No. 153 UCDA P194/540

Confidential report from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Rome, 15 April 1940

Since the meeting at the Brenner Pass five weeks ago of Mussolini and Hitler the official attitude of Italy towards the belligerents seems to have undergone a fundamental change. From the outbreak of the war until the early days of March the Italian press was as neutral as any objective observer could desire. Official communications of the opposing forces were printed side by side with little or no editorial comment. Today the presentation of the news is no longer impartial. It is definitely pro German and anti Ally, so much so that one might be inclined to conclude that the country is being prepared for an eventual intervention on the side of Germany. So far, the general feeling has not been unfriendly to the Allies.

The Italian public were not altogether surprised by the sudden invasion of Denmark and Norway. The Italian press had previously emphasised that the Reich would take measures to offset in a sensational fashion the reinforcement of the blockade of the Norwegian coast by the English. Without exception it upheld German action in Scandinavia and had no word of sympathy for the victims. Suggestive newspaper headings appeared in different newspapers published in different parts of the country at the same time, such as 'Result of the violation of Norwegian neutrality by the British', 'Lightning reply to Franco-British provocation' and the 'Complete failure of the Anglo-French Fleet in its objective'. All press comments were to the effect that the action of the Reich was thoroughly justified being a case of legitimate defense.

In order to understand the Italian attitude on this subject it is well to recall that the Italian press has never protested against the torpedoing of neutral ships by German submarines. When Italian ships were sunk by German submarines or attacked by German airplanes, which was rare, the nationality of the aggressor was passed over in silence. In fact, one important Italian newspaper – 'The Telegrafo' – stated that it was well known to Italian seamen that all submarines and mines in the North Sea were not of German origin and insinuated thereby that Italian vessels were not all sunk by German mines.

In the case of the 'Altmark' the Allies held that once neutrality was violated it could not be integrally respected. The Italians, on the contrary, hold that Germany could not be reproached with the first violation of Norwegian neutrality of which the Allies alone were guilty. According to one Roman daily the laying of mines in Norwegian territorial waters was an act of war, equivalent to the seizure of the territory of a country that was outside the conflict.

After that any delay in taking counter measures would have compromised the German position. The Reich found itself, therefore automatically, under the obligation of occupying Denmark and Norway. Gayda went even so far as to suggest that the Allies intended occupying Denmark as well as Norway only that Germany, aware of their intentions, got there first.

There are other reasons for the anti British attitude of the Italian press. Gayda reproaches England with having always wished to impose her will on other countries by exercising an uncontested supremacy on the sea by which she forces the neutral states to participate in the blockade of one of the belligerents. It is this 'right of the neutrals' that Italy pretends to defend today.

It may thus be seen that the question of the blockade dominates the policy of Fascist Government. The refusal of the English to permit Italian ships to bring coal from Germany still rankles. The control to which Italian ships have to submit leaves a big mark on the Fascist escutcheon. It is humiliating for a proud nation and more than Fascism can afford. It is not, therefore, to be wondered that the Duce has given vent to his feelings. He may not be convinced, notwithstanding pretences to the contrary, of the final victory of the Reich in this conflict. The time may not be ripe for him to decide, but it is unlikely that he will find himself lined up with the losing side.

The 'Osservatore Romano', the circulation of which has risen considerably of late, takes a different attitude to that of the Italian press. In supporting the Allied cause it reminds its readers that sixty Norwegian ships have been sunk by submarines in which four hundred Norwegian sailors have perished. It finds nothing in the British mine laying to justify the occupation of Denmark and Norway by the Germans. The former was a purely naval measure, while the latter brought the conflict on the terrain of the violation of the neutrality of neutral territories themselves. The Vatican organ concludes by stating bluntly that 'the territorial neutrality of the two countries has been violated by the landing of German troops in Denmark and Norway'. The importance of this statement has been much commented upon here coming, as it does, from the highest moral authority in Christendom.

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO