Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

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Sid Guttridge
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Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 03 Jan 2021 14:39

Hi Guys,

I am opening this thread at the request of DrG.

Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

As Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War by Davide Rodogno explains, there was a big discrepancy between Mussolini's pre-war claims and the very minor territorial adjustments actually made, which conformed only to the very minor gains made by the Italian Army in mid-June 1940. The far larger pre-war claims raised their heads again within months. On 9 October 1940 Mussolini wrote to Hitler that his claims against France in Europe were restricted(!) to the Nizzardo (Nice area) and Corsica. Other such plans were still being drawn up by the Italian Armistice Commission in 1942.

So, why didn't Mussolini seize the moment and go for all he wanted in late June 1940?

And why did he restrict his annexations only to those very limited areas already captured by his Army, which fell very far short of his ambitions? If it had got further, would he have annexed the additional territory as well?

Did the Germans put the brakes on him?

If I had £100 to spare I would buy Rodogno's book. Sadly I'll have to settle for: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZcU ... no&f=false

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by DrG » 04 Jan 2021 03:19

I am glad that you used Rodogno's book as a source because I think it is the best research made by leftist historians in Italy (by the way, I have its Italian edition, which costs 39 euro, not cheap but not an act of robbery as the English edition; if you will ever buy it, please write me a private message, because I would like to check if a serious typo present in the Italian edition has been corrected in the translation), but it deals mostly with the occupation of foreign territories, not with the diplomatic matters.

But now let's go on topic.

There are two main points about Mussolini's strategy during WW2 that I think should always be kept in mind and are often overlooked:
1) the lack of natural resources for Italy;
2) the primacy of politics (i.e. the art of governance and reaching agreements) in front of ideology (i.e. abstract and theoretical principles) and military matters in Mussolini's mindset.

There are also three further concepts about the Italian war, typically used by historians (mostly Renzo De Felice) that should be understood:
A) short war: a war lasting no more than a few months and which can be waged by making use of pre-war stocks, autarchic production and the amount of imports compatible with a state of war with an enemy with a strong Navy;
B) long war: a war of indefinite lenghth, anyway long enough to require necessarily an amount of imports well beyond the limits of a naval blockade, by the increase of land or maritime trade (the latter beyond the reach of an enemy Navy);
C) parallel war, i.e. waging a war with military and political aims distinct and not necessarily cohordinated with Germany. The military part was abandoned since the beginning of 1941 and never recovered (with the exception of the Navy), the political part was kept in force throughout the war, with a relatively lower importance since Barbarossa till El Alamein.

Italy started WW2 with the assumption of following the short war model (A), and the armistice with France should be considered in this context. [off topic: the Greek campaign was the primary consequence of the passage to the long war (B), caused by the postponement of Sea Lion, and the need of opening the sea routes to the Black Sea and thus to Soviet exports. At the same time, it depended on the parallel war (C), because the German occupation of Romania deprived Italy of its sole sizeable source of oil not subject to another power.]

The following chronology of the Italo-French war of June 1940 will provide, in my opinion, a good understanding of how factors 2, A and C played a determinant role, leaving the military actions to the distant and irrilevant background.

In early June marshal Badoglio met the French attaché in Rome, gen. Parisot, whom he knew since the last weeks of WW1. Badoglio's and Parisot's accounts of the meeting are somewhat contrasting in the form (i.e. on 5 June Badoglio told the Chiefs of Staff of the Italian Armed Forces that Parisot literally begged him, while Parisot told Weygand, again on 5 June, that Badoglio was the first one to raise the matter), but not in the substance: the Italian Armed Forces would not have attacked France in case of declaration of war.
Meanwhile, the French ambassador François-Poncet had almost daily meeting with Ciano and had given to Mussolini an official letter by his Government pledging that France was not planning a surprise attack on Italy (not that in June 1940 it made much importance...).

During the aforementioned meeting of the Italian Chiefs of Staff and top military leaders (Badoglio, Soddu, Graziani, Cavagnari, Pricolo and Armellini) of 5 June, Badoglio reported his meeting with Mussolini of the preceding day: "The Duce does not want to intervene with bombings of Corsica, Tunisia, French coasts, if the French will not take the initiative. This makes me think that he does not want to cut the bridges with France to keep her good. But these are only my ideas." Then he added: "We must not lay mines in front of French ports."

