Although the Mediterranean Sea was a peaceful sea during the beginning part of the war, the great Axis leaders finally decided upon it's importance. With the Mediterranean in their control, they could control Egypt, then eventually Africa. The Axis powers could also take Sicily, Sardinia, Albania, and perhaps Greece. The race for the Mediterranean was on.
The British had no access to the Mediterranean Sea, and with the fall of France, the British were in more trouble. French troops in the middle-east withdrew and left the rich oil fields abandoned. Benito Mussolini(Head of Italy), decided to take advantage of the situation. He sent half a million troops into North Africa. Ten battleships paved the way and supporting bases sprang up all over southern Europe and Africa. One army would invade Egypt from the west, and another would strike in the north of Africa. The British were in for a fight because they only had a small force in Africa. British General Sir Archibald Wavell had only 36,000 men in Egypt. Benito Mussolini was obsessed with recreating the great Roman Empire. He would try anything to get it back.
The Italians were ready for battle. The Duke of Aosta prepared 200,000 Italians to penetrate Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from Eritrea. The attack occured when 1,500 British troops were under attack. On August 4, 1940, the British and French Somaliland was attacked. Zeila and Hargeisa were taken. Oodweina was taken the next day and on August 11, Tug Argan was attacked. The British knew they were losing, so an evacuation was ordered. The troops withdrew on the nineteenth. With the withdrawel, Mussolini ordered a complete blockade of Africa and the Mediterranean from the British. This order was givin on August 20.
Then on September 14, 250,000 Italians under Marshal Rodolfo Graziana moved through the Egyptian border. The Italians were stopped inland by the Royal Navy when they were only 60 miles inside the country. Graziana was devestated. His supply lines were shattered and Benito Mussolini now had another problem. There was now a threat of a possible invasion on his home country. Mussolini stated that his forces keep all his navy at Taranto Bay. This base was at the rear of the Italian boot.
Mussolini was right. There was an attack, but not the kind of attack he expected. On November 11, 1940, the British Royal Air Force decided to drop a little visit on Taranto Bay. The British planes dropped their destructive torpedos onto the ships below. Taranto Bay was devestated. Three Italian battleships, two cruisers, and two auxiliaries were damaged beyond repair in the attack. This left the British in control of the Mediterranean.
The Axis powers had their eyes on the Balkans from day one. The supplies included oil, butter, pigs, and would gain control over many Allied supply routes and communication lines. The Balkans weren't about to be prepared for what was coming. The Balkans included the countries Rumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania.
Albania was the first to join the Axis powers. It was annexed in 1939. Yugoslavia quickly favored the Allies due to the fact that Serbians couldn't trust the Italians. Turkey also had no choice but to join the Axis, but decided not to fight against Russia. On September 3, 1940, the king of Rumania, King Carol II, was overthrown by his son Michael. The constitution and parliament were destroyed two days later and German troops just simply walked into the country without no conflict on October 7, 1940. The Italians marched into the country on October 14. Hungary later joined the Axis. Then, on November 24, 1940, Slovakia was also brought into the Axis. Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were firmly standing in their place against the Axis powers. This left Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria left out of the Balkans.
The Italians were swift to act upon Greece. Mussolini and his Generals decided that the conquest of Greece would be very easy. They expected little or no resistance and expected to conquer the country in a few hours. At 3 a.m. on October 28, 1940, Mussolini and his Generals sent 200,000 troops into Greece from Albania. The Italian troops that were well equipped and modernized would whipe out the Greek army... or would they?
While the Italians were enjoying their victory, General Metaxes for the Greek decided to spoil their victory party. The Greek Evzones which were located in the mountains advanced ahead of the enemy and waited for them to catch a clearing away from their supply posts. Then the Italians knew what a big mistake it was to attack Greece. Surrounded, the elevated enemy poured shells onto the Italians killing thousands. The Greek's retaliation brought the Italians into a desperate retreat. The Greeks followed them into Albania where they took Koritza on November 21 of 1940. Koritza was a major Italian supply base in Albania. On December 1, the Greeks captured Progrados and five days later Santi Quaranta. On December 8, Argyrokastro and Delvino were taken among with Himarra on December 23. Albania was now partially occupied by the Greeks. The Germans were there ready to help.
