Month: September 2014

On Sports as a Mirror of Civilization

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway once famously stated that there are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

It’s a good thing Ernest isn’t around today.  He’d be down to only one and a half, and that half is dwindling fast.  In fact, if he was magically revived, he would likely look around at the state of the world, especially the state of what passes for individuality and (he would be particularly shocked at this) masculinity and reach for the shotgun all over again.  We do not live in the kind of place where a man’s man would feel comfortable – or a woman’s woman for that matter, although it’s doubtful that Hemingway would have cared about that.

Some people will tell you that this is what progress looks like, but here at Classically Educated, we beg to differ.  We believe that this is what George Orwell was warning us about.  We live in an era where the hand-wringers, the timid and the nosy neighbor write the rules for everyone else, and most people seem not to understand what has been lost in the process.

We’re not talking here about the advance of the political correctness epidemic which we’ve discussed before.  We’re talking about something that, though related to PC thinking, isn’t pushed by the lunatic-fringe thought police, but is much more accepted by society in general.

Let’s look at Hemingway’s sports.  Bullfighting is being decried as cruel by many groups, and popular opinion is swinging in favor of the protesters, and is surviving by a thread only in areas where it is traditional and continued – but who knows for how long.  The focus on bullfighting was always on the sheer bravado of a man stepping in front of a huge, enraged, and dangerous animal, and the fact that, reasonably often, the bull wins.  The protests focus on the cruelty to the bull, and ignore all other elements, essentially saying: “it’s unfair and rigged.”  To this, we reply: “OK, then, you do it!”  Bullfighting will probably end up being outlawed soon, and the world will be poorer for it (and meanwhile, cruelty to animals on a much larger scale will still be accepted worldwide because it is necessary to feed the poor).

If Gilles were alive today...  He probably would be climbing mountains.

If Gilles were alive today… he’d probably be climbing mountains.

Bullfighting is half gone, but motor racing is worse off. Except for niche motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man (thank anything you believe in for the Isle of Man TT!), motor racing has been emasculated to the point where it is no riskier in most cases than playing video games.  While making cars safe is fine, they’ve even removed the grass outside the tracks, so if a driver goes off, there is no risk of not finishing the race.  This might be OK for junior formulas, but is not cool in top formulas…  and doing that to the Parabolica at Monza is a bigger sacrilege than burning bibles, Korans or whatever sacred symbol you prefer.  If the powers that be at the FIA want to know why their ratings are going down, look no further than emasculated tracks and drivers who act like entitled teenagers because the era of hard men living with big risks are long gone.  The public no longer finds idols in these people.

One of the greatest observations about life in motorsports comes from that great philosopher Peter Egan, who once observed that, when motor racing was having a huge upsurge as recreation, it was due to the fact that the people doing it thought (and we paraphrase): “B-24s are dangerous, MGs are fun!”  They were, of course, correct.  Perhaps what is needed is to recover a sense of proportion.

So that leaves mountaineering.  Mountaineering still rocks, as long as you’re doing it up on a big mountain, and not in some namby-pamby wall on a gym.  Double macho points if you’re above 6000 meters in the Himalayas.  Hemingway gives you the thumbs-up.

If these changes were only limited to Hemingway’s sports, it would be bearable.  But it’s not.  Have you tried riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or even a bicycle in some places?  It’s gotten to the point where skiing is illegal without helmets on some slopes, which kind of defeats the purpose of skiing itself.

Now, ask yourself: as a grown adult, who, other than yourself, can you harm by omitting the helmet?  OK, now why does society have ANY right to legislate that?  Answer, other than for litigation purposes, it doesn’t.  So a simple solution is to have people sign waivers which holds society harmless in the case of non-helmet-wearing, and have the hand-wringers butt the hell out.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is about the same as these same people suddenly having the epiphany which tells them: “hey, people having risky fun is fine!”  Won’t happen.  Interfering concerned citizens will continue to be a bane on the existence of anyone with a bit of an independent streak.

Which brings us to Football (NFL Football in this case, not rest of the world football, which we’ve already written about).  The latest question around this nicely action-filled sport is whether it’s worth watching after one man – Ray Rice – was shown to be a domestic violence criminal, and the league was remiss in policing it.

Ray Rice Running

The obvious answer is: of course it’s still worth it; nothing has changed, and the actions that are being reported, while vile, have absolutely nothing to do with the league.

Of course, the 24-hour news cycle and the hand-wringing nature of American press means that the stupid question is asked and asked in seriousness. Hell, there are even calls for the commissioner of the NFL to resign over something that has nothing to do with the on-field product.  The only thing one can say is that everyone needs to take a step back, relax, and get a sense of proportion back into their lives.  I am glad to see that there has been a suit filed by Rice against the league for its action against him – there are civil and criminal courts to deal with this, and removing someone’s livelihood for something that took place outside the workplace is vile.  Yes, he needs to be punished, but there are appropriate and inappropriate fora for said punishment – and the sensationalist media and outraged public are not, and never should be, a jury.

Plus, we personally don’t care if the entire league is made up of murderers, assailants, thieves and (gasp, horror), people who download content illegally.  Audiences are, despite attempts to make it seem that way, not watching for the values of the thing (other than those inherent in this kind of sport, such as teamwork, sacrifice, guts and glory).

Finally, we believe that all defensive players should be allowed to hit the quarterback as violently as they like.  This is not a ping-pong match. (OK, that isn’t specifically related to the topic, but it has to be said!).

Essentially, what we’re trying to show is that society’s pendulum has swung too far in the direction of timidity and health and safety at all costs, even that of an individual’s freedom to manage their own lives.  Those people who are frightened at everything need to move into bubble-wrap packed houses and get out of public life as soon as possible (to those peopls, we say: remember, there are germs out there, and even if you’re an online activist, there are computer viruses waiting.  Beware!  Beware!  Much better to just lock yourselves up somewhere and stay safe).

We don’t see that happening, sadly.  The world will continue to be increasingly safe, beige and porridge-like.

It’s our loss.

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Mussolini Excerpt – Final Post

Civita Castellana Today

Today we reach the end of our excerpt of  Stacy Danielle Stephens’ Mussolini chapters from her huge, amazing Historical work, which began a couple of weeks ago.  A sad day, but if you need more, all you need to do is wait for the book to come out (there will be a line for this one!).

When Ettore Rosso enlisted in the 3rd Engineer Regiment of the Italian Army in March, 1941, he was an experienced driller in a family oil business, and a college graduate. On June 16th, 1941, having completed basic training, he was given the rank of Sergeant, and on September 3rd, 1941, placed in command of a squad in the 4th Telegraph Battalion, responsible for installing and maintaining signal systems for the Italian Military Railroad in Yugoslavia. Early in 1942, he attended Officer Candidate School, and on March 15th, 1942, was commissioned a Lieutenant and given command of the 134th Engineer Company, attached to the Ariete Division.

A few hours after the armistice was announced, Rosso and his men received orders to lay down a minefield at Civita Castellana, thirty miles north of Rome. This made certain what was not yet official: The Germans were now the enemy.

* * *

By dawn, the 134th, tired as hell, had arrived at Civita Castellana  with a truckload of ordnance. Civilians on the scene confirmed what intelligence had already reported: The Germans were moving east, away from their prepared positions and away from Rome. Rosso and his men ate their field rations before setting to work. Had he lived, he may have faced a court martial for this fatal decision. When half-tracks of the 103rd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion approached, the Italian mines intended to halt them were still in boxes, neatly stacked on the truck.

