Since many have requested it, here I have collected the series of articles I wrote in the months of June and July , which were published in Corriere della Sera.
The purpose of this is to make known the facts and events which took place in the most tragic months of recent Italian history. In other words, my intention is to offer documentation that can be read in due time and which can not be denied, since all that is written here is true, that is to say, it actually happened. The moral is contained in the story itself and in its fatal consequences.
Italy today is crucified, but the morning twilight of its Resurrection can already be seen on the horizon.
CHAPTER I: FROM EL ALAMEIN TO THE MARETH LINE
CHAPTER II: THE MESSE CASE
CHAPTER III: FROM PANTELLERIA TO SICILY
CHAPTER IV: THE LANDING IN SICILY
CHAPTER V: THE INVASION AND THE CRISIS
CHAPTER VI: FROM THE FELTRE MEETING TO THE NIGHT OF THE GRAND COUNCIL
CHAPTER VII: THE GRAND COUNCIL MEETS
APPENDIX (I) TO CHAPTER VII: THE TEXTS OF THE THREE MOTIONS
GRANDI'S ORDER OF THE DAY
FARINACCI'S ORDER OF THE DAY
SCORZA'S ORDER OF THE DAY
APPENDIX (II) TO CHAPTER VII: THE COMMAND OF THE ARMED FORCES IN THE FIELD WAS ENTRUSTED TO ME ON BADOGLIO’S INITIATIVE
1. MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCE, 19th APRIL 1940
2. PROTOCOL NO. 5372
3. MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCE, 10th MAY 1940
4. CONFIDENTIAL MINUTE ON THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR
5. PROTOCOL NO. 5569
CHAPTER VIII: FROM THE VILLA SAVOIA TO PONZA
CHAPTER IX: FROM PONZA TO LA MADDALENA TO THE GRAN SASSO
CHAPTER X: THE DYNASTY’S FIRST CRY OF ALARM
CHAPTER XI: TOWARDS CAPITULATION
CHAPTER XII: SEPTEMBER ON THE GRAN SASSO
CHAPTER XIII: THE CROWN COUNCIL AND THE CAPITULATION
CHAPTER XIV: ECLIPSE OR SUNSET?
CHAPTER XV: A “STORK” OVER THE GRAN SASSO
CHAPTER XVI: ONE OF MANY: THE COUNT OF MORDANO
CHAPTER XVII: THE DRAMA OF THE DIARCHY
FROM THE MARCH ON ROME TO THE SPEECH OF JANUARY 3RD
FROM THE GRAND COUNCIL LAW TO THE JULY CONSPIRACY
CHAPTER XVIII: ANOTHER OF THE MANY: PORTRAIT OF AN EXECUTIONER
CHAPTER XIX: THE MEETING AT THE PALAZZO VENEZIA ON OCTOBER 15th, 1940
CHAPTER XX: CALVARY AND RESURRECTION
CHAPTER I: FROM EL ALAMEIN TO THE MARETH LINE
Those who have written of the Italian disaster in the summer of 1943 have so far completely overlooked one fact: namely, that the prime origin of the disaster was French and goes back to one date: November 8th, 1942.
It was the so-called “dissident” France, the France of the Jews, Freemasons and Bolsheviks, that opened the door of the Mediterranean to America. In that November dawn a decisive episode in the conspiracy against Italy was enacted. While the English kept a distance due to fear of wounding any still existing French susceptibilities, the American convoy reached the port of Algiers and disembarked the first formations of troops and armoured cars, not merely unopposed but triumphantly received by their French accomplices. De Gaulle’s betrayal of France was only the prelude to Badoglio’s betrayal of Italy; two links in the same chain.
It was clear from the first moment that the landing of an American army in the Mediterranean constituted an event of major strategic significance, destined to modify if not reverse the balance of power in that sector which Italy had always considered of the greatest importance, if not actually decisive. The great pincer movement traceable in the summer of 1942 when the Germans were climbing the first slopes of the Caucasus and Rommel’s Italo-German armies were knocking at the door of Alexandria — this movement was now neutralised and rendered inachievable. Instead, there might be discerned the no less great Allied strategic manoeuvre which, starting from Algeria and Egypt, was to end by squeezing the Italo-German forces in Libya into a position from which there was no way out. The Axis took immediate counter-measures and occupied the whole of France as well as Corsica and Tunisia.
Only on one condition could these measures have modified the fundamental strategic situation created by the Allied landing; namely, if the flow of troops and supplies to the Axis had been on a scale enabling them not only to resist but to attack, particularly in the initial period, when the American forces had not yet reached the size they subsequently attained. But in order to attack we should have needed an air superiority which did not exist, and as to supplies, these were hindered on a growing and almost prohibitive scale by the English naval and air forces which had command even of the shortest crossing, i.e., the Sicilian Channel, which might well be called the graveyard of the Italian mercantile marine.
Viewed schematically the situation was as follows: a steadily growing inflow of Allied forces; and steadily growing difficulties for the Axis. On October 23rd, on the eve of the Algiers landing, Montgomery attacked and broke through our positions at El Alamein; and the enemy forces in east and west began their march towards each other.
In Italy the moral repercussions of the American landing in Algiers were immediate and profound. Every enemy of Fascism promptly reared his head; the first of the traitors, minor figures even though some were National Councillors, emerged from the shadows. The country began to feel the strain. As long as only the English were in the Mediterranean, Italy, with Germany’s assistance, could hold firm and resist, though at cost of ever greater sacrifices; but the appearance of America disturbed the weaker spirits and increased by many millions the already numerous band of listeners to enemy radio, while the Anglo-American landing in Algiers furnished those traitors who had not yet dared declare themselves, with an “alibi” for their future conduct. Only one measure could have reversed the situation: the taking of the original enemy positions in North Africa in the rear; but this, although envisaged, was not attempted.
The sixteen days from October 23rd to November 8th were of incalculable historical importance as succeeding events have shown. From that moment the strategic initiative passed to the Allies. The attack on the El Alamein front revealed the crushing land and, above all, air superiority of the English. Rommel’s previous attempt, which had made a promising start on August 28th, was brought to a standstill three days later owing to lack of fuel which, together with the convoys, had been sunk to the bottom of the sea.
Once this attempt had failed, it would have been wiser not to hold the El Alamein-El Quattara line any longer, but to withdraw the non-motorized Italian troops on to the Sollum-Halfaya line. When I left Dema in July I had given written orders to Marshal Bastico and General Barbasetti to reorganise this line and to garrison it with all available forces drawn from men resting at the base lines which were always full. Instead of this, the Italo-German command decided to remain where they were, fortify the line they had reached, and there await the anticipated enemy attack. A retreat of the Italian non-motorised units in September could have taken place almost unimpeded, and once the Italian units had reached the Sollum-Halfaya line the same movement could have been effected by the completely motorised German units.
By this we should have placed some three hundred-odd miles of desert between our lines and the enemy’s, compelling him to move his imposing supply depots; this would have taken time and would have enabled still more reinforcements to be sent to the Italo-German forces on the Sollum-Halfaya line, already strong enough in itself.
The battle which broke out on October 23rd at once assumed a character of extreme violence and decisiveness. During the first few days there were the inevitable fluctuations, but the enemy’s air and artillery superiority at once began to tip the scales. The infantry — especially the Italians, who had no defence system comparable to that of the enemy — were subjected to murderous artillery fire and ceaseless bombardments for days on end. Nevertheless, they resisted, some of them — such as the “Folgore” — heroically.
Then the enemy tanks — here, too, the Americans had appeared with their armoured formations — made a break through and turned the positions held by the Italian infantry. Many divisions fought gallantly, as even the enemy admitted. Then began a withdrawal which could not be effected by the Italian infantry who were poorly supplied with motor transport, much of which, besides, had been immobilized by enemy fire. There was a great haul of prisoners, and these were not spared a last tragic march across the desert towards the infamous and notorious prison ‘cages.’ One of the greatest retreats in history was carried out by Rommel’s armoured columns which, though harried by the enemy on land and from the air, succeeded in disengaging themselves although they could not rest at any of the halts planned. The names, dear to Italians, of Sidi-el-Barrani, Solium, Tobruk, Dema and Benghasi, appeared once more in our war communiqués, for the last time. Owing to lack of material, no delaying action could be organised on the El Agheila-Marada line, the door of Tripolitania. The retreat continued as far as Homs in the hope that the Sirte desert would slow up enemy pressure, which, however, it did not. Thus the battle for Tripoli was never fought.
From then on, all available forces were despatched towards Tunisia to the Mareth line which, owing to the course of the land, lent itself to prolonged resistance. Many men and much material reached that line. During a retreat of over 1,250 miles very little material was lost, as may be seen from a very detailed report sent to Rome by General Giglioli, who was Quartermaster-General for Libya.
The two arms of the enemy pincers had thus, in the short space of three months, drawn extraordinarily close together. It was now clear that after the battle of Tunisia was over, the battle of Sicily would begin. General Messe was sent to command operations in Tunisia; he who later betrayed his country. His task was a peculiarly difficult one. He had given an excellent account of himself as commander in Albania, where he had succeeded in blocking the Greek thrust in its most dangerous direction, that of Valona; and later as commander of the CSIR, the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia, where the troops under his command fought very well. He was replaced when the CSIR became the ARMIR, the Italian Army in Russia, that is to say, when the original Army Corps was transformed into an Army of ten divisions whose names may be noted here: The Julia, the Tridentina, the Cuneense, the Ravenna, the Cosseria, the Sforzesca, the Celere, the Pasubio, the Torino, and the Vicenza. This replacement was a mistake due to the usual jealousy, to Messe’s reputation as a staunch Fascist, and above all to a sacrosanct worship of the Army List with its relative positions of seniority. Messe’s successor was General Gariboldi who had not so far distinguished himself particularly, not, at least, in the recent wars in Ethiopia and Libya.
Recalled to Rome, Messe accepted the task though realising its arduous nature; and he left by air for Tunis. Once at his post, he spent the first few weeks in getting the troops into shape both materially and morally; they were, naturally, exhausted, either by their interminable retreat or by their long stay in African territory, a stay which for thousands of soldiers could be reckoned in terms of years. The fate of Tunisia was bound up with supplies. No fewer than three hundred thousand men were concentrated in a small space. The problem of organisation and supplies assumed disquieting dimensions. Naval losses were increasingly heavy. In April alone 120,000 tons of Italian shipping was sunk and a further 50,000 tons was damaged. While the enemy troops were more than well supplied, the Italo-German forces were threatened with mortal anemia.
When the first efforts of the German thrust were spent, having achieved nothing except an extension of the bridgehead, the English went over to the attack along the Mareth line.
In Rome the date of the attack was discussed, and it was thought that Montgomery would delay it in order to profit by the full moon as had been the case at El Alamein. Instead, the English general launched the attack on a pitch dark night. To prevent the artillery mowing down the infantry ahead of them, each soldier wore a white cloth on his back. The Mareth line was strong for some fifteen miles — from the sea to about half its length. The rest was weaker and the last sector almost non-existent; moreover, it was entrusted to the Saharan formations which had reached these positions after a highly exhausting march across the most remote desert trails. These formations, besides, had little artillery and lacked the necessary preparation for meeting the shock of mobile and armoured columns. The Italian troops entrenched on the Mareth line and protected by a broad anti-tank ditch resisted bravely and counter-attacked.
Montgomery did not succeed in breaking through. Let us say frankly, too, because it is true, that in that sector the English were beaten. Then the enemy switched his attack over to the weakest side, on the extreme right of Messe’s position, and there, profiting by an extensive use of armour, he had no difficulty in overcoming the Libyan forces and outflanking them. This forced General Messe to retreat some sixty-odd miles on a line running roughly halfway between the Mareth line and Tunis, Meanwhile, the Germans to the north-west were being hard-pressed by the Americans — here, also, with infinitely greater resources. Thus the circle contracted to the point of making further resistance impossible.
History has already revealed how the last scenes of the drama were enacted. While the rhythm of events in Tunisia took on the accelerating tempo of a finale, at Rome the spotlight was focused on the Messe affair. This was chiefly caused by his long, detailed and interesting report of the battle of the Mareth line, in which some people thought he praised the Staff and men of the British Eighth Army too highly. It was agreed, however, that such praise reflected honour also on the Italians in so far as it showed that our soldiers had been fighting against first-class and not second-class troops.
Today, in light of Messe’s peculiarly disgraceful betrayal, we may ask whether all this were not calculated and deliberate, with an eye to capture, which Messe could not exclude from the realms of possibility. It is likewise certain that, thanks to his report, Messe at once enjoyed a good press in England, and there is also photographic evidence that on his arrival by air just outside London a group of generals received him not as a prisoner — and an Italian into the bargain — but as an honoured guest.
Then there was the question of Messe’s captivity. Two theories were advanced; the first held that Messe should return to his country and take over the command of the troops stationed in Sicily, which was considered a base for Tunisia; the other, on the contrary, affirmed that in accordance with the regular tradition of the Italian army a commander should share the fate of his men as the Duke of Aosta had done. I held this latter view. It was decided that General Messe should receive some recognition which might also console him for his capture, and he was promoted Marshal of Italy. The King did not particularly favour this solution, simply because he did not want a marshal as well as a prince to be numbered among the human booty which fell to the enemy.
Owing to the enemy’s complete sea and air command of the Sicilian Channel only very few soldiers and officers escaped capture. A few boatloads of intrepid navigators left the shores of Cape Bon and succeeded in reaching the western coast of Sicily.
With the Tunisian page closed, the chapter of Pantelleria opened; an attack on the most distant point of metropolitan territory loomed imminent, the first territory within the borders of our home country.
Pantelleria was known to Italians as an island for deportation or banishment. Seen on the map, it looked like an almost insignificant dot. So it was until the day when, flying over it, I discovered Pantelleria to be a big enough island to become a counter-Malta, capable of blockading the Sicilian Channel in its narrowest sector.
The English were not so far wrong when, after conquering it, they christened it ‘Mussolini Island.’ But the decision to transform Pantelleria into an aero-naval base met with much opposition, and the first objections were naturally made by the professional experts. They told me there was no need to fortify Pantelleria in order to blockade the Channel. To which I replied: “How do you blockade a street best, by planting yourself in the middle of it or by standing at one side? Even if Pantelleria gains us only a few minutes, might not this advantage in time become a determining factor of success?"
The objections raised by the experts, General Valle among them, were overcome, and work was begun at full speed. Some thousands of workmen were sent out there. In the course of a year or two we had to improve the harbour basin so as to make it suitable for ships and other craft of medium tonnage, construct an airfield and a two-story underground aerodrome, install anti-aircraft and shore batteries, concentrate ample reserves of supplies and munitions, improve the network of communications and mine the short stretches of coast where the possibility of a landing existed. This programme was tackled with admirable energy. The garrison was steadily reinforced. A year later, on August 18th, 1938, I flew to Pantelleria, landed on the airfield there (though it was not yet quite completed), inspected the gigantic underground hangars — the first of their kind in the world — and was able to announce that at least fifty per cent of the programme was as good as realised.
The English watched the creation of this Italian aero-naval base in the middle of the Mediterranean with increasing and spiteful interest. Work did not stop when war broke out. The flow of arms and planes, men and supplies continued; when the enemy General Spaatz launched an aero-naval attack against Pantelleria towards the middle of May, the island contained forty batteries, several squadrons of fighter planes and a garrison of about twelve thousand men. The commander of the base was Admiral Pavesi; the land forces were under General Mattei.
CHAPTER II: THE MESSE CASE
If you look closely at the man who was promoted Marshal of Italy after the unlucky Tunisian campaign, his is not really a traitor’s face. That is to say, he has not the pointed or triangular chin, the pale complexion, the shifty glance or the hot hands; none, that is, of the bodily characteristics which go with the typical traitor in all literature. Messe is rather below the average in height, his face is broad and open — he has a clear eye which looks you straight in the face and his speech is blunt; on seeing him you would conclude that here was a gentleman, that is, a man sincere and loyal. On the contrary, Marshall Messe is really one of the most typical and loathsome traitors of all those whom Badoglio cherished and protected, and for me he represented one of my most disagreeable surprises.
Messe’s military past may be considered brilliant. In the first World War he held various commands, even of shock troops towards the end, and as an “ardito” (Commando) he was known and respected among ex-servicemen.
From the Fascist political point of view, he was generally considered one of the safest of all the generals who were more or less officially registered in the Party.
In November, 1940, the situation which had arisen on the Graeco-Albanian front demanded vigorous generalship. Messe came to my mind. He was entrusted with the defence of the Valona sector; to be precise, with the task of blocking any enemy thrust in the Shushice Valley. Messe accomplished his task admirably, and in March, during my visit to Albania, I gave him ample recognition of the fact
On arriving at Valona on December 1st, 1940, he telegraphed my Private Secretary as follows:
Please inform the Duce that his exact instructions are very much present in my mind and that his flattering confidence, which fills me with pride, will not be misplaced. The Duce’s will, which is also ours, will be master of events.
Once the Albanian chapter was closed, preparations began for an expeditionary corps to Russia. This included three very sound and courageous divisions, the Torino, the Pasubio and the Celere, plus Blackshirt formations. The abbreviation CSIR stood for Corpo Spedizione Italiano in Russia (Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia). The CSIR’s engagements were brilliant. On September 30th, 1941, I telegraphed Messe as follows:General MESSE.
