Italy and the Abyssinia Crisis 1935-1936

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					Italy and the Abyssinia Crisis

       IB Book Pages 71-73

The failure of the League of
Nations to implement the
principal of Collective Security is
best illustrated by the Abyssinian
          But First Things First
Background information:
• The Oxford Debate, 1933
• The Stresa Front, April 1935
• The Anglo-German Naval Agreement, June
• A review of America’s foreign policy, 1934-39
• Time-line
   Oxford Debate February, 1933 (England)
       "That this House will in no
   circumstances fight for its King and
  It was passed by 275 votes to 153.

    The debate caused a firestorm
             Oxford Debate Foreign Reaction
• MP Robert Bernays described a visit he made to Germany:
  I remember talking with a prominent leader of the young
  Nazis. He was asking about this pacifist debate motion and I
  tried to explain it to him. There was an ugly gleam in his eye
  when he said, "The fact is that you English are soft". Then I
  realized that the world enemies of peace might be the
• Benito Mussolini considered the debate when he planned the
  invasion of Abyssinia. He was convinced that the debate
  resolution proved that Britain was just a frightened, flabby old
• Winston Churchill, after the war, wrote that Japan and
  Germany took note of the debate resolution which altered
  their way of thinking about Britain as decadent and
         The Debate was Misunderstood
Hitler and Mussolini were foolish to take the
intellectual discussions of a few undergraduates so
seriously. Neither were academics.
One student wrote, "I believe that the motion was
representative neither of the majority of the
undergraduates of Oxford nor of the youth of this
country. I am certain if war broke out tomorrow the
students of the university would flock to the
recruiting office as their fathers and uncles did." He
was proven correct: when the WW II broke out in
September, 1939 the War Office organized a
recruiting board at Oxford which invited
undergraduates and resident postgraduates under 25
to enlist: 2,632 out of a potential 3,000 volunteered.
                  Stresa Front
The Stresa Front was an agreement made at Stresa,
between Benito Mussolini of Italy, France and Britain
on April 14, 1935.
    • It reaffirmed the Locarno Treaties and to
      declare that the independence of Austria
    • agreed to resist any future attempt by the
      Germans to change the Treaty of Versailles.
    • Gave Benito Mussolini an opportunity to be
      viewed as a statesman and a keeper of the
      peace. Remember he had blocked Germany’s
      attempt at Anschluss in 1934
    • Behind the scenes Mussolini discussed his plan
      to invade Abyssinia with British PM Ramsey
  The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (June, 1935)
• Britain and Germany agreed to regulate the
  size of the German Navy in relation to the
  Royal Navy. The A.G.N.A fixed a ratio where
  the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to
  be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy
  on a permanent basis. The agreement was
  renounced by Adolph Hitleron April 28, 1939
• Awkward diplomatic maneuver by Britain
  because France and Italy were not consulted.
  Also, it exceeded the tonnage that Germany
  was permitted under the Treaty of Versailles!
                USA POV Revisited
• The USA was not a member of the League
• The USA was ‘in spirit’ isolationist
• Yet, in the 1920’s the USA contributed to the peace/
  disarmament process
• However, during the Great Depression (1930’s) the
  USA lost interest in international events
• The USA, like Britain, hoped to appease Germany and
  Japan. They did not object to German advances in
  the Rhineland, Austria or the Sudetenland.
  Recognized Italian conquest in Abyssinia
• Like Britain they changed their mind when it was too
         USA Point of View (continued)
      The USA had regrets over World War I
• The Nye Commission * see below
• Neutrality Acts* (1937) see below.
• World War I debts not repaid
• Many felt that a strong Germany would be a
  good buffer against the Soviet Union. Many
  British agreed
• Many American businesses were active in
  Germany. Didn’t want trouble
But many Americans were concerned about the
  Jewish people and were alarmed by 1939
             Nye Commission (1934)
• Sen. Gerald Nye revealed that wartime profits of the
  banking and munitions industries to America's
  contributed to US involvement in WW I. Many
  Americans had believed that the war had been about
  democracies opposing autocracies. Nye named the
  arms manufacturers as "merchants of death"
• The committee reported that between 1915 and
  January 1917, the United States lent the United
  Kingdom and its allies 2.3 billion dollars
• He claimed that the US entered WW I because it was
  in American commercial interest for the United
