Africa, the Med, and the Middle East

Italy vs France

England vs. Vichy

Western Desert

East African Side Show

Royal Navy vs. Supermarina

Malta in the Crucible


Afrika Korps

Operation Torch

Northwest Africa

Bombers from Benghazi



War of Israeli Independence

Hypothetical: Stopping Soviet Oil

Return to Alternate Campaigns
Western Europe Eastern Europe Asia and the Pacific

France vs. Italy (Jun-40) {short description of image}

Seeing France quickly falling to Germany, Mussolini decided Italy must grab a part of the Glory - quickly before the game could end. Mussolini ordered the Italian military into action against French units in the Medit and across the rather mountainous frontier. The ground assaults were not very efffective. The air assaults less so.

England vs. Vichy

After the partition of France in June, 1940, the Vichy French government and its (still sizable) colonial possessions cooled their relationship with Great Britain. (Note that the US continued to have relations with the Vichy government until its dissolution.) Great Britain made several actions to ensure that the French fleet and various French port facilities were not used by any of the Axis powers. However, these incidents soured the already fractious relations between England and Vichy France.

Mers el Kabir
July 1940
Nov 1940
May-June 1941
May-Nov 1942

Mers el Kabir (July 1940)

This was the first action the British undertook to attempt to destroy units of the French Fleet to ensure that they did not end up under Axis control. The French Navy had promised that it would never allow its ships to be taken and used by Germany or Italy. While Royal Navy officers accepted this promise, the British government was not as accepting. Mers el Kabir was the 2nd largest (remaining) base of the French navy, near Oran, Algeria. There were four French battleships and several destroyers docked there.

The British called it Operation Catapult. The Royal Navy's Force H from Gibraltar under Admiral Somerville issued the French commander an ultimatum:

The "or else" was that he would sink the vessels. After a frantic day's wrangling and negotiating, the British Government ordered bombardment. One battleship was sunk and two more were damaged; the Strasbourg and a number of super destroyers avoided air attack and escaped to Toulon.

3 days after shelling the base, Admiral Somerville attacked the damaged Dunquerque with aircraft, changing its lightly damaged status to greatly damaged.



Dakar is a large port on the west coast of Africa. After the fall of France, England was concerned that Dakar would be used as a base by U-boats and German surface raiders to threaten the South Atlantic. General De Gaulle led a Free French expedition to Dakar in November, 1940.

Syria (May-June 1941)

Vichy France held Syria and Lebanon. In April, to support an anti-British uprising in Iraq, the Luftwaffe flew a few units to Mosul through Syria. In May, 1941, in order to close this potential "back door" to the Suez Canal, elements of the British 8th Army and Free French units attacked Lebanon and Syria.


Britain had some 60 aircraft available:

France had some 90 aircraft available:

Madagascar (May-Nov 1942)

In their annual summer "madness," after the Pacific/Asian War and the use of Indochina as a Japanese base, Britain feared use of Madagascar as a Japanese base at the western end of the Indian Ocean. The disruption to shipping to and from India was completely unacceptable. The solution was to take Madagascar from the Vichy French before that could occur. The operation was called Ironclad.

Operation Ironclad opened with an attack by carrier-borne aircraft against Diego Suarez, Madagascar's main port and only naval base. The Vichy navy was small - only a few armed sloops and a pair of submarines. 18 Swordfish from HMS Illustrious attacked the Diego Suarez naval base, sinking a sloop and a sub. 6 Albacores and 6 Sea Hurricanes attacked the air field, reportedly destroying "more than 20 french fighters." This is more than were at Diego Suarez at the time.


French Units
Ivato Tananarive Escadrille 565
Escradrille 555
6/13 MS.406
4 Po.63-11
Diego Suarez Detach 565
Detach 555
5 MS.406
2 Po.63-11
More information about French aircraft in Madagascar

May 1942 British Air Units
HMS Illustrious No. 881 Sqdn
No. 882 Sqdn
No. 810 Sqdn
No. 829 Sqdn
12 Martlet III
8 Martlet III, 1 Fulmar NF
9 Swordfish
9 Swordfish
HMS Indomitable No. 800 Sqdn
No. 806 Sqdn
No. 880 Sqdn
No. 827 Sqdn
No. 831 Sqdn
8 Fulmar II
4 Fulmar II
6 Sea Hurricanes
12 Albacores
12 Albacores

Once Diego Suarez was secure and its air field open, South African Air Force units were brought in to finish the campaign. In August, 1942, No. 806 Sqdn was assigned Martlet IIs.

Western Desert (1940) {short description of image}

In June, 1940, Italy controlled two major areas of Africa: Libya, and Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia (conquered in 1936). Included with the sizable Italian army was the largest off-shore establishment of the Regia Aeronautica. The Regia Aeronautica was respected based on its effectiveness during the Spanish Civil War, where many Italian military pilots received exposure to combat.

Regia Aeronautica in Libya, June 1940
Type Units
Bombers 4 Stormo (~350+ a/c)
Fighters 1 Stormo (~110 a/c, mostly CR.42s)
Recon 2 Gruppi and 2 sqdn (~90 a/c)

For the English, sweating out the threat of invasion and pouring every last fighter and pilot into the Battle of Britain, anywhere else was a back water. The RAF had few modern aircraft in the Western Desert

Italy believed that it could squeeze the English out of Egypt and Sudan.


Desert Canvas Falcons - by NJ Hickman

East African Side Show {short description of image}

An interesting side show of the war was the fighting in Ethiopia. Italy had conquered Ethiopia in 1936, using modern weaponry against a rather primitive army and nearly non-existent air force. In 1940, anxious to decrease the number of "backdoors" it had to watch, Britain gathered a rather motley collection of colonial infantry, half-trained air units armed with obsolete equipment (including South African Air Force Ju-86 bombers!), and a few armored cars, and invaded the Italian holdings in East Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland). The Italians, cut off from reinforcements by Egypt and Sudan, had a fair amount of air power in East Africa, but it was mostly obsolete (even for Italian equipment).

The result was a last hurrah for pre-World War II aerial technology.


Italian Africa Orientale air units

Royal Navy vs. Supermarina{short description of image}

The Royal Navy, in addition to its commitments elsewhere across the globe, was charged with keeping the vital Meditterranean sea lane open. To do so meant defeating the Italian Navy, the Supermarina which could operate in the central Med well-supported by bases in Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and Libya (later also under German air support from Crete, Greece, and Tunisia). The Royal Navy was concerned, since they believed the Italian Navy to be a competent force based on what observers had seen during the Spanish Civil War.

To counter the Italian basing advantages, the Royal Navy had its bases around the periphery of the Med (Gibraltar and Alexandria), Malta in the middle, and its aircraft carriers.

Taranto (11/12 November 1940)

Often considered the first air raid to show (on a more-than-one-ship scale) the effectiveness of air power over sea power. On the night of November 11-12, 1940, a comparative handful of Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers attacked the Italian Fleet at anchor in Taranto harbor with devastating effects. Taranto is said to have awakened the Japanese to the possibility of a crippling first blow against the United States by raiding Pearl Harbor. The British were alerted to the possibility of such an attack by their attack on Mers el Kebir a few months earlier, when they damaged the Dunquerque and sank the Strausbourg from the air.

More detail.

HMS Illustrious (January, 1941)

In January, 1941, for a variety of reasons, but chiefly the Regia Aeronautica's inability to subdue Malta, the Luftwaffe moved Fleigerkorps X, a bomber force with anti-shipping training, to Sicily. One of their first attcks was to attack HMS Illustrious in the western Med. On January 7th, Fleigerkorps X opened its campaign with a devastating attack using 70 bombers and dive bombers, hitting Illustrious 7 times in 6 and a half minutes. Illustrious did not sink, but managed to escape to America, where she was repaired and returned to combat 18 months later.

More detail.

Setting Up Matapan (May, 1941)

The Supermarina concocted a plan to flush out some of the British Eastern Mediterranean fleet's medium weight assets by tempting them into a battle with Italian cruisers. Behind the cruisers was the Italian battleship Vitorio Veneto, which would them ambush the British cruisers. In particular, the British would have to react to the sortie as it was aimed at the British convoys from Alexandria to Crete and Greece.

There was a fly in the ointment. HMS Formidable had joined the fleet at Alexandria, and set out with the fleet to intercept the Italians. Her aircraft were used as extended eyes and as an advanced striking arm against the Italian fleet.

British Carriers and Air Wings

Information about HMS Illustrious in the Med (40/41)

Malta in the Crucible {short description of image}

Malta is a small speck of an island in the Med almost exactly between the toe of Italy and Tunis. Britain had held the island as a naval base since the Napoleonic era. In an age of aircraft and air interdiction of sea vessels, Malta was a dagger ready to thrust at any link from Italy to Africa. In the summer of 1940, Italy missed its best chance to take Malta; England in the rising teeth of the Battle of Britain had nothing to spare for Malta.

