ITALY AND PLAN BARBAROSSA OF AUGUST 23, 1939

J. CALVITT CLARKE III
JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY

Although bound by treaty and common effort in war, Italy and Germany in the first half of 1941 often held conflicting interests. Neither trusting the other, in the last weeks, those tense weeks in June before the Nazis launched their invasion of Soviet Russia, rumors, the normal confusion of incoming diplomatic and intelligence information, and intentional German dissembling, all left Italy's leaders foundering as to the exact meaning of the events unfolding around them.(1)

Divining, however, that a war against Soviet Russia was in the offing, and flippantly willing to participate in it,(2) Benito Mussolini and Galeazzo Ciano, the Duce's son-in-law and foreign minister, met Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop at the Brenner Pass on June 2. The Führer mentioned not one word about his plans for his coming Soviet campaign, only three weeks away,(3) and Foreign Minister Ribbentrop mendaciously assured Ciano that rumors of operations against the Soviet Union were "devoid of any foundation or at least [were] excessively premature."(4)

Several days later, Mussolini reacted with his typical ambivalence. On the one hand, he ranted against the small amounts of coal, oil, and scrap iron coming to Italy from and through the Reich, amounts so small that Italy would be forced to fight, in his words, an "ersatz war." On the other hand, and despite having hitched his star to Hitler's wagon, the Duce remarked that he would not be sorry if Germany "lost many feathers" in a war against the USSR, and he offered that this just might happen. The only question, thought the Duce, was whether or not twenty years of Soviet propaganda had been enough to create in the Russian masses a sufficient sense of "heroic mysticism."(5)

Dissatisfied with having to rely on Germany for economic supplies, Italy in the first half of June was seriously negotiating the details of a significant economic exchange with Moscow.(6) Reflecting wishful thinking and no doubt buoyed by these negotiations, on June 14 the Soviet news agency TASS denied the very existence of the very real tensions dividing the USSR and Germany.(7) Although some of his colleagues thought that the TASS communiqué meant a relaxation of the crisis, Augusto Rosso, Italy's ambassador in Moscow, correctly argued that if this were so, then Berlin would be saying something similar. While Moscow was anxiously working to avoid a conflict, Germany's intentions remained unclear, and Rosso suggested that Berlin perhaps was waging only a war of nerves rather than truly intending to attack the Soviet Union.(8) After Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, the German ambassador to the Kremlin, suggested that Italy might even remain aloof from a Soviet-German war, Rosso begged Rome for information and instructions.(9)

As TASS was making its announcement, Ciano was meeting with Ribbentrop in Venice. In a gondola on the way to dinner, he asked about the many rumors of the impending attack. Despite Ribbentrop's protestations of ignorance, Mussolini on June 15 directed the Italian military attaché in Berlin to offer Hitler an army corps if war should break out, and three days later the Italian high command issued orders for constituting the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia.(10)

Everything, after all, pointed to war.(11) For example, when the nervous German representatives in Moscow sent their wives and children back to the Reich, Rosso urged that the Italian wives and female embassy employees likewise be sent home. They finally were on the 19th, two days after the last German dependents had left.(12)

That same day, Schulenburg asked Rosso what Italy would do in case of a Soviet-German war. And if Rome and Moscow did sever relations, under whose protection would Italy place its interests? Still without instructions or even information from Rome, Rosso suggested that the only real choice lay between Switzerland and Japan. In his report, he promised Ciano that he was prepared to destroy his cipher materials as needed.(13)

On the 20th, Schulenburg informed Rosso that, according to his information, Italy would not join a Soviet-German conflict. He thought that the Royal Embassy would remain in Moscow, and he even asked the Italian ambassador to take care of his personal affairs. Rosso asked his bosses what he should do. The Embassy, he again assured Rome, would be ready for any eventuality.(14)

Merely one day before the final reckoning, Ciano acknowledged to his diary that the signs pointed to war. What should Italy do? "The [abstract] idea of a war against Russia," he wrote, "is in itself popular, inasmuch as the date of the fall of Bolshevism would be counted among the most important in civilization," but, he added, Italians did not like the idea of this particular war which would be fought for no "obvious" or "convincing" reason. Ciano finished, noting that Berlin believed that the war would be over in eight weeks, "and this is possible," he continued, because "military calculations in Berlin have always been better than political" ones. "
But what if this should not be the case? If the Soviet armies should show . . . a power of resistance superior to that the bourgeois countries have shown, what results would this have on the proletarian masses of the world?"(15)

Perspicacious questions. Unfortunately, neither he nor Mussolini particularly shared their hopes, fears, or even basic information with their ambassadors. They thus did not have to examine their policies drifting fatalistically toward the vortex of an expanded war, where the inevitable risks were many and the potential rewards few. Italy, after all, was the tail to the German wolf, and Berlin had established a ranked priority for dealing with its allies on the forthcoming invasion: Finland, Hungary, and Romania, all stood higher than did Italy--the cofounder of the Axis.(16)

Italy's inferior position is clearly witnessed by the way in which Hitler belatedly informed his ally of his move. At 3:00 a.m. on June 22, the German chargé saw Ciano in his private apartment and gave him the Führer's long, ritual letter, addressed to the Duce, who was out of town.(17) After thanking Mussolini for the uninvited offer of Italian soldiers, Hitler insisted that there was no need to rush them to the front "for in this immense theater of war the troops cannot be assembled at all points at the same time anyway." Hitler, who limply justified himself for having kept the Duce in the dark about his plans, was more interested that Mussolini focus his attentions elsewhere to protect Germany's flanks. He wrote:

