The defeat of the Italians in North Africa
On 11 June 1940, the Italian and British forces in North Africa, the first in Libya and the second in Egypt, found themselves in a potentially immediate confrontation. Shortly after the Italian declaration of war, and as a result of the escalating tension, the Italian governor of Libya, Marshal Italo Balboa, was accidentally shot and killed by anti-aircraft fire from his forces, when flying over Tobruk.
Mussolini sought to unite his colonies in Libya and Ethiopia; and so on 8th August ordered the Italian forces in North Africa to invade Egypt. On September 13, the Italian forces under the command of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani invaded Egypt from their bases in Cyrenaica with 5 divisions and 200 tanks. On the 18th of the month, they captured Sidi Barrani and began to fortify themselves there.
On the 9th of December, the British Middle East Command headed by General Archibald Wavell, launched a counter-offensive called Operation Compass. This attack was launched by the Western Desert Force under the command of General O'Connor. The British forces which included the 7th Armored Division – "The Desert Rats" and the 4th Indian Division, penetrated through a gap in the Italian defenses south of Sidi Barrani and towards their rear. This offensive using the help of an artillery concentration of 25-pound guns and close support of Blenheim bombers enabled the Matilda tanks to reach the enemy's rear. Within an hour the Italian General Malati surrendered with 4,000 of his soldiers and within three days 38,000 Italian soldiers were captured as well as 237 pieces of artillery and 73 tanks.
The British continued their pursuit as far as El-Agheila after the occupation of the whole of Cyrenaica, on the border of Tripolitania after 10 weeks and an advance of 800 kilometers in which the British captured 130,000 Italian soldiers, 400 tanks and 1,292 guns. The British casualties were 494 killed and 1,225 wounded.
The halt in Al-'Agheila and the cessation of the pursuit caused the loss of the opportunity to capture all of Italian North Africa. This halt was a result of the explicit order of British Prime Minister Churchill to the Middle East Command to transfer troops to aid Greece.