On September 13, 1940, the Italians attacked British forces in Egypt. They bombarded Musaid with artillery, and then advanced up the coast road. The British had expected the Italians to outflank them from the desert, but the Italians were concerned that the British were more at home in the desert than they were, so they didn't make the attempt. Count Ciano wrote that "Never has a military operation been undertaken so much against the will of the Commander" (quoted in the Official History). He was writing about Marshall Graziani.
British opposition was limited to the following units:
- 3rd Coldstream Guards,
- C Battery RHA
- later, a portion of F Battery, RHA
- one section of 25/26th Medium Battery, RA
- one company 1/KRRC
- 1 machine gun company from 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers