June of 1940 found Italy in an unusual and unforeseen situation.  As Europe accelerated to general war, Italy had hesitantly lined up on the side of the Axis.  She was held in check by a number of things, not the least of which was French power in the Mediterranean.  The Italian Navy (the Regia Marina) could hope to accomplish little against the combined naval forces of France and the British Commonwealth, even if those forces were also fighting Germany.  And Italy had much to lose, with colonies in North and East Africa vulnerable to isolation and invasion by French and British Forces.

It was the collapse of France in May of 1940 that tipped Mussolini in favor of war.  With France gone, Mussolini calculated that the Royal Navy would be too stretched by its other commitments to prevent determined Italian expansion in the Mediterranean.  It was not just his navy on which Mussolini relied – he thought that his air force, the darling service of the Fascist regime, could dominate the central Mediterranean by neutralizing the British base at Malta and bombing the Royal Navy where ever it appeared.

While the Royal Navy (and its Commonwealth supplements) could occasionally concentrate forces in the Mediterranean to reach parity with or even outnumber the Italians, its commitments elsewhere prevented it from doing this on a regular basis.  Although it could not always match the Italians in numbers, it refused to cede the Mediterranean to its opponent.  The British had vital interests in the Middle East (oil and the Suez Canal) that they were determined to defend even at the expense of their naval efforts against Germany.  Being outnumbered did not greatly discomfort the Royal Navy; it had a tradition of prevailing against long odds, as well as important advantages such as aircraft carriers, radar and superior code-breaking abilities. 

The Italian navy was not well positioned to capitalize on its unexpected opportunity.  Italian naval strategy had developed around the assumption that Italy would always face naval strength in the Mediterranean equal to or greater than its own.  Italian fighting tactics emphasized speed, hit-and-run warfare, and the careful maintenance of a “fleet in being.”  Grounded in defensive naval warfare, the Italians lacked an aggressive battle doctrine that could help them exploit their position of numerical superiority.  They also had to operate with more that the usual uncertainty associated with naval war.  The British bases at Gibraltar and Alexandria meant that the Royal Navy could bring reinforcements into the theatre from east or west.  This, compounded with the generally low efficiency of Italian reconnaissance, meant that the leaders of the Regia Marina could never be sure that they were not sailing into a British trap.

Most naval engagements in the Mediterranean centered on each side’s convoys.  Both the Italians and the British were intent on moving men and material to North Africa.  The Italians were compelled to cross the Mediterranean to supply their forces there.  While the distances from Italian ports to North Africa were not long, the shortest routes all ran close to the British-held island of Malta.  For the British, convoys through the Mediterranean were just an alternative to a North African supply line that looped around the Cape of Good Hope and up through the Suez Canal.  While the Mediterranean route was shorter, the British only really needed it to supply Malta or when military disaster in the Western Desert demanded quick reinforcement. 

These conditions are reflected in the Mare Nostrum scenarios, most of which grow out of anti-shipping operations.  Their number, spread over a three year time period, and indeed the desert campaign itself, reflects the inability of Great Britain to choke off the Axis powers’ capacity to supply their desert forces.  If Great Britain could have decisively won the battle for dominance in the Mediterranean (or of the skies over it) Italy and Germany could not have maintained their forces in North Africa, and Rommel would have become irrelevant.  Without a clear cut naval victory, the British and their allies had to fight the desert campaigns.  

Note: For older scenarios, see the updated ship forms on the  FOTW Ships page.  These have been revised to include the gun tables on the forms, to make merchant ships easier to sink, and in other minor details.

Battle of Cape Spada -- 1940, and two raiding Italian cruisers fight a daylight battle with British destroyers and an Australian cruiser.

Ajax Alone -- A dark night, and the Italians try to ambush a lone British cruiser.

Cape Matapan-- When the Italians try to disrupt British convoys to Greece, the stage is set for a fleet action.

Action off Sidon -- British and French destroyers clash off the Levantine coast.

Kerkanah Bank -- A British force races to intercept an Italian convoy.

Duisberg Action -- British Force K intercepts an Africa-bound Italian convoy.

Second Sirte -- The Italians intercept a Malta-bound British convoy.

Harpoon -- The Italians try to block another British attempt to resupply Malta.

Cape Bon -- During the Crusader desert battles, the Italians try to run gasoline supplies to North Africa.

Action off Marsala -- A British attempt to close off Axis sea traffic between Tunisia and Italy meets with resistance.

Action off Skerki Bank -- Yet another skirmish between an Italian convoy and a British interception force.

Action off Corsica -- Late in the war, the Royal Navy disturbs a German mine-laying mission.

Battle of Harmil Island -- A battle in the Red Sea.

Action off Ist -- The French get in on the action with a destroyer raid up the Adriatic.

Action off Imperia -- The Americans pitch in to fight the German Mediterranean fleet.

The Last of the La Pomone -- An ex-French ex-Italian now-German torpedo boat finally goes to war in the Aegean.

Operation Oddyseus -- The Germans try to transfer some light forces from the Adriatic to the Aegean.