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The Italian Tenth Army was one of two Italian armies in Italian North Africa during World War II. The Tenth Army in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) faced the British in the British protectorate, Kingdom of Egypt. The other army, the Italian Fifth Army, was based in Tripolitania (western Libya) and faced French Tunisia.

World War II

When Italy declared war on 10 June 1940, the Tenth Army consisted of five divisions and the Fifth Army consisted of nine. At the end of June, after the Fall of France, several divisions were transferred from the Fifth Army to strengthen the Tenth Army. Soon the Tenth Army had a total of ten divisions.

Italian invasion of Egypt

On 13 September 1940, about four divisions were used when elements of the Tenth Army advanced into Egypt. Four infantry divisions and the "Maletti Group" marched one hundred kilometers in four days. The Italians stopped when they got to Sidi Barrani. The Maletti Group included most of the M11/39 medium tanks available in North Africa and numerous L3 tankettes. Defensive positions were prepared by the Italians in the form of several fortified camps.

British counter-attack

In December 1940 during Operation Compass, the British counter-attacked in what initially was to be a five-day raid against the Italian camps in Egypt. Ultimately, the Italian camps were completely overrun and the rest of the Tenth Army was constantly pushed further and further back into Italian Libya. Many Italian soldiers were forced to surrender once the British troops encircled them in static fortified garrisons at places like Bardia and Tobruk.

Destruction at Beda Fomm

At the battle of Beda Fomm (6–7 February 1941), most of the remainder of the retreating Tenth Army was isolated by a small advance guard of Richard O'Connor's 7th Armoured Division called Combe Force.

O'Connor had this ad hoc force under the command of John Combe leave the coastal roads at Gazala and take an unreconnoitred shortcut across the desert to block the Italian army's retreat, while the Australian 6th Division continued the coastal pursuit. The 7th Armoured force was delayed by the harsh terrain, so a lighter, faster element was detached to complete the interception, leaving the tracked vehicles to follow. The first elements arrived at Msus late on the afternoon of 4 February and cleared the local garrison. During the following night and day, the advance continued and the British artillery and infantry were in position across the coast road by 4 pm on 5 February. The head of the retreating Italian column arrived 30 minutes later.

The Italians were stunned to find the British force blocking them at Beda Foum, whose strength they greatly overestimated. With the Australians in pursuit, a desperate battle ensued, in which newly arrived M13/40 medium tank battalions were thrown against the British positions, at great loss. In the afternoon of 6 February, the 7th Armoured Division's tanks had arrived and were now harassing the Italian eastern flank.

On the morning of 7 February, the Italians attempted a final, desperate attempt to break through. By this stage, the British units were almost out of food, petrol and ammunition. The British blocking line was almost breached, but they held and, convinced of the overwhelming size and strength of the blocking force, the encircled Italian units surrendered. The Tenth Army was destroyed.[1]

Italian order of battle, Libya 1940


  1. John Keegan (ed), John; Kenneth Macksey (1991). Churchill's Generals. London: Cassell Military. pp. 194–196. ISBN 0-304-36712-5. 

See also

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