*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- Italy

World War II: Italy

World War II Italy
Figure 1.--While there was little enthusiasm as a whole in Italy for World War II, this photograph shows that some Italians in 1940 supported Italy's entry into the War. The double "V" is the Itlaian equivalent of "Victory". These Italians in 1940 after the fall of France were demonstrating in support of Mussolini's aspirations to acquire more territory for Italy. "Tunis Italiana" in North Africa. Tunisia at the time still belonged to France. The other sign reads: Corsica. Nizza. Savoia. Corsica used to be Italian until 1 year before Napoleon was born there. History would have been different if that had happened a few years earlier! Nizza is the French city of Nice on the Riviera, a border town with a population that speaks an Italian dialect. Savoia is a French departement west of Turin that the Italians also claimed as historically belonging to Italy.

While little good can be said of the 12 years of NAZI rule in Germany, Italy is significantly different. Although it is not popular to say so, there were, along with the many negative aspects, possitive impacts of Missolini's Fascist movement. It is said that Mussolini made the trains run on time, but in fact there was much more to Fascist rule in Italy. Fascism was in fact a factor for modernization, especially for southern Italy which in the 1920s was still almost feudal. The excesses of the NAZIs were in part limited by the fact that Mussolini was not the homicidal maniac that Hitler was and the that the Italian Fascists were not as committed to the same racist doctrine that the NAZIs persued. Programs like eugenics, Lensensorn, euthenasia, and Eindeutschung, were never persued by the Itlalian Fascists. Here the fact that Mussolini never dared confront the Church as Hitler did, prevented the excesses of the NAZIs. Mussolini remained neutral at the beginning of the War. He was, however, dazzeled by the military success of the NAZIs and joined his friend and Fascist ally in 1940 with an invasion of France, only after France had been essentially destroyed by the Wehrmacht. He was afraid of missing out on the spoils. Mussolini without conferring with Hitler rushed to invade Greece. It proved to be a disaster as was the Italian offensive in North Africa against the British. The Italian Navy fights a series of naval actions with the Royal Navy and is crippled. Italy was, despite Mussolini's boasts, was unprepared for war and without the industrial base for modern war. Mussolini had to ask Hitler for assistance. The Italians lose Libya (November 1942) and then Sicily (July 1943). The Italian people turned on Mussolini as the illconceived War turned against the Italians and their German allies. The Fascist Grancd Council arrests Mussolini. The Italian Fascists were certainly not the friends of Jews, but the Holocaust in Italy was forced on Italy only after the NAZIs occupied Italy and freed Mussolini (September 1943). He was now a pawn of the NAZIs. Mussolini tried to set up a puppet state in Northern Italy. The Allies took Rome (June 1944). Mussolini and his mistress atvthe end of the war attempt to flee with retreating Germam were captured and executed by Italian partisans (April 1945). Hitler saw photographs of Mussolini being strung up by his heels.

World War I (1915-18)

Italy which was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary decided to remain neutral when war broke out (1914). This was a critical decesssion as an Italian attack from the south might have been sufficient to have brought a German vicyory in the west. The followung year the Allies convinced Italy to join them, offering financial assistance and territorial concessions at the expense of Austria-Hungary. Italy declared war on May 23, 1915). Four indesivive battles on the Isonzo River followed with Austro-Hungary (June-December 1915). The Italian goal was to take Trieste, a largely Italian city on the Adriatic. The city was important to the Audstria because it was the Empire's only important port. Without Trieste, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was largely land-locked. The War proved to be much more costly than the Government expected. There were huge casualties and the the financial impact destabilized the Italian economy. And despite the losses and cost, Italy achieved only limited territorial gains.

Fascist Rule

While little good can be said of the 12 years of NAZI rule in Germany, Italy is significantly different. Although it is not popular to say so, there were, along with the many negative aspects, possitive impacts of Missolini's Fascist movement. It is said that Mussolini made the trains run on time, but in fact there was much more to Fascist rule in Italy. Fascism was in fact a factor for modernization, especially for southern Italy which in the 1920s was still almost feudal. The excesses of the NAZIs were in part limited by the fact that Mussolini was not the homicidal maniac that Hitler was and the that the Italian Fascists were not as committed to the same racist doctrine that the NAZIs persued. Programs like eugenics, Lensensorn, euthenasia, and Eindeutschung, were never persued by the Itlalian Fascists.

