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Mussolini and Italy and Winter War

Discussion in 'Winter and Continuation Wars' started by Kai-Petri, Mar 10, 2012.

  1. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Been reading about the Italian view of the Winter War, and how Mussolini saw that he had to help the battle against communism ( Stalin ) alongside Finland. I am amazed that actually the relationship with Hitler could have been broken easily but it didn´t. ´Here´s some points from the book by Pirkko Kanervo " Italy and the Finnish Winter War"

    Axis History Forum • View topic - Italian volunteers in Winter war


    After a break of nearly four months Mussolini approached Hitler by writing him a long letter, dated 5 January 1940. The letter has been regarded as Mussolini’s last attempt at trying to prevent the major war from spreading into the West. Without doubt it was that too, but it can also be regarded as an appeal for Finland.

    In the letter Mussolini covered extensively Italy’s relations with various countries of Europe and criticized in particular the German orientation towards the Soviet Union. The Germans should not be surprised how painful an effect the German-Russian alliance had had for example to Spain, to the Spain whose soil was covered by the dead bodies of Germans, Italians, and Spaniards. He announced that a further step in German relations with Moscow would have catastrophic effects in Italy. The German Lebensraum was in Russia, and nowhere else. Russia was Slavic and Asian, and Germany had the duty of defending Europe from Asia. Four months earlier Russia had been the enemy number one of the world, it cannot have changed to the friend number one. Mussolini said the issue had been deeply upsetting among the Italian Fascists and maybe also among many German national socialists.

    Mussolini wrote about the Fascist Italy being, despite the sanctions of the League of Nations, favourable towards Finland, “this small gallant nation”. He referred to the IKL (the extreme rightist political party of the time; translator’s remark) as he continued that “the best part of the Finnish people” had nevertheless not accepted the sanctions. Although there had been a lot of talk on the aid to Finland given by Italy, it only consisted of 25 fighters ordered before the war, nothing else. Thousands of Italian volunteers had reported at the Finnish Embassy and Consular Offices, but the Finns had rejected the offers until the date, wrote Il Duce.


    Mussolini was all but shy in modifying the truth in his letter. The fighters he could not deny, because six of them just lay at the harbour of Sassnitz at the time, but he omitted that the Finns had reached agreement on a batch of war material worth 2.9 million dollars three days earlier. It consisted of 100 trench mortars and 60 anti-aircraft guns with their ammunition, which the Italian Ministry of War was to hand over straight from an Army depot. On 14 January Finland managed to buy yet another 10 Fiat G.50 fighters more against cellulose.

    When the Italian Ambassador took Mussolini’s letter to Hitler, Finland was the only issue generating discussion. Hitler expressed his surprise, whether all this great sympathy towards Finland was really felt in Italy. He stated that the demands of the Soviet Union – a great power – were not unreasonable and that true friends of Finland should have advised the Finns to comply with them. As soon as the Ambassador had left, Hitler let Göring be called to see him, while Ribbentrop was the third one present. The gentlemen had more than five hours of heated discussion.

    The Italian diplomats studied the effect of Mussolini’s letter also among the rest of the German political and military lead. Colder than cold Ribbentrop stuck completely with the official line of the country. Soldiers were more open. Admiral Canaris said that it was not in German interests that Finland should cease to exist. Göring on his behalf let it be understood that a peaceful solution in the North would be beneficial for Germany. Embassy Secretary Magistrati, who discussed with Göring, proceeded to ask why Berlin would not utilize its opportunities to act as a mediator between Moscow and Helsinki to save Finland. From Göring’s answer it could be deduced that he himself personally would have had nothing against such a move, but that the proposal would run into difficulties in the contemporary German policy of the time.

    When did Hitler then reply to the letter he had received? Not until two months later, at the time when Finland was negotiating for peace in Moscow.
     
