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Map 1

Map 1. The Mediterranean and Middle East theatre of war

The first of this series of six volumes carried the story from the beginning of the war to two definite high water marks of British success against the Italians, one in East Africa and the other in the Western Desert. The first of these successes removed the threat to the British communications in the Red Sea in April 1941, whereupon President Roosevelt opened that sea to ships of the United States and greatly eased the strain on British shipping. In the Western Desert the Italians had been driven from Cyrenaica by early in February, but the Germans were already moving to their support, and the many and varied campaigns of the first half of 1941 were the result of this intervention. Hitler, however, rejected the plea of his naval advisers that the place to defeat the British was in the Mediterranean, and was obsessed with the need for dealing with Russia before turning to finish off the British in the west. Had he entered wholeheartedly into the Mediterranean war, the British would have been very hard pressed indeed

Thus the year 1941 contains two distinct phases. In the first the British are struggling to cope with the infusion of German help to the Italians, and the Commanders-in-Chief are facing in several directions at once with their resources stretched to the limit. In the second phase part of the German forces are called off, and the British are given a chance of recovery. This was because the first decisive blow was to be struck on the Russian front. Compared with this the Mediterranean was, to the Germans, only a secondary theatre.

We do not think it necessary to repeat what we wrote in our Introduction to Volume I about the importance of the administrative aspects of campaigning in the under-developed countries of the Middle East; we hope that it will be obvious from the story. Nor do we make any apology for the occasional changes of scale that seem inevitable in a volume which covers so many different fronts. They lead, however, to the mention of names and units in some cases and not in others. We have followed no rule, but have tried to give in each case what the sense demands.

As each new front breaks into activity we have stated the forces available for it. The complete list of Army formations, down to Divisions, and of Royal Air Force Commands and Groups in the whole theatre is shown in an appendix, together with the names of the principal commanders and staff officers of the three Services. The ships of the Mediterranean Fleet and of Force H at three different dates are given in another appendix. It will be of interest to some readers

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know that a comprehensive Order of Battle for the whole British Army, in all theatres of war, is in course of preparation.

The sources are generally similar to those previously named. In particular, we have been fortunate in being well provided with the contemporary diaries and other records of the formations and units under General Rommel’s command, and of the Luftwaffe.

We have again been helped by many persons with first-hand knowledge who have been good enough to read our drafts. We have also had the benefit of comments by the Official Historians of Australia (Mr. Gavin Long), of New Zealand (Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger) and of the Union of South Africa (Mr. J. A. I. Agar-Hamilton) and their assistants. We have had much help from the Heads of the Historical Branches, Rear-Admiral R. M. Bellairs, Brigadier H. B. Latham and Mr. J. C. Nerney, and from the Archivists, Librarians, and Keepers of the various records and photographs in the Cabinet Office, the Ministries and the Imperial War Museum. We have been greatly assisted by the preliminary work of Lieut.-Colonel G. R. Johnston, Lieut.-Colonel J. E. B. Barton, Lieut.-Colonel E. E. Rich, Brigadier W. P. Pessell, Captain G. C. Foster and Captain Wilfrid Miles. Others who have helped us particularly with this volume are Commander G. A. Titterton, Commander M. G. Saunders and Mr. G. H. Hurford of the Admiralty Historical Section, and Mr. F. L. Roberts, Squadron Leader W. M. Mills and Miss H. Raven of the Air Ministry Historical Branch. Most of the work on German and Italian documents has been done by Mr. Brian Melland, Mrs. J. M. Hamilton, and Squadron Leader L. A. Jackets. The maps are the work of the Cabinet Office Mapping Section under Colonel T. M. M. Penney. General research has been done by Mrs. G. F. Oakley, Miss Jean Burt and Miss D. F. Butler. Miss D. G. Plant has typed all the drafts. To all these, and to the Editor for his unfailing support and advice, we wish to express our gratitude.

Ill health compelled the late Air Vice-Marshal S. E. Toomer to give up before work on the present volume was finished. His place has been taken by Group Captain T. P. Gleave, C.B.E.

I.S.O.P., F.C.F., C.J.C.M., T.P.G.

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‘There is surely no greater Wisdom than well to time the Beginnings and Onsets of Things.’

BACON: Of Delays.