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Dated:  Jan 6, 2006

Brief History of
Mussolini & the Fascists in WW2

  This page gives a brief history of Fascism and Benito Mussolini's rule over Italy.
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History of the Rise and Fall of Mussolini

Rise 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 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.

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. 

However, Mussolini 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.

Italy's Colonialism

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 1896. 

Italy had a small colony in Eritrea, adjacent to Abyssinia.  Mussolini made claims that Haile Selassie was about to invade Eritrea.  Troops were mobilized.  Then on 5 December 1934, a border incident provided justification for invading Abyssinia.   Italian troops were eager to join up and fulfill Italian's destiny.  After the rainy season was over, Mussolini addressed a crowd in Rome on 2 Ocoter 1935 in a firey speech.  The next day, Italy invaded Abyssinia with their 100,000 infantry supported by armor, aircraft and gas attacks against a force that were largely armed with old rifles and spears.  Within 4 months, Abyssinia had fallen and King Selassie had fled the country.  On 9 May, Mussolini again stood on the balcony of Palazzo Venezia in Rome and proclaimed that the defeat of Adowa(1896) had been avenged.  He was drowned out by thunderous cheers: "Duce!  Duce!  Duce!".  This marked the peak of Mussolini's popularity with his countrymen.   He eventually merged Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland into one state; the Italian East Africa (AOI - Africa  Orientale Italiana).

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, Mussolini 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.

Il Duce at the Chamber of Fasces and Corp

The visit lacked any discussion of the future plans of the Axis Alliance.  There was very little mention of Czechoslovakia.  Mussolini explained how his army had been weakened from years of fighting in Africa and in Spain.  He asked for 3 years to build up his resources and re-equip his army.   Italy wanted peace and their family home.  In a later meeting, minister von Ribbentrop promised no military action would be taken until 1941.   Hitler again brought up the subject of removing the Jews from Italy.  With a Jewish population of only 37,000, this was of little concern to Mussolini.  Just the same, 2 months later, Mussolini issued a manifesto that limited the freedoms of the Jews. 

By the summer of 1938, Germany and Czechoslovakia began to quarrel over the disputed border area of the Sudetenland.  War was imminent and Mussolini was seen as a warmonger with Hitler.   Relief came from the prime minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, who proposed a conference to settle the crises.   The conference was held in Munich on 29 & 30 September and Czechslovakia was not invited.  Mussolini played a dynamic role as negotiator as well as interpreter.  The result was that England and France gave away Czechslovakia to obtain peace.  Germany went home with a more land and Mussolini went home as an international peace maker.


On 28 March 1939, Franco's forces occupied Madrid and ended the Spanish Civil War.  Finally, after 3 years, the Italian troops could come home.  Once again, Mussolini wanted to expand his control on the Mediterranean.   He set his eyes on Albania.  Albania was self-ruled but it depended on Italy for protection.  So annexing it would be a "family matter" that was only symbolic.  On 7 April, 1939, Italy invaded Albania, which proved to be a difficult campaign that emphazied the weakness of their army. 

This was followed by a meeting between the German and Italian ministers in May 1939.  Ribbentrop made a surprise annoncement that German wanted a nonaggression pact with Russia.  Mussolini saw this as a way to dampen Hitler's military ambitions and signed the pact on 22 May, 1939.  Italy ordered 6 battleships and additional munitions factories.  The Nazis promised 3 years of peace. 

Germany immediately began to make threats against Poland.  Minister Ciano attempted to negotiate a settlement but Ribbentrop stated "We want war."   Ciano tried to convince Mussolini to break the pact.  Mussolini still had hopes that he would reap benefits of the fruits of war.  If he broke the pact, then what would keep Germany from invading Italy?  Hitler wrote Mussolini a letter explaining his actions and the reason for his pact with Russia.   Mussolini saw an opportunity to get aid from Germany.  He wrote Hitler that he would be willing to support a small war but he needed raw materials and arms to support a prolonged, major war.   He requested 2M tons of steel, 6M tons of coal, 7M tons of oil, and a list of 13 other raw materials plus 150 anti-aircraft guns.   Hitler promised aid from Germany in due time.

Alligiance with Germany

On 1 September 1939
, Germany opened up WW2 with the "blitz-krieg" invastion of Poland.  Mussolini again waivered between neutrality and total war.  He knew that international opinion would turn against him if Germany invaded Belgium and Holland.   He allowed Ciano to make anti-German speeches, while he wrote a long letter to Hitler condeming his treatment of Polish citizens.  This 4,000-word letter arrived at a time when he was suffering from attacks of indigestion and attacks by British on his ships.   Mussolini flipped his opinion one more time and agreed to go to war with Germany.  He requested a meeting with Hitler at the Brenner Pass.   They met on 18 March and again, Hitler did most of the talking.  He asked for Italy's help to distract France and England but did not require Italy to attack across France's border. 

