Before the NAZIs could strike at the Soviet Union the Reich's southern flank would have to be secured. He also wanted to secure the support of allies. This meant Spain, Vichy, France, and Italy in the west and as well as the Balkan countries. One might have thought the NAZI battle field victories and dominant position could have compeled the remaining independent countries to join him in his anti-Bolshevick campaign. NAZI diplomacy had already laid the groundwork in the Balkans. Hitler assumed that Franco who he had helped install in power would join him. Hitler also believed that the defeat of France and Petain's anti-Communist views would enable him to get Vichy's support for the war with the Soviets. He also did not anticipate that his ally Mussolini would complicate his plans. What followed was a diplomatic failure of staggering proportions which would cobntribute to the failure of the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union.
Before the NAZIs could strike at the Soviet Union the Reich's southern flank would have to be secured. He also wanted to secure the support of allies. This meant Spain, Vichy, France, and Italy in the west and as well as the Balkan countries. One might have thought the NAZI battle field victories and dominant position could have compeled the remaining independent countries to join him in his anti-Bolshevick campaign. Hitler's attempt at diplomacy resulted in a diplomatic tic failure of staggering proportions which would contribute to the failure of the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union. This failure is astonishing given the German strategic dominance on the continent.
NAZI diplomacy had already laid the groundwork in the Balkans. The NAZIs without firing a shot had suceeded in copting most of southern Europe and the Balkans to either become either active allies or suportive neutrals. The Balkans had important resources critical to the NAZI war effort--especially Romanian oil. The NAZIs used Germany's economic power to drawn the Balkan countries into the German orbit. Hitler met with Romanian leader Ion Antonescu late in 1940. Antonescu's made Romania one of Germany's staunchest allies. For Germany, Romanian is a critical ally beccause of the Romanian oil fields, especiaslly Ploesti. Hitler and Antonescu l met again (January and May 1941). Mussolini policies, however, complicated German policies. The NAZIs not only wanted access to Balkan resources, but it wanted a secure and stable southern flank. Here Mussolimi eventually destabilized the Balkans and drew Germany into a Medittteraean theater which would no only draw resources from the Soviet invasion, but allow Britain to use its strongest assett, the Royal Navy, to support its ground forces.
Hitler after the fall of France hoped to hain support in the war against Britain from his allies. Thus he turned west and in October 1940 traveled by train to secure the support of the western Fascist countries (Spain, Vichy France, and Italy) for coordinated actions against the British. He did not mention an invasion of the Soviet Union, but this must have bin on his mind as well. The result was a huge failure of NAZI diplomacy and one of Hitler's most frustrating experiences. Hitler was more adept at brining European leaders to Berchesgarden and threatening them into submission with threats of Luftwaffe bombings. Here one on one with Franco, Petain, and Mussolini, he totaly failed to achieve his objectives. This was in part because each of these countries had divergent interests, especially in North Africa. Having failed to defeat the British, Hitler's attention turmed increasingly to the preparations for his invasion of the Soviet Union. He thought that he had the Balkans an southern Europe well in handm but his erstwhile ally, Mussolini, was in the process of undoing vthe sachievements of the hitherto effective NAZI diplomacy.
The German Führer traveled by rail to Hendaye on the Franco-Spanish border to meet with Franco (October 23). Hitler had made his decession to invade the Soviet Union and wanted to gain the support of his allies. He assumed that Franco, who he had helped to install in power, would join his anti-Bolshevick campaign. Hitler's goals were impaired by several factors. One, the British had defeated the Luftwaffe in the skies over England. This must have given Franco come pause concerning the inevitability of Germnan victory. Two, geographically Spain is a peninsula jutting west into the Atlantic. Spain if it entered the War would be exposed to the Royal Navy and a naval emargo which would damage its still shaky economy. Three, Franco had been briefed by Abwehr (German military intelligence) commander Admiral Canaris. Franco and Canaris had become close during the Civil War. Canaris had been apauled by the NAZI brutality he had witnessed in Poland. He told Franco privately that Hitler was now obsessed with Russia and would not risk any kind of diversion in Spain. Thus Franco refused to be cowed by Hitler. When Franco and Hitler met, Franco did not reject Hitler's entreaties to enter the War. He did make expansive demands. Franco demanded more colonies in Africa at Vichy's expense. Franco wanted French Morocco, parts of French Algeria and an expansion of Spanish Guinea. Hitler rejected these demands. The two also discussed 'Operation Felix', a German plan to seize British-held Gibraltar. Franco argued that it made no sence in closuing the front door of the Meditterean as long as the British controlled the back door (Suez). Hitler was not accustomed to be spoken to as Franco did. Hitler told Musolini that, "I would rathger have three or four teeth extracted than go through that again". After the meeting with Franco, he traveled on to meet with Petain and Mussolini which also proved to be frustrating exercizes for the Führer.
