Fall of the Fascist regime in Italy
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The fall of the Fascist regime in Italy, also known in Italy as 25 Luglio (Venticinque Luglio, pronounced [ˌventiˈtʃiŋkwe ˈluʎʎo]; Italian for "25 July"), denotes the events in spring and summer 1943 in Italy, which culminated with the meeting of the Grand Council of Fascism on 24–25 July 1943, the passing of a vote of no confidence against Benito Mussolini, and the change of the Italian government. These events were the result of parallel plots led respectively by Count Dino Grandi and King Victor Emmanuel III: their final outcome was the fall from power of the Italian Fascist government after 21 years and the arrest of Mussolini.
- 1 Background
- 2 Two parallel plots
- 3 Events of 24–25 July 1943
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 References
- 6 Sources
At the beginning of 1943 the military situation for Italy looked bleak. The collapse of the African front on 4 November 1942 and the Allied landings in North Africa on 8–12 November had exposed Italy to an invasion of the Allied forces. The defeat of the Italian expeditionary force (ARMIR) in Russia, the heavy bombings of the cities, and the lack of food and fuel demoralized the population: the majority of the population wanted to end the war and denounce the alliance with Germany. Italy needed massive German aid in order to maintain control of Tunisia, the last stronghold of the Axis powers in Africa. Moreover, Italy's Duce, Benito Mussolini, was persuaded the war could be decided in the Mediterranean theater, and wanted to convince Hitler to seek a separate peace with Russia and move the bulk of the German Army south. At a meeting at Klessheim, on 29 April 1943, the Duce exposed his ideas to Hitler, who rejected them. The pressing request for reinforcements to defend the bridgehead in Tunisia was refused by the Wehrmacht, which no longer trusted the Italian will to maintain resistance. Besides the military situation, another main factor of uncertainty for Italy was the health of Mussolini: the duce was depressed and sick, and following months of strong abdominal pain, two prominent Italian clinicians, Profs. Frugoni and Cesa Bianchi, diagnosed gastritis and duodenitis of nervous origin, excluding, after some hesitation, the possibility of cancer. Because of his illness, the Duce was often forced to stay at home, depriving Italy of effective government.
In this situation, several groups belonging to four different circles (the royal court, the antifascist parties, the fascism and the general Staff) started to look for a way out. Aristocrats such as Crown Princess Maria José, members of the upper classes, and politicians belonging to the pre-Fascist elites independently started plots aimed at establishing contacts with the Allies. Unfortunately, none of them understood that the war had become ideological with the declaration of Casablanca stating that the Allies would only accept unconditional surrender. Moreover, despite the Crown Princess' involvement, the Anglo-Americans expected a move from higher-placed personalities, like the King, and disregarded contacts with these groups.
The antifascist parties, weakened by 20 years of dictatorship, were still in an embryonic state. In addition, all except the communists and the republicans of the Partito d’Azione waited for a signal from Victor Emmanuel, but in vain: the King's character, realist and skeptical at the same time, and his fears, his constitutional scruples, and the fact that the monarchy was almost certainly finished regardless of how the war turned out, contributed to his inaction. The King had considerable contempt towards the old pre-Fascist politicians, whom he ironically called "revenants" ("ghosts" in French), and he didn't entirely trust those who claimed that the Anglo-Americans would not seek to exact revenge upon Italy.
Last but not least, Victor Emmanuel retained his trust in Mussolini, and he hoped that the Duce could save the situation once again. Consequently, the King kept his own counsel and isolated himself from all those who tried to learn his intentions. Among them was the new Chief of the General Staff, General Vittorio Ambrosio, a Piemontese, "not of high intelligence", but devoted to the King and hostile to the Germans. Ambrosio was persuaded that the war was lost for Italy, but he never thought to take a personal initiative to change the situation without first consulting with Victor Emmanuel. On the other side Ambrosio, helped by his right-hand man, Giuseppe Castellano, and by Giacomo Carboni (both of whom would play key roles in the happenings which would lead to the armistice of 8 September 1943), slowly proceeded to occupy several key positions in the armed forces with officials devoted to the king. Moreover, he tried to bring back to Italy as many forces as possible among those which were abroad, but it was difficult to do that without raising the suspicions of the Germans.
On 6 February 1943, Mussolini carried out the most wide-ranging government reshuffle in 21 years of Fascist power. Almost all the ministers were changed: the most important heads which fell were those of Galeazzo Ciano (the son-in-law of the duce), Dino Grandi, Giuseppe Bottai, Guido Buffarini Guidi and Alessandro Pavolini. The two most important goals of this operation (placating public opinion and vital segments of the Fascist Party itself) were not achieved, since the situation was too compromised. Among the new appointments, the new Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs (the Duce took over the department himself) Giuseppe Bastianini, a serious Umbrian, was well aware of the seriousness of the situation. Bastianini's strategy was twofold: on the one hand, like Mussolini, he tried to argue in favor of a peace between Germany and the USSR, and on the other he aimed to create a block of Balkan countries (the junior Axis partners Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) led by Italy, who should act as a counterbalance to the excessive power of the German Reich in Europe. In April the Duce took two other important actions: on 14 April he substituted the chief of the police, Carmine Senise (a man of the King) with Lorenzo Chierici, while five days later he changed the young and inexperienced secretary of the Party, Aldo Vidussoni, with Carlo Scorza. While Senise was accused of inefficiency during the March strikes in northern Italy, with the appointment of Scorza, a hardliner, Mussolini wanted to galvanize the Party.
The fall of Tunis on 13 May 1943 radically changed the strategic situation. Now Italy was exposed to an invasion, and it became imperative for Germany to control the country, which had turned into an external bastion of the Reich. To take control of Italy and forcibly disarm the Italian armed forces after their expected armistice with the Allied forces, the Germans developed plans for operations Alarich and Konstantin, devoted respectively to the occupation of Italy herself and the Balkan areas occupied by the Italian Army. In preparation, the Germans wanted to move more land forces to Italy, but Ambrosio and Mussolini, who both wanted to preserve Italian independence, refused, asking only for more airplanes. On 11 June 1943, the Allies captured the island of Pantelleria, the first part of Italy to be lost. The small island had been turned by Mussolini into a citadel, but – unlike Malta – after a week-long heavy bombardment, it was reduced to a smoking crater, and fell to the Allies almost without resistance. It now became apparent that the next Allied move would be the invasion of one of the three large islands, Sicily, Sardinia or Corsica.