On 6 June Mussolini and Badoglio confirmed the order of not attacking the French.

On 7 June Badoglio wrote an order to the Chiefs of Staff: "Confirming what I communicated in the meeting of the Chiefs of Staff of 5 June, I repeat that the precise idea of the Duce is the following: keep absolute defensive stance towards France (Alps-Corsica-Tunisia-Djibuti), both in land and air. In the sea - if we will meet French forces mixed with English ones, both the forces will be regarded as enemy and attacked - if we will meet French forces alone, follow their stance and do not be the first ones who attack, unless this will place us in an infavourable position."

On 8 June a further and more detailed order (number 847) was sent to the command of the Army Group West in Bra, Piedmont, signed by Graziani (the signature was a forgery by Badoglio, Graziani was enraged by this fact - Graziani wanted to attack - but Badoglio took the written order from Graziani's hands, added "I approve" on it and signed it by his hand), which stated: "It is thus confirmed: - that no action beyond the border must be taken without an order from this Command - and that no unit or group will be allowed to cross materially the border line. It is added: - that no aircraft (of the squadrons Regio Esercito) will be allowed to fly above French territory until a new order; - that our troops and artilleries will not open fire as first on French troops or positions." The orders sent to the command of the Air Force imposed that no aircraft should fly close to the border but keep a distance of at least 10 km.

On 10 June Italy declared war on France (Ciano met François-Poncet at 16:30) and UK (Ciano met the British ambassador Loraine at 16:45), with military operations starting at 00.00 AM of 11 June (the declaration of war followed the form used with Austria-Hungary on 23 May 1915).

On 11 June the RAF started a bombing raid on Italian cities, agreed with the French on 31 May, but the British Vickers Wellington were stopped on the French airport of Salon by the French commander of the base, following orders from gen. Vuillemin. Instead, 13 of the 36 Armostrong Withworth Whitleys flying directly from Britain managed to attack Turin and Genoa in the night on the 12th.
Due to the bombing of Turin and Genoa, on 12 June Mussolini ordered retailation bombings on some French bases (Toulon, Bizerte, etc.), which then were attacked on 13 June.

These bombings caused a break of the unofficial truce between Italy and France. On 14 June the French Navy bombarded Genoa and Savona, therefore Mussolini ordered "small offensive operations" that same day. On 15 June Mussolini ordered to start an offensive on the whole front since 18 June, but Badoglio dissuaded him on technical grounds, so on 16 June the order was modified to smaller operations, that would have started after 10 days.

In the night between 16 and 17 June the French communicated their will to sign an armistice to the Germans through the Spanish diplomatic channel and did the same with Italy through the Vatican in the morning of 17 June (it seems that the hours of difference between the two channels were due simply to the respect paid to the Papal Nuncio, who was not summoned by the French in the mid of the night). 17 June is a very interesting day, because it caused a lot of stress in the Italian government: the Vatican was informed after the Spanish and was quite slow in its communications to the Italian diplomacy, therefore Mussolini spent part of the day fearing that the French were going to sign a separate armistic with Germany alone, leaving Italy fighting both with UK and France. The fear of a separate armistice by the stronger ally is a constant in Italian history, as it had happened also in 1859 between France and Austria and again in 1866 between Prussia and Austria. So at 15:30 of 17 June the full scale offensive was put ahead to 23 June instead of 26, but then, when finally the French offer for an armistice had arrived to Mussolini, a new order was issued at 18:10: "The hostilities with France are suspended."

Then, at 20:30 Mussolini, Ciano, gen. Roatta, adm. De Courten, gen. Perino (Regia Aeronautica), etc. took a train to Munich to meet Hitler for a conference about the French armistice. It was during this travel that the first draft of the occupation of French territory was written. A draft based on the assumption that the armistice would have been only one: France with both Germany and Italy at the same time. The main points were: occupation of continental France as far as the Rhône, Corsica, Tunisia, Algiers (the city alone, not the full colony of Algeria), Ouran, Casablanca, Djibuti, the consignation of the French fleet and air forces.

