The Italians had invaded western Egypt from Libya in September. They had established fortified camps some 60 miles inside the border and had settled down to consolidate their positions. They showed no signs of seeking to advance on the strategic British positions further east, the Royal Navy base at Alexandria and the Suez canal.
The British had reinforced their army in the desert. Churchill had made the decision to send a number of the of new Matilda tanks, taking a risk that they would not be needed for the threatened invasion at home. In late November most of the troops in the desert had participated in No.1 Training Exercise with the focus on overcoming Italian defensive minefields. All units were warned to be ready for No.2 Training Exercise in the second week of December.