Something is wrong with our army…’ Command, Leadership & Italian Military Failure in the First Libyan Campaign, 1940-41

Craig Stockings


There is no question that the First Libyan Campaign of 1940-41 was an Italian military disaster of the highest order. For all of the ethnic slurs and cultural stereotyping levelled at Italian military performance in North Africa by historians and popular authors, the last 70 years has seen relatively little research effort invested into identifying the real military disadvantages under which Mussolini’s soldiers in this theatre fought. When understood as a product of measurable and objective military factors, like the issue of leadership for example, the rout of the 10th Army takes on an entirely new complexion. The subsequent reputation of Italian soldiers as embarrassing battlefield liabilities in the Western Desert in this period is unfair. This overlooks the handicaps they fought under, and often ignores the bravery displayed in spite of them all. Like the Australians, the Italians in the Western Desert were ordinary men, no more and no less. In truth, it is singularly unsurprising that so many were killed or surrendered without putting up much real resistance. They faced challenges and conditions that would have handicapped troops from any country.

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