Italian invasion of France

Italian invasion of France

Italian invasion of France in June 1940 was a small scale invasion that started near the end of the Battle of France. The goal of the Italian offensive was to take control of the Alps mountain range and the region around Nice. The offensive was a failure, as the Italian forces did not advance far but sustained heavy casualties.


On 10 June, 1940, Italy declared war on France and Britain. The French government was already fleeing to Bordeaux and Paris was an open city. Feeling that the war would soon be over, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini said to Pietro Badoglio, the Chief of Staff of the Italian Royal Army ("Regio Esercito"), "I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought." [Frans De Waal, "Peacemaking Among Primates", Harvard University Press, 1990, ISBN 067465921X, [ Google Print, p.244] ] Mussolini had the immediate war aim of expanding the Italian colonies in North Africa by taking land from the British and French colonies.

However, Italy was not prepared for war and Italy's armed forces made little impact during the last few days of the Battle of France. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was well aware of Italy's limited military potential and yet he still sought to profit from Germany's successes. But German dictator Adolf Hitler demanded that the Italians participate more if they wanted to share in the spoils.

Of Italy's declaration of war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, said: "On this tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor." []

The offensive

Much of June was lost as the Italian armed forces prepared for an invasion. Italy massed 32 divisions on the French border, but even after additional time for preparations the Italian forces were not at their prime: their artillery was outdated, and various other equipment was lacking (they did not even possess enough pots and pans to feed their troops). []

On 21 June, troops of the Italian Royal Army crossed the French border in three places. The Italian army attacked in two directions. The Italians attacked through the Alps and they attacked on the Mediterranean sealine towards Nice. Initially, the Italian offensive enjoyed a limited level of success. The French defensive lines on the Italian border were weakened due to French High Command shuffling forces to fight the Germans. Some French mountain units were sent to Norway. However, the Italian offensive soon stalled at the fortified Alpine Line in the Alps region and at the southern end of the Maginot Line in the Mediterranean region. The attack through the Little Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps had to stop due to a massive snow storm. The Italian forces attacking through the French Riviera advanced only about 5 miles and were stopped in the vicinity of the town of Menton. []


On 25 June 1940, France surrendered to Germany. Italy occupied some areas of French territory along the Franco-Italian border.

During the invasion, Italian casualties were 1,247 men dead or missing and 2,631 wounded. A further 2,151 Italians were hospitalized due to frostbite. The French lost eight men.

Order of battle


*Army Group "West" - Prince General Umberto di Savoia
**1st Army - General Pietro Pintor
***2nd Corps - General Francesco Bettini
***3rd Corps - General Mario Arisio
***15th Corps - General Gastone Gambara
**4th Army - General Alfredo Guzzoni
***1st Corps - General Carlo Vecchiarelli
***4th Corps - General Camillo Mercalli
***Alpine Corps - General Luigi NegriOverall, the Italian forces numbered about 700,000 troops. However, they had inadequate artillery and transport, nor were they equipped for cold Alpine environment.


*Alpine Army (l'Armée des Alpes) - General René Olry
**3 infantry division of type B
**fortification sectors: Dauphiné, Savoie, Alpes Maritimes
**defence sectors: Rhône, NiceOverall, French forces in the region numbered about 35 000 soldiers.


* [ Italian order of battle for the invasion of France (20 June, 1940)]

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