Gateways to the Mediterranean

June 17, 1940

Report Outline
Italy's Objectives in the Mediterranean
Great Britain's Fortress at Gibraltar
British and French Control of Suez Canal
Turkey and the Status of the Dardanelles

Italy's Objectives in the Mediterranean

Potential Italian Attacks at Suez and Gibraltar

When Italy entered the war, June 10, it was clear that her chief objective would be to terminate the dominant position Great Britain has long occupied in the Mediterranean Sea, largely through control of the Gibraltar and Suez gateways. So long as Britain commands the western entrance to the Mediterranean and maintains naval supremacy on the approaches to the Suez Canal, she can cut Italy off from access to the Atlantic and to her East African empire. In the present crisis, however, with French support gone and with the prospect that the Italian navy will be augmented by surrendered French naval units, Britain's strong strategical position at Gibraltar and Suez may be more than counterbalanced. There is the possibility, moreover, that the course of the war in the Mediterranean may be determined, not by hostilities in that area, but by the outcome of the German attack on the British Isles that is now believed imminent.

The significance for Italy of British control of the Mediterranean gateways is emphasized by the fact that from 70 to 80 per cent of that country's imports are sea-borne, and that the bulk of those imports come from outside the Mediterranean Basin and must pass through the Strait of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal. Italy's poverty of natural resources and her great dependence on water-borne supplies, plus the fact that she is not believed to have been able to accumulate large reserves, made it necessary for her to delay entering the war until the Allies had been so weakened by Germany that Mussolini could see a prospect of quick victory.

At the end of April, British merchant shipping to the East was diverted to the Cape route, in order to relieve the navy of protective duties if Italy struck in the Mediterranean. At the same time, Anglo-French naval reinforcements were rushed to the British base at Alexandria, Egypt. Since the beginning of the war last September, moreover, the Allies had been concentrating large troop formations in the Near East.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
World War II
Jul. 20, 1944  Foreign Relief
Feb. 09, 1944  Diplomatic Recognition
May 07, 1943  Colonies After the War
Feb. 08, 1943  War Experience of British Newspapers
May 28, 1942  North Pacific Fronts
May 07, 1942  Invasion of Europe
Apr. 06, 1942  Governments in Exile
Sep. 13, 1941  Britain's Dominions and the European War
Aug. 29, 1940  Foreign Policy of the Roosevelt Administration
Jun. 17, 1940  Gateways to the Mediterranean
Regional Political Affairs: Europe
War and Conflict
World War II