Fantasque Time Line (France Fights On) - English Translation

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August 10th, 1940

- The airlift organized by the Regia Aeronautica to transfer half of the Black Shirt Legion, about 800 men, to the Aegean islands, on with a success. The only thing missing from these men was... their heavy equipment and most of their ammunition.
The same day, the 12 SM.79 of the 67th and 68th squadrons, which make up the 34th Bomb Group, arrive at Maritsa airport.. This Group comes from Sicily, where formations that were until then committed to the French front will be able to take over. Even if it is only half of what Governor De Vecchi had asked for, it is a first contribution of the Regia Aeronautica to the reinforcement of the modern means of the Aegean islands. These aircraft should harass Alexandria, Haifa and Beirut, eventually Cyprus, alongside the older SM.81.
August 10th, 1940

Libya (Cyrenaica)
- Allied forces complete their deployment.
British troops preparing to attack Cyrenaica are officially grouped in the Western Desert Force, which had been created at the end of June, under the command of Major-General O'Connor. It has about 20,000 men, plus 6,000 in reserve or defense.
- The 7th Armored Division (4th and 7th Armored Brigades) is a 5,500-man unit formed before the war, ready for combat and well trained. Its equipment consisted on June 10th of 134 (very) light Vickers Mk VI tanks, 114 slow "Cruiser" A10 tanks (Mk II) and 38 self-propelled guns (mainly Lanchester and Morris). The July convoy unloaded 152 tanks, including 51 heavy Matilda II tanks and 101 (relatively) fast "Cruiser" A13 Mk III and IV. The British hastily re-equipped several formations with this much better equipment.
- The 4th Indian Infantry Division (5th, 7th and 11th brigades) is an excellent unit (9,700 men), well trained and efficient.
- The 16th British Infantry Brigade (2,500 men) is available for the offensive.
- The 14th British Infantry Brigade (2,500 men) is held in operational reserve.
- The 22nd British Infantry Brigade will contribute to the offensive by detaching Selby Force, a group of just under 2,000 men under the command of Brigadier A. R. Selby. The rest of the brigade (500 men) will participate with other elements (3,000 men) in the defense of the fortifications at Mersa Matruh.
The British have the equivalent of two other infantry brigades in the region (ex-18th and ex-23rd) and the 1st Cavalry Division (13,000 men in all), but these units are assigned to the defence of Cairo and the Suez Canal, as well as to the maintenance of law and order in Palestine and Jordan.
The first echelon of the (future) 2nd New Zealand Infantry Division, i.e. the 4th Brigade and its support units, arrived in Egypt in February, but General Wavell does not intend to use these units (3,000 men in all) for the planned offensive. The second echelon (5th brigade and support units) was rerouted to Britain at the end of May. The third echelon (6th Brigade and support units) will not arrive until late September.
The French troops of General Mittelhauser, who came from Lebanon, form (reminiscent of Napoleon...) the French Expeditionary Corps in Egypt. They are far from being
- 86th Infantry Division (type O-M, category A).
- 191st Infantry Division (type O-M, category A) [1].
- 63rd and 68th Combat Tank Battalions, with 45 and 37 R-35 tanks respectively [2].
These tanks are slow and not very maneuverable, but practically immune to the Italian anti-tank guns. They are very effective in supporting the infantry (although not as effective as the British Matilda).
- 8th Machine Gun Group, equipped with 40 AMD Whyte.
- 352nd Long Range Artillery Regiment (36 x 105 mm).
- Mobile artillery group: a 155 mm howitzer battery (4 towed pieces), two half-batteries of 47 mm anti-tank (4 towed guns each) and a battery of 75 mm (5 guns on Dodge trucks).
In all, about 18,000 men already on the line, plus 12,000 more men from August 12th.
On the suggestion of Brigadier Jock Campbell and several French officers with experience of operations in the Levant, several mobile columns are organized. They combine light armoured vehicles, self-propelled guns and mounted infantry and artillery. These columns have to take advantage of the nature of the terrain to penetrate the desert and paralyze the movements of the Italians.
The Allies also expected several divisions to reinforce their forces by the end of the year.
(i) The Australian Imperial Force will step up:
- The 6th Australian Infantry Division (16th, 17th, and 19th brigades) is in training in Palestine. It will be operational at the end of November. It has a few old Vickers medium tanks. [3]
- The 7th Australian Infantry Division, which for the moment consists only of the 20th and 21st brigades, is in training. Its men are novices and still poorly equipped.
- Two other Australian brigades (the 24th and 26th) should be available from January 1941 [4].
(ii) Finally, the 5th Indian Infantry Division (9th, 10th and 29th Brigades, Maj. Beresford-Peirse) should be available in early September.