After mention in the German communiqué, I want my own congratulations to reach you on the brilliant operation concluded which has given its name to an Italian victory. Convey the above to officers and men. I am sure that you will do ever better and will hit the enemy ever harder.This was the conquest of Stalino, an important mining and industrial centre in the Ukraine. On October 1st following, Messe replied as follows:
The victorious troops of the CSIR received your praise with pride and exultation and showed their great joy by shouting after the fleeing enemy that name which for us is a symbol of victory: “Duce!”
MESSE.The months of October and November were really terrible for the CSIR troops. The whole vast Ukrainian plain was transformed into a sea of mud. Problems of a logistical nature became insuperable. Nothing could move any more. Supplies, munitions and reinforcements reached the front as and when they could. I sent Colonel Gandin to the post, who gave a startling account when he returned to Rome of the difficulties which the CSIR had encountered and had still to encounter. When I had heard the report, I sent Messe the following telegram, dated December 4th, 1941:
Colonel Gandin has given me details of the difficulties faced by the CSIR and the superhuman endurance of your troops. Two months of being bogged down in primitive or non-existent Soviet roadways must have created formidable obstacles in the supply domain which only generalship like yours and men like the troops of the CSIR could have overcome. Though far away we have felt these difficulties due to circumstances. Gandin tells me that the situation has now improved. Convey my congratulations to the officers and men of the CSIR also for the difficulties faced with Roman calm and Fascist fortitude. I send you, my dear Messe, my warmest regards.The next day, the 5th, Messe replied as follows:
Your high recognition of what the CSIR has done in the first five months of the campaign in Russia, during which it has tirelessly marched and fought without ever breaking, fully rewards us for all the difficulties which the troops have always faced with manly fortitude, iron will and a great spirit of self-sacrifice. The terrible Ukrainian mud has never halted us, much less the enemy, though always more numerous and very heavily armed. I assure you, Duce, that the bitter Russian winter will not halt us either. The enemy will always be heavily and forcefully engaged wherever he appears, just as is happening precisely at this time, in which he is showing particular eagerness to try and oppose our inexorable advance. We have always taken a realistic view of this most bitter and fierce war, and for that reason we have been able to face it with a full knowledge of our strength and with a completely calm mind. You may be sure, Duce, that the CSIR, which feels you so near to it and which follows what you are doing for its greater reinforcement with a profoundly grateful heart, will bring the task which it has pleased you to entrust to it to a worthy conclusion.At Christmas time, 1941, using forces and weapons far superior to the effective strength and material of the Italian divisions, the Russians launched a violent attack. They counted on taking the Italians by surprise, morally, at least. They thought they would find them in a moment of depression and homesickness owing to the recurrence of the great feast of the Nativity, which the men of sunny Italy had to spend far from their family and country. But the Bolsheviks’ calculations were shown to be false. In a bloody battle, lasting a week, the Italian troops defeated the Bolshevik forces and put them to flight. On December 28th I telegraphed as follows:
Once more I send you my congratulations and my satisfaction at the fresh hard blow which the magnificent troops of the CSIR have inflicted on the Bolsheviks. The Nation is proud of you. Let everyone know this.General Messe telegraphed as follows on the 29th:
The victorious troops of the CSIR have received your high praise and your flattering and encouraging satisfaction with exultant pride and they join with me in repeating to you our firm determination to remain decisively in the struggle until all Bolshevik resistance has been broken.In Spring, 1942, further and greater participation in the Russian campaign was thought necessary. No longer three, but now ten divisions were to take part. The glorious CSIR became part of the ARMIR — that is, the Armata Italiana in Russia (Italian Army in Russia); in doing so, it became the 35th Army Corps. As already stated, this did not please Messe or the troops under his command either. He obeyed with bad grace. Although some said the contrary. Father Salza, a brave Chaplain wounded in the war, who had always been with the CSIR, re-established the truth of the matter as follows on May 8th, 1942:
I have heard from both soldiers and civilians that His Excellency Messe had said that he was very pleased at being promoted to fourth place among the generals of the 8th Army (ARMIR); some even say that he asked for this himself. Permit me to tell you, Duce, that the matter is quite otherwise. Messe is ambitious. I can tell you that he has a real passion for serving you and devoting his whole life to you, as he has always done. But that does not prevent him thinking of this change as a sort of depth-charge which lessens his prestige considerably in the eyes of our allies, of the nation and of his glorious troops. The ignorance in which he has been kept till now as to the new situation has deeply mortified him. For that reason he would prefer to be transferred, always provided you are agreeable. This is the simple truth, which you may hear better from his own mouth. Forgive me for presuming to pass on this information; I have only one aim — your glory, Italy’s glory and the glory of God.Outwardly, however, nothing transpired of Messe’s resentment. On May 9th, almost as he was leaving, he issued the following Order of the Day:
Officers, Warrant Officers, N.C.O.s, Soldiers and Blackshirts!
On the threshold of the dry season which brings us nearer to the recommencement of the march eastwards, in our tenth month on Russian soil, the Italian Expeditionary Corps ends its first cycle of operations in this extremely difficult campaign. My thoughts turn to our Fallen with compassion and gratitude. To you and to your units of the Army, Militia and Air Force, to all the Commands, Divisions and Departments which I have had and still have under my command in a marvellous unison of ardent strength, invincible arms and active faith, I send you with a proud heart my warm and grateful greetings as Commander.
In this greeting vibrates the warm recognition of the great and memorable tasks which you have accomplished arid which, adding fresh lustre to the flags, standards, banners and ensigns with which the country has entrusted you, have enriched the military history of Italy with pages which will shine in letters of gold in the annals of the Nation.
Soldiers of the CSIR!
Once again I see your brave and compact ranks crossing the Romanian border, marching along the rutted tracks of Bessarabia, advancing at the price of unequalled fatigue and of untold difficulties through the boundless extent of the fertile Ukraine which, tomorrow, will be the granary of the conquerors and which denied you, scorched as you were by the blazing summer, even the comfort of water.
No obstacle stopped you. Hard on the heels of the retreating enemy, you received your baptism of fire on the Bug and, impatient to add to our race’s ancient titles of honour and valour, in direct comparison with allies of high military prestige, you leaped forward to the Dnieper, you forced the river-crossing, you hurled yourselves upon the enemy divisions who were barring your passage, and in seven days of bitter fighting, while our Air Force intrepidly dominated the sky over the battlefield, you set the seal on the first phase of the struggle with the victory of Fetrikovka.
Following up the pursuit, you crossed the river Woltchia, you overthrew the stubborn enemy rearguard and, advancing under the freezing and driving rain while the supply columns were bogged in the flooded tracks, you penetrated hundreds of miles into a territory ambushed by partisans, and victoriously reached the heart of the Donetz basin.
Later, braving the bitter inclemency of a premature winter, blinded by blizzards and racked with cold, you attacked the enemy who awaited you, grim, determined and entrenched in strong defensive positions, you wrested his fortified strongholds from him one after another, and with proud determination you established yourselves on the line previously planned for the winter halt.
Neither the barbarous violence with which the Bolsheviks reacted, nor the weight of numbers with which they hoped to overcome you, nor the adversity and exceptional rigour of the cold which equalled Arctic temperatures, nor privations and sufferings of the highest physical and moral degree, could weaken your ranks which at all times inviolably held the position taken from the enemy.
My Brave Men!
Your Commander, who has led you in this titanic task, who has shared with you the vicissitudes of so many supreme trials, lived with you through the anxieties and troubles of the eve of battle and the joy of your successes, who has been a witness of your faithful courage, your humble, constant and silent self-sacrifice, the manly will with which you have overcome an expert, stubborn and savage enemy and very great difficulties — your Commander says to you that “Well done!” which is due to brave men and which shows that you have well earned the title of valiant.
Army Corps Commander,
Towards the end of the same month he returned to Italy, where I received him. A communiqué which appeared in the papers on June 3rd, 1942, announced this as follows:General G. MESSE.May 9th, 1942-XX.Russian Front.
The Duce has received General Giovanni Messe, Commander of the CSIR, who is now in Italy for a short period of leave. General Messe gave the Duce a full report on the course of the Italian troops’ operations on the Eastern front and the victorious engagements carried out by all branches of the Expeditionary Corps, The Duce expressed his complete satisfaction to General Messe, During the winter period particularly, which was the hardest of the campaign. General Messe and his officers and men showed themselves possessed of a high degree of courage and physical endurance, in standing up to very great difficulties. General Messe gave the Duce a copy of eighteen separate mentions of the CSIR in communiqués from the German Command, and many Orders of the Day in which German Army Group Commanders amply acknowledged the valour and fighting spirit of the Italian troops.This bulletin was designed, among other things, to smooth away the resentment which the transformation of the CSIR had caused in the mind not only of the Commander. The latter, on sending three copies of the first number of Dovunque (an Expeditionary Corps weekly magazine, printed with what could be found in an ex-Red printing-press in Stalino by Ukrainian workmen), declared to my Private Secretary that “the high honour of participating in the struggle in arms against the chief enemy of the Fascist Revolution has not eluded the Italian fighting men.”
The first number contained a photograph of “The Duce in Russia, conversing with General Messe.”
His leave over, he returned to Russia as Commander of the 35th Army Corps, and it was not long before the quarrel with Gariboldi broke out. On August 31st, 1942-XX, General Messe addressed a letter to me which was brought to Italy by Major Vecchini, whom Messe recommended in the accompanying letter. Here is the text:
When your Chief Private Secretary, in June last, informed me that you would give me an audience, he also told me that I might apply directly to Your Excellency through the Secretariat, if need arose. Moreover, during the audience itself you did me the honour of telling me that I could always express my thoughts to you with absolute frankness. When the appointment of Commander of the 8th Army had been made, in the person of H.E. General Gariboldi, I returned to Russia, as was your explicit wish and my duty as a soldier, and because, too, it was thought that my presence out there might give the new Commander all the benefit of a very long experience, both with regard to the enemy and the country, and in relations with our German allies.
At this point I must in all loyalty point out to you that this last essential condition has not been realised, in so far that the new Commander has not asked anything more of me than he could have asked of any of the other Army Corps Commanders freshly arrived from Italy.
To this I must add that the sentimental reasons for my attachment to the old CSIR are now also lacking, because, owing to operational demands, only the “Pasubio,” of the old divisions that composed it, still remains with me. But even this last relic of the Expeditionary Corps is to be shorn of its oldest elements, so that nothing of the old CSIR will remain save its glorious name and memory.
This being the case, allow me, Duce, to put forward for your careful consideration, that the time has come for my repatriation immediately on the conclusion of the battle now in progress, which chiefly concerns my sector, so that you may employ me wherever it best pleases you, but where I may continue to give all that is in my power and in my indomitable enthusiasm. You know that I have but one ambition: to serve as a soldier Fascist Italy and yourself, its great leader.
Since I returned to Russia I have had the honour of leading my troops in the victorious battle of Krassny-Lutsk, mentioned in the German communiqué. For twelve days these same troops, deployed on the Don in contact with the German 6th Army, have been fighting heroically and bloodily to bar the way against the Bolshevik hordes which, to the tune of three divisions of twenty- seven battalions, have hurled themselves savagely on the sector held by only one of our divisions, of six battalions, seriously threatening the supply lines of the 6th Army itself, extending towards Stalingrad. But they have not broken through! And they shall not! The extremely fierce battle is still in progress, but it will end inevitably with a new and splendid Italian achievement. The sacrifices made at this time have been great Soldiers and Blacks shirts have touched the highest peak of heroism and devotion to duty. This fresh proof of courage and tenacity afforded by our troops will greatly strengthen the links between the two great allies and will increase our national prestige. Allow me, Duce, to express my most faithful attachment and sincere devotion.
General GIOVANNI MESSE.At the New Year, the Führer awarded Messe the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, in recognition of his merits. This high decoration was brought him personally by Army Commander General von Kleist. Towards the end of the year, in November, Messe was promoted Army General.
After the letter quoted above, Messe was recalled to Italy. He busied himself first of all in bringing out a report on the first year of the Eastern campaign, and he requested that there should appear on the frontispiece in my own hand the words I had spoken in my speech of December 2nd, 1942, to the Chamber of Fasci and Guilds: “It must be admitted,” I had said, “that only an army like the German one and only the Italian CSIR, today become the ARMIR, could have overcome the trials of a winter without parallel for a hundred and forty years.”
For Messe the Russian chapter was henceforth definitely closed, and the Tunisian chapter opened. On April 5th, 1943-XXI Messe replied as follows to the congratulations I had sent him after the battle of the Mareth:
Your high praise of the way in which the 1st Army acquitted itself in the battle of the Mareth and El Hamma, has been made known to the Italian and German divisions, who have learned of it with lively satisfaction. All, from Commanders to rank and file, join with me in thanking you. On arriving here, Father Salza repeated the flattering words which you had expressed in respect of me and my work. I am deeply grateful to you. You, Duce, know by experience that in fulfilling the tasks with which you have entrusted me in the past, I have always employed all my energy and all my capacity. You may be sure that this has been the case again, is still the case and will be the case in Tunisia. À propos of this I take the liberty of sending you a short report on the latest battle. Thus you will be able to judge whether and how the task assigned me as Commander of the 1st Army has so far been carried out Other and sterner trials await us. The Army has been considerably reduced and time, and perhaps also the means, are lacking, to make good the heavy losses suffered. Everywhere, all are firmly resolved to fight to the last My respectful and warm regards.
General MESSE.As already stated, the report was printed and gave rise to the discussions mentioned.
When the report had been published, I sent a letter in my own hand to Messe on April 14th, 1943, couched in these terms:
Your report on the first victorious battle on the Mareth line is so vivid, thrilling and exhaustive that I have decided to make it known to the Italian people by having it printed. I have introduced merely a few alterations for comprehensible reasons. By this, and not only by this, I intend to give full recognition to your work as Commander and to the courage shown by your soldiers. Between the end of March and today the situation has changed, that is, has become more difficult. I wish to tell you that I count on you to protract resistance to the uttermost and thus upset the enemy plans, at least with regard to their time-table, which aim at a landing on the mainland, after a landing on the islands. Once again: we are doing and will continue to do the impossible to supply you with what you need.
My hearty good wishes and regards, as always,
MUSSOLINI.After the battle of the Mareth line, the second delaying battle in Tunisia took place, the battle of the so-called Shotts, a sort of salt marshes. Of this battle, too, Messe sent me a report accompanied by this note:
I take the liberty of sending you, after the preceding report on the Mareth-El Hamma battle, the report of the battle of the Shotts, and the beginning of the difficult retreat on to the Enfidaville line. The report relates with perfect frankness the course of the bloody and violent struggle undergone and the extremely grave circumstances in which there occurred the disengagement of the large forces on the Shotts line and their retreat; also our very heavy losses, in virtue, chiefly, of the enemy superiority in the matter of armour and of artillery and, more particularly, in the air, where they had complete and unopposed mastery. But I can say that once again officers and men fought desperately and by their sacrifices did honour to our country’s flag. My humble regards.
General MESSE.Finally, Tunisia was defended in a third fierce battle, à propos of which Messe reported as follows on April 22nd, 1943:
Thank you very much for the letter you were good enough to send me and for the high praise accorded to the 1st Army. I see that, according to your wish, the report on the battle of the Mareth line has been made known to the Italian people through publication in all our newspapers. All the fighting men of the Army are grateful to you for that particular form of recognition for the work carried out by them in this really most bitter struggle in Tunisia. For my own part, I am glad of having once again earned your and the nation’s confidence.
As you know, the 1st Army is at this moment fighting its third and fiercest battle. The English 8th Army launched its great attack on the night of the 20th, hurling against our positions the mass of its infantry supported by an imposing amount of artillery, and equipped with ammunition and many tanks. Today is the third day of the battle, and the enemy, though enormously superior in men and material, has so far been effectively contained, and has made very little progress and at bloody cost. You know the state of the 1st Army, which has been fighting for 36 days. I am perfectly aware that the responsible authorities, on your initiative, are doing all they can to help us. But I am also aware of the very grave difficulties of transport, owing to which very little, in point of fact, reaches us. The troops are physically very tired, and seriously diminished in numbers. The men fighting are, almost all of them, the same who retreated from Libya. But all my energy and all the energy of the various Commanders is being directed to helping and sup- porting these fine and heroic soldiers of ours, who are really working miracles. There has not been a single point at which the enemy has set foot inside our positions without our launching a fierce and violent counter-attack. For your satisfaction and for our country’s pride, I should like to tell you that the proofs of courage, dash and endurance afforded by our troops at this time surpass those during the battle of the Mareth line. And I should like to tell you one thing more — that our troops at this time, compared with our allies (always first-class soldiers), have demonstrated greater willingness and momentum.
Owing to the very serious exhaustion of the troops, the inadequacy of artillery and ammunition and the almost complete lack of armoured vehicles, compared with the enemy’s crushing superiority in material, the situation is growing steadily graver. Our air force — and our ally’s as well — may be called non-existent, compared with the really overwhelming and intensively active enemy air force. In spite of all, you may be sure that the order to resist to the last will be faithfully carried out.
I send you the third report which deals with the retreat and the deployment on the new Enfidaville line.
Your humble and devoted servant,
General MESSE.Then came the epilogue, and captivity.
On re-reading these documents it is really difficult to believe that such a man could have agreed to be set free by the English; one is very loath to believe that the leader of the CSIR should today find himself in the same camp as the Russians and the Balkan Bolshevik partisans, abjuring one of the most significant pages in his life as a soldier, an Italian and a Fascist — for such he always, and publicly, professed himself. One is very loath to believe that, by making himself a party thereto, he should have accepted the infamous unconditional surrender and should have subscribed to the rule forbidding the wearing of decorations gained on the Eastern Front. General Messe has not the slightest justification for his conduct, unless it is a question of personal spite, which would lead one to have a very poor opinion of his patriotism and loyalty as a man. By his conduct he has insulted the living — and, above all, the fallen — in the war against Bolshevism; those dead whom, without a trace of shame, he betrayed and abandoned on the Russian steppes, in the numberless graves unmarked by even a cross.
