By Benito Mussolini
Comrades! Senators! Gentlemen!
It was exactly thirteen years ago—on April 2, 1925—that I had the honour of speaking before you on problems of a military character.
In that now distant but perhaps not wholly forgotten speech I presented the problem of our defense and organization in its essential aspects. I daresay that on that day our road was guided by a compass, a goal toward which we daily directed our energies, a goal which can be summed up in this statement: to make the Armed Forces of the Nation ever more efficient and ever more feared.
After thirteen years I desire to inform you in the most concise and complete manner, with the necessary reserve of certain data, about what has been done for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
I will start with the Army, to which belongs the task of defending our frontiers. I hasten to add that defense must not be taken in its limited sense: often the best defense is offense.
Nature has provided Italy with a considerable guarantee of security in her frontiers. Once some passes of the great circle are hermetically sealed—which we are doing—the Alps will become impassable and not only during the winter months.
Sheltered by this gigantic fortification established by God thousands of years ago lives and develops a people whose numeric mass gives it—Russia excluded—third place in Europe and which is one of the most homogeneous in the world.
Within the current year Italy will have 44,000,000 inhabitants. In ten years it will attain in its home territory alone 50,000,000.
We must keep this in mind when we speak of arms and soldiers. Without men the battalions can not be made, and it takes many men to make big battalions.
Calling to arms all men from 21 to 55 years old, Italy can mobilize 8,000,000 men, and adding young men of 18, 19, and 20 years more than 9,000,000. Figuring that 50 percent of this mass is assigned to rearguard service—important in modern war—there remain four to five million front-line combatants.
You cannot deny, honourable comrades, that such a mass is an imposing one. On March 1, 1938, we could mobilize completely in a short time a number of units superior to those of Vittorio Veneto.
This shows how ridiculous are the polemics of certain circles beyond the Alps according to which the African war, the formation of two army corps in Libya and the participation of volunteers in the Spanish war have weakened us.
On the contrary, all that strengthened us, not only from a moral standpoint, as happens when we win, but also in methods which which we have from time to time perfected and brought up to date. In organization and in men our army is the only one to have experienced and won a war since the Great War.
Alongside of the great chiefs, Badoglio, De Bono and Graziani, we have dozens of generals who have fought or refought wars. They have again risked themselves in this supreme event in the life of a people. There are thousands of officers of every grade who have led men into battle.
Against a warrior and cruel enemy such as the Abyssinian or in a war now classically European such as the Spanish war there are at least hundreds of soldiers who have marched, fought and suffered...
It is my contention that all these men who have experienced one, two and sometimes three wars may constitute at the proper moment one or more armies of manoeuvre or assault.
We shall morally, physically and politically prepare the new generation for the new and always harder task. Thus while the glorious veterans of the Great War, who measured themselves victoriously against such traditional warrior races as the Austrian and Magyar, are declining, their sons and nephews spring up, capable of following the example of their elders with the manifest desire to surpass them.
The officers of the Italian Army of all branches and corps—due to their high sense of duty, their physical and moral courage, their uprightness and chivalry, their camaraderie and their spirit of sacrifice—truly constitute a hierarchy of national values worthy of the most unconditional respect.
The problems that concern them tend to be solved in such a way that the needs of individuals are reconciled with the higher collective needs of the Army and the Nation. No less worthy of praise are the non-commissioned officers whose conditions the Ministry is particularly attentive to. To mobilize one million men, we need enormous material resources, whose magnitude ranges from one million to one billion for such things as portable weapons cartridges.
This is not the most appropriate place to expose our war doctrine, as we have elaborated and updated it in light of old and recent experiences, both our own and others. I will only tell you that we tend to prepare men and equipment for a lightning war (guerra di rapido corso). For this reason the individual training of the soldier and the collective units will never be sufficiently taken care of...
In Fascist Italy the problem of the single command—which torments other countries—is resolved: the political-strategic direction of war comes from the Head of Government, and its application is assigned to the Chief of General Staff and to the subordinate organisms.
History, our own included, demonstrates that dissension between the political and military conduct of a war is always fatal. In Fascist Italy this peril does not exist.
In Italy, war—as it was in Africa—will be directed, under the King's orders, by one person alone: the man who is speaking to you now, if destiny once more brings this task.
Italy, and especially Italy, has a duty and a right to possess a War Navy worthy of its name. We are building such a one now.
Between 1940 and 1941, and if possible earlier, the backbone of our fleet will be constituted of eight battleships totaling 240,000 tons. After the battleships come smaller surface ships with tonnage ranging from the 10,000 tons of the "Trento" cruiser to the 600 tons of torpedo boats. It is a remarkable mass of easily-handled, well-armed, speedy units all or nearly all built during our Era.
Now we come to underwater vessels. I confirm to the Senate that Italy today has the world's most powerful submarine fleet. We have outdistanced everybody and in such a way that it will be very difficult if not impossible for them to catch up with us and take away this supremacy.
The organization of the Navy can respond to the task entrusted to it.
