What Role Did Italy Play in World War II?

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Italy joined World War II as an ally of Germany in 1940, at the behest of its fascist prime minister, Benito Mussolini, which greatly expanded the geographical scope of the war. The Italian campaigns in North Africa and Greece turned into quagmires that required Germany’s intervention. In 1943, partially due to the Allies taking over Sicily, the Italians deposed Mussolini and signed a peace treaty with the Allies.

Benito Mussolini had territorial and imperial ambitions of his own and saw allying with Germany as a chance to achieve his goals. When Italy joined the war, the main part of the fighting between Germany and the Allies had already moved too far north for the Italians to be much help. But Italy’s entrance brought the war to the Mediterranean region. Italy invaded British-occupied North Africa, then invaded Greece without informing Germany, which was eventually forced to intervene in both campaigns with troops that it needed badly elsewhere. Germany took over Yugoslavia in 1941 in order to get to Greece to help the Italians. After the Allies took over Sicily, the other Italian leaders removed Mussolini from office. Then, they withdrew from the alliance with Germany and signed a peace treaty with the Allied countries. From 1943 to 1945, the Allies had a grueling campaign to force the German troops out of Italy.