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  2. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I finished the book on the relationship between Finland and Italy during Winter War. Italy( Duce) saw the war as another Spanish civil war and was more or less ready to send volunteers and weapons and planes ( for a certain price of course ) to fight communism. Due to the German attitude Mussolini was making moves (=shipments and ammo and gun deals ) undercover although the propaganda in the Italian newspapers was strongly pro-Finnish. The fact that Hitler broke the pact of steel continuously could have led to the result that Italy would have left the pact and joined the Western Allied,especially if the Allied had sent troops to Finland and Italian troops possibly would have joined them in the fight against communism. Looking back this was a great situation in my opion to go and try to break the pact and leave Germany with an "unhappy alliance" with the SU. The peace that was agreed upon in march 1940 between the USSR and Finland, can be seen also as a German victory, as the "problem" between Germany and Italy disappeared.
     
  3. Mark4

    Mark4 Ace

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    Ahhh and the prelude to the disastrous war in the balkans, over confidence? This was a very interesting read alot of people seemed to have supported the fins but failed to help.
     
  4. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Mussolini also considered the Balkans an important area where the Soviets may not come for any price. Mussolini was aware of the Bessarabia question, yet Hitler lied to Mussolini that nothing would happen to Bessarabia and the USSR was not taking any piece of land in the Balkans.( I am not going to discuss Mussolini´s adventures in the Balkans ). So the importance of the Balkans to Duce and also the fact that Hitler lied again to Duce were something I had not understood before. Mussolini saw the fact that when the USSR entered the Balkans it was reason enough for him to start a war sooner or later.
     
  5. Urban Fox

    Urban Fox Member

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    Eh? There’s no chance of a German-Soviet alliance happy or otherwise. For one thing Hitler’s desire to exterminate Slavic civilization & munch on the bones was mono-maniacal. On the Soviet side the idea M-R Pact was a simple expedient that allowed the U.S.S.R to stay out of a major war & nibble around the edges making gains at little risk to themselves. Or at least that was the plan.

    Mussolini on the other hand had burned his bridges with the British & French, was increasingly delusional about Italy’s military capabilities and wished to expand the Italian Empire which would by necessity come at British & French expense.


    So whatever the misgiving on both sides the Italians & Germans were shackled to each other by 1939-40…
     
  6. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    You are wrong at least in some aspects.

    There WAS the German-Soviet alliance which suited both dictatorships very well. They divided the Eastern Europe for zones to enslave and started the war in Europe together with united attack on Poland - where the SU betrayed her new ally by postponing her attack against the mutual agreement.

    The SU supported and aided German attacks on Denmark, Norway, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK by supplying invaluable goods, such as oil and food, which Germany needed to be able to continue the war. Stalin also congratulated Hitler for the victory in France.

    The major war in Europe between Germany and the western powers was Stalin's idea and aim, not Hitler's - at least not in 1939.
     
  7. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    it wasnt really san alliance, but an agreement that suited both sides for a time. Both sides wanted to gain time for a longer term goal. Stalin would not have hesitated to attack Germany in 1942.
     
  8. Karjala

    Karjala Don Quijote

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    It was an alliance which suited the both dictators. Yes, they both were ready to betray the other party, but they still acted like partners.

    The USSR was supporting the German offensives and the Germans gave arms know-how in return. Germany was also helping the soviets in the Winter War by supporting the soviet subs and disallowing the Italian military aid to be transported to Finland.
     
  9. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    I know I will be off-topic; as this thread talks about Finnish-Italian relation. How about the interwar months ? If Thousands of Italian volunteers had reported. why not send them to Finland after the WInter War to train Finnish soldiers; in return, Italy would capture Soviet machinery, especially tanks, for research in Italy. Then Italian tanks may just improve in time for the Battle of France. I would imagine a hydrid Semovente tank destroyer with BT Christie suspension, sloped and wielded armor, and more crew from KV-1 which would be economical yet effective stopgap against British Tanks.
     
  10. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    What-if's frequently wander a bit, so its expected.

    First not sure how many Italians might make it there, but how much they could influence the conflict or how much they could bring back to Italy is the question.

    Most Italian troops would be no better, and possibly worse than the native Finnish forces available. An exception might be Italy's Alpine troops which I understand to be quite good. The key factor is that it is the Winter War and the Finn's already excelled at this kind of warfare.