To those who say in future wars the battleships will remain under guard in ports as in the Great War, I say this will not happen to Italy; it is not a question of the place of a ship, it is the spirit of the men and the orders they receive.
Fundamental for the efficiency of the Navy is the existence of numerous equipped "bases". All our bases in the central and eastern Mediterranean have been meticulously reinforced. Along with these bases large works for storing fuel have been achieved, bearing in mind the latest devices of modern engineering.
I tell you that we have in our deposits enough fuel necessary for a long period of operations. The same can be said for ammunition and torpedoes. . . .
Coastal defense, except in some areas of major importance, is entrusted to the Blackshirts, who perform their task in a most commendable way.
It is well known, honourable Senators, that from 1919 to 1922 a literal massacre was deliberately perpetrated against our Air Force. It was only after Fascism came to power that the Air Force was revived. The stages of this rebirth are consecrated in the laws and measures that gave a lift back to the Fatherland.
In the decade between 1924-1934, Italian Aviation organized itself and established itself brilliantly with the memorable Mediterranean and oceanic flights. The foundations were laid for massive construction, which began in July 1934... Today Italian Aviation is one of the finest in the world. Next to the auxiliary aliquots of the Army and the Navy and the colonial ones, the Air Force has finally arisen. Some thousands of airplanes, the majority of which are of the most modern type, form our Air Force.
The tendency of our aeronautical engineering is to construct an airplane to be used also for night and day bombings; for a fighter plane with a high speed, but above all with easy maneuverability. Our CR.32 fighters, although less fast, have in the Spanish skies shot down many faster Curtiss and Rata type planes.
We are moving towards constructing our planes partially or totally with metal. The twin-engine planes are preferred for reconnaissance and light bombing; but for bombardments far away from bases with a heavy load of bombs it is necessary to use the tri-motored type. We have one type of tri-motor plane which other countries envy and for which we receive many order requests. The four-engine type may be used for civil lines. Airplanes with a larger number of engines have not proved efficient. The famous Do-X with 12 engines after long anticipation was used for scrap metal.
We hope to achieve complete autarchy in aeronautical construction. We intend to attain the maximum security.
Italian aviators, officers and non-commissioned officers are now legendary. What they have done and do, in peace and in war, has aroused general admiration. Their professional expertise and their disregard for danger have no parallel in the world. Hundreds of them have now experienced two wars.
Many have fallen in combat or in the fulfillment of their duty.
There exists in Italy the possibility of having 20,000 to 30,000 pilots by means of aeronautical conscription, which only we have introduced, and through the enthusiasm that exists among the Italian youth.
Our doctrine of aerial warfare was tested by experience before being officially adopted. Stripped of every polemical passion, Douhet's vision seems to us like something of a precursor. War from above must be conducted in such a way as to disrupt the enemy's devices, dominate the sky, and weaken the morale of their population. The whole technique of aerial bombardment has improved and therefore the possibility of hitting the target, even when in motion, has increased. War from the sky is destined to assume an ever greater importance in the war of tomorrow.
It must be recognized that anti-aircraft artillery has come a long way, and remarkably so.
The best passive defense against air attack consists in sending away from the great demographic centres all those—and they are many—who are not absolutely required to live there. From this moment I say that all those who can organize their existence in smaller towns and in the countryside would do well not to wait until the final hour. Tomorrow, in case of war, everything which prevents mobilization might be prohibited. So much the worse then for those who have not foreseen this and are late.
My examination of our military situation would not be complete if I did not recall the activity of the Blackshirts, both those framed in the legions and battalions, and those belonging to the special Militias. Together they form what might be called the horizontal military organization of the Nation.
The Blackshirts have proven their value, heroically fighting in Africa and Spain. Their presence gives the people an example of discipline and order. ...tens of thousands of officers have the opportunity to serve in their ranks.
The work of the Russian Chief of General Staff deserves to be mentioned. The Militia is founded on an absolutely new type of voluntarism, that is to say, Fascist; it is a voluntarism that can last 10 years, 20 years, or even an entire lifetime.
Based on what I have told you, I hope a conviction will arise in your soul: a conviction that military concerns are fundamental and I dedicate the major part of my day to them.
This task is greatly facilitated by the diligent and valuable assistance that is given to me by Undersecretaries Pariani, Cavagnari and Valle, with whom every military problem is examined and discussed: we work together in a comradely way, as one soul dedicated to a common objective.
We intend to ensure the general peace, but above all "our" peace. We reject illusions and utopias and for this reason we have left the shop which sells them at Geneva. That which always has counted and still counts among peoples is their war-making potential. We place spiritual power in the first line of our potentials. In Italy it was never as deep, as widespread, as ardent and as volitional as it is today.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the Italian who found in France the instrument for extending his consummate military genius, foresaw this: during the war in Spain, when the Marshal of France, Suchet, asked the Emperor to place at his disposition the Italian Palombini Division, Napoleon replied: "You are right; these Italians will one day be the first soldiers of the world."
That is what we desire: that Napoleon's prediction will become the Fascist and Roman reality of our time.