CHAPTER III: FROM PANTELLERIA TO SICILY
Towards the beginning of June the air offensive became intense every day and by day and night, often accompanied by naval bombardments. The Quartermaster-General of the armed forces mentioned enemy raids in coinmuniqués Nos. 1102, 1103, 1104, 1105, 1106, 1107, 1108 and 1109. Communiqué No. 1109 announced that the garrison of Pantelleria has been facing the ceaseless enemy air attacks with unflinching courage, and yesterday destroyed six aeroplanes. Communiqué No. 1110, referring to the activity on June 8th, particularly struck the Italians and moved them deeply. It announced that the garrison of the island of Pantelleria, which throughout yesterday, June 8th, underwent ceaseless enemy bombardment, has not replied to the enemy’s demand to surrender. And it added that during the air attacks fifteen enemy planes had been brought down. This communiqué caused a surge of pride in the heart of everyone.
Communiqué No. 1111 announced fresh enemy raids on Pantelleria and the bringing down of eleven more enemy planes. Communiqué No. 1112 announced that throughout yesterday, June 10th, and last night, heavy enemy bomber and fighter formations followed one another uninterruptedly over Pantelleria, whose garrison, though battered by the onslaught of some thousand enemy machines, has proudly left unanswered a fresh demand to surrender.
On the same day the Italo-German fighters had brought down twenty-two enemy planes. This second rejection of the demand to surrender radioed by General Spaatz filled many Italian hearts with enthusiasm. Now at last! The neutral and even the enemy press underlined the fact. Foreign opinion in general was that Italian soldiers had not fought brilliantly until now because they were far from their country; but now that it was a question of the “sacred soil" of Italy, the Italian soldiers (so said a Swedish paper) would “astonish the world.”
What was happening at Pantelleria seemed to justify the foreign observer. But the congratulations sent out from Rome and addressed to the Commander of the base of Pantelleria crossed with another telegram from the Commander himself in which he declared the impossibility of further resistance, chiefly owing to lack of water.
A meeting was called with Admiral Riccardi and Generals Ambrosio and Fougier. The surrender occurred exactly on the anniversary of Italy’s entry into the war. Admiral Pavesi’s telegram had been addressed to me. To order him to resist to the last seemed to be a useless gesture which had already been tried out on former occasions to no purpose, as at Klisura in Albania, and elsewhere. Pavesi’s telegram painted the situation as absolutely untenable; to resist further would mean nothing but a useless blood bath. But then what was the point of rejecting the demands to surrender made twenty-four and forty-eight hours earlier? Did Admiral Pavesi by any chance think that General Spaatz, touched by the rejection and lost in admiration at it, would stop the raids?
Was it therefore only a question of a beau geste destined to remain nothing but a beau geste? A gesture more theatrical than military? At length with much heartburning the telegram anxiously awaited by Pavesi was sent off:
Radiotelegraph Malta that owing to lack of water you are ceasing all resistance.A large white flag was hung out over the port and on some of the buildings on the island: fire ceased. The English disembarked peacefully. A few soldiers who had not realised what had happened let off a shot or two which wounded two enemy soldiers. That was all!
The landing at Pantelleria which, according to an English paper, would have been impossible with any other garrison, cost the English the blood of two slightly wounded soldiers! And what did the defence of the first island of home territory cost the Italians?
The Chief of Staff, when directly questioned, based his information on such scanty and indirect documentation as there was (Admiral Pavesi had always been somewhat sparing of information) and sent me a report giving the following figures: in one month 56 dead and 116 wounded, almost all of them Blackshirts in the anti-aircraft defences. The civil population and troops barricaded in the underground hangars had suffered only insignificant losses. The entire garrison of some 12,000 men was taken prisoner almost intact. Some weeks later Admiral Jachino put in a very detailed report reducing the total losses suffered by the garrison of Pantelleria in one month of aerial attack to thirty-five fallen. The hangars, dug out of the rock, had nullified the effects of the enemy bombs. The 2,000 tons of bombs certainly did fall on the island, but on rock, not on men.
Later it was learned — from enemy evidence — that there had not even been a shortage of water; in any case, French-made sea-water distillers of medium capacity were on their way.
Communiqué No. 1113 announcing the fall of the island burst on the Italians like a shock of cold water. It was followed by a war report which, passing from Pantelleria to Lampedusa, exalted “the heroic little garrison which was resisting with heroic determination,” while in fact they had already hoisted the white flag. Admiral Pavesi had lied; today we may say that he had betrayed us. Not even the underground hangars were demolished, and the airfield was left almost intact.
It was a pity the execution squad did not reach the first of the treacherous admirals who a few months later were to bring the most shameful treachery to a fine art, by handing over the entire fleet to the enemy.
With the fall of Pantelleria the curtain went up on the drama of Sicily.
Even before war was declared, measures of a military character had been taken to reinforce the island’s defences. As soon as hostilities had commenced, I sent Marshal Emilio De Bono (who was in command of the southern armies) on a tour of inspection in Sicily. On June 25th, 1940, Marshal De Bono sent Marshal Graziani, at that time Chief of Army Staff, a shrewd and detailed report containing the principal observations made concerning the disposition and efficiency of the troops; the coastal guard and defence; and anti-aircraft defence.
With regard to the efficiency of the troops Marshal De Bono wrote:
“Morale is high and a fighting spirit universal. The effective in manpower has almost reached the prescribed percentage. The same cannot so far be said of livestock and mechanised transport.”Marshal De Bono’s report continued with observations and criticisms, and indicated various deficiencies, mainly owing to the advanced age of the soldiers in the coastal divisions; parts of equipment either lacking or incomplete; the conscripts’ scant familiarity with modern automatic weapons; and the unpreparedness of certain formations. À propos of this De Bono cited the case of two second-lieutenants who, without having been recalled or having had any training since they had been demobilised as second-lieutenants after the 1915-18 war, were now in command of a battalion.
On July 7th following, the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Roatta, informed Marshal De Bono of “steps being taken following your visit to Sicily, namely, the existing twenty-four coastal battalions have been dissolved and re-formed with elements ten years younger.” The military situation in Sicily had been notably improved by the “Piemonte” infantry division being placed at the disposition of the local command, the XIIth Army Corps. And Roatta concluded:
“Reinforcements of material and the necessary machine-guns for coastal defence will be despatched in the greatest possible number.”The Sicilian command was held first by General Ambrosio, then by General Rosi, later by General Roatta and finally, from June 1st, 1943, by General Guzzoni.
During the first three years of war much was done to strengthen the island’s defences. General Ambrosio, in the haste of his flight, forgot his diary. It is not a document of exceptional value; it deals mainly with administrative matters. On May 6th, 1942, Ambrosio refers to a conversation he had with the Prince of Piedmont, who declared on returning from a visit to Sicily that:
“...the coastal divisions are in excellent order and it is only necessary to number the battalions in the usual manner; the soldiers on the island carry themselves well and salute. Many roads are in the worst possible condition; there is confusion in the public services at Palermo and a poor postal service which is especially complained of by the soldiers of the Pachino garrison.”General Ambrosio’s diary has this note on October 17th:
“Must hold one’s tongue. Spies on the Staff. Instances: movements of high-ups, and Scuero’s visit to me. Political situation obscure. Duce ill.”Still quoting from General Ambrosio’s diary we find on November 10th, 1942, 5 p.m.:
“Went to the Duce’s with Cavallero and Rosi to review Sicilian defences and necessary material for Rosi.”The diary continues, November 11th, 12 noon, as follows:
“At the Duce’s to complete review of defence of Sicily. The Duce tells me that on December 1st the class born in the second four months of 1923 must be called up so as to provide forty thousand men immediately for Sicily; those born at the end of 1923 to be called up on January 15th, 1943.”On November 16th:
“The Duce is in great pain owing to his illness.”It is perhaps in connection with that, that we read the following symptomatic note on December 4th:
“Bonomi’s visit; Badoglio’s proposition; H.M.’s abdication; the prince; armistice; Cavallero.”This was the first hint of the coup d’état.
Despite my illness I devoted myself almost exclusively to the military preparations for Sicily. On January 10th, 1943, we read:
“At the Duce’s with Cavallero and Rosi. The latter said: ‘The King was satisfied with his tour of Sicily. The divisions showed up well; the best is the Livorno, followed by the Assietta and the Napoli. The coastal divisions are good, too, and so is the progress and disposition of the defence works, but the road system still needs improving.’”As a result of what Rosi said, I wanted only thirty per cent, of the Sicilians called up in the 1924 class to be drafted to Sicilian regiments, the remaining strength to be made up of recruits from the mainland. To my mind the defence of Sicily ought to be the job of every Italian; just as in the 1915-18 war Sicilians fought to defend our land frontier on the Alps, so now mainlanders should take part in the defence of our country’s sea frontier.
Once Tunisia had fallen, the threat to our larger islands appeared imminent. Because of this I sent General Ambrosio on a tour of inspection in Sardinia. He remained there for four days and on May 8th, 1943, he sent me a report of which certain essential portions are worth reproducing. After a preamble of a geographical nature concerning the characteristics of the probable landing zones, General Ambrosio expressed himself as follows concerning the defence works:
“In general a certain divergence of basic aims is to be observed in the various sectors of the defence system, a divergence due to the different directives sent out one after another during the last few years from the Centre. This depended on the progress made in theories of coastal defence methods as compared with the gradual evolution of methods of attack together with that of new inventions.
And since for obvious reasons we could not destroy what had been carried out in the recent past and begin all over again with new criteria, we have adapted the old to the new, modifying it wherever possible.
Thus the second line of defence (hedgehogs for containing the enemy) is constructed far more solidly than the army formations, which are considerably weaker, and that despite the modern technique with which it is proposed to break up any attempted landing on the beach or possibly even sooner, i.e., while still at sea.
In order to make both of them, especially the front line, stronger, guns and more guns are needed, shore batteries, anti-landing guns and anti-tank guns, not only to halt the first resistance, but above all to defeat on the coast itself any craft attempting to approach the beaches and any soldier setting foot on the ground.
It is all the more necessary to halt the attack on the beaches before they have dug themselves in on land since, having little armour, we could not overcome a modernly equipped enemy once he had succeeded in landing and was pushing on towards the interior.
The defence system, despite its original defects, is almost complete as regards fortifications and armaments and provides a good framework for resistance. A further reinforcement of automatic weapons and artillery is being made, which will serve to increase its strength. Everywhere, people are working with speed and enthusiasm. A healthy spirit reigns, the commanders are equal to the honourable task assigned them, the soldiers are disciplined, ready to fight, ready to face anything.
During my visit to Sardinia I was once more obliged to ask myself whether the theory that the enemy would try to seize the island was a tenable one or not.
A landing in Sardinia would not be an easy matter; the stretches of coast which lend themselves to such a landing are few and narrow; the hinterland is difficult; we could bring aero-naval opposition heavily to bear on the convoys and decimate them; supplies would suffer the same fate; and our land defences are not to be underestimated.
The enemy might reckon with a high percentage of losses, but he would at least want to be sure of success. Not only would this assurance be lacking, and thus the risks great, but the severe losses which, he must in any case suffer should at least be compensated by the importance of the objective.
Now Sardinia is not an object of capital importance in the strategic picture of the Mediterranean.
Unless the Anglo-Americans intend to invade Italy, in which case, acting consecutively, i.e., without a break, they might even conquer Sardinia to make it a springboard for invasion, I do not see an adequate proportion between the aim of the operation and its difficulty.
I do not believe in an invasion of the mainland because it would be a long affair and would not decide the final result of the war; Italy, even if reduced to the Po Valley, would not give in; our adversaries must know this by now.”As may be seen, the attitude of the Chief of Staff, General Ambrosio, at the beginning of May 1943, did not envisage, even as the wildest possibility, an unconditional surrender, such as occurred four months later.
The report on Sardinia concluded thus:
“All things considered, I believe that the chances of an attack on Sardinia are remote, and in any case I think them much slighter than the chances of an attempt to invade Sicily whose strategic position in the Mediterranean presents a far greater obstacle to our enemies. The conquest of Sicily need not presuppose a further operation against the mainland, but could be an end in itself, because it would give the enemy safety of movement and would lessen the engagements of his naval forces and the losses of his mercantile marine; that is to say, it is in itself an objective of real and pre-eminent importance, worth pursuing with all energy and at any cost.”At the beginning of June, General Guzzoni assumed command of the troops in Sicily. The first appreciation he made of the situation was contained in a telegram which pointed out many deficiencies, including those of a morale nature. A more detailed report was asked for, which arrived by courier a few days later. Despite three years of preparation the position was considered difficult. Amongst other things, a most unfortunate manifesto issued by his predecessor, General Roatta, had justly wounded the patriotic susceptibilities of the Sicilians. The state of the island was wretched in the extreme. Cities razed to the ground, people starving and wandering homeless about the countryside, and an almost total disorganization of civil life.
CHAPTER IV: THE LANDING IN SICILY
On June 12th, after the surrender of Pantelleria and a heavy bombardment of La Spezia which caused severe damage to our warships, General Ambrosio sent me a note in which he informed me of the new dispositions taken for the defence of the mainland, namely, the divisions Ravenna and Cosseria, Sassari, Granatieri, Pasubio, and Mantova for the western coast, together with five reserve divisions: the Piacenza, Ariete, Piave, 16th German Armoured, and the Panzer-Grenadiere. A despatch was also envisaged of the 1st Armoured Division M (Blackshirt) which had been a sort of incubus to the General Staff and the Crown ever since the day of its establishment in the Bracciano district. General Ambrosio’s directive, based on the experience gained at Pantelleria and Lampedusa, was as follows:
“(1) Prompt intervention of our air force which should immediately consider the difficulties it is likely to encounter and the means of avoiding them;
(2) base our plan for resistance on defence in depth (so as to minimize, as far as possible, the danger of air attacks to our men and material) and on the intervention of reinforcements, so as to defeat the enemy as soon as disembarked and while still in difficulties;
(3) enable the divisions to act off their own initiative when, as will certainly occur, they are cut off;
(4) take prompt measures with regard to supplies for maintaining any divisions which may be isolated;
(5) Stiffen the morale of the troops so that all of them realise that the sacred soil of our Fatherland must be defended yard by yard to the death.”Very fine words, but only words, because in reality neither senior nor junior officers had ever concerned themselves with the morale of the troops; and consequent on the perturbation caused by the staggeringly unexpected surrender of Pantelleria, there was born in high circles a state of mind tending towards capitulation. There was a fresh chorus of defeatism. Enemy propaganda — always greatly listened to — declared that an attack on Sicily was not only certain but imminent. During the whole of June the enemy air force subjected towns of all sizes in Sicily to a methodical bombardment, increasing the confusion and disorganisation of the food situation due to the interruption of the ferry and the destruction of the island’s railways.
On the afternoon of June 14th, in defiance of doctor’s orders, I convened the Chief of General Staff, the three Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, and the Minister for War Production at the Villa Torlonia.
I read the assembly a “note on the strategic situation in Italy in the middle of June,” containing the following:
“(1) It seems almost superfluous to begin by stating as a preliminary that politics do not enter into the matter at all. Capitulation would be the end of Italy not only as a great Power, but as a Power at all, since the first consequence of capitulation — apart from the other easily foreseen ones of a territorial and colonial nature — would be total and permanent disarmament on land, sea and in the air, as well as the destruction of all industries directly or indirectly concerned with war.
(2) In the present phase of the war there is no possibility of the Italian armed forces taking the initiative. They are restricted purely and simply to defence.
The Army cannot take the initiative. For one thing, the terrain is lacking. Only if the enemy should land on any piece of home territory could they counter-attack and throw him back into the sea.
The Navy’s initiative is limited to whatever our small craft and submarine fleet can do against enemy shipping. For some months now the results have been modest. Our battleships are now a deadweight exposed to growing dangers.
The Air Force’s capacity of initiative, too, is now limited to sporadic attacks on enemy shipping. We lack a large bomber force and the fighters to protect it. From now on even the Air Force has only defensive possibilities.
Conclusions: the only thing we can do is defend our home territory. But to this defence we must pledge ourselves to the last drop of blood.
Enemy tactics — in order to assist the war of nerves — consist in giving the press and radio free rein in any hypothesis concerning the Second Front, even the most absurd and fantastic.
But under cover of this noisy though harmless babble the enemy’s political and strategic conduct of the war is obeying the laws of geography and the rule of the maximum result with minimum effort. Thus the attack on the Italian islands in the central Mediterranean was fatally obvious — because it was logical. Thus, too, we may anticipate a further action against the other Italian islands in the Mediterranean, Sicily, Sardinia and Rhodes. All this cannot yet be called an invasion of Europe, but it would be the necessary prelude to it. And this may perhaps fill the bill for 1943.
It has been said that artillery conquers terrain and infantry holds it. This needs altering to: ‘Flying artillery conquers terrain, infantry holds it.’ There is the classic case of Pantelleria, the first in history. It was the Air Force which conquered Pantelleria. The question arises whether similar methods would obtain a similar result in a larger island, such as Sicily. I would not rule that out. The enemy will begin by a systematic attack on the airfields, with consequent destruction of machines on the ground, destruction of plants and disorganisation of services. With the airfields neutralised, the enemy — from now on virtually unhindered — would go over to the attack on the land defence systems so as to wear them down and make a landing possible. Our land defence can be considered efficient only if protected by our Air Force.