  Kingdom not to lose.
• The findings of the committee gave momentum to
  the Neutrality Acts of the 1930’s
         The Neutrality Acts (1935-1937)
• In response to the Nye Commission Congress
  passed a series of Acts designed to keep
  America out of future wars.
• Prohibited American vessels from carrying arms to
• Prohibited loans to belligerents
• Forbade US citizens from travelling on ships owned
  by belligerents
• Kept the USA neutral in the Spanish Civil War
  These Acts only served to strengthen America’s
  future opponents – Germany, Italy and Japan
•   March, 1935 Germany officially begins rearming*
•   June, 1935 Anglo-Germany Naval Agreement signed
•   October, 1935 Italy invades Ethiopia: Second Italo–
    Abyssinian War
•   October, 1936 Rome-Berlin Treaty (Treaty of Friendship)
    between Italy and Germany.
•   March, 1936 German army marched into the
•   March, 1938 Germany annexed Austria* (Anschluss)
    with Italian agreement
•   September, 1938 Hitler successfully negotiated with
    PM Neville Chamberlain in Munich for the
    Sudetenland region in Czechoslovakia*
                Time –Line (continued)
• March 1939 Germany occupies all of Czechoslovakia*
  Britain ends appeasement policy
• August 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact signed
• September 1st 1939 Germany invaded Poland
• September 3rd Britain and France declare war on
    Background to the Abyssinian Crisis
Italy had been defeated by the Abyssinians at
the Battle of Adowa (1896). Italy withdrew its
Italy felt humiliated by this retreat because
she was the only Western European power to
be defeated by an African Nation in the 19th
century. Benito Mussolini was determined to
reestablish Italian pride and recreate a Roman
Empire in Africa.
Italy had other African colonies in the area (See map: IB book Page 73)
       Italy on the eve of the crisis, 1935
• It must be remembered that Italy was on the side
  of the allies in WW I.
• Italy had signed the Treaty of Versailles. Not too
  happy but still a participant
• In the early 1930’s Italy under Mussolini had
  opposed and participated in resisting Hitler’s
  aggressive attempts to rearm and to combine
  Austria with Germany (Anschluss). Britain and
  France appreciated his efforts!
• Italy was a member of the League and signed the
  Locarno Pact.
• Italy possessed a good navy and had considerable
  influence in the Mediterranean Sea.
               Italy at a Crossroads.
• Before 1935 Italy felt that a resurgent Germany was a
  threat to their interests in those areas that had German
  speaking populations - the South Tyrol. They also
  feared Anschluss. Unification of Germany and Austria
  would make Germany the ascendant central European
• Italian ‘POV’. If the League of Nations did their bit and
  controlled Germany and turned a blind eye to Italian
  ambitions in Abyssinia all would be OK!
• But, what if the League showed itself to be weak
  regarding Germany and opposed Italy’s colonial
• Perhaps, Italy might make new friends! (Germany, for
      What were Italian aims in Abyssinia
• The fear of German resurgence in central Europe
  may have encouraged to focus on expansion
  overseas – East Africa was a logical area because
  Italy had holdings there.
• Fascism is an ideology promoted nationalism,
  militarism and aggression. Benito wanted to
  create a new Roman Empire. Anyway, Britain and
  France had large empires. Why not Italy?
• Abyssinia was independent and available
• Revenge for the humiliation at Adowa (1896)
• Oil
• Italians needed a place to emigrate – an Italian
  colony might provide an alternative to the USA
  and South America.
 Perhaps Italian policy makers were misled or
confused regarding British and French reactions
  It is quite possible that Italy believed that their
  relationship to Britain and France would entirely
  inoculate them from any diplomatic League of
  Nations “blowback”
1. For example, The Stresa Front had shown Britain
    and France that Italy was “on the team” as far as
    constraining Hitler’s ambitions.
2. Also, Britain and France had both agreed that
    Abyssinia was in an Italian “Sphere of Influence.”
  Therefore, Mussolini could be excused for
  thinking that Britain and France might “let it the
  invasion slide.”
                    Mukden to Wal Wal
• The conflict between the Italian Army and the
  Abyssinians began with an “incident” at Wal
  Wal that gave a pretext for the Italians to
  begin the conflict. At first just a small military
• However, the Abyssinian Emperor, Haile
  Selassie, seeing that a large numbers of troops
  were assembling on his border appealed to
  the League for arbitration (September, 1935).
• The Italians launched a full scale invasion in
  October, 1935. Second Italo–Abyssinian War
(See U tube video IB file)
     Actions of The League of Nations
               Britain and France

