May 22nd in German History: Germany and Italy Sign the Pact of Steel

The Signing of the Pact of Steel.

One often incorrect assumption made about the Axis Powers in the Second World War is that said powers were close allies that cooperated often and amiably. This could not be further from the truth. Initially, Italy was even opposed to German expansion and attempted to maintain the independence of Austria. However, the unwillingness of France and Britain to stand against Hitler forced Italy to take a more friendly position towards Germany. Mussolini began to believe that through an alliance with Germany, Italy would be protected and would be able to gain territory when Germany defeated France and the UK. To formalize their alliance, German and Italy signed the Pact of Steel, a military and economic alliance.

The Pact of Steel was a comprehensive treaty which detailed more cooperation between Italy and Germany. It called for the two nations to cooperate in military economic production, to join each other’s wars, and maintain permanent diplomatic relations, and to preserve each other’s interests. Secret parts of the Pact even called for the joint creation of propaganda. Perhaps the most restrictive part of the Pact was the clause which banned either nation from entering into a separate peace deal. It was signed by Count Ciano of Italy and Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister. The Pact of Steel would be honored by Italy, although only one year after WWII started as Italy was not ready in 1939, and in fact was still not ready in 1940. This lack of preparedness caused Italy to bungle its military operations in Southern France, North and East Africa, and in Greece. Italian military failures overshadowed whatever success they did have, and led Germany, and in particular Hitler, to loose faith in their ally. As the war dragged on, cooperation between the two nations broke down in North Africa as the two co-belligerents blamed each other for military reverses and the Italian population became more resentful of the war. Much of the Italian government turned against Mussolini and Germany. In 1943, the King of Italy would remove Mussolini from power and make peace with the allies, violating the pact. Germany would turn on its former ally and invade it, killing many Italian soldiers and civilians and set up a Fascist puppet government in Northern Italy. Germany and other Axis powers would take territory from the Italian corps. However, these gains would soon be wiped away as Germany, increasingly isolated as Romania and then Hungary turned against it, collapsed in 1945. Germany’s willingness to treat its allies equally would only hurt its war effort, as its exploitation of Italy for its fleet, Romania for its oil, and Hungary for what army it had would turn governments and populations against it.

Nazism had many failings, but one of its most fundamental resulted from its inherent belief in German supremacy and the inferiority of other ethnic groups. Ironically, Germany would end up fighting the English and the Norwegians, two groups that Hitler had a favorable view of, and allied to Italians and Romanians, two groups Hitler had little but contempt for. Germany’s unwillingness to fully cooperate with its allies, and their unwillingness to cooperate with Germany, would weaken the Axis war effort and precipitate defeat. What’s more, Germany simply broke many of the promises of equipment and fuel that it made to Italy, Romania, and other nations that only entered the war on the condition that they would receive German aid. Germany lacked loyal allies or even faithful vessels. The Allied victory in the Second World War depended on cooperation, and the Axis defeat was in part the result of mutual suspicion, dishonesty and chronic failure to communicate.

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