“We’ve received new orders,” the swaggering German colonel called out to Rosso as he came nearer on foot. The column under his command had stopped. “That business at Salerno is a ruse. We’re to move at once to the other side of Rome, and shield it from the primary assault.”

Rosso was struck once again by the chronic incredulity with which Germans told their lies. As if Italians were too stupid for any pretense to be worth the trouble.

“That might explain our orders,” Rosso lied. The German seemed convinced. “We must be meant to link up, so that you can cover our operations. Let me contact my superiors, just to be certain nothing is balled up.”

“I can give you fifteen minutes,” the German replied, glancing at his watch. “But let me be blunt. If you aren’t moving by that time, we will have to move you.”

“I understand you perfectly, Colonel,” Rosso said. His irony escaped the German. He ran toward his men, who were still awaiting instructions. “I need four of you,” he said, having already divided the number of mines in the truck by the number of minutes he had left, and knowing how many seconds a man would need to connect each of the mines, in series, to a single detonator. “No fathers, no husbands, just four single men.” Pietro Colombo, Gino Obici, Gelindo Trombini, and Augusto Zaccanti[1] were the first four to step forward. “Good, come with me, the rest of you spread out slowly and casually, far enough in ten minutes to be safe when this thing goes off. Then put covering fire on the crater and wreckage if the German engineers try to do anything about it. Let’s hope the rest of our division gets here before the rest of theirs does. Oh, and Sergeant Gallucio, I want you to make a show of attempting to communicate with headquarters[2].”

Armed only with pistols, the surviving engineers held the position until the 135th Armoured Cavalry Regiment, and the 19th Battalion of the 149th Artillery Regiment arrived. These were advance units of the Italian Ariete Armoured Division, under the command of Raffaele Cadorna[3]. The Ariete held the Panzergrenadiers there until Badoglio ordered them to Tivoli to guard the King’s evacuation[4] from Rome.

* * *

Upon receiving Kesselring’s signal, units of the German 1st Parachute Division, stationed in Bari, dispersed to carry out the order. Those Italian units in the region which had not already disbanded, immediately surrendered to the 1st Parachute. However, General Nicola Bellomo[5], commander of the regional militia, assembled a task force composed of enlisted men who still wished to fight the Germans, as well as non-combat support personnel, sailors on leave, local police, and civilians. With this force, he attacked the small number of Germans left in Bari, and drove them out after a two-hour battle, in which he was wounded. The Italians held Bari until the British arrived on the 11th.

* * *

As it turned out, there was no ship waiting for the Royal Entourage in Pescara, so they went to Guardiagrele for the night, and then to Ortuna the next morning. From there, a ship took them to Brindisi, where Badoglio could safely resume his official duties behind the protection of Britain’s First Airborne Division.

* * *

On the 10th, The Ariete went to Rome to support ten thousand civilians who were opposing the Germans. The civilians had been armed with rifles provided by a coalition of Socialist Parties, and were under the ad hoc command of Field Marshal Caviglia, who surrendered the city at 5 PM in response to Kesselring’s threat to send the Luftwaffe in to destroy Rome, which was beyond Allied fighter cover. The Ariete Division withdrew to Tivoli, where they surrendered the next day. By then, all other Italian units not remaining loyal to the Axis had either surrendered or been destroyed.

That a single Italian Armoured Division and ten thousand civilians led by two determined officers could force the Germans to resort to the threat of terror inclines one to regret that the 82nd did not land in Rome. However, one would do well to remember that it, too, would have been without fighter cover, and equally subject to German terror bombing. And without adequate fighter cover to protect the shipping necessary to support a continued operation in and around Rome, disaster could not have been avoided.

* * *

By September 12th, 1943, the Germans were sufficiently in control of Rome to launch Otto Skorzeny’s Ninety-man force from the Pratica di Mare airfield to “rescue” Mussolini from his hotel room on Gran Sasso di Italia. They might just as easily have sent two men in a car to pick him up. He was, in fact, being held there to ensure his personal safety, and Badoglio had given no further orders regarding what was to be done with him[6]. His guards were perfectly willing to remand him to the custody of the Germans, who would be better able to guarantee his safety than they themselves were.

1944 Partisans in Rome

Hitler was perfectly aware of this, but was also aware that a dramatic arrival would lend credibility to Skorzeny’s greeting, “Duce, I have come to rescue you!” A perfunctory transfer would not have impressed Mussolini, and would certainly not have inspired the sense of gratitude and loyalty Hitler intended to exploit[7].

* * *

Also on September 12th, from the comfort and security of his new headquarters in Brindisi, Badoglio ordered General Antonio Basso, commander of Italian forces in Sardinia, to oppose the withdrawal of the German 90th Panzergrenadier Division[8] to Corsica[9].

* * *

On September 13th, 1943, a regiment of the German 71st Infantry Division occupied Trieste and Pola. Although they would spend the next several weeks forcing Yugoslav partisans to withdraw from the area, their presence discouraged Italians stationed in Yugoslavia from returning to Italy[10].

* * *

“Men and women of Italy,” Mussolini said on September 18th, 1943, “after a long silence, my voice calls out to you, and I am sure you recognize it. It is the voice that has been with you in difficult times, and in the triumphant days of our patriotism.” He went on to inform the people of Italy that he would be leading them in a newly-formed Italian Republic. That he was broadcasting this wonderful news via Radio Munich told the Italian people, and the world, more than the announcement itself could.

* * *

On September 23rd, 1943, German Ambassador Rudolf Rahn, speaking on Radio Rome, announced the formation of the Italian Social Republic, with Benito Mussolini as its leader and Foreign Minister, Serafino Mazzolini his deputy-secretary for Foreign Affairs, and Rudolfo Graziani his War Minister[11].

That same day, from his headquarters in Garda, northwest of Verona, Erwin Rommel[12] issued this order: “Any sentimental second thoughts on the part of German soldiers towards members of Badoglio guerillas wearing the uniform of our former comrades-in-arms are entirely unsuitable. Any one of them fighting against German soldiers has given up any claim on our mercy and should be treated with the harshness such rabble deserve when they turn their weapons against their friends. This opinion must immediately become the general understanding of all the German forces.”

And the rest, as they say, is history…  But it is a history that you can only truly appreciate in Stacy’s forthcoming book!

[1] For their heroic sacrifice in the defense of Italy, these four would later be awarded the Medaglia d’Argento al Valor Militare. Rosso would be awarded the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare.

[2] General Carboni would later claim that Rosso was acting under his personal orders. For this to be true, Carboni would have had to issue those orders in his sleep.

[3] Cadorna would later command Partisan activity in North-Central Italy. After the war, he would receive The Patriot’s Certificate and The Legion of Merit, and be appointed Chief-of-Staff of the Italian Army.

[4] Perhaps not co-incidentally, Badoglio was traveling with the King.

[5] British MPs arrested Bellomo on January 28, 1944. On November 30th, 1941, he had allegedly ordered sentries to shoot two British officers, George Payne and Roy Cooke, who had escaped and been recaptured. At his court martial, on July 28, 1945, he was sentenced to death for having those two prisoners shot. He was executed by firing squad on September 11, 1945, at the British Military Prison on Nisida. In February, 1946, at a second court martial concerning the same incident, Captain Sommavilla, Commandant of the POW camp, was acquitted, because several of the sentries who did the actual shooting testified that Bellomo had given the order. Of course, neither he nor Sommavilla were in any position to contradict them.

In February, 1941, when Italian civilians were about to kill seven British parachutists they had captured, Bellomo arrived on the scene just in time to save their lives.

[6] Although the full armistice terms required that Mussolini be “surrendered into the hands of the United Nations,” Badoglio was apparently not informed of this until September 29th.

