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The term "Axis" to describe the military alliance between Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Fascist Italy was first coined by Mussolini in a speech on November 1, 1936, occasioned by the secret "October Protocols" through which Italy and Germany agreed to oppose communism in general as well as the republican forces in Spain. Mussolini described the alliance between Rome and Berlin as "an axis around can revolve all those European states with a will to collaboration and peace."
The purpose became clearer with the Pact of Steel, which Italy and Germany signed on May 22, 1939. Each agreed to support the other in the event of war.
The alliance was not entirely smooth. The Germans took advantage of Italy's need to control its North African empire by force to receive a free hand to annex Austria and Czechoslovakia, and to invade Poland. The Italians were not comfortable with the Germans anti-semitism and particularly their negative attitude towards the Catholic Church.
The end of the Axis came on June 25, 1943, when Mussolini was taken prisoner by anti-fascists in Italy.
Japan is sometimes included as an Axis power, because it allied itself with Germany and Italy during World War II. However, it's a poor metaphor, as a Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis would not revolve very well.