The League declared Italy the aggressor
  (October, 1935)
• Economic sanctions were applied but they did
  not include oil or steel because non-League
  members (Germany and the USA) would be
  able to supply these vital materials.
• Britain did not close the Suez Canal (see
  map). If Britain had closed the canal the
  Italian war effort might have failed.
  Why was Britain and France so reluctant to
              challenge Italy?
    *The IB book is excellent on this point (page 73).
  The British and French were caught in a bind!
• Either the British and French compromised and
  placated Italy in order to maintain the Stresa
  front against Germany or the British and French
  “saved” Abyssinia and gave the League the
  respect it needed. In the end they did neither!
• Britain believed that the Italian navy in the
  Mediterranean was as strong as their own
• Therefore, France and Britain decided on a
  compromise: The Hoare-Laval Pact
           The Hoare-Laval Pact
1. The compromise gave Italy the most fertile 2/3 of
   Abyssinia. 1/3 remained independent /aka “the
   corridor for camels".
2. The agreement was leaked to the French and British
   public who were enraged. The British foreign
   secretary had to resign. Both nations backed away
   from the pact.
3. The agreement was abandoned and because the
   League did not intervene militarily Abyssinia was
   defeated by the Italian army. The general public, in
   Britain, were horrified that the Italian army used
   modern weapons (including gas) against tribesmen.
   The war was horrific.
         The Second Italo–Abyssinian War
•   The Italian’s won. The war was horrific. The Abyssinians being tribesmen often
    resorted to savagery. Castration of Italian prisoners of war.
•   The Italians utilized heavy artillery, machine guns and aircraft. Aircraft were used
    to spray poison and tear gas on Ethiopians. Phosgene gas may have been used.
    Aerial spray kills or injures everything – cattle etc. Poisons wells.
•   The Italians allowed the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Emperor, Haile Selassie, to leave on
    a British ship for England.
•    Haile Selassie later appealed to the League of Nations.
    He prophetically warned,
                           "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.”
•   Japan and Germany were the first to recognize Italy’s new Empire. Italy had new
    friends. (You tube video)
               The Significance of the Crisis
• The Abyssinian crisis had a far greater impact on the League and
  the concept of Collective Security than the Manchurian crisis.
• It was clear to everyone that the leading League powers (Britain
  and France) would avoid war at all costs. They sensed that their
  populations would not support war.
• Mussolini realized that Britain and France were resistant to Italian
  expansion but were “weak-willed.” He, therefore resigned himself
  to making an diplomatic arrangements with his fascist rival -Adolph
• Mussolini abandoned his opposition to Anschluss and his
  opposition to Hitler’s plans to undermine the Treaty of Versailles. In
  October, 1936 Rome-Berlin Treaty (Treaty of Friendship) between Italy and
  Germany was signed. The South Tyrol argument was shelved. Not
  a big deal to Adolph Hitler.
• Hitler also observed the impotence of the League leadership and
  determined that it would be safe to pursue his goals of undermining
  the Treaty of Versailles provisions.
       The Significance of the Crisis

The mishandling of the Abyssinian Crisis and
to a lesser extent the Manchurian Crisis
contributed to the perception in Germany,
Italy and Japan that the League of Nations was
weak. Moreover, it indicated that the major
democracies Britain, France and the USA
would not risk war. The Soviet Union was in
the awkward position of being feared by the
democracies and fascists.
This led to Mussolini and Hitler forming the
Rome-Berlin Axis (1936). Japan joined later.

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