MacGregor Knox: Rezension von: Malte König: Kooperation als Machtkampf. Das faschistische Achsenbündnis Berlin-Rom im Krieg 1940/41, Köln: SH-Verlag 2007, in: sehepunkte 9 (2009), Nr. 5 [15.05.2009], URL: http://www.sehepunkte.de/2009/05/13630.html

Von Malte König

When a reviewer attacks a book, there is little the author can do to defend himself. If the review distorts the work, the author may feel tempted to reformulate his research question, structure, and selection of sources. However, this invariably conveys the impression that the book itself inadequately expounds these aspects. I will therefore limit myself to responding to a few exemplary aspects of the review that call into question its overall value. Let critical readers decide for themselves if Knox's assessment appears accurate or if a first-hand reading of the book may be worthwhile after all.

Knox alleges that central points appear seemingly at random: "Not until page 201 does the reader learn that the Germans had promised in spring 1939 to respect Fascist Italy's Mediterranean-Balkan 'spazio vitale'... " This is pure polemic. Had Knox written, "Only at the beginning of the chapter on the joint occupation strategy in Croatia does the reader learn...," it would become apparent that the information is precisely where it belongs. The study is thematically structured. Incidentally, the fact that Hitler had relinquished control over South Tyrol even prior to 1922 and subsequently forced the NSDAP into compliance as an indispensable precondition for the Italo-German coalition does not appear until page 229 - in the chapter on South Tyrol.

"Inexplicably ... only in passing," according to Knox, Mussolini's insistence on taking part in Germany's assault on the Soviet Union is not addressed until the final chapter on public opinion. This is not true: it is already addressed in the first chapter (72-73).

Knox further criticizes that I have failed to point out that the German high command initially offered the Panzerkampfwagen III design freely. He claims that, "on the basis of contemporary German sources [I credit] the Italians with nefarious schemes to pirate German tank designs." His objection does not in any way weaken my argument on the "transfer of commissions" and on patent protection, however. On the basis of Italian sources, I show the advantages the Italians stood to gain from the relocation of airplane production. The Ministerio dell'Aeronautica hoped that the German licenses would effect a leap in development corresponding to ten years of their own efforts (see the pages cited in the review).

Knox also claims that, according to my account, Mussolini's decision to enter the war alongside Germany was motivated purely by "the economic pressures of the moment." He disregards my argument that Mussolini opted for the "primacy of politics over the economy," hence precisely against what would have been beneficial in economic terms (95). Knox thus completely reverses my rendition into its opposite here.

According to Knox, Hitler's fierce backing of Italy is only mentioned in the conclusion of my book. In fact, the cited passage merely sums up Hitler's engagement as addressed throughout the study - be it during the ceasefire negotiations with France (24-25), be it on the occasion of Hitler's defense of Italian sovereignty vis-à-vis the Naval High Command (Seekriegsleitung) or the foreign ministry (54-56). Furthermore, Hitler backed Italy in the capture of Yugoslavia and Greece and did not hesitate to publicly snub his own officers (67-71; 181; 185). The same is true for supplying Italy with fuel, coal, and food: From 1941 onwards, the Naval High Command was forced against its will to spare fuel (122-123; 138). The scale of coal shipments was to be maintained at all costs (143) and from 1942 onwards, Hitler even ordered the delivery of grains from Germany's own scarce stocks to Italy (271-272).

In the winter of 1940/41, the power share was renegotiated within the Axis and the Italians were increasingly forced into the role of a satellite state - a position that Mussolini did not accept. In 1982, Knox wrote that "Mussolini followed bewildered in his ally's wake in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. ... Nothing remained but to follow where Hitler led." [1] In his review, he comes to the conclusion that only Hitler's loyalty prevented German domination of the coalition from becoming manifest. But what is this supposed to mean: only Hitler's loyalty? The German dictator was the decisive link allowing the Italians to inhabit a special position until 1943. The Italians did not follow bewildered in Germany's wake, but rather repeatedly crossed their paths and resisted their progressing subordination. To name just a few examples: On the Balkans, there was a struggle for power over the scarce existing resources; at home, the Italian government issued decrees limiting the excessive shopping of German troops and tourists; German back orders were met with fierce protests; Italian diplomats reacted so harshly to the insult of Germany's plans to ban intermarriage between Italians and Germans that the question was henceforth dealt with in secret. Since Hitler set great store by Italy's sovereignty and hence the political image of the Axis, German leverage was clearly limited in 1942. The power struggle within the Axis continued even after the turning point 1940/41 and paralyzed the cooperation between the two allies in the long run. Knox underestimates the role of the Italians after January 1941 - they were more than just a client state threatening to collapse.

[1] MacGregor Knox, Mussolini unleashed 1939-1941. Politics and Strategy in Fascist Italy's Last War, Cambridge/London/New York 1982, p. 285; cf. ibid., p. 272.

Übersetzung: Eva Schissler