While the Italian armed forces failed to hold onto Africa and messed up the invasion of Greece, the Italian navy and air force, the Regia Marina and Regia Aeronautica managed to make a name for themselves. The navy was one of the best-equipped forces in the Mediterranean, but many of their ships were starting to become obsolete, and the new ships being commissioned to outrun the heavily-armoured French cruisers and destroyers lacked decent defensive armour, compromising defence for speed.

Despite this, the Regia Marina didn’t have to worry about spreading out their entire navy around the world, as the Royal Navy did. The Marina’s opposition in the Mediterranean after the fall of France was the Mediterranean Fleet, composed of WW1-era battleships like HMS Warspite, modern cruisers and destroyers, and more importantly, the HMS Illustrious, an aircraft carrier with a complement of Swordfish torpedo bombers.

The Regia Marina, unlike the Royal Navy, didn’t have an organisation like the Fleet Air Arm, nor did they have any operational aircraft carriers. The value of the Swordfish was in some doubt at the time: it was an old biplane design that couldn’t fight back against effective fighter opposition, but it quickly earned a formidable reputation when the Royal Navy, during the night, launched a surprise attack on the Italian fleet stationed at Taranto. Flying low to the sea, they deployed their torpedoes in the shallow waters of the harbour, damaging 1 battleship irreparably and crippling half of the Regia Marina’s capital ships without a fight.

Many thought that this was the end of the Marina’s role in in the war, but they quickly rebounded, regathered and quickly descended on Malta, where the Royal Navy was attempting to resupply the island with vital new aircraft. After intercepting and driving off the aircraft carriers delivering aircraft to Malta, the Marina met the Royal Navy while they were protecting a convoy. The ensuing Battle of Cape Spartivento was inconclusive, but it proved to the navy that despite the loss at Taranto, the Regia Marina was still a force to be reckoned with.

However, the Marina would suffer another ignominious defeat at the Battle of Cape Matapan, losing three heavy cruisers and two destroyers after being intercepted by the Royal Navy and the Australian Navy. The allies had managed to intercept Italian orders and found the ships by aerial reconnaissance. After this, an open battle with the Royal Navy and its Commonwealth allies was considered suicidal and efforts were focused on intercepting convoys bound for Malta, subjected to siege conditions.

Nevertheless, the Marina managed to get revenge for Taranto a year after the defeat. Sneaking into Alexandria harbour, the base of the Mediterranean Fleet, the human torpedoes used limpet mines to severely damage 2 battleships. This knocked the battleships out of the war when the Royal Navy could scarcely afford to, as they had irrevocably lost two other battleships in the South China Sea against the Japanese.

For the rest of the war, the Regia Marina avoided pitched battles with the Royal Navy and continued to attack Allied shipping. Despite this, many small-scale battles between the Allied navies and Axis navies occurred throughout the North African campaign, until the campaign ended in mid-1943. The Regia Marina had succeeded in defending their own convoys from Allied attack, but the fight for Malta was never won and Axis forces were forced to surrender across Africa, ending the fighting there.

Two months after the end of the North African Campaign, the Allies invaded Sicily in July, then the Italian peninsula itself two months later. Mussolini was deposed and arrested by the king and his Grand Fascist Council, as it was clear how Italy had been led to defeat after defeat by his arrogance. The new government quickly opened up peace talks with the Western Allies, eventually joining the Allies in July. However, Germany was unwilling to just allow Italy to surrender and quickly took control of northern Italy and any Italian military units still loyal to Mussolini, who was broken out of captivity in a daring raid.

The Italian Social Republic was a shadow of its former self, a mere puppet state of Nazi Germany. Italian resistance cells began forming against German occupation in the state, assisting the Allies with tying down German forces in Italy as the Soviet Union steamrolled their way through Eastern Europe on a warpath for Germany, and the Western Allies opening a new front in France, forcing Germany to spread out her forces on three separate fronts when it couldn’t keep the Soviets at bay, let alone all the Allied forces.

By 1945, the war was over for the Axis. The Allies had finally broken through the defensive line protecting Northern Italy, pushing through into what was left of Mussolini’s Italy. Communist partisans found Mussolini and his mistress attempting to escape and executed them in April 28, only a couple of weeks before Germany formally surrendered to the Allies.

The Second World War changed Europe completely. Many of Europe’s colonial holdings no longer feared their suzerains after being occupied by Axis powers, especially in Asia where Japan had promoted pan-Asian nationalism and destroyed the belief that European colonisers were impossible to beat. One by one, whether peacefully or forcefully, Asian and African colonies began to declare independence from the exhausted nations of Europe, with some, such as Malaya, French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), Angola, Algeria and others having to fight tooth and nail for their freedom.

The future of the Mediterranean was now going to be shaped by nations that weren’t a part of it, but allied or in control to those that were, and the Mediterranean became another front in the Cold War. If you’re looking for a yacht charter based in St Barths with access to ports around the western Mediterranean and the Caribbean, You Charter Direct provides several cruising locations in the Mediterranean so you can see some of the history of the Mediterranean for yourself.

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