You, Duce, can give the decisive aid . . . by strengthening your forces in North Africa; . . . by [building] . . . a group which . . . can march into France in case of a . . . violation of the treaty; and . . . by carrying the air . . . and . . . submarine war . . . into the Mediterranean.(18)
With the chargé, Ciano phoned the Duce to relay the news. Mussolini's wife, Rachele, after the war remembered:
We were staying at Riccione when the telephone rang. . . . To avoid waking Benito, I suggested that the caller phone back later, but he refused . . . : "I have to tell the Duce that Germany has just declared war on Russia." I ran to Benito's room and woke him, but when he came to the phone it was not to listen; he spoke long and irritably in German. When he had hung up, he said furiously, "It's madness. It's our ruin. They should never have attacked Russia."(19)

Later the Duce peevishly ranted, "Not even I disturb my servants at night, but the Germans make me jump out of bed at any hour without the least consideration."(20)

In the end, however, nothing could be done except to express understanding and approval--and to join in on the kill. Italy declared itself to be at war as of 5:30 on the morning of June 22, and, ignoring the Führer's druthers, Mussolini again offered Italian troops for the Russian Front.(21)

The German attack apparently surprised the Soviet Embassy in Rome no less than it had the Duce. Although the staff had been aware that something was brewing, they had not seemed preoccupied, nor had they made any preparations to leave the country. In fact, June 22 caught virtually all of them spending a languid Sunday morning at Fregene, one of the seaside resorts near Rome. Ciano tried to contact the Soviet ambassador, Nikolai Gorelkin, but could not see him until 12:15 pm, after he had been located and had returned to Rome. According to Ciano, Gorelkin received the news of war with his typical "lackadaisical indifference." The anti-climactic conversation at Palazzo Chigi lasted but two minutes.(22)

Because no newspapers were published on Sunday, the Italian government at noon publicly declared war in an official communiqué read over the radio. An unusually hot and sultry day, the announcement caught most of Rome, just as it had the Soviet Embassy, by surprise and at seashore. The people's reaction was muted, showing neither enthusiasm, dismay, nor, as one observer put it, "the slightest change in daily life." The lesson learned seemed to be that the end of the war was far away--for Italians, unhappy news indeed.(23)

Italy's declaration of war clearly concerned Rosso, who only found out about it from Soviet radio. Without official instructions from Rome and deprived even of information, he eventually managed to meet with Deputy Foreign Commissar Andrei Vyshinskii to ask if the radio's information had been correct. An embarrassed Rosso had to ask the deputy commissar why Italy had declared war.(24)

Just what had possessed Mussolini to declare war on Soviet Russia?(25) And what possessed him to back up that declaration with an active military presence? Mussolini wrote Hitler on June 23 suggesting several benefits deriving from the attack: it deprived Britain of its last hope on the continent; it brought the Axis back to its true anti-bolshevist doctrine, temporarily abandoned for tactical reasons; it brought back to the Axis fold disillusioned anti-bolshevik elements throughout the world; and, finally, it would bring to economic cooperation with Europe a "new Russia, diminished in territory and liberated from Bolshevism," a Russia which would supply the raw materials necessary for Germany and Italy to thrive. The Duce rejoiced at Hitler's decision "to take Russia by the throat."(26)

Giving the Axis too much credit for planning and cooperation, many observers incorrectly assumed that Hitler and Mussolini had plotted the campaign and Italy's role in detail during their Brenner meeting of June 2. Presumably, the first step had been completed; only a few days before June 22, Italy had sent troops to garrison the Greek territories occupied by Germany, thereby releasing soldiers and equipment to the Soviet Front. Italy presumably would convoy German troops, materials, and foodstuffs through the Adriatic to the Aegean, thereby lightening the burden on the railroad system straining to supply the German advance.(27) At same time Italy would patrol the entrance to the Dardanelles, while the Luftwaffe in Crete, reinforced by the contingents which had left Italy only a few days before, would be kept ready to stave off any possible action by the British fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and to prevent its joining with the Soviet fleet. Foreign press reports continued that the Germans saw their attack as part of a plan to exclude Britain from the Eastern Mediterranean. They expected to reach the Soviet-Turkish border on the eastern shore of the Black Sea in a few weeks. They then would move against Britain in Middle East.(28)

The day following Italy's declaration of war, propagandists shrilly shouted Rome's purposes to the foreign press:

1. This conflict is along the constructive lines of Europe's renovation undertaken by the Axis powers; 2. The war is not directed against the Russian people but against bolshevism (and looks also to liberate its subject peoples . . . ); 3. The history of Soviet diplomacy is nothing but one of contradictions and double dealings; 4. [Germany has] . . . irrefutably established the aggressive intentions of Russia; 5. The British Empire has tried to include the USSR among its allies in its effort to carry on the war.(29)

