THE ROME - BERLIN AXIS

Hitler finds an Ally in Benito Mussolini

The Italian invasion and annexation of Abyssinia had strained relations between Italy and its allies Britain and France, and Benito Mussolini finally repudiated Italy's alliance with them. Hitler then began planning to draw fascist Italy into an alliance with Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler finds an ally in the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The Spanish civil war provided the opportunity. In July 1936, Fascist rebels led by General Franco took up arms against the Spanish government, and Mussolini intervened in support of the rebels with troops, aeroplanes and arms. As a demonstration of solidarity with Fascist Italy, Hitler also intervened in the Spanish civil war on the side of the Fascist rebels. Germany supplied the rebels with aeroplanes, tanks, technicians, the troops of the Condor Legion, and an air force unit which earned infamy by obliterating the Spanish town of Guernica and its civilian inhabitants. With the assistance of Germany and Italy, General Franco was able to establish a fascist dictatorship in Spain.

Hitler followed up his intervention in the Spanish civil war with a warm invitation to the Italian foreign minister to come to Berlin, where on 21 October 1936, Germany and Italy signed a formal alliance which came to be known as the Rome-Berlin Axis. This alliance contained a protocol committing Germany and Italy to follow a common foreign policy. Thereafter, Germany and her partners in military aggression would be known as the Axis powers.

Japan aligns itself with Germany and Italy in the Anti-Comintern Pact 1936

In 1936, Japan had established a lengthy history of aggression in East-Asia and had withdrawn from the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations). Japan's imperial government viewed the Soviet Union (formerly, and now Russia) as the main threat to Japan's conquests on the mainland of Asia, and in particular, Japan's puppet state of Manchukuo (formerly the Chinese province of Manchuria). With further territorial expansion on the Asian mainland in mind, Japan began looking for allies who were comfortable with military aggression and likely to support Japan in the event of a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Hitler was pleased to accommodate Japan, and on 25 November 1936, Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The ostensible purpose of the Anti-Comintern Pact was to contain the spread of communism, but it contained a secret protocol which required both parties to consult with a view to safeguarding their common interests if either Germany or Japan was attacked by the Soviet Union. The Japanese viewed the pact as a safeguard of Manchukuo against the Soviet Union seeking to use Japan's puppet state as a means of access to an ice-free Pacific port. With a secret dream to invade and conquer the Soviet Union, Hitler saw this pact as a means to tie up sizeable Russian military resources in East-Asia when he considered the time was ripe to attack the Russians from the west. Italy joined the Pact in 1937.

Hitler discards his top Generals

In November 1937, Hitler told the chiefs of his armed forces that he intended to invade and seize Austria and Czechoslovakia. The Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces and the Army warned Hitler that Germany could not invade Czechoslovakia without drawing that country's ally, France, into the conflict, and that Germany would lose such a war, especially if Britain supported France. When the army chiefs refused to withdraw their opposition to his plans for war, Hitler, the former army corporal, forced their resignations and assumed the role of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces himself.

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