In mid-May, the King started to consider the problem of exiting the war. He was persuaded to consider this possibility by Duke Pietro d'Acquarone, Minister of the Royal House, who was worried about the future of the monarchy. Italian public opinion, having waited in vain for months for a sign from the King, was starting to turn against the monarchy. At the end of May two high-ranking politicians of the pre-Fascist age, Ivanoe Bonomi and Marcello Soleri, were received by d'Acquarone and the King's aide-de-camp, Gen. Puntoni. Both pressed the royal officials for the arrest of Mussolini and the nomination of a military government. On 2 and 8 June they were received in audience by the King, but were both frustrated by his inaction. On 30 June Bonomi met Crown Prince Umberto, and proposed three generals (Ambrosio, Marshal Pietro Badoglio and Enrico Caviglia) as candidates to succeed Mussolini. On 4 July Badoglio was received by Umberto, who let him understand that the Crown was no longer opposed to a change in government. On the following day Ambrosio proposed to the King to appoint Badoglio or Caviglia to head any government that replaced Mussolini. In favor of Caviglia's candidacy were his courage, personal honesty and his antifascist stance, but he was considered too old for such a difficult task and, moreover, was a high-ranking freemason. Badoglio, who had resigned as Chief of the General Staff after the Greece debacle in 1941, had become a bitter enemy of Mussolini and had been waiting for an occasion to exact revenge. Moreover, he was personal friend of Duke d'Acquarone, who had been his aide-de-camp, and both – like Caviglia – were freemasons. A collaboration between the two Marshals was unthinkable, since Caviglia hated Badoglio, defining him once as "a barn dog that goes where there is the biggest morsel."
On 4 June, the King received Grandi, who was still president of the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations despite being dropped from the cabinet. Grandi was one of the Fascist Party's top leadership, the gerarchi; although he had been a close colleague of Mussolini for over 20 years, he was more a right-wing conservative than a Fascist. He viewed Fascism as an ephemeral phenomenon confined to the lifespan of Mussolini. An experienced diplomat (he was former foreign minister and ambassador in the UK), a staunch enemy of Germany and with a large circle of friends in the British establishment (among others, he was a personal friend of Churchill), he had often been considered the most likely successor to the Duce. Though personally devoted to Mussolini, whose character and weaknesses he was well aware of, he was nevertheless convinced that in order to serve him one should sometimes disobey his orders, giving to him the credit of the success. On 25 March 1943 Victor Emmanuel had awarded him the highest royal honor, the collare dell'Annunziata, which allowed him to be called "cousin of the king" and gave him unrestricted access to the Royal House. During his last meeting with the King before 25 July, Grandi communicated to Victor Emmanuel his bold plan to eliminate Mussolini and attack the Germans. Grandi compared Victor Emmanuel to the 18th-century duke of Savoy, Victor Amedeus II, who switched from the French to the imperial alliance, rescuing the dynasty. All that the King needed was another Pietro Micca (the Savoyard soldier who became a national hero for his sacrifice in the defense of Turin in 1706 against the French troops) and Grandi proposed himself for this role. Victor Emmanuel countered that he was a constitutional monarch, and that he could move only after a vote of the parliament or of the Grand Council of Fascism. In any case, he was totally against making a sudden move that would be tantamount to betrayal. At the end, he asked Grandi to ease his action by activating the parliament and the Grand Council, and finished his speech telling him "Trust your king!" (Italian: Si fidi del suo re) At the end of the meeting it was apparent to Grandi that the King was finally aware of the situation, but also that his tendency to procrastinate was always present. Afterwards, Grandi went back to his hometown, Bologna, and waited for the situation to develop.
In the meantime, on 19 June 1943, the last cabinet meeting of the Fascist age took place. On that occasion, the Minister of Communication, Senator Vittorio Cini, one of the most powerful Italian industrialists, frontally attacked Mussolini, telling him that it was time for him to seek a way to exit the war. After the meeting, Cini resigned. This was one among the many signs that the Duce's charisma was crumbling even among his entourage. Each day, people devoted to him, agents of the OVRA and the Germans told him that several plots were going on, but he never reacted, telling each one that they were reading too many crime novels or were affected by persecution mania.
On 24 June Mussolini gave his last important speech as prime minister. It went down in history as the "boot topping" (Italian: bagnasciuga) speech, with the Duce promising that the only part of Italy that the Anglo-Americans would be able to occupy (but forever and horizontally, i.e. as corpses) was the shore-line (for which he used a wrong word to define it). For many Italians, that confused and incoherent speech was the final proof that something was wrong with Mussolini.
The landing in Sicily accelerates the crisis
On the night of 10 July the Allies landed in Sicily. A landing had been expected, but after initial resistance the Italian forces were overwhelmed and in several cases, as in Augusta (the island's most fortified stronghold), they collapsed without fighting. In the first days, it looked like the Italians could defend Sicily, but after that it became apparent that Sicily was going to be lost. On 16 July, Bastianini went to Palazzo Venezia (the Duce's seat) to show to Mussolini a telegram to be sent to Hitler, where he reproached the Germans for not having sent reinforcements. After the Duce's approval, the undersecretary asked for the authorization to establish contacts with the Allies. Mussolini agreed, under the condition of not being directly involved. The secret emissary was the Vatican banker Giovanni Fummi, who was supposed to reach London via Madrid or Lisbon. On the same evening, Bastianini crossed the Tiber, meeting Cardinal Maglione, Vatican Secretary of State, who received a document explaining the Italian position about a possible unilateral exit from the war.
On the Fascist side, after the fall of Tunis and Pantelleria, it was clear to many that the war had been lost. The landing in Sicily and the lack of resistance shocked the Fascists, who asked themselves why the Duce was not reacting. Many of them looked to the King, and many at Mussolini. One big problem was to find an institution suitable for a political action.
