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Post Mussolini-Hitler Collaboration in 1938
Created by John Eipper on 08/17/17 5:44 AM

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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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