On 18 June, in the afternoon, Mussolini and Hitler alone, and then along with their top commanders and diplomats, met in Munich and, again, something very important happened. On the one hand, Hitler enlarged the Italian occupation zone, including an area as far as the Saône (line Dijon-Culoz-Chambery) and the French coast on the Mediterranean as far as the Spanish border (line Avignon-Nîmes-Perpignan), on the other hand he refused to ask the French fleet and air forces, fearing that the French would not have accepted the conditions, and, most important, he did not want to sign a single armistice for both Italy and Germany. The armistices would have been separate, but the German one would have entered into force only after the signature of the Italian one. This is a crucial point: if the Italo-French negotiations had failed, the Franco-German armistice would have been void. This meant that, on the one hand, Italy hadn't to fear another 1859 or 1866 (at least in theory), but any failure would have been fully its fault, causing a serious crisis with Germany. Hitler, in fact, had made it clear that he did not want to fight small enemy forces everywhere in the world and that the war had to be ended as soon as possible, to avoid an American intervention, at least in terms of supplies to UK and France.

The Italian delegation returned in Rome on 19 June, at 18:50, and at 20:50 gen. Roatta ordered gen. Battisti, chief of staff of the Army Group West, to: "Restart immediately the small offensive operations on the whole Alpine front. Take or retake contact with the enemy, that must be pressed with the utmost decision and the utmost courage." This order might look unclear, given the French request of an armistice, and it is clearly in contrast with the one of 17 June at 18:10. The reason is that also Italy had to make pressure on France to be sure that the French would sign a separate armistice also with Italy. Separate but, at the same time, decisive for the Germans too. The habit of increasing the attacks on an enemy shortly before signing an armistice or a truce, anyway, has always been normal in history.

In the morning of 20 June, Badoglio met Mussolini and opposed the latter's idea of a large scale attack on the whole Alpine front. At 17:00 Badoglio and Mussolini had another meeting, this time with the Chief of staff of the Army, marshal Graziani, who instead agreed with Mussolini. Therefore, at 19:00 of 20 June both the 1st and 4th Armies were ordered to attack since 3 a.m. of 21 June. Then Mussolini changed his mind and phoned Roatta to stop the offensive, but Keitel had asked when the Italian attack would have started and thus the attack of the 4th Army (the one closer to the Germans) was confirmed at 21:10 and instead that of the 1st Army was posponed to 22 June.

While the 4th Army was starting its offensive, on 21 June at about 11:30 Mussolini agreed with the first version of the armistice, which followed the lines agreed with the Germans in Munich on 18 June. Then, at 19:45 Mussolini, who had just read the text of the German armistice with France, called Badoglio and Roatta and told them that the only French territory put under Italian occupation would have been that materially occupied by the troops at the time of the signature of the armistice. Roatta asked to add a demilitarized strip 50 km deep in French territory and to demilitarize the bases of Toulon, Bizerte, Ajaccio and Mers-el-Kebir. Mussolini agreed with these small changes.

On 22 June, in the early afternoon, Mussolini wrote to Hitler that: "In order to ease the acceptance of the armistice by the French I have not included in the clauses the occupation of the territories on the left bank of the Rhône, of Corsica, Tunisia, Djibuti, as we had planned in Munich. I have limited myself to the minimum to be asked, i.e. a demilitarized zone 50 km deep. I think this is the minimum indispensable also to avoid accidents. For the rest I have adopted the clauses of the German armistice."
It should be noted that, on that same 22 June, the French general Huntzinger, chief of the French armistice delgation in Compiègne, complained with Keitel that "if we will be put by Rome in front of unacceptable conditions... everything will fall down. You will hurt us again, but we will never sign."

Then, at 19:30 of 23 June the French delegation reached Villa Incisa in Rome, where met Ciano, Badoglio, Roatta, Cavagnari and Pricolo and was handed the text of the armistice clauses. In the night Hitler, having known the Italian conditions, asked to add at least a further occupation zone linking the Italian and the German ones, therefore separating France from Switzerland. Mussolini, Roatta and Soddu debated this idea, but it was discarded because the French had already received the Italian conditions and it would have been unfair to change them.

The French delegation informed its government, which met in the morning of 24 June to debate the clauses. They were welcomed very positively by most of the ministers, because those conditions were much more lenient than foreseen. Yet the French journalist and historian Jacques Benoist-Méchin wrote that, at the same time, some members of the French government were disappointed by the moderation of the Italian requests, because they hoped that they would have been so unreasonable to stop the negotiations and thus prevent the entry into force of the German armistice.
The Italo-French armistice was signed in Villa Incisa in Rome on 24 June at 19:15.

