops, gather food and other
supplies for them, and to plan where they
would go and what they would do, Italy did
not have the opportunity to enter the war
with a dramatic first strike.
Fortunately for the future of liberal democracy,
Mussolini did not give his military the chance
to enter the war on their own terms. But
there was no practical reason for such an
ill-omened opening to Italy's war. Mussolini
met with Adolf Hitler in March on the border
between Germany and Italy, and agreed to
join the war on the condition that Germany's
pending attack on France met with success.
However, he did not direct his military chiefs
to prepare for war.
Air Marshal Italo Balbo, a staunch Fascist
and potential rival to Mussolini, had argued
that if Italy entered the war, it should
be on the side of Britain against Germany.
Regardless of who Italy fought, she should
enter the war with a dramatic first strike.
A plan that would have met Balbo's requirements
had been in the works since 1935, when tensions
rose over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
The Army and Navy began to draft what would
become known as Operazione C.3, the invasion
of Malta. In June 1940 Italian airborne and
amphibious forces were only a fraction of
what they would be in the summer of 1942,
but then, so was the Malta garrison.
The Italian assault would be spearheaded
by the San
Marco Marine Regiment, which in
1940 was actually more capable than the marines
assigned to the June 1942 landing. The regiment's
toughest and best-trained men would be siphoned
away on other missions, particularly in North
Africa, one the war began and the companies
that would have come ashore in 1942 would
not have been as good as those of 1940.
The marines would be followed across the
beaches by the 47th "Bari" Infantry
Division, which apparently had undertaken
very little amphibious training. By June
1942 the Italian Navy had assembled enough
landing craft to bring three divisions to
shore, and the three divisions selected for
Operazione C.3 had trained intensively on
Tuscan beaches for the mission. The Bari
Division was later slated for an amphibious
landing on the Greek island of Corfu, aided
by the San Marco marines, but this operation
was cancelled and the troops went instead
to Albania where they fought the Greeks through
April 1941. After a brief period refitting
in Albania, they returned to Italy and saw
no more action. The Bari Division performed
coast defense duties in 1942, went to Rome
that spring and then to Sardinia.
With a little over three months to train,
Bari's infantrymen could have become familiar
with landing operations though not as proficient
as the three divisions slated for the 1942
operation. The number of landing craft would
have been much less than in 1942, so it's
unlikely that many more ground troops could
have been introduced by amphibious landing.
But Italy was prepared to launch an airborne
assault. Balbo had been exiled to Libya as
Governor-General, and at his direction the
garrison established a parachute school in
1938. By June 1940 a "national" battalion
of about 300 paratroopers was ready for action
and a colonial battalion of about 500 Libyan
askaris and 50 Italian officers. Balbo envisioned
an eventual force of two divisions, and a
dramatic landing on the Suez Canal in the
event of war with Britain. But after his
suspicious death in late June 1940, the two
battalions drew infantry assignments and
both were destroyed in ground fighting in
late 1940 and early 1941. About 200 men from
the national battalion survived to return
to Italy to help form new parachute units
The landing, therefore, would have been
much smaller than the projected Axis attack
of 1942: two battalions of marines, two of
parachutists, and one infantry division.
But the garrison awaiting them would likewise
have been much smaller: only one brigade,
as opposed to the four ready in June 1942.
The Malta Brigade, as it was known, had one
Maltese and four British infantry battalions.
Coast defense artillery was much lighter,
as was anti-aircraft artillery. The engineer
companies who built the many pillboxes and
other positions were present on the island,
but had as yet done little work. Surprisingly,
the island did have an anti-tank capability
that was lacking in 1942, as the batteries
were converted to heavier coast-defense pieces.
This would have done the garrison little
good, as the Italians were unlikely to bring
As a dramatic gesture designed to force
a peace treaty in quick fashion, the Balbo
version of C.3 could have drawn much greater
naval support than we posited in the Island
of Death game. Vice Admiral Bergamini's
5th Division with three battleships and seven
destroyers was slated for participation in
the June 1942 attack and moved up to Messina
from Taranto early that month in preparation.
