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European history World Politics

The armistice between Italy and France in June 1940

After just three days of actual war, Italy and France signed an armistice in June 1940.

Roughly ten months after World War II had started, in the early hours of June 25th, 1940 two armistices came into effect at the same time. The first one and historically more relevant is the one signed on June 22nd in the forest of Compiègne near Paris between Germany and France, at the same location where the Germans had agreed to stop the fighting in 1918. The second involved Italy and France and was finalized on June 24th in Rome.

Previously, Italy and Germany had signed the Pact of Steel on May 22nd, 1939. Known formally as the Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Germany and Italy, it obliged both parties to aid the other country militarily, economically or otherwise in the event of war, and to collaborate in wartime production. But when Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, the Italians weren’t ready to fulfil their obligations. In spring 1940, little had changed.

Nevertheless, Italian leader Benito Mussolini wanted to benefit from his official partnership with Adolf Hitler as soon as possible, especially after German troops had brought the French down to their knees in less than a month during the Battle of France in May and June 1940. Fearing that the conflict would end before Italy had achieved any of its imperial aims in the Mediterranean, on June 10th it declared war against France and Great Britain.

However, with 32 divisions available at their Alpine frontier with France, the Italians delayed their actual attack until June 21st. Meanwhile, the new French government under aged Word War I hero Philippe Petain had already sent an armistice request through the Vatican on June 17th. Unable to break through in the north, Italy was a little more successful on the Mediterranean coast. Although despite fierce resistance total losses remained low, the invaders suffered about fifteen times as many casualties as the defenders (640/40). They merely occupied an area of 832 square kilometers with just 28,500 inhabitants. It contained Menton, a seaside town of 21,700 residents.

Italian Foreign Minister Gian Galeazzo Ciano wrote in his diary about the ridiculous demands some of his staff suggested: the entire French fleet, all off its colonies, all locomotives available in France as well as the world-famous Mona Lisa painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris. At the end, relatively little demands were made, also because a large-style occupation would bind too many soldiers and time was too short, as the Germans were already waiting.

The armistice established a modest demilitarized zone 50 kilometers deep on the French side of the common border, from which its troops had to be evacuated in ten days, identical with what the Italians had conquered up to the end of the hostilities. Italy retained the right to interfere in French territory as far as the Rhône, but it did not occupy this area, and the island of Corsica, until after the Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8th, 1942.

In addition, in two weeks’ time demilitarized zones had to established in the French colonies in Africa which bordered the Italian colony of Libya. Equally affected were the naval bases of Toulon on the French Riviera, Ajaccio on the island of Corsica as well as Bizerte in present-day Tunisia and Oran in what is now Algeria in French North Africa.

In addition, Italy was granted the right to use the port of Djibouti in French Somaliland with all its equipment, along with the French railway section between Djibouti and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. All in all, that still seems like a good deal for just three days of war…

P.D.: To oversee strict French compliance, the Italian Commission for Armistice with France (Commissione Italiana d’Armistizio con la Francia, CIAF) was established in Turin.

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