Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 05 April 1941
Italy has been given one more reminder of the terrifying power of the Royal Navy. Rendered desperate by the growing traffic between Egypt and Greece the Italian battle fleet last Friday attempted a sortie against a convoy and was caught and hammered.
British gunnery was so swift and devastating that three cruisers were smashed before they could engage. Three destroyers also were sunk, and a Littorio battleship severely damaged. The rest of the Italian fleet made for port as fast as their engines could take them. This brilliant and astonishing victory cost us two aircraft — otherwise, not a scratch. Some hundreds of Italian sailors were picked up by our vessels but hundreds more had to be abandoned, because German dive-bombers interrupted the work of rescue. German officers and men are among the prisoners, the first clear evidence of German stiffening for the Italian Fleet. It is probable that the Italians ventured within reach of the British at German dictation.
For Italy the war is in any case well lost, and if their Fleet dare not challenge us when their African empire was still at stake it is inconceivable that they would voluntarily risk their Fleet in support of the German military position in the Balkans. Their own Balkan enterprise has been smashed as completely and hopelessly as their African empire. On land, on sea, and in the air, in Albania, Libya, Eritrea, Abyssinia, and Somaliland, they are discredited, defeated and disgraced. They stripped themselves of honour when they entered the war and now they have been stripped of power. They are no longer a part of the Axis, they are merely bound to the wheel. Their function is purely sacrificial. The best-defeated nation in military annals, they continue to serve their German masters by detaining and absorbing British power.
They are used in common with the other victims of Germany as a shield to fend off from the Reich the blows of the British Navy and Air Force. That they have lost their empire, their honour, and their virility in the process means nothing to the Germans who, in any case, even if the war had gone differently, would have apportioned to Italy no more than a suzerainty under the Herrenvolk, with no security of tenure. The dismantlement of the Italian empire, however, is of strategic consequence to Germany, and has had a profound effect on the war situation in its wider aspect.
The Axis has lived largely on its prestige which Italy’s incompetence and discomfiture has gravely damaged. It is sometimes said that the Germans’ brilliance in the field of propaganda and diplomacy has gone far to win the war for them. Such a view mistakes symptoms for diseases. Goebbels and Ribbentrop would have been powerless to intimidate, coerce, or inveigle if they had not had behind them the immediate threat of the German Air Force and the German Army, supplemented by the Italian Fleet.
Slowly the world is realising not only the rottenness of the Axis but the disparity between threat and performance now that Germany is at length confronted by a force approximately equal in strength and greatly superior in morale.