[1] This division was not available until August 12th. One of its battalions was sent to Cyprus.
[2] The 68th BCC sent a company of 13 tanks to Cyprus.
[3] The 18th Brigade, originally planned for this division, was diverted to Great Britain in view of the worsening situation in Europe. It is replaced by the 19th, originally planned for the 7th Division.
[4] The 25th Brigade is being trained in Great Britain from the surplus strength of the 18th Brigade.
August 10th, 1940

Gulf of Genoa
, 10:00 - Lieutenant Lejeune sends Private Bernard Robbia to the village, the one of the group who speaks the best Italian, with the mission of finding out about the habits of the local fishermen. Robbia is wearing an Italian uniform found in the truck and he is wearing a a huge bandage on his head and an arm in a sling, testimonies of the glorious wounds sustained during the Italian offensive on Menton. He was supposed to return to his village of La Garfagnana for a well-deserved rest...
The day passes slowly and Lejeune begins to worry when Robbia finally returns, around 22:00. The lieutenant had forgotten that in Italy, the cafés are much more crowded (and tongues are looser) after the workday... Robbia has good news: "There is a fishing boat, the Santa Rita, that is due to leave around midnight. The owner, his son and another
sailor. It's big enough for all of us to fit in!"
"Saint Rita, patron saint of desperate causes!" whispers Lejeune (his studies at the Jesuits left him some lessons).
The Santa Rita is moored in couple with another boat. Lejeune hides his men in both boats and when they arrived, around midnight, the three Italians had no other choice than to obey and set sail with the fifteen Frenchmen.
August 11th, 1940

- The British position of Tug Argan, while making the best use of the hills, the rugged terrain and the small, almost dry river (the Tug), is far too stretched for the number of troops available, with no depth and vulnerable to enemy infiltration. In the same way, only the pass used by the road is properly covered (and beaten by the four 3.7 inch howitzers) and there is no way to prevent the Italian forces, which were much more numerous, from carrying out an envelopment by the flanks. But there is no other place on the Berbera road where the defenders can have any hope of slowing - if not stopping - the Italian advance. However, General De Simone suffers from a handicap that he will discover only gradually: the maps at his disposal were based on British documents from 1926, which contained many inaccuracies, especially concerning the main road and its surroundings. These cartographic errors will complicate his task.
The attack starts with an air attack (an SM.81 is shot down by shots from the ground) and four hours of bombardment by the Italian artillery. Around noon, the 14th and 15th Colonial Infantry Brigades go on the attack, while the 2nd tries to bypass the enemy line from the west and General Bertello's elements approach from the east. The 13th Brigade is held in reserve with the armor. The 1st Battalion, Northern Rhodesian Regiment, defending the main pass gives up some ground at the end of the day.
In the western part of the Protectorate, the Bertoldi column reaches Zeïla, but once again comes up against Senegalese infantrymen entrenched in the locality and supported by the light cruiser HMAS Hobart, the destroyer HMS Kimberley and the French colonial aviso D'Iberville, which had just arrived from the Atlantic. As Bertoldi prepares for a new assault, the Passerone motorized column is ordered to bypass the port and immediately begin its advance along the coastal road to Berbera. Since the Royal Navy controls the Somaliland coastline, no amphibious operation can be planned out.
August 11th, 1940

- Early in the morning, the light cruiser HMS Dragon, which is to take part in Operation Ravenne, arrives from Lagos. It was escorted from the latitude of Casablanca by two of the destroyers stationed in Gibraltar, the HMS Vidette and Wishart.
It is followed at the end of the day by a squadron coming from Great Britain and composed of the carrier HMS Ark Royal, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, the light cruiser HMS Delhi and the destroyers HMS Echo, Eclipse, Escapade, Firedrake, Fortune and Inglefield. The large units come to support the French Navy for the operation Marignan; the destroyers will be shared between the latter and Ravenne.
August 11th, 1940

Between Pantelleria and Lampedusa, 02:17 GMT
- Having just left "Grand Chapeau" and heading for Malta, the cargo ship Clan Cumming hits one of the mines of the newly laid 7 AN field and sinks. This is a very unpleasant surprise for the Franco-British. In view of the testimonies of the survivors collected by the escorts sent from Malta to meet the ship, they had to admit that the Italians could lay mines in depths far greater than they themselves were capable of doing.
The interest in the conquest of Pantelleria and the Pelagie Islands is only increased.
August 11th, 1940