Among the four existing state institutions, the Party, the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations, the Senate and the Grand Council, only the last two were suitable for an action: the Senate because there were still quite a few anti- or pre-Fascist members, and the Grand Council since several members were against the Duce. In the event, a motion by 61 senators on 22 July asking to convene the Senate was blocked by Mussolini, and only Mussolini had the power to summon the Grand Council and determine its agenda. In those days, the only gerarca (except Roberto Farinacci, who started from opposite premises) with a clear plan to exit from the impasse was Dino Grandi. His idea was to depose Mussolini, let the king make a government without Fascists, and at the same time attack the German army in Italy. Only thus was there a chance that the declaration of Casablanca could be mitigated in the case of Italy. Later, the new Party Secretary, Carlo Scorza also developed his plan. Like Farinacci, for him the only solution was the political "embalming" of Mussolini and the pursuit of a total war, but while Farinacci acted in close cooperation with the Germans, Scorza thought that the power should be assumed directly by the Party, which had been largely discredited in the previous few years. On 13 and 16 July several Fascists led by Farinacci met in the main seat of the Party in Piazza Colonna, and decided to go to Mussolini in Palazzo Venezia to ask for the convocation of the Grand Council. At the end of the meeting, Mussolini surprisingly consented to convoke the supreme assembly of Fascism.
As written above, the group was divided: Farinacci and Scorza were for a totalitarian solution together with Germany, the others for giving back the emergency war powers to the king. But Farinacci was isolated, and none of the moderate gerarchi had sufficient political clout to take the lead in such a situation.
On 15 July the King met Badoglio – who in the meantime had declared to friends that he would organize a putsch with or without the King – and informed him that he would be the new head of government. Victor Emmanuel explained to him that he was totally against a political government, and that in the first phase he should not seek an armistice.
The meeting in Feltre
In the meantime, the fall of Sicily, where the Italian army had melted away, occurred in a matter of days, and the armed forces appeared incapable of resisting an invasion of mainland Italy without massive German help. Mussolini wrote to Hitler to request a meeting to discuss the situation in Italy, but the letter was never sent, since the Führer – who got daily reports on Italy from his ambassador to the Vatican and Himmler agent, Eugen Dollmann, and was worried about the apathy of the Duce and the ongoing Italian military catastrophe – asked him to meet as soon as possible.
The meeting took place on 19 July in the villa of Senator Achille Gaggia in Feltre, near Belluno. There Mussolini, Bastianini and Ambrosio met with Hitler and the generals of the OKW to discuss the situation and the possible countermeasures. The German delegation was full of generals, but neither Göring nor Ribbentrop were present, showing that the Germans were focusing on the military aspects of the situation. Ambrosio prepared for the meeting meticulously, and the day before spoke plainly to Mussolini, telling him that his duty was to exit the war in the next 15 days. The Germans, on the other hand, had lost faith in the Italians and were only interested in occupying northern and central Italy, leaving the Italian army alone to defend the country from the Allies. Moreover, they proposed that the Axis supreme command in the peninsula be taken over by a German general (possibly Rommel). The first two hours of the meeting were as usual a monologue by Hitler, blaming the Italians for their weak military performance and asking for draconian measures: Mussolini was unable to speak a word. The meeting was suddenly interrupted when an Italian aide came into the room and told Mussolini that at that moment the Allies were for the first time heavily bombing Rome. During the lunch pause, Ambrosio and Bastianini pressed the Duce to tell Hitler that for Italy a political solution to the war was necessary, but Mussolini replied that he had been tormented for months by the dilemma of leaving the alliance or continuing the war: in reality, Mussolini could not overcome the sense of inferiority he felt in the presence of Hitler , and did not have the courage to speak frankly with his German colleague.
After lunch the Duce interrupted the meeting (scheduled to last 3 days), to Hitler's chagrin. The delegations returned to Belluno via train and after greeting Hitler (Mussolini said to him "La causa è comune, Führer!", "The cause is common, Führer"), in the afternoon he returned to Rome flying his personal aircraft: from the air he could see the eastern quarters of the city still burning.
At the same time, as nothing had happened so far, Grandi decided to move. In that same evening of 19 July, with roads and railroads damaged by the bombing, he left Bologna bringing with him a first draft of his Order of the Day (Ordine del Giorno, OdG) to be presented to the Grand Council. He was able to reach Rome only one day later, and on the morning of the 21st he met Scorza, who told him that Mussolini had decided to convoke the Grand Council. It was finally the "gioco grosso", the great game, which Grandi had looked for in vain until now.
Two parallel plots
After the failure of the Feltre meeting and the first bombing of Rome, the crisis accelerated. The day after Feltre, 20 July, Mussolini met Ambrosio twice. During the second meeting, in the evening, the Duce told him that he had decided to write to Hitler, confessing the need for Italy to abandon the alliance. Still angry about the missed opportunity to do this in Feltre, the indignant Ambrosio offered his resignation to the Duce, who rejected it. For Ambrosio, after Feltre Mussolini was useless, and he realized that any hope that he could pull the chestnuts out of the fire was an illusion. Therefore, he decided to set the putsch in motion.
At the same time, Grandi and Luigi Federzoni (nationalist leader and Grandi's close ally) were trying to estimate how many among the 27 members of the Grand Council would vote for his document. They concluded that of the 27 members, 4 were for it, 7 against and 16 undecided. Grandi's problem was that he could not reveal to his colleagues the real consequences of the approval of his OdG: the dismissal of Mussolini, the end of the Fascist Party, and war against Germany. Only a couple of gerarchi had the necessary political intelligence to understand it: all the others still had the hope that the Duce, who had made the decisions for all them in the last 21 years, could once again produce a miracle. Consequently, Grandi decided to write his OdG in a vague form and leave each one to make his own interpretation. The OdG was divided in three parts: it began with a long, rhetoric appeal to the nation and the armed forces, praising them for the resistance to the invaders. In the second part, the document asked for the restoration of the pre-Fascist institutions and laws. The end of the document was an appeal to the King: he should assume the supreme civil and military power, according to Article 5 of the constitution of the kingdom. For Grandi the approval of the OdG would be the signal that the King was waiting for. On 21 July Mussolini ordered Scorza to convoke the Grand Council: Scorza sent the invitation one day later. A gloss prescribed the dress code: "Divisa fascista: sahariana nera, pantaloni corti grigioverdi: VINCERE" (Fascist uniform: black tropical shirt, field gray shorts: to win!). In the late afternoon of the same day Grandi went to Scorza and explained his OdG: surprisingly, the Party secretary said that he would support it. Scorza asked Grandi for a copy of his document, but on the next morning he met Mussolini and showed him the OdG. The Duce called it a "not admissible and cowardly" document. Afterwards, Scorza secretly prepared another OdG, seemingly similar to that of Grandi, but which asked for the concentration of power in the Fascist Party.
