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This page gives a brief history of Fascism and Benito Mussolini's rule over Italy.For other units, go to:
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of the Rise and Fall of Mussolini
Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922 during a time of corruption, economic depression and labor disputes. After making himself known, he was practically invited by the King to step into the position of Prime Minister. Mussolini used his first years as Prime Minister to establish control of the government and begin improvements within the country. He implemented changes in agriculture by draining swamp lands and building canals. He also ensured the rail system worked.
After a series of
in 1922, the king appointed Benito Mussolini
as prime minister in an attempt to prevent a communist revolution in
Mussolini headed a coalition of fascists and nationalists and
government continued until the murder of the socialist leader, Giacomo
Matteotti in 1924. Critics view King Emmanuel as a puppet
ruler of the Fascists. His early actions indicated he was
but he allowed Mussolini and the Fascists to take over the
In 1920s, the monarchy, the church, the political elite and the voters,
for different reasons, felt Mussolini and his regime would provide a
and financial stability that was needed for their country.
Adolf Hitler came to power in
Germany on January 30, 1933. Hitler's national socialism
closely paralled Italy's fascism. He built his Nazi Brownshirts
along the military lines of the Fascists Blackshirts. They had a
lot in common. Both men had read Machiavelli. Both used the
fear of Communism to gain power and control. The Nazis used
violence and threats to silence any opposition.
still did not trust Hitler, especially when it came to the question of
Austria's independance. Mussolini did not want to share a border
with Germany. He regarded Austria's chancellor, Englebert Dollfuss, as his
personal friend and Italy was considered an ally of Austria.
Hitler asked Mussolini if they could meet to discuss "international
policy". They met at Venice on 14 June, 1934. This
was their first meeting and, upon the urging of his advisors, Hitler
traveled to Italy in civilian clothes, wearing a floppy felt hat and a
wrinkled raincoat. Mussolini met him in all his military regalia
which left Hitler a little embarrassed; vowing to never do that
again. At this meeting the two leaders discussed the fate of
Austria and persecution of the Jews. Talking incessantly, Hitler
dominated their talks as Mussolini tried to keep pace with his
German. The meeting ended with both leaders thinking the other
had compromised to their position.
Fifteen days after
this meeting, on 25 June, Nazi thugs entered Chancellor Dollfuss's office
and shot him at his desk. This infuriated Mussolini. He
immediately mobilized his troops on the Austrian border and he wired
the Austrian government that Italy would defend Austrian
independence. Italy received no support from France or
England but it was enough to cause Hitler to stand down.
The world press portrayed Mussolini as a world hero. With his
popularity its peak in Italy and in the world's press, Mussolini took
the first step towards ending the uneasy peace.
Mussolini began to
focus national attention to the small independant monarchy of Abyssinia on
Africa's eastern coast. Mussolini may have been influenced
by Germany's expanionist policies. Maybe his personal ego
was challenged by Hitler's rise to power. Italy still
ranked highest in unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and disease.
But Italians felt it was their destiny to make Abyssinia as a
colony. They also wanted revenge for their defeat there in
Francisco Franco was a
right-wing army general who initiated an over-throw of the democratic
republic of Spain. Franco had the backing of the
aristocrats, the Catholic Church who feared right-wing liberals and the
support of Italy. On 18 July, 1936, a civil war erupted in
Spain. Mussolini immediately, but secretly, loaned 12 aircraft to
protect Franco's troops ships arriving from Spanish Morocco. When
one aircraft was forced to land in French Morocco, the world and his
own Italy learned of their alliance. Volunteer troops were sent
to Spain but were more of a handicap than an aide.
Meanwhile, Hitler did nothing. Hitler hoped that the more that Italy stood with Franco, the more that he would distance himself with western democracies and Russia, who sided with the Republic. And this would bring Italy and Germany into a stronger alliance. Hitler's ploy worked and he began to send his troops to aide Franco. By the end of 1937, Italy had sent every aicraft he could spare and 37,000 troops, much to the indetrement of Italy's economy.
On a personal level,
was attracted to a new mistress. A beautiful, vivacious woman, Clara Petacci was young enough to be his
daughter. While distracted by his mistress and these other
events, Hitler made his move.
Hitler; an alter ego
Hitler extended an inviation for Mussolini to visit Germany. Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and minister of Foriegn Affairs, cleared the way for a meeting and signed a secret pact promising Italian cooperation on many diplomatic issues. Mussolini accepted the invitation and spoke of a Berlin-Rome "axis". On 23 September, 1937, Mussolini boarded a train for his 5-day trip to Italy. This time he was greeted by a uniformed Fuherer and a parade through Berlin that was decorated with bunting in the Italian national colors. Mussolini witnessed mass parades, a military exercise, a tour of Krupp munitions factory and speeches before 800,000 citizens. Mussolini left a changed man with a new respect for the Fuherer. From this moment, Mussolini became the student; Hitler the wizard of warfare.
