Who are Italy's allies and enemies

Hitler and Mussolini - a fatal friendship

The first meeting in Venice

In June 1934, a good year after the National Socialists came to power in Germany, Hitler's great wish was finally fulfilled: In Venice he met the man whose autograph he had already unsuccessfully requested from the Italian authorities in the 1920s: the "Duce" Benito Mussolini. Full of awe and visibly insecure, Hitler faced the Italian dictator.

At this point in time, Benito Mussolini was already at the zenith of his power: he had ruled since 1922 and had developed fascist Italy more and more into a totalitarian state. That impressed the German. He was impressed by the gigantic military parades and the pompous speeches of Mussolini, which the masses listened enthusiastically.

It was obvious - the "Duce" had his people under control, presented himself as a worldly statesman and imperial general.

Mussolini, on the other hand, was not very fond of Hitler at this point. He did not want to enter into any obligations and saw Italy more as a "tip on the scales" in European power poker. He envisioned a role as a mediator between England, France and the up-and-coming National Socialist Germany. Hitler was still no competition for Mussolini, but that would soon change.

The "Rome-Berlin Axis"

In contrast to the German Empire, Italy was the structurally inferior, the more archaic country. The modernization took place mainly in the north, in the triangle of Turin, Milan and Genoa. The south was considered backward and poor.

But this structural weakness did not prevent Mussolini from pursuing his imperial goals in the Mediterranean and Africa. The "Duce" dreamed of a new empire that would border on the Indian Ocean.

In 1934 Mussolini occupied Libya, and a year later he began the campaign of conquest against Abyssinia, today's Ethiopia. But Mussolini had miscalculated: The Ethiopians were not that easy to defeat, the war cost far more resources and human lives than expected.

For Hitler, this was a welcome time to finally bind Mussolini's fascist Italy more closely to himself. Although he did not participate in the League of Nations sanctions against Italy, he did supply the Ethiopians with weapons to artificially prolong the war.

Hitler's plan worked: in 1936 Italy not only became involved on the side of Germany and Franco in the Spanish Civil War, but also concluded several alliances with Hitler's Germany. On November 1, 1936, Mussolini announced the "Rome-Berlin Axis".

The allies wanted to converge on their anti-communist policies and expansionist interests. In addition, the alliance provided for economic agreements. Domestically, with the "Rome-Berlin Axis", the takeover of "total control" over society began, which also included the racial laws passed in Italy in 1938.

War allies - in Hitler's wake

On May 22, 1939, Italy and Germany signed the "Steel Pact". This pact provided for close military cooperation and mutual support in the event of a war of aggression. With this alliance, Hitler committed Italy as a partner for the Second World War, which began on September 1, 1939 with the attack on Poland.

But Mussolini had to pass: Neither the condition of the Italian troops nor the country's raw material reserves allowed military action. Italy had been at war almost continuously since 1935, the people were tired, the reserves used up.

Therefore, Mussolini first told Hitler that his country was not fit for war. Hitler then assigned Italy the role of supply area for the German Reich, so that Italy was soon completely economically dependent on its great ally.

A year later, when it looked as if Hitler was about to realize his imperial dreams, the "Duce" announced on June 10, 1940 that Italy would enter the Second World War. But it turned out differently - the quick victory did not materialize.

Mussolini's campaign in Greece was a disaster, followed by defeat after defeat. When the tide had long since turned in favor of the Allies and Allied troops had landed in Sicily, the Fascist Grand Council Mussolini resigned on July 25, 1943 with a simple majority decision.

King Vittorio Emanuele III. had the "Duce" arrested and held in Abruzzo. In this situation, German troops occupied Italy and liberated Mussolini in a spectacular action. Hitler appointed his "friend" Mussolini head of the puppet republic of Salò on Lake Garda.

From there, Mussolini tried in vain to regain control of northern and central Italy with the help of the Germans. When the Germans' surrender was imminent, Mussolini fled to Switzerland with his lover. But even before the border he was caught and shot by partisans in April 1945.

Author: Sandra Kampmann