On this day in 1940, Mussolini’s forces finally cross the Libyan border into Egypt, achieving what the Duce calls the “glory” Italy had sought for three centuries. Italy had occupied Libya since 1912, a purely economic “expansion.” In 1935, Mussolini began sending tens of thousands of Italians to Libya, mostly farmers and other rural workers, in part to relieve overpopulation concerns. So by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, Italy had enjoyed a long-term presence in North Africa, and Mussolini began dreaming of expanding that presence—always with an eye toward the same territories the old “Roman Empire” had counted among its conquests. Chief among these was Egypt. But sitting in Egypt were British troops, which, under a 1936 treaty, were garrisoned there to protect the Suez Canal and Royal Navy bases at Alexandria and Port Said. Hitler had offered to aid Mussolini in his invasion, to send German troops to help fend off a British counterattack. But Mussolini had been rebuffed when he had offered Italian assistance during the Battle of Britain, so he now insisted that as a matter of national pride, Italy would have to create a Mediterranean sphere of influence on its own—or risk becoming a “junior” partner of Germany’s. As the Blitz commenced, and the land invasion of Britain by Germany was “imminent” (or so the Duce thought), Mussolini believed the British troops in Egypt were particularly vulnerable, and so announced to his generals his plans to make his move into Egypt. Gen. Rodolfo Graziani, the brutal governor of Ethiopia, another Italian colony, disagreed, believing that Italy’s Libya forces were not strong enough to wage an offensive across the desert. Graziani also reminded Mussolini that Italian claims of air superiority in the Mediterranean were nothing more than propaganda. But Mussolini, a true dictator, ignored these protestations and ordered Graziani into Egypt—a decision that would disprove the adage that war is too important to leave to the generals.
Also on this Day
The first peace accord between Israel and Palestine is signed at the White House in Washington, D.C. With President Bill Clinton presiding, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin hesitantly shook hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat after signing an accord granting Palestine limited self-government on the Gaza Strip and in Jericho. The historic agreement, which promised an end to decades of bloo... Read more >
Dissident South Vietnamese army officers attempt to overthrow General Nguyen Khan’s government in Saigon, calling their movement the People’s Council for the Salvation of the Nation. General Lam Van Phat, who had been dismissed as interior minister on September 3, and General Duong Van Duc, commander of 4th Corps, led the attempt. Government troops loyal to Khanh moved against the coup’s ... Read more >
On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key pens a poem which is later set to music and in 1931 becomes America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The poem, originally titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry," was written after Key witnessed the Maryland fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenr... Read more >
You know that old expression ‘it’s like looking for an enormous bear on a tiny Scottish island’? It usually denotes a simple or easily achievable task. But the erstwhile phrase came to life on this day in 1980, when Hercules the bear was finally found after taking an unexpected 24 day holiday on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. The 8 ft 4 in, half-ton be... Read more >