Soviet historians have accused Mussolini of leading a "Christian Crusade" against bolshevik Russia.(30) Not a specious charge. Civiltà Cattolica, for example, exhorted: "In their prayers Catholics should not forget to add this urgent wish: the salvation of 180 million souls lorded over by a few militant atheists."(31) Clearly many of the religiously oriented rejoiced at the attack against what the Catholic Avvenire called "the anticipation of the anti-Christ." A fascist, non-Vatican paper specializing in religious news, Avvenire continued: "Two years of intimate suffering between idealistic imperatives and the compromises of reality have finally ended. We are above all believers. We believe and hope that the anti-Bolshevist drive is the sign of predestination . . . . England and the United States can no longer make man believe in the good faith of those who fight for Russia."(32) Italian propagandists accused the United States of entering an "unholy alliance" by pledging its aid to the communist state. Hoping for support from US Catholics, the sometimes sleazy fascist propagandist, Virginio Gayda, wrote: "This open association of the Anglo-Saxon world with Sovietism can only deepen its moral isolation from the many free peoples who have respect for civilization and the realization of the danger that threatens it from the plot of Moscow."(33)

Italian propagandists further declared that the Soviets had merely modified Marxism to meet Russia's Asiatic needs, and the solidarity between bourgeois plutocracy and Soviet communism was not founded alone on the anti-European and anti-Japanese interests of the English and Slavs, but also upon the Hebraic, bolshevik experiment.(34) These forces had mobilized to annihilate the real revolution, the one in Italy and Germany resolute to liberate Europe's workers from their oppression at the hands of English capitalism and Russian imperialism.(35)

Mussolini made his decision to join the fighting in the East rather casually, in part because he often seemed convinced that the Russians were so racially inferior that they could put up no great resistance.(36) One fascist in the early winter of 1941 intoned that "half-breed Slavo-Mongols" were racially degenerate, and Russians did "not possess the offensive spirit and sense of initiative that constitutes the true military spirit," because they, unlike fascist soldiers, had for centuries been forced to obey as slaves.(37) Further, the Duce thought poorly of the Soviet army, which fascist propaganda had criticized for being too politicized and even too mechanized.(38) Mussolini thus occasionally could persuade himself that the war would be won in a few months, and he feared that if he remained outside of it, Italy would lose its place in the sun, and he would lose his reputation as one of the chief prophets of anti-communism. He pugnaciously had to show himself and the world that he was as much in charge of the war as was Hitler.(39)

Avarice also intruded into Rome's calculations. Despite already being stretched in the Balkans and North Africa,(40) to gain his share of the spoils, Mussolini had to have troops fighting, conquering, and dying on the Eastern Front before the war's imminent end.(41) Rome presumptuously lusted after the economic benefits to be had from the breakup of the Soviet empire, and the foreign ministry's documents brim with extensive reports on the various nationality regions, especially the Ukraine and Transcaucasia, and their diverse separatist movements.

One long report, for example, confidently concluded that the Ukraine, with its natural outlets to the Black Sea, geographically should be part of the Mediterranean's economic system, and the Italian and Ukrainian economies were "absolutely complementary." The report called for building "a truly European Ukrainian State" and accused the USSR of trying, in the name of autarky, "to subtract the Ukraine from the new Europe."(42) Arguing that the Ukraine could not survive economically without the help of a great power, these documents suggested that Ukrainians would welcome Italy's presence to balance Germany's influence.(43) Rome clearly believed that the Ukraine especially, but other areas as well, were worth detaching, and, with unbecoming hubris, Italians thought that they were the ones to do it.

Actually, Mussolini's true views about bolshevik Russia are surprisingly hard to sort out. In the years before the war, he occasionally hoped to make common cause one day with Stalin against the democracies, and some fascists had welcomed this prospect.(44) After the war began, contradictions arose from his trying both to justify the war in Soviet Russia and ultimately to exculpate himself from its failure. Sometimes he pretended always to have known how strong the Soviet Union was;(45) sometimes he admitted its strength had surprised him.(46) To some he repeated that the war against Red Russia had been inevitable and perfectly timed; to others he maintained that the Germans had attacked against his advice;(47) and to others yet he insisted that he had urged Hitler to come to a compromise peace with Stalin.(48)

Hardly more than one week after his declaration of war, Mussolini expressed this fundamental ambivalence to Ciano:

I hope for only one thing, that in this war in the East the Germans will lose a lot of feathers. It is false to speak of an anti-Bolshevik struggle. Hitler knows that Bolshevism has been non-existent for some time. No code protects private property like the Russian Civil Code. Let him say rather that he wants to vanquish a great continental power with tanks of fifty-two tons which was getting greedy to settle accounts.(49)

Hence, ignoring German reluctance, Ciano's misgivings, and his own doubts, Mussolini dispatched an expeditionary force under the command of General Giovanni Messe, to whom he explained, "We cannot count less than Slovakia and the other minor states. I have to be at Hitler's side in Russia as he was at mine in the war against Greece and now in Africa. Italy's destiny is intimately bound up with Germany's."(50) Here Mussolini had cut to the core, where lay pride and subservience, fatalism and tragedy.(51)

Although Mussolini in August told Hitler that he preferred deploying his troops in the Ukraine, where, as he explained, the average temperature generally "does not go lower than six degrees below zero [centigrade],"(52) he fantasized that the Italians were superior to the Germans, "both in men and equipment." Lamenting that Germany's military attaché judged the situation differently, Ciano mused: "
Now the Duce hopes for two things: either that the war will end in a compromise which will save the balance of Europe, or that it will last a long time, permitting us by force of arms to regain our lost prestige. Oh, his eternal illusions!"(53)

