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I post here with great pleasure a few pages of a diary which, through minimal signs tells a gay love story born on the battlefield. I thank Max who wanted to send it.
I just add some small notes to clarify the historical context, because the text refers to the relevant facts and figures of World War II that non-Italian readers may not know.
June 10, 1940 [1], at 21 – This afternoon I felt the pride of being Italian. We heard on the radio the inflamed speech of the Duce! Finally we are at war! W Italy! Italian people, run to arms! And show your tenacity, your courage, your value! We have nearly 250,000 soldiers in Libya and we can wipe out the British from Egypt!Sometimes I do not understand what Mike has in mind, it must be a proud moment, we can finally show what we are worth, but it is as if he was afraid of what lies ahead, he says it will be tough, here in Africa we are stronger than the British but to get to Alexandria will not be easy and we’ll see on the battlefield how British do the war.

June 11 – General Berti [2] has five divisions here on the border and artillery and tanks, then I do not understand what we have to fear, Balbo [3] certainly expected war and everyone says that we are well prepared, but it is also true that the tanks L3 are just Arrigoni [a historical brand of canned sardines], are three-ton tanks and a tank like this is really a can of sardines. I tried to make it clear to Mike that the Italians have nothing to fear from the British, but he says that the British are a hard nut to crack.

June 12 – Today the cans of sardines have behaved well, we have thrown back the British troops and we chased them almost to Sidi Omar. I don’t understand why generals don’t give the order to attack. We were almost at Sidi Omar but we were given the order to turn back. Today Mike saw that on the battlefield the Italians know how to do! And I saw his smile, but he too didn’t understand the meaning of retreat.

June 13 – Today the captain told us that the British in Sidi Omar were hiding special armored cars that move much more easily in the sand than our cans of sardines, and they didn’t make them go out to lure us into a trap letting us approach closer and then giving us the killing blow, the staff understood this and didn’t fall into the trap.

June 14 – Day totally empty. Hour spirits are up, I keep talking for a long time with Mike, I like this guy, he is strong but also kind, he is from Abruzzo [4] and so are people from Abruzzo. He told me that he has volunteered, but I did it because I believe in Duce and I believe in the destiny of our country, but he in these things seems to me a bit colder, nevertheless two days ago he was very happy of victory.

June 15 – Another long day but I talked a lot with Mike, I begin to think that we really have a lot in common, but now we have to think about war.

Sunday June 16 – Finally the counterattack towards Sidi Omar and we won! I felt bad moments, the armored cars are terrible and very suitable to the war in the desert but we did not give up and eventually the British withdrew. When we did turn around to return to our base I saw many of our Arrigoni on fire and I was afraid that Mike was dead. The very thought made me feel bad, but then we met. Actually to knock out one of our L3 you just need an antitank shoulder rifle. In the evening I and Mike had fun, we joked a lot, I told him that I was afraid he was dead and he told me he had had that the same fear and then in the cans of sardines, under the sun you’ll probably die anyway heat even if the British don’t fire a shot cannon. As we are reduced now, before resuming the fighting we have to wait for replacements. The captain told me that we have lost almost a half of our L3 tanks and unfortunately the soldiers who were inside.

June 17 – Full vacuum! I spend the day with Mike trying to re-start a few cans of sardines not too bruised. I’m okay with Mike, laughing, joking, if war is this way it’s not so bad, although when I think about guys who died today I feel completely upside down.

June 18 – The more I talk with Mike the more I am convinced of one thing. I could be wrong but the feeling is that.

June 19 – I’m in recognition with Mike. we go back and forth near the border, there is not even the shadow of a British. At one point we are close to one of our L3 burned, we get closer, what we have seen I think that we will not forget it for a lifetime, men were not killed instantly but were burnt to death because the shot deformed sheet metal and doors did not open. To die this way it must be terrible! In the evening we didn’t even eat and we just rested a little out of our tent but without lie down on the ground because of scorpions and snakes, if you fall asleep you risk of ending up poisoned.

June 20 – Kitchen service with Mike and with others, boring day, I couldn’t even really talk with Mike because there were others, but I think that what I thought is true.

June 21 – Suffocating heat. I asked Mike why he volunteered and he told me that even if we are at war, perhaps it is better here than at home. I asked why but was evasive.

