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Italy 1936 - An alternate Italian history of World War II

Part 22


Vincent Longobardi



June 17th 1952

Italy once again offers France the opportunity to return to the status quo. French honor dictates they keep fighting on but even to the most hawkish French politician the situation is looking increasingly grim.

To the east an old foe watches the happenings in Africa with keen interest. Stalin sees the escalation of the conflict as his chance to gobble up the Balkans. All he needs is for the western allies to officially declare war on Italy.

June 24th 1952

The Geneva Accords end with an agreement that France grant independence to its territories in Indochina. In the case of Vietnam the country is divided along the 17th parallel with two governments established a communist one in the north and democratic in the south. Elections are to be held by June 24th 1954 to reunite the two nations.

June 27th 1952

The Comando Supremo authorizes expanded research in jet aircraft production. Designs are to be submitted for both tactical and strategic bombers as well as continued research in fighters and carrier capable jets. Stated goals are to have production of these new jet models by 1954 and an all jet Air Force (minus transports and reserve forces) by 1957.

July 1st 1952

Now assembled in the Mediterranean the combined French fleet gives chase to the Imperator’s Task Force off the coast of France. Outgunned by both the surface fleet and air compliment of the French fleet, the Italian task force flees southeast.

*Note: The French fleet assembled represents nearly all of the French navy following World War II. The fleet is centered around the outdated converted battleship Bearn(France’s only fleet carrier), 5 battleships and three smaller escort carriers. A major problem with this fleet is that because of the Bearn the fleet can only travel at a maximum of 21 knots or risk the Bearn falling behind and becoming vulnerable.*

July 2nd 1952

Aquila and her task force are redirected north to prepare to ambush the French fleet.

A squadron of 8 submarines are ordered to assist in the ambush.


July 3rd 1952

Attack aircraft from the French aircraft carriers conduct a raid against trailing elements of the Italian fleet and sink two destroyers.

July 4th 1952

The French press joyously report that the Italian Navy is running scared and can not hope to match their fleet. It will only be a matter of days until the Italian Navy is defeated and their troops in Africa will be cut off.

Continuing to use its speed to stay ahead of the French, the Imperator and her task force keep them occupied while Aquila moves into position west of Corsica and Sardinia. The submarines take up positions to the east of the Strait of Bonifacio.

July 5th 1952

After darting back and forth heading southwards for the past week, the Imperator turns westwards in a dash towards Sardinia. The French fleet turns with it trying to desperately keep up.

July 7th 1952

The Imperator’s force shoots through the Strait of Bonifacio. Though extremely tactically unsound Admiral Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu orders the fleet to pursue if not they would completely lose any hope of tracking the Italian fleet.

Once the French fleet is in the dead center of the deadly strait the trap is sprung. All fighters aboard the Imperator and Aquila are scrambled as well as a squadron of jets and two propeller squadrons from Corsica and Sardinia giving the Italians over 200 planes against the French force of 130. The battleships, cruisers and are large portion of the destroyers in the fleet double back to engage and are joined by the Aquila’s heavy ships.

The alarm went up in the French fleet as the jets could be seen quickly approaching from the south. The air wing of the fleet was ordered in the air to intercept, moments later another alarm was sounded as more aircraft were reported from the north. Then it happened...the third alarm sounded as the largest group of aircraft came in from the west. Dread descended over the sailors in the fleet, the Italians weren’t running from them, they were playing them for fools and luring them into an ambush.

The battle was joined, the sky blackened by flak, hundreds of planes dodging and rolling trying to get the upper hand. The Italian goal was simple, destroy French air cover and neutralize any ship that could pose a threat.

For twenty minutes the battle raged before winding down. One battleship and a cruiser are sunk, two more battleships and three cruisers are heavily damaged. Overhead, 90 French planes were gone but they managed to bring down 60 Italians. The Italians now low on fuel start disengaging but before a sigh of relief can be sighed the 16 inch shells start crashing down.

The French fleet enters into a full scale retreat as the Italian surface fleet approaches. The Italian battleships and cruisers pound their french counterparts while the destroyers pick off targets of opportunity and close towards the carriers. As the ships make their run east, the submarines move into position.

Heavy shells flew in all directions, ships were hit, fires sprung up, a French destroyer collided with a reef and sunk itself in its bid to get away. One escort carrier is sent to the bottom, the others all take hits and the Bearn is belching smoke and flames as the slow ship attempts to outrun the swift destroyers chasing it.

It appeared that the Bearn will make it. The Italians are turning about to mop up the ships still caught in the strait. Just a little longer and they will be out of firing range...

The Bearn filled up the entire view screen of the periscope, a nice big slow target. The order was given, "All front tubes, full spread! Fire." Six torpedoes were in the water. Only four would hit but that was enough. Critical flooding across all sections. The ship would go down fast taking with it all hope that the French Navy would ever make a difference in this war.

By the end of the day the French lost 3 battleships, 5 cruisers and over a dozen smaller craft. However, nearly every other ship took hits and is damaged one way or another. Of the three escort carriers, the Dixmude was sunk in the battle, the Arromanches sustained heavy damage but managed to survive, and the Lafayette escaped relatively unharmed. But worst of all, the Bearn was sunk and Admiral d’Argenlieu was missing presumed dead.

The Italians lost a cruiser, four destroyers and sustained heavy damage to a battleship and several other ships.

July 8th 1952

"The worst French naval defeat since Trafalgar!" one paper proclaims. Papers across the globe field similar headlines. It is the big story everyplace connected to the civilized world, everyone has an opinion on how the Italians pulled off this devastating combined air and sea attack against the French.

In France, the mood is grim. Their fleet decimated, a World War II hero is missing and feared dead. Reports that rationing will begin once again to gear the economy up for total war is drilled into the mind of every Frenchman. There is no silver lining in the battle at Bonifacio, they were utterly defeated and the Italians will soon attack France herself and make her the newest addition to the "New Roman Empire." For the first time since the war began, it dawned on many that it was indeed very possible for France to lose.

July 9th 1952

The French military rethinks their objectives for the war. Troops in Africa are to be recalled immediately back to the continent to fend of obvious coming invasion. Native Africans will be recruited and where needed force conscripted to fill the ranks on the Tunisian front. Diplomatic meetings are set up with the governments of Britain and the United States for emergency leasing of warships.

July 10th 1952

Two youths find an old man washed up on the beach of Corsica and inform the local police, when police come to investigate they find the barely alive man to be dressed in the uniform of a French admiral. Bringing him to the local hospital he is considered to be in critical condition. If he lives Admiral d’Argenlieu will become the highest ranked prisoner held by Italy.

July 11th 1952

Britain and America both agree to donate as many surplus ships to France as possible including an additional 5 escort carriers. Repairs and conversions on the ships(instructions from English to French and measurements to meters) will begin immediately.

July 12th 1952

Britain detonates its first atomic bomb. A press release later in the day announces that Britain is now a nuclear power.

Churchill gives the go ahead to the military to start preparing for war against Italy once atomic bombs are available for use.

Mussolini spends most of the day cursing and screaming. It seems everyone is beating him to the bomb and that Project Jupiter is at a standstill. What next? Would the French have a bomb they could use to pry Tunisia and Corsica away from him?

July 14th 1952

Bastille day

Army Group Africa slams into the depleted French lines sending the colonial troops running and putting the French defenders in a undefendable position. Using the same strategy employed in Yugoslavia against the Bulgarians the Italian Army Group attacks in extremely narrow offensives designed to meet the least amount of resistance. As such offensives around the besieged city of Le Kef are almost non existent but the large French presence there risk being encircled and are forced to abandon the siege.

End of Part 22.


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