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Egypt and Libya

Egypt - Sidi Barrani

Tactical and operational successes by the Allies against the Italians in Africa and at sea were outweighed by massive setbacks in Greece and Crete and the entry of German forces into North Africa. In September 1940 the Italian Army in Libya crossed the Egyptian border and passed unopposed over 60 miles to Sidi Barrani.

In August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Britain sent one of her few armoured brigades, along with reinforcements drawn from India and Australia, to Egypt. On 11 November aircraft of the Royal Navy attacked the Italian fleet while it was in harbour at Taranto. Three Italian battleships and several other warships were sunk or put out of action. 

On 9 and 10 December 1940 the British re-captured Sidi Barrani, capturing 20,000 Italian troops. The British attacked Sollum the next day, having overpowered Italian formations between Sidi Barrani and the Egyptian border. 


The small British force crossed into Libya with the intention of capturing Bardia, Derna and Tobruk. Bardia fell on 5 January after two days of fighting, Tobruk surrendered in late January, but the Italians pre-empted the attack on Derna, and evacuated the town, commencing the evacuation of Cyrenaicia via the coastal road. 

The British moved inland across the desert hoping to cut off retreating Italian troops at Beda Fomm. British troops reached Beda Fomm at midday on 5 February, 30 minutes before the first Italian units retreated. After two days of fighting, the remains of the Italian 10th Army surrendered on 7 February. In two months a small British force (one armoured and one infantry division with supporting troops) advanced 500 miles capturing 130,000 Italian soldiers, 500 tanks and over 800 guns, and destroying 14 divisions.