Italy formally entered World War II on June 10, 1940, as one of the Axis powers. However, the war did not go well for the country. A disastrous invasion of Greece, hard fighting in North Africa and the loss of thousands of Italian soldiers on the Russian Front combined with heavy Allied bombing of industrial cities made the war years a difficult time for Italians. And it only got worse: following an Allied invasion and dictator Benito Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943, the new Italian government declared war on Germany and the country became a battlefield. The German army in Italy finally surrendered in April 1945 and Mussolini was executed.
Mussolini nursed an ambition to create a modern Roman Empire, and worked to achieve this in the 1930s by invading Abyssinia in 1935 and annexing Albania in 1939. He also reinforced pre-existing Italian colonies in north Africa by encouraging Italians to live there; an estimated 150,000 Italians, for example, lived in colonial Libya by 1939, making up around 20 percent of the country’s population. Realizing Germany's increasing power in Europe, Mussolini made the decision to go to war alongside Hitler to avoid losing the territories he regarded as his “part in the booty.”
Axis With Germany
Italy’s entry into the war was influenced by a series of pre-war agreements signed with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. A 1936 treaty of friendship was followed by the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937, an agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan to cooperate against the Soviet Union. May 1939 introduced a military aspect into the agreements, with the signing of the Pact of Steel. The signing of the Tripartite Pact between Italy, Germany and Japan in 1940, which formally brought Italy into the war, was the logical conclusion to years of diplomatic activity.
Desire for Independent Action
Despite the Tripartite Pact, relations between Germany and Italy were not good in the early summer of 1940. The Germans made important military decisions, like occupying Romania, without consulting Italy and Mussolini realized that his country was only a junior partner in the alliance. As a result, he decided to go ahead and make his own moves without consulting German leaders, and invaded Greece in October 1940. Mussolini himself described this as an attempt to “pay back Hitler in his own coin.”
Destruction of Communism
Germany and Italy shared a desire to destroy or neutralize Communism. As a right-wing politician, Mussolini and his Fascist party followers had consistently opposed Communism in Italy since their rise to power in 1922. Although the totalitarian state Mussolini created shared characteristics with Soviet Russia, such as nationalizing industry under state control, as a Fascist he believed in capitalism and was fundamentally opposed to Communist ideology.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Axis Alliance in World War II
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Italy, Foreign Policy
- History.co.uk: Italy World War 2
- History Today: the Foreign Policies of Hitler and Mussolini
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Libya, Italian Colonization
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Benito Mussolini, Role in World War II
- Yale Law School: The Avalon Project, Three-Power Pact
- The Flow of History: Benito Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism in Italy
- Constitutional Rights Foundation: Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images