Tag Archives: Italy

Remembering History: Germany and Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

History.com
School History
World War II Database


Remembering History: Mussolini Caught Fleeing Italy and Executed (28 March 1945)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Attempting to flee Italy into Austria dressed in a Luftwaffe coat and hat, the deposed dictator of Italy–Il Duce–Benito Mussolini was caught by partisans along with his mistress Clara Petacci. The partisans executed him and Petacci, transported their bodies to Milan, and hung them upside down so that everyone (especially his supporters) could see he was dead. He ruled Italy from 1925-1943, when he was deposed and subsequently imprisoned. He was rescued by Hitler’s forces and made the puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. With German troops in retreat, he hoped to avoid being captured by either British or American forces. Pictures of his body being hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan would be spread to prove that Il Duce was no more.

Sources:
History.com

Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded and Ardeatine massacre (23 March)

Remembering History:

  • Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)
  • Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Benito Mussolini, publisher of Socialist newspapers and veteran of World War I, founds the Fasci di Combattimento (“Fighting Bands) based on 19th century Italian peasant revolutionaries. In forming this party, more commonly called Fascist Party, Mussolini formally broke away from his Socialist peers creating a movement that fused elements of Socialism and Nationalism into this new movement. Fascism repudiated, as both Communism and Socialism does, democracy and civil liberties with governance done by a single party with a powerful central figure. Fascism rejects the Communist argument against capitalism and instead argues it can be made to serve the nation without taking it away from its owners. Nationalism, also derided by Communists, was elevated, and made an important element to bring people to support the goals of the new order.

Italy was suffering the after effects of World War I. Inflation was high, the morale of the people was low, and the parliamentary democracy that ran Italy seemed weak and ineffectual. Worse despite Italian support for Great Britain and France, they got little from the Treaty of Versailles which made Italians unhappy as well. Mussolini’s Fascist Party stepped in during this time to offer an alternative to the chaos. And it drew many wanting to remake Italy into a more powerful nation. Dressed in black shirts as their uniforms, they began a program of intimidation and terrorism against Communists, Socialists, and those that supported the current system.

In October 1922, Mussolini led a march on Rome which led to King Victor Emmanuel III appointing him as prime minister. He formed a three- member cabinet and presided over the parliamentary government. Using his Black Shirts and others, they quickly came down hard on political opponents and anyone who disobeyed the new orders edicts on how things were to be done. By 1925, the parliamentary government was formally ended with the proclamation of Mussolini as Il Duce (The Leader).

Adolf Hitler admired Mussolini’s rise to power and copied his tactics and beliefs in forming the National Socialism movement in Germany.

The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.”  Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932

Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

 In July 1943 the allies landed in Sicily beginning the Italian campaign. Rome itself was being bombed and Allied troops would likely land in the south and march north once they completed the Sicilian operation. The war had not gone well for the Italian military with more defeats than victories (and often the Germans having to assist them). The rationing of food, higher costs, and people generally upset with how things were being run by Mussolini led to widespread dissatisfaction. Believing the war was no longer in the interests of Italy, in late July Mussolini was rejected by his own Grand Council and arrested. Pietro Badoglio, the new Prime Minister, negotiated in secret with the allies to surrender and its terms. The Germans though were not going to allow the Allies access to Italian airbases or other support facilities. The armistice declared on 8 September by Badoglio resulted in the Germans taking Rome forcing the new government and the king to flee. Rome was occupied from September 1943-June 1944 when the Germans left making it an open city.

During the occupation of Rome, the German’s came down hard on its citizens especially those who had aided in the ouster of Mussolini and anyone who opposed them. It was not a happy time to live in Rome with German troops everywhere along with their vicious elements of the SS operating as well. The Italian partisans, who had been fighting Mussolini, now turned all their efforts on the Germans. They began acts of sabotage, coordinated attacks on Germans, and causing all kinds of mayhem. It led to a 23 March 1994 attack on a SS unit. A bomb was tossed at them killing 33 soldiers. The Germans were outraged, and reprisals were ordered. 335 Italian citizens were rounded up and taken to the Ardeatine caves. They were all shot dead as revenge for the deaths of the SS soldiers. 250 were Catholic, 70 were Jews, and the remaining unknown.

Fosse Ardeatine, Roma, Italia
24 November 2005
Image credit: antmoose (Flikr via Creative Commons)

After the killing was done, the cave was sealed. When the Allies liberated Rome on 4 June 1944, the massacre became widely known. It shocked Rome, all of Italy and the world when the details emerged. In the postwar trials that took place, many were held to account for their part in it. Generals von Mackensen and Mälzer were sentenced to death in 1945 by a British military tribunal. Field Marshal Kesselring was sentenced to death in 1947 though pardoned later. Former SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prision in 1948 by the Italians. There is also an interesting story of Kappler’s game of wits with Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who spearheaded the Vatican’s assistance to allied soldiers who fled to the Vatican for protection against the Germans. He visited Kappler in jail which led to his conversion to Catholicism. In 1997 his wife managed to smuggle the now old and frail Kappler (who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer) to West Germany. Italy wanted him back but West Germany saw no point to it: he was dying from cancer and in fact died a year later from it.

