On March 18th 1940 Hitler met the Italian leader Mussolini in his railway carriage in the Brenner Pass, high in the Alps, close to the border between the two countries. The haste with which the meeting was arranged had led Mussolini to suppose that Hitler ‘would soon set off the powder keg’. In the journey to the meeting Mussolini tells his Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, that the Italians will not join the war until the moment that is ‘convenient’ to them, that they will form the ‘left wing’ of the offensive, tying up troops without actually fighting. After the meeting, however, it seems less certain that Hitler will go to war. Ciano records the meeting in his diary:
The Hitler meeting is very cordial on both sides. The conference … is more a monologue than anything else. Hitler talks all the time, but is less agitated than usual. He makes few gestures and speaks in a quiet tone. He looks physically fit. Mussolini listens to him with interest and with deference. He speaks little and confirms his intention to move with Germany. He reserves to himself only the choice of the right moment . .. The conference ends with a short meal.
Later Mussolini gives me his impressions. He did not find in Hitler that uncompromising attitude which von Ribbentrop had led him to suspect. Yesterday, as well, von Ribbentrop only opened his mouth to harp on Hitler’s intransigency. Mussolini believes that Hitler will think twice before he begins an offensive on land.
The meeting has not substantially changed our position.