17 August 1941: Apathy Prevails in Italy, Says British Foreign Secretary

17 Aug

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Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden

Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden


The War Cabinet in London today received a report from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the current state of Italian morale. Summing up his report, Anthony Eden wrote:  “apathy and weariness are the salient characteristics of the prevailing mood in Italy.” 

According to the report, by the end of Italy’s first year at war Mussolini had lost much prestige; the short war he had promised still dragged on. Mussolini has fallen out with several of his Generals.  For the Italian population, the glamour of early victories in the Mediterranean is already wearing off and the attack on the Soviet Union is seen as likely to prolong the war

The collapse of Italy’s empire in Africa and Germany’s perceived abandonment of Italy to the tender mercies of Allied navy and air forces in the Mediterranean have dented morale. Rations have seriously deteriorated and the cost of food is continually rising; the situation is now considered ‘serious’.

Some are reporting that among the general public a desire for peace seems universal. Many deny any Fascist sympathies and some in private openly criticise the Government.  Many Italians are at heart anti-German, whereas few are anti-British.  An American in Rome states: “Everyone we know listens to the English radio…including the police and carabinieri.” 

The Italian press has found it necessary to print warnings such as: ‘Every speech and every gesture which might disaffect the public spirit is criminal. There must be no speaking against the governing classes, nor spreading of false news, nor criticism of any sort.’

Morale among the armed forces is no better. According to an American information, feeling between the Italian and German armed forces is very bad and disagreement exists from commanders downwards.

Army morale is poor; the regular Army dislike interference from Mussolini and his political allies; there is a shortage of uniforms and equipment, as well as food. The Navy has lost all its former prestige, apart from the submarine service.  Morale has been undermined by the presence of German officers on every ship from destroyers upwards.  A reliable source describes the Italian Air Force as being in a ‘fairly poor state and adds that it is not unusual for pilots to request ground-based employment on the excuse of nervous breakdown.

However, the British Foreign Secretary warns against assuming an early capitulation: “The chances of knocking Italy out of the war (ie forcing her to a separate peace) can now be discounted, since the Germans would certainly forestall any such move in Italy by converting the present moral occupation into a physical occupation of the country. But the more depressed and restless the Italians become the less effective is the Fascist Government’s contribution to the German effort, and the greater do Germany’s policing responsibilities in Italy become.” 

The Foreign Secretary concludes: “The moral of this is that, even though we cannot now hope to knock Italy out, we should not relax efforts to hit metropolitan Italy by air and from the sea whenever opportunity offers.  Each blow against Italy is a blow against Germany.”


Weather  Sunny and fresh.

PM  Eleven Hurricanes are scrambled to intercept a formation of six enemy aircraft spotted 60 miles north of Malta. Four of the raiders turn back towards Sicily, followed later by the other two.  Five Hurricanes are ordered to land and three others develop various troubles and have to land.  The remaining three are ordered to intercept a single aircraft identified as a Caproni seaplane which is reported 10 miles east of Zonqor Point.  Two Hurricanes open fire and see black smoke emitting from the seaplane’s port wing; the aircraft then jettisons a large object, believed to be a mine.  Later reconnaissance of the area reveals a large patch of oil and some wreckage on the surface.   


AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron Marylands on shipping patrols.  Three Hurricanes sent to attack seaplanes in Syracuse Harbour, damaging several aircraft. 38 Squadron 4 Wellingtons attacked Tripoli Harbour, Spanish Quay and area. 105 Squadron 3 Blenheims sent to attack shipping south of Pantelleria. 

HAL FAR 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 7 Swordfish attacked a convoy of 6 merchant ships and 6 destroyers. One merchant ship was torpedoed and bombed, a second was hit and down by the bows, one tanker was struck by a torpedo and left on fire.  One Fulmar patrolled over Gerbini and Catania aerodromes dropping bombs on Gerbini.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 8.


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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in 1941, August 1941


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