[7] Mussolini would spend the night at the Imperial Hotel, Vienna, and would be flown to Rastenburg, in East Prussia, on the 14th. There, on the 15th, Hitler would acquaint him with his new duties as the Duce and Foreign Minister of La Repubblica Sociale Italiana.

[8] The remnants of the 90th Light Infantry Division had been sent to Sardinia, where it was re-equipped, reorganized, and then designated the 90th Panzergrenadier Division.

[9] On September 9th, General Ambrosio, in Rome, had ordered Basso to allow them to leave. By the 12th, the Germans had secured their escape route, with the assistance of two battalions of Italian paratroops and an Italian coastal artillery unit stationed at La Maddalena. Many of the 180,000 men under Basso’s command, already poorly equipped and short of rations, self-demobilized in the first few days of the Armistice. The German withdrawal was completed by the 17th. In October, 1944, Basso would be arrested for failing to follow these orders, but acquitted at his trial, in June, 1946.

[10] While the majority of Italian forces in Yugoslavia were killed or taken prisoner by the Germans, three divisions, in Albania and Montenegro, promptly sided with the partisans they had originally been sent there to suppress. Those Italians who escaped the Germans were generally compelled by circumstances to join the partisans wherever they could find them, although a small number managed to return to Italy individually.

[11] Not even Spain would formally recognize this republic.

[12] Rommel commanded German units in Northern Italy, primarily concerned with maintaining order in the industrial centres of Italy and securing supply routes for Kesselring’s forces in Southern Italy.

Mussolini Excerpt Part 4

General Eisenhower

Today continues our publication of  Stacy Danielle Stephens’ Mussolini excerpt from her huge, amazing Historical work, which began a couple of weeks ago.

On the 18th , the Combined Chiefs of Staff instructed General Eisenhower to send two of his staff officers to meet with Italian General Castellano in Lisbon. Eisenhower sent his Chief of Staff, American Major General Walter Bedell Smith, and his Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, British Brigadier Kenneth Strong, who went armed, if not to the teeth, then at least to the armpits, with a pair of pistols in shoulder holsters, and a second pair on his hips. In Lisbon, George Kennan, an administrative counselor at the US Embassy, drove the two men to their meeting with Castellano on the 19th. The discussion of terms lasted until dawn, when it was finally agreed that if the Italian Government accepted the terms, Castellano would meet with the Allies again, in Sicily, on August 31st.

In his report to Eisenhower, Smith categorized Castellano in demeaning racist terms, and noted, correctly, that the Italians anticipated German reprisals, and were paramountly concerned about the extent and brutality of such reprisals[1].

* * *

On August 21st, 1943, The London Daily Telegraph reported that an Italian official by the name of De Angelis was in Lisbon negotiating terms of the Italian armistice. That same day, Castellano sent messages to Rome from the Italian Legation in Lisbon. Since he was posing as a member of an economic mission to Chile, his coded messages detailed the difficulties he’d had exchanging currency. No one at the Foreign Office was aware of who he actually was, or what his messages actually meant, and so they were taken at face value and filed away. SIM received copies of these messages, but on August 18th, General Amé had been placed in command of an Infantry division garrisoning Lubiana, Slovenia. Since there was no one in SIM who knew the significance of Castellano’s messages, they were not forwarded to Commando Supremo, so it was not until the 27th, when Castellano himself arrived in Rome, that anyone in Italy knew he had met with Smith and Strong. For the next three days, Castellano, Badoglio and Ambrosio would bicker amongst themselves, struggling to formulate a counteroffer Castellano could take back to the Allies on August 31st.

* * *

It wasn’t yet nine o’clock on the morning of August 31st, 1943, when General Castellano’s Savoia Marchetti landed at Termini Imerese airport, twenty-four miles west southwest of Palermo. Brigadier Strong, in an American plane, was waiting for The General and his interpreter. These three men flew to an airfield near Syracuse, at the other end of Sicily. From there, they were taken by car to meet with General Smith at 15th Army Group Headquarters.

“If the Italian Government could act freely,” Castellano’s interpreter relayed for him, “we would accept your armistice terms, and announce them at once, just as you wish. But since we met in Lisbon, the Germans have reinforced their deployments in Italy. We are virtually an occupied country.”

Neither Smith nor Strong mentioned that it was the Italian Government’s failure to close the Brenner Pass which had enabled the Germans to do that. While this fact may have slipped Castellano’s mind, he certainly had nothing to gain by mentioning it himself. Instead, he mentioned the fifteen allied divisions Badoglio wanted to arrive in Italy. When this force had landed, the armistice could be announced without fear of German reprisal.

“If we could land a force that size,” Smith roared, his patience taxed beyond civility, “we wouldn’t have offered an armistice.” He realized even as the words sputtered from his lips that he’d spoken incautiously. He could also see that Castellano had some grasp of English. So he turned to Strong and began speaking rapidly, using random numbers interspersed with the words infantry, armour, and airborne. Strong caught on at once, and added to the deceptive smoke screen. It would be unwise to let the Italians know that there would be only seven divisions invading at three points[2].

Smith cleared his throat and the two stopped talking. Castellano resumed.

“You wouldn’t have to land the full force at one location,” the interpreter explained for him. Castellano had misunderstood Smith’s outburst. “A small landing first. We could pretend to oppose briefly. Then the real landing.”

“Our landings will succeed with or without Italian co-operation,” Smith said. “Our objective is Northern Italy, and we intend our initial landing to be as far north as we can make it, within the constraints of our air cover.”

Castellano heard what he wanted to hear, which is what Smith had hoped for. Short of actually saying “Salerno”, Smith could not have spelled out the invasion site any more clearly than he had. Castellano had never noticed that bombing raids against Italian cities had no fighter escort. He had no idea what was meant by the term air cover, and no inkling that British and American interceptor aircraft based in Sicily could not possibly patrol a beachhead so far away as Anzio or Fiumicino.

“Our Armoured Motorized Corps,” his interpreter conveyed his imploring frenzied staccato, “cannot hold Rome without immediate assistance.”

“We cannot bargain with you,” Smith replied. He waited to see that Castellano had heard and understood this. “Does Italy accept the terms of the armistice?”

Se Roma è perduto,” Castellano whined, “non sarà facile ripresa!

Smith understood that well enough, and asked what they would need to hold Rome against the Germans. As if he intended to provide it.

“Gasoline, rations, anti-tank guns,” was the response, “and reinforcements. An Armoured Division and an Airborne Division.”

“Why don’t we stop for lunch while I consider this?”

At five o’clock that evening, Castellano left, returning to Rome with the mistaken understanding that if the Italians signed the armistice, announced it before the Allied landing, and seized the airfields in and around Rome, an Airborne Division would land in Rome to help the Italians hold it until the other fourteen divisions landing near Nettuno arrived. Smith, of course, had promised him nothing, and plenty of it.

* * *

On the evening of September 1st, 1943, the Italians transmitted a prearranged radio message indicating that the King and Marshal Badoglio accepted the terms of the armistice. Had they known that plans to supply and reinforce the Italian Army in Rome were solely Castellano’s, they may have felt differently[3]. On September 2nd, Castellano and his interpreter were again speaking with Smith and Strong, who had been joined by two political advisors, Robert Murphy , and British Minister Resident in the Mediterranean Harold Macmillan .

“My government accepts the terms,” they were told, “but requests that it not be announced until September fifteenth.”

“Are you prepared to sign the armistice?” Smith asked.

“He reminds you,” the interpreter explained, “that he has not been given such authority. Our government has already expressed its acceptance of the terms.”

