Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

By Reynolds M. Salerno | Go to book overview

[5]

“Keep the Allies guessing”: September 1939—January 1940

ITALIAN NONBELLIGERENCE

Nonbelligerence sat poorly with Mussolini. A great power, which he believed Italy had become, had a responsibility to uphold its alliance commitments and not shrink from the sacrifices of war. Although he understood that Italy was militarily and economically unprepared for war, the Duce in early September made it clear to his foreign minister that “he was not all happy” about his country's predicament. Ciano wrote that Mussolini hoped for an early peace because “the position of neutrality weighs heavily upon him.” Other ministers reached similar conclusions. Giuseppe Bottai noted that nonbelligerence for Mussolini was “a failure, a betrayal.” Felice Guarneri explained that Mussolini displayed the “mortified expression of one who was doing something popular against his will.” 1By contrast, Italian nonbelligerence quite satisfied Ciano. The foreign minister envisioned a “period of fat neutrality” so that Italy could “gather economic and military strength and intervene effectively at an opportune moment.” Although he detested the idea of fighting alongside the “deceitful” Germans, neither did Ciano have any interest in the success of Britain and France, much less in joining the Allied cause. The “prudent policy” that he endorsed was “to fight like a lion to preserve peace for the Italian people.” 2

The repeated signs of Italian military unpreparedness assured the skeptical Mussolini that Ciano's approach to the war was the most appropriate for Italy. Carlo Favagrossa, minister of war production, reported to Mussolini in early September that Italy had only enough stocks of raw materials to fight for three months. General Carboni indicated that even if Italy had adequate supplies, its military would fare dreadfully in war because of its poor training, equipment, and command structure. Summarizing these

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