Italy: World War II

World War II

Mussolini followed an aggressive foreign policy, and after 1935 he turned increasingly to militarist and imperialist solutions to Italy's problems. Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1935–36, easily overcoming the ineffective sanctions imposed by the League of Nations (from which Italy withdrew in 1937). At the same time, Italy drew closer to Nazi Germany and to Japan; in 1936, Italy formed an entente with Germany (see Axis). Italy intervened on the Insurgent side in the Spanish civil war (1936–39), and in 1939 it seized Albania.

At the outbreak of World War II, Italy assumed a neutral stance friendly to Germany, but in June, 1940, it declared war on collapsing France and on Great Britain. In 1940, Italian forces were active in North Africa (see North Africa, campaigns in) and attacked Greece; however, they were unsuccessful until German troops came to their aid in early 1941. Later in 1941, Italy declared war on the Soviet Union and on the United States. Soon Italy suffered major reverses, and by July, 1943, it had lost its African possessions, its army was shattered, Sicily was falling to U.S. troops, and Italian cities (especially ports) were being bombed by the Allies.

In July, 1943, discontent among Italians culminated in the rebellion of the Fascist grand council against Mussolini, Mussolini's dismissal by Victor Emmanuel III, the appointment of Badoglio as premier, and the dissolution of the Fascist party. In Sept., 1943, Italy surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, while German forces quickly occupied N and central Italy. Aided by the Germans, Mussolini escaped from prison and established a puppet republic in N Italy. Meanwhile, the Badoglio government declared war on Germany, and Italy was recognized by the Allies as a cobelligerent. The Allied Italian campaign was a slow, grueling, and costly struggle (see Cassino; Anzio). The fall of Rome (July, 1944) was followed by a stalemate. In Apr., 1945, partisans captured and summarily executed Mussolini. In May, 1945, the Germans surrendered.

After the war, Italy's borders were established by the peace treaty of 1947, which assigned several small Alpine districts (see Brigue and Tende) to France; the Dodecanese to Greece; and Trieste, Istria, part of Venezia Giulia, and several Adriatic islands to Yugoslavia (now in Slovenia and Croatia) and to the Free Territory of Trieste. In 1954, Trieste and its environs were returned to Italy. As a result of the war, Italy also lost its colonies of Libya, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland.

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