When did Italy surrender in World War II?

Just junior partner

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On June 10, 1940, Italy entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany. Mussolini wanted to secure a share of the booty, but had to submit and led his armies to ruin

By Gerhard Feldbauer *

Benito Mussolini announced the entry into the Second World War on the side of Hitler's Germany at a mass rally on June 10, 1940 in Rome. From the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia, his seat of government, he shouted the declaration of war on Great Britain and France: “People of Italy! To the weapons! We want to break the chains of territorial and military order that are strangling us in our sea, because a 45 million people are not really free if they do not have free access to the ocean. "

A year earlier, on May 22, 1939, Foreign Ministers Joachim von Rippentrop and Count Galeazzo Ciano, in the presence of Hitler, had signed a "Treaty of Friendship and Alliance" called a "steel pact," with the automatic establishment of mutual assistance - completely regardless of the reasons - aimed directly at the aggressions that started afterwards. At the time, Mussolini had asserted that he should absolutely avoid military conflicts in Europe until 1943 because Italy was not prepared for them. The Duce was able to point out that Italy had been waging exhausting wars of conquest for almost two decades: from 1922 to ’34 in Libya and from 1935 to ’36 with half a million soldiers in Ethiopia. In addition, Rome, with up to 150,000 men, 8,000 tanks and armored vehicles as well as 800 fighter planes and 90 warships, was more involved than Germany in the suppression of the Spanish Republic and had most recently invaded Albania and occupied it as a colony. Although the steel pact provided for precise military agreements, Mussolini was only informed by Hitler about the impending attack by the Germans on Poland shortly before it began. Mussolini declined to participate.

But now the events took a course that the "Duce" had not expected. After the lightning victory against Poland, the Wehrmacht achieved further successes against Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. When she took Dunkirk after the evacuation of the British-French troops on June 4, 1940 (see jW topic of May 26) and continued her offensive in France, Mussolini said "everything will be over in September" and decided to go to war to get a share of the booty. However, the Italian attacks on the Alpine front were hardly successful. During the armistice negotiations with France on June 24, 1940 in Rome, the "Duce" was unable to enforce his claims on Corsica, Tunis and Djibouti. Hitler only granted him a small stretch of coast on the Côte d´Azur. Not even Nice was left to him. Italy was allowed to use the port of Djibouti without recognition of ownership claims.

With Italy's entry into the war, the conflicting interests that had already become visible after Hitler came to power came to light more openly. On 12./13. In March 1938 Mussolini had to accept the annexation of Austria, which he had prevented in 1934. [1] The majority of the German-speaking population of South Tyrol (Alto Adige, Oberetsch) welcomed the incorporation. On October 21, 1939, Mussolini had to agree to an agreement with Hitler that allowed all residents who wished to be resettled. 86 percent chose Germany. By 1940/41 only 80,000 of the 300,000 Reich or “ethnic Germans” left South Tyrol. The resettlement was then canceled under the conditions of the war.

Attack on Greece fails

In the struggle for world domination unleashed by Hitler's Germany, the economically and militarily weaker Italian imperialism proved to be inferior to the more refined, more ruthless Germans who were more experienced in wars of aggression. Although the dictator was in power for a decade longer than the "Führer", the "Duce" soon had to be content with the role of junior partner. So he first tried to assert his claims to great power in the Balkans. In order to forestall Germany in subjugating the peoples there and to usurp some of the hoped-for conquests, Mussolini invaded Greece from Albania on October 28, 1940 with eight divisions, around 105,000 men, and around 400 aircraft. Hitler had not been informed of the attack. When the Chief of the General Staff Pietro Badoglio mentioned this, Mussolini replied: “Have they given us any information about the Norwegian campaign? Did they announce it in advance when they planned to start the offensive in the west? They did not consider us to exist - and now I will pay them back with the same coin. "[2] His offensive failed, however, because of the unexpectedly strong defense of the Greek army, which threw the Italians back into their original positions. The Hellenes benefited from the fact that some of the Albanian battalions incorporated into the divisions of Rome overflowed to them, and the rest were then disarmed. On March 9, 1941, the "Duce" made the second attempt to conquer Greece. A week after it began, this offensive also collapsed. Again, Berlin had not been informed. When Hitler found out about the attack, he is said to have "suffered a fit of rage". [3]