As Mussolini began to transport his troops to the southern part of the front,(54) he ignored Hitler's pleas that there was no hurry. Speed seemed vital to the Duce, and the expeditionary force was equipped negligently. Planes were sent without deicing equipment. The motorized divisions were still largely without transport, and some of these troops had to cover a thousand miles on foot. In fact, the term "motorized division" had been a publicity gimmick, and later Mussolini audaciously blamed the Germans for not providing trucks to save these men from destruction.(55)

In a colorful ceremony on the morning of June 26 at Verona, the Duce reviewed the first motorized division of the expeditionary corps heading to the Russian front. The official communique proclaimed that the Italians "presented themselves in a superb manner, complete with men, arms and motor vehicles."(56) But Ciano was skeptical: "
[Mussolini] defined it as perfect [Ciano wrote]. Be that as it may, I am concerned about a direct comparison between our forces and the Germans. Not on account of the men, who are, or who may be, excellent, but on account of their equipment. I should not like to see us play once more the role of a poor relation."(57)

The spearhead of the hastily assembled troops passed through Vienna on July 13. A member of Italy's Embassy in Berlin noted that they were dirty, ill-equipped, and likely to make a bad impression.(58) And they did. After the war, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel bitterly remembered yet another group as they were reviewed by Mussolini and Hitler in Galicia near the end of August. He called them "a boundless disappointment" and asked, "How were half-soldiers like these supposed to stand up to the Russians, if they had collapsed even in face of the wretched peasant folk of Greece?"(59)

Clearly, Mussolini's fascist legions, so gratuitously thrown into the fray, were not the sort of stuff to turn into reality the Duce's fantastic dreams of a new Roman Empire.