This being the case, our war production must henceforward concentrate exclusively on the production of means of defence, and since the most dangerous offensive is that from the air — in so far as its development may facilitate that of the other attacks, such as invasion — it is necessary to increase our efforts to produce:
(a) the greatest possible number of fighter planes;The actual production of lorries may be limited to the strict minimum. We no longer need enormous quantities of lorries as in the first phase of the war, when the length of the supply lines in Africa was astronomical. Given the present situation, there is also no point in occupying thousands of workmen and a corresponding amount of raw material in building bombers which at best would only yield us a few specimens in the second half of next year at the earliest.
(b) the greatest possible number of A.A. and anti-tank guns, together with an imposing quantity of ammunition, and;
(c) the greatest possible number of mines and other means of passive defence.
But since the danger is imminent and this new directive for war production cannot be realised in a day but requires a certain period of time, it will be necessary for Germany to supply us with what we need for the aerial defence of metropolitan territory, namely, aeroplanes and guns.
There is an Italian proverb that he who defends himself is lost. A passive defence would certainly result in that conclusion. An active defence can, on the contrary, wear out the enemy forces and convince him of the futility of his efforts. Today the essential part of active defence falls to the lot of the Air Force. On the day the enemy finds himself the unopposed master of the sky, all liberties will be permitted him.”On June 12th, I sent this note to the King. It is clear, so my letter ended, that the failure of the plans for invasion, especially in the first phases of the landing, would alter the course of the war.
As to the activities of the Air Force, in October, 1942, I convened a meeting of the military chiefs at the Palazzo Venezia in order to promote a further strengthening of the Air Force, particularly of fighter planes. With regard to active defence, in June, 1942 (General Ambrosio refers to it in his diary), I had given orders to:
(1) Intensify the construction of Jachino automatic gun-sights.At the end of June a thousand omens went to show that the landing in Sicily would take place in the first half of July.
(2) Bring the number of modern pieces of artillery (90-53 and 75-46) up to 3,000 and lighter pieces up to 4,000.
(3) Bring the number of high-powered searchlights up to 1,000.
(4) Draft the necessary personnel to the A.A. defences.
(5) Give the maximum impetus to the training of personnel.
(6) Ensure co-operation between A.A. artillery and day and night fighters.
On July 1st, there were present in Sicily: 230,000 soldiers of the Army and the Fascist Militia (including 10,000 officers) incorporated in six coastal divisions and four mobile divisions (the Napoli, Livorno, Assietta and Aosta), three German divisions, one armoured, plus the air and naval forces. All told, no less than 300,000 men, along a fairly deep system of strong points. There were no fewer than 1,500 pieces of artillery of all calibres and thousands of machine-guns. There was, in short, enough to make a landing difficult and, at the very least, to prolong resistance to the invader across the island’s complicated and mountainous road system.
The prelude to the landing took its usual form: a series of heavy bombardments which the war communiqués announced regularly, together with the losses — which were enormous — among the civil population. From July 1st-10th the enemy losses in planes were also considerable; no fewer than 312 machines were shot down by the Axis fighters and A.A. artillery. Allied losses in ships were also heavy.
The attack began on the night of July 9th-10th. It was a Saturday. That morning I had gone to inspect the armoured division M in the Bracciano district, which had just completed some very successful manoeuvres. Communiqué No. 1141 announced the landing in these terms:
Last night the enemy launched an attack on Sicily supported by strong naval and air forces and by the dropping of parachutists. Our combined armed forces are strongly opposing the enemy attempt. Battles are in progress along the south-east coastal strip.The nation held its breath at this first announcement. Various rumours were circulating in Rome on Sunday, July 11th, but basically optimistic ones. Excessively optimistic even, such as to make one suspect the presence of defeatist propaganda.
The following communiqué, No. 1142, issued in the course of the Sunday, said nothing substantially different:
A bitter battle is raging along the south-east coastal strip of Sicily, where Italian and German troops are closely engaged with the enemy landing forces and are successfully containing the pressure.That communique aroused a little uncertainty; the word “contain” had an ugly ring already known from experience.
On Monday, the 12th, at 1 p.m. all Rome and all the nation hung over the wireless with keen ears and eager hearts. Crowds gathered round the loud-speakers. Late that Sunday evening it had been announced that Augusta had been retaken and that, following a counter-attack by the Napoli and Göring divisions, an enemy smoke screen in the Bay of Gela gave grounds for thinking that he might be re-embarking his men and material. Communiqué No. 1143 seemed to confirm these reports. It said:
In Sicily the struggle continued bitterly and without pause throughout yesterday, during which the enemy tried vainly to extend the slight depth of the coastal strip occupied.
The Italian and German troops after counter-attacking decisively have defeated enemy units at several points, compelling them in one sector to withdraw.
The fighting spirit of the Italian and German divisions is extremely high; the behaviour of the civil population in the island, like that of the dashing Sicilian soldiers who form a large part of our units, is beyond all praise.
The 206th Coastal Division, commanded by General d’Havet, deserves special mention for its magnificent defence of the sectors entrusted to it.Before that communiqué was issued a discussion had taken place at the Palazzo Venezia between myself and General Ambrosio, other officers also being present. I wanted to modify its tone. I thought that what it said was too binding. The Augusta affair was unclear. Telegraphic communications from Guzzoni were scant, telephone messages confused and somewhat non-committal. General Ambrosio insisted, saying that the reports from Guzzoni and his Chief of Staff, Faldella, justified the form and content of the communiqué. Needless to say, communiqué No. 1143 aroused a wave of enthusiasm all over Italy. Everyone considered it a prelude to victory.
The nation’s enthusiasm was considerably damped after the issue of the later communiqué. No. 1 145, which said:
The enemy, who is continually reinforcing his offensive with new contingents, has succeeded in conquering the coastal strip from Licata to Augusta, and is pushing on to the mountainous region of south-east Sicily, and approaching the plain of Catania, Along the whole front Italian and German troops are engaged in hard fighting.This communique was received first with stupefaction and then with intense bitterness. Not only did enthusiasm crumble, but mistrust spread far and wide. The divergence between the two communiqués was too great. The nervous system of the Italian people — though stronger than is generally believed — had been subjected to too severe a strain. Nevertheless, people were still inclined to hope. But the later communiqué, No. 1147, which, barely five days after the landing, already spoke of battles in the plain of Catania, gave the impression that from now on the game was irrevocably jeopardised. The conquest of all Sicily was already regarded as a foregone conclusion. The disillusion was great.
Extremely harsh strictures began to come in from abroad. The capture of Augusta and Syracuse almost without a shot fired, the rapid march on Palermo and Catania, the very slight resistance offered at the time of the landing — there was something mysterious about it all.
CHAPTER V: THE INVASION AND THE CRISIS
With the disruption of almost all communications, and the shifting of the Commands, it was not easy to evaluate the situation. Nevertheless, certain factors emerged, and this explains the note which I sent the Chief of General Staff on July 14th.
The note said:
“At four days’ remove from the enemy landing in Sicily I consider the situation exceedingly delicate and disquieting, though not yet wholly jeopardised. We must mate a short analysis of the situation and decide what must and should be done. The situation is critical:
(a) because after the landing, penetration in depth took place with enormous rapidity;Before deciding what to do it is absolutely necessary to know what has happened so as to evaluate men and material accordingly. This is absolutely essential. All the reports from the enemy (who tells the truth when he is winning) as well as the official communiqués of our ally, impose a re-examination of what has occurred in these first few days.
(b) because the enemy possesses a crushing air superiority;
(c) because he possesses trained and special service troops (parachutists and air-borne troops);
(d) because he has almost unopposed command of the sea;
(e) because his Staff are showing decision and elasticity in their conduct of the campaign.
1. Did the coastal divisions resist long enough, that is, the minimum of which they were thought capable?
2. Did the second line, containing the so-called strong points, offer any resistance or was it overrun too quickly?
3. We must find out what happened at Syracuse, where the enemy found the port installations intact, and at Augusta, where no resistance worthy of the name was offered and where there was the mendacious announcement of the recapture of a base which had never been occupied by the enemy.
4. Were the movements of the three divisions, Göring, Livorno and Napoli, carried out with the necessary direction and with the no less necessary co-ordination? What happened to the Napoli and the Livorno?
5. Granted that the logical direction of the attack will be towards the Straits, has any defence been prepared there?
6. Granted that ‘penetration’ has now taken place, do there exist the means and the will to build up at least a Sicilian ‘front’ to the north towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, such as was formerly contemplated and sketched out?
7. Do the two remaining divisions, the Assietta and the Aosta, still have a task to perform in the west and are they capable of completing it?
8. Has anything been done or is about to be done to check the military unrest now being added to the civil unrest occasioned by the bombardments of the whole island?
9. The irregularity and poverty of communications has given rise to false news which has created a profound depression in the country.
In conclusion, we can still keep the situation under control, provided we have a plan and the will and capacity to apply it, as well as the necessary resources.
Briefly, the plan can only be this: (a) resist on land at all costs: (b) hold up enemy supplies by the extensive use of our sea and air forces.”In the meantime, while the Tyrrhenian line (eastwards from Termini Imerese, to protect Messina and the Straits) was being prepared, the first rumours of “treason” began to circulate. Colonel Schmalz, a German brigade commander, sent the German Supreme Command the following telegram (a copy of which General Rintelen sent me on the evening of July 12th) which does something to explain the mystery of Augusta:
Up to today no enemy attack has been launched against Augusta. The English have never been in there. Notwithstanding this, the Italian garrison has blown up its guns and ammunition and set fire to a large fuel dump. The A.A. gunners in Augusta and Priolo have thrown all their ammunition into the sea and blown up their guns.
By the afternoon of the 11th not an Italian officer or soldier was to be found in the neighbourhood of Schmalz’s brigade.
In the course of the morning many officers had already abandoned their troops and taken motor transport to Catania or elsewhere, Many soldiers either isolated or in small groups are roaming about the country; some have thrown away their arms and uniforms and are wearing civilian clothes.In view of the rumours concerning the surrender of Augusta, which were circulating not only in Rome, Naval Headquarters sent me on July 15th a memorandum (No. 28) in which, referring to a speech made at a meeting of hierarchs, notice was given of an investigation which “would take some time to carry out, owing to present events.” After various remarks on the efficiency of the base, Naval Headquarters ended nevertheless by admitting that “there was no doubt the destruction and evacuation of the fortifications to the north of the fortress had been premature, and that the evacuation had been carried out in a disorderly manner.”
The note given me by General Rintelen did not remain unanswered. On July 18th I sent a cable to the Führer in which, basing my information on elements which had now reached Rome, I modified the view expressed in Rintelen’s note and said, among other things: "In Italy, the enemy has opened the second front on which England and America will concentrate their enormous offensive potentiality, in order not only to conquer Italy but also to open the way to the Balkans at a moment when Germany is heavily committed on the Russian front.”
Meanwhile the first eye-witness accounts of events began to reach Rome. Here are a few extracts from a report written by a high official of the Ministry of Popular Culture who had been sent on a mission to Sicily and had remained there from the 5th to the 15th of July. After stressing the utter chaos occasioned by the incessant bombardments, he said:
“Despite the somewhat agitated state of mind of the Sicilians with regard to the internal situation, with regard to the war, up to July 10th, their feeling was one of resignation to the burden of the constant enemy air activity (with outbursts of revulsion and hatred for American barbarity) and of firm faith concerning the outcome of the war.
Confronted with the possibility of enemy invasion, one may say that there was not a single Sicilian who did not express the certainty that any attempt of the sort would be foiled in a very short time and that all Italy would unite in helping Sicily and crushing the enemy offensive on our country’s soil. At Palermo, news of the invasion was learned on the first morning, at first through proclamations by the military authorities and then through edicts stuck on the walls or published in the papers. One can say in all conscience that in general the population remained calm, absolutely confident that the attempt would be foiled at once. What on the contrary began to cause a certain unrest was the application of martial law.
No practical measures had been taken in advance to ensure the continuation of civil life by means of essential services. The city of Palermo was left practically without bread as the bakers could not get to the city, being held up at the evacuation centres. Every remaining means of transport was blocked wherever it was. Later on, in view of the many inconveniences, the military authorities arranged with the civil authorities for special passes to be issued for travel between town and countryside.
On the third day it was finally decided to call off the state of emergency from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. But meanwhile the chaos born of it created a feeling of complete confusion. Up to the 12th, people remained calm in face of the new situation, but the holding up of all news, due to lack of any means of telegraphic or telephonic communication, began to make itself felt. Palermo was virtually isolated — no news except for the communiqué. But everyone still eagerly awaited the sudden announcement that the enemy attempt had been frustrated. Instead, the communiqué continued to speak of the enemy being ‘contained.’ The morale of the population began to go down. Even the officers began to show signs of doubt. Sick of waiting for the communiqué, people began to seek out the news broadcast by the BBC and by Algiers Radio, and gobble it up.”After relating the various stages of his journey from Palermo to Messina, having learned that Enna had already been evacuated, the high official’s account continues as follows:
“On the morning we arrived at Messina, the port was still in flames and the city half destroyed. We found people at the end of their tether. I had a feeling of sudden and unexpected disaster. In the Prefecture and the offices of the Commissariat as well as in the upper quarter of the town (so far preserved from enemy action) people were talking of the treason at Augusta. Everyone was overcome with alarm and misgivings, even the soldiers. Meanwhile the aerial bombardment began again, overtaking us just as we were on our way to Punta del Faro to try and get more accurate news from the Germans. Halfway there, in open country, we saw at least four terrific raids on Messina, Villa San Giovanni and Reggio. One might say that we saw what was left of Messina destroyed under our very eyes. The fire of the A.A. guns was terrific, but their aim was inaccurate. We saw a few aircraft hit. At the sight of bands of soldiers (and, more especially, airmen and sailors, in rags, who were straggling in disorderly fashion towards the German ferries, we decided to cross the Straits, it being impossible either to go on or to turn back. The spectacle at Scilla and Bagnara railway stations was even more lamentable. Crowds of civilians and hordes of soldiers were storming the passenger trains and ferries. Sailors, airmen and soldiers, some from Augusta, some from Catania, some from Riposto and some from Messina, apparently driven by hunger and fatigue, jostled each other, shouted and swore. There was an atmosphere of defeat. Whether at Messina or on the Calabrian coast, even the officers, who ignored the soldiers’ cursing, did not seem of a very different frame of mind.”Thus far the high official of the Ministry of Popular Culture reported. Here is another eye-witness account by the editor of a Palermo daily paper:
“Despite two years of preparation, the Enna Command which occupied the central and highest point of the island was not equipped to withstand even an ordinary air-raid. The Enna Command left the city immediately after its first and only air-raid. Such a fact, together with its wanderings about the triangle of the Peloritani mountains, must have created a confusion, the effects of which have certainly been detrimental on the unity of our troops and the organisation of war services.
In the same region we had a feeling of military disaster because there were plain signs of the formations crumpling up, that is, of marines and airmen straggling towards Messina to re-embark and get back to the mainland. The case of Augusta which would not put up a defence, the case of certain divisions which melted quietly away without fighting, had their raison d’être in the inadequate organisation of the different Commands. The conduct of the Bersaglieri and the Gela coastal division was well praised. On the other hand, the case of the air and naval formations which dissolved instantly at the mere sight of the enemy forces had a devastating effect.”A third account of Augusta was given by a Party Inspector sent to Sicily, who said à propos of certain salvage operations:
“It is a fact, first, that the base of Augusta was blown up twenty-four hours before the first Englishman came in sight of the fortress, and second, that before the arrival of the English at Augusta the scattered sailors and airmen of this fortress had already arrived at Messina.”Here is another account, this time by the Chief of Police at Catania, who telephoned:
“One can see long trails of scattered and starving Italian soldiers approaching the country round Etna, spreading panic and terror everywhere. The population fears an outbreak of dangerous brigandage.”The world press seemed surprised by the scant opposition offered to the enemy landing. Bearing in mind that this is an enemy source, here is what The Times wrote in one of its leaders:
“The Axis armies in Sicily continue to crumble away under the Allied blows. Before the invasion it was natural to expect that the Italian troops, who had fought, if anything, with increasing stubbornness as the Tunisian campaign went against them, would redouble their determination when it came to defending the soil of their native land. That has not been the experience. Perhaps the Italian troops see little point in fighting to preserve their country for domination by Germans, perhaps the long-standing unpopularity of Fascism in Sicily has had its effect, not only on the population but also on the minds of the garrison destined to defend the island, as well as of the people; at any rate, the resistance of a great part of the defending force has from the first been perfunctory and half-hearted. Especially on the extreme left of the Allied advance the Americans have reported a general readiness to surrender; they have collected thousands of prisoners with very little fighting, and such difficulties as they have encountered in the later stages of their advance have been rather due to the ruggedness of the country than to any resistance by the enemy. In the sector where the invaders have struck deep into the heart of the island, a more resolute attempt has been made to bar their way, since they were approaching the important rail and road junctions of Enna, the node of the communications of all the southern part of Sicily. On the 21st, however, this important key city was evacuated by the Italians, and immediately occupied by the Canadians and Americans; they have pushed on over the mountain ridge, which forms the backbone of the island, and now have only forty miles, though over difficult country, to traverse before reaching the northern shore.
Some of the defeated Italian troops in these western and central sectors are complacently waiting to be rounded up into the allied prison camps.”Only a week later the game in Sicily was as good as over. Among many contradictory opinions, there was one which was unanimously held by both officers and men, civilians and soldiers: namely, that everywhere, and particularly in the plain of Catania, the Germans had fought with great valour.