In the morning of 22 July a most important meeting took place: the one between the King and Mussolini, who wanted to report about the outcome of Feltre. The content of the conversation is unknown, but according to Badoglio, it is possible that Mussolini calmed down the King's fears, promising him to disengage Italy from the war by September 15. These two months of delay can be explained by the fact that, on the one hand, Bastianini had begun contacts with the Allies which would need some time to proceed; on the other, Mussolini needed some time to justify himself and Italy before the world for his betrayal. Apparently the King agreed with him, as this would explain why the Duce was not worried at all about the outcome of the Grand Council meeting. In fact, without the aid of the King, a coup d’etat was destined to fail. Anyway, at the end of the meeting the two men reached two quite different conclusions: while Mussolini was convinced that the King was always at his side, Victor Emmanuel was disappointed after telling him in vain that he should resign. The King was forced now to consider the putsch seriously, as he knew that Bastianini was trying to contact the Allies, while Farinacci, the fascist hardliner, was organizing a putsch to depose him and Mussolini and bring Italy under direct German control. The real decision was taken after knowing that the Grand Council had approved Grandi's OdG.
At 17:30 of the same day, Grandi went to Palazzo Venezia; the official reason was the presentation to Mussolini of a new book about the Italian participation in the non-intervention committee in Spain. The meeting was scheduled to last 15 minutes, but at the end it was prolonged until 18:45. Waiting to be received by the Duce were the Chief of Police and the German Feldmarschall Kesselring. In his memoirs written one year later, Mussolini denied that he spoke with Grandi about the OdG, but this is not credible. It is apparent that Grandi, who loved the Duce, explained to him the consequences of his OdG, giving him a last chance to save face and resign before the vote. In that case, the Grand Council’s meeting would have been superfluous. Mussolini listened while Grandi was explaining the necessity to resign to avoid a catastrophe, but at the end rebuked him saying that his conclusions were wrong, since Germany was about to produce a decisive secret weapon. After that, Mussolini met Kesselring and the Chief of Police, Chierici: to the latter he confided that it would have been easy to bring Grandi, Bottai and Ciano back to the fold, as they were eager to be persuaded by him. On the morning of 23 July Mussolini accepted the resignation of Cini: this was supposed to be a signal to his opponents. At the same time, at Federzoni's home, Grandi, Federzoni, de Marsico (one of the best jurists in Italy), Bottai and Ciano modified the OdG, removing the interpretative introduction which explained the functions of the Grand Council. Here they demonstrated that the assembly had the constitutional power to remove Mussolini. In fact, according to the constitutionalists, the "Leggi Fascistissime" of December 1925 bent the Constitution, but did not break it. Because of these laws, the Duce ruled the country on behalf of the King, who remained always the source of the executive power. Because of that, if the Grand Council, which was the trait d'union between Fascism and the state, passed a vote of no confidence on the dictator, the King would have been entitled to remove him and nominate his successor. In that occasion Ciano was acquainted with the OdG by Bottai: Grandi was reluctant to accept him, since he was the son-in-law of Mussolini and was known for his superficial and inconstant character, but Ciano insisted, unaware that this decision would have provoked his death six months later in Verona. After that, Grandi had as a guest at his office in the parliament Farinacci, showing him his OdG. Farinacci told Grandi that he accepted the first part of the document, but that he did not agree at all on the rest: the military powers had to be given to the Germans, and Italy should start to fight the war seriously, getting rid of Mussolini and the generals. At the end he, like Scorza, asked him for a copy of his OdG, and like Scorza he used it to produce another OdG of his own. In the time left before the meeting, Grandi contacted other participants asking them to join his action.
Events of 24–25 July 1943
meeting in these hours of utmost trial, turns all its thoughts to the heroic fighters in every corps who, side by side with the people of Sicily in whom shines the unequivocal faith of the Italian people, renewing the noble traditions of strenuous valor and the indomitable spirit of sacrifice of our glorious Armed Forces, having examined the internal and international situation and the war's political and military leadership,
the sacred duty for all Italians to defend at all costs the homeland's unity, independence, and freedom, the fruits of sacrifice and the efforts of four generations from the Risorgimento to the present, the life and future of the Italian people;
the necessity of moral and material unity of all Italians in this serious and decisive hour for the nation's destiny;
that to this end the immediate restoration of all state functions is necessary, assigning to the Crown, to the Grand Council, to the government, to the Parliament, and to the corporate groups the duties and responsibility established by our statutory and constitutional laws;
The night of the Grand Council
At 17:00 on 24 July 1943 the 28 members of the Grand Council met around a massive U-shaped table in the parrot room (the anteroom of the globe saloon, the office of Mussolini) in Palazzo Venezia. The Duce’s seat was a high chair, and his table was decorated with a red drape with the fasces. From the ceiling was hanging an enormous wrought iron luster. The walls were decorated with blue velvet tapestries and large paintings, and in the marble floor were etched inscriptions with the date of the restoration, Year VII of the Fascist calendar.
For the first time in the history of the Grand Council, neither the bodyguard of Mussolini (the Duce's musketeers) nor a detachment of the "M" battalions were present in the massive Renaissance palace. However, fully armed blackshirts occupied the yard, the escalade and the antechamber. Moreover, since Mussolini wanted no stenographer, no minutes of the meeting were taken. Grandi thought that there were very few possibilities for him to leave the palace alive, so he arrived at the meeting with two Breda hand grenades under his jacket. He had also taken the precaution of revising his will and going to confession before the meeting. Mussolini, dressed as general commander of the MVSN, opened the meeting with a speech which he had prepared. He summarized the history of the supreme command, trying to show that the attribution to him had been sponsored by Badoglio. Then he made a summary of the war events in the previous months, saying that he was ready to move the government to the Po valley, exactly as after the defeat of Caporetto in World War I the government was ready to move to Sicily. He concluded by asking the participants to give their personal opinion about what he called "il dilemma": war or peace? The Duce spoke calmly and confidently: he knew that, except for the three or four men against him, the "swamp" was undecided, and hoped that he could convince them to vote for the OdG Scorza, which gave only the military powers back to the King. After the Duce's introduction, De Bono (one of the two remaining living Quadrumvirs), then Farinacci and then De Vecchi (the other quadrumvir, who gladly accepted under the table one of Grandi's grenades) spoke in turn.
