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The Axis powers (German: Achsenmächte, Japanese: Suujikukoku (枢軸国?), Hungarian: Tengelyhatalmak, Romanian: Puterile Axei, Bulgarian: "Сили от Оста"), also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, comprised the countries that were opposed to the Allies during World War II. The three major Axis powers — Germany, Japan, and Italy — were part of a military alliance on the signing of the Axis Pact in September 1940, which officially founded the Axis powers. At their zenith, the Axis powers ruled empires that dominated large parts of Europe, Africa, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Like the Allies, membership of the Axis was fluid, and other nations entered and later left the Axis during the course of the war.
Origins and creation
The term "Axis" is believed to have been first coined by Hungary's Fascist Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös, who advocated an alliance of Nazi Germany, Hungary, and Italy. He worked as an intermediary between Germany and Italy to lessen differences between them to achieve such an alliance. Template:Sfn Gömbös' sudden death in 1936 while negotiating with Germany in Munich and the arrival of Kálmán Darányi, his non-Fascist successor, ended Hungary's initial involvement in pursuing a trilateral axis. The lessening of differences between Germany and Italy led to the formation of a bilateral axis. Template:Sfn
Initial proposals of a German-Italian alliance
Italy under Duce Benito Mussolini had pursued a strategic alliance of Italy with Germany against France since the early 1920s. Prior to becoming head of government in Italy as leader of the Italian Fascist movement, Mussolini had advocated alliance with recently victorious Germany after the Berlin Peace Conference of 1919 settled World War I. He believed that Italy could expand its influence in Europe by allying with Germany rather than against it.
In September 1923, Mussolini offered German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann a "common policy": he sought German neutrality and support against potential French military intervention over Italy's diplomatic dispute with Austria over Venetia, should an Italian seizure of Venetia result in war between Italy and Austria. The German ambassador to Italy in 1924 reported that Mussolini saw a nationalist Germany as an essential ally to Italy against France, and hoped to tap into the desire within the German army and the German political right for a continued suppression of France.
The German government during the democratic era did not respect governments of Emperor Karl I, and various government figures at the time desired Germany's annexation of German speaking lands in Austria. Gustav Streseman as German foreign minister in 1925 declared that the incorporation of territories of German majority in Austria was a major task of German foreign policy. The Reichswehr Ministry memorandum of 1926 declared its intention to seek the incorporation of Austrian territory as its first priority.
However at this time Mussolini stressed one important condition that Italy must pursue in an alliance with Germany, that Italy "must ... tow them, not be towed by them". Italian foreign minister Dino Grandi in the early 1930s stressed the importance of "decisive weight", involving Italy's relations between France and Germany, in which he recognized that Italy was not yet a major power, but perceived that Italy did have strong enough influence to alter the political situation in Europe by placing the weight of its support onto one side or another. However Grandi stressed that Italy must seek to avoid becoming a "slave of the rule of three" in order to pursue its interests, arguing that although substantial Italo-French tensions existed, that Italy would not unconditionally commit itself to an alliance with Germany, just as it would neither unconditionally commit itself to an alliance with France over conceivable Italo-German tensions. Grandi's attempts to maintain a diplomatic balance between France and Germany were challenged by pressure from the French in 1932 who had begun to prepare an alliance with Britain and the United States against the then-potential threat of a expansionist Germany. The French government warned Italy that it had to choose whether to be on the side of the pro-allied powers or the side of the anti-allied. Grandi responded by stating that Italy would be willing to offer France support against Germany if France gave Italy a portion of its rule over Equatorial Africa and allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia. France refused Italy's proposed exchange for support, as it believed Italy's demands were unacceptable and the threat from Germany was not yet immediate.
On October 23, 1932 Mussolini declared support for a Four Power Directorate that included Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, to bring about an orderly treaty revision. The proposed Directorate was pragmatically designed to reduce German hegemony in continental Europe, to reduce tensions between the great powers in the short term to buy Italy time from being pressured into a specific war alliance while at the same time being able to benefit from diplomatic deals on treaty revisions.
