Mussolini and Hitler by Christian Goeschel

Mussolini and Hitler by Christian Goeschel

Author:Christian Goeschel
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780300178838
Publisher: Yale University Press


III

In public, both leaders thus maintained their closed ranks to project the Axis. This did not go unnoticed by the international press. On 7 August 1941, Mussolini’s son Bruno died when his bomber plane crashed on a test flight. Hitler immediately sent the Duce a telegram to offer his condolences, which the New York Times reported as a sign of Italo-German solidarity.54 Yet Roosevelt and Churchill soon took over the headlines as an alternative couple of friends, embracing liberal democracy against the Axis threat. On 14 August, on a naval ship in Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland, they signed the Atlantic Charter, a strong display of Britain’s and America’s common war goals and of American material and financial support of Britain via ‘lend-lease’ agreements. Behind the scenes, their alliance, one of necessity, was not without friction either but Churchill and Roosevelt discussed military strategy and seemed to like each other, unlike Hitler and Mussolini.55

On 23 August 1941 Mussolini boarded a train to Germany. As usual, the Duce’s train crossed South Tyrol by night. It stopped at the Brenner Pass, where Mussolini and the Italian delegation were greeted with military and diplomatic honours. The German government had kept Mussolini’s visit secret to create a diplomatic sensation with this apotheosis of the New Order.56 From the Brenner Pass, the train crossed Germany and continued towards East Prussia, arriving in the morning of 25 August at a small station near Hitler’s headquarters outside Rastenburg, also known as Wolf’s Lair. Hitler, accompanied by a phalanx of military leaders and high-ranking Nazi officials, was expecting the Duce, who got off the train dressed in a marshal’s uniform, as Il Popolo d’Italia later reported. His showy dress was a marked contrast to the Nazi leader’s simple tunic.57

Hitler’s sparsely furnished and gloomy bunker, where the dictators met in private, provided a stark contrast to Mussolini’s bourgeois residences. After his usual boastful ‘detailed presentation of the military events’, the Führer praised Italy’s contribution to the Soviet campaign only in passing and instead ‘repeated praise for the Finnish troops who [were] fighting in an admirable way’. Mussolini was left speechless and later expressed ‘his serious desire that the Italian armed forces participate in greater measure to the operations against the Soviets’. But Hitler left no one in doubt that he was the master and refused to give in to Italian demands for the incorporation of more French territories. The signing of the Atlantic Charter had put additional pressure on the Axis, as both leaders expected an American entry into the war before long. In their personalised view of history, Hitler and Mussolini, aspiring to ‘the construction of the New European Order’, served as the far-right alternative to Churchill and Roosevelt. Despite these strategic, military and personal tensions, both dictators remained friendly to each other in order to maintain the Axis facade.58

As during the dictators’ September 1937 and May 1938 encounters, the itinerary was densely packed, leaving little time for Hitler, Mussolini and their military staffs, including Cavallero and Keitel, to discuss strategy.



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