The Church

Mussolini never dared confront the Church as aggresuvely as Hitler did, a major factor in preventing the excesses of the NAZIs. Mussolini and the Church developed a working relationship. The Church did not criticise Mussolini and the Fascists. The Fascists did nor promote atheism. The Fascists at first pursued an even more aggressiuvelybsecular polictb than the socislist parlimentary regime they replaced. Of course Fascism is one of many manifestations od socialism. By definition, socialists reject religion, all religions. But Italian fascists did not have the vieral hatred of religion exhibited by the Soviets and NAZIs. And the Lteran Treaty regulrized the relzationship between the Church and Fascist Party. The Lateran Treaty was one component of the Lateran Pacts (1929). They were agreements between the Kingdom of Italy under King Victor Emanuel III and the Holy See under Pope Pius XI to settle the long-standing Roman question. The Church was allowed to continue to play a role in education. The Fascists never resorted to mass killing or a massive concentration camp system like that erected by the Germans. Nor did the Fascists pursue eutenesia. These were lines that the Church could not have tolerated and Mussolini held back from them. It is unclear to what extent he was concerned about the Church or just did not have the willingness to kill that Hitler had. Thgere were two popes during the Fascist era, Pope Pius XI (1922-39) and XII (1939-58).


Mussolini had been active in Africa during the 1920s and 30s. The Italian Army used brutal tactics and poison gas to subdue Libya. The Itlalaons invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and again employed poison gas. They were condemned by the League of Nations, a major factor in turning Mussolini away from the Allies into a closer relationship with Hitler. Mussolini after seizing the independent kingdom ofEthiopia, annexed it to Italy (May 9, 1936). Italy proclaimed Ethiopia to be part of Italian East Africa Africa Orientale Italiana ), a federation which also included Eritrea and Italian Somaliland (June 13, 1936). Italian authorities proclaimed King Victor Emmanuel III, emperor. �The Italians attempted to consolidate their colonial information of their East Afrrivan colonies. A variety of development projects includred road building, found industries, and establish agricultural plantations. There was resistance to Italian rule, especially in Ethiopia.

The Axis

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1920s provided a model for Hitler. It was Mussolini in 1936 that proposed a Rome-Berlin AXIS. Hitler and Mussolini agreed to cooperate diplomatically and signed a treaty of frienship (October 25, 1936). Initially Mussolini had been concerned with the rise of the NAZIs and backed Austrian independence. Allied (British and French) opposition to his invasion of Ethiopia apparently had a major impact on reorienting his stratehic thinking. Mussolini first used the term "axis" (November 1). Speaking at Milan's cathedral. he referred to the evolving relationship as an "axis". This appears to be a strange term for an alliance. Apparently the concept was that Europe would revolve around their regimes. This was quickly followed by the Anti-Comitern Pact. Relations with the Soviets which had been damaged with the seizure of Manchuria worsened when Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact (1936). The Japanese and Germans signed a protocol in Berlin aimed directly at the Soviet Union (November 25, 1936). The purpose was to "guard" against the Communistic International. By 1937 it was Hitler that was increasingly calling the tune. He convinced Mussolini, after facing down the British at Munich, to sign the anti-Commitern Pact in Movember 1937.


Mussolini in 1936 began supporting Franco and the Nationaists in their fight against the Republic. While the Allies and America embargoed arms shipments, arms and air support furnished by Mussolini and Hitler were a majpr factor in Franco's victory. The world watched in horror as the Italian Air Force and the Luftwaffe bombed undefended Spanish cities.

Military Services

The Italians had the three major military services. The largest was the Royal Army, the Regio Esercito (RE). Italy wa a heavily populated country and thus mustered a subtantial army. Mussolini bragged about 8 million bayonets. Fascism prided itself on military prowess. This was for the Fascists a key component of a nation state. And the Irlians Fascists had twice ax long as the NAZIs to build an army and embue it with a mattial spirit. And to accomplish this, the Fascists disbanned the Noy Scours and founded the Balilla, a youth group that was aimed at preoaring young people for military service at an early age. In this effort, the Fascists failed. Of all the principal combatant countries, the RE proved to be the least effective army. This in part reflects the inabikity of Italy with its small indidtrial base to equip its army with effective weaponry. An exceotion was the artillery. Perhaps even more important was the inabikity of the poliical and miklitary lkeadership to energize its conscripts, many if whom were uninterested in fufghting a war. Also the officer class did not tke responsibily for eeing to the needs of the conscripts, but instead eem nore intent on nsuring thrir own personal comforts. Ghus despite Mussolini's bluster, Italy did not have a modern army capble of waging war against a modern European nation. The Regia Marina (Royal Navy--RM) on the other hand was a much more modern force. It hadfast vesseks with heavy guns. The RM also had weakenesses. Its cruisers were fast, but lightly armored. Alsi they lscked both radar abd aircraft carriers. The Germans were developing radar, but apperently did not share their advances with the Italians. And the RM leadershio was largely untested. Some of the most impressive results wee achieved by incredibky brave sailors operating mini-submsrines. The Regia Aeronautica (Royl Air Force--RAl was a substantial force. Its aurcraft were not up to thie deployed by other major combatnt nations.

