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Post Bagnasciuga Explained; Mussolini's Move Away from the Western Allies, 1934-'38
Created by John Eipper on 08/14/17 4:42 AM

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Bagnasciuga Explained; Mussolini's Move Away from the Western Allies, 1934-'38 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 08/14/17 4:42 am)

An excellent post from my good friend Luciano Dondero (6 August) on Mussolini.

Of course on some points Luciano and I have different views, and maybe I am too indulgent towards il Duce.

But as an old seaman, let me begin with a discussion on the Italian word "bagnasciuga."

As Luciano explained on August 7th, bagnasciuga is the part of a ship's hull that is alternatively out of the sea when the vessel is not loaded, but under the sea when it is fully loaded. Generally it is painted with a special orange paint. Mussolini used the word bagnasciuga instead of "battigia" to indicate the part of the beach that is alternatively covered by the waves when they break on the shore and then recede. However, "bagnasciuga" was also the proper name of the land around the lake of Trasimeno which was flooded when the level of the lake rose. After 1898, this fluctuation was regulated by a discharging canal.

Going back to Luciano's comments on Mussolini, probably for brevity he does not address two questions.

1) Why did Mussolini change from pro-West in 1934 to pro-Germany by 1938?

2) Why did Mussolini change his attitude toward war from 1 September 1939 to 10 June 1940?

The year 1934 started anti-German. See Mussolini's speech at Bari on 6 September 1934, in which he ridiculed the racist Hitler and German culture. However, by 1938 he was friendly towards Hitler. See the speech in Parliament of 16 March 1938, in which he described the Anschluss thus: "One cannot grant independence from abroad to those who do not want it."

Still, in the spring of 1939 Mussolini ordered the construction of the Vallo Littorio on the Alps as a defense against the Third Reich. This construction went on until 1941.

The split between Italy and the Western democracies started after the betrayal of the Stresa Accord, when the UK signed a separate naval accord with Germany. Churchill wrote in his memoirs: "Mussolini saw the proof that the UK was not acting in good faith towards its allies."

The hostility and the duplicity continued during the events of Ethiopia and Spain. See relations with Laval, Eden, Weizman, Lord Mottistone and Leon Blum. Again Churchill wrote: "Now that the British policy has forced Mussolini to side in the other camp, Germany was not alone anymore."

Practically until 31 March 1940, Mussolini was not decided about entering the war, but the useless talk with Summer Wells and Myron Taylor plus the continuous harassment of the Italian merchant fleet became the tipping points.

During its period of non-belligerence, Italy maintained diplomatic relations with the Polish government-in-exile (Poland would break off relations later). Italy also helped the passage of Polish refugees, including 10,000 Jews and many others as pilots (who would later be very effective in the Battle of Britain). They also helped the wife of the PM-in-exile Sikorsky, 103 professors of the University of Cracow, etc. Hitler was not happy at all. Nor did he appreciate Mussolini's letter of 3 January 1940 in favor of peace and in defense of Poland.

Frankly I believe that from the West nothing was done to win Mussolini to its side.

A final thing about labor strikes. Luciano rightly defends the sacred right of striking, while I believe it is better to avoid strikes using the judicial system or even better the Socializzazione.

JE comments:  Wow, I promised our readers Eugenio Battaglia's bagnasciuga comment a week ago.  Sorry about the delay, folks.

J. E. B. Seely, Lord Mottistone, was a hero in both the Boer War and WWI, in which he led one of history's last great cavalry charges at Moreuil Wood, 1918.  He would later gain renown in the 1930s as a leading appeaser of Hitler.  Mottistone is also a village on the Isle of Wight, home to our friend John Heelan.

What's the deal with the initials J. E. B. and cavalrymen?  Compare Mottistone with the American Confederacy's J. E. B. Stuart, the dashing leader of Lee's cavalry.

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  • Lord Mottistone, Isle of Wight, and Warrior the Horse (John Heelan, UK 08/14/17 10:23 AM)
    JE commented on 14 August: "Mottistone is also a village on the Isle of Wight, home to our friend John Heelan."

    It is indeed and has a very fine house and garden.

    Further, Bob Seely is now the Island's MP despite his irregular attendances at the local Isle of Wight Council, which earned him the alliterative nickname "Seldom Seen Seely." Lord Mottistone's horse "Warrior" is a local hero and has a trail named after it. (See: "On the trail of the real-life Warhorse on the Isle of Wight"; link below.)

    (Should a WAISer visit the area, be sure to have a meal at Mottistone's local pub--the 600-year-old Sun Inn at Hulverstone.)


    JE comments: Bob Seely, MP, is the great-great nephew of Lord Mottistone.

