Italy's Involvement in World War 2

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The independent state of Italy emerged from a long nationalist struggle for unification that started with the revolution of 1848. The southern kingdoms of Sardinia and Sicily joined in 1866 and by 1914 only the Vatican and San Marino retained independence within Italy. However, a large Italian population remained within Austria-Hungary in the Trentino and Trieste regions. By 1911 Italy had a population of 34.7 million. Although primarily an agricultural economy, there was considerable industry in the northern areas of the country. To feed its growing population, Italy needed to import some foods, notably grain from Russia and Germany. Italy was a constitutional monarchy. Victor Emmanuel III had been king since 1900. People were appointed to the upper house of the National Assembly but the lower house was elected by universal adult male suffrage. The prime minister was Giovanni Giolitti but after the 1913 elections when socialists and radicals did well, he had a greatly reduced majority in the National Assembly. Italy had been members of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882. However, this alliance was unpopular with large numbers of Italians and there was some doubt about Italy's military involvement in event of a war with members of the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). The Italian Government introduced military conscription in 1907. However, only about 25 per cent of those eligible for conscription received training and by 1912 there were only 300,000 men in the Italian Army. Over 5.2 million men served in the Italian Army during the First World War. Italy's total wartime casualties was 420,000 killed and almost 955,000 wounded. After the war Benito Mussolini attacked Vittorio Orlando for failing to achieve Italy's objectives at the Versailles Peace Treaty and helped to organize the various right-wing groups in Italy into the Fascist Party. The next prime minister, Francesco Nitti, also came under attack and he was forced to resign in 1920. After a series of riots in 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Benito Mussolini in an attempt to prevent a communist revolution in Italy. Mussolini headed a coalition of fascists and nationalists and parliamentary government continued until the murder of the socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti in 1924. Left-wing parties were suppressed and in 1929 Italy became a one-party state. Mussolini carried out an extensive public-works programme and the fall in unemployment made him a popular figure in Italy. Italy controlled Eritrea and Somalia in Africa but had failed several times to colonize neighbouring Ethiopia. When Benito Mussolini came to power he was determined to show the strength of his regime by occupying the country. In October 1935 Mussolini sent in General Pietro Badoglio and the Italian Army into Ethiopia. The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and in November imposed sanctions. This included an attempt to ban countries from selling arms, rubber and some metals to Italy. Some political leaders in France and Britain opposed sanctions arguing that it might persuade Mussolini to form an alliance with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Over 400,000 Italian troops fought in Ethiopia. The poorly armed Ethiopians were no match for Italy's modern tanks and aeroplanes. The Italians even used mustard gas on the home forces and were able to capture Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, in May 1936, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie to flee to England. Adolf Hitler had been inspired by Mussolini's achievements and once he gained power in Germany he sought a close relationship with Italy. In October 1936 the two men signed a non-military alliance. In 1939 Italy invaded Albania and soon afterwards Benito Mussolini signed a full defensive alliance with Nazi Germany (the Pact of Steel). However, Mussolini did not declare war on Britain and France until 10th June 1940. Mussolini already had over a million men in the Italian Army based in Libya. In...
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