Grandi followed, speaking for one and a half hours. He read out and explained his document, concluding his speech with Mussolini's citation of 1924 "Let perish all the factions, so that the Nation can live". After Grandi spoke Farinacci, who explained that his criticism ran opposite to Grandi's: in fact, while Grandi contended that Mussolini had betrayed the constitution, the real victim of betrayal was Fascism. Farinacci continued saying that in order to win the war it was necessary to wipe out the democrats and liberals still nested in the Party, as well as the generals; to give back to the King the supreme command of the armed forces; to unify the war direction with the Germans; to strengthen the Party. At the end of his speech he read his proposed OdG, which summarized all these points. After some minor interventions spoke Bottai, the Fascist intellectual, who made a purely political speech, defending the OdG. Then came Ciano, who spoke boldly, summarizing the history of the alliance with the Germans, and declaring that the Italians were not the traitors, but the betrayed. At 23:30 Galbiati, the chief of the MVSN (the Fascist militia) winked at Scorza, who whispered something to Mussolini. The Duce announced that, due to the length of the meeting, some comrades had asked for a postponement to the next day. At this point, Grandi jumped from his chair crying that none could go out before they had voted on his OdG, and that it was shameful to go to sleep when Italian soldiers were dying for their fatherland. Mussolini stared at him, but unwillingly agreed. Never before in the 20-years long history of the assembly had anyone dared to ask for a vote: since fascism was strongly anti-parliamentary, in all previous meetings only discussions summarized by the Duce had taken place. At midnight the meeting was suspended for 10 minutes: while the others drank lemonade and coffee substitutes, Mussolini, who suffered from an ulcer, drank a cup of milk. In the meantime, Grandi collected the signatures to his OdG.
After other interventions, for and against the OdG, Mussolini spoke again, and told the participants to reflect on their decision, since the approval of Grandi's OdG would imply the end of Fascism. He also cautioned against the illusion that the Anglo-Americans would be content with that, whereas what they really wanted was the end of Italy, which under his rule had become too strong. For him, he said, this was not about his own person: at sixty, he could have ended that “beautiful adventure” that his life had been so far. But he was sure that the war could be won: in fact, he had a "key" to accomplish that, but he could not disclose it. He was not willing to let his throat be cut by the King. If, on the other hand, the King would re-confirm his trust in him, the consequences for the supporters of Grandi’s OdG would be dire. At the end of his speech many of the gerarchi were visibly shaken. Grandi, jumping again from his chair, screamed that the Duce with his last words was blackmailing all of them, and, he added, if one must choose between fidelity to him and loyalty to the homeland, the choice was clear. At this point Mussolini gave the word to Scorza, who caught everyone by surprise by presenting his own OdG. This envisaged the nomination of the three war and interior ministers, all under Mussolini, and the concentration of power in the hands of the Fascist Party.
His speech, which Mussolini angrily interrupted, dealt a death blow to the Duce's hopes of defeating Grandi, since the Party was totally discredited among almost all the high-ranking Fascists. At the end of Scorza's intervention the old senator Suardo, crying and still under the effects of the words of Mussolini, announced that he was withdrawing his signature from the OdG Grandi and proposed to unify the three documents. Ciano too, hesitating, asked Farinacci to withdraw his OdG and to ask Grandi to unify their two documents, but Farinacci refused. Bottai replied that, for him, voting for Grandi had become a matter of honor. After other interventions, at two o'clock in the morning, after nine hours of discussion, Mussolini declared the meeting closed and ordered Scorza to proceed with the vote. The OdG Grandi was the first voted on, since it had the most proponents. Scorza gave his vote first, pronouncing a strong "no". After him, old Marshal de Bono said "yes", and towed the undecided with him. In the end, the OdG Grandi obtained 19 votes for, with 8 against. Mussolini declared the document approved and asked who should bring the result to the King. Grandi answered: "You". The Duce concluded, declaring: "You provoked the regime crisis". After that, Scorza tried to call the "saluto al duce", but Mussolini by raising his hand stopped him.
While all the other gerarchi left the palace, their faces showing fatigue, emotion and sadness, Mussolini remained with Scorza, discussing with him the legal value of the OdG. They concluded that it was just a "recommendation" to the King. Scorza suggested to Mussolini that he accept the OdG Grandi, but he refused, since he would have found himself against his allies in the Grand Council. After that, before reaching his wife in Villa Torlonia, he telephoned his mistress, Claretta Petacci, living in her luxury villa called "La Camilluccia", on the slopes of Monte Mario. During his conversation, which was bugged, he told her in desperation: "We arrived to the epilogue, the greatest watershed in history"; "The star darkened"; "It's all over now". Afterwards, Scorza accompanied the Duce to Villa Torlonia: in the car, the dictator exclaimed: "Also Ciano, Albini, Bastianini! Scorza, do you think that good luck has abandoned me?" It was 3:00 am on Sunday 25 July 1943.
Arrest of Mussolini
In the night, just after the end of the meeting, Grandi met with Duke Pietro d'Acquarone: the meeting lasted until 06:00, and Grandi gave to the Duke one of the two copies of the OdG. At 07:00, d'Acquarone informed the King. The King at 09:00 called Badoglio, and told him that he would be the successor to Mussolini. The operation was due to start on 29 July. In the morning, Mussolini went to work at 08:00 as usual. On his desk he found a letter from Tullio Cianetti, withdrawing his vote for the OdG Grandi. Then, he ordered a search for Grandi several times, but although this was in his office at Montecitorio, he let reply that he was not in Rome. It can be thought that the Duce wanted to give him the task to make contact with the Allies to prepare an armistice. Then Mussolini contacted the royal household in order to request an audience with the King, to report on the previous night's meeting. This call unsettled the plans of the King, who after several discussions decided to arrest the Duce on that same day. The audience was then given at 17:00 at Villa Savoia.
