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Before WW1 Italy was part of an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, yet it didn't join them when the war started and it even joined the Allied side later during the war. Why did Italy do this? And if there were good reasons to join the Allies why did it ally itself with Germany and Austria in the first place?

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Watch Hetalia: Axis Powers, my friend. I learned more in one day than I ever did in my 10 years of school! –  user1263 Aug 27 '12 at 3:22
Why did Romania abandon its alliance with Germany in WW2 and join the Allied side? –  Tyler Durden May 2 '14 at 15:42
You may be interested in the latest episode of Dan Carlin's history podcast. The way he puts it is that Italy was on the fence and 'taking bids'. –  sakahane May 5 '14 at 7:51

5 Answers 5

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Italy's main issue was its enmity with Austria-Hungary, Germany's main ally. That made Italy the "odd man out" in the so-called Triple Alliance with the other two.

Italy had joined (reluctantly) with Germany out of a fear of France. This occurred when France and Britain concluded an alliance that made Britain responsible for the mutual defense of the English Channel, and freed the French fleet to concentrate in the Mediterranean, possibly against Italy.

When World War I broke out, Italy found that it had nothing to fear from France (or Britain, or Russia for that matter). On the other hand, it would have a lot to fear from a victorious Austria Hungary, from which she had taken Lombardy and Venice in the 19th century (the former when allied with France). So when Britain and France offered Italy Tyrol and Trieste from Austria, Italy jumped at the bait and switched sides.

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Very good summary. It was simply a matter of practicality; Italy was trying its best to protect its newly-gained independence and its territory. –  Noldorin Oct 12 '11 at 16:26
can you explain why " Italy found that it had nothing to fear from France " ? –  Louis Rhys Aug 28 '12 at 1:28
@LouisRhys: France was primarily worried about Germany. The last thing she needed was another enemy to the South. Besides, France and Italy had been allies (against Austria) in the 19th century. –  Tom Au Feb 2 '13 at 18:42
@TomAu I disagree. Italy and Germany had been allied against France in 1870. –  astabada Feb 18 '14 at 18:52
@astabada: Italy and Germany were allied after a fashion in 1870, but basically against Austria. Italy and France had also been allied earlier against Austria. When wars broke out between Germany and France, Italy was "on the fence"--until 1915. –  Tom Au Feb 18 '14 at 19:38

It is easy to explain why Italy didn't join the war: they had little to gain from it, maybe they also didn't feel prepared. Alliances are always theory and a country can refuse to be dragged into a conflict with powers that are much stronger than it.

The question why Italy later still decided to join is more difficult. This website gives the following answer:

In 1915, Italy had signed the secret Treaty of London. In this treaty Britain had offered Italy large sections of territory in the Adriatic Sea region – Tyrol, Dalmatia and Istria. Such an offer was too tempting for Italy to refuse. Britain and France wanted Italy to join in on their side so that a new front could open up t the south of the Western Front. The plan was to split still further the Central Powers so that its power on the Western and Eastern Fronts was weakened. The plan was logical. The part Italy had to play in it required military success. This was never forthcoming.

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Although it is true Italy felt as "The Odd Man Out" with its alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, there are some cultural ties with that of France and Italy that cannot be overlooked. The basic foundation of the "Romance Languages," religion, and history. I also feel that the "Entente" powers were less of a threat to Italy. France also was preoccupied with taking back Alsace Lorraine from Germany, and in fact based its defense of Paris with a counterattack on Germany's right wing, and push into Alsace Lorraine. At this point, Italy was the least of France's concerns. Italy was not a threat to the French but an asset to the cause by opening another point of the Western Front.

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Interesting angle, but can you back it up with sources? I.e. Can you find evidence that cultural considerations actually played a role (really or at least progapandawise) in Italy's volte face? –  Felix Goldberg Nov 21 '13 at 7:27

Firstly it need to be clarified the nature of Italian treaty with Gemany and Austria: this was just and only a "non aggression treaty and mutual protection in case of attack" Germany and Austria have never been attacked, on the opposite they ignited the war. Secondarily needs to be said that Italy was re-united after centurues of occupation from Spain, France, and specially from Austria, with whom Italy fought the hardest independence wars few years before. The "non aggression treaty" was stipulated in order to have some oxigen from the "German invaders" At the ignition of the war, Italy's only certaintly was NON entering in war with its recent enemies. Italywas however a young monarchy with huge internal problems. Italy's main front was on its borders with Austria. Italy had a very hard defeat in Caporetto, and a strong victory in Vittorio Veneto. This front kept millions of Austrians busy on this border with sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Italians!

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Italian fears of France were quite justified. From the end of the fifteenth century to the formation of the Italian state in 1861, France had either invaded Italy or intervened as an ally with a hefty price no less than a dozen times. In each and every instance did the French emerge easily victorious, so it had become apparent by the start of the twentieth century that they were greedily and lustily eyeing Italy once again, though their goals had not clearly been indicated. France was also still smarting from its defeat against Prussia (which would help form the unified German state in 1871), and suffered from a perpetual inferiority complex vis-à-vis Britain with respect to industrial might, as well as to Russia in simple terms of size and manpower. Moreover, the rapid rise of latecomers Japan and the United States as world powers to the point where both could boast of being stronger than France, further contributed to low French esteem among the global leaders. Italy was the one other country deemed to be a major power (albeit debatably), and it also happened to be the only one of these countries that France had a history of soundly beating. Thus, in terms of the pecking order of great powers, France also wanted to make sure (aside from pursuing longstanding interests in Italy) that it was not to be ranked at the very bottom, and seemed intent on pushing that point home to the Italians.

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All this seems irrelevant, speculative, full of anachronism or simply wrong. –  Relaxed Jul 9 '14 at 0:41

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