On April 6, 1941, Hitler sent troops throughout Greece on the northside and eastern parts of the country. The Germans quickly captured the Metaxas Line and captured Salonika. The remaining Greek army was at the Albanian border trying to hold off the Italians. The British then sent 56,657 troops from Libya into Greece. This later caused the collapse of Libya to the Axis powers. It was a tag team match. Hitler would take out the British and Greek troops on the east, and Italy would take the Greeks from the west. This plan was successful.
The Germans flew in their Luftwaffe planes and bombed whole troops and many key targets. Their was hardly any air opposition because Germans had captured most of the airstrips. The Germans, however, were held back at Thermopylae. This allowed the Allies to get to Athens, but Germany surprised them when they grabbed Yanina along with a Greek army. The British had to retreat on orders of the Greek government. Despite overwhelming odds, the British retreated successfully on April 23, 1941 as they reached the southern beaches of Greece. King George of Hellenes and most of the Greek government escaped to Crete that same day by the RAF.
Greece fell and Germany occupied most of the country. Despite Mussolini's losses in the country, Hitler gave him some area in the small country.
Hitler attacked Yugoslavia about the same time he attacked Greece. Bulgaria had already signed an alliance with the Axis powers on March 1 of 1940(as if they had a choice). The only Balkin left was Yugoslavia. Would the 14,000,000 population country be taken over by the Germans? Well, when Germany threatened the country with Bulgarian and Hungarian troops, they complied. They signed the Tripartite Pact. The Germans would respect the countries sovereignty.
The Yugoslavs reacted in anger as they discovered they were pro-axis. On March 27, 1941, a rebellion occured. Under General Dusan Simovic, the people tossed Prince Paul from the throne, prisoned the government, and put Prince Peter as head of the country. Hitler said enough was enough. He sent his lightning fast planes and divisions into the country on April 6, 1941 at 5:15 a.m. A thousand German planes and 20 divisions marched into the country striking at airfields, communication posts, bridges and terrorizing thousands of Slavs. Yugoslavia had no means of communication or electricity. The Germans were joined by the Italians from Bulgaria. Later, the troops entered Belgrade, which was the capital. The country had fallen only after 11 days. The country was officially Axis on April 17, 1941. King Peter escaped with the RAF's assistance. The surrender of the country didn't end Yugoslav resistance. Tiny pockets of mobilized men would terrorize German and Italian troops throughout the rest of the war. The Balkins had fallen to the Axis powers.
While Italy was waiting for reinforcements for their long trek into Alexandria at Sidi Barrani, General Sir Archibald Wavell sent 40,000 men to end their cause. The handpicked New Zealand, Australian, Polish, Indian and French troops set out from Mersa Matruh on December 9, 1940. The key element in the attack was surprise and surprise was on their side. With the overwhelming amount of man and fire power, the surrounded Italians surrendered. The conquest for Sidi Barrani only took two days.
The British eventually threw the Italians out of Egypt by mid-December. The British had taken 35,949 Italian prisoners. Libya and Bardia fell to the British on January 5, 1941. Thirty thousand troops were taken prisoner. Then on January 22, Tobruk was attacked by the British from all possible sources. The British again claimed a tremendous amount of prisoners that amounted to 25,000. The British were succeeding very rapidly and on January 30, they struck The Italians water supply at Derna. On February 6, the British corp. took the city of Benghazi along with six major Italian generals.
Some Italians retreated from Benghazi, and British tanks surrounded and captured them. The British clobbered the Italians in this campaign. The British had taken back everything that had been taken by the Italians. Over 113,000 prisoners were taken, and 10 Italian divisions were put out for the remainder of the war. Only 438 British were killed in the daring assault.
In January of 1941, a British garrison moved into Sudan from Khartoum. The Italians knew they were coming and hid in mountain tops in Eritrea. On January 29, another British garrison entered the Italian Somaliland. The British were joined by natives and they rose together to strike at the hiding Italians. The British eventually destroyed the Italians means of communication and destroyed their supply lines. To make matters worse for the Italians, the British struck at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, which Mussolini occupied before World War II. On April 5, the Italians evacuated and the Duke of Aosta was overthrown. On May 16, 1941, Ethiopia was liberated.
Meanwhile, on February 9, 1941 the British attacked Genoa. They destroyed every valuable resource to the Italians included power plants, railroad stations and stores. The Italians decided to stop the invasions at the source and attacked British convoys shipping troops and supplies. British planes spotted the Italian ships attempting to intercept the British convoy, and sent the Royal Navy to meet the challenge. The British sank Fiume, Pola and Zara. Three destroyers were also sank. The British only lost two aircraft.