General Castellano contacted the commander in chief of the Carabinieri, general Cerica, who organized the arrest. Lieutenant Colonel Giovanni Frignani oversaw the arrest of Mussolini on the orders of the king. Captain Paul Vigneri of the Carabinieri (Calascibetta, March 13, 1907 - Catania, 24 October 1988) was commissioned to carry out the arrest. He was summoned by telephone with his colleague Captain Raffaele Aversa around 14:00 of 25 July by Giovanni Frignani, who explored their method of carrying out the order of arrest issued against the Duce. Vigneri received drastic terms for delivery at any cost of capturing and to complete the mission, as well as three non-commissioned officers of the Carabinieri (Bertuzzi, Gianfriglia and Zenon), who in case of need were allowed to use weapons.
In the meantime, Mussolini met the Japanese ambassador, Shinrokuro Hidaka, who had been waiting three weeks for a courtesy hearing. Hidaka, astonished, heard the dictator requesting that the Japanese Prime Minister, General Tojo, contact Hitler and convince him to reach an agreement with Stalin, and that otherwise Italy would be forced to abandon the alliance. In the afternoon, he visited the San Lorenzo quarter to observe the damage from the bombing. Afterwards, he had a frugal meal at Villa Torlonia. While he was resting on his sofa, his wife Donna Rachele told him not to go to the appointment, since the King could not be trusted. She concluded by telling him: "You won’t be back", but he replied that the King was his best friend.
At 17:00, Mussolini, dressed in a blue suit and a soft grey hat, and escorted by several cars bearing agents of the "presidenziale" (which halted outside the villa), arrived at the Villa Savoia. He brought with him the law of the Grand Council, the OdG Grandi and the letter of Cianetti. The King awaited him at the foot of the patio stair of the villa. The Duce started to speak, trying to convince Victor Emmanuel that the OdG had no legal value, and that many of its supporters had changed their minds in the night. The King interrupted him, and told him softly that the country was broken and that the situation required him to quit his post: the new President of the Council of Ministers would be Marshal Badoglio. Mussolini, visibly shaken, answered: "Then is it over? It is over, it is over. But what will happen to me, to my family?". The King assured him that he would personally take care of his security and that of his family. Victor Emmanuel accompanied him to the door, where he met Captain Vigneri. The Duce went to his car, but the captain told him to go to a nearby ambulance, for his security. Mussolini answered that there was no need for that, but followed the captain. When the rear door opened, he saw three Carabinieri and three policemen sitting on the side banks, and said: "The policemen too? No!" but the captain took his left elbow and led him into the ambulance, which then left the villa's park and rushed through the streets of Rome until reaching the "Podgora" army barracks in Trastevere. After one hour, he was moved to the "Legnano" Carabinieri barracks, in Prati. On the same night, the duce received a kind letter from Badoglio, explaining the necessity of his custody, and asking him where he wanted to be brought. Mussolini answered, choosing as his summer residence, the Rocca delle Caminate, in Romagna. Moreover, he wrote to Badoglio that he was gladly willing to help him and his government.
In any event, a transfer to his summer residence was out of question for obvious reasons: and two days later he was accompanied to Gaeta, where the corvette Persefone brought him to the island of Ponza. After several weeks, he was then transferred to the island of La Maddalena, and finally to Campo Imperatore, where he remained until 12 September 1943, when a German commando unit led by Otto Skorzeny freed him. After the arrest of Mussolini, the King met the queen, who told her husband: "What you did right now was not nice. Mussolini was our guest." At Villa Savoia, after Mussolini's departure, the King walked for a long time in the gardens with his Ordnance Officer, telling him "Today I had my 18 Brumaire".
In the meantime all the telephone centrals were blocked: the new chief of the police, Senise, appointed at 17:30 by Duke d’Acquarone, ordered the questore of Rome to arrest all the gerarchi present in the capital. The EIAR, always linked with the headquarters of the MVSN, was also isolated. In the meantime, the King had his first meeting with Badoglio. At 18:00, the secretary of the Party, Scorza, waiting to meet Mussolini and seeing that he did not come, went to the headquarters of the Carabinieri to ask for news: there he was arrested by Cerica, but released on his word after promising that both he and the Fascist party would be faithful to the new government. The same fate befell the MVSN: its commander in chief, Galbiati, on the morning had proposed to Mussolini to arrest the 19 gerarchi who had voted for the OdG Grandi, but he refused. After knowing at 19 o'clock that Mussolini had been arrested, he observed that the headquarters of the MVSN in Viale Romania had been surrounded by army units. Galbiati then ordered to his men not to provoke incidents. Although the majority of his officers wanted to react, after consulting with four generals, he called the undersecretary to the interiors Albini declaring that the MVSN would have "remained faithful to its principles, that is to serve the fatherland through its pair, Duce and King", continuing that, since the war against the Allies was continuing, the duty of each Blackshirt was to continue the fight. With that, it became clear that Badoglio had nothing to fear on the Blackshirts side. Immediately afterwards, Galbiati was replaced by Armellini, an Army general, and arrested a few days later. The MVSN was then integrated into the Regio Esercito and disbanded.
Announcement and Italian public reaction
EIAR (Italian radio) statement announcing the dismissal of Mussolini and the appointment of Badoglio, 25 July 1943, 22:45.
