ITALY’S DARKEST HOUR – Episode 2: Mussolini is ousted

Wednesday, 15 April 2020 16:22 Written by
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In this episode, Marcello tells you about the relationship between the Duce and the King, and the bombing of Rome.

With the Allies occupying for the first time a portion of Italy, the country’s future is now in the hands of 2 men: the King, Vittorio Emanuele 3° and the Duce, Mussolini. At this time, Italians are losing their faith in Mussolini’s capacities and turning towards the Institution of the Monarchy for a direction. But who is this King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele 3°? On July 29th 1900, at the age of 30, Vittorio Emanuele had acceded to the throne upon his father's assassination by an anarchist. In his early years, the new King showed a commitment to constitutional freedoms. But, when World War I began, Italy at first remained neutral and then, in 1915 signed several secret treaties committing to enter the war on the side of the Triple Entente (Russia, GB and France). Most of the politicians opposed the war, however, and the Italian Chamber of Deputies forced Prime Minister Salandra, who wanted the war, to resign. But Vittorio Emanuele declined Salandra's resignation and personally decided for Italy to enter the war. A coup, by all means.


The economic depression following World War I gave rise to much extremism among Italy's working classes. This caused the country to become politically unstable. Mussolini, the leader of the right-wing Fascist Party, took advantage of this instability for his rise to power. In 1922, he led a force of Fascist supporters on a March on Rome. The Prime Minister, Luigi Facta, drafted a decree of martial law, but the King refused to sign it. He was worried about the rising power of the Communists and the Socialists, who were obviously anti-monarchic, and used Mussolini and his party to stop the left from taking power and, possibly, end the monarchy.


The King, who was sure to control Mussolini, failed to move against the regime's abuses of power. Actually, he went along with him very well in the first years and remained silent during the winter of 1925–26 when Mussolini dropped all pretence of democracy. During this time, the king signed without protest laws that eliminated freedom of speech and assembly, abolished freedom of the press, and declared the Fascist Party to be the only legal party in Italy. Only in the late thirties, the King started to get disappointed with Mussolini, who was taking all decisions without even informing him, thus keeping him in the shade. Mussolini argued all through May 1940 that since it was evident that Germany was going to win the war, there was an unparalleled chance for Italy to make major gains at the expense of France and Britain. This would allow Italy to become the dominant power in the Mediterranean. And finally, on June 1st 1940, the King gave Mussolini his permission for Italy to enter the war. It was the famous “stab in the back” of France, which in the future will raise hatred between the 2 countries.


Now, in mid-July 1943 the King decides the fall of Mussolini. The anti-monarchist currents extend especially among young people and the monarchy would only survive with an action that meets national sentiment, now opposed to fascism and war. But the time has to be right. On July 19, Mussolini meets Hitler at Villa Gaggia, near Venice. As Hitler presses him for the negative test of Italian soldiers in Sicily, the news of the bombing of Rome with the devastation of the district of San Lorenzo come. Only 9 days before, following numerous pleas by Pope Pius the 12th that Rome be spared, President Roosevelt had written the Pope that “churches and religious institutions will, to the extent that it is within our power, be spared the devastations of war during the struggle ahead”. But it is not possible to spare Rome. For the Allies, it is important to disrupt enemy communications and interdict the supply of German and Italian forces from Northern Italy to Sicily via Rome and Naples; so they target the Littorio and Ciampino airdromes and the railway marshalling yards at Littorio and San Lorenzo. But the San Lorenzo railyards lay less than a mile and a half from Rome's most famous monument, the Colosseum, and immediately adjacent to one of the most revered churches of Rome, the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura. Rome is a target, and this can be a formidable push for Italians to get out of the war.


Starting from 11:00 am, for more than 2 hours an enormous formation of more than 500 bombers skirt the Vatican and release almost 1,000,000 tons of explosives from an altitude of more than 6000 meters, targeting the airports and the railways. While the raid devastates the marshalling yards some bombs miss their target and hit adjacent University and hospital buildings, the nearby Cimitero del Verano, the Verano Cemetery, and the Basilica di San Lorenzo. More than 2000 people die. During the bombings the Pope stands at the window in his private study and watches it through binoculars. Then ignoring security concerns he departs Vatican City for the San Lorenzo area and here, amid the rubble and a flock of desperate people, he kneels and prays for the victims of this and other raids. After this bombing, everyone is waiting for something to happen, including the King who awaits the right opportunity to get rid of Mussolini, and this comes with the convocation of the meeting of the Great Council of Fascism for the afternoon of July 24. Mussolini has summoned it because he has been urged by the other Fascist leaders to discuss the progress of the war and the possibilities for Italy. A few days earlier, the agenda has been drawn up calling for Mussolini's resignation; he is aware of it but decides to be present because he thinks he is still supported by the King and the majority of the leaders of fascism. It is a long meeting, Mussolini makes an account of the war and claims to still be able to win thanks to the sci-fi new weapons of the Germans, but at the end of a dramatic confrontation the council votes for his resignation and asks Mussolini himself to present it to the King.


On July 25th Mussolini asks the king to receive him in the afternoon, he is still convinced that after the night's rebellion the leaders are eager to repent and that a reshuffle of government seats would be enough. But the King has no intention to save Mussolini. At the hearing, He informs the Duce that he has decided to accept his resignation and appoint Marshal Badoglio as Head of Government. Then he accompanies him out of Villa Savoia; waiting for him there is an ambulance that will take him to a military base of the carabinieri. That evening in a national radio address the King announces the acceptance of Mussolini's resignation and Marshal Badoglio's appointment as the new leader of Italy. A joy explodes on the streets of Italian cities meaning above all one thing: the end of fascism is the prelude to the end of the war. But Badoglio also says that Italy keeps its word with the Germans.


The war continues, even without Mussolini. What will happen next?

Read 2183 times Last modified on Friday, 27 October 2023 07:24
Marcello Cordovani

Marcello Cordovani is the founder and co-owner of VITORITALY. He is also the Tour Manager of the private tour of Italy

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