    Warrior, the "horse the Germans couldn't kill," survived Ypres, the Somme, and the mud of Passchendaele.  The lifespan of a trench grunt in WWI was said to be six weeks.  It must have been even less for horses, given their exposure and inability to take cover.  Warrior's longevity at the front was nothing short of a miracle.

    One more reason to visit the Isle of Wight!

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  • Mussolini's Move Away from the Western Allies, 1934-'38 (Salvatore Bizzarro, USA 08/15/17 4:31 AM)
    I am a bit confused by Eugenio Battaglia's comments of August 14th.

    If Mussolini did not want to side with Germany, why did he agree then to the Germans' Racist Laws when Hitler visited Rome with full fanfare and military parade in 1938? Laws Mussolini had decried and criticized as absurd in 1933?

    JE comments: Would it be safe to say that already by 1938, Mussolini had transitioned from "hegemon" to junior partner in the Berlin-Rome axis?  Can we pinpoint a specific event or date when this happened?

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    • Mussolini-Hitler Collaboration in 1938 (Carmen Negrin, France 08/17/17 5:44 AM)
      By 1938, Mussolini had been fighting hand in hand with Hitler in Spain for two years. The fight started with the previous agreement of these two "gentlemen" and would not have started without it.

      JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia also sent a response to Salvatore Bizzarro's post of August 15th.  I'll publish it by the end of today.  My question was slightly different: wasn't Mussolini still the hegemonic Axis partner during the initial phase of the Spanish Civil War? How was this swapping of roles completed by 1938?

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      • Mussolini's and Hitler's Involvement in Spain (Angel Vinas, Belgium 08/18/17 7:49 AM)
        Since the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic in April 1931, Mussolini adopted an inimical position toward the new Spanish regime. The "aphorisms" which he kept until his death clearly show this. From his a prioristic intellectual position he went on to take, albeit gradually, more active measures in Spanish matters. In part, he was encouraged by some anti-republican Spaniards, basically Monarchists and Carlists. The attempted coup d'etat of August 1932, led by Gen Sanjurjo, had a small Italian connection. Mussolini intensified intelligence gathering activities in Spain (examined by Prof. Mauro Canali) and agreed in March 1934 to support with money and arms an uprising against the Republic. (The agreement became known during the Civil War.)  This uprising didn´t occur as envisaged and Mussolini started financing under cover the Spanish Falange (a typically para-fascist movement). Obviously Spain wasn't at the center of Mussolini's attention during the Abyssinian war but it gained saliency afterward. This led to the signing of contracts on July 1, 1936 to supply aircraft to the Spanish conspirators and to the movement from the Northern airports to Sardinia of the first wing. All this before the coup of July 18. For a part of the conspirators, basically Monarchists, Italy was the country and regime to emulate.

        The reasons why Italy took second place in the insurgents´ perspective are complex. Let´s put it this way. Franco was pleasantly surprised by Hitler´s assistance and by Hitler´s decision to support him. He also greeted enthusiastically the shipment of the Legión Condor in November 1936 and was taken in by the Germans´ apparent lack of interest in meddling in domestic Spanish political matters. Nevertheless, the Italian material support was greater than the German one. Italian inability to project a worthy project in Franco´s eyes also played a role. Franco was more attuned to some features of the German dictatorship which he tried to copy as much as possible.

        JE comments:  Would Hitler have stayed out of Spain if the Italians were not already involved?  Granted, this is venturing into the territory of the hypothetical.  Eugenio Battaglia (next) sees Mussolini's priorities as keeping Madrid away from the influence of both Berlin and Moscow.

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      • Was Mussolini Worried about Spain Falling into Berlin's Orbit? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/18/17 8:19 AM)
        Of course Carmen Negrín, 17 August, is viewing the problem from the Spanish point of view and I can understand this very well.

        However Mussolini decided to enter fully in the Spanish Civil War because he considered it a danger for Italy if Spain would become a satellite of the Third Reich. In 1936 Italian-German relations were still fluctuating; the alliance came later. Mussolini in reality wanted a free Spain friendly with Italy and not under the possible influence of Berlin or Moscow or with the arrival of Leon Blum from Paris.

        JE comments with the obvious response (and I hope Eugenio doesn't find me too direct):  If Mussolini wanted a free Spain, couldn't he have supported...the Republic?

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        • What Were Mussolini's Motivations in Spain? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 08/19/17 4:08 AM)

          I´m sorry to disagree with Eugenio Battaglia (18 August) on Mussolini´s motivations in Spain. As I explained in a previous post, Mussolini´s contempt for the Republic predated the military uprising. I stated facts, Not interpretations.

