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  • Writer's pictureThe Bridge Burford

Why Was Italy In The Triple Alliance?

The March 2019 edition of The Bridge included an article by George Dernowski from Potenza Picena, Burford's twin town in Italy. In this he promised to keep our readers in touch with news from Potenza and also to provide some articles of a historical nature. This followed a talk he gave in Burford in November 2018 on Italy's participation in the First World War. Below is George's first article.

POTENZA PICENA CORRESPONDENT GEORGE DERNOWSKI WRITES:A few readers of The Bridge, (please refer to March’s edition), know how and why I became so attached to Burford, above all to the Burfodians, owing to the twinning agreement with the Italian town of Potenza Picena in the Marche Region (where I live), but for the majority who don’t know me please allow me to briefly introduce myself.

My name is George Dernowski, son of an Italian mother and Polish father who met during the war while my father was fighting with the II Polish Corps under Gen. Anders along the Adriatic coast after the battle for Monte Cassino. After the war they married and settled in England (Nottingham) where I was born, later the whole family decided to return to my mother’s home in Italy. Always keen on history I had the great fortune not only of growing up in England, where British history was paramount in my interests, but then to live in another country, (Italy for the last fifty years), with a Polish father, contributed to my delving into facts pertaining to “foreign” history as opposed to only keeping to my cultural upbringing, which I never renounced, helped to better foster my spirit of curiosity in the belief that one must always have an open mind and not stop at the first red traffic light if in doubt.

In history a fact is a certainty that cannot be disputed like battles, wars, defeats, victories ecc. but nevertheless historical events are always open to questions that need answering, otherwise endless books, for instance on Napoleon Bonaparte (I believe 400,000!), would never have been written if his doings were clear open and shut cases!

I myself am not an academic, I have no title to my name, my interests into historical sources are solely due to my passion for this subject. I do, however, hope to arouse curiosity and interests into unknown (or little known) territory that will contribute to the fact that every nation has a rightful place in history and that every people should be recognised not on the basis of archetypes but in the acceptance that judgement cannot be passed woefully onto the victims for, as the Romans would say “Guai ai vinti” (Woe to the vanquished) ends with a sentence without a trial. My articles will cover the following questions:Why was Italy in the Triple Alliance?Why did Italy declare itself neutral at the outbreak of the conflict?Why did Italy side with the “Entente Cordial” instead of its former allies?What was the military situation on all fronts at the time of Italy’s entrance?What was the fighting conditions like in which the Italian soldiers found themselves in?What contribution was given by Italy to the final Allied victory?


Italian flag

It must be kept in mind that when Italy entered the Triple Alliance pact it was a very young country having celebrated it’s unity in 1861 and it wasn’t until 1870, when the Papal States finally succumbed to the Piedmont troops after the French soldiers, stationed in Rome, hurriedly rushed home to defend Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, that Italy proclaimed Rome as its capital in July 1871. However Italy still felt its unity incomplete until certain Northern regions, still under Austrian-Hungarian rule, were definitely redeemed.

Twentieth-century Italy, like Germany, was an old culture but a new national entity. For much of the 1800s, Italy was a jigsaw of small kingdoms, duchies and city-states. A nationalist push for unification emerged in the 1820s, though in its early years it remained relatively small. European revolutions of 1848, along with the endeavours of men like Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini, intensified the nationalist movement in the mid-19th century. The Kingdom of Italy, based in Turin, was formed in 1861. Italian independence and unification was largely completed when the new nation obtained control of Venice (1866, from Austria) and Rome (1870, from the Vatican).The age-long relations between Italy and the Austrian Empire, where the latter ruled a large portion of the Italian States for many years, brought about the bitter antagonism which culminated in the Italian revolutions and wars of independence of 1848-49, 1860 and 1866. This situation left Italy, overreached by France’s diplomacy and, although allied with Prussia in 1866 against the Austrian Empire, her navy was defeated at the sea battle of Lissa by the Austrians causing a great set back of her aspirations to redeem her regions of the Trentino, Trieste, and Istria (under Austrian rule although considered by Italy as being part of her own territory). Humiliated, as Italy annexed only Venetia through France, she saw herself dominated along half of her border---from the Swiss line to the southern point on the Adriatic coast---by her potent Austrian enemy after signing the Treaty of Vienna.