“I need a signature!” Smith shouted, like an inquisitor demanding a formal confession. “Now!”

Castellano refused, his interpreter repeating his previous statement. A radio message was sent to Rome, and Castellano and the interpreter were sent to their tent, where they were kept under guard for the next few hours.

General Alexander and his staff got into full dress uniform before coming to Castellano’s tent. The Italian, overawed by Alexender’s rank and glaring prestige, sprang to his feet and saluted.

Not returning the salute, Alexander said that he had come to accept the Italian surrender. Macmillan approached him, saying that Castellano did not have the authority to sign the agreement. Glaring at Castellano, Alexander said that there must be some mistake. “I’ve seen the telegram. From Marshall Badoglio. Authorizing–Arrest this man! He must be a spy!”

Castellano trembled, as did his interpreter, prattling franticly, quickly explaining this alarming development. Alexander slapped his gleaming boots with his riding crop, explaining that without an armistice agreement, the Allied Air Force would be compelled to flatten Rome at once. The increasingly terrified interpreter related this to Castellano, who shuddered in turn.

“We could do a damn sight more damage to Italy than the Germans would,” Alexander went on. “Without this guarantee of your government’s co-operation, we’ll have to settle for anarchy. But it’s all one to us. The only way out of this, as I see it, would be a telegram to Marshal Badoglio, confirming your authority to sign the armistice.”

Without waiting, Alexander and his staff left, followed by Smith, Strong, Murphy and Macmillan. The guards, however, remained.

* * *

Italina WW2 Tank

On September 3rd, a series of radio messages to and from Rome concluded with the British Ambassador to the Vatican confirming receipt of a signed note from Marshal Pietro Badoglio, authorizing Castellano to sign the armistice. Even as the British Ambassador was transmitting this message, at four in the afternoon, Badoglio was meeting with the German Ambassador, Rudolf Rahn.

“You’ve begun moving two divisions to Rome?” Rahn asked, his tone being the real inquiry, tacitly expressing the Germans’ continued concern about persistent rumours of a pending armistice.

“The Lupi and the Re, yes,” Badoglio answered him. “It was your General Keitel who requested we move our forces south, as soon as they’d absorbed fresh recruits and received new equipment. When these foot soldiers have taken positions around Rome, our mechanized forces can join Kesselring’s divisions, that we may continue fighting alongside you in our common cause.” Badoglio paused. “Your mistrust is incomprehensible. I’m one of the senior military men in Europe. I have given my word, and intend to keep it.” What Badoglio did not specify was that it was not Rahn, but Eisenhower, to whom he had just minutes earlier given his word.

Rahn met with the King early that evening. As had Badoglio, his Majesty insisted that Italy would continue fighting at the side of Germany.

Still later that same day, as the sun was setting, Castellano signed the armistice, and was immediately given the full text of the previously unspecified terms he had just agreed to accept. He gasped, then decided it would be best to say nothing about them, as it was now far too late for anything he might say to matter.

The next morning, Saturday, September 4th, Ambassador Rahn met with Italian Chief of Staff, General Ambrosio, who assured him, as had King Victor Emmanuelle and Field Marshal Badoglio, that Italy was committed to continue fighting at Germany’s side. Taken individually, these assurances would be meaningless enough, but the vigor and consistency with which they were coming, in a steady campaign, similar to an advertising slogan, made it clear enough that the Italians were about to do what they tirelessly insisted they were not about to do. Further, the cloying nonchalance of their coy, studied recitations made it painfully, pathetically obvious that they believed they could simply turn away when the moment came, the way an honour guard on a parade ground might carry out a left flank march.

“Spaghetti-eating mongrels,” Rahn muttered to himself as he stood at the window, watching Ambrosio step away briskly toward Commando Supremo. He had something to tell someone, and while Rahn could only guess whom, he need not guess what.

Ambrosio met with General Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Army, and told him that an armistice had been signed, and would be announced on or after September 12th, when the Allies would make an amphibious assault near Rome, with the 82nd Airborne landing just outside of Rome, to assist the Italian defenses there while another fifteen Allied Divisions came ashore and drove the Germans north in short order[4].

* * *

In the early hours of September 8th, 1943, while the men of the US 82nd Airborne Division were getting themselves ready for a possible landing near Rome, tentatively scheduled to take place later that day, two of their officers, General Maxwell Taylor and Colonel William Gardiner, were meeting with Marshal Badoglio.

“The number of Germans now surrounding the city is too great for your parachutists to be an adequate deterrent,” he told them. “You will have to postpone all operations indefinitely.”

Of course, nothing was postponed. However, someone at AFHQ, presumably on Eisenhower’s orders, cancelled the secret notification that the invasion was underway. It was clear from their recalcitrance that the Italians would provide no assistance to the allied landings, and it still seemed possible they might attempt a double-cross.

* * *

In 1952, Congressman Richard Nixon would remind Eisenhower that “there comes a time when you piss or get off the pot!” When that time came to Marshal Pietro Badoglio, he tragically did neither. How does one make sense of his equivocation, his apparent unwillingness to stand and deliver when Italy was hanging in the balance?

Badaoglio’s duplicitous inertia can be understood easily enough if one supposes that he hoped to emulate Admiral Darlan, the de facto weathervane of Vichy North Africa, turning adroitly and perfunctorily with the winds of change. Yet if this was the hand Badoglio hoped to play, he profoundly misread the cards he’d been dealt. Darlan’s collaboration with Germany sprang from defeat, rather than a willing alliance, and the Allies’ complicity with him was both an embarrassment and an encumbrance to Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill, who had no wish to be saddled with anything of the sort again.

* * *

At a few minutes after Noon, on September 8th, 1943, four groups of B-17s began dropping bombs on German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s headquarters at Frascati. Kesselring assumed that an amphibious landing near Rome would occur within hours, and feared that the US 82nd Airborne would seize Rome itself[5]. Accordingly, when he had emerged from the rubble, unharmed, he gave orders that units near Rome form a defensive screen, which might give the five divisions in Southern Italy time to move North, where they could join with the eight divisions under Rommel’s command, and forestall total disaster.

* * *

The King had called yet another conference to discuss the armistice, but General Roatta had already scheduled a meeting with General Siegfried Westphal, Kesselring’s Chief of Staff, concerning preparations for the pending Allied invasion, and it would hardly do to give the Germans any reason to suppose Italy had already made plans of her own in that matter. Westphal arrived at Monte Redondo just before six-thirty.

“Smiling Al wants me to move the Third,” he announced at once.

“That’s the Panzergrenadier Division?” Roatta asked. Westhphal nodded. “Can it wait until morning?” If the Germans knew what was happening in Rome, they wouldn’t wait. They’d be moving at once, and only asking leave to achieve surprise. The two generals shared in a momentously pregnant hesitation, each waiting to pick up what the other might let fall, but doubtful of his own sketchy information, and less certain of what his counterpart knew, or how much anyone suspected.

“No,” Westphal finally edged back, “Naval intelligence says the allies are steaming toward Salerno.”

“You’d be moving them south?” Roatta asked. “Away from Rome?” He hoped he sounded aghast, rather then relieved.

Knuckles rapped at the door, which opened at once. A junior officer, cold sweat beaded and dripping from his forehead, announced that there was an urgent telephone call for General Westphal.

“Was it private?” Roatta asked, “or can he take it here?”

“Put it through to this phone,” Westphal said, without hesitation. Italian intelligence would be listening anyway.

“Hallo?” he said as soon as he had the receiver to his ear. “I see,” he said before ringing off a moment later.

