Achille Starace

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Achille Starace
Achille Starace.jpg
Secretary of the National Fascist Party
In office
12 December 1931 – 31 October 1939
President Benito Mussolini
Preceded by Giovanni Giuriati
Succeeded by Ettore Muti
Personal details
Born (1889-08-18)18 August 1889
Gallipoli, Kingdom of Italy
Died 29 April 1945(1945-04-29) (aged 55)
Milan, Kingdom of Italy
Nationality Italian
Political party National Fascist Party

Achille Starace (Italian pronunciation: [aˈkille staˈratʃe]; August 18, 1889 — April 29, 1945) was a prominent leader of Fascist Italy before and during World War II.

Early life and career[edit]

Starace was born in Sannicola in southern Puglia province Italy near Lecce. He was son of a wine and oil merchant.

Achille Starace attended the Lecce Technical Institute as a young man and earned a degree in accounting. In 1909, he joined the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) and by 1912 had become a Second Lieutenant (Sottotenente) of the élite sharpshooters (Bersaglieri). A dedicated bellicist he entered singlehanded in a brawl with pacifist demonstrators at the Biffi cafe in Milano in August 1914 and gained quite a reputation by this action.

Seeing action during World War I, Starace was highly decorated for his service, winning a One Silver Medal of Military Valor plus four bronze. After the war, he left the army and moved to Trento, where he first came into contact with the growing Fascist movement. He also joined the freemason lodge "la vedetta (the sentinel)" in Udine in March 1917.

An ardent nationalist, Starace participated to the March on Rome and joined the Fascist movement in Trento in 1920 and quickly became its political secretary. In 1921, his efforts caught the attention of Benito Mussolini, who put Starace in charge of the Fascist organization in Venezia Tridentina. In October 1921, Starace became Vice-Secretary of the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista, or PNF). In 1922, Starace participated in the March on Rome (Marcia su Roma), leading a squadron (squadristi) of Blackshirts (Camicie Nere, or CCNN, or Squadristi) in support of Mussolini.


Starace (center) and Italo Balbo (first from right) at the Alfa Romeo factory.

Later in 1922, Starace was appointed Party Inspector of Sicily and made a member of the Executive Committee of the PNF. In 1923, after resigning as Vice-Secretary of the party, he was made commander of the National Security Volunteer Militia (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or MVSN) in Trieste. The MVSN was an all-volunteer militia created to organize former Blackshirts.

In 1924, Starace was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies and made National Party Inspector. In 1926, Achille Starace once again became Vice-Secretary of the PNF, and, in 1928, he was appointed Secretary of the Milan branch of the party.

Party secretary[edit]

In 1931, his career reached its peak when he was made Party Secretary of the PNF. He was appointed to the position primarily for his unquestioning, fanatical loyalty to Mussolini. As secretary, Starace staged huge parades and marches, proposed Anti-Semitic racial segregation measures, and greatly expanded Mussolini's cult of personality.

Although Starace was successful in increasing party membership, he failed in the later years of his tenure as Secretary to reorganize the Italian Fascist Youth Organization (Opera Nazionale Balilla) along the lines of the Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend). He also failed to inspire a nationwide enthusiasm for Fascism on par with the popularity that the Nazi Party enjoyed in Germany. Starace served as secretary for a total of eight years. This was longer than any other Secretary had served. But, by the mid-1930s, he had gained numerous enemies in the party hierarchy.

Role in the Invasion of Ethiopia[edit]

In 1935, Starace, a Colonel, took a leave of absence as PNF Party Secretary to participate in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and fought on the northern front. In March 1936, after the Battle of Shire, he was given command of a mixed group of Blackshirts and Bersaglieri being assembled in Asmara, Eritrea. Later that month, Starace and his truck-transportable "mechanized column" prepared to advance over rough tracks to seize Gondar, the capital of Begemder Province. Before setting out, "the Panther Man" (L'uomo pantera) gave the following speech to his men:

Soldiers, this is the most risky, most difficult and most important venture of the campaign. Don't waste a shot. We are carrying all the ammunition we are going to have on this trip. This column must be like an electric live wire. Death to the touch! Truck drivers must learn to keep to the right of the road under pain of severe penalties…

Britain is a rich country, Italy is a poor country, but the people of poor countries have hard muscles. The only way to explain the action of the English is that they thought they had only to mass a war fleet in the Mediterranean and Premier Mussolini would take off his hat and bow in submission.

