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Post Why Did Mussolini Seek a Friendly Regime in Spain?
Created by John Eipper on 04/04/21 4:02 AM

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Why Did Mussolini Seek a Friendly Regime in Spain? (Angel Vinas, Belgium, 04/04/21 4:02 am)

Of course I don't intend to go into a dialectical battle with Eugenio Battaglia. It would be futile. I apply the German proverb Des einen Eule ist des anderen Nachtigall or, to follow Mr. Google, one man's meat is another man's poison.

Although I don't claim to be an expert on Italian foreign and security policies, I've been working hard to understand the reasons for Mussolini's prior support to the Spanish Monarchist conspirators since 1932, the year after the arrival of the Second Republic in Spain. Those reasons were all but benevolent. Criss-crossing Italian documents and those still available of the Spanish conspirators (Sainz Rodríguez, conde de los Andes, Gen. Sanjurjo and scattered others), I came to the conclusion that Mussolini was seeking to help establish a pro-Italian and anti-French regime in Spain. Why? Because little by little, once the Italian-German disagreement about Austria was overcome, Mussolini had decided to go arm in arm with the Third Reich with a view to achieving a reordering of the European status quo. He never contemplated any other alternative. Spain had the key to the Western Mediterranean if there was to be a war against France and Great Britain. This happened, of course, in 1940. Four years earlier Mussolini was well aware of Italy's inability to face two established empires. That he did so in 1940 only shows how deluded he was.

Several Italian historians (I remember Prof. Ceva) and other English authors (MacGregor Knox) have underlined that the losses in men and particularly in war matériel encountered in Spain between 1936 and the end of 1938 contributed to a substantial weakening of Italian military muscle. Apart from the fact that France and the UK had more time to rearm.

In this respect, the fight of the Spanish Republic to ensure its survival against the onslaught of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany could retrospectively be interpreted as the Spanish Left's contribution to the defeat of the Fascist powers.

Gibraltar was a critical flash point for the UK in the European war. It was the key to the Western Mediterranean. If the British Navy could have been prevented from entering it via the straits and the Italians could have closed the Suez canal in the Eastern Mediterranean, the whole area might have become an "Italian lake." Happily this was not to be.

Mussolini was bitterly disappointed by Franco. It is fair to say that Franco played with him like a baby in spite of all the help he had received from Italy and notwithstanding Mussolini's magnanimity in condoning in 1940 a very substantial part of Franco's war debt (the Germans didn't proceed along the same lines: debts are debts).

In general terms, both Italy and Germany came too late for their renewed imperial building activities after the First World War. I'd say fortunately. The Fascist dictators plunged the world into a horrendous new war and achieved nothing for their peoples. Without Hitler and Mussolini, there would have been difficulties among the satiated and unsatiated powers, but a second world war?

JE comments:  Franco famously disappointed one and all--especially his friends.  Yet ironically, he would later prove satisfactory to his quondam enemies, the Western democracies.

Ángel, my biggest takeaway from this post is the suggestion that Mussolini's Spanish intervention exhausted his armed forces to a point of near-irrelevance in WWII.  It's a provocative thesis, although there is the counterexample of France, for whom 20+ years of rearmament achieved very little.


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  • How Much Did Mussolini's Spanish Intervention Weaken Italy in WWII? (Paul Preston, -UK 04/05/21 3:16 AM)
    A couple of points in support of Ángel Viñas's arguments about Mussolini's objectives in Spain and the negative consequences for Il Duce (April 4th):

    One of the clinchers for Mussolini's support was Franco's promise--via the Italian military attaché in Tangiers, Major Giuseppe Luccardi--of future subservience. That, if Mussolini gave him limited military aid, he was prepared to make Spain a fascist satellite, "a republican government in the fascist style adapted for the Spanish people" (intende instaurare governo repubblicano tipo fascista adattato popolo spagnolo). He promised that, if Italy smiled on his cause, "future relations will be more than friendly" (se Italia favorisce, future relazioni saranno più che amichevoli).


    Regarding the military consequences for Italy, I quote from my chapter on Mussolini in a book that I edited with Sebastian Balfour, Spain and the Great Powers (London: Routledge, 1999). With help from Lucio Ceva and Brian Sullivan, I concluded the following:


    "In September 1939, Italy had ten relatively well-equipped divisions and 800 functioning combat aircraft. By May 1940, there were 19 divisions and 1600 relatively modern aircraft. If what was used up in Spain had been available in September 1939, Italy would have had 30 divisions. 764 aircraft were left in Spain included one hundred Savoia-Marchetti SM79 trimotors--a quarter of those available for bombing, air-torpedoing and reconnaissance. An additional 442 modern artillery pieces and 7,000 vehicles might have made a decisive difference in Albania or in Libya where Graziani complained that he could not attack Egypt for the lack of 5,200 aircraft. Similarly, had the 373 Fiat C.R.32 fighters left in Spain, condemned as obsolete, been available in North Africa, they could still have dominated the even more antiquated British aircraft in use there."


    If Eugenio Battaglia would like to check my sources in this regard, Luccardi's reports are in the Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. For the military consequences of Mussolini's help to Franco, I would direct him to Lucio Ceva, "Conseguenze politico-militari dell'intervento italo-fascista nella guerra civile spagnola," in La guerra civile spagnola tra politica e letteratura a cura di Gigliola Sacerdoti Mariani, Arturo Colombo & Antonio Pasinato (Florence: Shakespeare, 1995) pp.222-26; Mario Montanari, "L'impegno italiano nella guerra di Spagna" in Memorie Storico-Militari 1980 (Roma: Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell'Esercito, 1980) p.152; Brian R. Sullivan, "Fascist Italy's Military Involvement in the Spanish Civil War," The Journal of Military History, Vol.59, No.4, October 1995, pp.711-12.


    JE comments:  I'm doing some back-of-the-envelope math.  If we put the strength of a division at 10,000, the eleven "missing" divisions due to Italy's intervention in Spain would translate to 110,000 troops.  Of the 80,000 Italians who fought on Franco's side, only (what a grim adverb) some 4000 were killed.  I see how Spain chewed up valuable Italian planes and weaponry, but in the harsh calculus of warfare, Italy's loss of personnel doesn't seem militarily significant.

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