June 22 – The captain says that the replacements will arrive later because there is not only the Anglo-Egyptian front but also the French-Tunisian one, and Balbo must provide both of them. With Mike now we understand each other without saying a word, I would say that even last doubts vanished.

June 23 – No trace of British troops. We are here to do nothing! We recovered some other little tank damaged. The captain did not know what to say, he was waiting for orders that didn’t arrive. With Mike we finally spoken out. Now what? Because we are at war, and I hope it does not end badly. Last night I had nightmares thinking about guys burnt to death, I spoke about with Mike and he hugged me trying to make me feel comfortable.

June 24 – Beautiful day with Mike, we have been sent near Bardiah to wait for orders, between us and the British less than 10 km but there wasn’t even the shadow of a British. We went to swim in the sea, leaving our clothes on the beach, then a few things happened. After an hour we were back at the camp, but there were no orders. We came back towards the desert to our camp. It was really a wonderful day and I was just fine.

June 25-With Mike everything is okay but in practice we spoke very little because six soldiers of reinforcement have come, practically nothing in relation to our needs, and I’ve had to instruct on how to use the L3. With Mike we met only in the evening, because he went to inspection in the rear and I was not worried.

June 26 – How I wish that were the end of the war! First I wanted war so much but I think it already lasted too much time, I would be discharged tomorrow. So I could return to Italy with Mike and we could go to Abruzzo.

June 27 – With Mike we decided that it is better to have patience. The captain called me and told me never to forget that we are soldiers and I think he’s absolutely right .

June 28 – I heard incredible news on the radio, Italo Balbo died, he was killed while returning from a reconnaissance flight in Egyptian territory. His plane crashed in flames during a British bombing of Tobruk, so told the radio. Tobruk is not near the Egyptian border but well inside the Libyan territory. But what happened is absurd! He was a flying ace! The captain says that the whole course of the war will depend on who will replace Balbo. The captain understood something about us but didn’t say anything, now he speaks only about Balbo. Beautiful day with Mike.

June 30 – Arrived some soldiers who were in Tobruk when the Balbo’s Savoia-Marchetti crashed. They reported that at five-thirty in the afternoon, they heard the cannon that in Tobruk is the alarm signal of an air attack. Nine British twin-engine loaded with bombs, came from the sea in groups of three, heading straight for Tobruk2, because our fighter planes were there. But our airman distribute all planes in places far from one another in order to avoid that a single raid can cause much damage. From the harbor they saw a huge column of black smoke. Only when it came to the third group they heard some Italian anti-aircraft cannon. The British action was swift and caught our troops unprepared. The British twin-engine turned away against the sun to avoid the anti-aircraft fire. Then they heard the ambulances run to Tobruk2. Then again they heard the roar of aircraft engines in the same direction (the direction of the sun) to where British bombers had left . Italians were expecting another wave of bombing. The planes approaching were only two and because they came from the direction of the sun it was impossible to distinguish well, at some point one officer shouted that they were Italian planes, Savoia-Marchetti 79, but while he was saying so the anti-aircraft unleashed. From the port, from the cruiser San Giorgio and from submarines in the harbor has been a living hell. They all thought that planes were British planes, otherwise the anti-aircraft would not shoot, but someone had seen very well that that planes were Savoia-Marchetti 79, one of the two planes moved away to the north, the other was hit and crashed, then the other plane came back making itself clearly visible and it was really a Savoia-Marchetti 79. The plane knocked down was Balbo’s one. Balbo knocked out by Italian anti-aircraft that had just undergone a British bombardment without firing a single shot! The colonel was to hear the story of those who were in Tobruk, and made a grimace, as if he wanted us to understand that there was something weird.

August 5 – Today there was a battle near Sidi Aziz, and we have thrown back the British, but I do not understand why we have not given the order to go ahead, the longer we wait ,the more the English organize themselves. I was with Mike on an L3 but it was not a difficult battle, I think that the British were expecting an attack in depth and instead, we were ordered to come back. I don’t know anything about how Graziani [5] would lead the war, and I do not know if he’s expert in desert warfare, because this is a very special war, here the problems are mainly the heat, lack of water and fuel and sand that enters everywhere to the point that trucks are no longer working and there are no roads and the heavy wheeled vehicles cannot advance in the sand. When the Ghibli blows you cannot see anything and sand enters the lungs. I look forward to ending the war!