In conclusion, the reasons underlying the very moderate Italo-French armistice were purely political, due to Mussolini's fear of causing a restart of the war with France, and were caused by Hitler's choice, probably for the same reasons of Mussolini, to sign two distinct armistices, avoiding to tie Germany to Italy's requests. So, if ever the negotiations had been broken by the French, it would have been Italy's fault alone.
The military aspect, instead, was practically irrilevant: as I have explained above, Mussolini had decided the main points of the armistice in the afternoon of 21 June, i.e. a few hours after the beginning of the attack by the 4th Army which, in such a short time, of course could not have reached any target, let alone occupy large areas of France. By the way, it is perfectly normal that the occupation zones do not coincide with the territory effectively controlled by the winner at the signature of the armistice, just think about the occupation of Japan and its former colonies after WW2 or the German Rhineland after WW1.

While I have based my account on several sources, the main ones are:
- Renzo De Felice, "Mussolini l'alleato. I. L'Italia in guerra 1940-1943. 1. Dalla guerra breve alla guerra lunga";
- Franco Bandini, "Tecnica della sconfitta";
- Emilio Faldella, "L'Italia e la Seconda guerra mondiale. Revisione di giudizi".

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by sailorsam » 15 Feb 2021 23:34

simple answer; Italy's army couldn't move the French out of the way when they finally attacked

and Hitler wanted France for hisself.

may have helped motivate Mussolini to go into Greece, which did not end well either.
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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 06 Mar 2021 20:32

There is another political aspect. The armistice of June 1940 was considered at the moment a temporary arrangement by both the Germans & French. Hitlers intent had been to negotiate with the British, and dictate with the French a larger long term peace treaty. When the Brits failed to see they were beaten & continued resistance Hitler placed the French settlement on the shelf until the Brits also asked for terms. I suspect had there been a general peace settlement as Hitler intended later in 1940 or early 1941 then Mussolini could have asked/demanded far larger portions or territory. Since Italys armies occupied a large swath of the southern maritime provinces it did effectively control that territory.

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by DrG » 07 Mar 2021 01:38

Just a note about the Italian point of view on the armistices with France in 1940, which confirms Carl Schwamberger's message: the Italo-French armistice did not contain any economic articles, because Badoglio deleted them from the draft, stating that their presence was useless since the war would have finished by a couple of weeks, as he told to Amedeo Giannini, the diplomat in charge for the economic matters in the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who recalled this fact in his article about Badoglio published after the war.

In another article, by the way, he recalled that German and British envoys were negotiating in Sweden in June 1940. [A request to the fanatics of the Manichean religion of WW2 who infest this forum: this is what Giannini wrote, based on the information he had, I just report it, do not burn me at the stake if this piece of information interfers with your deeply rooted misconceptions about WW2 as the ultimate struggle of Good vs. Evil. Thanks]

A clarification to Carl Schamberger's post: the Italian occupation of South-Eastern France happened only after operation Torch, instead the conquests of June 1940 were negligible.

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 07 Mar 2021 10:43

Hi DrG,

My apologies. I had forgotten about this thread until it resurfaced just now.

Your first post was quite the best thing I have seen you write. Indeed, it is one of the best things I have seen on AHF because it sheds new light on an area barely addressed in English-language historiography.

What I get from it is:

1) That Mussolini made no military preparations for an immediate attack on France before declaring war on 10 June.

2) That having declared war he had no intention of firing a shot.

3) That, nevertheless, on 17 June he had extensive claims on French territory. (".....occupation of continental France as far as the Rhone, Corsica, Tunisia, Algiers (the city alone, not the full colony of Algeria), Ouran, Casablanca, Djibuti, the consignation of the French fleet and air forces.")

4) On 18 June Hitler suggested he take even more of southern France.

5) That Mussolini's actual attack on France was designed to keep pressure on the French to sign an armistice with Italy, not in the expectation of a major advance to gain any of these territories.

On the morning of 20 June Mussolini reportedly told Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Chief-of-Staff of the Italian Army, “I do not want to suffer the embarrassment of the Germans occupying Nice and then handing it over to us.” It thus appears that the Italian Army’s objective was reduced to Nice.