The Triple Alliance, signed May 20, 1882, was not acknowledged by Italy until March, 1883, when the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs brought it to the attention of the Chamber.The terms of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance provided for a defensive alliance against attacks by enemies on the parties signatory. Italy stipulated that she should not be called on to fight England.One cannot fully appreciate the situation of Italy in regards to the Triple Alliance unless an attempt to unravel the complexities of European relations and get hold of their original causes is briefly made. 1882 Italy allied itself (reluctantly) with Germany and Austria-Hungary to form the Triple Alliance because of rivalries with France in North Africa (in the Tunisia-Libya area)The decision may not have been based on a thorough appraisal of Italy's interests. From Italy's point of view, the main problem with the alliance was that the country had claims on territory held by Austria-Hungary (South Tyrol, Trieste and hinterland and parts of the Dalmatian coast).

Italian fears of France was also in the balance, especially as the French fleet at the time was being concentrated in the Mediterranean, causing anxiety to the Italian people considering the fact that up to the formation of the Italian state France had either invaded Italy or intervened as an ally, with a price to pay, in numerous occasions.

Italy wanted to provide security for the country and to show that it was a Great Power (although it truly wasn't). Germany was also looking to expand its trust to another country in order to prevent a two-front war, in case one was to break out. So Germany invited Italy to join its alliance with Austria-Hungary, creating the Triple Alliance. It assured that Italy would be backed up by Germany and Austria if France were to attack Italy, and Italy would back up by Germany if it were to be attacked by France. This defensive-military alliance was made in 1882. However, Italy had issues with Austria-Hungary because they disputed some land on the Adriatic coast. The Italians might have supported Germany, but it was more than likely Italy wouldn't have backed up any of these countries if they were to be attacked; they just wanted to ensure security for themselves. In Sept. 1896 Italy accepted a revision of the negotiations of the Tunisian Treaties, and thereby implied a recognition of the French Protectorate over Tunisia thus marking a better relationship with Italy as a Mediterranean power than had existed since France had driven Italy into Germany's net. In November, 1898, a new commercial treaty was negotiated between Italy and France including a treaty between the two governments, according to which France would abstain from interference with Tripoli, where it was provided that Italy should be left free to pursue her policy, and Italy would refrain from interfering with the French policy in Morocco. Italy gave assurances that so far as France was concerned the Triple Alliance on Italy's part was wholly defensive, and that she would not be "either the auxiliary or the instrument of aggression against France." She bound herself not to unite with the other signatories to the Triple Alliance should France be attacked or be provoked herself to attack by the necessity to defend her honour or her vital interests. (1902). In 1890 Germany refused to renew its reinsurance treaty with Russia, and Russia in consequence sought a rapprochement with France. At the same time France, facing an increasingly powerful Germany and a hostile Central European combination, felt great need of an ally, and French diplomats began to make overtures to Russia for an agreement to counterbalance the Triple Alliance. French capital aided Russian projects, especially the Trans-Siberian RR, and friendly diplomatic visits were exchanged. In 1891 there was a definite understanding between the powers; this was strengthened by a military convention in 1893, and by 1894 the Dual Alliance between Russia and France was in existence. It was publicly acknowledged in 1895. Meanwhile the German plan for a Baghdad Railway was viewed with alarm by the powers with interests in the Middle East. The German commercial rivalry with Great Britain not only brought direct trouble but nourished German desire for sea power and a large navy.

Great Britain, long in "splendid isolation" from the other European nations, was being propelled by its interests to make some move toward protective international alliance. There had been some efforts to achieve a Franco-German rapprochement, but these ultimately had no effect. In 1898 French foreign policy was opposed to Germany and hoped for a rapprochement with Great Britain, his object being the isolation of Germany. Friendship between Britain and France did not seem possible because of their traditional enmity and, more important, their colonial quarrels in Africa. Although Great Britain and France had been on the verge of war over the Fashoda Incident in 1898, the matter was settled and the way opened for further agreements between the two powers. Though there was no alliance, the Entente Cordiale—a friendly understanding—was arrived at in 1904.

Colonial rivalries between Russia and Britain had in the late 19th cent. made those powers hostile; the field of contest was Asia—Turkish affairs (Crimean War 1854 where Piedimont troops were also engaged) , Persia, Afghanistan, China, and India. But after the defeat of Russia in the Russian-Japanese War, Britain came to favour a friendly settlement. This was finally achieved in the Anglo-Russian entente of 1907. That agreement created the international group opposing the Triple Alliance—France, Great Britain, and Russia had formed the Triple Entente. George Dernowski


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