FOOTNOTES
1. Italy, Ministero degli Affari Esteri,
I documenti diplomatici italiani [hereafter cited as DDI], (Rome, 1953-81), 9th (series), (vol.) 7: nos. 46, 102; Massari, note, 5/20/41: Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Direzione Generale degli Affari Politici, URSS (Rome) [hereafter cited as MAE (Rome) AP URSS] b(usta) 38 f(oglio) 1. For more rumors and other signs of increasing tensions, see Germany, Auswartiges Amt. Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 [hereafter cited as DGFP], (Washington, DC, 1949-83), (series) D, (vol.) 12: nos. 433, 486, 504, 506, 519, 521, 527, 532, 535 and Galeazzo Ciano, The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943: The Complete Unabridged Diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936-1943, ed. Hugh Gibson, with an Introduction by Sumner Welles (Garden City, NY, 1945), May 14, 1941.
2.
DGFP, D, 12: 924; Italy, Ministero della Difesa, Stato Maggiore dell'Esercito--Ufficio Storico, Le operazioni del C.S.I.R. e dell'Armir: Dal giugno 1941 all'ottobre 1942 (Rome, 1947), 36.
3.
DGFP, D, 12: no. 584.
4.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 200; Galeazzo Ciano, L'Europa verso la catastrofe. 184 colloqui con Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Chamberlain, Sumner Welles, Rustu Aras, Storadinovic, Goring, Zog, Francois-Poncet, ecc., 1st ed. (Milan, 1947), 660-61. For the extent of Soviet-German cooperation after August 1939, see United States of America, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers [hereafter cited as FRUS], 1941, Vol. I, General: The Soviet Union (Washington, DC, 1958), 116-55; Viktor Levonovich Israelian and Leonid N. Kutakov, Diplomatiia agressorov: Germano-Italo-Iaponskii fashistskii blok. Istoriia ego vozniknoveniia i krakha (Moscow, 1967), 106; "Russian Supplies to Germany During the Period from 28 September 1939 to 22 June 1941," Quarterly Bulletin of Soviet-Russian Economics (Nov. 1941): 42-44; "Russia's Help to Germany," New Statesman and Nation 18 (Oct. 28, 1939): 601-02; and The Times (London), June 4, 1941.
5. Ciano,
Diaries, June 6, 1941. See also Bova Scopa to Ciano, 6/2/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f8.
6. Rosso to Ciano, 6/8/41; Under-Secretary for Military Production, circular, 6/11/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f5; DAC 2, circular, 6/14/41:
ibid., b38 f7; DDI, 9th, 6: no. 952; 7: no. 260.
7.
DGFP, D, 12: no. 629; FRUS, 1941, 1: 148-49. For more signs of Soviet-German tensions, see DGFP, D, 12: nos. 548, 550, 573, 591, 593, 604, 639, 640, 645, 646, 649, 654, 655, 658.
8.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 256. At the end of May, Rosso had reported on "diffuse" and "contradictory" rumors that Berlin wanted concrete guarantees on the supply of raw materials for a determined number of years and the right to send troops through the USSR to Iraq or Turkey. Ibid., no. 187. The Italian Embassy in Berlin likewise reported that the Germans were telling the Soviets that the choice was either armed conflict or substantial economic and territorial concessions, which would include Germany's administration of the Ukraine for an unspecified number of years and its control of all Soviet railroads. Zamboni to Ciano, telegram 4974R/878, 5/17/41; Zamboni to Ciano, 5/29/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1. For similar contentions, see The Times (London), May 14, June 12, 14, 18, 20, 21, 1941. For more on the view from Berlin, see Leonardo Simoni (pseudo. Michele Lanza), Berlino: Ambasciata d'Italia (1939-1943) (Rome, 1946), 216-42.
9.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 252.
10. Ivone Kirkpatrick,
Mussolini: A Study in Power (New York, 1964), 496-97; Ciano, Diaries, June 14, 15, 1941. Ribbentrop said that at the end of the month Hitler would probably be presenting the Soviets with an ultimatum. Ciano saw through Ribbentrop and correctly concluded that Hitler had already made his decision to attack. Ciano, Europa verso la catastrofe, 667; DDI, 9th, 7: no. 260. Giovanni Messe, La guerra al fronte russo: Il corpo di spedizione italiano (C.S.I.R.) (Rome: Rizzoli editore, 1947), 16, 20; Emilio Faldella, L'Italia e la seconda guerra mondiale: revisione di giudizi, 3rd ed. rev. and enl. (San Casciano, 1967), 206-09, 239-40, esp. 208; DGFP, D, 12: 924; Denis Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire (New York, 1976), 243.
11. Cicconardi to Ciano, 6/6/41, 6/12/41, 6/19/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 fl;
DDI, 9th, 7: nos. 257, 258.
12.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 251; Rosso to Ciano, 6/17/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 fl; Rosso to Ciano, 6/21/41: ibid., b38 f6; Rosso to Ciano, 6/23/41: ibid., b38 f7. For Laurence Steinhardt, the American ambassador in Moscow, more telling than the recall of the German and Italian wives was that the counsellor of the German ambassador had sent his dog, his "inseparable" companion, back to Berlin. Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (New York, 1948), 299; Lyman B. Kirkpatrick Jr., Captains Without Eyes: Intelligence Failures in World War II (London, 1969), 65. The Japanese general staff insisted that in case of a Soviet-German war, Japan would be at the side of its Tripartite allies. Indelli to Ciano, 6/20/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1.
13.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 275; Mario Toscano, Designs in Diplomacy: Pages from European Diplomatic History in the Twentieth Century, trans. and ed. George R. Carbone (Baltimore, 1970), 249.
14.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 282. See also Rosso to Ciano, 6/20/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1. Dino Alfieri, Italy's ambassador in Berlin and former ambassador to the Kremlin, predicted that action against the USSR would begin sometime between the end of June and the beginning of July. He opined that Germany's military task would not be overly difficult--the problem lay in how to usefully organize the vast Soviet territory to be captured. Alfieri continued that for the moment, Berlin seemed exclusively interested in economic matters. Any pact with Moscow, however, had to be backed by sufficient military forces. After his victory, Hitler could then turn to the decisive campaign against England. DDI, 9th, 7: no. 285.
