World Battlefronts: A PINT OF WATER PER MAN

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The fate of the Italians in the Desert, as reported by TIME Correspondent Harry Zinder:

It was getting bad and even worse than in Wavell's days, when his Nile Army smashed everything Mussolini had in the desert and took 120,000 Italians prisoner. The Italians were surrendering on all sides — 30 to the London News Chronicle's War Correspondent William Forrest, hundreds of others to an unarmed medical staff. Two British colonels from the Intelligence staff, with one tommy gun between them, found themselves on a sandy stretch of desert just east of Matrûh with one Italian general and 80 Italian officers pleading to be taken to a prisoners' camp. "The best thing I can suggest," one colonel said, "is for you to proceed to the Fuka railway station and take the train to Alexandria." They did. In another area German lorry drivers piled their trucks full of Italians and, without escort, drove them up the coast road to British rear bases.

For the Italians it was a terrific letdown by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armored divisions and a motorized division, which had been interspersed among the German Panzer army, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel's 21st, 15th and 19th light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.

Throughout the whole battle area, from the El Alamein line to Mersa Matrûh, large pockets of Italian soldiers, abandoned to their fate, wearily sought some British soldier or some British unit to take them back to prisoners' camp where they would get bully-beef and biscuits, but more than anything else a pint of water per man. When rain fortunately fell the other day, these bunches of Italians turned their faces to the sky and allowed the cooling blessing from heaven to trickle down their throats.

The Italians were bitter at their German so-called allies and they were glad they would not have to fight for them any more. They had done well, and even British officers praised their qualities, which is more than could be said after the sad Italian showing during Wavell's campaign.

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