Activity is picking up in the Mediterranean. Sometime in early May, the Axis went to war against Yugoslavia and Greece. The Italians throw a significant amount of manpower into the fighting, and make considerable gains early on.
At first I am hesitant to become involved, but I realize that as soon as Yugoslavia and Greece fall, there is a good chance that these Italian units may be redeployed to North Africa for a new push into Egypt. Not having spare fighting units at the moment to send on another hopeless expeiditon, I opt instead to deploy a naval task group to the Adriatic. Most if not all supplies for the Italian divisions sandwiched between Yugoslavia and Greece are coming through Tirane, the main port on the Albanian coast, so it seems a sensible place to establish a blockade. 1 and 2 Carrier Groups and 2 Surface Group take up positions off Tirane in early June.
The action that follows will probably be remembered as the Great Adriatic Turkey Shoot. The Italians, likely frantic as supplies and fuel dwindle in Albania, send wave after wave of ships in a frantic attempt to break the blockade. One cannot help but salute the bravery of the Italian sailors, yet their lives are thrown away as their fleets are cut down by aerial bombing and accurate naval gunfire. Any ships that make it through to Tirane are relentelessly bombed in port by carrier-born aircraft or naval bombers of 1 Coastal Group, which has been transferred to airfields in Greece.
After almost a solid two weeks of action up and down the Adriatic, my forces are exhausted as well. The fighting has taken its toll on 2 Surface Group in particular: in one particularly vicious battle, we lose the light cruiser Gloucester
and the entire 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. HMS Hood
herself barely survived. All forces withdraw back to Alexandria to regroup and repair.
The blockade pays off in spades. Although Yugoslavia falls by 18 June, I estimate probably half of the Italian surface fleet is either destroyed or in need of extended repair. My fleets destroyed several transport flotillas trying to run the blockade, which will likely hamstring the Italians' capacity to redeploy divisions to North Africa. This fighting has bought the time needed to prepare to launch a counter-attack in North Africa. That time is now.
By early June, the first five of my new divisions are deployed, along with another three groups of dive bombers. These divisions are deployed in southwest England and are split between topping up the half-strength 6th Corps and replacing combat losses from France in the battle-hardened 4th Corps. With these new armoured divisions ready for action in mid-June, we are now prepared to go on the offensive in North Africa.Operation Compass
Gentlemen, we have prepared an audacious plan – Operation Compass - to conduct likely the first truly joint operation in the history of this nation. Elements from the army, navy, and air force will work in close concert to envelop and destroy a significant portion of the Italian army in North Africa. This plan will involve 127,000 men from 7th Corps already at Alexandria and the newly-reinforced 6th and 4th Corps; three dive bomber groups, four tactical bomber groups and two interceptor groups of the RAF; two aircraft carriers, two battleships, and innumerable naval escorts and transport ships.
The overall plan is coordinated by General Bernard Montgomery, commanding the specially-formed 2nd Expeditionary Army. The full order of battle for Operation Compass is shown below.
Recon flights indicate that a large number of Italian infantry divisions are massing in the pocket between Alexandria and Tobruk, possibly preparing for another round of offensives into Egypt. Our counter-offensive will be conducted in two phases. Under the first phase, 6th Corps will deploy via transports from Alexandria and will conduct an amphibious assault against Tobruk. Reconnaissance has shown that the city is lighty defended by a few rear-guard militia units, so it should fall relatively easily. Capturing the airfield at Tobruk will also deprive the Italians of any air support over the pocket as we attack.
Once the city is captured, 6th Corps will dig-in in Tobruk and the nearby area with the aim of interrupting lines of communication to Italian units in the pocket and blocking their westward retreat. In effect, 6th Corps will become the ‘anvil’ of the operation.
In the second phase of the operation, 4th Corps will deploy directly from Alexandria once Tobruk is secured. They will attack directly westward over El Alamein, and strike at the Italians head-on with the aim of inflicting as many casualties as possible and ultimately driving retreating units towards 6th Corps at Tobruk. 4th Corps is therefore the ‘hammer’ of the operation.
Tactical bombers will support the attacks on both flanks. The battleships and heavy cruisers of 4 Surface Group will sail up and down the coast, providing fire support wherever needed. 2 Carrier Group will be running interference closer to Crete in case the Italians try anything funny. Lastly, 7th Corps will remain close to Alexandria on rear-guard duty in case of any surprise landings near there.
Once ‘hammer’ meets ‘anvil,’ we should exploit any momentum we have and push as far west as realistically possible.
4th and 6th Corps will immediately board transports in England and sail for Alexandria. The men can be briefed on the way; D-Day is tentatively scheduled for the second week of July.