May 22nd

On May 22nd 1939, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini signed the “Pact of Steel”, a military alliance between Germany and Italy. This set in stone Rome-Berlin Axis, which alongside the Japanese took on the Allied Forces (and lost) in World War II.489802247

Initially the “Pact of Blood” (although Mussolini coined the new name due to internal pressure), the pact obliged the two country to come to each others military and economic aid in the event of war, with a “Secret Supplementary Protocol” encouraging a union of policies in these areas.

A supposedly unassailable Treaty of Friendship between Europe’s most prominent fascist leaders, the pact actually wrongfooted Mussolini, with Hitler omitting a clause which would delay war for three years. Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September the same year, however Italy, due to military deficiencies and a flailing economic situation, were not able to enter the conflict until June 1940. Their military had been exhausted by the takeover of Abyssinia in 1935-6 (which allowed for Hitler to remilitarise the Rhineland owing to League of Nations distraction) plus the immense resources and armed forces used to aid the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War (alongside Germany, although Hitler avoided sending troops).

The less than intimate pact was fundamentally flawed due to the two countries conflicting aims: Mussolini wanted the assurance that Hitler would not conduct his expansionist vision independently, whilst Hitler just wanted his counterpart’s obediImage result for hitler mussolini stampence whilst bolstering Germany’s strength in a European war. The two statesman were continuously reluctant to share military plans throughout the war, further weakening the military alliance. Hitler’s plans were to garner Lebensraum (living space) for Germans, in turn restoring Germany to its former greatness. Although Mussolini was also an imperial fascist, and his ‘March on Rome’ 1922 inspired Hitler’s rise to power, the lack of regard for Italy in Hitler’s plans meant that the Italians became increasingly ignored as the war went on.

 

The ten-year pact was cut short by the fall of Mussolini after 21 years in power. As the Allied powers defeated Axis in North Africa in November 1942, then invaded Sicily, the threat of invasion loomed over Italy. The Gran Consiglio (Grand Council of Fascism) passed a vote of no confidence in Mussolini and his government, and he was put under arrest by King Vittorio Emanuele in July 1943, with the new government signing an armistice with the Allies in September that year. Germany was able to seize control of the Northern part of Italy and freed Mussolini who was to lead a Nazi puppet government, Italian Social Republic. This government fell in April 1945, in a partisan uprising led by the liberation by the Allied forces and the defeat of German forces in Italy. Uprisers caught and murdered RSI ministers, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci as they attempted to flee. This was the definitive end to the Pact of Steel.

 

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