October 20, 2016

1943. The Downfall of Benito Mussolini

"Fall of the Duce"
Benito Mussolini reviews the 5th Alpine Mobile Black Brigade (Enrico Quagliata) in Brescia, 1945 (source)
From Newsweek, August 2, 1943, pp. 19-21:
Duce Out, Italy Becomes Prey of Nazis as Well as Allies
His Downfall Also Poses Test of the Allied Principle of Unconditional Surrender
Since the crisis in Italy overshadows all other news, Newsweek this week devotes the entire abroad department to the Fall of the Duce.

At 11 o'clock on the night of July 25, 1943, the last stage of the second world war began for Italy. At exactly that hour Benito Mussolini had been relieved of his post as Premier. Wracked by Allied bombing, invaded by an overwhelmingly superior Anglo-American army, and refused large-scale aid by the Germans, Italy faced the most terrible problem in its history—how to end the struggle with the Allies without at the same time provoking violent retribution from its erstwhile Nazi Allies. The life of the Italian nation hung in the balance.

Proclamation: The fall of the Duce was made public in three proclamations. The first was by King Victor Emmanuel. That wizened and deflated little monarch announced that he had accepted the "resignation" of Mussolini and appointed as Premier Marshal Pietro Badoglio, former Chief of Staff and Italy's most respected soldier.

The second proclamation was also issued by the King. In it he assumed personal command of all the armed forces, called on each Italian to "take up again his post of duty and of fighting," and expressed confidence that Italy would "find again a way of recovery." The third came from Marshal Badoglio, who proclaimed that he was taking over complete power and that "the war continues." After these announcements the Royal March was played. But for the first time in 21 years the Fascist anthem, "Giovinezza," was omitted.

The next act in the drama was another proclamation ordering martial law throughout Italy, imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew, barring all meetings of more than three persons, and establishing other stringent security regulations. Telephones and communications with other capitals were cut off. A few dispatches filtering into Switzerland told of an angry crowd attacking German anti-aircraft gun crews in Milan. On the Swiss border black-shirted Fascist militia guards were replaced with Carabinieri. Late Monday Badoglio announced the formation of a new Cabinet. There was no authentic news of the Duce.

The swiftly unfolding crisis in Rome echoed in every capital throughout the world. Berlin at first maintained a strained silence. Then radio announcers went on the air with ambiguous explanations that explained nothing. And they referred to the poor state of Mussolini's health. In Spain the Cabinet was called into emergency session. Throughout France thousands defied police and listened to Allied radio stations.

In Washington the news seemed almost too good to be true, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull told reporters that the unconditional-surrender policy still stood. How other Allied centers received the news was told in cables from Newsweek's correspondents. The London bureau wirelessed: "The strongest note apparent in informed circles is one of extreme caution. But the oft-quoted man-in-the-street has greeted the news with the greatest jubilation and the general belief that Italy is already virtually out of the war."

Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS correspondent, sent this message from Moscow: "Russians first heard the news of Mussolini's resignation at 6 a.m. Monday morning when the radio gave it the preferred position just after the reading of the Soviet communiqué. The Russians are not people who dance in the streets, but there'll be many factory meetings for discussion and interpretation in the next few days. At these meetings the general satisfaction about this first complete victory over dictatorship will be expressed."

From Algiers, Merrill Mueller, Newsweek and NBC correspondent, wirelessed: "Mussolini's resignation can only be construed as a great blow against the Axis, designed materially to shorten the war. Allied propaganda insisted that the Italians throw out the Fascists and set up a government with which the Allies could deal. It begins to appear that they've done exactly that.

The events leading up to the Duce's downfall had been in the making ever since that June day three years ago when he took an unprepared Italy into the war. But the immediate sequence of events that brought about his downfall came with the speed of modern war.

After the collapse of Axis resistance in North Africa in May it was obvious that political developments of great importance were in the making in Rome. To a people as realistic as the Italians the fate in store for Italy was perfectly evident. The exact interplay of political forces at the time was clouded, but the strange result was the emergence of the most radical wing of the Fascist party in an apparent dominant position.

Then came the invasion of Sicily. The tone of the Italian press and public spokesmen changed. Their defiance of the Allies had a hollow ring. Their protests against insufficient aid from the Germans had the sound of heartfelt truth.