Instead he reared up like a thoroughbred horse and sent his soldiers into Africa. Viva Il Duce![1]

The roadbuilding skills of Starace's men played an equally important role to their combat prowess. The following morning, April 1, Starace and the column entered Gondar in triumph and two days later reached Lake Tana, securing the border region with British Sudan. The East African Fast Column (Colonna Celere dell'Africa Orientale) had covered approximately 120 km in three days.

Return to party secretary[edit]

After Ethiopia, Starace resumed his duties as Party Secretary. He continued to be controversial. For example, he decreed that all party flags must be made from an Italian-created textile fabric called "Lanital." Based on casein, Lanital was invented in 1935 and, according to Starace, it was a "product of Italian ingenuity." In 1936, Dino Grandi, the Italian Ambassador to Great Britain, appeared in London wearing a suit said to have been made from forty-eight pints of skimmed milk.[2]

During the Munich Crisis in 1938, Starace was a vocal proponent that the French should agree to cede Tunisia to Italy.

Starace in Italian sport[edit]

Starace was a sports fanatic and instituted president of the CONI (Italian Olympic Committee). He is remembered for such unlikely sports stunts as jumping through a fire circle at the Marmi Stadium in 1938 or horse jumping over a saloon car.

He wanted party officials to look virile and fit and on official ceremonies had them parading at the bersaglieri pace, an Italian variant of goose - stepping (which of course did not make him popular among the fatter and older party local leaders).

He is specially and more significantly remembered also for a policy of embrigadement of the Italian people (either young or not) in fascist party-linked organizations that borrowed some semblance to the scout movement: Opera Balilla,Figli della lupa, Avanguardisti, Giovane facista and the labour related Organizazione del Doppolavoro (after work sports).

Sports were of particular importance for the fascist propaganda, heavily exploiting the successes of Italian athletes in international competitions (like boxer Primo Carnera) and Starace was quite instrumental in this field, tackling both the mass organisation and the elite side of Italian sports.


In October 1939, Starace was finally dismissed as Party Secretary in favor of the popular Ettore Muti. He was made Chief of Staff of the MVSN and he held this position until being dismissed for incompetence in May 1941. He was succeeded by Enzo Galbiati.

Imprisonment and death[edit]

From left to right, the dead bodies of Bombacci, Mussolini, Petacci, Pavolini and Starace in Piazzale Loreto, 29 April 1945.

In 1943, following the demise of Mussolini's regime, Starace was arrested by Pietro Badoglio's Royalist government. He was arrested even though his real power under Mussolini had ended two years earlier.

After unsuccessfully attempting to regain Mussolini's favor in the German-backed Italian Social Republic of Salò, Starace was again arrested. This time he was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Verona and was arrested by his former colleagues on charges that he had weakened the party during his tenure as Party Secretary.

Starace was eventually released and moved to Milan. On 29 April 1945, during his morning jog, he was recognized and captured by anti-Fascist Italian partisans. After a summary trial, he was sentenced to death.

Starace was taken to the Piazzale Loreto and shown the body of Mussolini, which he saluted just before he was shot. His body was subsequently strung up next to Mussolini's.