Libya (Cyrenaica)
- Elements of the Western Desert Force attack Bardia, supported by a regiment of the 86th ID and tanks of the 63rd and 68th BCC. The anti-tank armament of the Italian forces is not very effective against the R-35s, but a dozen tanks are more or less damaged by mines.
August 11th, 1940

Gulf of Genoa
- The euphoria of the French on board the Santa Rita is short-lived. First, the abominable smell of fish in the hold turns the stomachs of the majority of the mountaineers, but it is especially the bad news transmitted by Robbia that is a blow to their morale: "The captain says that he does not have enough diesel to cross the Mediterranean and that it will probably not even be enough to reach Corsica."
However, their fate is sealed and Lejeune decides to ignore this prognosis. The hours pass and the Santa Rita is sailing gently at 5-6 knots, heading south-southeast, as the compass is closely monitored by the lieutenant. Corsica should be visible in the early afternoon.
In fact, the mountains of Cape Corsica appear on the port side at around 14:00.
But the fisherman's predictions prove to be correct: shortly after 14:30, the engine stops and the boat starts to drift slowly towards the east. In the evening, the wind rises, but quickly dies down and the suggestion of one of the mountaineers to make a makeshift sail with the nets only attracts snickers from the fisherman boss.
August 12th, 1940

- The battle of Tug Argan continues. The 2nd Italian Colonial Brigade continues to advance painfully to outflank the British line from the west, pushing back the 3/15th Punjab. Fighting continues along the roadside.
Three Blenheims from Sqn 39 try to support the ground troops; one of them is shot down by a CR.32 of the 410th squadron.
At the end of the afternoon, the Italians seize one of the hills defending the pass; the two British howitzers that were there, unable to be withdrawn, are sabotaged. The other two, on the opposite hill, are running low on ammunition.
August 12th, 1940

- Thanks to the diligent action of the clever Otto Abetz, the negotiations for the formation of a French puppet government are close to succeeding. Although amongst them rules extreme distrust, Laval, Déat and Doriot agree on a project that suits the Germans. The three of them are going to form a semblance of a government, which would be recognized by Germany and with which Berlin would sign an armistice. Like that of Quisling in Norway, this government was to serve as a relay of German wishes to the French administration, reduce the need for Wehrmacht garrisons and, when the time came, encourage the recruitment of auxiliaries for the anti-communist struggle, or even against the government in Algiers. Moreover, the existence of an interlocutor, even an illegal and illegitimate one, should facilitate the "economic collaboration" for the benefit of Germany (collaboration which will be baptized after the attack of the USSR "contribution to the fight against the Bolshevism").
But the operation is not without problems of international law. The legal French government, recognized by all the neutral governments, is in Algiers. It is from the outset
certain that the United States would not recognize the Laval government: their ambassador William Bullitt, pressed by telegrams from Roosevelt, has just packed his bags, leaving only a chargé d'affaires, Somerville Tuck, in Paris (after a detour through Spain and Portugal, Bullitt eventually found his way to Algiers). At best (from Laval's point of view), the USSR would refrain from choosing, which did not worry Déat or Doriot much...
Spain (which had in Morocco, Franco did not forget, a common border with "the people of Algiers"!) was going to waver.
In fact, the existence of their puppet could embarrass the Germans themselves: if they decide that it was the legitimate French government, they would have to consider the French soldiers fighting against them as "francs-tireurs" likely to be executed. But, besides exposing the German prisoners to reprisals, the neutrals - and in any case the United States, which is very sensitive in this respect - would condemn Germany for non-respect of the Geneva Conventions. On the other hand, treating the French soldiers taken after the signing of an armistice with the Laval government as prisoners of war in the legal sense of the term would mean that the armistice would have no value! In practice, Germany ignored these legal considerations. In its relations with with Laval and others, it will act as if "the people of Algiers" did not exist. And on the front, everything will happen as if the Laval government were only a fiction.
For the time being, the team assembled with great difficulty by Abetz enters history with a declaration: "We, the French political leaders [the word "elected" has been deleted], noting that the supposedly legal government of our country committed a crime against humanity on the night of June 12th to 13th, a crime that deprives it of any claim to represent France and that it has abandoned the French people to the most disastrous hours of their history to embark on an adventure without hope or return, let us affirm today that it is our duty to rebuild the nation. Gathered today in Orléans, a city that perpetuates the memory of a Christian saint who knew how to defend France against the actions of the Overseas powers and their agents, faithful to the example of Marshal Pétain, whose age did not prevent him from standing up to the traitors [Pétain is dying in Bordeaux, where his condition is slowly worsening], we swear to do our utmost to found a new order in our country that will give it back its place in the New Europe."
Signed: Messrs. P. Laval, G. Bergery, M. Déat, J. Doriot, P.-E. Flandin and J. Ybarnegaray (note the alphabetical order of the signatories, apart from Laval)
August 12th, 1940