The fateful day of crisis most likely occurred during the conference last week between Mussolini and Hitler somewhere in Northern Italy. The Führer came on the Duce's urgent summons, and the communiqué issued after the meeting was as cold as the monocle of the German officer who probably drafted it.

What happened at the meeting was the direct prelude to Mussolini's downfall. According to most versions, the Duce had asked the Führer for large-scale aid—some twenty divisions—to hold Italy. Hitler replied with a proposal that instead the Italians abandon Sicily and fight a rearguard action up most of the Peninsula, finally establishing a line north of Rome with German aid. When the Duce was forced to present this scheme to the King and the army, the game was up.

Significance: What happened in Italy was a political event comparable in importance to the fall of France, only this time it was the Allies and not the Germans who were the gainers. It was something that doesn't happen unless a nation is in the first stages of dissolution, because in himself the Duce was as much the government of Italy as the parliamentary regime was the government of France.

The King's words that Italy would "find again a war of recovery" almost certainly meant that Fascism was to be liquidated as a system of government. Likewise Badoglio's first actions were in conformity with his record of opposition to Fascism. Thus the political structure of Italy had in effect been destroyed.

That did not mean that the new government was committed to an immediate peace. Its first concern probably was to arrive at some arrangement with Germany. The 1939 military alliance is still in effect despite the change of regime. Furthermore, the Italian Government does not have the power to force the German units on Sicily, for example, to lay down their arms. In the Balkans also there are about fifteen German and fifteen Italian divisions under mixed command.

Nevertheless the direct reason for the fall of Mussolini was the hopelessness of resistance to Allied attacks. Despite Badoglio's great reputation there is no reason to think that the Italian troops will fight better for him than for Mussolini. The logic of the military situation thus dictates that the Italian Government make peace offers eventually—and there may even be a chance of an immediate snap offer to take effect before the Germans have time to react.

Whatever the intentions of the new Italian Government, its formation was the first real challenge to the Roosevelt-Churchill doctrine of unconditional surrender. It posed the question of whether the Allies should treat with a King whom they have always considered to be deeply involved in Fascism—and whether that ruled out negotiating with Badoglio, a man noted for opposition to everything that Mussolini stood for.
"Mussolini and the Quadrumviri during the March on Rome in 1922" (source)

He Came In Like a Lion—and Left Like a Quitter
It was a fitting irony that the man who tried to make the people of a nation "live like lions" ended his career by simply quitting. But in a way that was how it started, too. The March on Rome in 1922 was made by Mussolini in a train when all possible danger had passed. And Victor Emmanuel, weak in chin and will, consented to appoint the former Socialist firebrand as Premier despite Marshal Badoglio's promise to drive the Fascists into the sea with two companies of troops.

Once in power, Mussolini showed all the organizing ability and ruthlessness of a self-made big businessman—and also enjoyed the cynicism and brutality of a highwayman. The Italy he took over was rotten with war-born chaos, political decay, and rising Communism. He gave short shrift to politicians and sent Parliament packing in favor of a rubber-stamp National Assembly setting up his novel "corporate state" with its syndicates of workers and employers.

For the first time, Europe witnessed the spectacle of a modern one-man dictatorship running a country with the efficiency of a big department store. Trains got in on time, factories buzzed, strikes were abolished. It was a regime of dynamism if not tolerance—yet Mussolini cagily stayed on good terms with King and church and had no truck with the racialism and anti-Semitism that was already being touted by another aspirant to Dictatorship across the Alps.

The Duce then was as independent and hard-handed in his foreign as in his home policy. In 1933, he quickly recognized the danger in the Nazi movement and the following year balked at a Hitler coup in Austria by massing troops in the Brenner Pass. But, by that time, Mussolini had already begun to dream up new empires of his own. In 1935 he contemptuously bucked Britain and the entire League of Nations when he invaded Ethiopia.

When sanctions failed and the League all but died, Mussolini made the most fateful decision of his lifetime. Out of vindictiveness against Britain and a mistaken estimate of German power, he joined with Hitler in evil alliance. The first Axis step was the joint intervention in Spain. The next and fatal move was the acquiescence to Hitler's annexation of Austria.