    The second part of your post concerns the possibility of using captured Russian equipment to stimulate Italian production design. it was my understanding that T-34/KV-1 did not participate, so little chance to get any copies. What they likely would see is much the same they saw in Spain. I do not think these had much of a impact and it is doubtful that there would be any more movement within Italian design than other factors that came later.

    Bottom line the Italians had to see a need and want to make a change. Unfortunately (for them, not us) they didn't on either account
     
  11. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    Well, please do not take something very seriously. Many facets of ww2 has been discussed or published... in terms of time efficient posting, as a newcomer I think what-if is a good idea to spark discussion...

    What is interesting for Finnish and Italian geographical location is their relative proximity to almost mortal enemy of Soviet Union and Great Britian.

    For KV1, did a very small number appear in the Winter War ? T-34 would not be available though its presence was not my point.
     
  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Personally I find the what if a valuable tool to sharpen your understanding of what could and could not be possible.

    I am no expert on the Winter War, so it is possible that KV-1's did appear in small numbers, but I've seen personally no images or read any text that they did. It might also be that they appeared in the second half when Russia got its act together and if so there would fewer opportunities for Finland/Italy to come away with one as they were then severely pressed.
     
  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The KV-1´s did appear in small numbers but did not make any appearance as to make the Finns think they could be a weapon of big appearance. Only later on they found out how wrong they were. It could be that as the Red Army had used some big tank that could not move in the snow or forest early on, that the Finns considered this would be the fate of KV-1 as well.

    If the Italians had appeared in Winter War, I think the political effect would have been greater that probably the military one. Just as well as if the Allied had been early 1940 fighting the Red Army with the Finns, could Churchill make a pact with Stalin in summer 1941?
     
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  14. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I believe Churchill said something to the effect "that had Hitler invaded Hell itself, he would have at least made a favorable mention of the Devil in the House of Commons" so I don't think it would slow him down too much. :)

    The real interesting thought is if considerable number of Italian troops appeared, how would Stalin look on his pact with Hitler? Italy, from Moscow's perspective, was firmly in the 'Axis' camp. Would that make Stalin more receptive to British warning's in the spring of 1941, or perhaps choke off the resource pipeline into Germany?
     
  15. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    So in a nutshell, should Mussolini Italy better stay neutral like Franco Spain ? Given how the Soviet perceived Mussolini in Axis' Camp, I do think the political effect would be greater. Only Karelia, the Isthmuses, around Petsamo and Murmansk and Kola Peninsula would be Mannerheim's targets, let alone Finnish. Italian forces -- for example the Alpini -- would get valuable fighting experience in Finland. Italian air forces in 1939 has fighter aircrafts almost in numbers Gb and France combined but dated biplanes. Recalling the French Foreign Legion had fought a bit against Weserübung, Alpini or Italian regular fighting the Red Army would not be surprising scenes.

    After the Winter War, Finland held captured, had been donated and sold KV1, BT series, T-26, Ilyushin DB-3, Tupolev SB, Petlyakov Pe-3, Ilyushin Il-4. If, which was a big if, Italian aircraft and armor industries intend to upgrade, getting one or few samples from Finland would not be difficult in exchange for more transport aircraft, Fiat or Macchi C.200. Regardless, Finland got Fiat G.50. For Italian Air Forces, the Finnish experience may convinced themselves that their aircrafts are good enough for Spanish Civil War but not the Red Army. Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa powered Macchi C.200 or C.202 might then just appeared in time when Italy DOW against France.
     
  16. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Certainly neutrality would have been the sensible choice for Italy for many of the same reason's that Franco chose to remain on the sidelines. She was unprepared to fight a modern war and could leverage her neutrality with the Western Allies for at least minimal access to strategic materials such as oil and manufacturing minerals. She could also bid on the open market with other neutrals, though of course the Allies could afford to buy up the bulk of such available. She would have been able to retain all her prewar colonies (including Ethiopia) while possible getting a few choice morsel's with some hard bargaining.
     
