The Duce declares war on London and Paris: "There is only one password: to win" -

The Duce declares war on London and Paris: "There is only one password: to win" -

Of Antonio Carioti

On 10 June 1940, Italy entered the Second World War alongside Germany. And already in the first months the facts belied the arrogant intentions of Mussolini

Europe has been fighting for over nine months, when Benito Mussolini looks out from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, around 6 pm on 10 June 1940. Italy remained out of the war, to the great worry of the Duce, but now there are all the conditions to enter it.

The armies of our German allies, after having crushed Poland and treacherously invaded Denmark and Norway, have penetrated into Belgium and Holland, other neutral countries, and are spreading their way into France. The British Expeditionary Force was forced to recross the English Channel by Adolf Hitler's tanks. Paris will fall into the hands of the Wehrmacht in just four days, on June 14, 1940. At this point, waiting would mean self-exclusion from the division of a booty that promises to be copious.

Certain, Mussolini knows that the Italian armed forces are woefully unprepared for a protracted conflict against powerful enemies. And he made this clear to Hitler in August 1939, when the German despot asked him to intervene alongside him as he would have imposed the Pact of Steel, signed in Berlin the previous 22 May. But now the situation has completely changed: Germany's blitzkrieg has brought France to its knees and Great Britain appears in clear difficulty. How not to take advantage of the situation to expand Italian influence in the Mediterranean, where the British control Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez Canal?

The Duce, in a very secret memorandum dated 31 March 1940, set out his plan for a parallel war. While the Third Reich expands in continental Europe, Italy - according to the dictator - will be able to do the same in the Balkans and North Africa. The bloodless occupation of Albania, easily accomplished in April 1939, was a first step towards that goal. It is a question of renewing the glories of the Roman Empire, even if the project seriously jeopardizes that very empire which Italy conquered in 1936 in East Africa and which is surrounded by British possessions.

Greeted by the roar of the crowd that had gathered in anticipation of his speech, Mussolini begins with the long-awaited announcement. He beats in the sky of the fatherland, he exclaims the hour of irrevocable decisions. The declaration of war has already been delivered to the ambassadors of Great Britain and France. His son-in-law, Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, took steps at around 4.30pm. He did so with some hesitation, after months of trying to avoid Italy's intervention alongside the Third Reich: he fears the Germans and their arrogance, he doesn't consider them reliable allies.

For Mussolini himself, it was not easy to justify the fatal choice. He argues that the plutocratic and reactionary democracies of the West would undermine the very existence of the Italian people, but can bring nothing else in support of his statement than the ignoble corporate siege of fifty-two statesi.e. the sanctions applied against our country in 1936 for the invasion of Ethiopia, now expired and outdated for some time.

The truth is that there are no plausible reasons for going to war, other than the will to honor the commitment made to Hitler through the Pact of Steel. But then it had to be done in September 1939, when hostilities began. Now the Duce does nothing but rush to the aid of the most probable winner. All that remains is for him to hide the bitter reality with rhetoric, exalting the struggle of poor and numerous peoples in arms against the hungry who ferociously hold the monopoly of all the riches and all the gold on the Earth.

Finally Mussolini launches the categorical and binding slogan for everyone, that is to win. The crowd erupts into a deafening ovation, but the reality of the conflict will soon take charge of denying such bellicose pomposity. To win, you need the means, determination, operational plans, clear ideas about the goals to pursue. And Italy is lacking from every point of view.

A few months are enough to drop the illusions. The offensive in the Alps against a France by now defeated by the Germans did not produce any appreciable results. The attack on Greece, which began on October 28, 1940, soon ended in disaster, with Greek forces repulsing the offensive and advancing into Albanian territory. In the night between 11 and 12 November, British torpedo bombers attack the port of Taranto by surprise, knocking out three Italian battleships. In North Africa the Commonwealth forces overwhelm those under the command of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, occupying all of Cyrenaica in February 1941. A month later in East Africa the British took the stronghold of Keren after fierce fighting and fought their way to Addis Ababa, which they entered on 6 April.

Not even a year has passed since the speech from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia and the situation already appears desperate. Mussolini ousted the Chief of General Staff, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, to replace him with Ugo Cavallero, but it didn't help much. All that remains is to renounce the parallel war, to be waged independently of Germany, and implore Hitler's help. The German general Erwin Rommel arrives in Libya, giving the British a lot of trouble. Then Germany invades Yugoslavia and attacks Greece, also allowing Italy to carve out a space for expansion in the Balkans.

The trouble is that the Fhrer's plans know no bounds. June 22, 1941 the Third Reich attacks the Soviet Union and Italy joins a crazy enterprise. Then it was Japan's turn, which signed the Tripartite Pact with Rome and Berlin in September 1940: on 7 December 1941, the aircraft departing from the aircraft carriers of a Japanese naval squadron attacked the American fleet in the port of Pearl Harbor, in the Hawaiian Islands. And on 11 December, Mussolini once again looked out from the balcony onto Piazza Venezia to announce war on the United States. The atmosphere is anything but enthusiastic: one goes straight towards the abyss.

July 22, 2023 (change July 22, 2023 | 10:21)

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