Mussolini's Options

Mussolini gradually moved Italy toward Hitler and Germany. There is no indication, however, that the two planned war together. And Mussolini did not commit Italy to war in 1939. There is no doubt that he coveted Mediterranean terrirory held or under the influence of Britain and France. Italian Libya was bordered by Egypt to the east and Tunisia yo the west. Britain still had military forces in Egypt to protect Suez. And many Italians felt that Tunisia should be their colony. Mussolini also coveted neihboring Greece which had links to the British. Any effort to expand significantly in the Mediterranean, however, would require war with either Britain and France or both. So Mussokini kept his options open. Chamberliain had hoped that Mussolini woyld be a moderating force on Hitler. This proved to be an illusion, both with Austria and at Munich. Chamberlain did not, however, let thsat deter him and still attempted to disuade Mussolini from war. For Mussolini's part, war with the Allies was a huge risk. Not only did Italy not have Germany's industrial base, but its geography as a peninsula exposed Italy to Britain's greatest assett, the Royal Navy, in a way that Germany was not. Mussolini appears to have no realistic assessment of the potential of his military, but still he hesitated and maintained his options open with the British.

Mobilization (September 1939)

Mussolini ordered the mobilization of the Italy's Forze Armate after the NAZI invasion of Poland (September 1939). I do not yet have details on Italian conscription laws. Mussolini ordered a two-phase mobilization with the goal of producing "Eight Million Bayonets." The Italian military by the tgime Germany launched its Western offensive (May 1940) completed the two phases of the mobilization plan. Italy fielded eight field armies, 24 corps, and 68 divisions. This was a massive force, but had many weaknesses. The conscripted soldiers were poorly trauned and motivated. The officer corps did not have the professionalism of the German Wehrmacht nor were their close bonds between the officers and enlisted men. The Army was also poorly equipped. Many units had World war I weapons.

Military Campaigns

Mussolini was dazzeled by the military success of the NAZIs in Poland (1939) and in the West (1940). Mussolini ordered his own invassion in 1939 by seizing Albania. America and Britain tried to convince Mussolini to stay out of the War. Finally he joined Hitler in 1940 with an invasion of France, but only after France had been essentially destroyed by the Wehrmacht. President Roosevelt commented, "The hand that held the dagger has plunged it into the back of its neighbor." Even though France was near collapse, the Italians trrops performed poorly and had to ask for German support. Mussolini hoped to achieve territorial gains in North Africa (Tunisia) and southern France such as Turrin (figure 1), but Hitler would not allow it as the Italians had made no real contribution to the German victory. Perhaps miffed that Hitler did not consult with him, Mussolini carried out another invasion without consulting with Hitler--the invassion of Greece in 1940. After an extremely painful confrontation with Franco, Hitler arriving at the train station in Rome was told by an enthuiastic Mussoline, "Führer, we are on the march." It proved to be a dissaster. The Greeks drove the Italians back accross the Albania border. Even worse, it turned the Greeks which had a Fascist Government from a potentiall ally to an opponent from which the key Romanian oil fields could be threatened. Finally the Germans has to interced in 1941. Yugoslavia and Greece were quickly crushed, but Operation Barbarossa, the invassion of Russia, had to be delayed. The Italain attack on the British in Egypt proved to be another dissaster and Hitler had to send Rommem and the Africa Corps to prevent thh British from seizing Libya. Mussolini sent Itlaian forces to aid Hiter in the invassion of the Soviet Union. Few ever returned. The Italian people turned on Mussolini as the illconceived War turned against the Italians and their German allies. Operation Barbarossa, the invassion of Russia, had to be delayed. The Italain attack on the British in Egypt proved to be another dissaster and Hitler had to send Rommem and the Africa Corps to prevent thh British from seizing Libya. Mussolini sent Itlaian forces to aid Hiter in the invassion of the Soviet Union. Few ever returned. The Italian people turned on Mussolini as the illconceived War turned against the Italians and their German allies >

Italian Military Performance

Hitler at the end of the War concluded that the alliance with Mussolini and the Italians was the greatest mistake of the War. That is arguable, but it seems correct that the Italians caused a great deal of trouble for the Germans and returned very little. Mussolini and his 8 million bayonets failed in every military campaign they initiated, except the invasion of Albania and this was because the Albanians did not resist. The Italians failed in France (1940), Greece (1940), Egypt (1940), and East Africa (1941). Italian troops performed badly in the Western Desert (1941-42), Soviet Union (1941-43), Tunisia (1943), and Sicily (1943). And at the end the Army failed to resist the NAZI take over of their country (1943). After the Italian Armistice, the great majority of the Italian army, left without orders, or was disbanded. Thousands of soldiers were killed by the Germans in attempts to quell any move by the former Axis nation to join the Allies or the partisans, while tens of thousands were disarmed and deported to Germany as prisoners. The Italian Navy and Air Force performed better, but were hampered by inferior equipment. Italian special forces, however, had some impressive achievements. Overall the performance of the Italian military must be ranked as the greatest martial failure of the War. Had the Italians been even marginally effective, they could have easily taken Egyot and Suez early in the War. The question arises as to why. Fieldmarshall Rommel who had extensive experience with the Italian Army said of the Italians, "They are worthless fighting a war, but we should not judge people whether they make good soldiers or not, otherwise there would be no civilisation." [Young] I'm not sure that it was the Italian character. Some have claimed it is the Italian interest in "La dolce vida". That may be a factor, I just do not know. I'm inclined to think it was more ineffective leadership, poor training, obsolete equipment, and inadequate supplies. Italian officers often took little interest in the well being of their men.