As soon as he returned home, he tried to introduce the "goose step" for military parades. He began preparations for a reciprical visit by Hitler. Three weeks later, the Nazi ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arrived to obtain Mussolini's signature on an anti-Russian pact that was already approved by Japan. On 11 December, Italy pulled out of the League of Nations. Then Hitler pressured the Austrian chancellor into signing a pact that surrendered Austrian's independence without a complaint from Mussolini. The Austrian chancellor called for a referendum vote that was set for 13 March 1938. The day before the election, German tanks rolled into Austria with the purpose of "restoring order". Mussolini could do nothing but endorse the invasion.
The reaction of the Italian citizens and also of England caused some concern with Mussolini. He flipped his alliance again and tried to improve relations with England. He even withdrew his aid from the Spanish civil war. Meanwhile, the time arrived in May for Hitler's visit. When Hitler arrived in Rome, he was greeted by King Emmanuel. No one explained to him that only the King could receive visiting heads of state. After the official parades and naval exercises, Mussolini was allowed to host a banquet at the Palazzo Venezia. During his speech, Hitler vowed never to violate the Italian border.
November 8th 1942- Battle of El Alamein.
British forces were 230,000 men and the Axis forces totaled 108,000
men; 42 out of the 70 battalions were Italian. The losses at El
Alamein were heavy for both sides: Rommel lost 25,000 dead and wounded
and 30,000 captured; Montgomery lost 4,610 dead and missing and 8,950
wounded. The bulk of Rommel's 17,000 casualties were Italian.
The Axis losses
during the Campaign in North Africa since June 1940 totaled 975,000
men, 7,600 aircraft, 6,200 guns, 2,550 tanks, and some 600 ships of all
On November 30th, Reichsmarshal Herman Goering
made an unannounced visit to Rome after a previous cancellation due to
sickness. The Italians were offended by Goering blaming all
of Germany's troubles on Italy and his talk of his art collection that
he had accumulated. The fashion conscience Italians were even
offended by the full-length fur coat that Goering wore.
Fall from Power
Since Mussolini was on a strict diet of rice and milk and submitting to an electrotherapeutic treatment, he decided to send Count Ciano to Germany on December 18 to urge a peace settlement with Russia. Ciano found the German high command in turmoil and gloom over the news from the Russian front. The German VI Army was surrounded at Stalingrad. Peace was a major topic in Italy. Mussolini and King Emanuel discussed transferring the High Command out of Rome in order to protect it from Allied bombings.
The Allies landed in Sicily in July 1943 and had pushed the German and Italian defenders off the island by the end of August.
years, Mussolini had taken total
control of the government. He made all the decisions and
relegated the Fascist grand council to little more than a rubber-stamp
approval. There arose dissidents within the Council who demanded
peace. The disidents were lead by former Foriegn Minister Dino Grandi and Duce's
son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano. At a tense meeting on
16 July, 15 of the Fascist leaders asked Mussolini to cede some of his
powers so the country could run more efficent. He agreed to
have a meeting of the Gran Council, which had little power left.
Five days later, he learned that Grandi was circulating a resolution to restore the authority of the Grand Council and other government agencies. Hitler summoned Mussolini to meet him at Feltre on July 19th, but the Italian delegation did not get a chance to express their need for peace. At a private meeting, Hitler continued to sway Mussolini with promises of new weapons that would win the war. During this meeting, 500 Allied bombers dropped bombs on Rome, causing 1400 dead and 6,000 injured. This was the greatest single event that pushed King Emmanuel and the Italian citizens over to the side of peace. The King had decided that he would use the Grand Council meeting to remove Mussolini as dictator and replace him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio.
Count Dino Grandi
Puppet of Hitler
The new Italian
tried to exile the ex-dictator to the island of Ponza. Later, they
moved him to the Gran Sasso mountain fortress. Hitler called
for SS-General Otto Skorzeny
to make a daring raid to rescue Mussolini
from the fortress and return him to Germany. Eventually
Mussolini was set-up as the new commander of the new Salo Republic on
28 October 1943, exactly 19 years from the time he first came to
power. His new residence was the Villa Feltrinelli located
in Gargnano on the western shore of Lake Garda where he was under the
guard of the Germans. Clara Petacci resided in the Villa
Fiodaliso at Gardone Riviera.
For the next 18 months, Mussolini powers were totatally under the control of the German command. He made very few public appearances or speeches. Mussolini had a government but nothing to govern. The Germans began rounding up men for their labor camps. The provinces of Trieste, Bolzano and other regions taken from Austria in WW1, was occupied as "enemy territory". Any Italian soldiers found in those "operational zones" were sent to Germany as prisoners of war. The reaction to this force was the creation of partisan groups all over northern Italy.
On January 8, 1944,
Ciano and five other of the "traitors" were put on trial for
conspiracy for their actions at the Grand Council vote. Hitler
wanted vengence from the puppet government for
Italy's breaking of their treaty but his main focus was on "that
anti-German, Ciano". Mussolini thought the trail would help unify
the Fascist party but he was torn by family ties. His wife,
Rachele, even favored the
trial because she could not forgive her son
for voting Mussolini out of office. The six were found
guilty and condemned to death: Emilio de Bono, Carlo Pareschi, Tullio
Cianetti, Luciano Gottardi and Giovanni Marinelli, who was deaf.
