Could Italy have stayed out of World War II?

Valens

Ad Honorem
Feb 2014
8,308
Colonia Valensiana
Italy's entry into the war on the side of Germany was by no means a foregone conclusion. My understanding is that Mussolini made a somewhat irrational decision to enter the war while Italy was unprepared to fight the Allies. Also, the conventional wisdom seems to be that Mussolini was hungry for glory and did not want to stay out of the war and have Hitler take all the spoils.

So here are a couple of questions I hope will be a good incentive for a discussion:

  • Could Italy have stayed out of the war and whether it could have maintained some sort of neutrality?
  • If we imagine the above scenario was true, would Hitler eventually pressure Mussolini to enter the war on his side? In case of non-compliance would Germany then try to invade Italy. On the other hand, one could imagine such a scenario would be costly for Germany.
  • Did elements at home pressure Mussolini to enter the war, by which I mean mostly the Fascists and Nationalists. As far as I know, Italy and Germany were previously not on friendly terms as there were points of friction between the two countries in Austria and the Balkans.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,375
Italy, Lago Maggiore
First of all the decision to enter WWII was taken by the leadership of the Fascist Party, not directly by Mussolini [it seems he wasn't that sure]. His driver, Boratto, in his diary wrote that an officer of the Air Force [Italian Air Force] told him that they moved the same planes from a military airport to an other in occasion of a visit of the "Duce" [just to make him happy because he thought that Italy had a lot of military planes!].

Historians tend to think that this was limited to high tech planes, for the rest the planes weren't always the same. Anyway ... if we think to the curious conception of armored vehicles that they had in Italy ...



Like any Party, the Fascist Party thought to the perspective of its political future. Germany seemed to be able to win the war alone and this would have meant the total subjugation of Italy to the German ally. The Nazi Party would have "invaded" the Italian society without doubt [something similar happened in the last years of the war, when the Nazis got the control of the Social Republic created in the North of Italy, there were even Italian Waffen SS ...]. So it was pivotal to take part to the conflict. And Hitler required it: Germany needed Italian Navy to obtain the control of the Mediterranean Sea. But Italian Navy, despite it was a good Navy, without carriers [because of an odd stance of the admiralty who didn't appreciate carriers ... better battleships!] wasn't able to obtain great results. For example Italy never conquered Malta.

So ...

No, I don't think Italy had realistic possibilities to stay out of the war.

In case Italy remained neutral, probably Hitler would have required Rome to allow the German Armies enter Italian territory and to use Italian military infrastructures [like US ask Italy to do in case of American military operations in the Mediterranean region ... remember Yugoslavia, just as an example].

Yes, as I've said above, the Fascist Party played a pivotal role in persuading Mussolini to make Italy join the German military effort.
 

deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,638
Europix
Well, Italy did a U-turn by allying with Germany.

I'll Duce was anything but fond of Hitler. But Italy being condemned for it's agression in Africa pi$$ed Mussolini ( something like "Brits and French, with their colonial empires lecturing?!").

IDK if another (more real-politik orientated) approach from BE and French could have been possible on Italian African adventure, but if yes, Italy remaining neutral is a reasonable speculation to me.

Not convinced that Hitler could have really pressure Mussolini in that case.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,750
SoCal
So here are a couple of questions I hope will be a good incentive for a discussion:

  • Could Italy have stayed out of the war and whether it could have maintained some sort of neutrality?
  • If we imagine the above scenario was true, would Hitler eventually pressure Mussolini to enter the war on his side? In case of non-compliance would Germany then try to invade Italy. On the other hand, one could imagine such a scenario would be costly for Germany.
  • Did elements at home pressure Mussolini to enter the war, by which I mean mostly the Fascists and Nationalists. As far as I know, Italy and Germany were previously not on friendly terms as there were points of friction between the two countries in Austria and the Balkans.
In response to your questions here:

1. Yes, absolutely. After all, Spain managed to do this.

2. He could try pressuring Mussolini, but it wouldn't have any effect and he would be unwilling to use force to achieve this goal since that would only result in a hostile Italy (as opposed to a neutral Italy).

3. Possibly, but I would think that Mussolini himself genuinely wanted to enter the war since he wanted to get some spoils from France. Had he not entered the war, his odds of acquiring some goodies from France would have been less.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,750
SoCal
Also, I am curious if the Italian monarchy survives to the present-day in a scenario where Italy stays out of WWII and the Allies still win WWII.
 