The Italians took interest in Malta in the fall of 1940, when they noticed that its potential against some of their supply convoys to North Africa. They began a bombing campaign. They were joined by elements of the Luftwaffe's Fleigerkorps X in January, 1941. There were even plans for taking Malta by invasion. The Blitz over Malta lasted into 1942, when Allied strength finally began to achieve air superiority.


Axis Air Units
Unit Equipment
Fleigerkorps X 50 He111
70 Ju88A
80 Ju87
26 Me110
40 Me109


Fighters Pilots’ Paradise: Malta April-October 1942

Greece {short description of image}

By mid-1940, Mussolini hungered for a victory of completely invading a country so that Italy should have some of the glory shining on Germany for conquering Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and even France. Mussolini selected Greece, figuring that its small, antiquated army and air force would not prove a problem for his legions. Starting from Albania (which Italy occupied in 1939) in October, Greece proved much tougher than he thought; they fought the Italians to a stand-still between October and November, and even went on the offensive intoDecember.

The small Greek air force defended themselves ably, and they were reinforced by RAF squadrons armed with Gladiators and Blenheims. However, in April, 1941, Hitler decided to save his ally from surther embarassment - and turned loose his Blitzkreig on Greece (see also Yugoslavia, which was concurrent).


October, 1940
Italian Regia Aeronautica units used in Greece: Oct, 1940
Allied Royal Helenic Air Force
RAF: 4 Sqdns of Blenheim I + 3 sqdns of Gloster Galdiator moved to Greece in late fall, 1940

See also: The Balkans: Orders of Battle


The final phase in the Greek campaign was the invasion of Crete, where many British and Greek troops had been evacuated from Greece. They had lost most of their heavy equipment and weapons during the evacuation. Germany took the island in the largest aerial assault ever tried at the time.


Axis Luftwaffe
  Regia Aeronautica

Afrika Korps {short description of image}

Starting in January, 1941, the Luftwaffe came to North Africa to support the Italians. Eventually, they moved in 4 Geschwaderen (1 each of Bf109s, Bf110s, Ju88s, Ju87s). Additional units based across the Med in Sicily, Crete, and Greece pitched in.

usa star Operation Torch (November 1942)

On 7-Nov-42, a joint US and British force landed in (French) Northwest Africa, landing at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. They were opposed by the Vichy French forces for the first few days. A large part of the Vichy Air Force was stationed in Northwest Africa since the armistice - and much of it was destroyed on the ground in the initial attack.

After the initial landings, the Allied Army headed east toward Tunis as fast as possible, to cut off Rommel's Afrika Korps from behind. Rommel was already in retreat from the second battle of El Alamein. He moved to occupy Tunis, and then got in a few good swipes at the green American troops.


Allied Carrier-borne Aircraft
Off Casablanca
(Western Force)
USS Ranger (CV) 54 F4F-4 (Wildcat II)
18 SDB-4 Dauntless
1 TBF Avenger
USS Sangamon, Santee, Suwanee (CVEs) 57 F4F-4 (Wildcat II)
18 SDB-4 Dauntless
26 TBF Avenger
USS Chenango (CVEs) 78 P-40F (in ballast)
Off Oran
(Central Force)
HMS Furious (CV) 27 Seafire IIC (Spit VC equiv)
8 Albacore
1 Fulmar
HMS Biter
HMS Dasher (CVEs)
30 Sea Hurricanes, 3 Swordfish
Off Algiers
(Eastern force)
HMS Argus (CVE) 12 Seafire IIC
HMS Avenger (CVE) 12 Sea Hurricanes
3 Swordfish
Force H in Gibraltar HMS Formidable (CV) 24 Wildcats
6 Seafire IIC
6 Albacore
HMS Victorious (CV) 11 Wildcats
6 Fulmar
21 Albacore

French Aircraft
near Casablanca 170 aircraft
near Algiers 213 aircraft
In Tunisia 105 aircraft

Opening Clashes

The Vichy French, not informed of the impending invasion, fought for the first three days until a cease fire was arranged. At each of the three landing zones, part of the initial attack included air raids (and even an air assault) on the major airfields in the area, damaging much of the Vichy Air Force. The initial clashes included:

usa star Northwest Africa {short description of image}

US 12th Air Force

As soon as airfields were secured by ground forces during Operation Torch, elements of the US 12th Air Force were flown in from England and from carriers. The fighters immediately began to operate from as far forward a base as available. Their goal was to grab as many air fields that they could use to range against Tunis. They got a long way across Algeria before being stopped by winter rains. They continued to fly, but the weather made the airfields (and roads) muddy messes.