The Ardeatine Caves outside of Rome have become a national memorial.

Sources:

Mussolini founds the Fascist party (History.com)
Fascist Party (Britannica.com)
“The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932) by Benito Mussolini (pdf)

Germans slaughter Italian civilians (History.com)
Ardeatine Caves Massacre (U.S. Holocaust Memorial)
The Italian Resistance and the Ardeatine Caves Massacre (National WWII Museum)
Mausoleo Fosse Ardeatine

Balvano Train Disaster (2-3 Mar 1944)

One of the deadliest train disasters in railroad history occurred during World War II in Italy when over 500 people would suffocate to death.

It began simply enough. On the evening 2 March 1944 freight train 8017 left Salerno, Italy to a rural area south of the city. This required it to pass through the Galleria delle Amri Tunnel Pass just outside Balvano. Although a freight train, it was common for a lot of civilian and military people to hop on the next convenient train. By the time the train had reached Balvano, the last train stop between the two long tunnels in the Apennines Mountains. it had 650 people aboard. It reached the stop near midnight and had to stop for maintenance.

At ten minutes to 1 am, the train began its ascent into the Galleria delle Amri. The tunnel was poorly ventilated with 1.3% grade. Not long after entering the tunnel the train came to complete stop for 3o minutes. The exact reasons are still unclear. Either the train could not pull the overloaded freight cars, or it was waiting for another train to exit from the opposite direction. Some argue that humidity had caused the train wheels to slip, and sandboxes were not helping.

Unfortunately, due to wartime restrictions, the train was burning low grade coal which produced a lot of excess and odorless carbon monoxide.

The train driver tried to reverse the train but fainted before he could accomplish it. An additional complication was that it was a two-locomotive set up. The driver in lead car could not communicate with the driver in the other one as they were not the same locomotive model. That driver was still trying to push forward. A brakeman walked back to Balvano getting there about 05:10. Quickly a locomotive was dispatched and got there by 0525. It was too late. Many people had exited the freight cars hoping to find better air in the tunnel and died there. There were so any corpses on the rails prevented it from removing the train. About 40 people in the last freight cars were alive. A second rescue mission at 08:40 was able to bring the train back to Balvano. The only train crew to survive was the brakeman and a fireman from the second locomotive.

Due to wartime restrictions, the US and Italians kept it out of the news. A commission was established to determine what happened. Blame was put on the low-quality coal and the station masters tolerating stowaways. The Italian railway company, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, declined all responsibility owing to the end of the war setup between the Italians and US. The Ministry of Treasury, in order to quell criticism, issued compensation to identified civilians (but it occurred 15 years later). A limitation on freight tonnage was introduced and the use of both diesel and steam locomotives for such routes were introduced, Steam engines were banned in 1959 and the line was electrified in 1996. Except for the train crew, the stowaways were buried in four common graves in Balvano cemetery.

Sources:

Train passengers suffocate, 2 Mar 1944 (History.com)
Deadliest Train & Railroad Accidents In History (WorldAtlas)
Balvano train disaster (Wikipedia)

 


Remembering History: Germany and Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

History.com
School History
World War II Database


Remembering History: Mussolini Caught Fleeing Italy and Executed (April 28, 1945)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Attempting to flee Italy into Austria dressed in a Luftwaffe coat and hat, the deposed dictator of Italy–Il Duce–Benito Mussolini was caught by partisans along with his mistress Clara Petacci. The partisans executed him and Petacci, transported their bodies to Milan, and hung them upside down so that everyone (especially his supporters) could see he was dead. He ruled Italy from 1925-1943, when he was deposed and subsequently imprisoned. He was rescued by Hitler’s forces and made the puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. With German troops in retreat, he hoped to avoid being captured by either British or American forces. Pictures of his body being hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan would be spread to prove that Il Duce was no more.

Sources:
History.com

Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

On 23 March 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci de Combattimento, a name drawn from peasant revolutionaries from the 19th century. These “fighting bands” as they were commonly called back then, became the foundation of the Italian Fascist Party. Mussolini, who had been committed to Socialism but disenchanted how it did not support defending France during World War I, broke away from his former allies to found this new party. The Fascist Party incorporated many aspects of Communism and Socialism within its ideology (please see my write up on Fascism here) but differed when it came to private property and nationalism. Mussolini believed that using nationalism could unify a nation without having to seize private property but rather convince the owners to serve the state in its goals. And like Communists and Socialists, Fascists did not believe in democracy but one party and, more importantly, one person rule.

