Italy in WWII-What Were Their War Aims?

I am totally puzzled by the Italian participation in WWII-what did they think they would get out of it? Take the initial blunders-invading Greece-the Italians were pushed back, and only German assitance prevented a defeat. Likewise in N. Africa-their General Graziani was totall defeated by the British-the German Afrika corps had to be sent to prevet a disater. Then-the Italians participated in the German Invasion of Russia-a complete disaster for Italy. Plus, the Italian Navy was mostly sunk in the Mediterranean-the British did a good job of destroying it.
So what did “Il Duce” think he was going to get? Italy was too weak to take on major powers in war-the Italian economy was dependent on imported oil, coal, and iron ore. In fact, the Italian Army General Staff estimated (in 1939), that they had suffieicent resources to fight a 6 month war.
Why was Mussolini so foolish? And did he think that Germany could win?

I’m not sure what you don’t understand about this. Mussolini wanted to expand Italy’s empire. Italy’s army was completely incompetent, but you can’t really fault him for not foreseeing that.

Their first war aim was to avoid being taken over by Germany. They also wanted Britain and France out of the Mediterranean.

I suspect he thought they would, and he wanted to be Uncle Adolph’s favorite, flamboyant nephew.

Didn’t quite work out for him. He wound up just hanging around the streetcorner.

In the company of a woman of poor reputation, too!

I think partially Versailles can be blamed again. The Italians thought by fighting on the Allied side in WWI they were due big territorial gains - probably specifically Albania and Alpine territory but other stuff too…indeed the resentment that basically almost nothing like this happened helps in some part to fuel Mussolini’s rise. He is all about creating a Greater Italy/New Roman Empire. So there was no way to walk away from that.

I think also, there was a very ~1930’s ish idea in some (mainly fascist) quarters that the World would be carved up into spheres of influence and that Italy had better back a winner and help carve the world up to her liking.

Those are two, partial reasons she continued to press on despite the bad results in the field.

Wasn’t he one of the reasons for that incompetence ? Ordering his generals to attack when they said they didn’t have enough troops and equipment, making decisions on what tanks to build despite not being an engineer, that sort of thing. The sort of control freakish things you expect from a dictator.

No, it was mostly that the Italian armies performed terribly. The biggest problem was that he spent a lot of money modernizing and upgrading Italy’s army during the 30s. By the time the war rolled around much of that was obsolete. They invaded Egypt with an army of 200,000 that eventually surrendered to a British army of 35,000. The reason was that the British force was relatively modern and mechanized, while the Italian was not.

I think it was a combination of two things. One was Mussolini’s egotism - the war was the big historical event of his time and he couldn’t stand to let it happen without him being a part of it. The other was that he believed Germany would win the war and wanted to be on the winning side.

From what I’ve read, it would also seem that the Italian military didn’t especially want to be involved in WWII- they would have been quite happy to take General Franco’s route and sit the whole thing out, but Il Duce wanted to expand Italy’s Empire. I vaguely recall something about renaming the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum- “Our Sea”- and a desire to own most of the land on both sides of it as the Romans had once done.

The Italians switched sides in 1944 anyway to help kick the Germans out anyway- proof that, despite Mussolini’s attempts to cosy up to Hitler, the Italians on the whole really didn’t want a bar of the whole thing.

The fighter aircraft were ridiculously underarmed.

There’s an interesting take on Mussolini’s motives in this article Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology by Lee Harris. In his discussion of fantasy ideologies generally, he touches on the Italian involvement in WWII as one of several examples of actions taken to fulfil a fantasy: -

That’s an interesting article in its own right. Thanks for that.

But that article reads as if Mussolini threw a dart at a map and attacked the first, weaker country he hit. It doesn’t mention tha the Italians suffered a humiliating defeat by the Ethiopians in 1896.

Not at all a justification, and certainly something that a corrupt, grandstanding dictator would want to erase at the expense of innocent lives. But the British Empire wasn’t a dictatorship when it went back into the Sudan 13 years after the fall of Khartoum, nor was the USA when the 7th Cavlary shot the Sioux to pieces at Wounded Knee 14 years after Little Big Horn. And neither was Israel when it won the record for holding a grudge, along with the Six Day War , 1,897 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD (watch your back, Titus!).

It’s just the simple human motive for revenge, same as the guy who commits road rage. “What does it say about me if I let myself be treated like this?”

…about Italian imperialism. Really, Ethiopia had no resources, was desperately poor, and conquering it cost the Italians a fortune. But Mussolini must have realized that the new “roman Empire” he envisioned was a joke-imperialism had long since failed to pay off. Why didn’t he stick to making speeches?

The Italians had nice uniforms though, feathers and things in their hats.

Not as nice as the Germans, but quite cute anyways :slight_smile:

You can also try looking up some details of the Italian colonisation of Libya - shipping tens of thousands of italian peasant farmers to grow grain in the Sahara, after herding the locals off to concentration camps. The whole endeavour was totally bonkers, other than in the context of Il Duce needing something to show in the propaganda reels, and all the other Big Boys having an empire to play with so he needed one too.
If you’re interested in how the whole terrible insanity of WW2 came to be, I recommend The Dark Valley - it covers the whole run-up period in all the major participants and gives a really good feel for how differently things were seen at the time.

You are right-the Italians spent millions in Libya-they even built a 500 mile long barb wire fence around it (maybe to keep stray camels out)? The funny thing was-they missed all that oil!
To me, imperialism makes sense only if the places you clonize have resources worth stealing! So, for the USA to colonize Panama made sense -it was valuable because of the canal. But who needs millions of acres of deserts (Libya, Somaliland). When did the average italian wise up to the fact that the "new Italian Empire’ was costing more than it was worth?

However, I’ve long admired the attitude in which, when your hand is busted and your opponent is civilized, there is no reason to continue fighting. Were I a German officer whose men were surrounded by the Soviets I would think twice before surrendering but facing the British, when all that would happen to me in one of their prison camps was that I’d be fed Spam and powdered eggs for a couple years? I’d invite the British commander to lunch before the surrender ceremony.

Indeed, but with more than 5 times as many troops as your opponent it’s a tad bit embarrassing to lose.