Once established, the initial air force was reinforced by almost every unit type in the US arsenal, if only to battle-test them.

Fighters 5 groups 1st & 14th FG in P-38F
1 group P-40s
2 groups Spitfire Vs
Bombers 2 heavy bomber groups
1 light bomber group (47th)
6 sqdn B-17E
3 sqdn A-20?

FliegerFührer Afrika

The Afrika Korps and the Italians were taken by surprise by the Operation Torch landings. They were already hard pressed by the British 8th Army advance after the 2nd Battle of El Alamein. For them, French Northwest Africa had been their safe rear wall, and it suddenly disappeared. German and Italian units ran into Tunisia as fast as possible, holding up the Allies long enough for the rains to come. This gave the Afrika Korps the ability to concentrate on a fighting retreat against the British 8th, and the time to reach Tunisia.


US missions:


usa starBrit roundel Bombers from Benghazi

As soon as an area was under control, USAAF set up bases for strategic bombers. Tunisia and Libya were no exception. The US 12th AF (and the later the US 15th) set up shop. (See also Ploesti). They hit military and industrial targets in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, southern France, Yugoslavia.

usa star Sicily (July 1943) {short description of image}

Sicily was the last point at which the Italian Air Force effectively fought the Allies in World War II. In addition to the Luftwaffe, they sought to destroy the Allied invasion (Operation Husky). The Luftwaffe was fairly heavily invested in Sicily, the II Fliegerkorps having been sent there in 1941. While the Luftwaffe wanted to evacuate Sicily, Hitler forbade any such retreat. The Allies first bombarded Sicily and the Italian mainland and then struck in a combination of gliders, paratroops, and sea- landings. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica, their bases were primary targets of bombing, so they were not as effective as they might have been.

usa star Italy (43-45) {short description of image}

Shortly after conquering/liberating Sicily, the Allies in the Med moved right across into Italy. Italy was considered the "soft underbelly" of occupied Europe, since most of the local forcs were Italian. When the Italian main land invaded, Italy suffered a political crisis and Mussolini was overthrown. Over night, the Germans went from being allies to occupiers. As with the sudden shift in Northwest Africa, German forces were suddenly exposed and still trying to recover from the loss of material and aircraft in Sicily.

As in Sicily, a lot of Africa-based air power was brought to bear. (at least until there was sufficient air fields taken and developed in Italy). The US 12th, 15th, 9th and British Desert/ Mediterranean Air Forces were all brought to bear.

Italy was the first time that the Luftwaffe deployed a technological wonder-weapon as a force modifier. The Fritz FX-1400 glidebomb

Shield of David War of Israeli Independence (May 1948) Egyptian roundel

Israel was created by a UN resolution in November, 1947. In May, 1948, Israel was declared independent, the British mandate force pulled out - and Israel was at war with its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebannon, and Iraq. Israelis had prepared for the Independence day, and started with a small air force.

The aircraft involved were all WW2 vintage - indeed, Spitfire once more fought Bf-109.


red star Hypothetical: Stopping Soviet Oil French roundel

In late 1939, after the Soviet Union and Germany signed their Non-aggression Pact, Britain and France worried about the a pro-Axis Soviet Union supplying Germany with oil as payment for war material. The Soviet Union had bought a light cruiser and 5 Bf109Es as a start. They began to develop a plan ...

In March and April, 1940, a civilized (demilitarized) Hudson bomber (basically, a Lockheed Super Electra 14 with civilian registration) was sent on photo recon missions 20,000 ft over Iraq to the Batum area. A second mission was aborted when one of the 5 Bf109Es, in the area for evaluation, was sent to unsuccessfully intercept the Lockheed.

The basic plan was to deploy bombers to northeastern Syria, and bomb the Soviet oil fields between Batum and Baku. Staff planning thought success was possible due to "sloppy Soviet safety" plans and training.

When the Germans over-ran France, they discovered these plans and showed them to the Soviets, much to the embarassment of the British.


Allied Bomber Units
Units Base Target
France 5 sqdn Martin 167F Dijezireh, Syria Batum and Grozny
England 4 sqdn Wellesleys Mosul, Iraq Baku

120 aircraft in all, their maximum bomb load is about 48,000 lbs. The Martins and the Wellesleys were to fly only at night. However, this would make navigation and target recognition difficult. No electronic navigation aids were available.


In the area, the Soviets had 250 flak guns and n fighters, mostly I-15s and I-16s. They had no radar.

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