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Definition: Axis Powers from Philip's Encyclopedia

Term applied to Germany and Italy after they signed the Rome-Berlin Axis in October 1936. It included Japan after it joined them in the Tripartite Pact (September 1940). Other states that joined the Axis were Hungary and Romania (1940) and Bulgaria (1941).


Summary Article: Axis Pact (1940–1945) from Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History

Also known as the Tripartite Pact, the Axis Pact was a World War II–era alliance principally comprising Germany, Italy, and Japan. It was formed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, and remained in effect for the duration of the war.

The treaty built upon two earlier initiatives of the 1930s, the Anti-Comintern Pact and the Pact of Steel, and was intended to last for 10 years. It contained six articles and its stated purpose was to create “a new order of things.” Germany and Italy recognized Japan's primacy in East Asia and Japan recognized its allies’ primacy in Europe. The treaty was designed as a collective defense bargain against the United States, although it is not mentioned explicitly.

The Axis included a number of minor powers and puppet states. Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia joined in November 1940, while Bulgaria and Yugoslavia joined in March 1941. A coup in Belgrade, however, prompted Germany to invade and dismember Yugoslavia; Croatia, which became nominally independent, joined in June 1941. Reasons to join included fear—of either the Soviet Union or the Axis itself—and the opportunity for territorial expansion. Governments backed by the Japanese, such as Thailand, aligned themselves with the Axis, but did not formally join. Vichy France, Finland, and other countries, along with Arab Muslims in Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere, also cooperated with the Axis but were not formal members.

In practice, the Axis was largely dysfunctional and a failure. When the United States declared war on Japan in December 1941, Germany and Italy counterdeclared war on America, even though they were not required by the treaty to do so, as Japan had initiated hostilities. Every European member of the Axis supported German operations, from occupation duty to participating in campaigns. Before Italy's surrender in 1943, German and Italian troops jointly operated in North Africa, Greece, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, although Hitler grew frustrated with Mussolini and Germany viewed Italy as ineffective ally. There was very little strategic planning between Germany and Italy, and none between the European Axis and Japan. The Axis essentially waged three parallel wars and lost all in turn.

See also: World War II

Additional Reading
  • Deist, Wilhelm; Manfred Messerschmidt; Hans-Erich Volkmann; Wolfram Wette. The Build-Up of German Aggression. Vol. I. Germany and the Second World War. Clarendon Press Oxford, 1990.
  • Mazower, Mark. Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe. Penguin Press New York, 2008.
  • Ready, J. Lee. The Forgotten Axis: Germany's Partners and Foreign Volunteers in World War II. McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson NC, 1987.
  • Tristan Abbey
    Copyright 2014 by David T. Zabecki

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