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The Mediterranean - Background for War

A classroom full of smock-clad Italian children give the Fascist salute in their Tunisian school: a warning sign of Mussolini’s burgeoning power in the Mediterranean.

Documentary 1939 18 mins


In March 1939, the background to war shifted from Central Europe to the Mediterranean. Mussolini struts in front of his followers in Libya, while the French premier Edouard Daladier embarks on a French cruiser and rides in an open-top car through Tunis to boost French power in the colony. Neville Chamberlain, a year after Munich, is seen in Rome feebly tipping his hat to the crowd as Mussolini lays on a display of Fascist gymnastics for the British Prime Minister.

One of the March of Time’s ‘crisis’ films from 1939, this issue gives an overview of the European powers’ interests in the Mediterranean, from Britain’s presence in Egypt, Palestine and the Suez Canal to Mussolini’s ambitions in Tunisia, then under French colonial rule. Shots of the ruins of Carthage prompt comparisons with imperial Rome’s Mediterranean power. Tunisia was strategically and economically attractive to Italy and the presence of 90,000 Italians already living there meant that the French colony was ripe for picking. It was not until 1942 that Italian troops seized Tunisia but the conquest was short-lived and by May 1943 the allies were in control again.