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“On this day 1940… the meeting that changed the world”

12 days ago

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It’s 18th March 1940, 10:00 hours, Hitler meets Mussolini in his railway carriage as it travels through the snow covered Brenner Pass, high in the Alps and close to the border between Austria and Italy. Despite the fact that Hitler was seeking Italy's help in fighting the British, he deliberately disguised the fact, instead implying that the meeting was to focus on a peace proposal that Hitler had already shown to the American Secretary of State, Sumner Wells earlier that month. In fact, in the two previous years, they had already held several ‘secret’ meetings and the world believed they could be optimistic about a peaceful resolution. Mussolini, unaware of Hitler’s real intentions told his Foreign Minister Count Ciano just before the meeting, that Italy would not join the war until the German offensive would prove victorious.

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Ciano records the meeting in his diary:

“The Hitler meeting is very cordial on both sides. The conference … is more a monologue than anything else. Hitler talks all the time, but is less agitated than usual. He makes few gestures and speaks in a quiet tone. He looks physically fit. Mussolini listens to him with interest and with deference. He speaks little and confirms his intention to move with Germany. He reserves to himself only the choice of the right moment… The conference ends with a short meal. Later Mussolini gives me his impressions. He did not find in Hitler that uncompromising attitude which von Ribbentrop had led him to suspect. Yesterday, as well, von Ribbentrop only opened his mouth to harp on Hitler’s intransigency. Mussolini believes that Hitler will think twice before he begins an offensive on land. The meeting has not substantially changed our position.”

As one newspaper reported at the time: “So far Italy's navy and air force have proved inadequate for the task of driving British warships from the African coast, which must be done before Italian convoys can be safely sent to Libya. Possibly Italy has asked Germany to try to draw out the British Mediterranean Fleet by smashing Gibraltar, which In turn has caused Germany to press General Franco to enter the war or permit German troops to cross Spain to attack the Rock.”

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The meeting, which lasted just over 2 hours saw both parties plan for future joint-aggression, but the public acknowledgement was for peace in Europe. Afterwards, Mussolini shakes hands and salutes, and Hitler leaves again for Germany.

10 things you didn’t know about Hitler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KGe-NDkREQ

Pictures courtesy of Forces War Records Historic Documents Archive, also why not take a look at their exclusively transcribed 'Hitler's Black Book' which records those on Hitler's most wanted list.