I collect diecast models – mainly from the WW2 period. An English supplier I buy a lot from put up for sale a 1/72 scale model of the the Italian M13/40 tank. Part of his description of the model was: “Comes with 2 forward and 15 backward drives”…Ponder that for a moment. The owner of the company is a former RAF member. I see little reason why this Italian tank should be inferior to the German Panzer I or II, the Vickers mk.V, Valentine and Crusader in an operational environment. What did the seller mean by this – does his description reflect on the M13/40 as such, the crews manning it or the Italian army in general? This is still happening more than 70 years after WW2 ended. Is it important? Not unless you are trying to analyze a scenario which did not happen – but could have! Malta was never invaded, Gibraltar was not eliminated, the Axis armies in North Africa was not properly supplied and reinforced.
We know how it all ended and that we do not need to change. But, to make a correct analysis on what is to be the main objects in this article series, the eventual assaults on Malta and Gibraltar, potential events that did not happen, we need to work out what was the reality at the time, not as portrayed by the winners after the war. Of course, there is much literature on the Italian participation in the war, too – in Italian by Italian writers and historians. Unfortunately, Italian is not as universal a language as English so to read about Italy in the war, reading books by Italian writers is a necessity to get a balanced picture. However, if one is not fluent in Italian there is a problem. Before writing my first book I brushed up on my German as German sources were paramount if I should find the “new perspective”, so I started out with an old German-languaged book on “Caesar” in Gothic print, no less. I decided not to finish any pages before I had understood each perfectly. It took some time but it was worth it. I am afraid Italian shall be a little harder as I have no previous knowledge of it except shopping a lot on Italian eBay and a few short visits to Italy.
There is a marked difference in books written by the winners and the losers – about the winners and the losers. Post-war, an “Axis” writer could not write a story like an “Allied” writer could. If he did he would quickly be marked down as a bragger or “revisionist” – who does he think he is? If he didn’t adjust his book it should probably not be published in any other country than his own. I like to read books published during the war. Strangely enough, much semi-official literature published in England during the war isn’t that chauvinistic but often down-to-earth with the odd reference to the opponent’s fine fighting skills. Of course, in the end it does not help him (the enemy) very much. After the war this changed dramatically. In my opinion, German and Italian war literature issued during the war is the most interesting read because it shows a totally different attitude than what was described by their, and other, writers after the war. From those books one can better understand the morale of the troops at the time. “Wir fahren gegen Engeland” goes as a read streak through the German books as opposed to post-war Axis literature where everybody agree how stupid the war was (it was!) and how unlikely any definite Axis successes were. Many are written in a whimpering tone, as an excuse for not having done better and trying to explain/excuse why they didn’t. Projections of eventual own good qualities are largely toned down.
I do not know that much about armour but I do know a little about airplanes. When it comes to Italian WW2 airplanes descriptions of the same spirit as above, on the M13/40, are often seen. As a matter of fact, my interest for Italian WW2 history, its units and equipment was aroused by this constant ridiculing and downgrading of everything Italian. It was the same sort of ridiculing that started me investigating Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelöwe), the planned German invasion of England in September 1940, eventually to write a book about it. It simply did not fit in with contemporary events. We know how and from where this ridiculing originated, apart from the fact that the winners write the history – that is, the British. The British won the war? Not really, they were but a part of it but they like to see themselves as they did. Deep down they know that they had been lost without their friends (USA and the USSR) whom, by the way, were less than willingly dragged into the war by the foolishness of Hitler and Hirohito’s samurais, after Albion’s sons had left France high and dry. So, what do you do? You joke about it!