Italian invasion of France

Italian invasion of France

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The Italian invasion of France in June 1940 was a small-scale invasion that started near the end of the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The goal of the Italian offensive was to take control of the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 mountain range and the region around Nice
Nice
Nice is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, with a population of 348,721 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of more than 955,000 on an area of...

, and to win the colonies in North Africa. The offensive did not meet its planned goals, with the Italian forces making only limited headway.

Background


On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

 and Britain. The French government was already fleeing to Bordeaux
Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

 and Paris was an open city
Open city
In war, in the event of the imminent capture of a city, the government/military structure of the nation that controls the city will sometimes declare it an open city, thus announcing that they have abandoned all defensive efforts....

. Feeling that the war would soon be over, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 said to Pietro Badoglio
Pietro Badoglio
Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Abeba, 1st Marquess of Sabotino was an Italian soldier and politician...

, the Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff
The title, chief of staff, identifies the leader of a complex organization, institution, or body of persons and it also may identify a Principal Staff Officer , who is the coordinator of the supporting staff or a primary aide to an important individual, such as a president.In general, a chief of...

 of the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito), "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought". Mussolini had the immediate war aim of expanding the Italian colonies in North Africa by taking land from the British and French colonies.

However, Italy was not prepared for war and Italy′s armed forces made little impact during the last few days of the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

. Mussolini was well aware of Italy′s military limitations at the time, but he still sought to profit from Germany′s successes. Of Italy′s declaration of war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt—President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

—said:

On this tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.

The offensive


Much of June was lost as the Italian armed forces prepared for an invasion. But, even after additional time for preparations, the hastily-prepared Italian forces were not at their prime. The Royal Italian Army massed 32 divisions in two armies on the French border. The Regia Aeronautica
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

(Italian Royal Air Force) supported the Royal Army and flew 716 missions and dropped 276 t (304.2 ST) of bombs. The Regia Marina
Regia Marina
The Regia Marina dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification...

(Italian Royal Navy) did little to support the invasion.

The French armed forces
Military of France
The French Armed Forces encompass the French Army, the French Navy, the French Air Force and the National Gendarmerie. The President of the Republic heads the armed forces, with the title "chef des armées" . The President is the supreme authority for military matters and is the sole official who...

 were in no shape to resist the Italians. The French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

 (Armée de Terre) was already defeated in the north and only a relatively small force was maintained on the border with Italy. The French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) was relocating to French North Africa by the time of the Italian declaration of war and the subsequent offensive.

The French Navy
French Navy
The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale and often called La Royale is the maritime arm of the French military. It includes a full range of fighting vessels, from patrol boats to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, four of which are capable of launching...

 (Marine Nationale) was the only service in a position to act against the Italians. At dawn on 14 June, the French 3rd Squadron based in Toulon
Toulon
Toulon is a town in southern France and a large military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department in the former province of Provence....

 carried out an operation in Italian waters. Four heavy cruisers and 11 destroyers opened fire on the oil storage tanks and military installations on the Ligurian coast
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

 and in the port of Genoa
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

. No Italian aircraft appeared and the coastal artillery
Coastal artillery
Coastal artillery is the branch of armed forces concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications....

 scored only one hit. The French destroyer Albatros
Aigle class destroyer
The Aigle class destroyers of the French navy were laid down between 1928 and 1929 and commissioned in 1931 and 1932...

 received a 155 mm (6.1 in) round on her boiler room, which killed 12 seamen.

On 16 June, the French sloop
Sloop-of-war
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

  forced the Italian submarine Provana to surface off Oran
Oran
Oran is a major city on the northwestern Mediterranean coast of Algeria, and the second largest city of the country.It is the capital of the Oran Province . The city has a population of 759,645 , while the metropolitan area has a population of approximately 1,500,000, making it the second largest...

 and then sank it by ramming. La Curieuse also sustained heavy damage on her stem. This was the first Italian submarine to be sunk by the French Navy.

Armistice sought


During the night of 16 June and into the morning of 17 June, Marshal Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 proposed an armistice
Armistice
An armistice is a situation in a war where the warring parties agree to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, but may be just a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace...

 with the German government. On 20 June, the French government asked the Italian government for an armistice.

Italians cross the border


On 20 June, the Italian campaign began and, on 21 June, troops of the Italian Royal Army crossed the French border in three places The Italians attacked in two directions. One force attempted to advance through the Alps and another force attempted to advance along the Mediterranean coast towards Nice
Nice
Nice is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, with a population of 348,721 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of more than 955,000 on an area of...

. Initially, the Italian offensive enjoyed a limited level of success. The French defensive lines on the Italian border were weakened due to French High Command shuffling forces to fight the Germans. Some French mountain units had been sent to Norway
Norwegian Campaign
The Norwegian Campaign was a military campaign that was fought in Norway during the Second World War between the Allies and Germany, after the latter's invasion of the country. In April 1940, the United Kingdom and France came to Norway's aid with an expeditionary force...

