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Units and OrganizationEdit
At the time that Italy declared war, the Regia Marina consisted of six capital ships. The four most modern of these ships were being re-equipped. Only the two oldest capital ships were in a state of operational readiness. In addition to the six capital ships, the Italians had 19 cruisers, 59 destroyers, 67 torpedo boats, and 116 submarines. Numerically the Italian fleet was strong but there was a large number of obsolete units and the service suffered in general from insufficient training of crews. The shortage of oil precluded extensive operations.
The warships of the Regia Marina had a general reputation as being well-designed. Italian small attack craft lived up to expectations and were responsible for many brave and successful actions in the Mediterranean. But some Italian cruiser classes were rather deficient in armour and all Italian warships lacked radar, although the lack of radar was partly offset by the fact that Italian warships were equipped with good rangefinder and fire-control systems. In addition, whereas Allied commanders at sea had discretion on how to act, the actions of Italian commanders were closely and precisely governed by Italian Naval Headquarters.
This could lead to action being avoided when the Italian forces had a clear advantage. For example, during "Operation Hats" the Regia Marina had superior forces at sea, but avoided the opportunity to exploit its advantage. Italian Naval Headquarters was conscious that the British could replace ships lost in the Mediterranean, whereas Italian resources were limited.
The Italian Navy also lacked a proper fleet air arm. The aircraft carriers Aquila and Sparviero were never completed and most air support during the Battle of the Mediterranean was supplied by the land-based Regia Aeronautica.
On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy declared war on France and the United Kingdom and entered World War II. Italy went to war with the fourth largest navy in the world. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini saw the control of the Mediterranean Sea as an essential prerequisite for expanding his "New Roman Empire" into Nice, Corsica, Tunis, and the Balkans. Italian naval building accelerated during his tenure. Mussolini described the Mediterranean as "Mare Nostrum" (Which means Our Sea).
Before the declaration of war, Italian ground and air forces prepared to strike at the beaten French forces across the border with France. By contrast, the Regia Marina prepared to secure the lines of communications between Italy, Libya, and the East African colonies. The Italian High Command (Comando Supremo) did not approve of the plan devised by the Italian Naval Headquarters (Supermarina) to occupy a weakly defended Malta.