* * *

“This is Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.” He spoke from Algiers, via United Nations Radio. “Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces. The Italian Government has surrendered its armed forces unconditionally. As Allied Commander in Chief, I have granted a military armistice, the terms of which have been approved by the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus I am acting in the interest of the United Nations. The Italian Government has bound itself to abide by these terms without reservation. The armistice was signed by my representative and the representative of Marshal Badoglio and it becomes effective this instant. Hostilities between the armed forces of the United Nations and those of Italy terminate at once. All Italians who now act to help eject the German aggressor from Italian soil will have the assistance and the support of the United Nations.”

It was 6:30 in the evening on September 8th, 1943.

* * *

“General Eisenhower has just announced an armistice,” Westphal said curtly, obviously awaiting an explanation. Roatta knew it had better be a damned good one. He shouted for General Zanussi, who came in immediately.

“Have you heard anything about an armistice?” Roatta asked him.

“Not a word, General[6].”

“Allied propaganda,” Roatta said. He shrugged. “Well, if you must move your men at night,” he went on casually, “let’s say you keep them about twenty miles from Rome itself. Everyone is nervous lately. Our navy has said that same thing about Salerno. If it’s true, Ariete and Piave will be alongside your units in a day. Two at the most.”

Seated as he was in an Italian Headquarters, in the midst of armed Italians, Westphal thought it prudent not to belabour the question. When the German had left the building, Zanussi entered Roatta’s office again.

“Well?”

“We are fucked,” Roatta explained quietly. The two of them began collecting the most incriminating or sensitive documents in the office, limiting themselves to what they could carry discreetly; nothing could be burned, as the smoke of a paper fire would be the surest possible indicator that the Pact of Steel had become a tissue of lies.

* * *

Italian Foreign Minister Raffaele Guariglia heard Eisenhower’s broadcast, and immediately went into Badoglio’s office to inform him of this sudden turn of events.

“We’re fucked!” Badoglio replied. Without fifteen American, British, and Canadian Divisions shielding him from the wrath and fury of Hilter’s army[7], Badoglio was reluctant to announce that he’d sought and agreed to an armistice, and tempted to officially deny it. However, Victor Emmanuelle was adamant that Italy’s word, once given, must be kept. Having delayed more than an hour, Badoglio broadcast a statement via Radio Rome.

“The Italian Government, recognizing the impossibility of continuing the unequal struggle against the overwhelming power of the enemy, with the object of avoiding further and more grievous harm to the nation, has requested an armistice from General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Anglo-American Allied forces. This request has been granted. The Italian forces will therefore cease all acts of hostility against the Anglo-American forces wherever they may be met. They will, however, oppose attack from any other quarter.”

* * *

A few minutes later, General Jodl sent out the single-word signal, “Achse,” notifying German commanders throughout the Mediterranean theatre that it was time to disarm or destroy any and all Italian units which would not surrender. Plans to accomplish this promptly had been made well in advance. In just a few more minutes, Field Marshall Kesselring sent the signal, “Bring in the harvest,” notifying units under his command that this plan was be carried out at once.

* * *

Badoglio seemed still to hope that the Germans would politely tip their hats and march away; however, as a precaution, he and the King fled to Pescara, 120 miles East-Northeast of Rome on the Adriatic coast, taking the government with them. Anyone in authority who could not find space in the five-truck convoy simply left Rome. A few of the departing officials advised their staffs to leave as well, but none of them gave any instructions, nor made any arrangements for the transfer of civil authority to a provisional administration. No one knew whether it would be the Americans or the Germans seizing the city, and no one had any idea what to do in either event, but had no doubt that caught between the two rivals in this unfortunate turn of events, Italians would be considered, at best, opportunists without loyalty. Whether one was shot by a Colt or a Luger hardly mattered.

* * *

If anyone in Rome were more frenzied by Badoglio’s confirmation of the armistice than the Italian government, it was the German embassy staff. Expecting the sky above to fill with American silk at any moment, every one of them was seeking, at the very least, documentation allowing them to leave the city safely, and the higher ranking among them hoped for an Italian armoured column to escort them to an airport, from where they could leave immediately.

* * *

By the morning of September 9th, Kesselring realized that there would be no landing near Rome, or even north of Naples, and that the Italians in Rome would have no Allied support. The landing at Salerno could be contained by the five divisions in the south. So he ordered the 2nd Parachute and 3rd Panzergrenadier Divisions to regroup at once, and to advance on Rome as soon as they could.

[1] Italian concern was neither misplaced nor exaggerated. Within two weeks, more than 600,000 Italians would be taken prisoner by the Germans; the majority of them would be held until the end of the war. Further, throughout Greece, Italian garrison and coastal defense units would be promptly surrounded by Germans and ruthlessly annihilated, often after agreeing to surrender their weapons and withdraw. Such incidents were too numerous be described as isolated.

[2] The US 36th and 45th Infantry and British 46th and 56th Infantry at Salerno; The British 5th Infantry and Canadian 1st infantry crossing at Messina; the British 1st Airborne landing at Taranto.

[3] It is difficult to discern the extent to which Castellano knew he was misleading them. While the 82nd Airborne Division was preparing for a possible landing near Rome, there was no possibility of forces being diverted from the intended landing at Salerno, and little possibility that any supplies or equipment would be diverted. While one hesitates to suggest that Smith may have lied to him, it is safe to assume that Smith felt no need to correct any misinformation Castellano may have stumbled upon.

[4] Ambrosio was repeating Castellano’s grandiose suppositions, which he had no reason, other than rational common sense, to doubt. However, subsequent events make clear that he, as well as almost every other General in the Italian Army, was prepared for less optimistic possibilities.

[5] At that moment, General Taylor reported by radio that the situation in Rome was innocuous. This was a prearranged code indicating that the 82nd was ordered to stand down.

[6] Zanussi, of course, had been among those attempting to negotiate the armistice.

[7] The four strongest, best-equipped Italian divisions, two armoured and two mechanized infantry, were stationed in Rome. The two German divisions “surrounding” the capitol at that moment were, of course, taking up defensive positions in anticipation of an Italian attack supported by American paratroops. Badoglio’s complete lack of confidence in his own armed forces speaks volumes.

[1]

Aug 1943

[2]

American Consul in Paris from 1930 to 1936, and chargé d’affaires to the Vichy government. He was also the one-time State Department specialist on France.

In February 1941, Murphy played an instrumental role in forging the Murphy-Weygand Agreement, which allowed the United States to export to French North Africa in spite of the British blockade and trade restrictions in place upon the Vichy-governed area.

[3]

Prime Minister (1957–1963)

Mussolini – Part 3

Albert Kesselring

Today continues our publication of  Stacy Danielle Stephens’ Mussolini excerpt from her huge, amazing Historical work, which began last week.

The King intended that Mussolini be arrested upon leaving the Royal estate, but the men responsible for making the arrest insisted that it take place within the confines of the estate, to preclude any possible resistance, which could involve gunfire, if Mussolini’s supporters were standing by, which now seemed likely, since Mussolini had telephoned his mistress, Clara Petacci, instructing her to leave at once and find a safe place to hide.

* * *

Mussolini began the meeting as he normally had, briefly informing his Majesty of the military situation. Then he started explaining that the Grand Council’s motion against him was meaningless, as the Council itself served only as an advisory panel to Mussolini, without authority over him. The King interrupted him at this point.

“It is no longer any good,” he said, “Italy is shattered. In fragments. The army is without morale, the soldiers have no will to fight left in them. The Grand Council’s vote is terrible, nineteen of them against you. You are hated, with no other friend in all of Italy but me. So you need have no fear for your own safety, I will see that you are protected. I think Badoglio is the man for the job now.”

