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

By Reynolds M. Salerno | Go to book overview

[1]

“The very midsummer of madness”: 1935—37

THE MEDITERRANEAN CRISIS

The year 1935 started optimistically for Anglo-French-Italian relations, largely as a result of the three countries' shared concern over Germany's growing power. On 7 January Mussolini and French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval signed an agreement that proclaimed the “necessity of maintaining the independence and integrity of Austria.” In an Anglo-French communiqué the next month, the British expressed approval of the Franco-Italian accords, and the two states promised to consult with other interested powers if any state menaced Austrian independence or integrity. Following Nazi Germany's first open repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles—proclaimingthe existence of an air force, reintroducing conscription, and initiating construction of twelve submarines—representatives of Britain, France, and Italy met in Stresa in early April and adopted a resolution—the Stresa front—that accepted “no unilateral repudiation of international obligations, ” reaffirmed the intention to consult one another if any power threatened the independence of Austria, and stated that they would actively pursue an air pact. By June the French and Italian militaries had developed plans for joint military operations to defend Austria and to prevent German remilitarization of the Rhineland. 1

Although these arrangements collectively could have contributed to the creation of a formidable anti-German coalition, their value was damaged by the Anglo-German naval agreement of June 1935 and the subsequent outbreak of a crisis in the Mediterranean. The naval agreement sanctioned the expansion of the German Kriegsmarine up to 35 percent the size of the Royal Navy. Although the British believed the arrangement would limit future German shipbuilding and not jeopardize Britain's ability to defend its interests in Europe or the Far East, the Germans planned to exploit it to fa

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