CHAPTER VI: FROM THE FELTRE MEETING TO THE NIGHT OF THE GRAND COUNCIL
The military crisis could not but be accompanied by a political crisis compromising the Regime both in its head and in its whole system. History — above all, modern history — has shown that a regime never falls for internal reasons. Moral questions, economic distress, party struggles never place a regime in jeopardy. These are questions which never embrace the whole population, but only limited sections of it.
A regime, whatever regime it may be, falls only under the weight of defeat. The Second Empire crumbled after Sedan; the empires of the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns and the Romanoffs fell after the defeat of the 1915-18 war; the democratic Third Republic waned in 1940 after the Pétain armistice. The Italian monarchy and its accomplices had therefore but one aim: to bring about the ruin of Fascism through defeat in war.
The King was behind this plot because he had reason to believe that a victory won or snatched from defeat by Fascism would make him more insignificant than ever. For twenty years he had been awaiting a good opportunity. He was waiting until a certain national frame of mind had been reached, a popular and universal emotion which at a given moment would flare up at a simple word.
With the advent of Scorza, the Party planned to take the situation in hand again. They made a good beginning. The directive was to “call forth” the Royal House from the non-committal and ambiguous shade in which it had been lurking, and to gain for the Party the support of the Church. All this was bound up with a purging of the ranks, certain reforms of a social nature, and the regular rotation of men in political and military offices — a work which should have been undertaken during a period of relative tranquillity, whereas the events of war were constantly interrupting it.
Prior to the attack on Sicily, the Party Secretary had arranged a series of regional rallies at which the most important members of the Party were to have spoken. It is well known that Grandi refused to speak and resisted all appeals to do so. Scorza wanted to punish him for this “refusal of obedience,” but he later agreed that it was not worth the trouble of bringing up the “Grandi case” at this time. Grandi’s defection was symptomatic. Nevertheless, after a radio speech made by Scorza on the evening of July 18th, Grandi sent him from Bologna a telegram of congratulations on the speech in which he detected, as he said, “the impassioned accents of the great men of the Risorgimento.” Grandi had shown equal enthusiasm after a speech made by Scorza at the Adriano Theatre on May 5th. Grandi, in his regulatory black Saharan uniform, was among the hierarchs who accompanied Scorza to the Palazzo Venezia from the balcony of which I was to speak (for the last time!) to the people of Rome.
Grandi seemed moved and cried out: “What a speech! The very spirit of our dawn! We feel as if we had been reborn.”
A large crowd filled the square to listen to the few words I pronounced; but the warmth of their demonstrations was very much below that of former times; it was — if one may say so — a rather worried enthusiasm. After the attack on Sicily had started there was no longer any question of organising the regional rallies which had been planned. In any case, one would have had to await the outcome of military operations at least in their first phase. Nevertheless, the twelve speakers had been convened to Rome; they had met several times in the Piazza Colonna in the offices of the Party Secretary, who at one point asked me to receive them. This meeting took place about 8 p.m. on July 16th. Together with the Party Secretary, Farinacci, De Bono, Giuriati, Teruzzi, Bottai, Acerbo and De Cicco were present. I did not welcome this meeting much, as I did not care for meetings not prepared in advance with a regular agenda.
The following spoke: De Bono, who asked for details of the course of operations in Sicily; Farinacci, who pressed insistently for a convocation of the Grand Council as almost an absolute necessity to enable everyone to make himself heard; Bottai, who stressed the same subject, “not” — he said — “in order to evade our separate responsibilities but to assume them in full”; Giuriati, who made a harangue of a constitutional nature which he amplified in a long letter the next day; Scorza, who stressed the necessity of changing the men in command and replacing them with some of his own candidates (who later on demonstrated a perfidious and treacherous spirit); all of them, or nearly all, insisted on the necessity of convening the Grand Council, if only to enable me to inform the members of the highest assembly in the Regime of certain facts which could not be given to the general public. At the end of this discussion which, not having been prepared, revealed nothing but a sceptical frame of mind all round, I announced that I would convene the Grand Council in the second half of the month.
Once my decision was known, political tension increased in political and Fascist circles. Some have scoffed at the existence of such circles. But they do exist. They are those hundreds (or, in the capital, those thousands) of persons who live in the shadow of government activity. Each of them forms the centre of a constellation. The general frame of mind of these constellations reflects at certain moments the frame of mind of the whole city and hence, in a small way, that of the nation. The coming and going of the hierarchs in the Piazza Colonna was incessant. Everyone was asking himself the question: “What will the Grand Council decide on — peace or war?” For by now a spirit of weariness, a spirit of capitulation, was making headway among the weaker souls, and the steadily worse news from Sicily only increased that spirit.
In the late afternoon of Sunday the 18th, I left by air for Riccione, where I listened to a speech by Scorza, excellent in content but not corroborated by his tone of voice. On the morning of the 19th I left by air for Treviso, where I arrived at 8.30 a.m. At 9 a.m. Field-Marshal Keitel arrived and, a few minutes later, the Führer.
The meeting was as usual cordial, but the entourage — the attitude of the higher air force officers and of the troops — was chilly. As the Führer had to return to Germany the same afternoon the time had to be used to the best advantage. The talk could have taken place at Treviso itself in the local Headquarters of the airport or in the Prefecture, instead of at Feltre (a three-hour journey there and back). But by now the regular routine of the “ceremonial” had fixed its programme and no power on earth could have altered it.
The Führer, myself and our staffs did an hour’s journey by train. After another hour by car we reached the Villa Gaggia. There was a most beautiful, cool, shady park; and a labyrinthine building which some people found almost uncanny. It was like a crossword puzzle frozen into a house. After a few moments rest the talk began; the Führer, myself, Under-Secretary Bastianini, the ambassadors von Mackensen and Alfieri, the Italian Chief of General Staff Ambrosio, Marshal Keitel, General Rintelen, General Warlimont, Colonel Montezemolo and others less important were present. It was 11 a.m. when the Führer began to speak. He began his speech with a clear and systematic résumé of the raw material situation and the necessity for defending the territories where they were to be found. He went on to speak of the air force, its employment and its present and future possibilities. Passing to the battle now being fought in Sicily he promised the despatch of fresh reinforcements, particularly artillery and troops.
The Führer had been speaking for half an hour when an official entered the room. He was pale and agitated. He begged pardon for interrupting. He came up to me and said: “At this moment Rome is undergoing a violent enemy air bombardment.” This news, which I myself conveyed aloud to the Führer and bystanders, made a deep and painful impression. During the rest of the Führer’s résumé, news of the attack on Rome continued to come in. Then a talk took place between myself and Hitler in which I stressed the necessity of sending further aid to Italy. This talk continued on the return journey in the car and train. On parting from Hitler I said to him: “Ours is a common cause, Führer!”
It was 5 p.m. when the Führer’s aeroplane took off from the Treviso airfield. Half an hour later my machine took off, direct for Rome. Even before we passed over Mount Soracte, Rome seemed to the crew of my aeroplane to be enveloped in a huge black cloud. It was the smoke rising from hundreds of waggons on fire in the Littorio railway station. The workshops of the airport were destroyed. The airfield, pitted with bomb craters, was unusable. Flying over Rome from Littorio to Centocelle, one received the distinct impression that the attack had been heavy and the damage enormous.
A few high officials awaited me at the airport. Getting into my car I drove towards the Villa Torlonia. Meanwhile in the streets a multitude of men, women and children, in cars, on bicycles or on foot, and with all sorts of domestic ‘impedimenta,’ was making its way towards the suburbs and the countryside; a multitude — or rather a torrent.
One more illusion had vanished in smoke: namely, that Rome, the Holy City, would never be bombed; that the best anti-aircraft artillery was the Vatican itself; that Myron Taylor had brought the Pope a guarantee to that effect from the American President, and other things of that nature — hopes, desires — all of that had been wiped out by a brutal bombardment which had lasted nearly three hours, had caused thousands of victims and destroyed whole quarters of the city.
When the King went to visit the damaged areas he was not stoned, as people have said, but the crowd remained silent and hostile at his passing. The next day I went to visit the Littorio station and airport, as well as the University and (in the same afternoon) the airports of Ciampino, and I was received everywhere with demonstrations of sympathy.
On Wednesday morning I went to the King to report on the Feltre talks.
As I told an intimate friend, I found the King frowning and nervous. “A tense situation,” he said. “It can’t go on much longer. Sicily is lost by now. The Germans will double-cross us. The discipline of the troops has broken down. The airmen at Ciampino fled as far as Velletri during the attack. They call it ‘dispersing.’ I followed the attack the other day from the Villa Ada over which the waves of planes passed. I don’t think there were 400 aircraft as they said. There were half that number. The ‘Holy City’ legend is over. We must tell the Germans our dilemma...”
That was the gist of the talk. It was the last. The last of a long series. From November 1922, I had gone regularly twice a week to the Quirinal, on Mondays and Thursdays. I went there at 10:30 in civilian clothes and a bowler. Besides these bi-weekly talks many others took place for various reasons — almost every day during the summer military manoeuvres. I never went to San Rossore. I was once his guest at the Villa Ada in Rome to attend after dinner at the showing of a film of the King’s voyage in Somaliland. I once went to Sant’Anna di Valdieri and once to Racconigi for a wedding, and finally to report on the negotiations which led to the Reconciliation with the Vatican.
The King was once my guest at Rocca delle Caminate after the conquest of the Empire. Our relations were always cordial but never friendly. There was always something between us which prevented our reaching a relationship of real confidence. During the various wars, the King was only a passenger and vacillated perpetually. He was less so in the 1940 war, when he not only raised no objections of any sort but considered the war against France and Great Britain a necessary decision. As the war went on, this attitude changed.
On Wednesday at noon, the hour of the usual report, the Party Secretary Scorza presented me with a motion which Grandi and others proposed to present to the Grand Council. I read the document (a pretty long one of more than three pages) and handed it back to Scorza declaring that the document was inadmissible and contemptible. Scorza put it back in his briefcase and did not insist further. It was on that occasion that Scorza made me a rather ambiguous speech in which he spoke of a “shocker” or rather “super-shocker” which might be in store, a speech to which I did not attribute great importance. In the afternoon I received Grandi, who gave me a volume containing the minutes of the meetings in London of the Committee of Non-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Grandi touched on various points but said nothing of what was to come.
The following day — Thursday — Scorza once more stressed the possibility of a “shocker,” or rather a “super-shocker,” but as he gave no further details I had the impression that it was merely a matter of one of the usual outcries over the changes in the Command and the Government.
There was much coming and going in the Piazza Colonna on Thursday and Friday. At a certain point, Grandi put forward the idea of postponing the Grand Council — a clever move to look like an alibi. Scorza telephoned to know if this were a possibility. I replied that it was now absolutely essential to reach a general clarification of the position. The date had been fixed. The invitations had been issued. Of all the constitutional organs the convening of which was envisaged that week, the Chamber or the Senate, the Grand Council was the most suitable for reviewing the problems of war in the light of recent events such as the invasion of national soil.
The nervous tension became more and more acute. On the afternoon of Saturday, July 24th, Rome turned pale. Cities as well as men have a face, and the emotions of the soul are reflected on that face. Rome felt that something serious was in the air. The cars which brought the members of the Grand Council were not parked in the square but jammed into the courtyard. Even the musketeers were relieved of their usual office of guarding the Palazzo during this meeting. They had discharged this task excellently over a number of years.
CHAPTER VII: THE GRAND COUNCIL MEETS
I intended the meeting to be a confidential one in which everyone would have the chance of asking for explanations and receiving them; a sort of secret committee. In expectation of a long discussion, the Grand Council was convened for 5 p.m. instead of the usual hour of 10 p.m.
All the members of the Grand Council were in black Saharan uniform. The session started promptly at five o’clock. I asked Scorza to call the roll of those present. No one was missing. Then I began my résumé, a pile of documents on the table before me. The essential points of my discourse, which were taken down by one of the listeners, were as follows:
“The war has reached an extremely critical stage. What seemed impossible (and indeed was thought by some to be an absurd hypothesis), even after the entry of the United States into the Mediterranean, has come to pass — the invasion of our home territory. From this point of view, one may say that the real war began with the loss of Pantelleria. The peripheral war on the African coast was intended to avert or frustrate such an eventuality. In a situation like this, all official or unofficial trends of opinion openly or clandestinely hostile to the Regime make common cause against us, and they have already provoked symptoms of demoralisatiyn even among the ranks of Fascism, particularly among the ‘vested interests,’ that is, among those who see their own personal positions threatened. At this moment,” I said, “I am certainly the most intensely disliked or, rather, loathed man in Italy, which is only natural on the part of the ignorant, suffering, victimised, under-nourished masses subjected to the terrible physical and moral burden of the ‘Liberator’ raids and to the suggestions of enemy propaganda. Political and military circles aim their sharpest criticisms at those who bear the responsibility for the military conduct of the war. Let it be said once and for all that I did not in the least desire the delegation of Command of the Armed Forces in the Field given to me by the King on June 10th. That initiative belongs to Marshal Badoglio.
Here is one of his letters, dated May 3rd, 1940, protocol No. 5372.
SUBJECT: ORGANISATION OF THE COMMAND.To the Duce of Fascism, Head of the Government.In my letter dated April 15th last, No. 5318, I had the honour of calling your attention to the absolute necessity of arriving at an organisation of the Command which would assign the tasks and respective responsibilities of the various military hierarchies. At a meeting held in your office on that same day, the 15th, you, Duce, told me verbally that sometime during the week this very important question would be settled. As I have so far heard nothing further on this subject, I take the liberty, Duce, of giving you my exact views on the matter in greater detail.
Of the French and German solutions of the problem, Badoglio preferred the latter, which had been applied during the 1915-18 war, that is:
• Commander-in-Chief (purely nominal): the King;
• Chief of General Staff: the actual commander of the Army.
Badoglio’s letter continued thus:
After the war we were the first to recognise the need of a single direction of the armed forces. The office of Chief of General Staff was therefore created, but his duties definitely applied only to times of peace and not in the event of war. Now it is indispensable for us to arrive at this organization and immediately to determine — since the present situation does not admit of delay — the respective competences and consequent responsibilities.
Badoglio preferred the German solution of the problem because with his confirmation as Chief of General Staff his functions would remain ‘of prime importance.’ And he concluded:
I thought it my strict duty to put forward these considerations with all frankness, as I have always done with you, Duce. It was certainly no feeling of pride which actuated me, only a justifiable regard for the name which, by so much work and so many sacrifices, I have acquired during the Great War, in Libya and in the Ethiopian campaign. If I have any pride, it is in having always served you faithfully and with boundless devotion, Duce.
On June 4th, that is, six days before the declaration of war, Badoglio issued the following circular (No. 5569) to all Chiefs of Staff, Colonial Governors and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
SUBJECT: CONSTITUTION AND FUNCTION OF THE SUPREME COMMAND OF THE ARMED FORCES IN THE EVENT OF WAR.
Some clarification and definition is necessary with regard to the constitution and function of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces in the event of war.
1. Supreme Commander in war and of all the Armed Forces, wherever stationed, the Duce, in the name of H.M. the King.
2. The Duce exercises this command through the Chief of General Staff who has his own general staff. The main functions of the Chief of General Staff are:
(a) To keep the Duce informed of the general picture of the military situation of the armed forces and of their possibilities of action in relation to the enemy’s position. In consequence, to receive orders and general directives for the conduct of operations
(b) to inform the Chiefs of Staff of the various Services of consequent orders and directives for the development of the said operations in the strategic field;
(c) to follow the course of operations, intervening should the necessity arise, particularly to ensure co-ordination and the timely employment of each Service.
After defining the tasks of each Chief of Staff, the circular ended as follows:
The organisation of the Supreme Command of the Italian Armed Forces, differing from any others rests upon these principles: (a) a single and totalitarian conception of the command personally exercised by the Duce, by delegation of the King; (b) strategic conduct of the war and co-ordination of action between the various Services and between the various sectors of the operations, exercised according to and on the orders of the Duce, by the Chief of General Staff; (c) exercise of command over the various Services stationed at home or overseas, carried out by the Chief of Staff or the commanders-in-chief of the Services; (d) absolute devotion and obedience to the Duce and absolute unity of thought and action on the part of everyone, in keeping with Fascist style and tradition.
This is how things stand. I have never technically directed military operations. It was not my job. Only once — in Cavallero’s absence — did I take the place of the technical Chiefs of Staff, and that was on the occasion of the air and sea battle on June 15th, 1942, which took place in the waters of Pantelleria. That decisive victory was due to me, as was acknowledged at an important review of the officers of the 7th Naval Division in Naples by the Chief of Naval Staff himself. Admiral of the Fleet Riccardi, before I decorated the officers and crews who had specially distinguished themselves in that battle, during which Great Britain ‘for the first time felt the teeth of the Roman Wolf sink into her flesh.’
When I fell ill in October, 1942, I contemplated giving up my military command, but I did not do so because it seemed to me unseemly to abandon the ship in the midst of a tempest. I postponed doing so until after a ‘sunny day,’ which has not so far appeared. I think there is nothing further to be said on the question of the command.
In some circles Germany’s aid has been called into question. Well, we must admit in all fairness that Germany has met us generously and substantially. On purpose for this meeting I had asked the competent Ministry for a list of Germany’s effective contribution of the principal raw materials in 1940, 1941, 1942 and the first six months of 1943. The total was imposing: coal, 40,000,000 tons; metals, 2,500,000 tons; synthetic rubber, 22,000 tons; aviation spirit, 220,000 tons; petrol, 421,000 tons. It is unnecessary to quote the minor contributions of vital metals such as nickel.