15. Ciano,
Diaries, June 21, 1941.
16.
DGFP, D, 12: nos. 431, 614; Barton Whaley, Codeword Barbarossa (Cambridge, MA, 1973), 142-47; Aleksandr Moiseevich Nekrich, 22nd June 1941: Soviet Historians and the German Invasion, ed. Vladimir Petrov (Columbia, SC, 1968), 86, 91-95; Kirkpatrick, Captains Without Eyes, 43-44. See also Georgii Semenovich Filatov, Vostochny pokhod Mussolini (Moscow, 1963), 12, and The Times (London), June 16, 1941. Soviet propagandists had long disparaged Italy for falling completely under German influence. See, e.g., Rosso to Ciano, 5/6/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1.
17.
DGFP, D, 12: no. 666; Raymond James Sontag and James Stuart Beddie, eds., Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941: Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Office (Washington, DC, 1948), 347-49.
18.
DGFP, D, 12: no. 660; DDI, 9th, 7: no. 288; Filatov, Vostochnyi pokhod, 13-14; Georgii Semenovich Filatov, et. al., Istoriia Italii, 3 vols. (Moscow, 1971), 3: 165. Soon after informing the Soviet ambassador in Berlin of the state of war (DGFP, D, 12: no. 664), at 4:10 am Ribbentrop gave Alfieri Berlin's justifications for the attack. Alfieri to Ciano, 6/22/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1; Alfieri to Ciano, 6/22/41: ibid., b38 f2; DDI, 9th, 7: nos. 290, 296; DGFP, D, 12: no. 665; Dino Alfieri, Due dittatori di fronte (Milan, 1948), 197-99.
From Moscow, Rosso reported that Schulenburg had told Molotov at 6:30 am that as of 4:00 am Germany considered itself to be at war. Molotov, Rosso added, had expressed sadness at the unjustified attack. Rosso to Ciano, 6/22/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f6;
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 291; DGFP, D, 12: nos. 659, 662. For Molotov's June 22 broadcast speech acknowledging the state of war without mention of Italy, see Izvestia, June 24, 1941; Pravda, June 23, 1941; and New York Times, July 23, 1941. For more on Hitler's preference that the Duce concentrate on North Africa and Mussolini's unwillingness to take the hint, see Benito Mussolini, Opera omnia di Benito Mussolini, ed. Edoardo and Duilio Susmel, 36 vols. (Florence, 1951-63), 30: 84-85 n., 103-04 n.; Denis Mack Smith, Mussolini (New York, 1982), 268-69.
19. Rachele Guidi Mussolini,
Mussolini: An Intimate Biography by His Widow, as told to Albert Zarca (New York, 1974), 286. She mistakenly identified the German caller as the German military attaché. See Whaley, Codeword Barbarossa, 295 n.56.
20. Ciano,
Diaries, June 30, 1941.
21. Alfieri,
Due dittatori, 199; DGFP, D, 12: no. 666. Pavel Ovsianin, Konets rezhima Mussolini (Moscow, 1965), 4. For the Bulgarian reaction to the invasion and Italy's declaration of war, see DDI, 9th, 7: nos. 293, 298. For Slovakia's declaration of war, see ibid., no. 297. Iran, suspicious of both Britain and the USSR, expressed pleasure at the Soviet-Axis war. Ibid., no. 303.
22. Ciano,
Diaries, June 22, 1941; Note for cabinet proceedings, 6/22/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f6. Apparently, up to 10:00 am Gorelkin did not know that Italy had declared war. New York Times, June 23, 1941. See also Filatov, Vostochnyi pokhod, 8 and The Times (London), June 23, 1941. Only six days later did Rome declare war in Albania's name. David J. Dallin, Soviet Russia's Foreign Policy, 1929-1942 (New York: Yale University Press, 1942), 278. Later Gorelkin returned to Ciano to say that he had not been able to transmit Italy's declaration of war to his government. Ciano courteously replied that the foreign ministry was willing to send his messages, but the ambassador, saying that all his people were at the Embassy and in good condition, refused Ciano's offer. Ciano to Indelli, 6/27/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f6.
23.
New York Times, June 23, 24, 1941. Speakers at a conference of propagandists held in Moscow in early May had declared that capitalists, fearing the social consequences of a long war, wanted to end it as quickly as possible. Italy, in particular, already was war weary, and Berlin was pressuring Rome to take a more active military role, even though the Italians had long been unsuccessful on both land and sea. Rosso to Ciano, 5/8/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f15. The Soviet press in June occasionally and gingerly pointed out some of Italy's economic problems, generally by repeating information from Italy's Stefani News Agency or Italian papers. Izvestia, June 19, 1941; Pravda, June 2, 8, 15, 22, 23, 1941. The Times (London), June 3, 1941, picked up on the theme of Italy's economic dislocations.
24.
DDI, 9th, 7: no. 302; Filippo Bojano, In the Wake of the Goose-Step, trans. Gerald Griffin (London, 1944), 230-31; Ovsianin, Konets, 5; Whaley, Codeword Barbarossa, 309 n.51. See also, Rosso to Ciano, 6/23/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f7.
25. The problems surrounding the mutual repatriation of Italian and Soviet diplomatic representatives and citizens trapped in hostile territory emphasized the impromptu and casual way in which Mussolini had committed his country to an expanded war. See the numerous documents in MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1 and f6 as well as several articles in the
New York Times, June 24, 27, 29, July 2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 1941. See also Bojano, In the Wake, 230-33.
26.
DGFP, D, 13: no. 7; DDI, 9th, 7: no. 290. For Hitler's response in which he also invited the Duce to meet him at the front, see DGFP, D, 13: no. 50.
27. Many were skeptical of the utility of having Italian troops on the Eastern Front. In his memoirs Field Marshal Keitel later wrote: "
