WI: Free Italy - a.k.a. Kingdom of Italy in exile as an Allied nation

Good revision. The tweaks make it read much more believably now



Now that's dedication to a TL! On the ground research!
Indeed I'm a serial poster, major update in the following post (lunchtime posting - the chapter has been ready since last week :) )
 
04 - It escalated quickly
Italian military preparations

Prime Minister Badoglio, backed by the King, opened to the new reform of the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni, with the reinstatement of the Camera dei Deputati during the very first months of 1941. This measure opened again to the organization of several small bourgeois parties like the former Liberals circles and the Catholic Popular Party. New elections would be held in the Summer, despite some resistance from Balbo.

Italy was slowy de-fascistizing itself, growing more and more moderate and conservative leaning, with strong influence from the Catholic establishment. The worrying siding of both France and Yugoslavia with Germany created an almost full encirclement of Italian metropolitan borders (Switzerland excluded). During the preparation for the boost of the fortifications on the Vallo Alpino, an assassination attempt was executed in Franzensfeste/Fortezza when Minister of War Balbo was visiting an Alpini barracks, leaving Balbo lightly injured (an Alpini conscript put himself between the bullets and the Minister). The attack was claimed by the Befreiungsausschuss Südtirol, a terrorist organization aiming to detach South Tyrol from Italy and willing to join the Third Reich.

The repressive machine led by Balbo as Minister of Interior rushed to South Tyrol: in a couple of weeks over 10.000 persons were arrested and deported to Italian Lybia, all the former Optanten were strictly guarded and several were stripped of Italian citizenship and deported to the Third Reich. Additional “Operazioni di Polizia” were carried out in Italian Karst, Istria, and Fiume, where thousands of Slovenes and Croatians were rounded up and deported.

Escalation was behind the corner, when the TIGR (the Slovene resistance organization) managed to derail a train in San Pietro del Carso/Pivka, effectively disrupting the rail communication between Trieste and Fiume. Formal protests for the treatment of both the South Tyrolean and the Slavic minorities arrived from the German and the Yugoslavian embassies in Rome. Balbo scoffed the letters.

Ciano, instead, was more and more worried about the diplomatic encirclement: he could not commit to the British because the King and Emperor asked to stay out of the War, and the prospected advantages were indeed scarce (promises on Tunisia and Djibouti were not appealing). Moreover, the German preparations for Barbarossa involved Italians as contributing with at least a motorized Army Corps. Ciano, after meeting Ribbentrop, clearly stated that Italy would have not been ready until late 1942 for War, and in that time frame will definitely throw its weight against the Soviets at the side of the Reich.

The reality was indeed a mixed bag: the Regio Esercito slightly recovered its resources stockpile and finished its reorganization; the strategic focus was finally defined:

Alpes were to be the main defensive line, manned by

  • Gruppo d’Armate Ovest holding French Border
    • 3 Alpini divisions, 6 Mountain infantry divisions and 4 Infantry divisions
    • Around 200k manpower strong
    • Commanded by HRH Umberto II (sided by General Guzzoni) – HQ in Bra
  • Gruppo d’Armate Centro holding Swiss and Tyrolean border
    • 2 Alpini divisions, 3 Mountain infantry divisions and 4 Infantry divisions
    • Around 150k manpower strong
    • Commanded by General Ambrosio – HQ in Trento
  • Gruppo d’Armate Est holding Eastern border
    • 1 Alpini division, 2 Mountain infantry divisions 3 Infantry divisions + 1 Bersaglieri division
    • Around 120k manpower strong
    • Commanded by General Grossi – HQ in Cervignano
These troops would have to balance the possible tide of German invasion through Tyrol passes and Carnia passes, hold the Isonzo valley to avoid penetration on Po Valley. Fall back lines in case of invasion from the East were recognized to be on Tagliamento, Livenza, Piave and finally on Adige. In case of invasion from the South Tyrol, the fortifications of Franzensfeste, Bozen and Salorno would have to slow the advance, with the retreat line on Adige and the holding of all the major passes towards Lombardy (Stelvio, Tonale and the access to Brescia from Giudicarie).

Strategic mobile reserves were then deployed in Piedmont and Veneto to counter any possible German breakthrough. Additional troop garrisoned Sicily and Sardinia and a understrength Army, the 3rd, with HQ in Rome acted as additional strategic infantry reserve.