By 9 April, Germany launched an attack against Norway and Denmark.   By the end of the month, Germany was ready to invade France.  Belgium surrendered on 28 May.  Ignoring a final appeal from England, Mussolini decided that he did not want to miss out on the fruits of war and was ready to invade France.  Hitler gleefully received this news but asked that he wait until France's air force could be destroyed by the German Luftwaffe.  On June 10, Mussolini gave another speech to annouce that Italy was joing the fight.   But still no support from Hitler.  German troops entered Paris on 14th June.  Mussolini ordered the invasion of France to start on the 18th but his general Badoglio could not move his troops to the border in time.  The invasion finally began and the Italians captured
two small French towns, when after only only 4 days, France had surrendered to Germany.   At the Munich conference, Italy asked for land from southern France and Tunisia but got nothing.

Border conflicts had been increasing in North Africa over the months between Italy's old colony of
Somaliland and neighboring British Somililand.   On 3 August the Italians launched their invasion of British Somaliland with 40,000 men from Ethiopia.  Within 4 days, they had cut off the capitol from escape to friendly French Somaliland. 

The British turned their attention to retaining control of the Suez Canal. 
In December 1940, the Italian High Command abandon their claim on Sudan and focus on defending Ethiopia.  British Major Orde Wingate lead a hit and run raids from Sudan against the Italians.   The British were reinforced and on January 18, 1941, the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions launched an attack on Eritea.  On the southern front, South African troops under British commander Cunningham attacked Italian Somaliland.  In March, the British Royal Navy launched attacks to recapture British Somaliland.

Hitler was trying to negotiate a treaty with England so he could carry out his secret plans to invade Russian and capture the oil fields of Rumania. 
Mussolini was growing impatient and made plans for an invasion of either Yugoslavia, Greece or Egypt.   The defeat of France by Germany, neutralized the western countries to the west of Libya.
 Mussolini ordered an invasion of Egypt on June 28 but the Italian army in Libya did not attack across the border until September 13th.  In four days they had pushed the British army back 60 miles.   When he offered some planes and armor at an conference in October, Mussolini refused any aid until they were close to the final stages of conquering Egypt. 

To Hitler's surpirse and annoyance, Mussolini launched an attack on Greece in response to Hitler's occupation of Rumania.  Italian troops in
Albania crossed the border of Greece on 28 October, 1940.  Hitler was returning from a visit with Franco and learned of the invasion when he arrived at the train station at Florence.  When Hitler met with the jubilient Mussolini, he could not speak of the invasion but gave false predictions that Spain would join the Axis alliance. 

Campaign in Greece & Balkans

The invasion of
Greece was a disaster.  Soon the Greek armies were putting the Italians into retreat.   The British sent their navy to occupy islands in the Aegean Sea.  The Italian navy was not prepared to battle this mighty power.  On 11th November, a British carrier force struck the Italian fleet anchored in Taranto harbor on the southern end of Italy.  This aerial attack pre-dated the attack of Pearl Harbor by 13 months.  

By early December 1940, Mussolini sent a special ambassador to Berlin to ask for aid.   Hitler offered to send troop transport plans to assist in Greece.  Could Germany assist in North Africa?  Hitler's answer was conditional; he would send troops only if Italy would provide manpower for German factories and
fields.  Mussolini turned to his "ally", Russia, to obtain raw materials he would need for his army.  Hitler told Mussolini to break off these talks immediately.  He implied that German troops were being sent to the east.  Mussolini assumed this was for the campaign against Greece and Yugoslavia; he had no clue of the forthcoming invasion of Russia.  

On April 6, 1941, German troops crossed through Bulgaria and invaded Greece and Yugoslavia.  Blegrade fell within a week.  On April 23, the Greek army surrendered, thus relieving Mussolini of futher embarassement of loses on this front.  Germany sent  General Erwin Rommel to North Africa.  
  At the same time, German troops began moving through the Brenner Pass into Italy.   The Italian citizens resented this move and felt that Italy was slowly being bullied by their ally.  The aerial bombardments by the RAF continued in the northern industrial cities.  Prices rose and so did unemployment as less raw materials became scarce.  Use of private autos were banned which lead to many resturants and areas of entertainment to close early.   Mussolini was slow ration food and clothing.  Thus the troops in Albania were freezing for lack of shoes and clothing but the products were still sold in shop windows in Rome.

