The Axis lliance: Chronological Development (1936-45)

Figure 1.-- Here we see a scene in a grandstand somewhere in Germany before the War or early in the War. A first we thought it was a military display, but the German officers and their families are only a small part of the audience. Notice how they are all sitting together. So it could have been some other attraction. Also note the junior Japanese officer with them. Despite the developing Axis alliance, the Germans were generally reluctant to share critical military intelligence with their Japanese ally until very late in the War when it was of little use and the Americans were closing in on the Home Islands. Image courtesy of the Military History of the 20th Century.

The Axis was a military alliance which slowly evolved as Hitler moved toward war in Europe (1936-40). The first step was the Rome-Berlin Axis (1936) followed by the Anti-Comitern Pact which first brought Japan into the process. Although conceived as a defensive pact, the Axis countries turned it into a war-time coalition (1941). The Axis partners, however, never committed to the level of military cooperation achieved by the Allies. This proved to be a fatal flaw of the Axis which had managed by 1940-41 to achieve a substantial military advantage over the Allies. The Axis alliance evolved into a war-time alliance, but like Italy, the Japanese proved to be detriment to the Germans. Rather than help go defeat the Soviets, the Japanese brought Ameica into the War (December 1941). The flaw in the Axis was the natural outgriwth of the nature of the totalitrian powers. Britain and America shared more than a common language. They shared a deep cultural bond and commond values. These iunclude a commitment th librral democracy, the rule of law, basic human rights, and free market economics. The Axis alliance on the other hand was a marriage of convenience among powers seeking national power. Ultimately had the Axis won there would have been a falling out among the three powers upon division of the spoils. Both Germant and Japan sought world power and had deep seated racial biases. The Germans granted the Japanese the status of 'honorary' Aryans, but that was just to cover up the racial doctrines that judged non-Aryans inferiors. The Japanese had similar racial views, but not as stridently articulated. These differences severly limited the effectiveness of the Axis.

Rome-Berlin Axis (October 1936)

Mussolini did not take Hitler seriously until, much to his surprise, he seized power (1933). There were at first, no quick move to establish an alliance despite their similsar Fascist ideologies. Mussolini at first feared German territorial expansion south. Mussolini moved troops tithe Austrian border when it seemed that Hitler was attempting to seize Austria (1934). Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia (October 1935) impaired relations with the democracies (Britain and France). This fundamentally changed the European geopolitical framework. The democracies criticism was a major factor in Mussolini's rapprochement with Hitler. Mussolini was outraged with the democracies. This was an important step in freeing Germany's ability to to end the Versailles restrictiins and the Anglo-French strategic encirclement. This was followed by Italy and Germany supporting Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936). Hitler and Mussolini agreed to cooperate diplomatically and signed a treaty of frienship (October 25, 1936). Initially Mussolini had been concerned with the rise of the NAZIs and backed Austrian independence. Allied (British and French) opposition to his invasion of Ethiopia apparently had a major impact on reorienting his stratehic thinking. Mussolini first used the term "axis" (November 1). Speaking at Milan's cathedral. he referred to the evolving relationship as an "axis". This appears to be a strange term for an alliance. Apparently the concept was that Europe would revolve around their regimes. The actual agreement was formulated by Italy’s foreign minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son in law. (He would eventually be shot in a NAZI concentration camp.) The agreement was an informal one. It did not become a formal military alliance until the Pact of Steel (1939).

Anti-Comitern Pact (November 1936)

The fondation for the Axis agreement was laid with the signing of the Anti-Comitern Pact. Relations with the Soviets which had been damaged with the seizure of Manchuria worsened when Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact (1936). The Japanese and Germans signed a protocol in Berlin aimed directly at the Soviet Union (November 25, 1936). The purpose was to "guard" against the Communistic International. The agreement was very simple. It read, " The Imperial Government of Japan and the Government of Germany, In cognizance of the fact that the object of the Communistic International (the so-called Komintern) is the disintegration of, and the commission of violence against, existing States by the exercise of all means at its command, Believing that the toleration of interference by the Communistic International in the internal affairs of nations not only endangers their internal peace and social welfare, but threatens the general peace of the world, Desiring to co-operate for defense against communistic disintegration, have agreed as follows. Article I The High Contracting States agree that they will mutually keep each other informed concerning the activities of the Communistic International, will confer upon the necessary measure of defense, and will carry out such measures in close co-operation. Article II The High Contracting States will jointly invite third States whose internal peace is menaced by the disintegrating work of the Communistic International, to adopt defensive measures in the spirit of the present Agreement or to participate in the present Agreement. Article III The Japanese and German texts are each valid as the original text of this Agreement. The Agreement shall come into force on the day of its signature and shall remain in force for the term of five years. The High Contracting States will, in a reasonable time before the expiration of the said term, come to an understanding upon the further manner of their co-operation." It was signed by Viscount Kintomo Mushakoji Imperial Japanese Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Joachim von Ribbentrop German Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. The agreement was clearly aimed at the Soviet Union. Japan and Germany agreed if attacked by the Soviets to consult on what measures were needed. The two countries also agreed that neither would conclude political treaties with the Soviet Union. Germany agreed to recognize the Japanese puppet regime of Manchuko. Italy subsequently joined the Anti-Comintern Pact (1937). Hitler subsequently violated the terms of the pact when he negotiated NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939).

Hitler Visit to Rome (May 1938)

Hitler did not travel to foreign countries with the exception of ones he occupied. The only exception was Italy. Hitler paid a state visit to Rome, arriving (May 3). Protocal made King Victor Emanuel the official host. Pope Pius XI left Rome so he would not have to participate. The visit was of enormous interest, coming as it did just days after Hitler seized Austria in the Anchluss, meaning Germany and Italy now had a common border. Mussolini staged an enthusiastic welcome for Hitler. Is is not clear how he would have been received without the Fascist stage management. For some reason, Hitler Youth boys traveled to Rome for the occassion. The press noted that Mussolini abswnted himself from many of the most high-profile events. It has never been determined just why he did this. Also unknown is just what trnspired between Hitler and Musslini in their private conversations. All we really know is Mussolini's speech of welcome and Hitler's response. The press reported flanboyant commitments of deological unity, eternal friendship and co-operation, justice, 'elemental' rights, security and equitable peace, but very little in the way of concrere cooperation. The one concession that Mussolini was fixed on was the South Tyrol and Hitler placated him. Hitler mentioned that the frontier between them had been the cause of trouble for 2000 years. "Let us as neighbours, now recognise the natural frontier, making permanent Italo-German co operation possible. Let it also serve as a bridge of mutual help. It is my unshakeable will and legacy to Germany that it forever regards the Italo-German alpine frontier as in violable." The Germans were pressing the Italians as part of Fascist unity to issue race laws tatgeting Jews which they saw as an important part of their alliance.. It was a step Mussolini calculated would please Hitler. Mussolini declared that the Alps to be the natural border for both countries.

Pact of Steel (May 1939)

Germany and Italy signed a treaty turning the Rome-Berlin Axis into a military alliance. Galeazzo Ciano and Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the agreement (May 22). The agreement which became known as the Pact of Steel, was in effect a defensive military alliance in the event of attack by a third country. In such a case the partners would offer immediate assistance including military support. In event of war the two countries agreed that neither would make peace without the consent of the other. They also agreed to collaborate in military and wartime production. The pact was initially made for a 10 year period. At the time the agreement was signed, the German economy was on a war footing, the Italian economy was not. Hitler had just seized the parts of Czechoslovakia that was left over after Munich (March 1939). He was begining to focus on Poland. He thought that it might be possible to seize Poland without igniting a general European war. There is no evidence that he shared these thoughts with Mussolini nor that Mussolini was aware of how close the War was.

German-Italian War Partners (June 1940)

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Mussolini fearing war was unwilling to follow Hitler. Mussolini was, however, dazzeled by NAZI successes in Poland, Denmark, and Norway. The successes in the West beginning with the assault on the Lowlands and France (May 10, 1940) apparently determined the issue. The Axis Alliance was a essentially a defensive alliance. It did not require Italy to join Germany in the War. Finally Mussolini simply could not resist the potential territorial gains. Mussolini once the French Arny had been essentially defeated, declared war on Britain and France (June 10). Four days later the NAZIs entered Paris (June 14). President Roosevelt commented in a sppech, "The hand that held the dagger, plunged it into the back of a neighbor". Italy was unprepared for war and as a peninsular nation was far more exposed to the British Royal Navy than Germany was. Japan was better prepared for war than Italy, but like Italy did not have the indusytrial strength to effctively wage war against major industrial power.

Tripartite Pact (September 1940)

The Japanese were initially reluctant to accept Hitler's 1939 offer to formally join the German-Italian Axis alliance. The German defeat of the Netherlands and epecially France apparently caused the Japanese to reverse their position. The defeat of the French and the occupation of the Netherlands meant that the colonies of these countries in Southeast Asia were vulnerable. The Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) were particularly important because of their oil resources. Rubber was another important resource available in the region. Japan had been importing oil from the United States, but America was increasing pressure on Japan to end the war in China. Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, making the country a member of the Axis military alliance (September 27). The Pact allied Germany, Italy, and Japan and became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis, or more commonly Axis alliance.

Japan Enters the War (December 1941)

Hitler invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). Hitler engaged in no advance consultations with his Axis partner over war with the Siviet Union. Expectging a victorious Summer campaign, he did not press the Japanese to join the campaign. Japanese diplomats, however, suggested to him that Japan would join the assault on the Soviet Union. As the campaihn began to bog down, Hitler became increasingly interested in Japanese involvement. The Japanese without any consultation, however, struck south at American and Britain rather than north at the Soviet Union (December 7). The attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the War, but only a war in the Pacific. The day before the Soviets launched a major Winter offensive before Moscow. Hitler in a still not fully understood decession, declared war on the United States (December 11). Not only was this not required by the Axis Alliance, but he made this decession unilaterally without any requirement that Japan reciprocate by declaring war on the Soviet Union.

Military Cooperation (1940-45)

The War would destroy Mussolini's Fascist regime. Hitler even befire the end of the War concluded that Italy was more of a hinference than an asset. It distracted the German from the central campaign of the War, the conflict in the East with the Soviet Union. Here yhe Hapanese coukd have been an enormous assett. But there ws no strategic planning. Japan decided to pursue its own immedite national interests and seize the long coveted Southern Resource Zone.


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Created: 5:30 PM 4/30/2012
Last updated: 3:39 AM 11/19/2014