          My conclusion, after wrangling with this issue for many years, is as follows:

          Mussolini wanted to help install a regime in Spain similar to his. It would be para-fascist at the least, be indebted to him and submissive enough to fit in with his grandiose plans of ensuring Italian dominance in the Western Mediterranean. He would play Calvo Sotelo's card to the hilt so that the fascicized Monarchist leader could grow into a role equivalent to his with a greatly disempowered king as head of State. This was a vision which had very little possibility of realization, but the Duce believed in that.

          Things soon developed in the contrary direction. Calvo Sotelo was murdered before the coup. Hitler intervened. Franco was at the head of the African Army. Mussolini tried to seduce him through the Italian consul general in Tangiers in September. Franco, obviously, agreed to all Mussolini´s suggestions. He needed help and needed it quickly.

          For the previous assertions there is some scattered documentary evidence but unfortunately not a continuous batch of it.


          The idea that Mussolini wanted to prevent Spain from turning red is pure hogwash.

          Hitler, at that time, couldn't care less about Mussolini´s ambitions. He had his own geostrategic ideas in a moment of relative indecision as to the course of Nazi foreign policy but helping the non-republican forces fit in well with his plan to undermine France´s rearguard.

          Everyone thought the war was going to be finished in a few months. It lasted two years and a half. After the victory Franco would play the German, not the Italian, card. In my book La otra cara del Caudillo, I have been able to demonstrate this orientation with masses of Spanish documentary evidence.

          JE comments:  Franco was nothing if not a wily opportunist.  Didn't the Caudillo clearly see by 1939 that Hitler was far stronger militarily than Mussolini?  Although not enough (for Franco) to jump in whole-hog on the Fuhrer's side.

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      • When Did Mussolini Become the Axis Junior Partner? (Salvatore Bizzarro, USA 08/18/17 3:29 PM)
        The historic encounter between Mussolini and Hitler in Rome dated May 3, 1938, cementing the Rome-Berlin axis already in the making since September 1937.

        Although Mussolini was ill at ease when meeting Hitler, in 1938 he boasted about the armaments, airplanes, and mighty power of the Italian nation. After three private meetings with Hitler, Mussolini also agreed to implement the racial laws against Jews and... "others."

        JE comments: Mussolini could have vindicated himself in history if he had persuaded Hitler to abandon his racial insanity.  This gets us back to my original question about how Hitler outmaneuvered Mussolini to become the top dog in the partnership.

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        • How Did Mussolini Become the Axis Junior Partner? (Nigel Jones, UK 08/19/17 3:50 AM)
          John Eipper (18 August) asked how it was that Hitler outmanoevred Mussolini and got him to follow Germany into his self-dug abyss even though this was clearly against Italy's interests.

          This is indeed a fascinating question. As early as 1923 when launching his botched Munich beerhall putsch, Hitler idealised Mussolini--who had come to power only a year before--and in many ways based his nascent Nazi movement on Italian Fascism.

          When he met Mussolini in Venice in 1934 soon after becoming Chancellor, Hitler was very much the junior partner in the relationship, cutting an awkward and shabby figure beside the strutting Duce.

          These roles were reversed over the next four years as German power and prestige grew. One key moment was the Anschluss annexation of Austria in 1938. Although Mussolini had rushed Italian troops to the Austrian border to thwart a Nazi takeover after the murder of Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in July 1934 in an abortive Nazi putsch (Dollfuss's wife was visiting Rome at the time), by 1938 the Duce tamely accepted the Anschluss, earning Hitler's undying gratitude.

          This is, I believe, yet another instance of Hitler's extraordinary ability to exercise an almost hypnotic power over people. Time and again Mussolini would meet him determined to stand up to the Fuhrer: only to crumble in his fellow dictator's actual presence and be reduced to acquiescent silence.

          It must be said that Hitler remained loyal to his ally to the end, rescuing and restoring the Duce to nominal power in German-controlled northern Italy after Mussolini was ousted by his own Fascist colleagues and the King in 1943.

          Had Mussolini resisted Hitler's fatal embrace and remained neutral in WWII, I have little doubt that the Fascist regime would have survived and prospered in the Cold War, just as Franco did in Spain.

          JE comments:  I'm overjoyed to hear from WAISer extraordinaire Nigel Jones after a summer-long silence.  Nigel:  did you spend much time this summer on the Continent?  Please tell!  My ever-growing Bucket List includes joining Historical Trips for a walk along the Western Front.



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    • Mussolini's Racial Laws, 1938 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/01/17 3:26 AM)
      I will try to clarify the questions raised by Salvatore Bizzarro, 15 August.

      It is very complicated for someone who knows the many good things accomplished by Mussolini, to speak about the Italian Racist Laws of 1938.  It is like sipping bleach and while smiling and saying it is delicious.