The Germans came to aid the Italians though. Hitler became disgusted with Mussolini. Hitler believed that if one person can do this right, I can. He sent in General Erwin Rommel into Africa with the Blitzkrieg tactics. On April 3, 1941, accompanied by planes and fighters, Rommel's forces slowly began to take back Libya. Bardia and Tobruk were later taken. The British returned to their bases in Egypt, and on April 11, 1941, the British had officially withdrew from Libya with the loss of 2,000 men to imprisonment. The Germans had taken back most of what the British had owned. So with the great sea-saw battle going underway, the Germans were ready to do more damage. But on June 22, Germany attacked Russia, so the Battle of Africa ended without any further conflict. The British held their strongholds, and the Germans theirs. The Battle of Africa wouldn't be won until further into the war.
Hitler needed a way to protect Greece after the Germans had taken it over. Crete, which was 150 miles from Greece, was the perfect place to do this. Hitler wanted Germany's full weight upon Crete and was going to get his wish. Crete protected Palestine and Egypt and helped their troops in India. The Royal Navy thought of it as a good refuge at Suda Bay, with it's great natural harbor.
The British had control of Crete, but didn't have much manpower. Only 27,000 Allied troops were stationed on the island with only light antiaircraft batteries and some beach artillery. The British that escaped from Greece evacuated to this island. Major General Bernard C. Freyberg was head of all the troops. He was from New Zealand, and was the man for the assignment.
The Germans made the first move. At the beginning of May of 1941, the British attempted to reinforce their island with troops and supplies. The German Luftwaffe had an answer for all the incoming aircraft with supplies, however a few thousand tons of supplies managed to get through. Then at 8 a.m., May 20, 1941, German troops were parachuted in by aircraft. They quickly overcame the land defenses. More parachutists came as dummies designed to decoy fire away from the real threat. Hundreds of the Nazis would arrive safely on the island due to the decoys. The German Luftwaffe would pound airfields and roads to pieces. They slaughtered anything they saw.
The Nazis landed into hell. Casualties were high as armed Cretes, soldiers, and other civilians knifed, shot, or drowned German troops. Most Germans missed their targets and fell into the sea and drowned. The 3,500 German troops were almost completely slaughtered, but they pressed on. While in Greece, Hitler and Mussolini decided to send a convoy of their ships to Crete. The ships consisted of torpedo boats and troop carrying ships. The British expected this. Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham ordered a small British convoy to try to intercept this threat. On May 21, at 11:30 p.m., the British caught up with them. They were only 18 miles from Crete. The British managed to kill 500 troops, but that wasn't enough. The German planes then took off from Crete and sank Fiji, Gloucester, and several other destroyers. The Kelly was also sank in the attack.
In May, the British decided that holding the island was not an option. They planned for an evacuation which led to the withdrawel of troops from Maleme, Canae, and Suda Bay. They escaped to Skafia, a nearby island. They hid there for days and were finally taken to Egypt. Only half of the original British troops made it. The British suffered 2,000 casualties. Three cruisers, 6 destroyers, and 29 other ships were sunk. The Germans lost 17,000 men, and 170 troop-transports were sank. Now Hitler could possibly take back Egypt, Suez, and most of all, the Middle East.
As with recent events by Iraq, Hitler was after the oil. With the rich oil supply in the Middle East, Hitler could easily take on Suez. But Hitler had to take the Middle East first. The Allies already had the Middle East though. The Allies made a line of friendly buffer states. Hitler could take whatever he wanted, but would not be able to get to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
The British took over Iraq in April of 1941 when they overthrew Rashid Ali Beg Gailani. The Nazis replied by threatening to destroy the pipeline to Haifa and the oil wells at Mosul and Kirkuk. The British reacted swiftly. On June 1, armored cars armed to the teeth smashed any threat that Great Britain had against them. The British then entered the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the German threat for the oil was over.
The British then took over Iran in August of 1941 to stop the Germans from taking it over with their invasion of Russia. The British and Russians decided on an agreement on January of 1942 that the British could stay in the country only until three weeks after the war is over. The agreement was later agreed upon by the U.S. as well.
With Iraq and Iran in the Allied hands, the Middle East was closed for good to the Germans. German would not get it's precious oil and would not get it's precious countries. For once, Germany was stopped.