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An Enduring Influence on Imperial Defence and Grand Strategy: British Perceptions of the Italian Navy, 1935-1943

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)810-835
JournalINTERNATIONAL HISTORY REVIEW
Volume39
Issue number5
Early online date9 Feb 2017
DOIs
Accepted/In press2 Feb 2017
E-pub ahead of print9 Feb 2017
Published2017

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Abstract

The Mediterranean was a vital artery of the British Empire. It was a strategic corridor, linking Britain to its Middle and Far East possessions and precious resources. Its control was a central tenet of British imperial strategy, yet by the mid-1930s, this faced a new challenge from Fascist Italy. The Italian Navy was central to expansionist aspirations and forced British reappraisals of the allocation of defence resources both in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. It therefore came to exert a generally under-appreciated influence on prewar British imperial defence policy and war planning.

Although consistently viewed as vastly inferior to the Royal Navy, it was still seen as an impediment to Britain’s ability to deliver imperial defence across the globe, or conduct a worldwide war against multiple enemies. This view persisted even after important defeats were inflicted on it in 1940-41, and continued right through to 1943. Awareness of the seriousness with which the British viewed Italian naval strength adds important context to debates about British strategy in the Far East and over Winston Churchill's preference for a 'Mediterranean first' strategy. Italian naval power played a greater role in shaping the Allied prosecution of the Second World War than is commonly accepted.

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