“But Hitler has secret weapons,” Mussolini protested.

“That’s as may be, but things here cannot be otherwise than they are now. You cannot remain in office.”

“But we still have men stationed in the Balkans,” Mussolini continued protesting. “I’ll need two more weeks to bring them home.”

“That cannot be helped; Marshal Badoglio will have to arrange for their return. There is no other solution. You must step down immediately.”

Victor Emmanuel was livid with agitation, yet cordial; shaking Mussolini’s hand a final time before walking with him to the door. Once outside, Mussolini was intercepted by a Carabinieri Captain.

“His Majesty has made me personally responsible for your protection.”

Mussolini nodded, continuing toward his own car. The Captain took him by the elbow, pulling him toward an ambulance.

“In here,” he said. Mussolini got in. His secretary was also apprehended and placed in the ambulance. Six more men, four in uniform, joined the three of them in the ambulance, which then discreetly left the grounds by way of a rear gate.

Marshall Pietro Badoglio

No sooner had Mussolini been taken away than Marshal Baodoglio was being summoned. He’d heard, of course, that he would be appointed head of the new government, but still didn’t know when, or if, there would be one, or what his part in it would actually be. He had decided beforehand that it would be appropriate to wear his uniform appearing before the King, but hadn’t wanted to wear it every day, since he had gone into a nominal retirement upon his removal as chief of staff. So the King had to wait a few minutes more while Badoglio changed clothes. He was not in the least surprised by what the King was asking of him, but with impeccable false modesty, he observed aloud that he had never been involved in politics. While this was true in the barest technical sense, among Italy’s general officers, Badoglio had always been the most politically savvy. He knew that if this had not been so, the King would not be speaking with him now. Still, not missing a beat, he waited a moment longer before he asked, with studied dramatic irony and a carefully tremulous voice, how he could handle this job.

“You will learn.” The King had replied as if the phrase were a pre-arranged password.

While Badoglio coyly accepted the greatness being thrust upon him, Renzo Chieri, at the Ministry of the Interior, was surrendering command of Italy’s police forces to his predecessor, Carmine Senise, whose arguments were tacitly buttressed by the five hundred armed men accompanying him[1].

Not wanting to be dramatic, Party Secretary Scorza offered to order the Blackshirt Militia to stand down, and not resist the transfer of power taking place, if the conspirators agreed not to arrest him. They agreed, and he did exactly as he had promised he would, then disappeared completely until the Germans apprehended him in Rome on November 24th, 1943[2].

Enzo Galbiati, as commander of the Fascist Militia, could have countermanded Scorza’s order to stand down, but chose not to. He was placed under house arrest until August 4th[3].

* * *

At eleven PM, a forty-five second message on Italian radio announced that The King had accepted Mussolini’s resignation from office as the Head of the Government, Prime Minister and State Secretary, and had appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio Head of the Government. Before midnight, the entire country had erupted in celebration. By morning, virtually all photos, busts, or statues of Mussolini, as well as most Fascist symbols and slogans, had been removed or destroyed, and a coalition of anti-Fascist leaders came to Badoglio’s office, demanding Italy’s immediate withdrawal from the war.

* * *

Although Mussolini’s “resignation” could hardly have surprised Hitler, it did infuriate him, primarily because he understood the significance of Badoglio’s appointment as head of state. The Italians would be negotiating with the Allies; they would seek a separate peace, hoping for at least an armistice, but would surrender unconditionally if they could not wheedle or weasel either a vestige or appearance of better terms.

For several minutes, those around Hitler were essentially stunned by the degree to which he was agitated by the news[4]; he was not merely ranting an emotional screed, or sputtering violent outbursts in rapid succession, but was incoherent and lost until at last he brought his fist down on the table.

“We’ll round up that lot in a single swift action,” he said. “The Second Parachute Division at Avignon. They are to drop on Rome at once. I want them in the air as soon as their planes are fueled. They’re to seize strategic points around the city, and hold them until the Third Panzer Grenadier Division–it’s full strength, and stationed at Viterbo–can reinforce them. We’ll bag that idiotic puppet of a King, and his doddering, conniving head of state. The Crown Prince, too. Oh, him especially, and any other scum we can lay our hands on.”

“You wish to seize Rome?” General Jodl[5] asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Which units shall we send to seize the Brenner Pass?”

“Ah,” Hitler replied. “I see what you’re getting at.

The Third Panzer Grenadier Division is to remain at Viterbo. The Second Parachute is to move by rail and conventional air transport to Pratica di Mare. As reinforcements for our defense of Sicily. And Skorzeny is to locate and liberate Benito Mussolini.”

* * *

On July 26th, 1943, Erwin Rommel was recalled from Salonika and sent to Munich, where he was to begin planning and preparing for the seizure and/or defense of Northern Italy[6]. That same day, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring met separately with both the King and Badoglio. Both men assured him of Italy’s commitment to remain in the war and in the Axis. On the 27th, while Kesselring met with Hitler to make the case for holding Southern Italy[7], Badoglio met with the King, and the two of them decided to approach Hitler on the subject of jointly seeking peace with the Allies. Hitler refused to meet with either of them for any reason. On the 28th, Badoglio and the King decided they must attempt to contact the Allies, and began seeking a means to do that.

* * *

On August 1st, 1943, the British sent a radio signal to SIM, the Italian Military Intelligence Service, using a captured Italian transceiver in Bengazi, inviting the Italians to respond if they wished to communicate. General Ambrosio, Italian Army Chief of Staff, instructed SIM to reply; however, General Cesare Amé, head of SIM, perhaps more fully aware of how painstakingly the Germans were monitoring all Italian radio transmissions, disregarded the order.

On August 2nd, 1943, Marquis Blasco Lanza D’Ajeta, a staffer of the Italian Foreign Service, flew to Lisbon to meet with a British Ambassador there, in hope of initiating talks with the Allies. He was informed that Italy must surrender unconditionally.

On August 3rd, 1943, Winston Churchill distributed to the War Office a two-part plan for the Italian Surrender: they would be given a simple military armistice with the proviso that they would agree to abide by a more thorough subsequent agreement. The armistice was to be presented as if the subsequent agreement had not already been spelled out. The second agreement would, in fact, be signed immediately after the first.

On August 4th, 1943, another Italian Foreign Service staffer, Alberto Berio, flew to Spanish Morocco to meet with another British agent to begin negotiating terms with the Allies. He, too, was informed that Italy must surrender unconditionally.

On August 11th, 1943, General Ambrosio sent his assistant, General Giuseppe Castellano, to meet with Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Ambassador in Madrid. After speaking with Hoare on the 15th, Castellano went to Lisbon on the 16th.

* * *

On August 14th, 1943, Hitler received, considered, and refused to accept Albert Kesselring’s resignation of his command[8]. However, on the 15th, Hitler designated the several German divisions in southern Italy the Tenth Army, which he placed under the command of Generaloberst Heinrich von Vietinghoff[9], who in turn answered to Kesselring. With that, Smiling Al was smiling again.

[1] Chieri would shortly be given command of an Alpine Battalion, and later apprehended in Rome by German agents, who would remand him to the custody of Mussolini’s Republican government. Awaiting trial, Chieri would die in prison when a heater warming his cell exploded. The heater may have been defective, or rigged to explode, or Chieri may have caused the explosion himself. As a former National Chief of Police, he could be under no illusion as to the nature or outcome of his trial.

[2] He would be tried and acquitted by Mussolini’s Republican government in April, 1944, and tried in absentia by Allied authorities after the war, but later pardoned. He would return to Italy in 1955, dying in Florence in 1988.

