On this day in 1940, Benito Mussolini arrives in Munich with his foreign minister, Count Ciano, to discuss immediate plans with the Fuhrer, and doesn’t like what he hears.
Embarrassed over the late entry of Italy in the war against the Allies, and its rather tepid performance since, Mussolini met with Hitler determined to convince his Axis partner to exploit the advantage he had in France by demanding total surrender and occupying the southern portion still free. The Italian dictator clearly wanted “in” on the spoils, and this was a way of reaping rewards with a minimum of risk. But Hitler, too, was in no mood to risk, and was determined to put forward rather mild terms for peace with France. He needed to ensure that the French fleet remained neutral and that a government-in-exile was not formed in North Africa or London determined to further prosecute the war. He also denied Mussolini’s request that Italian troops occupy the Rhone Valley, and that Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti (adjacent to Italian-occupied Ethiopia) be disarmed.
Ciano recorded in his diary that Mussolini left the meeting frustrated and “very much embarrassed,” feeling “that his role is secondary.” Ciano also records a newfound respect for Hitler: “Today he speaks with a reserve and perspicacity which, after such a victory, are really astonishing.”