The Wehrmacht's aggression planning against the USSR provided for the attack on Yugoslavia and Greece to secure the south-eastern flank. Hitler initially waited. But then British support emerged and the Greeks began counter-attacks. As Goebbels noted in his diary, the matter gradually became embarrassing for Berlin. Since his Axis partner was "downright beaten" in front of the whole world, the Wehrmacht started the planned raid on Yugoslavia and Greece on April 6 from Bulgaria and Hungary in the run-up to the aggression against the USSR. From now on the Italian troops were placed under the command of the Wehrmacht. Outwardly, the face was saved and the "Duce" and the Comando Supremo were expelled as Commander in Chief until Mussolini was overthrown on July 26, 1943. The Greek fiasco made it clear that Italy could only tackle its expansion goals with German help. Mussolini had to subordinate his plans to those of Berlin, with Hitler's Germany taking advantage of Italy's strategic location as a springboard to reach the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East.

Adventurous advances in Africa

Misunderstanding the military possibilities, Mussolini had launched several attacks in North and East Africa as early as the summer of 1940. In July his troops advanced into Sudan and Kenya. On August 3rd they invaded British Somaliland, which they conquered almost completely on August 19th with the capture of Berbera. In September they penetrated from Libya in Egypt to Sidi Barrani. The adventurous attempts failed within a short time. Sidi Barrani was retaken by the British on December 10th. On January 22, 1941, their 8th Army took Tobruk under the command of Bernard Montgomery, and Marsa el Brega and El Agheila on February 8. The forces of the Empire smashed ten Italian divisions and took 130,000 prisoners.

On January 18, 1941, the attack on Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland began in East Africa under British command together with Ethiopian troops under the command of Emperor Hailé Selassié. After Addis Ababa was occupied, Emperor Selassié returned to the capital on May 5, 1941, exactly six years to the day after the invasion of Mussolini's colonial army. On May 18, 1941, the Italian troops surrendered in East Africa. It was the end of the East African colonial empire, from which the »Duce« after the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936 »wanted to change the colonial map of Africa and thus put the question of the reallocation of the world in practice« [4]. The complete defeat in North Africa was averted for the time being by the German Africa Corps, sent to help on February 6, 1941. Erwin Rommel, the commander of the German-Italian units [5], was only able to delay the defeat in this theater of war.

Burned up on the Eastern Front

On the Eastern Front, at the turn of the year 1943, the Italians shared the terrible defeats of the Wehrmacht. In the aggression against the USSR, Mussolini had to comply with the "steel pact" and render auxiliary services. In July 1941 he initially made a corps of four divisions available. In the summer of 1942 it was increased by a further eight divisions (Hitler had asked for 20) to form the Armata Italiana in Russia (Armir) to a strength of 230,000 men in order to compensate for the heavy losses of the Wehrmacht in the battle of Moscow. Together with the units from the satellite states of Hungary and Romania, the Armir had to hold a 270-kilometer front line within Army Group B on the Don. The full force of the Soviet counter-offensive that began in November hit them on the section that was much too wide for their personnel. When the remnants of the 6th German Army commanded by Paulus surrendered in the Stalingrad pocket between January 31 and February 2, 1943, the Italian Eastern Army no longer existed either. Their divisions were driven into the snow-covered Donets steppe between December 11th and 22nd, where they were encircled and largely destroyed. Only a few thousand soldiers returned to Italy.

The news about the behavior of the Germans towards the Italian soldiers almost weighed heavier than the catastrophic defeat. Even a report by the Italian General Staff dealt with it. It said that the Wehrmacht mercilessly left the Italians to their fate during the terrible retreat in the icy steppe, the German "allies" always denied the "Italians any help, seized all available motor vehicles, our wounded without means of transport, without food and without necessary When the fate of ARMIR became known in Italy in the early summer of 1943, it contributed significantly to the growing anti-war mood.

The myth of the "invincibility" of the Hitler army was destroyed. This led to the realization among the supporters of the fascist dictatorship in Italy that the war could no longer be won. Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who had spoken out against Italy's entry into the war in 1940 and resigned as Army Chief of Staff after the failure of the attack on Greece, had already taken action in the run-up to the defeat of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad. In November 1942 he had met with leading industrialists and greats of the Fascist Party in Milan in the apartment of the steel entrepreneur Enrico Falck to discuss Italy's departure from the fascist alliance. Participants were also representatives of the bourgeois opposition, among them the later Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi of the Christian Democrats. This was followed by the first explorations with Washington and London. [7]

