Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2020
On 10 June 1940, despite a distinct lack of enthusiasm from both the German and Italian military high commands, Benito Mussolini formally joined the war on the Axis side. That evening he gave a speech from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome to an assembled crowd, informing them that their country was going to war to stop ‘the plutocratic and reactionary democracies of the west’.1 In reality, much of that ‘stopping’ had already been done by Germany: most of the British personnel had already been evacuated from the continent to a homeland faced with the prospect of invasion, while France would soon sign an armistice. What it did achieve was to transform the war by spreading it beyond the boundaries of Europe and igniting a long and bloody contest to control the Mediterranean. It was the ultimate ability of the Allies to prevail in controlling its waterways and thence strangle Axis communications at sea, which proved vital to securing victory. This forced the collapse of the Italo-German position across the broadly defined ‘Mediterranean theatre’, removed the threat to key British imperial possessions and ensured the defeat of Fascist Italy.