After the heavy bombardments had begun on Milan, Genoa, and Turin (October, 1942) the Führer was asked to contribute to anti-aircraft defence. The request was granted. According to data submitted by General Balocco, Secretary of the Supreme Commission of Defence, German pieces of artillery numbered no fewer than 1,500 on April 1st, 1943. That therefore disproves the thesis of the defeatists, according to which the Germans had not given Italy the necessary aid.
Another point of the capitulationists is that ‘the people’s heart is not in the war.’ Now the people’s heart is never in any war. Not even in those of the Risorgimento, as can be proved by unimpeachable documents. We need not disturb those great shades; let us remember more recent events. Was the people’s heart in the 1915-18 war, by any chance? Not in the least. The people were dragged into the war by a minority which succeeded in winning over three cities — Milan, Genoa and Rome — and some minor towns such as Parma. Three men launched the movement: Corridoni, D’Annunzio and myself. Even then there was no sort of ‘sacred unity.’
The country was divided into neutralists and interventionists, and this division continued even after Caporetto. Was the people’s heart in a war which produced 535,000 deserters in the country? The ‘people’s heart’ seems to have been far less in that than in the present one. The truth is that no war is ever ‘popular’ when it starts, and it is easy to see why it becomes popular if it goes well, and if it goes badly it becomes extremely unpopular. Even the war for the conquest of Abyssinia became popular only after the victory of Mai Ceu. There is therefore no need to be overcome by these psychological fluctuations, even if, as in the present stage of the war, they are profound. The masses are disciplined, and that is the essential thing.”I continued as follows:
“War is always a party war, a war of the party which desired it; it is always one man’s war, the war of the man who declared it; if today this is called Mussolini’s war, in 1859 it could have been called Cavour’s war. This is the moment to tighten the reins and to assume the necessary responsibility. I shall have no difficulty in replacing men, in turning the screw, in calling upon forces not yet engaged, in the name of our Fatherland whose territorial integrity is today being violated. In 1917, some provinces of the Veneto were lost but no one spoke of ‘surrender.’ At that time, they spoke of moving the Government to Sicily: today, if we must, we shall move it to the Po Valley.
Now Grandi’s motion calls upon the Crown: his is an appeal not so much to the Government as to the King. Well, there are two alternatives. The King might make the following speech to me: ‘Dear Mussolini, things haven’t gone exactly well lately, but a difficult phase of the war may be followed by a better one; you have begun, carry on.’ The King might also, which is more likely, say this instead: ‘So, gentlemen of the Regime, now that you are in it up to your necks, you remember that a certain Statute exists: that in that Statute there is a certain Article 51: that as well as that Statute, there is a King: well, I myself, accused of having broken the Statute of the Realm for twenty years, I shall step into the limelight and shall accept your invitation, but since I consider you responsible for the situation, I shall profit by your stratagem and liquidate you at one blow.’
Reactionary and anti-Fascist circles, the elements devoted to the Anglo-Saxons, will press for the latter. Gentlemen, beware! Grandi’s motion may place the very existence of the Regime in jeopardy.”These were the essential points in my speech as the listener took them down. The discussion was then opened. Marshal De Bono began, and defended the army against the accusations levelled at it of ‘sabotaging’ the war.
The quadrumvir De Vecchi did not agree with De Bono’s view. A few days earlier he had suddenly moved heaven and earth to get a military command, and had obtained one of a coastal division between Civitavecchia and Orbetello. De Vecchi affirmed that many officers, generals and others, were tired, defeatist or worse, and exercised a deleterious influence on the morale of the troops.
Then Grandi rose to speak. His speech was a violent philippic: the speech of a man who was at last giving vent to a long-cherished rancour. He bitterly criticised the activity of the Party, particularly during Starace’s administration (of which he had been an enthusiastic supporter) and also declared himself disappointed in Scorza, though he had made a promising beginning. “My motion,” he said, “would tend towards the creation of a ‘national home front’ which has not existed so far, and which has not existed because the Crown in Italy has held aloof in an attitude of prudent reserve. It is high time for the King to emerge from obscurity and assume his responsibilities. After Caporetto he took up position and launched an appeal to the nation. Today he is silent. Either he assumes his share of historical responsibility, in which case he has the right to remain Head of the State, or else he does not, in which case he will show how much the dynasty is worth.”
The purport of this dilemma — previously agreed upon with Court circles — was evident. Grandi’s speech aroused a feeling of uneasiness in the members of the Grand Council. Count Ciano followed him, recapitulating the diplomatic history of the war in order to show that Italy had not caused the war but had done the impossible to avoid it. He ended by declaring himself in agreement with Grandi’s motion.
Grandi’s criticisms, inspired by the blackest defeatism, were answered by General Galbiati, who, as a soldier and old Blackshirt, made a lyrical rather than a political speech. Roberto Farinacci explained his motion and asked the Grand Council to summon General Ambrosio to report. The proposal was not followed up.
Then the President of the Senate, Suardo, spoke. He remarked that he was not quite clear about Grandi’s motion, especially after the speech in which it had been explained; and he declared that if no more light was thrown upon it he would abstain from voting.
The Minister of Justice, De Marsico, asked and received permission to speak, and let off one of his usual dialectical firework displays on the constitutionalism or not of Grandi’s motion. Bottai made a speech fervently supporting Grandi’s suggestions, while Biggini spoke against Grandi.
At midnight Scorza proposed adjourning the session till the next day, but Grandi leaped to his feet, shouting, “No! I am against the proposal. We have started this business and we must finish it this very night!” I was of the same opinion. I adjourned the sitting for a quarter of an hour, however, and retired to my study to read the latest telegrams which had arrived during the evening from the battle areas.
When the session reopened, the following spoke: Bignardi, who touched on the morale of the rural community; Frattari, on the same subject; Federzoni, who mentioned the problem of wars which did not have the “people’s heart in them”; and Bastianini, who took up the same subject, hotly criticising the propaganda issued during the war by the appropriate Ministry, and, after deploring the fact that instructions had been given designed to weaken the memory of the Piave victory, had a squabble with the Minister Polverelli, the only moment when voices were raised above normal.
Bottai spoke again, still more excitedly, followed by Cianetti. The Party Secretary, Scorza, then began to speak, explaining his motion which was not unlike Grandi’s. Scorza defended the Party against Grandi’s accusations, attacked the Staffs, and ended by affirming that the Party, purged of its dross, would represent the core of a united national front. After Scorza’s motion had been read, Count Ciano rose to say that any mention of the Vatican would not be welcomed on the other side of the Bronze Door.
The discussion, lasting nearly ten hours, took place in an exceedingly tense atmosphere but without the smallest incident of a personal nature.
All that has been said in that regard — about supposed scuffles or armed threats — belongs to the realm of yellow journalism and fairy tales. The discussion was orderly and civilized. It never got out of hand. In fact, every time the speakers flattered me, I interrupted them and asked them not to labour the point.
The position of each member of the Grand Council could be discerned even before the voting: there was a group of traitors who had already negotiated with the Crown, a group of accomplices, and a group of uninformed who probably did not realise the seriousness of the vote. But they voted just the same!
The Party Secretary read Grandi’s motion and called the names of those present. Nineteen replied Yes; seven replied No. Two abstained: Suardo and Farinacci, who voted for his own motion.
I rose and said: “You have provoked a crisis of the Regime. The Session is closed.”
The Party Secretary was going to give the “Salute to the Duce” when I checked him with a gesture, saying, “No, you are excused.”
They all went away in silence. It was 2:40 a.m. on July 25th. I retired to my study where I was shortly afterwards joined by the group of members of the Grand Council who had voted against Grandi’s motion. It was 3 a.m. when I left the Palazzo Venezia. Scorza accompanied me as far as the Villa Torlonia. The streets were deserted, but in the air, already almost light as dawn was breaking, there seemed to be a feeling of that inevitability which the wheel of Fate gives when it is once in motion. Fate, of which men are often the unconscious tools.
During that night, which will be remembered as the “Night of the Grand Council,” the discussion had lasted ten hours — one of the longest sessions ever recorded in political annals. Almost everyone spoke, some several times. That the crisis would have come to a head without the session, the discussion and the relative resolution, is highly probable, but history takes no account of hypothetical events which do not come to pass. What did come to pass, came to pass after the session of the Grand Council. The cup may have been full, but it was the proverbial last drop that made it run over.
APPENDIX (I) TO CHAPTER VII: THE TEXTS OF THE THREE MOTIONS
GRANDI’S ORDER OF THE DAY
The Grand Council, meeting at this time of great hazard, turns its thoughts first of all to the heroic warriors of every Service who, shoulder to shoulder with the proud people of Sicily, in whom the unanimous faith of the Italian people shines at its brightest, are renewing the noble traditions of hardy valour and undaunted spirit of self-sacrifice of our glorious Armed Forces.
Having examined the internal and international situation and the political and military conduct of the war:
IT PROCLAIMS the duty of all Italians to defend at all costs the unity, independence and liberty of the motherland, the fruits of the sacrifice and labour of four generations, from the Risorgimento down to today, and the life and future of the Italian people.
IT AFFIRMS the necessity for the moral and material unity of all Italians in this grave and decisive hour for the destiny of our country.
IT DECLARES that for this purpose the immediate restoration is necessary of all State functions, allotting to the King, the Grand Council, the Government, Parliament and the Guilds the tasks and responsibilities laid down by our statutory and constitutional laws.
IT INVITES the Head of the Government to request His Majesty the King— towards whom the heart of the whole nation turns with faith and confidence — that he may be pleased, for the honour and salvation of the nation, to assume, together with the effective command of the Armed Forces on land, sea and in the air, according to Article 5 of the Statute of the Realm, that supreme initiative of decision which our institutions attribute to him and which, in all our national history, has always been the glorious heritage of our august dynasty of Savoy.
FARINACCI’S ORDER OF THE DAY
The Grand Council of Fascism, having learned the internal and international situation and the political and military conduct of the war on the Axis fronts:
SALUTES proudly and gratefully the heroic Italian Armed Forces and those of our Ally, united in toil and sacrifice in the defence of European civilisation; the people of invaded Sicily, today closer than ever to the heart of our other peoples; the working masses in industry and agriculture who by their labours are strengthening the nation in arms; and the Blackshirts and Fascists in all Italy who are marching in the ranks with immutable loyalty to the Regime.
IT AFFIRMS the sacred duty of all Italians to defend the sacred soil of the motherland to the last, standing fast in the observance of the alliances concluded.
IT DECLARES that the urgent necessity for this purpose is the complete restoration of all State functions, allotting to the King, the Grand Council, the Government, Parliament, the Party and the Guilds the tasks and responsibilities laid down by our Constitution and legislation.
IT INVITES the Head of the Government to request His Majesty the King, towards whom the heart of the whole nation turns with faith and confidence, to be pleased to assume effective command of all the Armed Forces and thus to show the entire world that the whole population is fighting, united under his orders, for the salvation and dignity of Italy.
SCORZA’S ORDER OF THE DAY
The Fascist Grand Council, convened while the enemy — emboldened by success and rendered arrogant by his riches — is trampling down the soil of Sicily and menacing the Peninsula from the sea and from the air:
AFFIRMS solemnly the vital and incontrovertable necessity of resistance at all costs. Assured that all organisations and citizens, in the full and conscious responsibility of the hour, will know how to do their duty up to the supreme sacrifice, it invokes all the spiritual and material resources of the nation for the defence of the unity, independence and liberty of the Fatherland. Rising to its feet, the Grand Council of Fascism:
SALUTES the cities razed to the ground by enemy fury, and their people, who find in Rome— mother of Catholicism, cradle and repository of the highest civilisations — the most worthy expression of their resolution and discipline.
ITS THOUGHTS TURN with proud emotion to the memory of the Fallen and of their families who are transforming their sorrow into the will to resist and fight.
IT SALUTES in His Majesty the King and in the dynasty of Savoy the symbol and strength of the nation’s continuity and the expression of the courage of all our Armed Forces which, together with the valiant German soldiers, are defending the Fatherland on land, sea and in the air.
IT ASSOCIATES ITSELF reverently with the Pontiff’s grief at the destruction of so many famous monuments dedicated for centuries to the cult of religion and art. The Grand Council of Fascism is convinced that the new situation created by the events of the war must be faced by new methods and means.
IT PROCLAIMS, therefore, the urgent necessity of putting these reforms and innovations into effect, in the Government, in the Supreme Command and in the country’s internal life, which, through the full functioning of the constitutional organs of the Regime, may bring victory to the united effort of the Italian people.
APPENDIX (II) TO CHAPTER VII: THE COMMAND OF THE ARMED FORCES IN THE FIELD WAS ENTRUSTED TO ME ON BADOGLIO’S INITIATIVE
In this chapter, in reporting some of the statements I made at the meeting of the Grand Council on July 24th, I wrote: “Let it be said, once and for all, that I did not in the least solicit the mandate of Command of the Armed Forces in the Field, handed over to me by the King on June 10th. The initiative for that belongs to Marshal Badoglio.” We are now in a position to publish five “secret” documents which unimpeachably confirm my categoric statement.
1. MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCE, 19th APRIL 1940
Rome, 19th April, 1940-XVIII.
Ministry of War,
MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCESUPREME COMMAND OF THE ARMED FORCES
Since, present conditions apart, the organisation of the Supreme Command is the indispensable preliminary to the organisation of the High Command of each of the Armed Forces, I put before you, Duce, the following considerations and suggestions: The organisation consists in the definition of: functions; dependence and relationships; structure.
Granted the view that the conduct of the war in all fields (political, economic and military) is concentrated in the hands of the Duce, the Supreme Command is the organ for the employment of the Armed Forces.
This, because it decides the aims, combines them in objectives, assigns these latter to the various Armed Forces, and co-ordinates the operations of the Armed Forces against the objectives themselves.
Dependence and Relationships:
As it is necessary that, at the top, all the authorities should culminate in a single head, so it is correspondingly necessary that in the hierarchic scale the executive tasks should be divided according to the unavoidable requirements of work and specialisation, though always remaining in close contact.
The war resolves itself into two fundamental activities: organisational (which prepares the means), operational (which employs them), activities which, in time of peace, are entrusted respectively to the Minister (Under-Secretary) and the Chief of General Staff (study of and preparation for operations).
It appears that such an allocation may continue also in time of war, with the advantage of continuity; the more so as it is not within the power of the Minister, occupied by organisational work of gigantic dimensions and enormous pressure, to look after the conduct of operations, which, in its turn, requires a knowledge which can be acquired only by long practice and kept up by continual application.
I would therefore envisage: directly below you, the Chief of General Staff, with the task of issuing, under your orders, directives of an operational character to the various High Commands; in a descending scale: the Ministers (Under-Secretaries), with functions concerning the organisational part, and the Chiefs of Staff, responsible for the conduct of operations; Headquarters of the Supreme Command and of the High Commands: Rome.
Subject to your approval, Duce, your sanction on the question would be opportune, so that one might lay down the organisation of the High Commands of each of the Armed Forces, an organisation which, in view of the present situation, I consider particularly urgent.
2. PROTOCOL NO. 5372
Chief of General Staff’s Office,
Rome, 3rd May, 1940-XVIII.
SUBJECT: ORGANISATION OF THE COMMAND.TO THE DUCE OF FASCISM, HEAD OF THE GOVERNMENT, ROME.
In my letter dated April 15th last, No. 5318, I had the honour of calling your attention to the absolute necessity of arriving at an organisation of the Command which would assign the tasks and respective responsibilities of the various military hierarchies.
At a meeting held in your office on that same day, the 15th, you, Duce, told me verbally that sometime during the week this very important question would be settled. As I have so far heard nothing further on this subject, I take the liberty, Duce, of giving you my exact views on the matter in greater detail.
In the comprehensive picture of the present belligerents, two distinct solutions of the question of the Command are to be observed.
1. The German Solution.
The Führer has personally assumed command of all the Armed Forces. To exercise that function he has at his disposition a General Staff, with General Keitel at the head. Each of the Armed Forces has a Commander on its own account:
General Brauchitsch, for the Army;
Admiral Raeder, for the Navy;
Marshal Göring, for the Air Force.
The Führer has the direction, that is, the strategic responsibility; the respective commanders of the Armed Forces have complete and absolute authority over their respective Services, and consequent responsibility for the operations which they direct in obedience to the strategic directives emanating from the Führer.
In that organisation. General Keitel has the normal functions of any Chief of Staff; that is, collection of all manner of intelligence, drafting of orders and possible technical consultation.
2. The French Solution.
General Gamelin, with the title of Chief of General Staff for National Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the land forces, has, with regard to the whole of the Armed Forces, the power to give strategic directives to the Admiral commanding the naval forces and to the general commanding the Air Force; and he has, further, direct command of the land forces. In developing his strategic intentions, however, General Gamelin has first of all to come to an agreement with a War Committee composed of members of the Government.
Although it is to be supposed that, so long as he is kept in office, his strategic intentions prevail over, or coincide with, those of the members of the Committee, it is obvious that his powers are less wide or less free than those exercised by the Führer.
In our military organisation in force during the whole of the Great War there were:
Commander-in-Chief (purely nominal): H.M. the King;
Chief of Army Staff: the acting commander of the Army and the Air Force;
Chief of Naval Staff: Commander of the Fleet and Naval Aviation.
