In January 1939, British Prime Minister Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax visited Italy to convince Italian Premier Mussolini to fight alongside Britain and France in case there was a war with Hitler’s Germany.
When Chamberlain and Halifax departed, Mussolini said to his Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano: “These men [the British] are not made of the same stuff, as the Francis Drakes and the other magnificent adventurers who created the empire. These, after all, are the tired sons of a long line of rich men and they will lose their empire.” (The Ciano Diaries 1939-1943)
After observing the weak response of Britain (and France) to Hitler’s multiple transgressions, Mussolini had become contemptuous of the two countries. In 1939, Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler was not good. He was worried that Hitler’s policies would destabilize Europe and that Stalin would take advantage of the chaos to expand the frontiers of the Soviet Union. He refused to join Britain and France because he believed that the two countries lacked the will to fight Hitler.
Mussolini was right about Britain and France lacking the will: In September 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany, but they did not provide military assistance to Poland. A few RAF fighter planes flew over the German and Polish territories but instead of dropping bombs on the Germans, the planes dropped leaflets containing propaganda literature. The French didn’t take any military action.
A British government cabinet note of September 1939 declared, “There is good reason to believe that the German authorities feared the effect of our propaganda… the fact that our planes were able to fly with impunity all over North-West of Germany was bound to have a depressing effect on the morale of the German people.” The British cabinet agreed to drop more leaflets on German territory in the future. They thought that they could defeat Hitler with propaganda leaflets.
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