Mussolini became leader in October 1922. He became "IL DUCE" within three years of 1922 which gave him unlimited power over Italy. Italy had previously felt cheated by the Big Three in the Peace Conference and Mussolini wanted Italy to create a new "Roman Empire".
It was difficult to fulfil these aims as Italy was very poor, land was owned by richer countries and Italy's ideas were disregarded by the main countries. In the peace conference, Orlando, the Italian leader, withdrew because his claims to territory in the North Adriatic were refused by Wilson. The peace conference was seen as so unsuccessful to the Italian nationalists that they called it "the mutilated victory".
However, they were still a little regarded by the main countries, because the USA was isolationist, Japan was remote, old powers were weak and Italy had power over the centre of the Mediterranean.
Italian's Early Actions (1922-1924)
Mussolini came into power in a coup where he threatened to storm the Italian capital with 300,000 fascists unless he was made Prime Minister. As there was an important election in April 1924, Mussolini needed to make himself look confident and successful.
- Corfu and Greece 1923: In August 1923, 5 Italian soldiers were killed while surveying the border between Greece and Albania. Mussolini demanded 50 million lire compensation from Greece, and Greece refused to pay. Mussolini then bombarded the Greek island, Corfu, and seized it. The Big Powers tried to intervene, but Mussolini had the case heard in front of the Conference of Ambassadors rather than the League of Nations. The conference ruled in favour of the plaintiff, Italy; Greece was persuaded to pay the money. Mussolini then withdrew his troops.
- Fiume 1924: Fiume and Dalmatia were given to Yugoslavia at the Peace Conference, although Italy demanded them from the main powers. Italy had seized Fiume once before in 1919, but was returned to Yugoslavia by Italian troops. In January 1924, Mussolini agreed with Yugoslavia that if they gave Fiume to Italy, they would drop demands for Dalmatia. The Italians, including Mussolini, knew that they would never win over Dalmatia, but the Yugoslavians gave it them regardless.
Mussolini's Policies 1925-1935
When Mussolini was safely in power, he no longer needed to do that well. He had room to throw his weight around and felt safe in making his own decisions. He still wanted to be seen, by other countries, as a responsible leader and one that is reasonable, amiable and negotiable. He still remained wary of the possibility of any relationship or alliance between Germany and Austria, and the the rise of the Nazi party. Therefore, Mussolini tried within his power to make good acquaintances with the leaders of Austria and steer them away from German manipulation.
Mussolini also tried to form good allies with France and Britain between 1925 and 1935. In 1925, he signed the Locarno Pacts. In 1928, he signed the Kellog-Briand Pact which disregarded war, but he later told the senate that to follow that pact would be to "commit national suicide" in the same year. The Putsch in Austria, which we have spoken about before, was stopped by Mussolini to protect its independence from Germany. Finally, in 1935, he agreed with France to settle disputes of Tunisia, and he took this as compliance to his future plans for Abysinnia. He signed the Strese Front too. Therefore, between these years, Italy had formed a good relationship with Britain, and especially the Foreign Secretary (Austen Chamberlain). Austen Chamberlain said that "the fortunes of Italy are directed by a very remarkable man". Churchill, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that Mussolini was "the antidote to the Russian virus".
Abyssinia Crisis 1935
Mussolini wanted to build up an Empire in Abyssinia and to avenge Italy's honour when defeated at Adowa in 1896. In December 1934, Italian forces invaded Walwal in Abyssinia. Mussolini then began building up forces in neighbouring states, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, while the incipient fighting intensified. There was a signed agreement between France and Italy in January 1935 to drop dispute of Tunisia. Therefore, Italy thought that France complied to her current plans to invade Abyssinia. Mussolini invaded Abyssinia using poison gas and modern warfare on 3rd October 1935. Also, at the end of the Strese talks came a conference. A question to MacDonald was asked about Abyssinia and he completely disregarded it. This was further evidence of compliance from the states to Mussolini.
Mussolini captured the capital of Abyssinia by the 5th May 1936.
Haile Selassie appealed to the League, who happily placed sanctions which stated that none of the members of the League should trade with Italy. However, the world's main foreign exchange and trade came from America, who wasn't a part of the League. Britain and France agreed to the Hoare-Laval pact, which contracted Italy to ownership of 2/3 of Abysinnia while the rest would remain self-governing. The British now had two options: support Mussolini and distance the League of Nations; oppose Mussolini and support the League of Nations. In the end, the sanctions were dropped in June 1936.
Spanish Civil War
This civil war began in July 1936 and ended in 1939. There were two sides to this war: the elected Republican government of the Popular Front which was supported by the USSR, Mexico and 30,000 soldiers of the international brigades; the Nationalists opposing the Government including Catholics and mocarchists who were led by General Franco.
The Nationalists won because of their support from Italy and Germany.
British created the "Non-Intervention Committee" in August 1936, which condemned support for either side of the war in February 1937. This didn't prevent Italy and Germany from helping.
The Anglo-Italian Relationship
Evidence that, between 1936-1940, Mussolini was close to Hitler
- The Spanish Civil War (see previous page).
- Italy and Germany formed the "Rome-Berlin Axis" in 1936 where the two countries would co-ordinate foreign policy.
- Italy, Germany and Japan signed the "Anti-Comintern Pact" to resist the USSR's expansion.
- Mussolini finally accepted the Germans taking over Austria (Anschluss) in March 1928.
- In September 1938, Mussolini negotiated for terms of Germany in Munich.
- From the points below, we can see that they were distant to eachother. However, in April 1939, they signed the "Pact of Steel".
Evidence that, between 1936-1940, Mussolini wasn't close to Hitler
- Czechoslovaia was broken up without consultation with the Italians in March 1939.
- Mussolini seized Albania without consultation with the Germans in April 1939.
- Mussolini didn't help in the war until it suited his army.
Britain and Italy: Appeasement
Britain was very worried about the growing threat of Hitler and his possible ally, Mussolini. The oil supplies of Britain also passed through the Mediterranean, so appeasing the Italians was crucial for their economy.
- The Cabinet voted to end sanctions as Abyssinia was no more. This was done in June 1936. Neville Chamberlain claimed that the sanctions were the "very midsummer of madness".
- Neville Chamberlain sent his sister-in-law, Ivy Chamberlain, to Mussolini to appease him and to discuss negotiations in December 1937.
- In January 1938, Eden (who we will talk about later) resigned because of the "Halifax" visit. Chamberlain took over Foreign Secretary.
- The Easter Accords were signed in 1938 (April) which sweared that Italy wouldn't interfere in Palestine and wouldn't post anti-British progaganda.
- November 1938, Britain ratified the Easter Accords.
- Chamberlain visited Mussolini, with Lord Halifax, to persuade him to talk Hitler to lessen his demands.
Britain and Italy: Distancing
It is obvious that Britain distanced Italy by placing sanctions on them with the Leauge. Therefore, it is only fitting that the Italians retaliated:
- Italian radio broadcasts named Britain as the "Protector of Islam" against Britain.
- Italy supplied cheap arms to independent Arab states to undercut Britain's position.
- Mussolini broke the Easter Accords when Mussolini sought to spread Italian forces and territory to easter Mediterranean and the Balkans. Additionally, it was broken when Italy helped finance a revolt in Palestine.