[3] Galbiati would be formally detained on August 23rd and held until Seprember 12th, when the Germans moved him by force to Frascati. He was twice offered a position in Mussolini’s Republican government, but declined on both occasions. He died on May 23rd, 1982.

[4] Mussolini’s dismissal and arrest presaged Hitler’s own darkest personal fear; to be removed from power.

[5] Jodl had received information he deemed reliable, to the effect that an Allied invasion in the vicinity of Rome was imminent. Scuffling with stray Italians was the last thing he wanted German soldiers involved in.

[6] He would command an Army Group composed of the 1st SS Panzer Division, the 24th Panzer Division, the 60th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 44th, 71st, and 305th Infantry Divisions. On July 31st, the 44th Infantry was denied entry by the Italians, who claimed the rail network was too congested. The 26th Panzer Division, however, was conveyed the length of Italy easily enough. This was another of several inconsistencies which intensified suspicions of Italian duplicity.

[7] In less than three weeks of commanding the defense of Sicily, Kesselring had realized that the majority of Italian terrain would be ideally suited to forcing the steady and relentless attrition of Allied forces.

[8] Kesselring had received orders regarding the anticipated “defection” of Italy. In this event, he was to move units under his command in southern Italy north, then place them under Rommel’s command. Since November, 1941, he had been Commander-in-Chief South, and thus Rommel’s superior officer. Further, since October, 1942, he had been in direct command of all units in the Mediterraen Theater not under Rommel’s command. Clearly, Kesselring might have been expressing resentment of Hitler’s preference for Rommel. However, his resignation may have been a ruse to force the question of command in Italy to a decision. Hitler, distrustful of the complete confidence “Smiling Al” had in both the Badoglio government and the Italian Army, would have been content to accept his resignation and give overall command in Italy to Rommel if SS Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff had not spoken on Kesselring’s behalf. Wollf expressed a distrust of Rommel, and insisted that Kesselring’s presence in southern Italy would reduce the risk of Italian defections in that area. Hitler may well have been skeptical on both those points, but deferred. He had recently appointed Wolff Military Governor of Northern Italy, and had earlier appointed him to be Mussolini’s liaison with the SS. Wolff was also head of Gestapo activities in Italy, and nominally in command of any and all Waffen-SS units stationed in Italy. Thus, he was the only man in Italy for whose opinion Hitler had a higher regard than he had for Rommel’s.

[9] Vietinghoff had commanded the 15th Army in France since December 1941. Prior to that, he had served on the Eastern Front under Heinz Guderian and Fedor von Bock. Vietinghoff had commanded the 5th Panzer Division during the invasion of Poland.

Mussolini Excerpt – Part II

Rome Bombing in WW2

Today continues our publication of  Stacy Danielle Stephens’ Mussolini excerpt from her huge, amazing Historical work, which began last week.

 

While Mussolini had no wish to survey the extent of damage the Americans had inflicted on Rome that day, he had no way to avoid it. The dense black smoke rolling into the sky was backlighted by the setting sun as Mussolini’s plane approached, and further illuminated by the raging and still uncontrolled fire spewing that smoke ever upward. Gazing into it, Mussolini was overwhelmed by the vastness, and the certain knowledge that he could neither escape nor avoid what lay ahead. He could only continue forward, plunging into the deepest, least comprehensible darkness he had ever seen, and understanding all too well what Abraham Lincoln had meant when he’d said, eighty years earlier, “If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it.”

 * * *

 General Ambrosio returned to Rome by rail, and so arrived a few hours later. He met with the King, informing his Majesty that Mussolini had failed entirely. Italy would not be released from the Pact of Steel, and the Germans would tighten their grip on the country while providing no material assistance to the Italians. Victor Emmanuel was at last ready for Mussolini’s resignation. The King’s request would be a formality; Mussolini’s arrest immediately afterward would not be a formality, but a courtesy[1].

 * * *

     On July 20th, 1943, Mussolini met with Renzo Chierici, supreme commander of police forces in Italy, about the very pressing problem of relocating more than five thousand internees and prisoners who could no longer be kept on islands, which were becoming isolated by allied bombing, and were threatened by allied amphibious assaults. Detention facilities on the mainland were already operating at capacity, and resources to build new prisons were simply not available. Chierici left the meeting with bromides and sympathy, but no clear instructions. Mussolini was somewhat distracted, and spent most of that afternoon drafting a letter he would never send, again imploring Hitler to release Italy from its treaty obligations.

* * *

     On July 22nd, 1943, Mussolini again met with the King, assuring him that he planned to unilaterally withdraw from the Pact of Steel as soon as he could remove Italian army units from Greece and Yugoslavia. He promised this would be done by September 15th. When the King failed to see the importance of this, Mussolini informed his Majesty that Germany would begin deploying a secret weapon against Britain, as if this might be of some help to Italy. The King brought their meeting to an abrupt but cordial conclusion by assuring Mussolini that he would never abandon him, and that their friendship was real.

     Later that same day , Count Dino Grandi met with Mussolini, urging him to resign, as if there were no plan afoot to force his resignation. Whether Grandi’s suggestion was a disingenuous ploy or a sincere desire to spare Italy from any trouble that could be avoided is not clear; neither is it clear whether Mussolini’s insistence that Germany’s secret weapons would soon bring the war to a conclusion Italy could live with was nothing more than his typical bluster, or a genuine profession of faith, or a desperate grasping at the only straw that might still be within reach. 

* * *

Mussolini electin poster

 

     On the morning of July 24th, Fascist Party Secretary Carlo Scorza warned Mussolini of the plot to force his resignation. Mussolini chided Scorza for being so dramatic, reminding him of the King’s personal friendship and continued support of Fascism. That afternoon, Mussolini visited his mistress; in the evening, he went to meet with the Grand Council, accompanied by Renzo Chierici, who still had no idea what to do with the thousands of prisoners and internees being displaced by events.

     “I’ll have no difficulty getting these dicks in line,” Mussolini said. He was swaggering, verbally and physically, like a man who had just gotten laid. Chierici would have discerned this easily, even if he hadn’t known it. “They only exist as shadows in the light of others. Take me away from them, they’ll return to the shadows. They know that, and only want to be swept[2] along.”

     For two hours, he spoke from a copious pile of notes, alternately condemning the Italian Army for its failures and praising the Germans for their assistance. Marshal Emilio DeBono presented a lengthy and equally tedious rebuttal, defending the Army and asking what help the Germans would be to Italy now.

     Shortly before nine o’clock, Dino Grandi introduced a motion to return command of the armed forces to the King[3]. He spoke for an hour, concluding with a request that Mussolini “return to being the Mussolini we knew!” Debate began, with a single recess, during which Mussolini went into his personal office to drink warm milk while Grandi rallied support for his motion. A vote was called at 3 AM. It was now July 25th. The vote was nineteen in favour of the motion, seven opposed. Giacomo Suardo, President of the Senate, had abstained.

     As he left the council chamber, Mussolini boasted that he and the King would have a good laugh about this motion. He was obviously sincere when he said this; General Enzo Galbiati, commander of the Fascist Militia, made preparations to arrest Grandi and the eighteen others who had voted with him, but Mussolini refused to give even a verbal order for their arrest.

* * *

March on the Royal Palace in Rome

     Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, Mussolini had met with King Victor Emmanuel every Monday and Thursday, at ten o’clock in the morning. But late that morning, July 25th, Mussolini asked to see the King that afternoon, rather than the next morning at the regular time, and at the Royal residence, rather than the King’s office. His Majesty had no objection to this; he informed the conspirators that their plans to arrest Mussolini would have to be adapted to the new place and time.

