The Italian Fascists took revenge against the 19 members who had voted against Mussolini: death! Even Ciano was dismissed from his post by the new anti-Fascist government of Italy after his father–in-law was taken. In Aug 1943 Ciano, Edda and their three children fled to Germany, but the Germans sent them back. Ciano was then arrested for treason, imprisoned, tried and executed.
Rachele and Benito Mussolini
and their children, 1930
and their children, 1930
The new anti-Fascist Italian government, under Marshal Pietro Badoglio, began secret negotiations with the Allied powers and made preparations for Italy's capitulation. When the Armistice of Cassibile was announced in Sicily on 8th Sept 1943, Italy swapped sides and formally joined the Allies.
Germany was prepared and quickly intervened! Germany seized control of their Operational Zones, freeing Mussolini from his Abruzzo prison and taking him to the German-occupied area to establish a satellite regime. The Germans immediately mobilised some of its best Wehrmacht units to Italy, both to resist new Allied advances from the south and to face the defection of Italy with a brutal vengeance.
In a last-ditch attempt to rally Fascist Italy, the Germans sent Il Duce and his reformed Republican Fascist Party to Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano, on the shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy. Here he established the Italian Social Republic of Salò/RSI, a state centred on Salò where Mussolini and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now lived and worked. Germany had annexed Trentino, the South Tyrol and much of the northern end of the lake, so the borders of the Reich had advanced and Gargnano was easy to reach and to defend.
The Fascist state was established in Nov 1943, at the same time the National Assembly of the Fascist Party was held in Verona. Villa Feltrinelli was patrolled by thirty SS officers from Hitler’s personal guard, lodged in the cellars beneath the villa. An anti-aircraft cannon was installed on the roof. In the tunnels between Gargnano and Riva del Garda, factories were set up to specialise in the production and repair of weapons and engines for cars and planes.
Map of Italy, Sep 1943 - 5
Dark green = Italian Social Republic
Light green = German Operational Zones
Once the anti-Fascist Italian government had declared war on Germany, a disastrous civil war broke out between those Italians who stuck with the Central Powers (in the north including Rome) and those Italians who sided with the Allies (in the south). In March 1944 the Italian resistance exploded a bomb in Rome that killed 33 German soldiers. Retaliation was swift and brutal – for each German soldier killed, Hitler ordered the execution of ten Italian civilians. 335 civilians were immediately shot in a hideous retribution called the Ardeatine Massacre. When Mussolini met Hitler in April 1944, the Italian protests were totally ignored.
In late April 1945, Mussolini's republic came to an end on a day labelled Liberation Day. On this day a general partisan uprising, alongside the Allies during their final offensive in Italy, largely ousted the Germans from Italy. By the time of its demise, the Italian Social Republic had existed for only 19+ months. On 27th April partisans caught Mussolini, his mistress Claretta Petacci, several RSI ministers and other Italian Fascists, while they were attempting to flee to Switzerland. The next day the partisans killed Mussolini and most of the other captives, including Claretta. Vittoria Mussolini, the second son, escaped to Argentina via The Vatican Route and was welcomed by the Minister for War, Juan Peron.
German, Japanese and Italian soldiers fighting together
The Italian Social Republic might have been a make-believe state, but in its short existence, 240,000+ Italian civilian and soldiers died. The RSI Minister of Defence surrendered the survivors on 2nd May when the German forces in Italy capitulated; this put a final end to the crisis.
Villa Feltrinelli, where Il Duce lived, is now a luxury hotel that I visited (but could only afford afternoon tea). Down the road in Salò is the Museum of Salò on the shores of Lake Garda, that only opened in 2015. Richard Bosworth reviewed the museum of Fascist history and found it very unbalanced. The Museum’s stance was that the Germans were the perpetrators of evil and the Italian Fascists were the tragic victims. And there was no reference to Fascism in practice or theory towards the peoples of the Italian Empire.