CHAPTER XXXVI
ENTER THE BRITISH FLEET

News of the plans being hatched in Rome relating to Hypothesis B (see above, pp. 255-6) must have reached the British Government. In point of fact, in the summer of 1935 there appeared in Egypt— according to the documents used by Villari—"new stories about a so-called Italian plan for the invasion of Egypt from Cyrenaica". "An eminent British Admiral" (who?) told "an Italian naval officer" (whom?) that a telegram from the British Embassy in Rome had stated that "a noted Fascist" (who?) had declared that Italy "intended to attack the British Empire in the Mediterranean; Malta was to be bombed and Egypt invaded"; London was "momentarily panic-stricken"; "the fleet did not have enough munitions for a half- hour battle".1

As Churchill rightly states, Italy could not have fought this war:

"Apart from a limited advantage in modern light cruisers, her navy was but a fourth the size of the British. Her numerous conscript army, which was vaunted in millions, could not come into action. Her air power was in quantity and quality far below even our modest establishments. She would instantly have been blockaded. The Italian armies in Abyssinia would have famished for supplies and ammunition. Germany could as yet give no effective help. If there ever was an opportunity of striking a decisive blow in a generous cause with the minimum of risk, it was here and now."2

But Sir Samuel Hoare had to go through the motions of believing that a British-Italian war might come. Otherwise, how could he have forced his policy of appeasement down the throats of the British people?

As a result, the British Foreign Office announced that the garrisons at Malta and Aden were being brought up to normal strength (August 27), that the crack Mediterranean fleet was steaming to strategic positions off the entrance to the Suez Canal, and that the Home Fleet lay with steam up, awaiting sailing orders (September 2). By September 14 over 100, and by September 20, approximately 190 British warships were believed to be concentrated in the Mediterranean.

After they had sent so many warships to the Mediterranean, the British Government became concerned regarding the naval assistance France could give in the event of an attack on British ships by Italy. But while they were thinking exclusively of naval measures in

____________________
1
Storia diplomatica, pp. 141-4, 151.
2
The Gathering Storm, pp. 176-7.

-304-

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