     Mussolini then met again with Enzo Galbiati, who still wished to arrest the nineteen men who had voted against Mussolini earlier that morning; Mussolini explained that he could not legally have these men arrested until the King had ordered their dismissal. Galbiati also asked permission to meet with Heinrich Himmmler to make joint plans to resist the coming Allied invasion of Italy.

     “Don’t you worry,” Mussolini assured him, “after I’ve met with the King this afternoon, everything will be settled.”

     Japan’s newly-appointed ambassador to Italy, Hidaka Shinkojuro, came to see Mussolini at noon. He was shocked when Mussolini begged him to inform Prime Minister Tojo that without immediate and substantial assistance from Germany, Italy would be unable to continue the war. Mussolini also requested that he urge the Japanese ambassador in Berlin to support this move. Shinkojuro could only sweat as he muttered, “Si, si, si.”

     After Shinkojuro had left, Mussolini accompanied Galbiati on a survey of the damage inflicted by the recent American bombing raid. When they had stepped out of the car and were alone, Galbiati asked a sensitive question.

     “How does the King feel about you these days?”

     Mussolini’s reply was not immediate, nor even prompt, and as he waited for a spoken answer, Galbiati observed that Mussolini was not smiling. He hadn’t just gotten laid, and might be swept along himself.

     “I’ve been seeing him once or twice a week these twenty years, and haven’t done a thing without his prior consent. I’ve always had his full support, and he will reaffirm his confidence in me this afternoon. Then we will deal with our rebels.” He did not add that he had in his possession some highly personal information pertaining to the sexual practices of the Royal family, with which he could threaten to blackmail his Majesty if the need should arise.

 

[1] Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio would later explain that the arrest and detention were necessary to ensure Mussolini’s personal safety.

[2] In Italian, “to sweep” can be used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Mussolini was expressing contempt for his Fascist peers in the most vulgar terms he could get away with using.

[3] This was the pretext by which the King would request Mussolini’s resignation, on the grounds that he had lost the confidence of the Fascist Party.

 [1]

July 22, 1943

Mussolini – Part 1

benito-mussolini-speech 

 

Ever since Stacy Danielle Stephens sent us the amazing Bismark Excerpt from her historical novel, we’ve been looking for an excuse to run another long excerpt, and here it is.  As always, a great look at the human elements in the world’s most important war in wold history – elements that are sometimes overlooked, just because WWII is too big a topic.

 

On 5 March 1943, Benito Mussolini fell from grace, although not yet from power, when workers at the Rasetti Factory in Turin went on strike. Bombing around the clock had come to the soft underbelly of Europe; the Americans were smashing the hell out of northwestern Italy, making a shambles of any factory they could put under a Norden bombsight.

Italians had been universally tired of the war for more than two years. Since the disaster in Greece, the only good war news any Italian had heard was that their son was a prisoner, and still alive, in a British or American camp. Now that war on the home front had descended from deprivation to destruction, Italian workers found themselves willing to oppose fascism and fascists.

When neither coercion nor violence quelled the strike, it spread; to other factories, and other cities. For the first time in eighteen years, Italy was not under Mussolini’s thumb.

 

* * *

 

Throughout Italy in the spring of 1943, a consensus grew: Italy must withdraw from the war, and the Germans must withdraw from Italy. While it seemed improbable that the Germans would agree on either point, King Victor Emmanuel felt that Mussolini was the only man who might persuade Hitler to release Italy from the Pact of Steel; the only man who might extricate the country from looming disaster. That Mussolini had, more than anyone else, engineered and orchestrated each unfolding step of that disaster, seemed to escape the King. With the exception of Mussolini himself, this patently obvious fact had escaped no one else. As labour unrest escalated to political agitation, wealthy industrialists pressured high-ranking Fascist Party members to demand Mussolini’s resignation, and a handful of those Fascist leaders had begun soliciting support in order to arrange for his arrest.

* * *

 King Victor Emmanuel III

On July 5th, 1943, General Vittorio Ambrosio, Chief of the Italian General Staff[1], met with King Victor Emmanuel, presenting a large number of lengthy reports, explaining that Italy could not continue the war. He further informed the King that the Allied invasion of Italy was imminent[2], and that Italy could not hope to repulse, resist, or survive that invasion. He concluded with the suggestion that the King immediately remove Mussolini from office, and appoint as his replacement either Marshal Pietro Badoglio or Marshal Enrico Caviglia. Still, the King took no action.

Meeting with the King later, Count Dino Grandi, a member of the Fascist Grand Council, advised him that if Mussolini were not removed from office soon, the King might be forced to abdicate. The King asked Grandi to give him constitutional grounds to dismiss Mussolini. A vote of no confidence from the Grand Council would be sufficient. This arrangement, which was precisely what Grandi had planned, would leave the Fascist Party in control of the Italian government.

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For several months, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, had been aware that the governments of Hungary and Rumania were also seeking a way out of their alliance with Nazi Germany. Believing he could speak for those countries as well as Italy, Ciano asked Luigi Fummi, a Roman financier with connections in New York City and the Vatican, to travel to London under a Vatican passport for the purpose of opening negotiations with the British, to determine what they would offer, and what they would require in exchange.

At best, Ciano’s plan–if bluff and supposition can be called a plan–was inanely optimistic. When the allies began landing in Sicily, it was clear, even to Ciano, that it was now a matter of the King and the military negotiating an armistice, if anything short of unconditional surrender could be hoped for. Although the Fascist government was no longer in a position to bargain with anyone, Ciano fell in line with Grandi’s faction in the Grand Council.

 

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On July 15th, Marshal Pietro Badoglio met  with King Victor Emmanuel, proposing that several non-Fascists be appointed to a coalition cabinet. The King was still undecided about what he should do or when he should do it.

 

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On July 17th, SS Captain Eugen Dollmann, who had both worked as a journalist and served as a diplomat in Rome, notified the German Government that Mussolini was seeking release from Italy’s treaty obligations, and a means of ending hostilities with the western allies, at the urging of the King, the army, and the Fascist party.

 

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HISTORY - WWII - PHOTO - Italian Tank - AB41-ww2shots-army 

At Feltre, Hilter began–and concluded–the “discussion” with a two-hour lecture, pausing only a moment at eleven-thirty, when a messenger entered to inform Mussolini that the Americans had bombed Rome in a massive raid. At one o’clock, Mussolini stood and said, “We fight in a common cause, Fuehrer,” thus letting Hitler know their meeting was at an end.  

“Our secret weapons will be ready by winter,” Hitler added before Mussolini could leave. “Italy must hold on until then.”

While Hitler and Mussolini were conferring, General Ambrosio spoke with German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who explained, rather impolitically, that Germany intended to secure Northern Italy, from Rome to the Po valley, expecting the Italian army to delay the anticipated British and American advance up the southern half of the peninsula. Ambrosio argued that German mechanized units would be more effective against the western allies; the poorly-equipped Italians should be moved north, where they could be reinforced with fresh recruits and strengthened with new materiel. Keitel would not discuss the matter further, not wanting to spell out what Ambrosio had already discerned: the Germans were fully aware that Mussolini might be deposed at any moment, and didn’t doubt that his successor would attempt to negotiate an armistice with the west; with the exception of Smiling Al Kesselring, no German officer wanted to face an advancing Allied force with any Italian units covering, or perhaps preventing, their retreat.

 

 

[1] February 1943 to November 1943

[2] Ambrosio’s insight was not so prescient as it may seem. For the first several days of July, 1943, Sicily had been bombarded with propaganda leaflets blaming Mussolini and the Germans for what was about to happen.