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|“||Attention. Attention. His Majesty the King and Emperor has accepted the resignation from office of the Head of Government, Prime Minister, and Secretary of State His Excellency Sir Benito Mussolini, and has named as Head of Government, Prime Minister, and Secretary of State the Marshal of Italy, Sir Pietro Badoglio.||”|
|— G. Arista, 25 July 1943|
At 22:45 of that day, a warm summer night, the Roman (and Italian) people heard from the radio the voice of the official speaker Giambattista Arista (nicknamed the "voce littoria"), always used for solemn occasions, announcing that Mussolini had resigned and that Badoglio was the new premier. The communique finished with the words: "La guerra continua. L'Italia tiene fede alla parola data" ("The war goes on. Italy will be true to its word"). After the end of the transmission, the population slowly understood what was going on. Thus Paolo Monelli, writer and journalist, describes what happened in the capital:
"The silence of the summer night is broken by songs, screams, clamors. A group exited by Caffè Aragno climbs up Via del Tritone screaming with a crazy explosion: 'Citizens, wake up, they arrested Mussolini, Mussolini to death, down with Fascism!' It sounded like the scream of a mute who gets his voice back after twenty years. Windows illuminate violently, front doors burst open, houses empty, all are out embracing each other, telling each other the news, with those simple and exuberant gestures belonging to people overwhelmed by emotion. Hotheads throw themselves on the ones still wearing the Fascist pin, tearing it away, trampling on it. 'Off with the bug!' Columns of people go to acclaim the king at the Quirinal, Badoglio at Via XX Settembre."
All over Italy, men and women went on the roads, chiseling away the Fascist emblems and removing propaganda posters from the buildings. In Rome, the government locked up the most important Fascists in Forte Boccea (at that time Rome's military jail). The lack of violence was remarkable: except for a few cases, the people's revenge was limited to tearing off from the jackets of the Fascists the "bug" (the Fascist pin) or forcing them to toast to Badoglio. So, without firing one shot, fell the man and the party who had dominated Italy for the last 21 years: as one of the most important Italian intellectuals, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, wrote in his diary in those days: "Behind the façade there was nothing. The first actor took his large cardboard head off and his idiot servants could be sent home with a cuff".
The Germans got the news of the arrest of Mussolini around 19:30, and at once informed Berlin. The Führer was infuriated, shouting "treason!" several times. Farinacci went to the German embassy, where Kesselring suggested that he join the armored Division "M", composed of devoted Fascists and encamped at Monterotondo, near Rome. From there it could have been possible to march on Rome and free the Duce. Farinacci refused and asked to be brought to Germany. A few hours later, he left Italy by plane from Frascati, landing in Munich. In the meantime, units of the 44th Infantry Division and of the 36th Mountain Brigade of the Wehrmacht broke through the Brenner, Reschen and Toblach passes, occupying South Tyrol. At the same time, other German units penetrated Italy from the Julian and Piedmontese borders. The trains transporting the troops were gilded with writings praising Mussolini and pictures of the fallen dictator. From 26 July until 8 August eight Wehrmacht divisions and one brigade were moved without Italian consent to northern and central Italy: the same troops that had been denied to Mussolini two weeks before in Feltre by Hitler.
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The "forty six days", armistice and civil war
After letting the populace express its joy for one day, on 26 July the government proclaimed a state of siege and a curfew. On 27 July the first council of ministers under Badoglio took place. In this meeting, it was decided to move Mussolini ("The State prisoner") to an island; to dissolve the Fascist Party, the Grand Council, the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations, and the Special Tribunal for the Defense of the State. Moreover, the reconstitution of all political parties was forbidden. Despite this prohibition, representatives of the political parties met on 26 July in Milan, on the night of 27 July in Rome, under the direction of Ivanoe Bonomi, and again in Rome on the 2nd of August. Members of Christian Democracy, the Italian Liberal Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Action Party, and the Italian Communist Party started the organization of a common action against the government; at the same time, several demonstrations against Badoglio resulted in 83 deaths and several hundreds wounded around the country.
Already on Sunday morning Grandi transmitted an account of the meeting to the foreign press representative, but later that day he knew that this had been blocked. Understanding that the new government wanted to let fall into oblivion the Fascist contribution to the fall of Mussolini, Grandi convoked in his office in Montecitorio the ambassadors of Spain and Switzerland, who were as eager as everyone to get first-hand accounts, laying down as his only condition the publication of his account in the press. After the publication of the meeting in the Swiss press on the next day, he met with Duke d'Acquarone, with whom he had a harsh quarrel. Grandi later met the King, Badoglio and the Pope, proposing to be secretly sent to Madrid, where he could meet his old friend Samuel Hoare, British ambassador in Spain. There he hoped to start talks about Italy's surrender. Anyway, the Germans were informed about his visit to Pius XII, and the Gestapo was tracing him. On 31 July he finally met the new foreign minister, Guariglia, but Guariglia showed no hurry to send him to Madrid, so more days were lost.
For the moment the government made no attempt to establish contact with the Anglo-Americans or defend the country from the German invasion. The new foreign minister, Guariglia, was ambassador to Turkey, so precious days were lost waiting for his return from Ankara. The king, after his activism on 25 July, sank again into inaction, delegating the political action to d'Acquarone and Badoglio. The last sentence of the communique of 25 July, while not deceiving Hitler, puzzled the Allies (who after some days started again the bombardments), marking the beginning of that ambiguous policy of the Badoglio government, which would bring about the national catastrophe of 8 September: the meltdown of the armed forces, the missing defense of Rome followed by the flight of the royal family and of the government, the freeing of Mussolini with the establishment of the Italian Social Republic and the Civil War, all of which have their roots in those forty six days between the 25 July and the armistice.
- Bianchi (1963), p. 609
- Bianchi (1963), p. 704
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 21
- De Felice (1996), p. 1391
- De Felice (1996), p. 1092
- De Felice (1996), p. 1117
- De Felice (1996), p. 1125
- De Felice (1996), p. 1137
- Bianchi (1963), p. 283
- De Felice (1996), p. 1168
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 29
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 74
- De Felice (1996), p. 1174
- De Felice (1996), p. 1132
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 77
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 76
- De Felice (1996), p. 1180
- De Felice (1996), p. 1169
- De Felice (1996), p. 1126
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 46
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 56
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 57
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 65
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 58
- This expression (Italian: perdenti e perduti) comes from a pun popular in Italy in 1943: "If the Anglo-Americans win, we are the losers; if the Germans prevail, we are done for". Bottai, op. cit.