The tragicomic side of Fascism[edit]

Starace was one of the main catalysts of the energies of political satire and popular jokes under fascism. The citations of prolific pen staraciana are innumerable, and the majority of them, intending for a moment withdraw from tragic historical moments, are quite sufficient in itself to demonstrate Starace had moved away from practical sense in its pursuit of a path for propaganda the regime:

"I wonder why the expectation is still to consider the end of the year to the December 31 meters, rather than 28 October. The attachment to this custom is indicative of non-fascist mentality. '

"At the word" comicio (roman for meeting) "from now on please replace the word" gathering of propaganda. " The word comicio reminds us of times passed forever. '

On one occasion he had to preside officially to a high level medical symposium, but much to the displeasure of the participants turned up one hour late for the opening adress, explaining that he had been on his daily hour of horse riding. Far from offering excuses to the infuriated audience, he sharply cut the protests with a famous phrase :" do less medicals, just drop books and do more gymnastics, dedicate yourself to equestrian sports" (Datevi all ippica in Italian). The motto stuck and as of the 21st century "Datevi all ippica" still is a proverbial catchphrase to tell someone that he is incompetent and should try his hand at some unskilled job.

He tried to phase some Anglo-Saxon and foreign words and manners out of Italian daily life, with a moderate degree of success : The word volleyball was (and still is)deleted in Italian in favor of pallavolo, a word Starace is said to have invented. Similarly tramezzino was substituted to sandwich and autorimessa to garage but the abstruse Italian replacements for words like cognac, bar, cocktail, tennis never caught up. The "British" shake hand salute was forbidden and replaced by the compulsory raised arm roman-style salute. He even tried to have the "Viva Il Duce" motto made compulsory ending in public and private correspondence but Mussolini bluntly put the stops to this particular move, which he found ludicrous,saying :"how stupid would be a condolence letter running like: "Harry is dead. Viva il Duce" .

He insisted to have the plan of Quartiere Romano di san Basilio three blocks of council housing flats shaped in such a way that they would form gigantic D U X (roman for Duce)when seen from a passing aircraft as an homage to Mussolini.

All in all he was considered by the other high rank fascists gerarchi as a devoted but not too bright follower of the Duce, and Mussolini himself said of Starace "Un cretino,si, ma un cretino obeddente" (a jerk indeed but an obedient one).

About his fanatical devotion to Mussolini, his own daughter later said of him: He breathed only by the Duce's order.

The man in the street was more or less of the same opinion and Starace was regularly lampooned almost openly by student songs and poems that circulated almost freely despite the fascist regime and the political police.

It was said, about the "bestiary" symbolic of fascism: "The wolf, which is voracious,the lion which is ferocious; the eagle, which is rapacious, the goose, which is Starace." («La lupa, che è vorace;il leone c'e feroce; l'aquila, che è rapace; l'oca, che è Starace»)

A mock epitaph was coined by students, written on walls even during the fascist period, which read: "Here lays Starace, dressed in orbace wool, capable of nothing, Requiescat in peace."( «È morto Starace, vestito d'orbace, di nulla capace, requiescat in pace»). Another variation of this rhyme, read: "Here lies Starace / clad in orbace (see below)/ may him rest in peace / in war a fleeting type / in bed a pugnacious one," («Qui giace Starace / vestito d'orbace / in pace rapace / in guerra fugace / a letto pugnace») recalling the exhortation he addressed his compatriots, according to which 'all party organs work: have to work so even the genitals. " --> Orbace was a special sort of raw wool cloth made in Sardegna that Starace had made compulsory for fascist party official's uniforms,as part of the fascist autarky policy, and is said to have been very itchy.

Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son in law and foreign affairs minister (later shot after the infamous Verona kangaroo court trial) wrote in his diary :" The Italians are people that may pardon anybody who treated them wrong...but they won't pardon somebody who has been breaking their...boxes (polite substitute for... balls)".

This proved prophetic as though in 1943 Starace had been long ago been dismissed from official functions, even imprisoned, and had retreated from the public eye, he was recognized and arrested (during his morning jogging session) by partisans on the very same day Mussolini's corpse was hung in piazza Loreto in Milano. He was summarily processed and executed and his corpse hung alongside the ones of Mussolini, Clara Petacci, Nicola Bombacci and Alessandro Pavolini.

Awards and decorations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Time Magazine, 13 April 1936
  2. ^ Time Magazine, August 29, 1938

External links[edit]