Home Front

Italy when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took the country to war was not a major industrial power. Much of he country, virtually the entire south had a largely an agriculural economy. As a result, the country did not have the industrial capacity to equip its military with first class weaponry, especially heavy weapns like tanks. Nor did the country have the industrial capacity to begin to fully motorize its army. Italy was first affected by the War as a result of the Allied naval blockade of Germany. Neutral countries (like Italy and Spain) were not allowed to import material in excess of their needs which might be shipped on to the Gerjmans. Mussolini bragged about 8 million bayonets, but it took more than bayonets and rifles to win a war against modern industrial powers. Italy entered the War on one man's enthusism, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. There was not a great deal of public enthusiam for the War. On the other hand there was no resistance to the War. Italian civilans began to feel the impsact of the War from a very early period. The first impact was war casualties and POWs. Then shortages began to appear. Rationimg became increasinly severe. Italy did not have a strong economy before the war. And the War placed serious constrauints on the ecomomy, mobilization reduced the civilian work force. Italy was not self sufficent in food production and British naval operations made it difficult to import food. Italy also was not self sufficent in energy (both coal and oil), creating further economic problens for civilians. With Axis failures North Africa, air strikes began on Italian cities, including Rome (1943). Major targets included rail marshaling yards which were usually located in city centers. Italy did not have the same industrial infastructure that the air campaign against Germany was comcentrated. Italians found themselkves sitting in bomb sheters--if they were lucky. Few sich shelters existd, Italians had to seek shelter as best they could. There was no real opposition to the Fascist ledership until the Allies landed (September 1943). Unlike Germany, Italy as a peninsula was very vulnerable, especially when going to war against a naval power. Not only did Italy not have an adequate industrial base for the War, it like Germany was a resoirce poor country. Thus early on, shortages of raw material developed, affecting production. In addition, drafting millions of soldiers affected the work force. This was especially the case of the agricultural sector. Italian agriculture was not significantly mechanized. Thus agricultural production fell, creating food shortages which by the time of the Allied invasion were becoming severe. The black market grew in imprtance and cwas often the only way to obtain needed food in the cities. As the war progressed, it became increasingly diffivult to survive on rationed food stuffs, even if they ciould be found in the shops. Unlike the Germans, the Italians did not bring in forced laborers. There were also problems created with northern and southern Italy were sparated during the Italian campaign (1943-45). Th Allies helped feed the liberated south. Conditiins deterirated in the German-occupied north.


Mussolini was not strongly committed to anti-semitism. Mussolini only imposed the first anti-Jewish regulations in 1938, after prompting from Hitler. Italy had a relatively small Jewish popularion of only about 45,000 people. The Italian people and Catholic clergy, however, managed to hide most of their Jews fron the NAZIs and Fascists. Italian Jews were thus spared the full force of the Holocaust and many managed to survive. The worst time came after Mussolinin was deposed and Italy surrenderedc to the Allies. The Germans quickly disarmed the Italian Army and occupied the country. They used the opportunity to begin rounding up and transporting Jews to the death camps. The Germans only managed to deport and kill about 15 percent of Italy's Jews, the lowest ratio in among occupied countries. This is especially surprising given the fact that Italy was an Axis partner. The lack of commitment on the aprt of Mussolini to genocide and the realtively short paeriod of German occupation are factors in the survival of Italian Jews. Considerable controvery surrounds the role of Pope Pious XII. Despite considerable anti-semitism among Catholic clerics, the clergy played a major role in saving Italian Jews. Ilalian priests, nuns, and monks hid Jews in monasteries, convents, schools, and churches. Jewish families were sheltered and fed at great risk to the individuals involved. One historain describes "massive support" on the part of the clergy often without orders from their superiors for the rescue effort.

German Minority

One of the little told occurances in the Italian-German relationship was Mussolini's supression of the German-speaking population of Alto Adige in the North. Given Hitler's use of German minorities as an excuse for demanding territorial concessions, presumably thought that making the region majority Italian would prevent this. The Alto Adige Germans were the only German minority in another country that Hitler left in the lurch. The Fuehrer did not lift a finger when German schools and libraries were closed and people from the South of Italy were brought into the region to create an Italian majority). Hitler was happy to have Mussolini as his ally.