Feb 2018
172
EU-Germany
not after the pact of steel 1939
(keeping in mind that the british demanded italians to withdraw from spain and italy obeyed just few years earlier)
when germany invaded france in expected its 'steel' ally to follow suit not to get entangled into any surprises or encircelments from the force france kept in the south; great tactic fully worked but for italy it meant war with britain and italy was already de-facto defeated by summer 41 and thats when italy could (and should) have gotten out with only the cyreneica and AOI lost _a nice telegraph to berlin 'we tried we failed good luck' but the third reich was just too quick (12 days yugoslavia / 10 days belgrade>athens) incl norse africa italy was fully under german command and dragged along in its missery for the next two years until the allied invasion put an end to the charade in 09/43;

resulting in the die hards fully subscribing to the nazi and fascist cause others against it (civil war circumstances) until 45; with other words italy had no chance of avoiding entrance, their allies expected it otherwise retributions, but in 41 just 12 months of major inevitable defeats that was italy's chance to get out;
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,771
Australia
Concur with the posters above. With the Fascists in control Italy had no chance of staying out of the war, however the average Italian was certainly not committed to the Axis. After the collapse of the fascist government Italy lost no time in signing an armistice with the Allies.
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,171
US
If Germany would not have had such a rousing success early in the war, one has to wonder if Italy would have committed to the war. It must have seemed like a sure bet in 1940.
 
Apr 2018
38
Canada
First of all the decision to enter WWII was taken by the leadership of the Fascist Party, not directly by Mussolini [it seems he wasn't that sure]. His driver, Boratto, in his diary wrote that an officer of the Air Force [Italian Air Force] told him that they moved the same planes from a military airport to an other in occasion of a visit of the "Duce" [just to make him happy because he thought that Italy had a lot of military planes!].

Historians tend to think that this was limited to high tech planes, for the rest the planes weren't always the same. Anyway ... if we think to the curious conception of armored vehicles that they had in Italy ...



Like any Party, the Fascist Party thought to the perspective of its political future. Germany seemed to be able to win the war alone and this would have meant the total subjugation of Italy to the German ally. The Nazi Party would have "invaded" the Italian society without doubt [something similar happened in the last years of the war, when the Nazis got the control of the Social Republic created in the North of Italy, there were even Italian Waffen SS ...]. So it was pivotal to take part to the conflict. And Hitler required it: Germany needed Italian Navy to obtain the control of the Mediterranean Sea. But Italian Navy, despite it was a good Navy, without carriers [because of an odd stance of the admiralty who didn't appreciate carriers ... better battleships!] wasn't able to obtain great results. For example Italy never conquered Malta.

So ...

No, I don't think Italy had realistic possibilities to stay out of the war.

In case Italy remained neutral, probably Hitler would have required Rome to allow the German Armies enter Italian territory and to use Italian military infrastructures [like US ask Italy to do in case of American military operations in the Mediterranean region ... remember Yugoslavia, just as an example].

Yes, as I've said above, the Fascist Party played a pivotal role in persuading Mussolini to make Italy join the German military effort.
Agreed.Even with a declared neutrality the german strategic intent to have a north african thrust with a view to seizing the oilfields in the middle east in concert with operation Barbarossa meant italian ports and merchant ships would have been necessary to supply the forces operating in that theatre along with airfields and the italian navy to interdict a british naval presence.Allowing even this would have compromised any pretence that Italy could maintain a neutral stance.

Besides to ensure complete compliance and security Hitler may have had the italian facist party along with mussolini removed and a proxy german administration put in place.Or maintain the italian facist party and mussolini but only as figureheads with real power residing with a german governor and his administration.

In any case the allied powers would have seen italy as complicit in the german war effort.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,375
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Concur with the posters above. With the Fascists in control Italy had no chance of staying out of the war, however the average Italian was certainly not committed to the Axis. After the collapse of the fascist government Italy lost no time in signing an armistice with the Allies.
As a historical note I can say that Italian Fascism has been a phenomenon a bit different from the Nazi dictatorship. The main difference was that it was a social dictatorship with almost absent military aspects. While we know the importance of military life and attitude for the Nazis. Fascism took advantage from the incapability of the Italian Kingdom to manage the great masses of poor Italians who came out from the crisis after WWI. The "March on Rome" is probably the event which explains what Fascism actually was: no one knew how to face the situation and with Socialist and Communist movements gaining more and more popular support ... it was better to transform the kingdom in a dictatorship [it was enough to deploy a couple of cannons to stop that march ... the Army did nothing ...].

Fascism was a social dictatorhisp connected with the Kingdom, the Army, the Church and the economical establishment of the country, with the initial idea to be suitable to stop Communism in Italy [its invention of the "corporations" was perfect to build a lasting system of power]. But actually it wasn't a popular dictatorship, Fascist Party was a mass Party because without being member an Italian would have had troubles to do this or that [like for a Soviet citizen not being member of the Communist Party], not because there was a real wide popular support. With the Republic, the first democratic elections demonstrated this: there was who created an extreme right party [it's illegal to create a Fascist Party in Italy, but it's easy to create something similar ...]. It has never gained more than the 6%-7% of the votes. While Socialists and Communists together have almost reached the 50% of the votes ...
 
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