Eighty years ago, propaganda trumps honesty as Germany and Italy sign the "Pact of Steel"

The German and Italian foreign ministers, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Galeazzo Ciano, signed a formal, ten-year  alliance between the two countries in Berlin. This had long been a goal of German diplomacy, tying the Italians to joint military action should either power find itself at war. Secret clauses provided for military and economic cooperation. Article II, however, provided for consultation between the countries in the event of a crisis and was to be used as an escape clause by the Italians, the following September. Hitler’s failure to consult with the Italians over the invasion of Poland served as a pretext for Italy to remain neutral. Neither Ribbentrop nor Ciano were noted for their honesty, so it is hardly surprising that the operation was marked by bad faith. With an eye to propaganda rather than substance, Mussolini christened the agreement the “Pact of Steel” as a more catchy label than the official “Treaty of Friendship and Alliance.” His early proposal of the “Pact of Blood” was rejected as likely to be poorly received. 

The Japanese started to ratchet up the pressure on the western powers in China. The supposed shooting of a Japanese national by a Chinese citizen provided them with the pretext to land a force of marines on the island of Kulangsu, which formed part of the “treaty” port of Amoy: an extra-territorial international settlement on the Formosa Strait. This triggered a steady, if peaceful escalation in which Royal Navy and USN warships were despatched to Amoy and token military forces were landed. Negotiations were conducted locally by British Admiral Sir Percy Noble aboard H.M.S Birmingham, in possibly the last recorded instance of classic British gunboat diplomacy.

Tension rose in the disputed territory of Danzig when an ethnic German citizen was shot dead by Poles. The circumstances were predictably obscure and disputed between the two sides. In the German version it was little more than a random, drive-by shooting. According to the Poles a mob had threatened the car which had just brought a diplomatic representative.


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