Mussolini Removed (July 25, 1943)

The Fascist Grand Cancel after the loss of Sicily (July 17) removed Mussolini and established a new government. (July 25). Even his son-in-law Count Ciano voted to renove him. The new Government under Field Marshal Badoglio publically insisted that they would continue the War. In fact, the Italians secretly sued for peace. The secret neogitations with the Allies, however, proved tortuous. Hitler was aware that the Italians were negotisting with the allies and began moving German units into Italy.

Negotiations with the Allies

Italian military commanders after the fall of Sicily lost all hope of military victory. Marshal Badoglio and the High Command, supported by the king, decided to open secret negotiations with the Allies. When announcing the arrest, Badoglio added that "the War continues". Badoglio immediately dispatched agents to Spain. He sought to negotiate an armistace with the Allies and take Italy out of the War. Roosevelt was not excited anout dealing with Badoglio and the King because both were tainted by association with Mussolini. Churchill advised dealing with Badoglio, in part to prevent a Communist take over. In the end, Roosevely gave Eisenhower authority to accept Italy's surrender under terms which implied recognition of the Badoglio Government. [McJimsey, p. 296.] Eisenhower oversaw the negotiations and insisted on the Allied demands for unconditional surrender. Badoglio did not understand how insistent the Allies were on unconditional surrender. [Katz] As a result, the talks between the Allies and the the Italians continued with little progress for over 2 moths, This gave the Germans the time needed to move men and materials into Italy.

Allied Invasion (September 3-9, 1943)

The Allies began the Italiam campaign, putting land troops ahore on the European mainland (September 3). Units of the British 8th Army was the first to go ashore, landing at the toe of the Italian boot. The Allies hoped that the Germans would rush south to engage them, but Kesserling did not take the bait. The U.S. 5th Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed next at the Gulf of Salerno in force (September 9). The British than landed at Taranto in the arch of the boot. The Germans fought delaying actions in the south against the British and concentrated his forces on the Americans at Salerno. There were 6 days of heavy fighting. German Panzers for a time put the landings in danger. The beachead was finally secure untill the British hooked up with the Americans south of Salerno (September 16). The British took the important airfields at Foggia (September 27). The British also took Naples with one of the most important ports in Italy (October 7). This left the Allies in control of southern Italy and the Germans did not have the capability of disloging them.

Italian Campaign (1943-45)

The Allied invasion of southern Italy launched the Italian campaign (Deptember 1943). This is one of the more controversial Allied campaigns. The Allied effort in Italy and the Mediterrean in general is of grrater importance than often noted in assessments of World War II. Marshall Bodaglio arrested Musollini (July 25). Bodgalio and the King tried to convince Hitler that they were committed to the War. Hitler did not belireve them for one minute and 12 divisions, despite the deteriorating conditions on the Eastern Front, were rushed south into Italy. With the Italian surrender, the Germans occupied Italy (September 1943). Several months of very diffifult fighting followed the Allied landings at Salerno. Kesserling very effectiently organized the German defenses. The Germans while in control of Rome seized more than 1,000 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz. American intrcepts recently released reveal that Hitler himself overrode his local commanders on arresting the Jews. These intercepots also make it clear that Pope Pius XII's policy of silaence primarily stemed from a cponcern to protect the physical integrity of the Vatican. [Katz] Rome was liberated by the Americans on June 4, but the Allied failed to trap sizeable German units. The world's focus turned on July 6 to the coast of France and the D-Day invasion. The final NAZI defensive line in northern Italy, the Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains was assaulted by the American 10th Mountain Division (February 1945).

Armistice (September 8, 1943)

Badoglio announced an armistice with the Allies (September 8). It was in effect a surrender to the Allies. Badoglio knew, however he had much more to fear from the Grmans thn the Allies. Fearing reprisals from the Germans, Badoglio with the King promply fleed Rome to reach Allied lines. The actual Armistice was signed on Malta. Most of the Italian Army was left without orders. A few units managed to stand together. Some went over to the Allies, such as the garrisons of Sardegna and Corsica. Others units stood with the Germans. A virtual Civil occurred within the military and the Fascist Government between pro-Axis cause and pro-Allied forces. The bulk of the Army wanted nothing more to do with the war. The Germans managed to disarm them and ship them north to POW camps in Germany before the Allies could land in force. Fascist Italy was the first Axis partner to fall to the Allies. The Armistice was unusual, because the Allies saw it as surrender, the Italians as an armistace. The most unusual part of it was usually an armistace ends the fighting. For the Italian people it was in many ways just the beginning of the fighting.