They were taken to a shooting range at Forte San Porcolo, a suburb of
Verona. The condemned
were seated in chairs with their backs to a German firing squad.
The execution was a family tragedy. In Rome, the men were
regarded as martyrs; Ciano was praised as a hero. Mussolini was
pictured as a butcher. However, Count Ciano had the last
word. He compiled his journal that he had kept since 1939 and
with the help of his wife, Edna, ---yes, Mussolini's own
able to smuggle them out to the free press.
a talk with Hitler to discuss the expansion of the Salo Republic's
authority. He met Hitler on April, 22, 1944 and delivered a
long explanation of how he wanted to return control back to the
Italians and restore morale to the people. After listening to
him, Hitler responded with insults and accusations. He stressed
the importance of controlling the partisans and ended with a few words
of goodwill. The only good part of this trip was they
Mussolini was able to give a speech to the Italian soldiers being
trained in Germany.
Back at his Lake
Gordo residence, the news from the front was worse. Rome
fell. Allies landed in Normandy coast. Partisans were
growing stronger and more bold. A thousand partisans entered Milan unopposed. After
the partisans attacked a German truck, the Nazis executed 15 political
prisoners in a main square of Milan, Piazalle Loreto. The
rule of the Salo Republic was confined to the Po Valley.
Mussolini left Italy
on July 15th on a special train to speak to his troops and visit
Hitler, again. Only few hours before they were to confer, Hitler
went into a conference at his Wolf's Lair where he was the target of an
assassaniation attempt. He kicked a briefcase behind the leg of
the table which deflected the blast when it exploded. Hitler was
still visible shaken and held one arm stiff when he greeted Mussolini
at the train station.
By August 1944, the
Allies were in Paris and had landed a force in southern France.
Florence was captured, thus establishing a front line only 150 miles
from his residence. The Salo government would soon have to
retreat. Without asking permission, Mussolini announced an
important even for Milan on 15 December. Here he gave his last
public speech before a selected Fascist audience.
For details of the
last days of Mussolini, including his escape from Milan, his capture
and execution, go to Execution
of Mussolini .
The King of Italy and the end of the House of Savoy
Victor Emmanuel III was born in Naples, Italy, in 1869, the son of King Umberto I. Victor Emmanuel came to the throne when his father was assassinated at Monza in 1900. He was so small that he was nicknamed the 'dwarf' by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Victor Emmanuel agreed with his government that Italy should remain neutral. However, at a secret meeting held in England on 26th April 1915, representatives of the Italian government agreed to enter the war in return for financial help and the granting of land currently under the control of Austria-Hungary.
After a series of riots in 1922, the king appointed Benito Mussolini as prime minister in an attempt to prevent a communist revolution in Italy. Mussolini headed a coalition of fascists and nationalists and parliamentary government continued until the murder of the socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti in 1924. Critics view King Emmanuel as a puppet ruler of the Fascists. His early actions indicated he was pro-democracy but he allowed Mussolini and the Fascists to take over the country. In 1920s, the monarchy, the church, the political elite and the voters, for different reasons, felt Mussolini and his regime would provide a political and financial stability that was needed for their country.
During Mussolini's period in power, Victor Emmanuel was created Emperor of Ethiopia (1936) and King of Albania (1939). In July 1943, faced with an Allied invasion, the king forced Benito Mussolini to resign. This action increased the King's popularity within the country and around the world, but two other bad decisions had tarnished his character. In 1938, when Fascism issued its racial laws, the King remained silent. Then in 1943, he decided to flee Rome when the German moved to occupy the city.
Umberto de Salvoia was born the Prince of Piedmont and was educated to a military career. He was commander of Army Group West that fought in French Riveria and in time became the commander in chief of the Northern Armies. He married Crown Princess Maria José, the daughter of King Albert I of Belgium. Following the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943, King Victor Emmanuel handed over his constitutional functions to Umberto, who was made Lieutenant General of the Realm, and left Italy for Egypt. During the next 3 years, he earned widespread praise.
Had Victor Emmanuel III handed over the throne at this time, then it is likely that the monarchy would have won the 1946 referendum on its survival. Victor Emmanuel's failure proved to be one of his many major misjudgments. The crown could have survived with a popular Crown Prince and Princess much less tainted by fascism than the monarch. Victor Emmanuel III withdrew from private life and died in exile in Egypt in 1947.
A referendum was held in 1946 only weeks after Umberto had become king. The ballot was somewhat questionable but the final outcome was in favor of a Republic. The monarchy formally ended on June 12, 1946--- Umberto was king for only 33 days. King Umberto lived for 35 years in exile and eventually seperated from his wife. He died in March 18, 1983, and was buried in Savoy. The 999-year reign of the Savoyards in the various duchies and kingdoms had come to an end.
Details for the above was compiled from facts and dates from various on-line Dicitionaries and websites.
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