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G + 3 : Menton and the Italian Invasion of France in 1940

Morning Coffee in San Remo - Air-humidity hits the cooler Hills

Full schedule today. The Captain had to refuel the boat. Italian Authorities insist on yachts leaving with a full tank so they can pocket the VAT. So much ado about the EU. We had to buy more food, shorts, a wallet and – most importantly - restock the wine compartment. We thought we were modest drinkers but our inventory tells another story. We settled on local Vermentino, Dolcetto and Barbera. Plus champagne for the Aperol Spritz. Yum!

The Coastline from San Remo to Monaco where the Italian Invasion of France took Place

As I write these lines, the Menetea is sailing – sorry – motoring along the Ligurian coast from San Remo to France. It is a peaceful coast. The beaches are stacked with lines and lines of umbrellas. Most of the deck chairs are already taken. Small tenders drag people on parachutes into the air or pull a golden banana with screaming kids through the water. A bit further above the coast line, Liguria’s colorful towns like Borghera, Ventimiglia and (now) French Menton pop up and disappear again in the mist. The air is so humid that clouds form the moment the air hits the mountains.

Mussolini talking the Prince Umberto of Savoy, the Commander-in-Chief of the Invasion

It is hard to believe that on the 20 June 1940, only 83 years ago, this peaceful coast woke up to the thunder of Italian Artillery. Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, had declared war on France and England. He claimed his share of France after it was defeated by the German Wehrmacht. Mussolini had great dreams for Italy. The Mediterranean should become his Mare Nostrum, the Balkan states his sphere of influence and Spain his client state. He already had occupied Albania and conquered Ethiopia without much international resistance. The Baleares were under his control too with an Italian an air wing on Mallorca.

Italian Howitzer Crew firing at French Positions in June 1940

The decision to go to war was taken at short notice. There was little time for preparation. 300’000 Italian soldiers - grouped into 3 armies - were amassed on the French border. The objectives were nebulous; the Commander-in-Chief Prince Umberto inexperienced. Mussolini dreamt of marching into Lyon and Marseille before the Germans could. In his eyes it would be a walk over. The French Army was defeated and demoralized. French troops surrendered to the advancing German tanks en masse. France had depleted the forces guarding the Italian border. There were only 6 under-strengthened French Division. Mussolini had 29.

The Italian Forces were able to take Menton but never reached the French Main Line

Unfortunately for Mussolini, his view of the world was flawed. He was just another dictator surrounded by "Yes" men who could not distinguish facts from fiction. Mussolini promised his countrymen a quick, painless and glorious victory. That he believed this b/s makes you wonder about his mental sanity. As a young men he had seen how in 1916 French troops rescued the Italian Army from collapse. Nothing would have stopped the Germans and Austrians from marching to Venice and Milan had not a few French divisions stabilized the front. The French Army knew how to bite when properly led. And properly led it was in the mountains facing Italy.

Italian Officers in Menton after it was taken with heavy Italian Casualties

On the ground, fabulation hit reality. The Italian Army could not break through the main French defense lines and gained only a few kilometers plus the village of Menton at the border. Equipped with Austrian guns from the First World War, the Italian artillery was no match for the French and got seriously pummeled. Nor could the hailed Regia Marina defend the Ligurian coast where French battleships blew up Italian fuel and ammunition depots.

The French Cruiser Colberts and Duplex bombarded Italian war depots in 1940

On 24th of June, a cease-fire agreement was hastily signed. The French retreated 30 km behind the border and handed over their bunkers and fortresses. Many of them are still intact today and can be visited. But be careful, the brother of one of my friends almost died after falling into one of the hidden trenches.

Italian Soldiers inspecting French Renault Tanks after the Armistice

Mussolini got his prize – Adolf Hitler let him occupy the Provence except Marseille and Lyon which he craved for. But only until 1942. When American troops landed in North Africa, Hitler asked the Italians to leave and replaced them with his Wehrmacht. 6’029 Italian men had died for his useless invasion which resulted in nothing. Worse though, attacking France meant war with England. The Royal Navy did not wait and fought aggressively back. Over the next three years it would destroy much of the Regia Marina.

Hitler gave Mussolini the Provence to occupy but kept Lyon and Marseille

We stoped for lunch outside Menton - the Menetea was too big for the harbour and had to stay at a fair distance from shore. But the sea was calm today and we could go for a swim in the middle of the sea.

Despite being French for 163 years now, Menton has kept its Ligurian Look and Feel

At 3 pm, it was time to lift anchor and start the final leg of our journey today. We booked a place in the port of Monaco and needed to be in the harbour by 4.30 pm. A taxi would take us to the Trophée de Auguste, the memorial built by Emperor Augustus celebrating the Roman victory over Ligurian tribes. I will cover this tomorrow. Dinner will be in Monaco which escaped the fighting in 1940 unharmed. Nonetheless, the Italian Army occupied it on 11 November 1942, the day Montgomery defeated Rommel's Africa Corps and the Italian Army in El-Alamein. The occupation would end when the Allied Forces landed between Cavalaire and Frejus in September 1944.

Finally in the Port of Monaco - we are the smallest Yacht :-)) At the back the Royal Palace

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