. However, the Italian offensive soon stalled at the fortified Alpine Line
Alpine Line
The Alpine Line or Little Maginot Line was the component of the Maginot Line that defended the southeastern portion of France...

 (as the southern portion of the fortifications that included the Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

 was called) in the Alps and along the Mediterranean coast. The attack through the Little Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps had to stop due to a massive snow storm. The Italian forces attacking through the French Riviera
French Riviera
The Côte d'Azur, pronounced , often known in English as the French Riviera , is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, also including the sovereign state of Monaco...

 advanced only about 5 mi (8 km) and were stopped in the vicinity of the town of Menton
Menton
Menton is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France.Situated on the French Riviera, along the Franco-Italian border, it is nicknamed la perle de la France ....

, which was partially occupied by the Italian army; on the Côte d'Azur the Italian invasion was held up by a French NCO and seven men.

On 21 June, the French battleship
Battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

  opened fire on the port of Bardia
Bardia
Bardia is a geographic region in the Democratic Republic of Nepal.Bardia comprises a portion of the Terai, or lowland hills and valleys of southern Nepal. The Terai is over 1,000 feet in elevation, and extends all along the Indian border...

 in Italian Libya
Italian Libya
Italian Libya was a unified colony of Italian North Africa established in 1934 in what represents present-day Libya...

. French naval aircraft also attacked Taranto
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 and Livorno
Livorno
Livorno , traditionally Leghorn , is a port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western edge of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of approximately 160,000 residents in 2009.- History :...

 in mainland Italy during some of the last actions of the French against the Italians.

Casualties


During the invasion, Italian casualties were far greater than French casualties. Italian losses were 631 men killed, 2,361 wounded, 2,000 cases of frostbite
Frostbite
Frostbite is the medical condition where localized damage is caused to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. Frostbite is most likely to happen in body parts farthest from the heart and those with large exposed areas...

 and 616 men missing. This compares to French losses of 40 men killed, 84 wounded, and 150 men missing.

Aftermath


In the evening on 22 June 1940, France surrendered to Germany
Armistice with France (Second Compiègne)
The Second Armistice at Compiègne was signed at 18:50 on 22 June 1940 near Compiègne, in the department of Oise, between Nazi Germany and France...

.

On 25 June, France and Italy signed an armistice. Galeazzo Ciano
Galeazzo Ciano
Gian Galeazzo Ciano, 2nd Count of Cortellazzo and Buccari was an Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Benito Mussolini's son-in-law. In early 1944 Count Ciano was shot by firing squad at the behest of his father-in-law, Mussolini under pressure from Nazi Germany.-Early life:Ciano was born in...

—who led the armistice delegation as Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
As in most countries, in Italy the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is one of the most important ministerial positions...

—reflected: "Mussolini is quite humiliated because our troops have not made a step forward." The debacle forced Mussolini to abandon his pretensions of reconstituting an Empire at French expense, and Italy dropped its claims to the Rhône Valley
Rhône
Rhone can refer to:* Rhone, one of the major rivers of Europe, running through Switzerland and France* Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhone River and one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the canton of Valais in Switzerland...

, Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

, Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

, and Djibouti
Djibouti
Djibouti , officially the Republic of Djibouti , is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east...

, settling for a modest 50 km (31.1 mi) demilitarized zone
Demilitarized zone
In military terms, a demilitarized zone is an area, usually the frontier or boundary between two or more military powers , where military activity is not permitted, usually by peace treaty, armistice, or other bilateral or multilateral agreement...

. With Germany′s blessing, Italy occupied Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

 and the Alpes-Maritimes
Alpes-Maritimes
Alpes-Maritimes is a department in the extreme southeast corner of France.- History : was created by Octavian as a Roman military district in 14 BC, and became a full Roman province in the middle of the 1st century with its capital first at Cemenelum and subsequently at Embrun...

, plus some areas of French territory along the Franco-Italian border further north. Nevertheless,

For the terms see Franco-Italian Armistice
Franco-Italian Armistice
On June 10, 1940, in accordance with the Pact of Steel Hitler's ally; Mussolini attacked French positions in the Alps and the region of Nice, the French who were under the command of René Olry fought off the Italian invaders and it was only the later collapse against German forces in the North that...


Italian

  • Army Group "West"
General Officer Commanding: Prince General Umberto di Savoia
Chief of Staff: General Emilio Battisti
    • 1st Army
General Officer Commanding: General Pietro Pintor
Chief of Staff: General Fernando Gelich
    • 2nd Corps - General Francesco Bettini
Forlì Infantry Division, Acqui Infantry Division, Livorno Infantry Division, and Cuneese Alpine Division
    • 3rd Corps - General Mario Arisio
Ravenna Infantry Division, Cuneo Infantry Division, and 1st Alpine Group (3 Alpine battalions plus 2 mountain artillery battalions)
    • 15th Corps - General Gastone Gambara
      Gastone Gambara
      Gastone Gambara was an Italian General during the Spanish Civil War and World War II.Born at Imola, he was commander-in-chief of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie during the Catalonia Offensive, the final offensive of the Spanish Civil War....