After the war we were the first to recognise the need of a single direction of the Armed Forces. The office of Chief of General Staff was therefore created, but his duties definitely applied only to times of peace and not in the event of war. Now it is indispensable for us to arrive at this organisation and to determine immediately — since the present situation does not admit of delay — the respective competences and consequent responsibilities.
If, Duce, you decide on the German type of solution, then we come to the nomination of the Commanders of the respective Armed Forces and, also, of the Chief of General Staff.
I repeat, of the Chief of General Staff also, because I could not accept General Keitel’s position, obviously a general of good grounding but without any previous war experience which might have brought him to the fore.
In the present German situation, he plays a somewhat secondary role or, at least, one not of the first importance.
But a commander of Badoglio’s stature (to use the expression which you were good enough to employ with regard to me) cannot be assigned a task which, though important, is not of the first rank.
I thought it my strict duty to put forward these considerations with all frankness, as I have always done with you, Duce. It was certainly no feeling of pride which actuated me, only a justifiable regard for the name which, by so much work and so many sacrifices, I have acquired during the Great War, in Libya and in the Ethiopian campaign. If I have any pride, it is in having always served you faithfully and with boundless devotion, Duce.
Marshal of Italy,
Chief of General Staff,
3. MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCE, 10th MAY 1940
Ministry of War,
May 10th, 1940-XVIII.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE DUCE.
ORGANISATION OF THE SUPREME COMMAND AND OF THE HIGH COMMANDS IN GERMANY, ENGLAND AND FRANCE.
In order to throw more light on the problem of the Supreme Command and of the High Commands, I summarise for you the solutions adopted in this respect by Germany, England and France.
Germany — The Führer, as Supreme Commander, outlines directives, examines the plans put forward by the various Armed Forces and decides on operations. The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces is the consultative organ of the Führer; it does not make plans but is a possible channel to ensure cooperation between the Armed Forces, a cooperation which is normally carried out direct. The Supreme Commands of the Army, Navy and Air Force put into operation the plans approved by the Führer.
England — The supreme direction and conduct of the war in all fields devolves on the War Cabinet, from which derive: The Standing Committee for Military Co-ordination (Ministers of the three Services and Chief of General StaS), which gives advice on the conduct of the war; and the Committee of Chiefs of Staff, which deals with questions connected with the military aspects of the war. Two sets of high officials exist: organisational (Ministers) and operational (Chiefs of Staff).
France — The supreme conduct of operations devolves on the War Committee upon which is dependent the Commander-in-Chief, who co-ordinates the action of all the Armed Forces. In France also two sets of officials exist, organisational and operational.
What has been said fully supports the solution approved by you, Duce, and may be summarised as follows:
Yourself Supreme Commander, assisted on the operational side by the Chief of General Staff; two sets of officials: organisational (Ministers) and operational (Chiefs of Staff), closely dovetailed and collaborating.
4. CONFIDENTIAL MINUTE ON THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR
Ministry of War,
(Office for Laws and Decrees).
May 10th, 1941-XIX.
CONDUCT OF THE WAR.
Article 5 of the Statute of the Realm lays down that to the King alone belongs executive power; it is he who is the Supreme Head of the State; he commands all forces on land and sea; he declares war,” etc., etc.
In virtue of this statutory ruling, H.M. the King was the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces during the war of 1915-18.
In his decree of May 23rd, 1915, H.M. the King laid it down that from that day onwards “his orders concerning the operations of the Army and the Fleet and of their various branches were communicated, by his order, to the Army and the Navy by the Chief of Army and Naval Staff respectively, who put them into effect as far as concerned land and sea operations, informing the respective Ministers of War and of Marine, of any dispositions that might interest them.”
At the beginning of the present war, H.M. the King-Emperor addressed the following proclamation, dated June 11th, 1940, XVIII, from the zone of operations, to the fighting men on land, sea, and in the air:
“Fighting Men on land, sea, and in the air! As Supreme Head of all the Forces on land, sea, and in the air, in accordance with my own feelings and the tradition of my House, I once more, as twenty-five years ago, come among you.I entrust the command of the troops in action on all fronts To the Head of the Government, Duce of Fascism, First Marshal of the Empire.My first thought goes out to you, while, sharing with me the deep attachment and complete devotion to our immortal country, you are preparing, together with our ally Germany, to face fresh and difficult trials with an invincible faith in overcoming them.Fighting Men on land, sea, and in the air!United with you as never before, I am sure that your courage and the patriotism of the Italian people will once more find means to ensure the victory of our glorious forces.”Zone of Operations.June 11th, 1940-XVIII.VICTOR EMMANUEL.(Stefani agency.)
The said proclamation, which is one of the means of making known the Head of the State’s wishes, constitutes the sole act by which H.M. the King-Emperor assigned the command of the troops in action on all fronts to the Head of the Government, Duce of Fascism, First Marshal of the Empire.
On the basis of the above Acts, the situation which emerges is as follows:
The King, by virtue of the statutory ruling aforesaid, confirmed in the first part of his proclamation, where he says that “As Supreme Head of all Forces on land, sea and in the air” he comes among his soldiers once more as he did twenty-five years ago — the King is the supreme commander of all the Armed Forces.
The Duce is commander of the troops in action on all fronts, and this qualification was adopted by the Duce himself in the first proclamation he issued to the troops and in all headings of proclamations sent out on the basis of War regulations.
5. PROTOCOL NO. 5569
H.E. the Chief of General Staff’s Office,
June 4th, 1940-XVIII.
Protocol No. 5569.
H.E. Marshal of Italy, Rodolfo Graziani, Chief of Army Staff, Rome.
H.E. Admiral of the Fleet, Domenico Cavagnari, Chief of Naval Staff, Rome.
H.E. General-Designate of the Air Arm, Francesco Pricolo, Chief of Air Staff, Rome.
H.E. Cavaliere Galeazzo Ciano, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rome.
H.E. Army-Corps General Attilio Teruzzi, Minister for Italian Africa, Rome.
H.E. Army-Corps General Ubaldo Soddu, Under-Secretary of State for War, Rome.
H.E. Lieut.-General Achille Starace, Chief of Blackshirt Militia Staff, Rome.
H.R.H. Prince Amedeo Savoia-Aosta, Viceroy of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.
H.E. Air Marshal Italo Balbo, C.-in-C. Armed Forces in N. Africa, Tripoli.
H.E. Cesare Maria De Vecchi di Val Cismon, C.-in-C. Armed Forces in Italian Islands in the Aegean, Rhodes.
SUBJECT: CONSTITUTION AND FUNCTIONING OF THE SUPREME COMMAND OF THE ARMED FORCES IN THE EVENT OF WAR.
Some clarification and definition is necessary with regard to the constitution and function of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces in the event of war.
1. Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, individually and collectively, wherever they may be, is, by delegation of His Majesty the King, the Duce.
2. The Duce exercises this command through the Chief of the General Staff who has his own general staff.
3. The main functions of the Chief of General Staff are:
(a) To keep the Duce informed of the general picture of the military situation of the Armed Forces and of their possibilities of action in relation to the enemy’s position. In consequence, to receive orders and general directives for the conduct of operations;
(b) to inform the Chiefs of Staff of the various Services of consequent orders and directives for the development of the said operations in the strategic field;
(c) to follow the course of operations, intervening should the necessity arise, particularly to ensure co-ordination and the timely employment of each Service.4. On the basis of orders, which they will receive from the Duce as C.-in-C, or from the Chief of General Staff:
(a) The Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces — Army, Navy and Air Force — will exercise effective and complete command over their respective Armed Forces stationed in the motherland (Italian peninsula, islands, Albania). Such command, however, must not be understood as a function of their rank as High Commanders, as was formerly agreed, but as a function of their rank as Chiefs of Staff; by order therefore and in the name of the Duce, C.-in-C. of all the Armed Forces.
(b) The High Commands of the Armed Forces stationed in overseas territory (Italian N. Africa, Italian E. Africa, Aegean possessions) will exercise effective and complete command over the forces placed at their disposition, as effective Commanders of such forces, and therefore with full authority, initiative and responsibility, directly providing for co-ordination of action.5. The General Staff — the organ of the Chief of General Staff — in order to fulfil the tasks required of it in respect of what has been said in item 3 above, does not possess — nor is the establishment thereof envisaged — its own complete organisation, but will make use of those already functioning on the Staffs of the various Armed Forces and other bodies: Supreme Defence Commission, General Commissariat for War Production, etc.
There will be needed, however:
(а) constant close liaison between the Chief of General Stall and the Chiefs of Staff of the various Armed Forces. I will make it my business to obtain this by frequent meetings and exchanges of ideas;(b) uninterrupted passing on of news of every sort by the Staffs of the Armed Forces to the General Staff. This will be obtained by establishing the closest liaison between the Staffs and the other bodies, and by the regular or occasional transmission of news as will be laid down by degrees.
6. The organisation of the Supreme Command of the Italian Armed Forces being different from any other, rests, in other words, upon these principles:
(a) a single and totalitarian conception of the command personally exercised by the Duce, by delegation of His Majesty the King;
(b) strategic conduct of the war and co-ordination of action between the various Services and between the various sectors of the operations, exercised according to, and on the orders of the Duce, by the Chief of General Staff;
(c) exercise of command over the various Services stationed at home or overseas, carried out by the Chief of Staff or the commanders-in-chief of the Services;
(d) absolute devotion and obedience to the Duce and absolute unity of thought and action on the part of everyone, in keeping with the Fascist style and tradition.The present arrangements will, as far as necessary, be sanctioned by appropriate legal provisions.
Marshal of Italy,
Chief of General Staff.
countersigned Quirino Armellini.
CHAPTER VIII: FROM THE VILLA SAVOIA TO PONZA
On the morning of Sunday, 25th, I went to my office as I had done now for nearly twenty-one years, and arrived there about nine o’clock. In the early hours of the morning fantastic rumours had been circulated about the session of the Grand Council, but the city itself — flooded with summer sunlight — looked tranquil enough. Scorza did not appear but telephoned to say that “the night had brought wisdom, and some were beginning to have qualms.” “Too late,” I answered. Indeed, a little later, Cianetti’s famous letter arrived, in which he bitterly repented of having voted for Grandi’s motion, the gravity of which he had not realised, resigned from the Ministry of Guilds and asked to be recalled immediately to his regiment in his capacity of captain in the Alpine artillery. It was that letter — to which I made no reply — which later saved the writer’s life.
Grandi had vanished completely since the early hours of the morning and was searched for in vain. The Command of the Fascist Militia also announced that there was no fresh news. General Galbiati was invited to the Palazzo Venezia at one o’clock.
About eleven the Under-Secretary for the Interior, Albini, brought me the usual morning post containing news of the last twenty-four hours. The most important and regrettable item was the news of the first heavy raid on Bologna. Having gone through the reports I asked Albini: “Why did you vote for Grandi’s motion last night? You are a guest, not a member of the Grand Council.” Little Albini seemed embarrassed by the question, blushed, and burst into profuse excuses along these lines: “I may have made a mistake, but no one could possibly doubt my absolute devotion to you, a devotion not merely of today but of all time.” And as he left the room, his livid face revealed him as a self-confessed traitor. He would go on to beg in vain for a post under Badoglio, seeking constant attendance with him and proposing himself for all manner of menial offices. A little later I told my private secretary to telephone General Puntoni, to know what time in the afternoon the King would be prepared to receive me, adding that I would come to the interview in civilian dress. General Puntoni replied that the King would receive me at the Villa Ada at five o’clock. The Party Secretary gave signs of life again with this communication:
Here is the letter I propose sending the members of the Grand Council: “The Duce asks me to inform you that having convened the Grand Council according to the Law of December 9th, 1928, in order to consult it upon the present political situation, he has taken note of the various motions presented and of your statements.”It seemed from this communication (which was never actually sent out — it would have been useless to send it) that Scorza anticipated a normal development of the situation.
About 1 p.m. the Japanese ambassador, Hidaka, accompanied by Under-Secretary Bastianini, arrived at the Palazzo Venezia. I gave him an account of the Feltre meeting. The talk lasted about an hour.
At two o’clock, accompanied by General Galbiati, I went to visit the Tiburtino quarter, which had suffered particularly heavily in the terror raid of July 19th. I was at once surrounded by a crowd of the victims, who cheered me. At three o’clock I returned to the Villa Torlonia.
At 4:50 my private secretary arrived at the Villa Torlonia and came with me to the Villa Ada. I was absolutely calm. I took with me a book containing the Grand Council motion, Cianetti’s letter, and other papers from which it emerged that the Grand Council’s resolution was not binding on anyone, in view of the consultative function of the organ itself. I thought the King would withdraw his delegation of authority of June 10th, 1940, concerning the Command of the Armed Forces, a command which I had for some time past been thinking of relinquishing. I entered the Villa Ada, therefore, with a mind completely free from any forebodings, in a state which, looking back on it, might really be called utterly unsuspecting.
Punctually at 5 p.m. the car entered the main gates on the Via Salaria which were widely opened. Everywhere within there were reinforcements of Carabinieri, but that did not seem out of the ordinary. The King, in Marshal’s uniform, stood in the doorway of the villa. Two officers were stationed in the hall inside. When we had entered the drawing-room, the King, in a state of abnormal agitation, and with his features distorted, said, clipping his words:
“Dear Duce, it’s no longer any good. Italy has gone to bits. Army morale is at rock bottom. The soldiers don’t want to fight any more. The Alpine regiments are singing a song which says they don’t want to make war on Mussolini’s account any longer.
(The King repeated the verses of the song in Piedmontese dialect.)
The Grand Council’s vote is terrific — nineteen votes for Grandi’s motion and among them four holders of the Order of the Annunciation. You can certainly be under no illusion as to Italy’s feelings with regard to yourself. At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy. You can no longer count on more than one friend. You have one friend left you, and I am he. That is why I tell you that you need have no fears for your personal safety, for which I will ensure protection.
I have been thinking the man for the job now is Marshal Badoglio. He will start by forming a government of experts for purely administrative purposes and for the continuation of the war. In six months time we shall see. All Rome already knows about the Grand Gouncil’s resolution, and they’re all expecting a change.”I replied:
“You are making an extremely grave decision. A crisis at the moment would mean making the people think that peace was in sight, once the man who declared war had been dismissed. The blow to the Army’s morale would be serious. If the soldiers — Alpini or not — don’t want to make war for Mussolini any more, that doesn’t matter, so long as they are prepared to do it for you. The crisis would be considered a triumph for the Churchill-Stalin set-up, especially for the latter, who would see the retirement of an antagonist who has fought against him for twenty years. I realise the people’s hatred. I had no difficulty in recognising it last night in the midst of the Grand Council. One can’t govern for such a long time and impose so many sacrifices without provoking resentments more or less temporary or permanent. In any case, I wish good luck to the man who takes the situation in hand.”It was exactly 5:20 p.m. when the King accompanied me to the door. His face was livid and he looked smaller than ever, almost dwarfish. He shook my hand and went in again. I descended the few steps and went towards my car.
Suddenly a Carabinieri captain stopped me and said: “His Majesty has charged me with the protection of your person.”
I was continuing towards my car when the captain said to me, pointing to a motor-ambulance standing nearby: “No. We must get in there.”
I got into the ambulance, together with my secretary, De Cesare. A lieutenant, three Carabinieri and two police agents in plain clothes got in as well as the captain and placed themselves by the door armed with machine-guns. When the door was closed the ambulance drove off at top speed. I still thought that all this was being done, as the King had said, in order to protect my person.
After a half-hour’s run the ambulance stopped at a Carabinieri barracks. The windows of the lodge were closed but I could see that it was surrounded by sentries with fixed bayonets, while an officer stood guard permanently in the next room. I stayed there about an hour and thence, still in the ambulance, was taken to the barracks of a Carabinieri cadet school. It was 7 p.m. The deputy-commander of the school seemed moved when he saw me arrive and said a few conventional words of sympathy. Then I was accompanied to the room used as an office by Colonel Tabellini, the officer commanding the training-school, while an officer stood on guard in the small room adjoining.
During the evening a few Carabinieri officers came to see me, among them Chirico, Bonitatibus and Santillo, with whom I spoke on general matters. They said that it was entirely a question of protecting me and that this very delicate task had been entrusted specially to their Corps. I did not touch a morsel. I asked to go out, and an officer accompanied me along the corridor. I noticed then that at least three Carabinieri were mounting guard at the door of the office, which was on the second floor. And it was then, as I sat thinking in my room, that for the first time a doubt began to trouble my mind: was this protection or captivity?
That certain circles were plotting against my life was known also to the police, who, however (particularly under Chierici’s truly wretched administration) had maintained that these were only fleeting aspirations with nothing practical about them — everything could be boiled down to an expression of understandable discontent. It is worth mentioning, in parenthesis, that Chierici’s nomination as Chief of Police was especially sponsored by Albini.
But, I asked myself, what menace to my life can exist in a barracks where there are as many as 2,000 Carabinieri cadets? How could the conspirators get at me? How could the ‘fury of the populace’ get at me either?
About 11 p.m. I put out the light, the light next door remaining on, where an officer mounted permanent guard, not even answering the ring of the telephone bell.
At 1 a.m. on the 26th Lieut.-Col. Chirico came into my room and said: “General Ferone has just arrived with a message for you from Marshal Badoglio.”
I rose and went into the next room. I had known General Ferone in Albania. He was now wearing a strangely smug expression.