Naturally, Mussolini had no desire to lag behind Hungary and Roumania and had offered the Führer an Italian light (semi-mobile) Corps, in return for Rommel's armoured corps' being in Africa. The War Office was furious at this offer, which they valued anything but highly, as it was not a reasonable burden to place on our strained railway system that summer, for the Italians could be transported to the front only at the expense of indispensable war supplies." Wilhelm Keitel, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel, ed. with an Introduction and Epilogue by Walter Gorlitz, trans. David Irving (New York, 1965), 159.
28.
New York Times, June 23, 1941. See also The Times (London), May 30, 1941.
29. Atteggiamento dei vari stati di fronte al conflitto Germano-Sovietico, 6/23/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f2. For a general look at Italian press attitudes toward the USSR, see Mario Isnenghi, "Russia e campagna di Russia nella stampa italiana, 1940-1943,"
Italia Contemporanea (Mar. 1980): 25-47. Various commentators explained the new line as confidently as they had the old. Once again they trotted out anti-bolshevism and described the war as the inevitable idealistic crusade which had returned fascism to its origins. Il Piccolo declared that "It is not necessary to ask Fascisti what they think of an anti-Soviet war because Fascism was the first, twenty-three years ago, to enter the lists against the Red barbarians. We were awaiting this memorable event which, after the expulsion of the English from the Continent makes us protagonists in a similar drive against Bolshevism".New York Times, June 24, 1941. The fascist propagandist Virginio Gayda gave three reasons for the move: to prevent Russia from becoming an English base of operations; to free Europe and the World from communist propaganda; and to organize Europe against England and America. A two-front war would be avoided, he was sure, because Germany would finish off Russia before Britain and United States could do anything about it. ibid. See Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 243-44.
30. See, e.g., Filatov,
Vostochnyi pokhod, 9-11.
31. F. Pellegrino, "Sopravvivenza religiosa nella Russia sovietica,"
La Civiltà Cattolica 4 (Sept. 25, 1941): 34; see also 25-34 and his "L'attacco a fondo' dell'ateismo sovietico," La Civiltà Cattolica 3 (July 23, 1941): 169-81 for more attacks on militant atheism. See also Isnenghi, "Russia e campagna di Russia," 35-38. The Vatican itself claimed fore-knowledge of the conflict and did see it as part of a Christian war against communism. DDI, 9th, 7: no. 304.
32.
New York Times, July 24, 1941.
33.
Ibid., June 25, 1941. Italian radio propaganda similarly trumpeted that "the alliance of the English pirates with Bolshevism" demonstrated that these non-Christians lacked all scruples. "To stop the Risorgimento of Europe," that refused to kowtow to their "egotism," the English were "ready to see Europe suffer the iron and fire of Stalin's Mongol hordes. . . ." Philip V. Cannistraro, La fabbrica del consenso: Fascismo e mass media, with a Preface by Renzo De Felice (Rome, 1975), 266.
34. The famous Italian philosopher and fascist supporter, Giovanni Gentile, in "Giappone Guerriero,"
Cilvità Cattolica (Jan. 21, 1942): 12, called for racial solidarity between Italians, Germans, and Japanese "to save Europe from the double threat of stateless communists and false democrats, Hebrew or not." One of Italy's leading naval officers, Admiral Gino Ducci, similarly urged Japan to enter the war against USSR, and Roberto Farinacci prodded Spain to do likewise:
All of Europe is on its feet against Anglo-Saxon and Soviet Judaism. It would be absurd for the Spain of Franco to remain absent in the hour when her enemies are being crushed in the grip of exorable justice.
New York Times, June 27, 1941. Praising the morality of the war against bolshevism, Spain already had promised to send volunteers to fight, but was still unprepared to fully join the war. DDI, 9th, 7: no. 301.
35. Camillo Pellizzi,
Plutocrazia e bolscevismo (Rome, 1942), 17-19, 22. For the complex and ambivalent ideological lens through which Mussolini himself and Italian fascism in general saw bolshevism, see my Russia and Italy against Hitler: The Bolshevik-Fascist Rapprochement of the 1930s (Westport, CT, 1991), 77-91. See also Francesco di Pretoro, Fascismo e bolscevismo nell'Europa e nel mondo (Florence, 1940), esp. 41-43; Tomaso Napolitano, "Razzismo Sovietico," Nuova Antologia 74 (May 16, 1939): 154-68; and L'Illustrazione Italiana (June 29, 1941): 1008.
36. Mussolini,
Opera omnia, 30: 211-12. See also Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 244 and Emilio Canevari, "Dopo la soluzione della crisi cèca," Critica Fascista (Oct. 15, 1938): 382.
37. Emilo Canevari, "Considerazioni sulla campagna di Russia,"
Critica Fascista (Nov. 15, 1941): 27-29.
38. For this specific criticism, plus others, see Eugenio Ciboldi, "Il militarismo bolscevico e la capacitá combattiva dell'esercito Russo,"
Rassegna di Politica Internazionale (Sept. 1938): 496-503. See also Ovsianin, Konets, 5; Revekha Abramovna Averbukh, Italiia v pervoi i vtoroi mirovykh voinakh (Moscow, 1946), 123-26; Israelian and Kutakov, Diplomatiia agressorov, 186-189; and Filatov, Vostochnyi pokhod, 14-18. The Italians had good cause to know something about the Soviet military based on significant exchanges in the first half of the 1930s. See my Russia and Italy, 145-62.
39. Ciano,
Diaries, July 15, 1941; Giuseppe Gorla, L'Italia nella seconda guerra mondiale: Diario di un milanese, ministro del re nel governo di Mussolini (Milan, 1959), July 5, 1941; Mack Smith, Mussolini, 269.
40. In commenting on Italy's successes and less than successes in the war, throughout June
Pravda and Izvestia limited themselves to Stefani dispatches without comment.
41. Frederick William Dampier Deakin,
The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism (Garden City, NY, 1966), 16-18; Filippo Anfuso, Roma Berlino Salò: 1936-1945 (Cernusco, 1950), 239; Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 243-44.
42. Ciucci promemorial, 6/23/41: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b38 f1. In addition to this file, see the numerous documents in: b37 f1, f2, f4, f5; and b38 f4. Virginio Gayda in an editorial printed before the attack echoed these ideas. "