Danube alliance, dispute over Austria
In 1932, Gyula Gömbös and the Party of National Unity rose to power in Hungary, and immediately sought alliance with Italy. Gömbös sought to end Hungary's subordination to Vienna, but knew that Hungary alone was not capable of challenging the government by requesting an alliance and support from Italy. Mussolini was elated by Gömbös' offer of alliance with Italy, and both Mussolini and Gömbös co-operated in seeking to win over Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss to joining an economic bipartite agreement with Italy. During the meeting between Gömbös and Mussolini in Rome on November 10, 1932 the question came up over the sovereignty of Austria in regards to the predicted inevitable rise of the National Party to power in Germany. Mussolini was worried over Nationalist ambitions towards Austria, and indicated that at least in the short-term he was committed to maintaining Austria as a sovereign state. Italy had concerns over a Germany with Austria within it, laying land claims to Italian-populated territories of the Tyrol within Austria that bordered Italy. Gömbös responded to Mussolini by saying that as the Austrians primarily identified as Germans, that the Anschluss of Austria to Germany was inevitable, and advised that it would be better for Italy to have a friendly Germany on the border of the Brenner Pass than a hostile Germany bent on entering the Adriatic. Mussolini replied by expressing hope that the Anschluss could be postponed as long as possible until the breakout of a European war that he estimated would begin in 1938.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the National Party came to power in Germany. In a letter to Hitler within a day of his being appointed Chancellor, Gömbös told the ambassador to Germany to remind Hitler "that ten years ago, on the basis of our common principles and ideology, we were in contact via Dr Scheubner-Richter". Gömbös told the ambassador to inform Hitler of Hungary's intentions "for the two countries to co-operate in foreign and economic policy".
Hitler had long advocated an alliance between Germany and Italy since the 1920s. Shortly after being appointed Chancellor, Hitler sent a personal message to Mussolini, declaring "admiration and homage" and declaring his anticipation of the prospects of German-Italian friendship and even alliance. Hitler was aware that Italy held concerns over potential German land claims on Tyrol, and assured Mussolini that Germany was not interested in Southern Tyrol. Hitler in Mein Kampf had declared that Southern Tyrol was a non-issue considering the advantages that would be gained from a German-Italian alliance. After Hitler's rise to power, the Four Power Directorate proposal by Italy had been looked at with interest by Britain, but Hitler was not committed to it, resulting in Mussolini urging Hitler to consider the diplomatic advantages Germany would gain by breaking out of isolation by entering the Directorate and avoiding an immediate armed conflict. The Four Power Directorate proposal stipulated that Germany would no longer be required to have limited arms and would be granted the right to sizable armaments under foreign supervision in stages. Hitler completely rejected the idea of controlled armaments under foreign supervision.
Mussolini did not trust Hitler's intentions regarding Anschluss nor Hitler's promise of no territorial claims on Southern Tyrol. Mussolini informed Hitler that he was satisfied with the presence of the anti-Marxist government of Dollfuss in Austria, and warned Hitler that he was adamantly opposed to Anschluss. Hitler responded in contempt to Mussolini that he intended "to throw Dollfuss into the sea". With this disagreement over Austria, relations between Hitler and Mussolini steadily became more distant.
Hitler attempted to break the impasse with Italy over Austria by sending Hermann Göring to negotiate with Mussolini in 1933 to convince Mussolini to press the Austrian government to appoint members of Austria's Nationalists to the government. Göring claimed that Nationalist domination of Austria was inevitable and that Italy should accept this, as well as repeating to Mussolini of Hitler's promise to "regard the question of the South Tyrol frontier as finally liquidated by the peace treaties". In response to Göring's visit with Mussolini, Dollfuss immediately went to Italy to counter any German diplomatic headway. Dollfuss claimed that his government was actively challenging Marxists in Austria and claimed that once the Marxists were defeated in Austria, that support for Austria's Nationalists would decline.
In 1934, Hitler and Mussolini met for the first time, in Milan. The meeting did not proceed amicably. Hitler demanded that Mussolini compromise on Austria by pressuring Dollfuss to appoint Austrian Nationalists to his cabinet, in which Mussolini flatly refused the demand. In response, Hitler promised that he would accept Austria's independence for the time being, saying that due to the internal tensions in Germany that Germany could not afford to provoke Italy. Galeazzo Ciano told the press that the two leaders had made a "gentleman's agreement" to avoid interfering in Austria.
Several weeks after the Milan meeting, on June 25, 1934 Austrian Nationalists assassinated Dollfuss. Mussolini was outraged as he held Hitler directly responsible for the assassination that violated Hitler's promise made only weeks ago to respect Austrian independence. Mussolini rapidly deployed several army divisions and air squadrons to the Piave border area, and warned that a German move against Austria would result in war between Germany and Italy. Hitler responded by both denying Nationalist responsibility for the assassination and issuing orders to dissolve all ties between the German National Party and its Austrian branch, which Germany claimed was responsible for the political crisis.