Mussolini also had doubts about the "final victory" of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. However, he drew different conclusions. On December 1, 1942, during his visit to Rome, he said to Goering that "one way or another the chapter of the war against Russia, which no longer has a purpose, must be closed" in order to raise forces for the fight against the Anglo- Americans to win in the west and the Mediterranean. Count Ciano, who on 18./19. When he flew to the Fuehrer's headquarters at Wolfsschanze on December 31st, Hitler conveyed the Duce's position that, in order to avoid a two-front war with Russia, a solution of the kind of “new Brest-Litovsk peace” could be reached in order to be able to withdraw larger numbers of troops from the eastern front. Hitler replied that the main strategic goal remained "to smash the Bolshevik colossus". [8]

The German defeats on the Eastern Front affected the German-Italian units in North Africa. No necessary reinforcements could be brought in for them, as all forces were needed against the Red Army. British planes and ships, which mainly operated from Malta, sank 30 to 40 percent of the already inadequate supplies. In October / November 1942 this led to the failure of Rommel's offensive to conquer Egypt, which was to lead further into the Near and Middle East. With the defeat at El Alamein, in which Rommel's tank army lost over 50,000 men and some of their tanks and artillery, the turning point occurred in the North African theater of war. Rommel carried out Hitler's orders of November 2, "to hold the position at El Alamein, 'cost what it may," and "to win or to die." [9] He withdrew with the remaining armored and motorized formations 1,200 kilometers to the west, while the infantry divisions were mostly enclosed and destroyed or captured. Badoglio stated that, as on the Eastern Front with El Alamein, "the Germans (seized) all of our means of transport to accelerate their retreat and the Italian departments faced insurmountable difficulties." [10]

The conquest of Tunis and Biserta by German airborne troops in November 1942 only brought temporary relief. In March 1943, the Anglo-American troops, which were far superior in terms of soldiers and material, began their offensive. It ended on May 13, 1943 at Cape Bon near Tunis with the surrender of the 250,000-man Army Group Africa, half of which was made up of Germans and half Italians, from which Rommel had withdrawn in good time.

Change to the anti-Hitler coalition

When the Allies landed in Sicily on July 9, the crisis of Italian fascism openly broke out. After the war had ruined Italy economically, the displeasure against the fascist movement grew not only in circles of the generals and the royal family, but also among the big bourgeoisie. Fear that the Resistancea, dominated by communists and socialists, could overthrow Mussolini in a popular uprising led the conspirators to get rid of the Duce in July 1943 in order not to be drawn into the defeat of Hitler's Germany.

King Vittorio Emanuele III, who joined the palace revolt, instructed Marshal Badoglio to form a new government that concluded an armistice with the Allies and, with the declaration of war on Germany on October 13, 1943, sided with the anti-Hitler coalition. Mussolini, who was imprisoned on the Gran Sasso, was freed by an SS command under Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny and formed a puppet rule under the occupation regime of the Wehrmacht, which followed Hitler's Germany into decline until five minutes after twelve.

Still, Hitler made Italy the scapegoat for the German defeat. In April 1945, in his so-called Political Testament, his “effective impotence” had become “Germany's undoing”. He returned to the Italian failures in Greece and claimed in all seriousness that the necessary intervention by the Wehrmacht had resulted in the "ominous delay" of the Russian campaign and the defeat on the Eastern Front.

Remarks
  1. When, on July 25, 1934, SS-Standarte 89, which was directly subordinate to the leadership in Berlin, wanted to give the signal for the German invasion with a putsch after the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dolllfuss, Mussolini had to support Austria, which he considered his sphere of influence and stepping stone looked at the Balkans, sent four divisions to the Brenner Pass. Hitler had to give in and postpone the connection.
  2. Pietro Badoglio: Italy in World War II. Munich / Leipzig 1947, p. 52
  3. Gerhard Schreiber: German war crimes in Italy. Munich 1996, p. 17
  4. Bernhard Law Montgomery. War history. World history in battles and campaigns. Frechen 1968, p. 506 f.
  5. The structural designation was initially Panzergruppe, later Panzerarmee.
  6. Roberto Battaglia / Giuseppe Garritano: The Italian resistance struggle 1943–1945. Berlin / GDR 1970, p. 15
  7. Ray Mosley: Between Hitler and Mussolini. The double life of Count Ciano. Berlin 1998, p. 182 ff.
  8. Andreas Hillgruber (Ed.): From El Alamein to Stalingrad. From the war diary of the OKW of the Wehrmacht, Munich 1964, p. 27
  9. Ibid, p. 53
  10. Badoglio, op. Cit., P. 54
Gerhard Feldbauer, former Italy correspondent of New Germany, last wrote on these pages on April 28th. about Mussolini's end.

* From: Junge Welt, Tuesday, June 9, 2015


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