Rome, Italy · May 3, 1938

On this date in 1938 Adolf Hitler began a six-day Ital­ian state visit to Rome, Naples, and Flo­rence in a dis­play of Axis sol­i­darity, which in­cluded a parade by the Ital­ian armed forces (demon­stra­ting to Ger­man reviewers a lack of mod­ern equip­ment) and a re­view of the Ital­ian navy (world’s fifth largest). To Hitler’s annoy­ance, his host was King Victor Em­man­uel III, not Prime Minister Benito Mus­so­lini. This was not the first meeting between the two states­men. Hitler and Mus­so­lini had first met in Venice on the Ital­ian Adri­atic Coast in June 1934 and three years later in Ger­many, in Munich and Ber­lin. During that latter visit in Novem­ber 1937, Italy was prompted to join the sym­bolic anti-Com­intern Pact (anti-Com­mu­nist pact) directed against the Soviet Union, which already linked Ger­many and Japan. But the Ger­man leader’s 1938 visit to Italy had several im­por­tant objec­tives, one being Hitler’s show of grati­tude to Mus­so­lini for allowing, in a pre­arranged script, neu­tral Austria to be annexed to the Reich. The March 13 An­schluss (union) eli­mi­nated the buf­fer state between the two mili­ta­rized dicta­tor­ships that the Duce had long pre­ferred, a buf­fer that the Aus­trians had recently made cum­ber­some in Mus­so­lini’s opin­ion by their poli­tical dis­array. A second objec­tive was to secure Ital­ian neu­tra­lity when Hitler moved to occupy Czecho­slo­va­kia with its Sudeten-German minor­i­ty. The third objec­tive was to cement a bond of “eter­nal friend­ship” between the two dicta­tor­ships. This friend­ship logically led to the “Pact of Steel” (Ital­ian, “Patto d’Acciaio”) in 1939, which com­mitted both coun­tries to mutual sup­port in the event of war, though Mus­so­lini let the Ger­mans know that Italy would not be ready to wage war for sev­eral more years. The Pact (orig­i­nally named “Pact of Blood” which it did, in fact, become in June 1940), marked the for­mal crea­tion of the Rome-Berlin Axis, giving Italy an ally sym­pa­thetic to its pre­da­tory poli­cies in the Bal­kans and East Africa and Ger­many the ability to respond to poli­cies of en­circle­ment directed against it by the West­ern demo­cra­cies—Great Britain, France, and Poland.

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Mussolini and Hitler: On Route to the 1939 Blood Pact

Signing Pact of Steel, Berlin, May 22, 1939Hitler and Eva Braun, Berghof 1942

Left: Signing the Pact of Steel in the Reich Chan­cel­lery, Berlin, May 22, 1939. From left, sitting, Italy’s Foreign Minis­ter Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mus­so­lini’s son-in-law; Adolf Hitler; and Ger­man For­eign Minis­ter Joachim von Rib­ben­trop. Behind Hitler, standing, is Luft­waffe chief Her­mann Goering.

Right: Adolf Hitler with his mis­tress Eva Braun at the Berg­hof, the Fuehrer’s lux­u­ri­ous Bava­rian re­treat on the Ober­salz­berg, June 14, 1942. In her 1938 travel papers to Italy, the then 26‑year‑old Braun was given the fictitious title of “secretary.”

Hitler and Mussolini, Florence, Italy, May 19381941 Hitler and Mussolini stamp

Left: His face expressionless, Mus­so­lini rides in an open-air car with Hitler in Flo­rence, Italy, May 1938. Hitler beamed and strutted like a pea­cock across his host’s stage, having pulled off his coup in Aus­tria (An­schluss) earlier in March after Mus­so­lini had aban­doned his north­ern neigh­bor to the Nazi predator.

Right: 1941 German stamp of Hitler and Mus­so­lini. Trans­lation of text at the top: “Two Peoples and One Struggle.”

Hitler’s Visit to Rome, Naples, and Florence, Italy, May 1938. Foot­age from Ital­ian Newsreels (in Italian)