Status Report: Operation Influx: Occupation of Sicily 1941
In the early days of WW2 things were much of a muddle. Germany had invaded Poland and war had been declared by Britain and France but senior British figures were gravely concerned about the disposition of other countries from Turkey to Portugal coming up with various contingency plans. The biggest concern though wasn’t Turkey or even Spain, it was Italy.
Italy had remained neutral and as such posed an enormous threat to the British in particular. Large numbers of troops in North Africa, a possession in East Africa and a large and potent Meditteranean fleet. The British made numerous proposals and advances to Italy to try and woo her into her traditional alliance with France and Britain either to join them against Germany or to remain neutral throughout. This failed and Italy declared war on France on June 10th 1940 entering the war on the side of the Axis and thus Britain had to waste no time in planning for the elimination of Italy from the war. One of these plans was called ‘Operation Influx’ and exists now in declassified Cabinet War Room Papers which is the source of this article.
On the 8th of September 1939 the British Cabinet plans in order of priority their strategic planning efforts. You can see that the plan is simple. An assault on Metropolitan Italy early in the war to effectively knocking her out of the War and especially before in an alliance with Germany in which German forces could come and support her.
Now as with all ‘plans’ many of them just disappear without even making a formal planning stage. Not so here, the threat from Italy was very grave one to the Meditteranean and could not be ignored with the elimination of Italy becoming ‘Future Plan No.1’ by the 18th of October 1939. The elimination of Italy is now based of two hypotheses:
• Germany establishes control over the Iberian Peninsula making Gibralter unusable as a Naval Base and “we would have taken the Azores and Cape Verde Islands” (in order to maintain protection of convoys and as naval bases – this was a brutally blunt plan based on the assistance of Portugal but basically ignoring whether they would consent or not. Even had Portugal remained Neutral these bases were too important and would be seized by the UK and the US by force if necessary and as such it’s not hard to see why it was such a tightly held secret plan)
• Enemy influence predominated in Morocco and North Africa (a further plan dealt with this issue too)
• Malta is still useable as a Naval base
• The situation as is September 1940 except that General De Gaulle has control of French Equatorial Africa
In both cases the security of Egypt was assumed.
Elimination of Italy from the War was to be achieved in 4 ways, Economic pressure, Air action, Continued offensive operations by Naval forces, and an offensive against Italian East Africa
Map of Region during WW2
Effective control of sea communications in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean required a base nearer to Italy than Alexandria as well as denial of a base to Italy from which they could control the Aegean. Therefore it was necessary that:
1) Malta was to be the base for the main fleet
2) The enemy is prevented from occupying Crete or to retake it if it falls
Air action envisaged not just a base at Malta but required more air bases closer to Italy recommending Sardinia, Tunis, Greece or Libya but for political reasons no use of Greece was possible and that control of Sardinia and Tunis were unlikely for some time. Therefore Libya was to be taken to provide these bases and that required “a large mainland operation [which could ] only be undertaken when Italian powers of resistance in Libya have weakened”
Thus “the elimination of Italy as an active partner in the Axis may be achieved without an actual invasion of mainland Italy which could only be undertaken when the balance of military power had turned largely in our favour… as German air and land forces can reinforce Italy comparatively easily it may be a long time before we can undertake such an invasion [in the short term though this plan] combined with raids on the enemy’s coastline may well in themselves lead to the elimination of Italy”
The priority was therefore to control sea communications in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean and then to establish air and naval bases to strike at Metropolitan Italy.
Achieving this would mean:
a) Reinforcing Malta
b) Reinforcing army and air force in the Middle East and in particular more air defence in Egypt
c) C-in-C Middle East should have plans for limited operations against Italian East Africa
Other actions to be done:
• Sealing the posts of Libya by air and naval means as well as raids to destroy installations and communications along the coast with the goal of “isolating and wearing down the resistance of the Italian forces in Libya”
• Capture of the Dodecanese to remove the threat in that area
• Assuming that Italy has “not yet invaded Greece” the establishment of air and naval bases there if possible
• Capturing Sardinia
The planning effort has continued and by 24th December 1940 the plan has developed further into the actual occupation of Sicily “in the event of an Italian collapse or if Sicily broke away from the Axis”
Sicily being obviously of huge strategic importance in the Meditteranean the plan would be put into action “as a soon as Italy shows signs of collapse we believe Germany will be anxious to occupy Sicily in order to create a barrier across the Central Mediterranean [and possibly turn] the Western basin into a German ‘Mare Nostrum’”
Sicily therefore was to be occupied by British forces mainly to deny it to German forces:
• If a general deterioration has occurred in Italy and Sicily but limited opposition is expected from the Italian forces in Sicily
• If Sicily turns against the axis and “we have the opportunity to occupy Sicily without resistance”
Were there to be resistance a new eventuality was planned for but the speed of the operation was essential before the Germans could move in and this was ‘Operation Influx’; the occupation of Sicily to deny it to the Germans.
• Internal disorder throughout Italy with split loyalties, disorganized public services
• Heavy defeats of Italian forces in Libya and Albania
• Sicilian authorities and local forces “will not welcome our occupation of the island. Sporadic resistance is to be expected”
• Morale of enemy forces will be low, resistance will be overcome
• Regaining control of straights of Gibraltar and Malta
• Plan can be done any time after the middle of February 1941 as transport will be available despite operation the requirements of operation ‘Brisk’
• Decision to do this is taken before German forces move into Italy or immediately after they do.
Straits of Messina train ferry system can move 40,000 men without vehicles or 7500 men with 750 vehicles in just 24 hours, an additional steamer can move another 12,00 men each 24 hours as well. Suggestion is the destruction of these services.
Enemy forces known present on Sicily
• Garrison of one Corps with three divisions now reduced to two as the 29th Div. transferred to Albania
• XII Corps HQ and Corps troops include one battalion of tank near Palermo and a machine gun battalion at Catania
• 28th Div. based at Palermo
• 54th Div. based at Caltanissetta
• 29th Div. left Messina and no replacement unit is known
• Unknown Italian air forces
Possible German attack against Sicily:
• Day 5 or 6 – 2 Divisions on eastern side of straights of Messina
• Day 6 or 7 – 2 further Divisions on Eastern side with the first two Divisions now in Sicily
• Day 8 – Whole of Sicily occupied
With attacks on the lines of communication and against the ferry service estimate can delay this to 10 to 14 days and make passage of the Straits of Messina “a matter of extreme difficulty”
Airbourne forces hovever estimate is that 3,000 fully equipped troops could be landed on Day 5 along with with artillery with a further 1200 troops per day so that by Day 12 estimate that 10,200 troops with artillery could be in place. Targets for these troops would be the aerodromes and the vital area at the Straights of Messina
The British therefore planned a substantial force to land on Sicily in order to prevent the recapture by the Germans.
To capture Sicily: At least one division and a tank brigade – could not be concentrated before day 19 however
To hold the island: “The vital area of Sicily in the NE corner which is almost entirely hilly” One division and one armoured regiment will be required to hold the Messina peninsula and another whole division to hold the rest of the island with an armoured brigade and one regiments held in reserve. Additionally 1 heavy AA regiment, 1 light AA regiment and 1000 other troops. The plan also expects some local anti-fascist forces too and also required are two fighter squadrons and two medium bomber squadrons to provide support.
This plan was ready along with very detailed shipping plans by the end of December 1940 with this note. The plan was never put into action and thus Operation ‘Influx’ joins a legion of other unknown planned operations from WW2.