LWD wrote: And in any case, even an epic Italian failure at Malta, would be a much cheaper lesson than what transpired in Cyrenaica, few months later.
Would it? I'm not so sure. Especially if the Italians loose the majority of their fleet and cargo ships in the process.
I'd think it significantly cheaper. If Regia Marina takes a big trimdown, at least Italians would stop wasting money on upkeeping the WWII version of HochSeeFlotte (i.e. iron scrap that's worse than useless - being that it antagonizes Great Britain). You gotta think RM would get a few licks in, and RAeronautica a few lucky bombs. So the MedFleet would need some time to lick its wounds too.
120,000 men lost? I cannot see Malta costing italians more than 10,000 men, 15,000 tops.
But just the trucks, artillery pieces, and planes, lost in Compass. What was there? A quarter of Italian army's motorized park? Maybe half of the deployable fraction?
In fact they had so much [motor transport] that we were able to motorise two brigades out of what we captured; ironically but for the captured transport, we could never have pushed so far into Libya, Of particular value were the large 10-ton Diesel lorries of which the 10th Army had large quantities.
David Hunt - A Don at War
And artillery pieces lost, maybe 10 modern 150 mm pieces, maybe 50 Schneiders? 10-20 tankettes - if that? Compass was a steep price for a wake up call, for sure.
Plane-wise all kinds of ungodly figures are bandied about (wiki has 1,200), but I think mid-three figures (4-500 italian planes lost) is a good estimate.
For the air attack on Malta Italians could have ~600 bombers (SM79s, Breda Ba 65s, and Fiat BR 20s), ~300 biplane fighters, ~100 modern fighters (Fiat G50s and Macchi200s), and remain with a small reserve of ~400 modern planes (fighters and bombers) and 3-500 biplane fighters. The biplanes, although obviously outclassed if faced with say Hurricanes, would still have matched 1940 bombers, so they could have defended the mainland and Libya.