Italian aggression after 1934

The events of Mussolini’s foreign policy after 1934.

  • In 1934, Mussolini stopped Nazi Germany from expanding to Austria. Hitler claimed that he was trying to ‘put down the rebellion’ in Austria which was calling for German–Austrian unification, but in reality, he wanted to invade. To protect South Tyrol, which was under Italian control, Mussolini stationed soldiers at the Brenner pass, forcing Hitler to back down. This action earned him a lot of international prestige.

  • In December 1934, there was a dispute between Italian and Abyssinian soldiers at the Wal Wal Oasis on the border between Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland. As a result, Mussolini demanded an apology from the Abyssinian Emperor who took the dispute to the League. While the League discussed the crisis, Mussolini planned a full-scale invasion for October 1935 using tanks, aeroplanes and poison gas. The League immediately condemned Italy as the aggressor and began to impose economic sanctions and banned the sale of weapons to Italy, but vitally, they did not ban supplies of oil, coal, rubber and iron as they knew that non-members would continue to sell these to Italy anyway. Britain also feared that their Navy would be attacked by Italian forces if they closed the Suez Canal, the Italian Army's supply route to Abyssinia. British and French foreign ministers, Hoare and Laval, met in secret and agreed to divide Abyssinia in half, giving Mussolini the richer half. However, after Mussolini accepted their plan, it was leaked to the British press before it was proposed to the Abyssinian emperor, causing uproar among the British Public and resulting in the resignation of the foreign ministers. The League tried to introduce tougher sanctions on Italy after the Hoare-Laval pact had failed, but before they were put in place, Italy had conquered Abyssinia by May 1936.

  • From July 1936 to April 1939, Mussolini and Hitler both supported and fought on the side of Franco, a fellow Fascist, in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, the two dictators, Hitler and Mussolini, were brought closer together.

  • In 1936, Germany and Japan signed the anti-Comintern pact, and in 1937, this was signed again, but with the addition of Italy. This basically allied Germany, Italy and Japan against the ‘threat of communism’, or put simply, against the Soviet Union.

  • In 1938, Germany invaded Austria but this time, Mussolini and Hitler were true allies, and the Anschluss between Germany and Austria was welcomed by the Italian people as it strengthened Germany, and by extension, their alliance. This marks how Italian

  • In 1938, Hitler demanded that Germany be given the Sudetenland as the 3 million German speakers who lived in that area of Czechoslovakia claimed that the Czech government was not treating them fairly. As a result, Chamberlain went to assist and spoke with Germany, offering him certain parts of the Sudetenland. However, Hitler refused and war seemed imminent. Mussolini organised a meeting that led to the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938. This led to a massive amount of prestige for Mussolini as his actions had averted large-scale war.

  • From April 7th to April 12th 1939, the Italian Military invaded and rapidly overrun Albania with its ruler, King Zog I, forced into exile, and the country incorporated into the Italian Empire as a protectorate in personal union with the Italian crown.

  • On the 22nd May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the ‘Pact of Steel’— a military alliance.

Key differences in Mussolini’s foreign policy from 1924 to 1934 as compared with 1934 to 1939

In 1925, Mussolini signed the Locarno Treaty, which aimed at increasing stability in Europe. He also opposed international aggression in accordance with the covenant of the League of Nations. As a member of the LoN, it was their obligation to focus on international peacekeeping rather than expansion, and Italy followed through with this as they signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, outlawing war. In contrast, he caused heightened international aggression in Abyssinia from 1934 to 1936 as he took steps to make Italy “great, respected and feared”, enacting the Fascist expansionist policy.

From 1932 to 1934, Mussolini attended the World Disarmament Conference and advocated for disarmament. In contrast, he supported fascist rearmament in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 as he wished to create more fascist allies and spread fascist ideology.

In 1934, he blocked German Expansion in order to maintain good relationships with Britain and France in the League of Nations. This also contributed to the signing of the Stresa Front in 1935. In contrast, by signing the Pact of Steel in 1939 and allowing Anschluss, he was supportive of German expansion, and as a result, he was able to create a strong, powerful relationship with Germany.

Political Climate in Europe in the 1930s

The USSR: recovering from the Great Depression and concerned by the rise of Hitler in Germany due to his anti-communism.

Poland: by 1939, they were threatened by an invasion from Germany and Russia after they had united in the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Austria: in the 1930s, the Austrian Government was fearing an invasion by Germany as there were some in the population who did not support Anschluss, whilst some in the country were advocating for it!

Great Britain and France: they had both suffered heavily from the Great Depression of 1929 and were still recovering! Meanwhile, they were focused on their policies of appeasement, in an attempt to avoid war with Hitler. Moreover, they also had the Manchurian Crisis to deal with from 1934 to 1937 (but arguably, they weren’t much help there!) However, by the end of the 1930s, the Stresa Front had broken down, and they were becoming threatened by Italy who now allied with Germany.