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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z Vol. 3, No. 5.

The Strategic and Economic Position of Italy. — Editorial

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The Strategic and Economic Position of Italy.


A professor of the German War Academy has written that "Italy suffers more severely from a shortage of raw materials than any other big power in Europe". The economic potential of Italy is weak from three angles: she lacks almost all raw materials of importance in modern warfare; her heavy industrial basis is totally inadequate; and her industrial apparatus as a whole is too weak to turn out the volume of armaments necessary for a first class war. Mussolini's frequent boast that Italy has become self supporting is sheer bluff. The only materials Italy has or can produce in sufficient quantities are nitrate, zinc and aluminium. But in order to supply an army of 2 million men, and to build warships, a country needs approximately 3.5 million tons of steel and over 2 million tons of pig iron annually. Italy cannot produce half of those quantities. The very weakness of Italy's economic potential makes it impossible for her to utilise her potential man power (8 million men) to the full. Add to this the fact that over one half of her imports come via Gibralt r (from U.S.A. and Britain) and her position becomes even more vulnerable.

This scantiness of resources is a reason for the Fascists adoption of the "Blitzkrieg" theory. For as General Pariani of the Italian War Ministry, writing in the "Popolo d'ltalia" has said, "Italy is not rich in material resources, and she can therefore not seek a protracted war, involving great material expenditure. And in addition the idea of positional warfare is inconsistent with the dynamic character of the fascist regime". Thus Italian land warfare strategy will be based on rapid manoeuvring, and vigorous offensive to secure a quick decision. However, it has been proclaimed by Italian spokesmen that Italy's main offensive will be by her air and naval armies. Any attack by land in South Eastern France would be limited by the fact that Italian Divisions would find themselves scattered in rough mountain country a long distance from the Phone Valley, from Marseille, and from Lyons.

Italy's greatest [unclear: armament] efforts have been devoted to the air arm, and even in 1937 she possessed 10,000 trained pilots, and in 1939, 2400 planes (as compared with France, 2000, and Britain, 2600). But again, this arm is limited by the low productive capacity of Italian aero industry. No doubt both land and air armaments have been, and will be, largely augmented from German sources. The strategic fulcrum for the Italian air arm is in the Mediterranean basin, and it is intended for use against British sea communications there. Opposed to this is the vulnerability of the Po valley, the seat of Italian industry. This would become a magnet for air attacks. Flying from bases in southern France and their advanced refuelling stations in Corsica, the French could with the greatest of ease bomb Rome, La Spezia, Genoa, Naples, and the railway that skirts the Italian coast. And airplane attacks from the sea come without warning.

Italy's naval strategy in the Mediterranean is based on the risky assumption that the Italian navy could carry out offensive operations against a numerically stronger opponent. According to Hector Bywater, a well known British naval expert, Italy's plans for naval warfare envisage the blocking of the Mediterranean at three points by means of her combined naval and air forces: at the narrowest point between Sicily and Cape Bon (Tunis), where the Italian island of Pantellaria holds a key position; between Siracusa and Tripoli; and finally the Eastern half of the page break Mediterranean between the Dedecanese Islands and Tebruk, the Italian naval base in Libya. This is confirmed by Italian military publications who go ever further, and envisage a sort of totalitarian air and sea offensive in the Mediterranean. Against this is the fact, that the Italian Navy is weaker than the combined Mediterranean Forces of Great Britain and France, and that the allies have numerous important naval bases in this area of such a strength as to change the Fascist idea of offensive into that of defensive. According to Otto Strassi, the exiled German National Socialist, the Nazi tacticians aim to make Italy a jumping off ground for German and Italian troops, to open the way into Asia and Africa - via the Suez and the Italian Colonies in North Africa. This may account for the large concentrations of Allied troops in the Near East. The position in the Mediterranean is vital in that if the Allies are cut off from Turkey, Roumania and Greece, they will not be able to use any of their strength to squeeze Germany between pincers. And communications from Gibraltar to the Bosphorus are essential for this purpose. The threat from Fascist Spain is not so much a threat to France by land (topography of the Pyrenees requires only a small number of French soldiers to protect this border) but to Gibraltar, which is no longer the firm support for British naval operations along the Mediterranean line.

It is also interesting to note that as far as Great Britain is concerned, it is calculated that of an average of a million tons of raw materials reaching the country every week, between 10 and 15 per cent pass through the Suez Canal. And of these petroleum stands highest on the list of commodities.

With regard to the Balkans, Italy's master stroke has been the seizure of Albania. For between Albania's capital of Tirana and the Greek port of Salonika there is a trough, along which Italian troops could move to intercept a Franco British thrust into the Balkans. This thrust would presumably be aimed at a German-Hungarian alliance, and would be sent up the Vardor River valley from Salonika, along the so-called Diagnol Furrow that reaches from Istanbul through Bulgaria to Belgrade, up the valley of the lower Danube from Roumania, and over the passes of the Transylvanian Alps. All this could be done provided the Allies eliminate Italy. Any interference in the Balkans, from either Germany or the Allies, however, must reckon with the U.S.S.R. If the German attack on the West is unsuccessful, and a push East begins, there is every likelihood that Soviet neutrality may be abandoned. This in the light of the latter's rapprochements, with Bulgaria, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, and Brigadier General Spears in the Evening Standard": "Is time on our side? There is one actor in the world scene who appears to have a remarkable capacity for using time intelligently and that is Stalin. When Hitler marched into Poland with 52 Divisions, Stalin marched in with 110, arriving just where he wanted to be, at exactly, the right moment, with double the number of troops his partner had, thus avoiding the risk of having to waste time in argument". Neatly and quickly he secured key positions in the Baltic, making sure of a good outpost against Germany. This was a beautifully timed operation, since Hitler had his hands too full in the west to interfere. Today Stalin has a strong card to play should Hitler show signs of reverting suddenly to his former anti-Bolshevik policy." In this connection, the appointment of Sir Stafford Cripps to Moscow is significant of a change in traditional British policy.

These are all factors to be considered by Mussolini in entering into the war with Germany. A war which he would enter with the full knowledge that Italy has the weakest war potential of any big power in the world, and one in which there is every likelihood of an addition to the Western Powers of the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A.



  • The Military Strength of the Powers - Max Werne
  • Bulletin of International News - Feb. 10th, 1940
  • Tomorrow - May 29th, 1940
  • Time, "Background for War" - May, 1939 August, 1939
  • New Statesman and Nation -