West of Benghazi, 10:53 GMT
- The submarine Beilul (C.C. Paolo Vigliasindi) spots "Petit Chapeau" (the slow convoy of "Chapeaux"). It manages to get close enough to place a torpedo on the cargo ship Vulcain (4 362 GRT). Some of the ammunition carried explodes and the ship quickly sinks.
Subjected to an intense counter-attack by the escort, the Beilul escapes, but the damage received forces the submarine to cut its patrol short.
August 12th, 1940

- The Italian submarine Domenico Millelire is torpedoed and sunk by the submarine HMS Rainbow as it tries to enter the harbour whilst loaded with supplies.
August 12th, 1940

- Twelve Breda 88s detached by the 7th Autonomous Combat Group land at Gadurra airfield. The Breda 88, a so-called multi-purpose aircraft, proves to be one of the
of the most mediocre attack aircraft (and that's an understatement). So it must be used in the Dodecanese only for hunting and reconnaissance missions. Short of even partially modern fighter planes in mainland Italy and Sicily, this is all the Regia Aeronautica found to send to the Aegean to support the small number of fighters already deployed. No doubt that the staff judged that the arrival of these modern-looking twin-engine aircraft would have a better psychological effect than the arrival of new Fiat CR.32s. At least they could make the trip alone and not dismantled, in the holds of SM.82! But the Aegean islands will hardly receive any other air reinforcements.
635 - Start of Operation Alma
August 12th, 1940

Libya (Cyrenaica)
- General attack of the allied forces! This time, it is the real beginning of operation Alma (named by Wavell and Mittelhauser in memory of the first battle that saw British and French forces, allies, defeat an opposing line of defense - Russian, at the time).
Supported by the R-35 and the French heavy artillery, the Franco-British infantry (4th Indian Division and the French 86th ID in particular) pin the enemy in front of Bardia. The units of the Marmarica Division and the left wing of the Cirene hold on to a terrain that is favorable to the defense, especially in the Halfaya Pass, quickly nicknamed Hellfire Pass by the British.
But to the south of the front, the mobile columns of the 7th Armoured Division, supported by the machine gun units and French artillery, begins to push into the desert. Starting from the Fort Capuzzo area, they break through the lines improvised by border guards and units of the Cirene.
Between Fort Capuzzo and the north wing, the British of the Selby Force (22nd Brigade) ensure a certain continuity of the front.
August 12th, 1940

"Until the beginning of 1941, the net preventing people from fleeing France through the Mediterranean was quite loose. The Germans occupied the coastline from Perpignan to Cannes, but they only held the towns and villages; the Italians did the same from Cannes to Nice, but they also patrolled the sea (their patrol zone only gradually expanded towards Toulon). This system was only tightened around March 1941, as the Germans started up the small shipyards around Marseille, to produce or repair boats adapted to coastal surveillance. Many Frenchmen took advantage of the holes in the coastline to escape.
First, in the weeks following the end of the fighting, several hundred French soldiers were able to cross into North Africa, either directly or via Corsica, after more or less incredible adventures. Among many others, we must mention here the role played by a modest cargo ship, the Rhin. This ship of 2,450 tons and 80 meters in length had already distinguished itself(in the greatest secrecy), because behind its appearance of an old rusty ship running on coal, looking for freight in the ports, it served as a base for a section of the Navy's Special Forces, led by Lieutenant Péri. In May 1940, Péri had managed to blow up two mines under the German submarine supply ship Corrientes, in the middle of the port of Las Palmas, in the Canaries.
After this feat, the ship participated in the Grand Déménagement, having the luxury of shooting down two Stukas in the second half of July, in front of Marseille and Sète. It must be said that its commander, Captain Cannebotin, had equipped his ship with anti-aircraft machine guns, picking without any shame from the batch of those he had embarked in Toulon and had to disembark in Oran. These weapons were concealed by prelarts in order to be seen neither by German planes... nor by Army officers.
The adventurous career of the Rhine continued after the end of the fighting on the Continent. (...) "
(From "Les Déménagés d'après le 7 août" - op. cit.)