  • In Albania, preparations were made for the Comando Albania (around 80k strong) to defend the access to the ports of Vlore and Shkoder and to repel any attack from Kosovo or Montenegro. The troops under the command of General Visconti Prasca (HQ in Tirana) were to stay on absolute defensive stance.
  • Comando Nord Africa (under the orders of General Gariboldi from Tripoli HQ), was split between the 5th Army (in Tripolitania, around 70k strong) to counter any French ambition and 11th Army (in Cyrenaica, around 40k strong) to guard the Egyptian border. The grand strategy would have been to try to seize Tunisia in case of French invasion of Italy with the fast moving of troops from the 11th Army. No actions or plans were studied for British intervention.
  • Comando Africa Orientale, led by Duke of Aosta Amedeo, was 260k strong, primarily composed by local colonial troops (190k) and for the remaining part by metropolitan troops (70k). The strategic goal was to seize Djibouti in case of French declaration of war and then to link with the Italian troops in Lybia.
In terms of equipment, the focus on mountain war stopped the motorization of the troops with the remarkable exception of P.40 Medium tank starting to be mass produced by Ansaldo and Fiat substituting the lightly armed M13/40. Focus was put more and more on divisional and regimental artillery and in reinforcing natural barrages with casemate and antitank guns.

Royal Navy, in case of entry in war against Germany, France and Yugoslavia would have to deal with the interruption of supply flow to French North Africa and to keep open the communication in the Adriatic. The sheer superiority in terms of tonnage and ships after the semi-destruction of Marine Nationale, and assuming not to have to fight against Mediterranean Fleet. New Chief of Staff Inigo Campioni pushed strongly in the direction of collaboration with Regia Aeronautica due to the lack of Italian carriers more than in OTL, being slightly more effective than in OTL.

Regia Aeronautica was in the worst shape: the program of renewal was deeply undergoing, and the strategic focus was to defend the industrial capabilities of Po Valley and keep air superiority overall Eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

Suddenly, it’s war !

Barbarossa start on 22nd June was disrupted by the no notice aggression of Italian forces at the Lybian-Tunisian frontier. On June 29th, French Troops, with 15 divisions from Algeria and Tunisia launched themselves against the forces of Italian 5th Army.

The French, still thinking how to bring the war on British soil, thought that the Italians would have been a piece of cake in Northern Africa to bring the war towards Egypt and Suez. Germans military advisors strongly disagreed but even so OKH planned to detach a couple of Panzergrenadier divisions in North Africa under the command of General Rommel. The overwhelming numerical superiority of the French allowed to overcome the lightly fortified border in Brega and to overtake Gadames fort on July 6th.

The French vanguard was stopped close to Zuara (50 km into Lybia), where a major pitched battle saw the Italians suffering heavy casualties but stopping the French advance.

Air bombings from France and Tunisia almost annihilated at soil the Regia Aeronautica in northern Italy, caught completely off guard by the sneak attack. French troops begin a slow push around the Western Alps in the first weeks of July, being blocked by heavy artillery fire and the stiff resistance of the Alpini on Moncenisio and Monginevro pass.

Reports of Yugoslavian commandos infiltrating in Isonzo Valley were dispatched to the command of Gruppo d’Armate Est on July 2nd, unfortunately, being quickly dismissed. A few days after, on July 7th, Yugoslavian 4th and 7th armies attacked on all the front line, supported by TIGR partisans, obtaining tactical successes like the seizure of Postumia/Postojna and the surrendering of Zara after a street by street gunfighting.

The Germans still thought that the French were fool in involving the Italians, despite Laval’s assurance on the war remaining a Franco-Italian affair and that the Italians will just wave up white flag after few casualties in Africa, the situation wasn’t so good:

  • the French did not manage to rout the Italians from Tripoli within the first two weeks and not even to gain any meter of Italian metropolitan soil,
  • the greedy Yugoslavians joined in invading Italian Istria and Karst without German permission,
  • Italians were fighting back heavily; they have a strong navy to be used upon to transform Mediterranean in an actual Mare Nostrum. Moreover, not being anymore a Neutral state, Italy would not act as a proxy for German supplies purchasing.
In a matter of fact, the French opened a new front directly bordering Germany in the South. OKH and Hitler obviously shit their pants when King VE III removed Badoglio appointing Balbo as Prime Minister of the new Governo di Solidarietà Nazionale on July 14th that also included Liberals, Populars, Radicals and some Laburists elements. First official act of Balbo’s government was to sever diplomatic relationship with Germany, considered as an allied country to Italian invaders. The Germans already got wise: they knew that the British and the Italians were already discussing about the deployment of a British Army Corps in Italy to both repel the French and the Yugoslavians, and possibly, to try to invade Tyrol and Carinthia.

Despite Barbarossa was going very well at the moment and the Soviets were suffering what were thought to be unbearable losses, the Germans diverted part of their reserves to amass manpower in Austria.

Mass scale revolts surged in Italian-held Southern Tyrol in the end of July, effectively draining Italian garrison troops towards the repression of the rebellion. On 29th July, carpet bombing of Milan, Turin, Genoa and Trieste was carried out, while surgical dive bombings disrupted Italian railways network between Firenze and Bologna, north of Verona and in Alessandria by the Luftwaffe. German troops flooded through Brennerpass and Reschenpass, that after a couple of days of resistance were overcome by dive bombing and artillery fire. Tarvisio border crossing was stormed from three different directions (Coccau by the Germans, Fusine by joint German-Yugoslavian forces and Predil by the Yugoslavian). German pushed also through the Isonzo Valley taking quickly Plezzo/Bovec on the first day and reaching Tolmino/Tolmin on the third day, forcing the Italian retreat from Idria/Idrija.

