Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2020
This book opens with a discussion of the importance of the Mediterranean to the British Empire, highlighting its role as a ‘vital artery’ of communication between the eastern and western worlds. By examining the changing position of the Mediterranean in British strategic policy from the construction of the Suez Canal through to the Italian declaration of war in 1940, it shows how important the Mediterranean would be in the event of another global war. However, British foreign policy in the late interwar period included numerous efforts to keep Italy neutral, allowing the Mediterranean to be denude of military assets in favour of their deployment against threats elsewhere. Consequently, these decisions led to a difficult context in which to plan realistically for war in the Mediterranean, and the subsequent paucity of British forces stationed there at the start of hostilities. It was this situation which set the foundation for early failures in the anti-shipping campaign. The pre-war planning debates did, however, see the British develop an appreciation of the importance of cutting Axis sea communications, even if they initially lacked the military power to do so and were initially restricted by legal criteria prohibiting attacks on merchant shipping in most cases.