Cosseria Infantry Division, Modena Infantry Division, Cremona Infantry Division
44 Infantry Division Cremona
The 44 Infantry Division Cremona was a Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Cremona Division was part of the Italian XV Corps that took part in the Italian invasion of France in June 1940. It was transferred to Sardinia in March 1941...

, and 2nd Alpine Group (4 Alpine battalions, 1 Blackshirt battalion, and 2 mountain artillery battalions)
    • Army Reserve
Pistoia Infantry Division, Cacciatori delle Alpi Infantry Division
22 Infantry Division Cacciatori delle Alpi
The 22 Infantry Division Cacciatori delle Alpi was a Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Cacciatori delle Alpi was mobilized for war in June 1939, and as part of the Italian 1st Army took part in the Italian invasion of France. It then took part in the Greco-Italian War...

, Lupi di Toscana Infantry Division
7 Infantry Division Lupi di Toscana
The 7th Infantry Division Lupi di Toscana was a Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. It was held as part of the Army reserve in June 1940, during the Italian invasion of France. The Lupi di Toscana then took part in the Greco-Italian War where it suffered heavy losses and...

, Pusteria Alpine Division, 1st Bersaglieri Regiment, 3rd Armored Regiment, and Monferrat Cavalry Regiment
    • 4th Army
General Officer Commanding: General Alfredo Guzzoni
Alfredo Guzzoni
Alfredo Guzzoni was an Italian military officer who served in both World War I and World War II.-Italian Army:Guzzoni joined the Italian Royal Army and fought in World War I....

Chief of Staff: General Mario Soldarelli
    • 1st Corps - General Carlo Vecchiarelli
Superga Infantry Division, Cagliari Infantry Division, and Pinerolo Infantry Division
    • 4th Corps - General Camillo Mercalli
Assietta Infantry Division and Sforzesca Infantry Division
2 Mountain Infantry Division Sforzesca
The 2 Mountain Infantry Division Sforzesca was an Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Division was mobilized in June 1940, for the Italian invasion of France. In the took part in the Greco-Italian War in 1941. It was then chosen to be part of the Italian Expeditionary...

      • Alpine Corps - General Luigi Negri
        Luigi Negri
        Luigi Negri was an Italian double bass virtuoso of the romantic era. Known mostly during his lifetime as a conductor of opera, Negri's reputation as a double bassist has long been overshadowed by his contemporary, Giovanni Bottesini....

Taurinense Alpine Division
1 Alpine Division Taurinense
The 1st Alpine Division Taurinense was a World War II light Infantry division of the Italian Army which specialised in Mountain Combat. The Alpini that formed the divisions are a highly decorated and elite mountain corps of the Italian Army consisting of both infantry and artillery units...

, Levanna Autonomous Group (3 Alpine battalions and 1 mountain artillery battalions), and 3rd Alpine Regiment
      • Army Reserve
Legnano Infantry Division
58 Infantry Division Legnano
The 58 Infantry Division Legnano was a Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Legnano Division was sent to Albania in January 1941, where it remained until June when it was recalled to Italy. It then took part in the invasion of Vichy France in November 1942...

, Brennero Infantry Division, Tridentina Alpine Division, 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, 1st Armored Regiment, and Nizza Cavalry Regiment


Overall, the Italian forces numbered about 700,000 troops. However, while they enjoyed a huge numerical superiority to the French, they had several deficiencies. The Italian armored regiments were from the 133rd Armored Division Littorio
133 Armoured Division Littorio
133. Armoured Division Littorio or 133. Divisione Corazzata Littorio was an armoured division of the Italian Army during World War II. The division was formed in 1939 from the Infantry Division Littorio that had taken part in the Spanish Civil War...

 and included between 150-250 L3/35
L3/35
The L3/35 or Carro Veloce CV-35 was an Italian tank used before and during World War II. Although designated a light tank by the Italian Army, its turretless configuration, weight and firepower make it closer to contemporary tankettes....

 tanks each. But these vehicles were often classified as "tankettes" and were little more than lightly-armored machine-gun carriers not suited for modern warfare. Most Italian units had inadequate or obsolete artillery and lacked motor transport. Specific to this front, the Italians were not equipped for the cold Alpine environment.

French

  • Alpine Army (l'Armée des Alpes) - General René Olry
    René Olry
    René-Henri OlryCLH was a French general and commander of the Army of the Alps during the Battle of France of World War II.-Early life:Olry was born on 28 June 1880 in Lille in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France....

    • 3 infantry division of type B
    • fortification sectors: Dauphiné, Savoie, Alpes Maritimes
    • defence sectors: Rhône, Nice


Overall, French forces in the region numbered about 35,000 soldiers.