Languedoc coast, 00:30 - A fairly rusty shadow cruises off the coast of Languedoc. Well, off the coast is a lot to say, because the Rhin must not be more than a mile from the coast. Just as on the two previous nights, he looks for groups of French soldiers who had taken refuge on the beaches, in order to recover them. Several dozen men were thus
picked up on the beaches between Saint-Cyprien and Leucate. Tonight, the boat is operating a little further north, between Gruissan and Agde. On the bridge, the conversation, albeit in a low voice, is animated:
- There is no one left around here! And eventually, we will end up taking a German shell. With the moon full and high, you'd have to be blind not to see us, masked lights or not.
- You're right, Doc. And with so little water under the keel, by the time we go from a moving target to a fixed target, it's not far off.
- Don't worry, Captain. The depth sounder indicates more than 10 meters.
- You trust this invention?
- There's nothing to stop you from putting a man with a probe in the davit, Captain!
- Of course, and he would shout 3 fathoms, 2 fathoms, 4 fathoms like in the sailing days. That way, in addition to being seen, we would be heard!
- The wind comes from the land, no risk. And anyway, the machine is not really discreet either!
- Ah, you're volunteering to row?
- Captain, I was just kidding. Let's look on the bright side: if an Italian submarine out here, it will scrape its belly on the ground before we do. And with the moon, at least we can see far enough for navigation even close to the coast, which is not so bad considering that the Krauts have turned off all the lighthouses.

An unmistakably female voice interrupts this exchange: "An intermittent light signal on the port side, there!"
00:55 - On the beach of Vias, Private Albert Blin cannot sleep. He is stranded there with three other soldiers, like him from the Air Company whose members were in charge of defending the Béziers-Vias field. At the time of the arrival of the Germans, they escaped capture by heading south and, after crossing the Canal du Midi, they found refuge near the beach. But in their flight they did not take much with them, and they fear that they will soon be forced to surrender on an empty stomach.
Albert Blin takes out of his pocket one of his last Gauloises and lights it (not without difficulty, because of the wind) with a large gasoline lighter that spits out a long flame. The crackling sound of the wheel wakes up his companions Joseph Bouvet, Maurice Lefort and Georges Duval.
All three imitate their comrade and share their last cigarettes, which they light with Albert Blin's lighter, as unobtrusive as ever.
As they take their last puffs, a voice from the sea makes them jump to their feet: "Hey, tramps! Are you waiting for the subway? The last one is on the platform, and it won't be coming back for a long time!" It's the LV Péri, arriving in a rowboat. The four men don't hesitate to get on board and the boat sets off again, rowing towards the Rhin.
There is no other pickup that night.
05:45 - In the early morning, as the Rhin heads for the Balearic Islands, it is overflown by a German plane, but at this moment it flies a huge Spanish flag and its name is masked by a black cloth with the word San Miguel written on it. The aviators are satisfied with a quick round, especially since the sailors on the deck make big friendly gestures to them (while others nervously grab their machine guns...).
The old cargo ship arrives safely in Algiers on August 18th.
August 13th, 1940

Red Sea
- On the way to Aden, the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign, escorted by the destroyers Defender, Stuart and Vampire, takes advantage of its passage off Port Sudan to send a few salvos of 15-inch shells in an area south of the city where advanced elements of the Italian army had been spotted. This imprecise bombardment has no significant effect, other than to calm the ardor of the Ascaris irregulars and to trigger a reaction from Marisupao, which dispatches the submarine Ferraris the next day to try to intercept the English battleship.
August 13th, 1940

- At Tug Argan, the British, who received the reinforcement of the two anti-aircraft guns, are still resisting. However, the 15th Italian Brigade manages to infiltrate between the Rhodesians and the King's African Rifles. In the evening, its advanced elements surprise a supply column escorted by a company of Black Watch.
On the coastal road, the Passerone motorized column is bombed by the destroyer HMS Kimberley and the aviso HMS Auckland.
Sqn 223, on Vickers Wellesley, is transferred from Sudan to Aden.
August 13th, 1940

- Hitler gives a victory speech in which his rage at not having been able to force his adversary to surrender is masked by irony: "The decision of the fallen French government to emigrate to Africa and pretend to continue the war there under the leadership of the same Jews who led France to collapse is obviously ridiculous. But it is also logical for a people that has progressively become bastardized and that is no longer worthy of Europe."
As for England, it's turn is coming: "If Mr. Churchill and the British plutocrats think they are safe behind a ridiculous arm of salt water they are mistaken. The Luftwaffe will soon make them feel that a little salt water will not save them from the wrath of the German people, whom they have forced into war!"
And Göring goes on repeating that "his" Luftwaffe will soon have reduced England to rubble.
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