The Italian Invasion of Egypt
On September 13, 1940, Italian forces invaded Egypt. Italy had occupied Libya since 1912, and in 1935, began sending large numbers of Italians, primarily farmers, to settle in Libya. In 1936, to protect the Suez Canal, British troops were sent to Egypt and garrisoned there. Disputes between Hitler and Mussolini in the Battle of Britain led Mussolini to refuse German aid.
By September 1940, Mussolini believed that the German land invasion of Britain was imminent. He wanted to create his own Mediterranean land empire, in some ways hoping the recreate the ancient Roman Empire. Mussolini’s own generals advised against the invasion of Egypt; Italian air forces were minimal, and their reputation was largely falsified.
The Italian land forces were massive in comparison to the limited force available to the British in Egypt. Italian forces moved overland relatively slowly, at a pace of 10 to 12 miles a day. They initially met relatively little resistance. The Italians made camp around Sidi Barrani. The British initially opted for relatively minor operations, including air bombings on the camp. These were intended to cause a nuisance, rather than actively demolish the Italian forces.
By December 1940, the Italians had reinforced their forces with additional troops. On December 10, a small British force attacked. Over the course of three days, the British took nearly 40,000 Italian prisoners, then began to chase the retreating forces. By the end of January, more than 75,000 Italians had surrendered to the British.
On the third of February 1941, some 3,000 British troops took on a force of more than 20,000 Italians, gaining the surrender of the remaining retreating Italians. While the British could have continued on into Libya, the need for British troops in Greece led to the withdrawal of most British forces from North Africa.