Italy effectively abandoned diplomatic relations with Germany while turning to France in order to challenge Germany's intransigence by signing a Franco-Italian accord to protect Austrian independence. French and Italian military staff discussed possible military co-operation involving a war with Germany should Hitler dare to attack Austria. As late as May 1935, Mussolini spoke of his desire to destroy Hitler.
Relations between Germany and Italy recovered due to Hitler's support of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, while other countries condemned the invasion and advocated sanctions against Italy.
Development of German-Japanese-Italian alliance
Interest in Germany and Japan in forming an alliance began when Japanese diplomat Oshima Hiroshi visited Joachim von Ribbentrop in Berlin in 1935. Oshima informed von Ribbentrop of Japan's interest in forming a German-Japanese alliance against the Soviet Union. Von Ribbentrop expanded on Oshima's proposal by advocating that the alliance be based in a political context of a pact to oppose the Comintern. The proposed pact was met with mixed reviews in Japan, with a faction of ultra-nationalists within the government supporting the pact while the Japanese Navy and the Japanese Foreign Ministry were staunchly opposed to the pact. There was great concern in the Japanese government that such a pact with Germany could alienate Japan's relations with Britain, endangering years of a beneficial Anglo-Japanese accord, that had allowed Japan to ascend in the international community in the first place. The response to the pact was met with similar division in Germany; while the proposed pact was popular amongst the upper echelons of the National Party, it was opposed by many in the Foreign Ministry, the Army, and the business community who held financial interests in China to which Japan was hostile.
On learning of German-Japanese negotiations, Italy also began to take an interest in forming an alliance with Japan. Italy had hoped that due to Japan's long-term close relations with Britain, that an Italo-Japanese alliance could pressure Britain into adopting a more accommodating stance towards Italy in the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1936, Italian Foreign Minister Ciano informed Japanese Ambassador to Italy, Sugimura Yotaro, "I have heard that a Japanese-German agreement concerning the Soviet Union has been reached, and I think it would be natural for a similar agreement to be made between Italy and Japan". Initially Japan's attitude towards Italy's proposal was generally dismissive, viewing a German-Japanese alliance against the Soviet Union as imperative while regarding an Italo-Japanese alliance as secondary, as Japan anticipated that an Italo-Japanese alliance would antagonize Britain that had condemned Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. This attitude by Japan towards Italy altered in 1937 after the international condemnation of Japan for aggression in China and faced international isolation, while Italy remained favourable to Japan. As a result of Italy's support for Japan against international condemnation, Japan took a more positive attitude towards Italy and offered proposals for a non-aggression or neutrality pact with Italy.
The "Axis powers" formally took the name after the Tripartite Pact was signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September 1940, in Berlin. The pact was subsequently joined by Hungary (20 November 1940), Romania (23 November 1940), Slovakia (24 November 1940), and Bulgaria (1 March 1941).
At the end of World War I, German citizens felt that their country was entering its golden age as a result of the Treaty of Brest-Listovsk and Peace Conference of 1919, in which Germany received enormous reparations payments and gained additional territory including colonies. The pressure of the war on the German economy led to hyperinflation during the early 1920s. Although Germany began to improve economically in the mid-1920s, the Great Depression created more economic hardship and a rise in political forces that advocated radical solutions to Germany's woes. The Nationalists, under Adolf Hitler, promoted the nationalist stab-in-the-back legend stating that Germany was being betrayed by Jews and Communists. The party promised to make Germany more than another major power and create a Greater Germany that would include Austria, Sudetenland, and other German-populated territories in Europe. The Nationalists also aimed to Germanize areas in Eastern Europe.
Colonies and dependencies
- German Congo
- Gold Coast
- German West Africa
- German East Africa
- German South West Africa
The Empire of Japan, a constitutional monarchy ruled by Hirohito, was the principal Axis power in Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese constitution prescribed that "the Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution" (article 4) and that "The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and the Navy" (article 11). Under the emperor were a political cabinet and the Imperial General Headquarters, with two chiefs of staff.
As a result of the internal discord and economic downturn of the 1920s, militaristic elements set Japan on a path of expansionism. As the Japanese home islands lacked natural resources needed for growth, Japan planned to establish hegemony in Asia and become self-sufficient by acquiring territories with abundant natural resources. Japan's expansionist policies alienated it from other countries and by the mid-1930s brought it closer to Germany and Italy, who had both pursued similar expansionist policies. Cooperation between Japan and Germany began with the Anti-Comintern Pact, in which the two countries agreed to ally to challenge any attack by the Soviet Union.