However, fuel shortages meant that the June
1942 plan called for one only sortie by the
battleships: They would arrive off the island,
silence the coast defense guns at Fort Benghaisa
(hex 2214 on the Island of Death map). If
the coastal guns fell silent soon enough,
the battleships would shift fire to Hal Far
airfield (hex 1916) before their return to
base. There was not enough fuel oil to keep
them on call to support the troops ashore.
In June 1940 the Italian Navy had a much
greater stockpile of oil on hand, and this
could have been built up to a greater extent
had preparations begun in March. Air support,
however, would have been much less effective
in June 1940, though on the Italian side
of the ledger Allied air defenses were essentially
The Balbo Variant
To try out the 1940 Plan, use the following
All Italian (including Libyan) units belong
to the same formation, and may draw supply
from either HQ.
Royal Navy Intervention
Ignore this rule; Marshal Balbo has achieved
Only the Italian air support marker is available.
These are reduced by half.
The scenario begins with the Initial Segment
of 29 June, and ends at the conclusion
of the 10 July night game turn or when
one side surrenders (whichever comes first,
The Allied player sets up his or her units
first, in any eligible hexes he wishes.
The only restrictions are that the Royal
Navy Security units (purple 1-5 companies)
must set up in Major Port or Minor Port
hexes, and the RAF Security units (companies
with 0-1-5 values) must set up in airfield
hexes, one per hex. Two infantry battalions
can set up broken-down or not as the Allied
player wishes. The following units are
the only Allied units in play:
- Malta (British HQ)
- 2RIF (British Infantry; 6-6)
- 2RWK (British Infantry; 6-6)
- 1D (British Infantry; 6-6)
- 2D (British Infantry; 6-6)
- 1K (Maltese Infantry; 6-6)
- 16 (British Engineer)
- 24 (British Engineer)
- Tak (Royal Air Force Infantry; 0-1-5)
- Krn (Royal Air Force Infantry; 0-1-5)
- Luq (Royal Air Force Infantry; 0-1-5)
- Kir (Royal Air Force Infantry; 0-1-5)
- 2 (Royal Navy Infantry; 1-5)
Strongpoints: No strongpoints are in play.
guns: Randomly select six Maltese
and three Royal Navy coastal guns. At least
four coastal gun pieces of the Allied player’s
choice must be set up within two hexes of
hex 1810. All others may set up in any eligible
hexes the Allied player wishes (16.5). Only
these nine piece are set up; the rest are
not used in this scenario.
militia available: Five pieces (16.3)
All hexes of Malta begin the game under
The Axis player places all the following
warships on the board in the Amphibious
Landing Phase of the first turn (16.7).
All other Axis units enter play via airborne
drops, amphibious landings and landing
- BB Andrea Doria
- BB Caio Duilio
- BB Giulio Cesare
- DD Zeno
- DD Vivaldi
- DD Malocello
- DD Pancaldo
- DD Pigafetta
- DD Da Noli
- DD Di Varrazano
Axis Pieces Available
for Airborne Drop
Place all the units, leaders
and markers below in the Breakdown Box before
Tonini Drop Zone Marker, Tonini (Leader),
Ton (HQ), Calas (Parachute; 4-5-6), Ton (Libyan
Axis Pieces Available for Amphibious Landings
Before play begins the Axis player chooses
the beach zones where the pieces below
will land per rule 18.21. He places them
in the Follow Up boxes connected to their
target beach zones in the Initial Segment
of the first day. They may then land on
any turns desired per rule 18.3.
47th (Bari) Infantry Division: 47 (HQ),
1/139 (Infantry; 3-4-6), 2/139 (Infantry;
3-4-6), 3/139 (Infantry; 3-4-6), 1/140 (Infantry;
3-4-6), 2/140 (Infantry; 3-4-6), 3/140 (Infantry;
3-4-6), 152 (Blackshirt Infantry; 4-5-6),
2 x 47 (Engineer), 2 x 47 (Engineer), 1,
2 and 3 (Artillery, 47th Division).
1/Baf (Italian Marine), 2/Baf (Italian Marine),
3/Baf (Italian Marine), 4/Baf (Italian
Marine), 1/Gra (Italian Marine), 2/Gra
(Italian Marine), 3/Gra (Italian Marine),
4/Gra (Italian Marine)
See rule 20.0.
You can download the new pieces here.
here to order Island of Death today!