My friend Brett asked: What’s the German relationship with Italy? It seems like an odd cultural mix- but I think they were mutual admirers (Hitler and Mussolini) – at least right away?
Mussolini came to power in the 1920s and actually impressed Hitler. Hitler actually admired Mussolini and fascist Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. Mussolini in turn actually liked Hitler and the two became friends. In the beginning of the relationship, it appeared they treated each other as equal partners, especially during the Spanish Civil War in the 1936-39 where they supported Generalissimo Franco (Nationalist) against the Republican (backed by Communists) forces.
In June 1940, after France had fallen, Italy declared war on France, joining the war on the German side. Italy didn’t demand much from France – just a handful of territory in the Med which the two countries had traded for the last several hundred years.
Later, Italy went after the British colonial territories in northern and eastern Africa. It was around this point that you can see some of the disparities in the relationship and the reversal of roles between Mussolini as the “mentor” and Hitler as the “student”, or equal partners to where Germany became the senior partner.
Some key events:
- Italy invade British Somaliland from Italian Somaliland (east Africa). Italy gambled and lost. The British not only repelled the invasion, but also took Italian Somaliland and incorporated into the modern failed state of Somalia. Italy 0, Britain 1.
- Italy then invaded North Africa with the intent of driving east to conquer Egypt. Again, the Italians were beaten back by an numerically inferior British force. Italy 0, Britain 2.
- Enter the Germans; initially, Hitler did not want to go in N. Africa but when he saw the Italians needed help, he sent Rommel and the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK). That campaign had early successes, but ended in failure for both Axis powers. Italy 0, Britain/Allies 3.
- It became obvious that the Italian war machine (tanks, planes, armored vehicles,) of the 1920s and early 1930s were so outclassed by Germany’s late 1930s, early 1940s equipment and certainly by the British.
- For some reason, the Italians never tried to develop their “next gen” fighters when it became apparent that everyone had outstripped them.
- Finally, there was the invasion of first Sicily and then the Italian mainland. In late 1943, the Italian government under Mussolini fell. The then King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III forced Mussolini from power. M is arrested but is rescued by the Germans in a daring raid. Italy switches sides and joins the Allies as a Co-Belligerent, but not a formal ally the way US-GB-FR-USSR were allied.
- And when M was delivered to Hitler in Berlin after his rescue, it became clear that M was beaten both personally and politically. By then, Germany had taken over the defense and overall command of Italy in 1944-45. Some Italian generals fought for the Germans and under their command. Other Italians defected to the Allies.
Final score: Italy 0, Britain/ Allies 4.