Bardia & Excuses

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Two new characters entered the southern war theatre last week—"Long Lizzie" and "Bardia Bill," so named by the ever jocular British. Both were big naval rifles, emplaced ashore and manned by seamen from the opposing fleets. Lizzie was Italian, Bill a Britisher.* Savagely they hurled huge shells in & out of the besieged Italian stronghold of Bardia, Lizzie occasionally lobbing a few 15 miles along the coast toward Salum, which until Bardia should fall was the British column's sole supply port.

Bill's advantage over Lizzie was that he was supported by at least 250 lesser cannon which the British kept crowding in on a semicircle about eight miles deep around Bardia, while other naval guns fired inland from fleet units standing at sea. Lizzie's support was Italian bombing planes which, massing their attack, tried to blast the tightening ring of British force. But the R. A. F. was present, too, with eight-gun fighters against two-gun crates. Mussolini, far away in Rome, decreed that his troops in Bardia must hold out to the end to permit Marshal Rodolfo Graziani to consolidate a stand at Tobruch, 70 miles westward along the coast of Libya. Holding on stubbornly they had by week's end already given Graziani 14 days to pull his shattered army together.

As British pressure intensified and a heavy pall of battle smoke obscured Bardia, General Mario Berti, commanding the beleaguered Blackshirts, withdrew his guns and massed them on the west side of the town, to cover the evacuation of such men as could be spared and saved. General Berti, who commanded the Italian volunteers in Spain, has a reputation for last-ditch fighting and added to it considerably last week.

Graziani, who made his fierce reputation by fighting defenseless natives in Africa, was in a fair way to lose his lustre in the Libyan sands. To excuse himself, he last week issued a report to II Duce which was, to military historians, an amazing mixture of accusation, frankness and bombast.

In reviewing what led to the siege of Bardia, the Libyan commander passed the buck neatly to Rome, laying blame for his defeat on lack of motor transport and of armored power. "For the purpose of economizing transportation some units covered hundreds of kilometres afoot. . . . We lacked only a complement of motor vehicles which, as you know, were pouring in from the mainland." "Pouring in" was probably a gross exaggeration, considering the work of the British Fleet, which periodically prowled across the Italian sea lane to Libya.

By implication, Graziani further criticized the ability of the much-touted Italian Air Force. With its home bases and production much nearer Africa than were Britain's, this arm was admittedly overwhelmed by R. A. F. when the attack began. The Italian air fleet was bombed in its bases clear west to Castel Benito and Tripoli. In effect it never got off the ground, like the Polish Air Force in September 1939.

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