By June 1941, everyone suspected that Hitler was about to invade Russia; everyone except Mussolini.  A German diplomat woke Ciano at 3am to deliver the news.  Mussolini offered to send Italian troops at once.  Hitler accepted with some reluctance.  The offensive was going well at all fronts.  Hitler invited Mussolini to tour the front lines on August 25.  On 7th August, Bruno Mussolini (18), the 2nd son of Il Duce, was killed when a new bomber he was testing crashed at Pisa.  The two leaders met and announced a "New Order" for Europe.  However, Mussolini was becoming skeptical.  His offer of more troops was rejected by Hitler.  He began to hear reports of mistreatment of Italian workers in Germany.

Battle for North Africa

When France surrendered,
Mussolini ordered an invasion of Egypt on June 28 but the Italian army in Libya took 6 weeks for preparations.  Italy's Army in Libya consisted of 236,000 men, including colonial troops.  The British had 31,000 men in Egypt.  The Italian 5th Army was placed at the eastern border of Lybia to reinforce the 10th Army.    The attack was finally launched on 13 September and by the 20th, four Italian divisions and with 200 tanks had pushed 65 miles into Egypt.  Marshal Rodolfo Graziani began requesting more supplies and armor.  Hitler considered providing a division but refained from sending support pending his invasion of Russia.  The British waited to see what would become of the campaign in Greece.

The Italians built a string of 7 major strongpoints that stretched 15 miles from the coast. 
During this lull of the desert war, the British sent 150 tanks to Egypt.  On December 7, General Wavell moved the British 7th Armored Division and supplies to a weak point of the defenses.  The attack hit the Italian between a gap in the out posts and began striking each one by one and routing the Italians.  The British pushed into Bardia, then Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi.  By 9 February 1941, they had advanced 500 miles and captured 130,000 prisoners, including 22 generals.  The cost to the British was only 500 dead, 1373 wounded and 56 missing.

Hitler realized a defeat of the Italians would be demoralizing to his ally and provide the British with complete control of the region.  After the fall of Bardia on 9 January 1941, he ordered units to be formed for service in North Africa.  The 5th Light Divison was formed, which was later strengthened with a panzer regiment and this eventually grew into the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK).  The Luftwaffe was allowed to fly more bombing missions in support of the Italian.  The Germans had no experience in desert warfare.  However, their 80 Mark III and IV tanks would prove far superior to the Italian armor and to much of the British armor.

On 12 February 1941,
Lt-General Erwin Rommel arrived with the advance units of the Deutsches Afrika Korps.   Even though he was placed under the Command of the Italian General Italo Gariboldi, General Rommel made prepartions to attack the British. His assault pushed the British back to Egypt and captured Tobruk, LibyaThey only stopped due to the invasion of Russia.  The British attempted to re-take Tobruk in June but failed.  Both sides had a change of command: General Wavel is replaced by General Auchinleck.  German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring is appointed the Supreme Commander of all of Mediterranean, including the Italians.

Map of North Africa2nd piece of Map3rd Piece of Map4th piece of Map
The British launched an offensive on 18th November, which resulted in driving Rommel out of Egypt and re-capturing Tobruk on 29th.   However, in January 1941, Axis naval and air forces begin arriving in Libya as some of the British Commonwealth troops are pulled out and sent to fight the Japanese.  The German-Italian slowly advances across the desert and re-take Tobruk from the South Aficans.  The British 8th Army forms a defensive line around El Alamein on 30 June.   In September Rommel was recalled to Germany because of his health. On 30 August, the Axis attacks the El Alamein lines and fails.   

On 23 October, the British attack the Axis defense lines around El Alamein.  The British have a strength of 195,000 men, 1029 tanks and 2,311 guns.   The Axis forces have 104,000 troops (the majority Italian), 489 tanks (259 inferior Italian) and 1,219 guns.  The British destroyed 5 of the 7 Italian divisions in North Africa, and captured 130,000 Italian prisoners and 700 guns  Rommel lost 33,000 men and ordered a general retreat.

Then on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor and Italy and Germany declared the United States as their enemy.

On June 21, 1942, the Axis forces captured Tobruk and 33,000 British soldiers. 

On June 23, 1942, Mussolini's health improved enough for him to attend a cabinet meeting.  To silence the dissidents, he reorganized the government and the cabinet members were replaced.  Ciano was moved to the office of ambassador to the Vatican.  Mussolini placed himself as head of the Foriegn Office.  
  On 29th of June, Mussolini visited North Africa in hopes of celebrating the removal of the British from Egypt.  Rommel did not bother to pay respects to the Italian dictator.  Adding further insult, Hitler promoted Rommel to Field Marshal, thus making him the high ranking commander over the Italians.  But Rommel had to halt his advance.  The Axis desert forces would never again take on the offensive.   After waiting for victory and planning how he would control Egypt, Mussolini returned home on 21 July.  

