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Liveblogging World War II: December 23, 1940


STRATEGY: Britain's Best Week: All roads led to Rome last week, and the Romans used them, lickety-split. Along a rock-&-gravel supply highway which Marshal Rodolfo Graziani had just completed from Sidi Barrani back to bases in Libya, Italy's Army of the stagnant Egyptian invasion ran for its life. Along an Albanian road hugging the cliffs spectacularly from Porto Edda to Valona, built by the Italians during the last war and subject of great engineering pride with them, Italy's Army of the reversible Greek invasion made further headway backwards. The Italians were so completely on the run that Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop were also reported on the highroad toward Rome, to speak to their little brother of the Axis.

All this made the week the most important since the fall of France. It might prove to be a turning point in the war. But there were many ifs attached to that possibility.

The very best view Britons could take of last week's news was that Italy might fall out of the war, that internal dissatisfaction might force a separate peace. What, militarily, would the collapse of Italy mean for the British cause? It would not keep German bombers from the Isles. It would not necessarily mean that Britain could remove its entire Mediterranean Fleet for duty elsewhere (uncertain is the disposition of the rest of France's Navy, of Spain's not negligible fleet). But collapse of Italy would certainly relieve pressure, freeing troops, planes and some ships.

But Italy's collapse had still to occur. Though the battle in Egypt was a major victory for Britain, her first in the war, even well-informed Londoners guessed it was not decisive. It was equally hard to see how the Greek invasion of Albania could be decisive. The best the Greeks could do would be to get all of Albania, and last week's lull suggested that this was pretty much to hope for.

Besides, Adolf Hitler might feel obliged to go to Italy's aid. If necessary, Germany might even occupy Italy. But Germany might bolster Italy by less drastic means, by lending planes to fight the Greeks, or attacking Gibraltar through Spain, Greece through Yugoslavia.

Last week was the best Britain had had in the war, but the best that it promised was to distract Hitler from his plans—from his big plan, whatever it may be, for destroying Britain in 1941.