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Italian / Abyssinian Crises - Overview

In August 1935 plans were drawn up to get the British fleet in readiness for a possible attack by Italy who had already massed a large army in Libya with a view to controlling Abyssinia & north & north eastern Africa. Britain was again seen as the active arm of the League of Nations in the Mediterranean & Italy was drawing closer to a conflict with the British fleet which stood in the way.
Britain was steadily building up naval seapower at Malta & at this time had 49 major warships at the base. Amongst these the flagship Queen Elizabeth, 5 'R' class cruisers, 5 other cruisers, 27 destroyers & 7 submarines. Some 4 weeks later this would swell to 67 ships with the battle-cruisers Hood, Renown, Repulse & the carriers Courageous & Glorious. Plus 9 more cruisers & a flotilla of destroyers. This fleet came together from all corners of the globe.
Anti aircraft guns on Malta were increased to 12. A Blue Funnel merchantman the Bellerophon took the guns to Malta with Neuralia which carried troops.
In an effort not to tempt Italy to attack the ships in Malta & the civilian population the heavier elements of this mass of ships was moved to Alexandria which had become a British naval base by this time. Remaining in Malta would be 20 destroyers, 8 sloops & minesweepers along with a flotilla of submarines & their depot ship.
It is interesting to note that these same tactics were employed just prior to Italy declaring war on 10th June 1940.
The French fleet were supposed to be part of this force but negotiations by the League in Paris failed so the British fleet was further strengthened. Australia & New Zealand helped out by sending supporting cruisers.
Stores were laid in to last 4 months as it was seen to be too dangerous to operate a convoy system from Gibraltar & ships would have to take the long route around the Cape of Good Hope.
Britain pressed Italy to reduce her army strength in Libya & eventually this was reduced by one division which still left a significant force but hostilities died down & the crises died down.


The Cross & the Ensign - A Naval History of Malta 1798 - 1979 Book by Peter Elliott