As it was, the Italian invasion of Greece had been postponed, not because of British action but because Hitler had called a halt all along the line. He had decided that, if the invasion of Britain proved impracticable, his next move must be the invasion of Russia and not, as many thought, a thrust south-east to the Suez Canal or the Persian Gulf. In preparation for this venture he hoped to isolate his Russian victim, bring Spain and Vichy France into the war on the side of Germany and encourage the Balkan states to adhere to the Tripartite Pact. If they would permit the movement of his armies through their territories he could avoid an unnecessary campaign in the Balkans; the British would not dare to intervene; and he would have another secure front from which to attack Russia.
In his efforts to arrange this he now had several months of delicate negotiations, sometimes brilliantly successful, sometimes rather frustrating. After the Tripartite Pact between Berlin, Rome page 88 and Tokio1 had been signed on 27 September, Russia was faced with the possibility of war on two fronts, and the United States, under the threat of the Japanese Fleet, would ‘not dare to move.’2 Spain and Vichy France, when approached, were sympathetic but sympathetic only; Hungary and Rumania gave their support but would not, as yet, admit definite obligations; Bulgaria hesitated and, as she was a Slav state with Russian sympathies, Hitler did not force her to make any immediate decision.
At this point Mussolini became impatient and reminded the Germans that there was still the problem of Greece and Yugoslavia. But they took no action and, to make matters worse, Hitler when he met Mussolini in the Brenner Pass on 4 October did not mention that his troops were about to enter Rumania. The occupation which took place three days later was a complete success but the secrecy of the move aroused the jealousy of Mussolini. Objecting to the fait accompli, he decided to make his own decisions. So, without mentioning any fixed date, he informed Hitler that he would soon invade Greece. It was ‘one of the strong points of British strategy in the Mediterranean’3 and had to be liquidated. Now thoroughly alarmed and determined ‘to prevent under all circumstances an expansion of the conflict in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean,’4 Hitler suggested a conference, but when he met Mussolini at Florence on 28 October he was told that Italian divisions were already moving from Albania into Greece. ‘Führer, we are on the march.’5
2 Ciano's Diary, 1939–1943, p. 291.
5 N.D., Vol. X, p. 287.