Defeated Nation

Italy despite Fascist propaganda had not been prepared for war. It was also not a rich country. There was substantial poverty in Italy before the War. The War reaked havoc on the Italian econmy. Production was diverted to support the war. Conscription adversely affected, both agricultural and indusdtrial production. The British destroyed the Italian merchant marine, cutting Italy off from both petroleum and other raw materials. The Allies by 1943 had begun bombing Italian targets. The Italian people except for Fascist loyalists wanted not part of the War. Unfortunately for the Italian people. worse was to come with Italy becoming a battlefield for the Allies and Germans.

NAZIs Seize Control

Hitler was not fooled by the Badoglio's assurances that Italy would continue the War. The NAZIs also treated Italy differently than the Allies, Hitler ordered Italy occupied by the Wehrmacht which quickly moved south. The German move into Italy seriously depleting the country's strategic reserves. Coming on the heels of the defeat at Kursk, the power of the Whermacht was seriously eroding, but still capable of executing an effective delaying action in the rugged teraune of mountaneous Italy. After Badoglio announced the Armistice (September 8), the NAZIs moved quickly to seize control and disband the Italian Army. The NAZIs gave the Italians soldiers the choice of fighting with the Germans or interment. The Italian Army for the most part did not resist the Germans. The NAZIs killed thousands of Italian soldiers who did not fully cooperate at this time. Large numbers were interned and deported to the Reich.

Italian Military

Much of the Italian Army was disaeme and interned by the Germans immediately after the Armistice (September 8). There was no organized resistance to the Germans. This is in part because when Marshal Badoglio fled Rome, he left the Army without orders. The Navy managed to get most of its ships out of port before the Germans could seize them. The Army, however, largely stayed in their barracks. It is unclear to what extent the Army would have fought if Badoglio had ordered them to do so. Some isolated Italian Army units did resist and when the Germans forced them to surrender, they often executed the srvivors. Most of the Army surrendered to the Germans who disarmed them and transported them to the Reich where they were interned. Thus when the Allies landed and began to move north, Italy was essentially without an army. The Allied Italian campaign aimed at knocking Italy out of the War was immediately confronted with another occupied country. The task of driving north to the Reich was thus for the most part conducted without the Italians. After the fall of Rome (June 4, 1944), there were some Italian units that had been formed and entered the fight in the north. The resistance alo played an important role in the north.

Impact on Civilians

Italian civilans began to feel te impsact of the War from a very early period. The first impact was war casualties and POWS. Then shortages began to appear. As the Axis position in North Africa deteriorated, air strikes began on Italian cities. It was the Allied invasion of southern Italy that finally brought the war home to Italy. The home froint suddently became the front line. Hitler was at first prepared to withdraw up the peninsula. Fiekld Marsg\hall Kesserling convinced him to contest the Allied invasiion even in the South and the American Salerno landings almost failed. What followed was a extended campaiugn all the way up the peninsula. Kesserling used the rugged Italian terraine to good effect iun slowing the Allied drive north. The Allies focused on the cross-Channel invasion of France were not prepared to commiot sufficent forces to Italy to overwealm the German defences. The capaign proved deadly to Italian civilians. The Germans looked on them as traitors and took out their hatred on civilians. Civilians were brutalized even shot. And ascthecResistahce began to form effective units, there were a number of German reprisals on whole villages andd hostages. These were conducted by the Wehrmacht, not the SS. Thus the Italian people experienced some of the same brutality thatv they had imposed on other people. The Germans turned towns and villages as strong points. The Allies used their advantages in artillery ad air power to pand the town and villages where the Germans set up their defenses. And World War II could not be targeted with great precession. The result was not only wrecked town, but terrible civilian casualties. Civilans were caught in vrossfire as well as exposed to landmines. The Italian economy collapsed and even basic food stuffs became difficukt to obtain.

NAZIs Rescue Mussolini (September 12, 1943)

After the fall of Sicily (July 17, 1943), Mussolini was moved from power by the Fascist Grand Council. He was arrested and detained in remote locations as the Italians were fearful that Hitler would try to rescue him. Which is precisely what he did. The Italian Military Intelligence (SIM) hide him and German Intelligence Agents attempt to locate him. Finally they learned where he was being held (September 12). SS SS Major General Otto Skorzeny was put in charge of a resuce group. In one of the most spectacular comando operations of the War, German Parachutists rescued him (September 14). A small German paratrooop unit used gliders to free Mussolini from the Gran Sasso mountain top in the Abruzzi Mountains during the Badoglio putsch in 1943. It was a daring operation conducted by worthwhile to make a Hollywood movie about it, inconceivable of course, because that would glorify the NAZIs. Skorzeny did it with 90 soldiers who used gliders. The Italian garison of 250 men, who were guarding Mussolini, were taken by surprise and surrendered within minutes. Skorzeny proudly delivered Mussolini by air to Hitler's command post at Rastenburg. Hitler was shocked at Nussolini's gaunt appearance. Some of Mussolini's most loyal Fascist compatriots were waiting for him there.


