The last days of “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini

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In September 1943, Nazi paratroopers staged a daring commando raid that rescued Mussolini from the Apennine Mountain ski resort where he was being detained. Hitler installed Mussolini as the figurehead of the Social Republic of Italy (known informally as the Republic of Salo), a Nazi puppet state in German-occupied northern Italy.

By April 25, 1945, however, the Third Reich was quickly losing its grip on northern Italy. With his stronghold of Milan teetering on the precipice, Mussolini agreed to meet with a delegation of partisans at the palace of Milan’s Cardinal Alfredo Schuster. There, a furious Mussolini learned that, unbeknownst to him, the Nazis had begun negotiations for an unconditional surrender.

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Mussolini stormed out of the palace and fled Milan with his 33-year-old mistress, Clara Petacci, in the 1939 Alfa Romeo sport car he had bought as a gift for his girlfriend.

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The following day, the pair joined a convoy of fellow fascists and German soldiers heading north toward Lake Como and the border with Switzerland. Mussolini donned a German Luftwaffe helmet and overcoat, but the disguise did little to save him when partisans stopped the convoy at the lakeside town of Dongo ,on the north western shore of Lake Como.,on April 27. For 20 years, Mussolini had built a cult of personality with his image emblazoned on posters and newspapers. Now, the familiarity of his distinctive shaved head and granite jaw, even in disguise, did him in.

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A group of local communist partisans led by Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle and Urbano Lazzaro attacked the convoy and forced it to halt.

The partisans recognised one Italian fascist leader in the convoy, but not Mussolini at this stage, and made the Germans hand over all the Italians in exchange for allowing the Germans to proceed. Eventually Mussolini was discovered slumped in one of the convoy vehicles. Lazzaro later said that

His face was like wax and his stare glassy, but somehow blind. I read utter exhaustion, but not fear … Mussolini seemed completely lacking in will, spiritually dead.

The partisans arrested Mussolini and took him to Dongo, where he spent part of the night in the local barracks.In all, over fifty fascist leaders and their families were found in the convoy and arrested by the partisans. Aside from Mussolini and Petacci, sixteen of the most prominent of them would be summarily shot in Dongo the following day and a further ten would be killed over two successive nights.

Claretta Petacci, Mussolini’s mistress, was captured  with him.

Fighting was still going on in the area around Dongo. Fearing that Mussolini and Petacci might be rescued by fascist supporters, the partisans drove them, in the middle of the night, to a nearby farm of a peasant family named de Maria; they believed this would be a safe place to hold them. Mussolini and Petacci spent the rest of the night and most of the following day there.

On the evening of Mussolini’s capture, Sandro Pertini, the Socialist partisan leader in northern Italy, announced on Radio Milano:

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“The head of this association of delinquents, Mussolini, while yellow with rancour and fear and trying to cross the Swiss frontier, has been arrested. He must be handed over to a tribunal of the people so it can judge him quickly. We want this, even though we think an execution platoon is too much of an honour for this man. He would deserve to be killed like a mangy dog.”

Mussolini and Claretta Petacci were executed the following day.

 

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The Bombing of the Vatican

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Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the first bombing of the Vatican.

Bombing of Vatican City occurred twice during World War II. The first occasion was on the evening of 5 November 1943, when a plane dropped bombs on the area south-west of Saint Peter’s Basilica, causing considerable damage but no casualties. The second bombing, which affected only the outer margin of the city, was  on the 1st of  March 1944, and caused the death of one person and the injury of another.

An undated eyewitness account written by Monsignor Domenico Tardini in 1944 states:

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“The (first) bombing of the Vatican occurred on 5 November 1943 at 20:10. It was a very clear and cloudless evening. The moon made visibility excellent. For over half an hour an aeroplane was heard circling insistently over Rome and especially the Vatican. At about 8:10, while an Allied squadron passed over the Vatican, the aeroplane that until then had been circling over Rome dropped four bombs and flew away. The bombs fell in the Vatican Gardens: the first near the receiving Radio, another near the Government building, a third on the mosaics workshop, the fourth near the building of the Cardinal Archpriest. If they had fallen a very few metres off, they would have hit the Radio, the Government building, that of the Tribunals (where the diplomats were housed), and that of the Archpriest.

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They caused considerable damage, for all the windows were blown to pieces. There were no human casualties.”

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The future cardinal Tardini continued: “General opinion, and general indignation, blamed the Germans and, perhaps more, the Republican Fascists. The latter view was reinforced by notes about a telephone conversation of Barracu (Undersecretary for Home Affairs) that a telephone operator gave to the Holy Father. However, some months later, Monsignor Montini received from Monsignor Carroll, an American of the Secretariat of State, who was in Algiers to organize an information service for soldiers and civilians,in which it was stated clearly that the bombs had been dropped by an American. 5 November is for England, Father Hughes told me, an anti-Pope day.When Monsignor Carroll came to Rome in June 1944, he answered a question of mine by telling me that the American airman was supposed to have acted either to make a name for himself or out of wickedness. Monsignor Carroll did not know whether the delinquent had been punished.

The message from Monsignor Walter S. Carroll that Monsignor Tardini spoke of as addressed to Monsignor Montini was in reality addressed to Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione. It read: “In a conversation with the American Chief of Staff during the past week I was informed very confidentially that they feel that the bombing of the Vatican is probably attributable to an American pilot who lost his way; in fact, another American pilot reported seeing an Allied plane dropping its load on the Vatican. The General expressed his sincere regret and gave assurances that strict precaution would be taken to avoid a repetition of this incident ”

Official assurance that no American plane had in fact dropped bombs on Vatican City was given by the United States authorities.

The German and British authorities gave similar assurances regarding aircraft of their countries.

However in 2007 new evidence found by Augusto Ferrara, suggested that the bombing was ordered by the Italian Fascist politician Roberto Farinacci.

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The main target had been the Vatican radio because the Fascists believed that the Vatican was sending coded messages to the allies.

The plane which bombed the Vatican reportedly took off from the airport of Viterbo, a town 70 miles north of Rome.Ferrara discovered that “the pilot was a sergeant Parmeggiani, who was ordered to drop the bombs by the prominent fascist Roberto Farinacci.

That the attack was carried out by the Italian fascists, and not the Allies, is also suggested by a conversation between a priest of Rome, Fr. Giuseppe, and the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi, who was continuously in touch with Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Vatican Secretary of State.The conversation is reported in the book “Skyways lead to Rome” by the historian Antonio Castellani.

According to Castellani, Fr. Tacchi Venturi lamented “the attack of the Americans” to Fr. Giuseppe, but Fr. Giuseppe replied, “they were not Americans, they were Italians.”

Fr. Giuseppe then underscored that “it was a Savoia Marchetti plane, with five bombs aboard to be thrown to the Vatican Radio station, since Farinacci was convinced that Vatican Radio transmitted military information to the Allied Forces.”

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