A vast process of clarification is in progress to hasten the reorganization of Europe. The question is to insure, with European resources, the living of the European people. The United States intends to isolate and to starve all of Europe--both occupied and unoccupied by the Axis forces--hoping to exhaust, with such means, the means of enemy resistance. One must therefore create once and for all vaster zones in Europe for food self-sufficiency.
The problem is also one of insuring raw materials and oil necessary for the work of millions of laborers and industries, for traffic among people, for the needs of war production.
Europe must find her means of production as a defense against attacks which are today being attempted through England, now subservient to a great non-European power fostering ambitious designs of bankers and speculators of a greedy and sectarian world hegemony.
New York Times, June 23, 24, 1941. See as well Lauro Mainardi, U.R.S.S., prigione di popoli (Rome, 1941), which compares panslavism and bolshevism and then details the plight of the various nationalities in the Caucasus, Ukraine, Crimea, Turkestan, etc. For related propaganda, see Mainardi's Nazionalità e spazi vitali (Rome, 1941), this time with little mention of the USSR.
43. "Ukraine, June 1941:" MAE (Rome) AP URSS b37 f4.
44. Tomaso Napolitano, "Le metamorfosi del bolscevismo,"
Critica Fascista (Nov. 15, 1940): 28-30; Mack Smith, Mussolini, 268; Angelo Rossi (pseudo. Lanza), The Russo-German Alliance: August 1939-1941, trans. John and Micheline Cullen (Boston, 1951), 145-48. See my Russia and Italy, 77-87.
45. Quite early Mussolini had doubts about the ultimate success of the attack on the USSR as reported by Ciano,
Diaries, July 16, 1941:
The Duce is not convinced as to the course of affairs in Russia. The tone of his conversation today was distinctly pessimistic, particularly as the Anglo-Russian alliance makes Stalin the head of Nationalist Russia. He is afraid that Germany is facing a task that is too much for her, and will not reach a complete solution of the whole problem before winter, which reveals a lot of unknown factors.
He surely was reacting to what Italian journalists on the Eastern Front were reporting. See
New York Times, July 11, 1941. For later comments, see Giovanni Dolfin, Con Mussolini nella tragedia: Diario del capo della segretaria particolare del Duce 1943-1944 (Rome, 1949), Nov. 5, 28, 1943.
46. Mussolini wrote to Hitler on July 2: "I was aware that the military organization of the Soviet Union had made remarkable progress in these past years, but what you tell me is a surprise to me also. It appears clear that this mighty military organization, not being able to be with us, would have been against us. . . ." He closed this letter not entirely confidently: "The task of beating Russia in order to extirpate Bolshevism is truly epic, and to have dared to do this will be the imperishable glory of your armies and the Axis revolution."
DGFP, D, 13: no. 62.
47. Carlo Scorza,
La notte del gran consiglio (Milan, 1968), 70.
48. Mussolini,
Opera omnia, 31: 120-21, 138; 32: 173-74; Giorgio Pini, Itinerario tragico (1943-1945) (Milan, 1950), 252; Giuseppe Bottai, Vent'anni e un giorno (24 luglio 1943), 2nd ed. (Rome, 1949, 1977), Dec. 15, 1942; Mack Smith, Mussolini, 276; Benito Mussolini, Memoirs, 1942-1943: With Documents Relating to the Period, trans. Frances Lobb, ed. Raymond Klibansky, with an Introduction by Cecil Sprigge (New York, 1975), 80 n.2, 220-22, 247; Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 243.
49. Ciano,
Diaries, July 1, 1941. Mussolini often claimed that Stalin had rejected communism and had turned to fascism. See, e.g., Mussolini, Memoirs, 220. The fascist apologist Luigi Villari with his typical unctuousness echoed Mussolini. See his Italian Foreign Policy Under Mussolini (New York, 1956), 283-84.
50. Messe,
La guerra al fronte russo, 177-78.
51. Whaley,
Operation Barbarossa, 16-17.
52.
DGFP, D, 13: no. 242.
53. Ciano,
Diaries, June 30, 1941.
54. Ovsianin,
Konets, 5-6. From late July 1941 to early 1943 the Italian Army fighting on Soviet soil grew to at least 10 divisions plus extras. Elizabeth Wiskemann, Rome-Berlin Axis: A History of the Relations Between Hitler and Mussolini (New York, 1949), 285. Some Italian staff officers agreed with Ciano's poor opinion of the troops going to the East, but the new head of the general staff, General Ugo Cavallero, supinely supported Mussolini's opinions. Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 243. Mario Roatta, Otto milioni di baionette: L'esercito italiano in guerra dal 1940 al 1944 (Milan, 1946), 185-87, strongly argues that sending troops to Soviet Russia was unnecessary and overextended already taxed forces.
55. Messe,
La guerra al fronte Russo, 25; Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 273-74. See Mario Cervi, The Hollow Legions: Mussolini's Blunder in Greece, trans. Eric Mosbacher and Introduction by Frederick William Dampier Deakin (Garden City, NY, 1971), 251: "The deficiencies of the Italian military organization were always appalling--no lessons for Albania were learnt from the western front, no lesson for Russia was learnt from Albania. The puttees that slowed down the circulation might have been specially devised to encourage frostbite, the model 91 rifle would not fire at twenty degrees below zero because the bolt jammed. . . . "
56.
New York Times, June 27, 1941; The Times (London), June 27, 1941.
57. Ciano,
Diaries, June 26, 1941. On July 4, Mussolini reviewed the Torino Division upon its departure for the Russian Front. Giuseppe Gorla noted the poor equipment and commented: "My preoccupations contrast with the general euphoria." Gorla, L'Italia, July 4, 1941.
58. Simoni,
Berlino, July 13, 1941. See DGFP, D, 12: 924.
59. Keitel,
Memoirs, 160. The Italians were no more enamored with the field marshal. See, e.g., Ciano, Diaries, June 3, 1941: "The Duce expresses this opinion: 'Keitel is a man who is happy that he is Keitel.' The opinion expressed by Bismarck [the German chargé] is more to the point: 'Keitel is an imbecile.'"

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