Why This Is Important

The Italian Fascist Party would inspire others to follow in the same vein such as Adolf Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, and Salazar in Portugal. And still inspires movements today.

Why  Fascism Appealed to Italians

Italy faced many problems in the wake of World War I though it had been on the winning side. It acquired new territory as the Austrian-Hungarian empire was dismantled but the cost of the war left Italy in an economic depression. Italy lost 600,000 in battle, 950,000 wounded and 250,000 crippled for life. The cost of the war on the nation’s treasury was staggering resulting in its currency having reduced value, unemployment spiked and massive inflation set in as well due to the devalued currency. Despite being on the winning side, Italians felt betrayed at Versailles as their delegation was ignored. The government came across as weak and having little pride in Italy. This is what gave Mussolini his opportunity. With millions unhappy with how things were being done by the parliamentary government combined with a feeling of betrayal at Versailles, Mussolini knew he would be able to bring the Fascist Party to power. In October 1922, he led the Fascists on a march to Rome where King Emmanuel III asked him to form a new government. He was appointed head of the Fascist cabinet and appeared to work with the parliamentary government. Backed up by his own brutal police force, he became the de facto dictator of Italy and suppressed a Socialist revolt in 1924. In January, 1925 he proclaimed Italy a Fascist state and he was its leader (Il Duce). He would remain in power until 1943 when he was removed from office.

Sources:

1. Books
Pipes, Richards : Communism: A History, Modern Library, New York 2001

2. Internet
Britannica.com
History.com
History Learning Site

Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


TODAY IN HISTORY: THE INFAMOUS MUNICH PACT

Nevile Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Count Ciano
29 Sep 1938 (German Federal Archives)

By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe: France and Great Britain, sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918.

In spring 1938, Hitler claimed that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany and began agitating that unless this was done it would be taken by force. Hitler claimed that this region was part of a Greater Germany. Needless to say, the Czechoslovakian government was concerned. Hitler had annexed Austria in 1938 and he might just do the same to Sudeten. Czechoslovakia had a pact with both France and Great Britain to come to its defense. Neither power was interested in having to defend Czechoslovakia on the battlefield. Both Britain and France sought to avoid a war and both agreed, without bothering to consult with the Czechoslovakians, they would give Hitler what he wanted. The deal was that in areas of fifty percent or more German Sudetens would go to Germany.

Hitler though, sensing he could get a lot more, wanted to put German soldiers in Sudeten and that Czechoslovakian army had to leave by 28 Sept 1938. This caused a crisis resulting in the Munich Conference of 29 Sep 1938. In attendance were British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French premier Édouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini presented a plan (that imitated a German proposal) which allowed German military occupation and an international commission to resolve disputes. It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Chamberlain would get Hitler to sign a treaty and proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”

Aftermath
Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.

Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise make preparations (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.

The lesson of the Munich Pact is that making short term deals with dictators to gain a moment of peace comes at a high cost. The Czechs were abandoned by Britain and France to their fate because neither one wanted to stand up to Hitler. Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out,  Chamberlain’s popularity fell and would resign on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin),had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.

IL Duce Gets The Boot

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

On 25 Jul 1943, the long time Fascist dictator of Italy Benito Mussolini was deposed. He was deposed by his own Grand Council who had come to believe he was no longer able to govern. Italy had suffered a string of military defeats and the war itself was unpopular with large portions of the population. Mussolini himself appeared tired and overwhelmed by the military failures. Power was transferred to the king and Mussolini barely reacted to what was going on. A few tried rallying support on the council for Il Duce (the title he had given himself as fascist leader)but he appeared unable to choose a course of action. When Mussolini attended his routine meeting with King Victor Emmanuel III, he was told that General Pietro Badoglio would become prime minister. He was arrested after leaving the meeting. News of his dismissal was greeted with enthusiasm by most Italians. In public Badoglio said the war would continue but secretly he was negotiating an armistice with the allies which was signed on 3 September 1943. He also dissolved the Fascist Party.

Aftermath
Germany would invade Italy after it signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943. Mussolini would be freed by German paratroopers, brought to Germany, and then sent back to rule from Lombardy in the newly formed Italian Social Republic. Meanwhile the Badaglio government, which had fled south to Allied controlled Italy, declared war on Germany. Northern Italy would remain under German control until April 1945. Mussolini would later be captured by partisans and executed along with his mistress trying to flee certain Allied capture on 26 April 1945.

History Channel-This Day In History
Bibliography.com-Benito Mussolini