Back in Italy, Mussolini became physically ill with stomach pains in September and October, 1942. 
Doctors believed an acute case of dysentery had reactivated an old ulcer.  He was restricted to the bed and lost 40 pounds.  He had periods of depression and inactivityMussolini retreated to the Adriatic coastal resort of Riccione with his mistress, Clare Petacci.  Later X-rays diagnosed his problem as rheumatic localization in the spinal column.  Rumors began to circulate about Mussolini's health and the King Victor Emmanuel began to cast around for his successor.  The war for Italy went badly.  Sea convoys trying to resupply the desert army were under constant attack by British Navy and Royal Air Force.     The Germans were anxious to know more of the status of their ally, so SS commander Heinrich Himmler visited Rome on 11 October.  Himmler stayed for a few days to collect intelligience.  He reported back to Hitler that Italy would remain an ally as long as Mussolini remained alive.

On November 7, 1942, the American forces landed at Morrocco and Algiers.  After dealing with the Vichy French government, they began to move east to engage the Germans desert army.   Hitler responded immediately by landing 250,000 German and Italian troops in Tunis, Tunisia, on 11th November.  The Axis army now had to fight a two-front war: General Bradley's 7th Army, spearheaded by General Patton's II Corps, from the west and General Montgomery's 8th Army on the east.

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 sizes.

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. 

Over the 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
Count Dino Grandi

Saturday, 24 July 1943, Fascits Party Secretary Carlo Scorza opened the meeting by leading a cry of "Saluto al Duce!".  Then Mussolini opened with a 2-hour lecture, which was usual for these meetings, and was followed by a round of debate.   When Ciano announced his support of the motion to remove Duce,
Mussolini went into a rage.  After 9 hours of debates, Mussolini demaned a roll-call vote of the 26 members.  Grandi's resolution won with 19 votes.  The meeting was adjourned at 2:40am.  Mussolini requested an audience with King Emmanuel on Sunday afternoon, instead of the usual Monday.  The private meeting was arranged.  The King made special arrangements for security and plans to arrest Mussolini.  The meeting was short and the King was to the point.  Mussolini accepted his fate and walked out in custody of the carabinieri.

A few Fascists leaders were arrested but most had fled Rome.  At 10:45pm, the Italian radio interrupted programming to annouce the change of government.   Citizens began to celebrate.  Many began to strip down the emblems of Fascism. 
Badoglio took steps to restore order and began the process to get Italy out of the war.

Puppet of Hitler

On 3rd September, British 8th Army landed at the tip of the "boot" of Italy, followed by a US 5th Army landing at Salerno the 9th.   The Badoglio government had been in negotiating with the Allies on an honorable surrender that would allow them to join the Allies.  The British did not want anything but an unconditional surrender as a defeated enemy.  There was even secret discusstion of dropping the US 82nd Airborne Division into Rome in order to ensure the capitol would not fall into German hands.  The day before the landings at Salerno, the Badoglio government announced an unconditional surrender.  The German response was Operation ASCHE that aggressively disarmed all the Italian army.  Badoglio immediately fled the capitol and the Germans occupied it as an open city.

The new Italian government 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 daughter----was able to smuggle them out to the free press.

Mussolini requested 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. 

Final Days

For details of the last days of Mussolini, including his escape from Milan, his capture and execution, go to  Execution of Mussolini .

     "The Other Italy: The Italian Resistance in WW2"
- by Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, W.W. Norton & Co., 1988.
"Italy at War" - Time-Life WW2 series, by Henry Adams.
      "The Italian Campaign" - Time-Life WW2 series, by Robert Wallace.
     "Mussolini's Soldiers" - by Rex Trye, Motor Books Intl, 1987.  ISBN 0-7603-0022-4.
     "The Allied Forces in Italy; 1943- 1945" - by Guido Rosignoli. David & Charles Publishers, 1989.   ISBN 0715392123.
"Il Duce: The Rise & Fall of Benito Mussolini" - by Richard B. Lyttle, Antheneum Macmillian Publishing, 1987.
      "The Ciano Diaries", edited by Hugh Gibson, Doubleday & Co. 1945.
      "The Fall of Mussolini; His Own Story", by Max Ascoli, Farrar, Strauss & Company 1948.
      "Haile Selassie's War: The Italian-Ethiopian Campaign, 1935-1941",  by Anthony Mockler, Random House, 1984.
     "The Italian Army (1940-1945)" - Osprey's Men-At-Arms 3-volume series by Philip S. Jowett.  Osprey Pub Co.
       After the Battle Issue No. 124,
"The Capture of Mussolini's Last Residence" by Bryan Pullen.
       After the Battle Issue No. 7, "The Last Days 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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