Hitler in the armistic negotiations permitted an unoccupied zone in southern France, about one-third of the country. This was probably to enduce the British to also subit to NAZI dominance. After meeting with Franco at Hendaye, Hitler's train headed back to Montoire where he met with Marshall Pétain (October 24-26). Accounts of the meeting vary somewhat as do the relative roles of Laval and Pétain. The meetings took place at Montoire, primarily because it was an isolated location close to the main Paris-Hendaye rail line. A rail tunnel was close in case of a British air attack. Hitler believed that the defeat of France and Pétain's anti-Communist views would enable him to get Vichy's support for the war with Britain and eventually the Soviets. The French wanted improved relations with her NAZI masters. of particular concern were the French POWs who had been interned in the Reich and the staggering reparations imposed on France. The actual meeting took place in a train car just outside Montoire's train station. At Montoire Pétain announced Collaboration in the new European order as French policy. This was the genesis of the term for those who cooperated with the Germans during the War. At the time, Laval and Pétain were convinved that the Germans had won the War and the only hope for France was to cooperate. Pétain like Franco did not behave as Hitler expected. He refused to give the Germans access French North Africa. While he was willing to collaborate, he was not willing to declare war on Britain. German Minister von Renthe-Finck wrote that Montoire, “constitutes the greatest defeat of German policy …. if there had not been Montoire, there would probably have been no allied landing in North Africa.” That is probably an exageration. Hitler's focus was rapidly shifting east and any German military commitment to North Africa seems unlikely. Even so, Hitler clearly did not get what he wanted. Hitler's interperrter, Dr. Paul Schmidt, writes, “I am inclined to regard the winner of Verdun as the winner in the duel of diplomacy at Montoire.” In the discussions of Vichy's role in the new European Order, Pétain "listened to Hitler in silence. Not once did he offer a sympathetic word for Germany". Vichy France remained a neutral state. The meeting itself was secret. It was only announced to the French public several days later when Pétain spoke to the French people on the radio (October 30). Pétain declared, “ It is with honour and to nmaintain French unity, a unity of 10 centuries , within the framework of a constructive activity of the new European order, that I embark enter to-day the path of collaboration. ” [Why ..., p.5] This is gebnerally seen as the beginning of organised French collaboration with the NAZIs. Actually collaboration had already begun, including actions against Jews.
Hitler did not anticipate that his ally Mussolini would complicate his plans by initiating and unecessary and ultimately costly new front in the Balkans. Hitler loved to present his enemies and allies facti-acompli. Until October 1940 he had generally suceeded with a series of bold, risky steps. His ally Mussolini, however, was increasingly frustrated by Hitler's unilateral decissions. Mussolini answered Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia (March 1939) with an invasion of Albania. Now frustrated with the German move into Romania, a country which Italy had interests, with the decessionn to invade Greece. This has to be the most poorly planned Axis offensive of the War. Italy after entering the War performed poorly against nearly postrate France (June 1940). Italian operations against the British in North Africa fared even worse. Rather than focus the country's limited military assetts, instead Mussolini without consulting Hitler ordered an invasion of another country that was neutral at the time--Greece. The idea of launching a war over extremely rough terraine in October when the military would face difficult weather conditions is ludicrous in itself. Even more unbelieveable is that Mussolini ordered the invasion at a time when the British were pressing the Italian forces in North Africa and half the Italian Army had been demobilized to bring in the harvest. (The High Command and taken this step in part to prevent any adventuresome action by Il Duce. Hitler learned about the Italian invasion on the train at night as it was headed toward Florence and the neeting with his ally October 27). He was furious and railed against Mussolini to his advisers. Hitler loved delivering facti-acompli to others, he did not enjoy receiving them. THe next morning Il Duce was waiting for Hitler at the Florence train station which had been decorated for the occassion. After delivering a Fascist salute, he exclaimed, "Führer, we are marching. This morning a victorious Italian army has crossed the Greek frontier." Hitler congratuated Mussolini, but had misgivings which proved well founded, undoing the carefully orchestrated NAZI diplomacy of many years. Hitler would have to do precisely what he had hope to avoid, commit German forces at a time he was attempting to focus on his invasion of the Soviet Union.
"Why Petain accepted 'New Order': Marshal's account of meeting with Hitler," The Glasgow Herald (October 31, 1940). p.5.
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