Balbo, officially relayed through Ciano the declaration of War to Germany, France and Yugoslavia and on August 1st, the Kingdom of Italy formally joined United Kingdom in an alliance.
 
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Considering the strong pro-italian lobbies in the US, I don't think it would be hard to get US help at this time; if not actual troops, at least easy access to equipment.
 
Update is intriguing but it has a bit of a problem, I'll struggling to see where the resources the French are using are coming from. OTL the Germans rather ruthlessly stripped France bare to get the needed resources for Barbarossa. There is just no way for example for France to have the oil its burning up and Germany still have sufficient to drive its Panzers into the USSR.

OTL Vichy had a few remnants of the French forces from 1939 but not even enough fuel to keep those at a decent level of training. 15 Divisions in Africa where everything has to be basically either motorized or static due to terrain/climate/distance is way more than could fielded even if the French think its going to be over in weeks.
 
Air bombings from France and Tunisia almost annihilated at soil the Regia Aeronautica in northern Italy, caught completely off guard by the sneak attack.
I feel the Italian Navy and Army codebreakers, who both were very good at their job, should have seen the buildup activity. They had broke the French and Yugoslavian Military and Diplomatic codes, Their Spies were very good at stealing codebooks
 
A French attack in Libya with a diversionary offensive in the alps for both regain the honor of France and to attempt have access to Suez trough Libya, as Jugoslavia joining for being greed both nation believing that with just German diplomatic/logistic support the italian will fold easily...well is duable/credible.
Just not that succesfull, as other pointed out the Vichy military forces in OTL were not in any good shape and even if ITTL they are a full Axis member they will lack oil (as OTL Italy) and many of their original equipment is now in Russia fighting with the Werchmatch; sure just having to deal with Greece and no North African campaign mean resources saved, so a limited build up for the French is possible, only not enough to put a serious fight against Italy, their air forces (both french and jugoslavian) don't have the capacity to wipe out all Regia Aeronautica assets in North Italy...especially if the French need to cover themselfs against the RAF and the Jugoslavian don't have the capacity for any serious offensive in Istria even if helped by TIGR, occupy Fiume and Zara is OK bypass the defensive line on their own extremely difficult, even because their entire equipment is even more dated than OTL Italian.

As other have pointed out, italian codebreakers and more importantly the British will have noted any build up, especially in a moment of diplomatic tension like that.
Honestly the most probable event is something like the OTL Italian invasion of France and Greece at least till the Germans don't decide to intervene to support their allies even if they consider the entire affair idiotic and at the wrong time.

Regarding the reinstatement of the Camera dei Deputati, maybe is a little too son (at the beginning of the chapter) and can be something that the King want to do for the reason stated but there is strong opposition from the PFI and for now nobody want to rock the boat too much due to the situation in the rest of Europe. Once the Governo di Solidarietà Nazionale is created, things will quickly change and the Camera dei deputati can be much more easily reinstated
 
As someone correctly stated: Vichy is this TL Axis Italy mirror. With all the related blunders and foolishness.

About the 15-division in North Africa for the French, almost all light infantry, moroccan and senegalese (mixed bag of second rate troops and elite troops), the Army invading Italy from the Alps instead is made up of Chasseurs Alpines and Infantry. Equipment is, like the OTL Italians, scarce.

I didn't know about the spy games behind, maybe I'll edit, I've some ideas about it. Next update will be an overview of how the war actually goes.
 
I didn't know about the spy games behind, maybe I'll edit, I've some ideas about it. Next update will be an overview of how the war actually goes.
Basically the moment Enigma read the French and Jugoslavian comunication and an attack is considered sure, the British will communicate to the Italians as it's the perfect occasion to sign Italy as an ally and frankly even the italian will be on alert so annihilate Regia Aeronautica like the Israelian with the arabs during the 6 days war will be almost impossible, especially with the general situation of the French air force. Naturally once the Luftwaffe enter in the game, things will change drammatically and Regia Areonautica will be in the fight for her life but said that remember that the RAF had not steamrolled the italians in 5 minutes.
 
annihilate Regia Aeronautica like the Israelian with the arabs during the 6 days war will be almost impossible, especially with the general situation of the French air force. Naturally once the Luftwaffe enter in the game, things will change drammatically and Regia Areonautica will be in the fight for her life but said that remember that the RAF had not steamrolled the italians in 5 minutes.
I will edit accordingly the update with some major details on the French military status. I enjoy the fact that indeed (except for some foolish things I wrote) that the TL is considered "plausible"...

Piave92
 
I will edit accordingly the update with some major details on the French military status. I enjoy the fact that indeed (except for some foolish things I wrote) that the TL is considered "plausible"...

Piave92
Honestly my only serious doubt is VEIII having the guts to fire Benny; after that is generally on spot
 
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