- De Felice (1996), p. 1136
- De Felice (1996), p. 1148
- De Felice (1996), p. 1151
- De Felice (1996), p. 1181
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 81
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 82
- Bianchi (1963), p. 379
- Bianchi (1963), p. 382
- Bianchi (1963), p. 392
- Bianchi (1963), p. 413
- Bianchi (1963), p. 417
- Bianchi (1963), p. 426
- De Felice (1996), p. 1184
- Bianchi (1963), p. 427
- Grandi (1983), p. 196
- De Felice (1996), p. 1229
- Bianchi (1963), p. 384-6
- Bianchi (1963), p. 386
- Bianchi (1963), p. 384
- De Felice (1996), p. 1236
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- De Felice (1996), p. 1239
- Bianchi (1963), p. 401
- Bianchi (1963), p. 403
- Bianchi (1963), p. 405
- Bianchi (1963), p. 410
- De Felice (1996), p. 1219
- Bianchi (1963), p. 432
- De Felice (1996), p. 1313
- De Felice (1996), p. 1316
- Bianchi (1963), p. 435
- Bianchi (1963), p. 436
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 71
- De Felice (1996), p. 1193
- De Felice (1996), p. 1198
- De Felice (1996), p. 1199
- De Felice (1996), p. 1203
- De Felice (1996), p. 1220
- Bianchi (1963), p. 445
- Bianchi (1963), p. 451
- De Felice (1996), p. 1226
- De Felice (1996), p. 1186
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 85
- Bianchi (1963), p. 454
- De Felice (1996), p. 1242
- De Felice (1996), p. 1324
- De Felice (1996), p. 1325
- Bullock, Alan (1962), Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, London: Pelican, p. 580
- Bianchi (1963), p. 464
- De Felice (1996), p. 1338
- De Felice (1996), p. 1228
- Bianchi (1963), p. 468
- Grandi (1983), p. 224
- Grandi (1983), p. 225
- De Felice (1996), p. 1227
- De Felice (1996), p. 1243
- Bianchi (1963), p. 466
- De Felice (1996), p. 1248
- Grandi (1983), p. 236
- De Felice (1996), p. 1349
- Bianchi (1963), p. 472
- Grandi (1983), p. 238
- Grandi (1983), p. 239
- De Felice (1996), p. 1188
- De Felice (1996), p. 1350
- Bianchi (1963), p. 477
- De Felice (1996), p. 1187
- De Felice (1996), p. 1189
- Bianchi (1963), p. 481
- "Il significato reale del Comitato di non intervento negli affari di Spagna" (in Italian). international communist party. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- De Felice (1996), p. 1251
- De Felice (1996), p. 1252
- Bianchi (1963), p. 484
- Bianchi (1963), p. 486
- Bianchi (1963), p. 487
- Bianchi (1963), p. 489
- Bianchi (1963), p. 490
- Bianchi (1963), p. 516
- Grandi (1983), p. 243
- Bianchi (1963), p. 496
- Paolo Nello. "Un fedele disubbidiente: Dino Grandi da Palazzo Chigi al 25 luglio" , Il Mulino, 1993.
- Grandi (1983), p. 250
- Bianchi (1963), p. 523
- Bianchi (1963), p. 510
- Grandi (1983), p. 249
- Grandi (1983), p. 246
- Monelli (1946), p. 120
- Bianchi (1963), p. 536
- Bianchi (1963), p. 540
- Monelli (1946), p. 123
- Grandi (1983), p. 256
- Monelli (1946), p. 125
- Grandi (1983), p. 257
- Monelli (1946), p. 124
- Bianchi (1963), p. 575
- Grandi (1983), p. 260
- Bianchi (1963), p. 576
- Monelli (1946), p. 126
- Grandi (1983), p. 263
- Monelli (1946), p. 128
- Bianchi (1963), p. 588
- Grandi (1983), p. 264
- Bianchi (1963), p. 605
- Bianchi (1963), p. 590
- Grandi (1983), p. 265
- Bianchi (1963), p. 596
- Bianchi (1963), p. 597
- Grandi (1983), p. 266
- Bianchi (1963), p. 608
- Grandi (1983), p. 268
- De Felice (1996), p. 1381
- Bianchi (1963), p. 615
- De Felice (1996), p. 1382
- Bianchi (1963), p. 616
- Bianchi (1963), p. 611
- De Felice (1996), p. 1388
- De Felice (1996), p. 1390
- Grandi (1983), p. 272
- De Felice (1996), p. 1385
- Bianchi (1963), p. 647
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 73
- Bianchi (1963), p. 655
- Bianchi (1963), p. 661
- Bianchi (1963), p. 668
- Bianchi (1963), p. 670
- De Felice (1996), p. 1400
- De Felice (1996), p. 1401
- Monelli (1946), p. 142
- Bianchi (1963), p. 687
- Bianchi (1963), p. 694
- Bianchi (1963), p. 732
- At that time it was the most famous caffè in Rome, in Via del Corso, attended by artists and intellectuals
- Bianchi (1963), p. 715
- Bianchi (1963), p. 729
- De Felice (1996), p. 1366
- Bianchi (1963), p. 702
- Bianchi (1963), p. 703
- Bianchi (1963), p. 713
- Bianchi (1963), p. 724
- Bianchi (1963), p. 746
- Bianchi (1963), p. 740
- Grandi (1983), p. 282
- Grandi (1983), p. 283
- Grandi (1983), pp. 368-76
- Bianchi (1963), p. 751
- De Felice in Grandi (1983), p. 106
- De Felice (2008), "La catastrofe nazionale dell'8 Settembre", passim
- Monelli, Paolo (1946). Roma 1943 (in Italian) (4 ed.). Roma: Migliaresi.
- Bianchi, Gianfranco (1989). 25 Luglio: crollo di un regime (in Italian). Milano: Mursia.
- Bottai, Giuseppe (1963). Diario 1935-1944 (in Italian) (1 ed.). Milano: Rizzoli.
- Grandi, Dino (1983). De Felice, Renzo, ed. Il 25 Luglio 40 anni dopo (in Italian) (3 ed.). Bologna: Il Mulino. ISBN 8815003312.
- De Felice, Renzo (1996). Mussolini. L'Alleato. 1: L'Italia in guerra II: Crisi e agonia del regime (in Italian) (2 ed.). Torino: Einaudi. ISBN 8806195697.
- De Felice, Renzo (2008). Mussolini. L'Alleato. 2: La Guerra Civile (in Italian) (3 ed.). Torino: Einaudi. ISBN 8806195719.
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