      Let's start with Mussolini. He was never anti-Semitic. It is enough to see his humanist socialist education, his Jewish lovers and his political actions. Many Jews joined the Fascist Movement from the beginning, and he placed many of them in his governments.

      The relations of the Jewish Community with Mussolini were excellent.  See the Gold Commemorative Medal on the occasion of the law of 30 October 1930 that abolished the last discrimination against Jews from reaching the highest ranks in Italy.  For some high-level appointments it had been necessary to be Catholic.

      Mussolini did not act in favor just of the Italian Jews, but also opened Nautical and Agricultural schools for foreign Jews.

      Mussolini maintained very good relations with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann (and Vladimir Zabotinskij), and in 1935 he asked for his help against the Sanctions, but Weizmann refused and sided with the UK.  Who knows if a different action could have changed history?

      Just a short time earlier, Mussolini had granted him thousands of visas for Jews escaping from Germany.

      The racist law was not anti-Semitic. In reality it was pushed forward following also the fact that in East Africa too many children were born from Italian fathers and local women. The problem was that many of these Italians were already married and that created big problems.

      Anyway, Italian racism had nothing to do with the Nazis. Himmler in 1943 stated: "Fascism and Nazism are two fundamentally different things. No comparison is possible between Fascism and Nazism." In fact the so-called Fascist racism was born in view of the possible war and the antagonism of World Zionism.

      Anyway the painful Italian Law "In Difesa della Razza" was not attacking all Jews. In fact the following groups remained untouched:

      1) Families of soldiers killed or wounded in previous wars.

      2) Families of soldiers who received decorations or who went voluntarily to wars.

      3) Families of Fascists killed or injured for the Fascist cause.

      4) Families of Fascists enrolled in the party in 1919-25.

      5) Families who had specific merits.

      Theoretically no Jewish doctor could take care of a non-Jewish Italian, but (in the typical Italian style) in case of an emergency it was permitted to call a Jewish doctor and so on. So in a population of 47,252 Italian Jews, about ten or eleven thousand could escape the law.

      Special schools were formed for the others, but the students generally could finish their studies. Many Jews lost their jobs and were placed in paid retirement. The order was to discriminate but not persecute.

      Fermi did not escape but was regularly sent to Columbia University in New York with regular paid leave from the University of Rome.

      The law was discussed by the Representatives and the Senators.  None voted against it and the lousy king approved.

      But the Jewish fascist Colonel Giorgio Mopurgo, in protest, advanced alone against the Republican lines in Spain until he was killed. He was awarded the gold medal. The Jewish fascist editor Fortunato Formiggini, a good friend of Mussolini, jumped from a window and killed himself in protest.

      There was no protest from the Vatican, and the future PM of postwar Italy, De Gasperi, said: "Italian racism shall develop in concrete actions of defense and enhance the values of the nation."

      We could go on at length to show the anti-Semitism of many who after WWII became antifascists.  See the historian Bocca, the ministers Spadolini and Fanfani. PM Andreotti ordered the burning of all the favorable declarations made by the post-WWII democrats.

      During the period of Italian neutrality, as I have written earlier on WAIS, Italy opened its borders (funny, Jews escaping to Italy in spite of the law), and helping both Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. When Italy entered the war, Italian troops received the order from Mussolini (in one way or another) to protect all Jewish Communities.

      During the war, at least while Mussolini remained in power, the Germans never dared to do anything against the Jews in Italy or in the Italian-occupied zones.

      About the protection of the Jews in the Italian-occupied zones, the General Prosecutor Husner in his speech against Adolf Eichman stated: "The Nation most dear to Israel is Italy for what its civilians, diplomats, and military have done to help masses of Jews in France, Greece and Croatia; moving into the Italian zone meant safety." There are plenty of reports on this matter that show the protection of the Jews by Fascists and by Mussolini himself.

      A dear friend of mine, when he was in the San Marco Division of the RSI had a Jewish mate loyal until the end.

      In such a policy there was also, perhaps, the willingness of Mussolini to show that Italy was much better than Germany and after a possible victorious war the European nations (perhaps excluding Croatia) would have sided with Italy in case of a possible showdown.

      JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia's "drinking bleach" analogy is priceless!  (Ever been to a faculty meeting?  A round of Clorox for everyone!)

      Eugenio, what do you mean by this:  "During the war, at least while Mussolini remained in power, the Germans
      never dared to do anything against the Jews in Italy or in the
      Italian-occupied zones"?  If this is accurate, then why were any of the Jewish Italians deported to the camps?

      To my mind the question boils down to this:  is there any way to sugarcoat racial laws?  Let us not forget that at the same time, the US had Jim Crow and many unwritten exclusions against Jews.  Gulp...bleach.

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