  17. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    Getting back to history. Within the constraints of history,

    If German dictator leadership already wanted a temporal peace with the SU dictator leadership, why not let Italy did the dirty work of sending advisors or supplies to Finland. Would sending advisors draw British to closer to the SU ?

    British victory of Taranto may have influenced Japan's planning for the battle of the Pearl Harbor. Italy leadership and command for the land forces had been poor. Would Italian and/or Balkans advisers' careful study of the Winter War and the Spanish Civil War help how Italy was going to perform against an enemy effective on land: the SU and the British in North Africa ?

    For example, those advisers would conclude that Italian troops shall need an infantry support vehicle that could act as tank destroyer and assault gun. Finland in 1944 deployed German stug3 so a gallant but small army needed a tank destroyer and assault gun hybrid.
     
  18. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    If Germany wants even a temporal peace with the Soviets, they are certainly not going to let Italy do the "dirty work." As it was, Germany held up Italian shipments of arms and aircraft to the Finns during the Winter War.

    Further, Italy was walking a fine line with Germany. To somewhat stay in German good graces, some 5,000 Italian volunteers to fight for Finland during the Winter War had their passports refused and could not leave the country.

    Ergo, Italy is not going to be doing any "dirty work."

    Or will this be PoD No.312 to get a Italy into the Winter War or give the Italians Stugs in 1939/40?


    Very doubtful. The British were already on the outs with the Soviets over the Soviet invasion of Poland. The Winter War did not help matters between the two.


    First, I am not sure how the "studies" of Balkan advisors would help Italy? Since, those studies would be tailored to the needs of their own armies, and not the needs of the Italian Army.

    Second, you are presuming that these detailed Italian studies will draw the proper conclusions. For example, Finnish studies of the Italian war in Abyssinia, led them to conclude that poison gas would still be a factor in coming wars. Thus, the Finns greatly increased their focus on gas warfare training, to the detriment of their training in other warfighting areas. Although this issue was rectified a year or two later, the wrong lesson was learned, and for a time it was at a cost to the overall strength of the Finnish Army.

    Third, the Italian Army was so ill-equipped and ill-trained that there was simply not enough time to implement the lessons learned from the Spanish Civil War before the out break of World War II. As it was, Mussolini waited until mid-1940 to go to war, and even then his armies were lacking in equipment - not just quality equipment, but quantity. Even with their outdated equipment, there was not enough to go around.

    Fourth, the Italian assistance sent to Spain hurt the Italian armed forces much more than the benefit of any "detailed studies." The vast quantity of equipment sent to Spain greatly hindered the Italians in building up their Army & Air Force. 12 divisions worth of light mortars, 44 divisions worth of machine guns, 7,600 "soft" vehicles, 500 aircraft, etc. - Now, that would have helped the Italians more against the Russians or British when the time came...


    Actually, the Finns received their first delivery of Stugs on July 6, 1943. But, lets not quibble over dates.

    Further, give the lack of Finnish armored vehicles, this is a lesson that may not be "learned". So, it would depend on which side the Italians are "observing" from, Finnish or Russian.

    Finally, the "lesson" the Finns did learn from the Winter War and early Continuation War, was not a Stug, but an assault gunned tank...The BT-42.
    [​IMG]
     
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  19. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    To OP Kai-Petri:

    What was then the purpose from M's leadership in Italy to force diplomatically to Germany about helping Finland then, knowing Germany was gonna to block the attempt anyway ? From Italian standpoint, how would a diplomatic overture help itself and Finland, when the two powers involved appeared to be cooperating in their own political efforts.

    About the Finnish studies in [Ethiopia], was it a hypothetical example to demonstrate a point ?
     
  20. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    To Takao:

    So you meant sending Italian troops in Span was a detrimental effort. Given that M's Italian leadership knew its military weakness, how a Italian overture to Finland via Germany -- the OP's information -- help Italy then, not just in the military but all other aspects ? Just an example, would phosphate ore in Apatity near Murmansk potentially help Italy ? Apatity, on paper, was a work settlement in 1930s, so expecting a few thousands settlers working in the mines was reasonable.
     

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