Then came the era of Axis enthrallment of Europe by means of threats and boasts. Mussolini was riding high, wide, and handsome. On the Eternal City's walls he plastered maps showing the ancient Roman empire. In the National Assembly, his stooges baited France with cries of "Tunis! Corsica! Nice!" He boasted of "8,000,000 bayonets" and a mighty Fascist fleet. And in 1939 he launched the cynical Good Friday invasion that trampled little Albania.

But if Mussolini fooled his enemies for a time, he also fooled his people and himself. For when the Fascist fighting machine was put to the test, it failed ignominiously. In campaign after campaign—in Greece, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and the Mediterranean—Mussolini's boasts blew up in the smoke of real battle. Time and again, Hitler had to send troops to the rescue.

As the defeats increased, the would-be Caesar drew more and more into his shell. He seldom spoke and almost never made an appearance. But though growing bald and thinner with worry and age—he quit just four days before his 60th birthday—he still clung to his dreams and bluff, and even after the loss of his empire declared that the "last word" had not yet been spoken.

It was all over last week, for this was the way the Duce's world ended—not with a bang but a whimper.
Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio in the 1930s
Right after Marshal Pietro Badoglio resigned on Dec. 6, 1940, as chief of staff of an Italian army just routed by the Greeks, posters and stickers appeared on walls and windows all over Italy: "Italian people, stand fast! The King and Badoglio will be your deliverers." This week, the fate of Italy at last was in the hands of the deliverers.

In his choice of Badoglio as Chief of Government, Premier, and Secretary of State, Victor Emmanuel got a seasoned campaigner—at 71 still erect, square-shouldered, and keen-eyed—whose professional soldiering had shown up brilliantly on the blazing desert sands of North Africa as well as the icy Alpine battlefields of the last war.

Further, he got a man who two decades before might well have stamped out Fascism in its infancy. Ever a royalist professing allegiance to the House of Savoy, Badoglio—so the story goes—after watching the Fascist march into Rome in 1922 pleaded for a chance to rout them. He told the king: "Sire, with just two companies of Carabinieri I could sweep those Blackshirt upstarts into the sea."

The man who on Sunday took the helm of the foundering Italian ship sprang from Piedmont soil which has been a battleground since Caesar's legions first marched into what was then Cis-Alpine Gaul. The military history of the farming country around Grazzano Monferrato near Milan interested young Pietro Badoglio much more than did his father's small farm there, and he was soon off to the Military Academy at Turin.

Badoglio served in the Ethiopian campaign of 1896-97 and fifteen years later saw action in Libya. He was only a lieutenant colonel at the start of the last war, but his outstanding exploits—such as the capture of Mount Sabotino from the Austrians in 1916—made his rise meteoric: Six promotions soon elevated him to Assistant Chief of the General Staff.

Mussolini shunted Badoglio off to Brazil as Ambassador in 1924. For almost two years he was out of the picture. Then he was recalled as Chief of the General Staff and created a marshal, Italy's highest military rank. In 1929 Mussolini again "exiled" him, this time sending him to Libya as Governor. Thus he was in the background when the Battle for Ethiopia began. But when that campaign bogged down, he was again called into action, and because of his victory over Haile Selassie he returned to Italy to receive a welcome unheard of since the days of the ancient Roman conquerors and the King created him Duke of Addis Ababa.

Badoglio, in private life is a quiet, mild, steady-going man of culture and refinement, speaking several languages but ready and eager, on visits to his native village, to shed his coat and indulge in a game of Bocce with the local peasantry. Besides the Italian game of bowls—at which he excels—he is a skillful hand at the bridge table, and here he shows the same respect for detailed, methodical planning that he does on the battlefield.
Cheers and Jeers: As Il Duce vanished from the stage, these jeers came from the wings:
¶  In New York Arturo Toscanini clasped his head in his hands and looked thankfully heavenward when he heard the news.

¶  In Pittsburgh Babe Pinelli, umpiring the Pittsburgh Pirates-Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game, waved his right arm to call Mussolini "out" when the news came in over the loudspeaker. More than 30,000 fans howled their approval.

¶  Radio Rome announced immediate discontinuation of its daily morning lesson in the German language.

¶  A Nazi radio commentator recited Badoglio's proclamation correctly except for one word. When he got to the part where Badoglio said he would "see to it that my orders are carried out scrupulously," the Nazi made it "unscrupulously."

¶  Malta bars ran out of drinks for those toasting the Duce's end; newspapers were sold out completely.