Hitler warns Mussolini that war is imminent (1939)

On August 23rd 1939, Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop concluded a non-aggression pact with his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotv. The prospects of a Nazi-Soviet war were averted, at least temporarily, and Hitler was eager to orchestrate an invasion of Poland. On August 25th, the Nazi leader wrote to his ally, Italian leader Benito Mussolini, and hinted that a war against Poland was imminent:


“For some time, Germany and Russia have engaged in an exchange of views about a new attitude on both sides in regard to their political relations. The necessary of arriving at conclusions of this sort was increased by:

1. The general situation of world politics, as it affected both of the Axis Powers.

2. The necessity of securing a clear statement of position from the Japanese Cabinet…

3. The relation of Germany to Poland, not through the fault of the Reich but as a result of English activity, has become considerably more unsatisfactory since spring, and in the last few weeks, the position has become simply unbearable. Reports about the persecution of Germans in border areas are not invented press reports but represent only a fraction of the terrible truth…

These grounds led me to hasten the conclusion of German-Russian conversations… The readiness on the part of the Kremlin to arrive at a reorientation of its relations with Germany has become even stronger in the past few weeks, and has made it possible for me, after successful preparation, to send my Foreign Minister [Ribbentrop] to Moscow for the conclusion of a treaty, the most extensive non-aggression pact in existence…

I may tell you, Duce, that through these arrangements, the favourable attitude of Russia in case of any conflict is assured… I believe I may say to you, Duce, that through the negotiations with Soviet Russia, a completely new situation in world politics has been produced, which must be regarded as the greatest possible gain for the Axis.

About the situation on the German-Polish frontier, I can only inform Your Excellency that we have been for weeks in a state of alarm… and that in case of an intolerable Polish action, I will act immediately… There is a limit beyond which I will not be pushed under any circumstances.”

Adolf Hitler

hitler mussolini

Mussolini’s reply, sent immediately, endorsed Hitler’s plans against Poland – but Mussolini offered Italian assistance only in the event of a localised war. Mussolini reminded Hitler that Italy was not yet prepared for a large-scale war against the likes of Britain or France. Earlier discussions, he pointed out, had envisaged 1942 as the likely starting date for a European war:


“Concerning the agreement with Russia, I approve of that completely… I have previously told Marshal Goring that a rapprochement between Germany and Russia was necessary to prevent encirclement by the democracies…

I consider it desirable to try to avoid a break or any deterioration in relations with Japan, since that would result in Japan’s return to a position close to the democratic powers…

As regards Poland, I have complete understanding for the German position, and for the fact that such strained relations cannot continue permanently.

As for the practical position of Italy, in case of a military collision… If Germany attacks Poland and the conflict remains localised, Italy will afford Germany every form of political and economic assistance requested. If Germany attacks and Poland’s allies open a counterattack against Germany, I want to let you know in advance that it would be better if I did not take the initiative in military activities, in view of the present situation of Italian war preparations, which we have repeatedly explained to you…

At our meetings, the war was envisaged for after 1942 and at such time I would have been ready on land, on sea and in the air, according to the plans which had been arranged…

I consider it my implicit duty as a true friend to tell you the whole truth and inform you about the actual situation in advance. Not to do so might have unpleasant consequences for us all…”


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