The Italians seem to have been caught in a vice. The Germans were continuing to advance until France signed an Armistice with Italy as well. Their army needed time to get to Nice as soon as possible to pre-empt the Germans, but the Armistice also had to be concluded quickly lest the Germans got their first. Nice was only reachable in the little time available in the event of a French collapse leaving their Alpine Maginot line undefended, but no such collapse occurred.

Basically, events were largely outside the Italian Army’s hands to influence.

Cheers,

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by Futurist » 22 Mar 2021 23:28

Sid Guttridge wrote:
07 Mar 2021 10:43
The Italians seem to have been caught in a vice. The Germans were continuing to advance until France signed an Armistice with Italy as well. Their army needed time to get to Nice as soon as possible to pre-empt the Germans, but the Armistice also had to be concluded quickly lest the Germans got their first. Nice was only reachable in the little time available in the event of a French collapse leaving their Alpine Maginot line undefended, but no such collapse occurred.
This shows just how good of a natural defensive border the Alps were! Even when the rest of the French front was collapsing, French forces in the Alps were holding steady! Of course, it probably didn't help the Italians that they're not exactly known for being good warriors. They're not like their ancestors the Romans, that's for sure! :D

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Mar 2021 08:59

Hi Futurist,

That is a generalisation about the Italians I cannot support.

It might be "known" "that they're not exactly known for being good warriors", but how true is it really?

And how many measure up to the Romans at their peak, anyway?

Cheers,

Sid

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by DrG » 24 Mar 2021 01:11

A book which I have read recently (Pietro Pastorelli's "Dalla Prima alla Seconda guerra mondiale") and the book I am reading right now ("I diari e le agende di Luca Pietromarchi (1938-1940)") provided a couple of serendipities about the assumptions of this topic, i.e. the Italian territorial claims on France.

This matter, as it is known, became a serious international incident on 30 Nov. 1938, when many deputies of the Italian Chamber claimed loudly "Nice, Cosica, Tunis and Savoy", when the new French ambassador Fraçois-Poncet, who had just recognized the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, was visiting the Chamber. According to Pastorelli, the origin of this incident has to be traced to the contemporary Franco-German negotiations for the pact signed on 6 Dec. 1938. A non aggression agreement which, on the one hand, gave to the Germans the idea that France had given them a free hand on their Eastern borders (since the Treaty of Versailles, France had always refused to accept a German recognition of the Franco-German border without a contemporary recognition of its borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia; yet, on 6 Dec. 1938, France accepted this), and on the other hand it was feared by Italy as a possible break of the Rome-Berlin Axis. Italian aims were mostly against French and British colonial interests, but, with the German guarantee to France, Mussolini feared that the Italian support given to Germany for the Anschluss would not get any compensation. So, he decided to escalate cold bloodly a crisis with France, in order to sabotage the Franco-German relations due to the uproar in the French public opinion which, in turn, had already been accustomed by its press to see Fascism and Nationalsocialism, and therefore Italy and Germany, as if they were the same thing.

Yet, once the relations between Germany and France had returned to their usual coldness, Mussolini met Baudouin in Rome in late February 1939 and explained his position. Baudouin was a close friend of Bonnet, but also an extremeley wealthy man, first of all one of the main shareholders of the Djibuti-Addis Abeba Railway company. As Pietromarchi recalls in his diary, on the 25 Feb. 1939, "Ciano has received him [Baudouin] for an hour and a half. The Duce has received him twice with the utmost courtesy. The requests of the Duce are not of a territorial nature."
Pietromarchi does not explain which were this requests, but the usual ones were a larger share in the equity of the Djibuti-Addis Abeba railway (and Baudouin was the right man, as he was also personally involved) and a better legal status for the Italian community in Tunisia.
Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.

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Re: Why did Italy not not follow up its pre-war rhetoric by making extensive territorial claims from France in 1940?

Post by DavidFrankenberg » 10 Jul 2021 18:56

Mussolini didnt want Hitler to occupy whole France.
Hitler knew this.
Hitler was a bit fed up when he saw the Italians rushing for France when the war was over...

That's why Hitler didnt ask for anything to the french in the name of Mussolini. He let the french do whatever they want.
Only when Mussolini begged for Hitler's help he intervened and give him some parts of southern France.

Mussolini could not claim anything by himself indeed.

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