There was no effective Resistance movement in Italy until the removal of Mussolini (July 1943). Much of the Resistance formed around the soldiers of the Italian Army which essentially disbanded (September 8). [Agarossi] The effectiveness of the Resistance in fighting the Germans was weakened aa a result of the development of a civil war between Communist and non-Communist factions. [Lamb]

Fascist Northern Italy (September 23, 1943)

Mussolini at this stage was essentially a broken man. Hitler had to us considerable pressue to convince him to accept a continued political role keeping the Axis allive. He was installed as the figurehead leader of a new Fascist state. The new Italian Fascist Government was formed in northern Italy still in German hands (September 23). The Repubblica Sociale Italiana" (RSI) was curiously founded at Salo, a remote village on the Garda Lake. The new government was a "Republic" because the King had fled with Badoglio. As a propaganda ploy to appeal to Italian workers, the new Government passed sweeping social reforms. Some authors maintain that in social and economic areas, the Government maintained considerble independence from the the NAZIs. Mussolini felt he was "let down" by the Italian people. He ordered a revival of his military with a new Republic National Guard, police,,and 10th Squadron naval commandos. Very little of the Italian Army exhibited any loyalty to thre new Government and was held in POW camps in Germany until the end of the War. It was the Germans who provided effective resistance to the Allied push north.

Italian Army in the North

One author describes the contribution of the Italian Army to the Allies in the final months of the war in the north. The Italian troops reportedly earned the confidence of British and American commanders. [Lamb] This is something wedo not yet go much about.

World War II Italian war orphans
Figure 2.-- Here we see 9 year old Vicenzo Biscardo who had been adopted by American GIs chatting with a friend. Theu look to be in or near Rome. Unfoirtunatelky we have little information about Vicenzo.

Fascist Collsse in the North

After the fall of Sicily, the Fascist Grand Council renoved and arrested Mussolini. He became a pawn of the NAZIs. Afyer the NAZIs rescued him from a mounbtaun-top rrison, Mussolini tried to set up a puppet state in Northern Italy. The Allies took Rome (June 1944). The Fasiscts helpd out over the winter. The Allied Spring offensive meabt the end. Mussolini and his mistress atthe end of the war attempt to flee with retreating. He prestended to be a druken German in a convoy north. The parisans recognized him. The Grmans did not intervene. The Partisans summarily executed in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra in northern Italy (April 28, 1945). Hitler saw photographs of Mussolini being strung up by his heels.

German Surrender (May 2, 1945)

The first great German surrender occurred in northern Italy. The Allies in a biterly fought 3-month campaign during the Spring of 1945 drove across the Po Valley. As German resistance crumbled, the Allies made spectacular advances. Columns of German soldiers were desperately trying to reach the Reich. Partisans captured and executed Mussolini as he was trying to flee with the Germans (April 28). The first surrender came in Italy without authorization. SS General Karl Wolff had been engaged in prolonged and unauthorised negotiations with the Allies. Wolff and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Group C/10th Army, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff on their own authority signed the terms of the surrender at Caserta (April 29). General W. D. Morgan, representing Supreme Mediterranean Commander [Harold] Alexander, signed for the Allies. The ever suspicious Stalin saw this as the beginning of a separate Allied peace with the NAZIs. Hitler as the Red Army troops neared his Berlin bunker, finally committed suiside (April 30). With Hitler's death, the way was clear for NAZI Germany to finally surrender. Hitler designated his successors. Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). Goebbels and his wife, however, committed suicide after killing their children (May 1). This left it to Dönitz to arrange the surrender of the Third Reich. The two German commanders as already planned ordered German armed forces in Italy to cease hostilities (May 1). The surrender document provided that all German forces in Italy to surrender unconditionally to the Allies (May 2). On that same day, the commander of the German Army Group G north of Italy began communicating with Major General Jacob Devers. The surrender of Army Group G was made effective beginning (May 6). Some 0.5 million German troops along with some Italian Fascists were taken into custody. Most were held through 1946, some even longer. The arrangements were negotiated by Allied commnders. The Italians now on the Allied side were given respobsibility for the logistics of taking the Germans into custody and maintaing the camps for their internment. [Niglia, p. 14.] Within a few days the arrangement was refined. The Allied Commission on Italy proposed to the Italian government in an arrangement to place captured German prisoners under their disposal to work on reconstruction projects (May 14). The prisoners would remain under the authority of the United States and the United Kingdom who would supply their shelter and provisions. Guarding the prisoners was to be the responsibility of the Italian authorities, who would supervise all work projects.