August 21 – We were joined to a new brigade arrived from Italy with the M11/39, 11 tons tanks, they are not heavy tanks but seem powerful to me, nothing similar to L3. The colonel of the tank drivers told us that the M13/40 will come soon, which are much more manageable and modern. However, even the M11 is not bad, has a 37 mm cannon in casemate and two Breda twin machine guns in turret. Too bad the cannon in casemate is not very pivoting, if it had been in a turret it would have the horizon at 360 degrees. However, the armor is 15 mm then to break it down you need a big cannon. With Mike everything okay. Now everyone thinks that the order to attack is going to come and there are other things to think about.

August 26 – The Colonel says that there is a lot of movement in the rear. We will enter Egypt soon, and we will fight with the British. There would be three Italian divisions and two Libyan ready to cross the border.

August 27 – We are close to the border and here it all seems peaceful, but the officers are in turmoil, shouting that all should be set.

September 10 – The Colonel told us that the bulk of the army is coming. He sends me and Mike in the rear to give traffic information. I saw the power of the Italian army, an immense mass of men and equipment.

September 11 – There is a lot of confusion. We tried to make it clear to the officers that trucks could not go off roads because the sand would make any movement impossible, and the roads were not suitable for a long line of trucks. No one would pay attention to what we were trying to explicate. The officers gave orders that cannot be run in the desert, lack of coordination. We tried to make it clear that after crossing the border the situation could have been much worse. In response, they sent us back to our camp.

September 12 – The Colonel told us that the army was reorganizing before crossing the border. The colonel said that the staffs weren’t aware of the difficulties in the field but now they had to deal with the desert and then the attack would not come before ten days.

September 13 – The Colonel is furious! Five divisions have been ordered to immediately enter Egypt, but he said there were not adequate logistical conditions for such a thing. In the evening we too received the order to enter Egypt. We start immediately. We tank drivers thought we had to stay together to face the British, but we must separate into small groups to protect not armored troops.

September 15 – We conquer Halfaya.

September 16 – We occupay Sidi El Barrani.

September 18 – All the Tenth Army stops around Sidi El Barrani. Advance towards Marsa Matruh without water supply is impossible.


The Diary of Antony ends here.

On December 9, 1940, the General O’Connor, attacking Sidi El Barrani, starts the Compass operation, intended to oust the Italian Tenth Army from Egypt. At the end of the Compass operation the Italian Tenth Army was destroyed, 130,000 Italian soldiers were captured by the British. British forces held firmly Cyrenaica and were ready to move against Tripolitania.

My grandfather (who was born also in 1920, as Antony, the author of the diary, and Mike) received these pages by Antony because they had become friends. He had understood the meaning of the relationship between Antony and Mike but with those guys he was really at ease.

The story does not end here, both Antony and Mike were captured by the British and were sent to the same prison camp in Scotland. My grandfather instead ended up in a different camp because he was captured later. Anthony and Mike at the end of the war remained in Scotland and together they opened a small restaurant. My grandfather went to visit them and stayed with them a week. Antony died in 2004 and Mike in 2006. When I was a boy, my grandfather told me for the first time the story of Anthony and Mike and told me that I had to have the utmost respect for these people. At that time I did not understand what he meant, then, growing up, I think I did understand. It is out of respect for these people that I send you this letter so that you can make it known to those who are able to understand.



[1] 10 June 1940 Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany against France and England. Mussolini gave a famous speech from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. The speech ends with this exhortation: ” Italian people, run to arms! And show your tenacity, your courage, your value! ”

[2] Commander of the Italian Tenth Army in Libya.

[3] At the time of the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940, Balbo was the Governor-General of Libya and Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa. He became responsible for planning the invasion of Egypt.

[4] A region of central Italy between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea.

[5] At the start of World War II, Rodolfo Graziani was still Commander-in-Chief of the Regio Esercito′s General Staff. After the death of Balbo in a friendly fire incident on 28 June 1940, Graziani took his place as Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and as the Governor General of Libya.

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