On this day in 1943, Adolf Hitler learns that Axis ally Italy is buying time before negotiating surrender terms with the Allies in light of Mussolini’s fall from power.
Hitler had feared that such a turn of events was possible, if not probable. Hitler had come to Italy on July 19 to lecture Il Duce on his failed military leadership—evidence that he knew, even if he was not admitting, that both Mussolini and Italy were about to collapse, leaving the Italian peninsula open to Allied occupation. Despite a half-hearted reassurance from Mussolini that Italy would continue to battle on, Hitler nevertheless began preparing for the prospect of Italy’s surrender to the Allies.
When Mussolini was ousted from power and arrested by his own police six days later. Hitler gathered Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Rommel, and the commander in chief of the German navy, Karl Doenitz, at his headquarters to reveal the plans of action he had already been formulating. Among them: (1) Operation Oak, in which Mussolini would be rescued from captivity; (2) the occupation of Rome by German forces and the reinstallation of Mussolini and his fascist government; (3) Operation Black, the German occupation of all Italy; and (4) Operation Axis, the destruction of the Italian fleet (in order to prevent it from being commandeered for Allied use).
Hitler’s advisers urged caution, especially since it would require recalling troops from the Eastern front. The Allies had not made a move on Rome yet, and although Mussolini was under arrest, the Italian government had not formally surrendered. Germany had received assurances from Mussolini’s successor, General Badoglio, that Italy would continue to fight at Germany’s side. Then on July 30, Hitler read a message from his security police chief in Zagreb that an Italian general had confided to a Croat general that Italy’s assurances of loyalty to Germany were “designed merely to gain time for the conclusion of negotiations with the enemy.”