We so not yet have nuch information on Individual children. We note some boys that were more or less adopted by American and apparently British soldietrs during the Itlaian campaign. This did mot occur in France to the same extent. We think it has to do with duration of the campaign, the level of destruction, and the virtual compolete collapse of the civil government in Italy. The fact thast there were many Italians in the U.S. Army have been a factor. There were many Italian war orphans and displaced children. We notice Vicenzo Bicardo and Tony Mao. There was even a popular American comic strip --'Dondi'.

War Damage

Italy was not a rich country before the outbreak of World War II. The country despite Fascist propaganda to the contrary was not prepared militarily to enter the War or to support an extended War effort. The war was a disaster for Italy. Over 0.3 million Italian military personel were killed or missing. Thre were bombing raids before the Allied invasion (September 1943). Most of the civilian casualties and destruction occured, however, after the Allied invasion. Much of this occurred in connection with Allied assaults on German positions. The Germans set up a series of defensive lines as the Allies pushed then north. The Allies to minimize battelfield losses would use their superority in artillery and air power to heavily shell German positions. As a result of the inaccuracy of aerial bombing at the time, large areas around or near German positions including tows and villages were destroyed. The result was an Italy with large areas devestated by the War. About 70,000 civilians were killed. Such numbers while a tragedy were relatively small compared to other countries devestated by the War. The physical damage in Italy, however, was very substantial. Many towns and villages were heavily damaged or competely destroyed. One estimate suggests that about 10 percent of the physical plant of Italy was destroyed in the fighting.


Mussolini under Fascism glorified war. Despite nearly two decades of Fascist rulle, Mussolini never suceeded in inculcating the blood lust among his soldiers that Hitle and the Japanese militarists achieved. Italy began the military engagements leading up to World War II in Europe by invading Ethiopia (1935), but casualties were limited because Ethiopia did not have a modern army. Casualties were also limited in Spain when Mussolini intervened to support Franco's Nationalists (1936-39). There was little resisance when Mussolini invaded Albania (1939). This changed when Mussolini joined Hitler in World War II (June 1940). Te French although essentially already defeated by the Germans fought the Italaians. Significant casualtes began when Mussolini rdred an invasion of Greece just before the onset of winter weather (October 1940). Fighting in the moutaneous area between Albania and Greece resultd in substantial casualties for the first time. More csualties were suffered when the Italians invaded British held Egypt (Sepember 1040). This began a desprat struggle in the Western Desert. The Italians fared poorly and Mussolini had to ask for German support. Large numbers of Italians finally surrendered in Tunisia (May 1943). Casualties were limited by th fact tht theItalians wre prone to sundring eather than figting a pitched battle, esecially when not operating with German units. gnifant losses were sustained in the soviet Union as a result of the Stalingrad fighting. The despirited Itlian Army offered little resistance when the Allies invded Sicily (July 1943). After the Italins surrendered to the Alies, the Germans interned most of the Italiam Army (September 1943). While the talian Army did not suffer significan casualties in the fighting for Italy, the Resistance did sustain casualties and there were substantial civilian csualties. Military cualties totaled about 0.3 million. Civilian casulties were under 0.2 million, mostly occuring as the Allies fought the Germans up the Italian Peninsula (1943-45).

Occupation and Aftermath

The Allied Military Government (AMG) was first established in Sicily after the invasion (July 1943). The same basic system was used in Italy after the Armistace and Allied invasion (September 1943). The AMG attempted to cooperate with civilian authorities as much as possible. Article 37 of the Instrument of Surrender (September 29) gave the Allies the authority to establish a military government. The Allies created a Control Commission to administer the AMG (November 10, 1943). As in the rest of war-torn Europe, the economic conditions were very difficult. Italy was treated differently by the Allies than Germany and Japan. It is difficult to say if Italy was liberated or occupied. Before the War, Mussolini's Fascist seems to have had a firm grip on the population. This seems to have disappeared by the time the Allies arrived. Most Italians do seem to have seen the Allies as liberators, in part because the Germans had occupied the country. Many Itlalians were also glad to see the allies arrive because as the front moved north it mean essentilly that the war was over. This was somewhat complicated because while the Communists cooperated with the Allies to fight the Germans, they wanted to create a Communist-controlled government after the War. The guilt for the War was laid on Mussolini and the Fascists and not on the new government established after Mussolini and the Fascist fell from power. Although there was no real Resistance movement in Italy before the Resistance, the Communists played a role in the resistance fighting after the Armistice. After the War there was a referendum over the monarchy which resulted it its abolisment. The AMG Control Council was closed down after the finalizatuion of the Italian Peace Treaty (1947).


Agarossi. Elena. A Nation Collapses: The Italian Surrender of September 1943. Translated by Harvey Fergusson II. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2000). 187p.

Lamb, Richard. War in Italy 1943-1945: A Brutal Story .

Young, Desmond. Rommel.


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Created: January 6, 2003
Last updated: 5:47 PM 6/9/2021