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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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 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. 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.
* * *
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.
 Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio would later explain that the arrest and detention were necessary to ensure Mussolini’s personal safety.
 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.
 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.
July 22, 1943