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Italy

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini gave the Axis powers its name when he suggested that the rest of Europe would rotate around the “axis” of Germany and Italy. While Hitler was planning coups in Germany in the 1920s, Mussolini was well on his way to moving Italy towards one-party rule with him as its supreme leader, Il Duce. He authorized the Pact of Steel, a mutual support treaty between Italy and Germany, in 1939, under the impression that war would not occur during the next three years. When Germany invaded Poland five months later, Italy was left scrambling to catch up, its military weakened by Mussolini’s campaign to claim colonies in East Africa. Italy joined World War II on Germany’s side in June 1940. Mussolini’s countrymen deposed him in 1943 and signed an armistice with the Allies that September. German forces soon rescued Mussolini from Italian custody and installed him as head of the Italian Social Republic, a German puppet state that spanned north and central Italy. Mussolini met his end on April 28, 1945, when pro-Communist resistors shot him after stopping him in the act of fleeing to Spain.