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

By Reynolds M. Salerno | Go to book overview

[6]

“A drama that will remake the map of the continent”: December 1939—June 1940

MUSSOLINI'S DECISION FOR INTERVENTION

Italian-German affairs remained fluid at the end of 1939. In addition to the enduring conflict over the German-speaking population in Alto Adige, events in Scandinavia and the Balkans threatened the stability of the Axis. Yet at the same time these events, especially when considered alongside the developing crisis over Italian coal imports, contributed to the maturation of Axis relations in early 1940 and the decision for Italian intervention. The Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November stunned and infuriated the Italians. Spontaneous student demonstrations in support of Finland and hostile to Russia broke out throughout the country and lasted for more than a week. Ciano noted optimistically that “the people cry 'death to Russia' but think 'death to Germany.'” Although Mussolini had grown increasingly comfortable with the Soviets since August, largely as a result of their recognition of Ethiopia and Albania in November, even he condemned the Russian attack on the Finns. The Soviets' protest of the demonstrations and subsequent recall of their ambassador cemented Mussolini's reaction. He informed Mackensen in early December that Italy held the British and the French responsible for the greed of these Soviet “crooks” but reaffirmed that for Italian policy “Bolshevism remained enemy number one.” Mussolini also encouraged Ciano to include direct attacks on the Russians in the foreign minister's speech of 16 December to the Camera dei Fasci e Corporazioni. When Finland asked the Italians to extend their moral support to the material realm, the Fascists agreed. In early January Mussolini approved the dispatch of Italian pursuit-plane pilots and air-artillery men to Finland. 1

Although Mussolini and Ciano agreed on what policy Italy should fol

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