Marshal Badoglio’s letter, in a green envelope headed “War Office,” was addressed in the Marshal’s own handwriting to “Cavaliere Sig, Benito Mussolini” and said:
To H.E. the Cavaliere Benito Mussolini,
The undersigned Head of the Government wishes to inform Your Excellency that what has been done in your regard has been done solely in your personal interest, detailed information having reached us from several quarters of a serious plot against your person. He much regrets this, and wishes to inform you that he is prepared to give orders for your safe accompanying, with all proper respect, to whatever place you may choose.
The Head of the Government,Marshal of Italy,
From the moment I entered the training-school barracks I had no more news of the world at large. I was merely told that the King had made a proclamation and Badoglio another, declaring that they would carry on the war; that the city was calm and that people now thought peace was near.
Having read Badoglio’s missive, I dictated the following points to General Ferone, who wrote them on a piece of paper in his own hand.
July 26th, 1943, 1 a.m.
1. I wish to thank Marshal Badoglio for the attention he is according my person.
2. The only residence at my disposal is Rocca delle Caminate, whither I am prepared to go at any moment.
3. I wish to assure Marshal Badoglio, if only in remembrance of the work we have done together in the past, that not only will I raise no difficulties of any sort but I will co-operate in every possible way.
4. I am glad of the decision to continue the war together with our allies, as the honour and interests of the country require at this time, and I express my earnest hope that success will crown the grave task which Marshal Badoglio is assuming by order and in the name of His Majesty the King, whose loyal servant I have been for twenty-one years and shall continue to be. Long live Italy!This indirect communication was the only one sent to Badoglio. I never sent a word or a sign to the King. By this reply which Badoglio never dared publish, contenting himself with giving a mangled oral version of it to his circle, I showed that I genuinely believed that Badoglio, though modifying the Government, would not change the general policy dictated by the war.
When General Ferone had left, I retired, and lay awake till the early hours of the morning.
During the whole of Monday there continued what might be called the “private residence” farce. Several times during the day they came to say that the residence at Rocca delle Caminate was the best from the point of view of my ‘personal safety,’ that the General of the Bologna Carabinieri had already inspected it and confirmed that Rocca lent itself excellently to “security” and that they were only awaiting the word to arrange the mode of departure, possibly by air. So the day went by, with no further news. The only thing they said was that all was quiet at the Villa Torlonia — which was untrue.
In the evening Major Bonitatibus arranged a camp bed in Colonel Tabellini’s room as usual. The whole morning of Tuesday, 27th, as well, there continued the farce of an “imminent departure” which never took place. There was, however, an increased vigilance about the place. At 7 p.m. a platoon of Carabinieri and one of metropolitan police entered the barrack square, at the far end of which the famous words “Believe, Obey, Fight” were written on the wall in huge letters. They took up position near a group of lorries, towards 8 p.m. a few motor-cars arrived with a group of officers.
At a given moment an officer, striding into the middle of the square, shouted: “All inside! Close the windows!” to the cadets who had crowded on to the parapets, attracted by the unusual arrival of so many vehicles.
Night had already fallen when an officer came into the room and said to me: “The order has come to leave.”
I went downstairs, accompanied by a group of officers to whom, on reaching the ground floor, I said goodbye. I was about to step into the car when a general introduced himself with these words: “I am Brigadier General Polito, Chief of Military Police of the Supreme Command.”
I asked no questions, convinced that the goal of this nocturnal journey was Rocca delle Caminate. The blinds were lowered but not the windows; through a slit I became aware that the vehicle was passing the Santo Spirito Hospital. We were, therefore, going not towards the Via Flaminia but the Via Appia. At the innumerable road-blocks the Carabinieri, warned in advance by a despatch-rider, contented themselves with slowing down our machine slightly. When we reached the main road to Albano I asked: “Where are we going?”
“Not to Rocca delle Caminate?”
“Another order came.”
“And who are you? I used to know a Police Inspector called Polito.”
“I am he.”
“How did you become a general?”
“They gave me equivalent rank in the Army.”
Police Inspector Polito was well known to me. During the years of the Regime he had carried out some brilliant operations such as the capture of Cesare Rossi at Campione and the liquidation of the Pintor gang in Sardinia. While on the journey, Polito related many extremely interesting and hitherto unpublished details of these operations. Beyond Cisterna the machine slowed down. Talk ceased. Polito, who had been smoking continuously, lowered the glass partition, called to Colonel Pelaghi of the Carabinieri, and asked where we were.
“Near Gaeta,” he replied.
“Is Gaeta to be my new residence?” I asked. “Where Mazzini was banished to, by any chance? They do me too much honour.”
“It has not yet been decided,” returned Polito.
When we reached Gaeta, which was deserted, a man came towards us waving a torch. The car stopped, and a naval officer said: “To the Ciano Wharf.”
There Admiral Maugeri was waiting and accompanied me to the corvette Persephone. A little later we weighed anchor. Dawn was already breaking. I went down to the cabin together with the officers escorting me. In daylight the corvette dropped anchor in sight of the island of Ventotene, and Inspector Polito went ashore to see if the island was suitable for accommodating me. A little later he returned, and said it was out of the question. There was a German garrison on the island. The corvette then proceeded to the island of Ponza and anchored in the roadstead there at 1 p.m. on July 28th. Polito approached me and, pointing out a greenish-coloured house half hidden by big, laid-up fishing boats, said: “That is your temporary home.” Meanwhile, through some unexplained impulse, all the windows and balconies were suddenly filled with men and women armed with binoculars who were watching the boat as it came inshore. In a flash the whole island knew of our arrival.
Towards evening a few local people came to welcome me. The fishermen of Terracina sent me a gift. On the whole there was nothing in the islanders’ attitude to remind one of the “fury of the populace”; but with the arrival of more police agents vigilance was increased and all contact with the outside world was prevented.
At Ponza I realised the miserable conspiracy which had got rid of me, and I was convinced that all this would lead to capitulation and to my being handed over to the enemy.
The days were long at Ponza. Fresh officers came, Lieut.-Col. Meoli and 2nd Lieut. Elio di Lorenzo, as well as Sergeant-major Antichi. The garrison was reinforced, in view also of the presence there of Italian deportees and Balkan internees. I was twice permitted to bathe, at a specially arranged and well-guarded spot. No newspapers. Only one telegram — though an eloquent one — from Göring!
I spent my time at Ponza in complete solitude, translating Carducci’s Odi barbate into German and reading Giuseppe Ricciotti’s Life of Jesus which I later left behind as a gift to the parish priest.
Ponza certainly cannot be compared with Ischia, let alone with Capri. Nevertheless, it has its own rustic beauty and its own history, even of the prison. An expert in such matters told me that ever since ancient times famous people had been banished there — Nero’s mother Agrippina, Augustus’s daughter Julia and, to make up for these, a saint — Flavia Domitilla and, in 538 A.D., a pope, St. Sylvester the Martyr; then, skipping a few centuries, modems such as the Grand Master of the Freemasons, Torrigiani, General Bencivenga, the Civil Engineer Bordiga, and finally — the last of the series and very recent indeed — Ras Imeru with his inevitable Abyssinian Dedjaz.
CHAPTER IX: FROM PONZA TO LA MADDALENA TO THE GRAN SASSO
It was 1 a.m. on August 8th when Sergeant-major Antichi rushed into my room shouting: “There is imminent danger! We must leave!”
Sure enough, since the early hours of the evening, almost uninterrupted light-signalling from the hill opposite had been noticed, from which one might have guessed there was something new in the air.
I collected my few things and, accompanied by my armed escort, went down to the beach where a barge was waiting. The superstructure of a warship showed clearly in the distance at the entry to the roadstead. I went on board and saw Admiral Maugeri again, as on the Persephone. As usual, I went down to the Admiral’s cabin, followed by Meoli, Di Lorenzo and Antichi. The vessel was the Panther, formerly French. Towards dawn we weighed anchor. The crew were all on deck. Those not on watch slept. Towards eight o’clock a very high sea got up, but the Panther rode it extremely well. There were also two alerts owing to the passage of enemy planes, but nothing came of them.
I exchanged a few words with the second-in-command, an officer from La Spezia, from whom I learned that Badoglio had dissolved the Party. Only after a voyage of four hours did I learn that the goal of our journey was La Maddalena. A little later the coastline of Sardinia could be discerned through the mist. About 2 p.m. I disembarked and was handed over to Admiral Bruno Brivonesi, commanding the naval base. This admiral (who had married an Englishwoman) had been the subject of an enquiry owing to the destruction of an entire convoy of as many as seven merchant ships plus three warships — an extremely important convoy escorted by a good twelve warships, two of them ‘ten-thousand tonners’ and sunk with all hands in a few minutes’ battle against four English light cruisers which did not suffer the slightest damage. The enquiry — conducted by the naval authorities with evident negligence — merely resulted in disciplinary measures within the Service being taken against the admiral, who was directly responsible for the loss of ten ships and several hundred men. He was deprived of his command and, after some time, was given a shore command at La Maddalena.
My meeting with him was not, and could not be, very cordial. The house destined for my use was situated outside the town, on a height surrounded by a park thickly studded with pine trees. The villa had been built by an Englishman named Webber who, strangely enough, of all the places in the world where he could have settled, chose just the most barren and lonely island of all those that surround the north of Sardinia. An agent of the Secret Intelligence Service? Perhaps.
My stay at La Maddalena was fairly long and the solitude still more rigorous. Not a single civilian remained on the island. It had already been evacuated after the May raid which had caused tremendous damage to the base and had sunk two naval units of medium tonnage. That had been a mysterious raid, with an exact knowledge of the targets. One could still see the hulks of the big ships which had been sunk. From the balcony of the house the view stretched beyond the harbour towards the smooth peaks of the Gallura mountains, which reminded one a little of the Dolomites. I was allowed to write.
I seem to have made daily notes of a philosophical, literary and political character, but I have not been able to lay my hands on this diary of sorts. Vigilance was strengthened at La Maddalena. A full hundred men, Carabinieri and police agents, watched Webber’s house by day and night, a house which I left only once, for a short walk in the woods, accompanied by the Sergeant.
The scorching days went monotonously by without the slightest news of the world outside. Not until August 20th was I, as a prisoner, allowed to receive the war communiqué from base headquarters. The banishment was almost complete, but it still did not seem sufficient to Army Corps General Antonio Basso, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces in Sardinia, who wrote the fallowing to the Minister Secretary of State, General Sorice, on August 11th:
I have learned of the recent stay of a high personage at La Maddalena, in a villa overlooking the harbour.
I would draw your attention to the fact that in these waters there are numerous German naval units (and very few of our own) used for the sea traffic to Corsica and for the defence of the German supply base at Palau.
In view of this, the possibility of inconveniences arising cannot be overlooked. I think it would be more convenient if this personage were transferred either elsewhere or, if he is forced to remain on the islands, to one of the mountainous districts in the interior of Sardinia, where surveillance could be more thorough and rigorous.On the margin of this paper there is the following note in red pencil:
Fine discovery. B.The only surprise was a gift from the Führer, a splendid complete edition of Nietzsche’s works in twenty-four volumes with a signed dedication. A real marvel of German book-production.
The gift was accompanied by a letter from Marshal Kesselring which said:
By order of the Führer I send you, through the kind offices of His Excellency Marshal Badoglio, a present from the Führer for your birthday. The Führer will consider himself happy if this great work of German literature gives you a little pleasure, Duce, and if you will consider it as an expression of the Führer’s personal attachment to you, I add my own personal respects.
I had time to read the first four volumes containing Nietzsche’s early poems — which were very beautiful — and his first philological works on the Latin and Greek languages, which the German thinker knew as well as his mother-tongue.Field-Marshal Kesselring.
G.H.Q. August 7th, 1943.
Another surprise was the unexpected appearance one evening about eight o’clock of a German machine coming from Corsica, which flew very low over the house — perhaps about 180 feet up, so that I could see the pilot’s face and wave to him. I thought that this flight would lead to my leaving La Maddalena. Sure enough, on the evening of August 27th, Captain Faiola, who had replaced Meoli on the 14th, announced: “We leave tomorrow morning!”
A Red Cross plane had been moored in the harbour for several hours, almost opposite Webber’s house.
At 4 a.m. on the 28th I was called and went down to the harbour. I got into the machine which took off with something of an effort as it was overladen and needed a lot of room before it could leave the water. After an hour and a half the machine alighted at Vigna di Valle on Lake Bracciano. There a Carabinieri Major and a Police Inspector, Gueli, were waiting with the usual motor-ambulance, which took us along the Via Cassia towards Rome but, on reaching the by-pass, bore left and went towards the Via Flaminia. On reaching it, beyond the iron bridge over the Tiber, it became clear that we were making for the main Sabine road. This was a route well known to me, as it was I who ‘discovered’ the Terminillo which later became the ‘Mountain of Rome.’
Having passed Rieti and Cittaducale, the voyage was interrupted on the outskirts of L’Aquila by an air raid warning. Everyone got out of the motor-ambulance. A squadron of enemy machines was flying so high that they could scarcely be seen. But what happened during the alert gave one the distinct impression that the Army was beginning to crack. Groups of soldiers in their shirtsleeves fled in all directions shouting, and the crowd followed their example. So did the officers. A lamentable spectacle! When the alert was over, the car went on again, but a little beyond L’Aquila we halted because of slight engine trouble.
After lowering the windows of the ambulance a man approached me and said: “I am a Fascist from Bologna. They have swept everything away. But it won’t last. People are disgusted with the new government because it has not brought peace.”
After Assergi the column reached the starting-point of the funicular railway to the Gran Sasso. A small villa housed myself and my guards, Captain Faiola and Police Inspector Gueli of Trieste. An even stricter watch was enjoined. I was allowed to read the Gazzetta Ufficiale, including the back issues.
One day I asked Gueli: “Have you any idea why I am here?” Inspector Gueli replied: “You are considered an ordinary detainee.”
“And what is your job here?”
“It is always the same one: to keep guard so you don’t try to get away, and above all to see that no one tries either to set you free or to harm you.”
During the few days at Villetta — that was the name of the house — nothing special occurred.
I could listen to the wireless. No papers arrived there; nor did books. A transmitting and receiving station had been set up in the square. One morning a police official came up to me and said: “Engines coming from the Brenner have got your picture on them. The coaches are full of inscriptions of your name. Something big is being prepared. At Rome confusion has reached its peak. It will not be surprising if the ministers all bolt without warning. Startling rumours are in circulation as to the German attitude in the event of a betrayal by Badoglio.”
Another morning a police agent from the Trieste inspectorate, who was taking six Alsatians for a walk, found means of approaching me and saying: “Duce, I am a Fascist from the Trevisan March. Do you know what they did in Rome yesterday? They killed Muti. The Carabinieri did it. We must get ready to avenge him.” And he moved off.
It was in this fashion that I learned of Muti’s brutal assassination. Gueli later confirmed this news to me.
A few days passed, and then off we went again — on the last stage of the journey — to the Refuge Inn, on the Gran Sasso, 7,600 feet high; the highest prison in the world, as I said to my guard one day.
You get there by a funicular, which spans a difference of level of some 3,600 feet by means of two arches. The funicular and the inn were both built during the twenty years of Fascism.
On the Gran Sasso there ended my first month of captivity, that tragic August of 1943.
CHAPTER X: THE DYNASTY’S FIRST CRY OF ALARM
Before starting to relate the events of September 1st-15th, the coup d’état must be reviewed. One cannot help but admit that, prepared long and meticulously as it was, it revealed a really perfect technique. If the Italian generals had operated with the same spirit during the war they would have won it rapidly and triumphantly.
At 5:30 p.m., as soon as I had been captured, all telephone communications were cut except those of Badoglio’s exchange which, for several days now, had been linked with the offices of the traitor marshal. This fact did not pass unobserved. Already by 7 p.m. an increased excitement could be discerned in the city. At 10:30 p.m. the radio issued the first bulletin, immediately followed by others. As if at a prearranged signal, the first popular demonstration broke out. Surprise increased the liveliness of the demonstrations themselves. Of whom was this mass of demonstrators composed? A fruitless question, perhaps. Not wishing to call it ‘the people,’ one might call it ‘the mob.’ Thousands of people were acclaiming the King and the Marshal. The Fascists were more surprised than anyone. The local headquarters were shut down. There was no time to man them. The anti-Fascist nature of the movement was clear from the very first announcement. The Fascists were stunned, almost as if confronted with a sudden vision. They were witnessing a complete volte-face. In half an hour a nation had changed its whole way of thinking, its whole feelings, its whole history.
The form and content of the bulletins issued increased the confusion in the public’s mind. They led one to suppose that it was on the whole a constitutional crisis, a normal transfer of authority. Some Fascists could not make head or tail of the matter.
The laying down of a ‘smokescreen’ in the guise of confusion worked marvellously. The people believed in the imminence of peace, called for it and thought they were nearing it since I, who wished to carry on the war (the only one who did!) was no longer there. A few, on the contrary, were under the illusion that it would mean a more energetic prosecution of the war, and a more or less Fascist government, but without the Duce. Was not Marshal Badoglio among the regular members of the Fascist Party?
This might — note the conditional — explain the immediate telegraphic and written allegiance to the Marshal declared by many Fascist personalities.
If, on the evening of July 25th, any uncertainty as to the nature of the coup d’état still existed, every doubt must have vanished by the following morning.
That was the morning when the mob rushed about the streets, organised and protected by the Carabinieri, who had put the coup d’état into effect locally. The crowd destroyed the headquarters of all the Fascist organisations, pulled down the Lictor symbol, assaulted people, and, with a stupid and brutal iconoclasm wiped out everything which might remind them of Mussolini or Fascism.
While thousands of portraits and busts of myself were hurled out of the window, pictures of Victor of Savoy and Pietro Badoglio were hung out everywhere.
What is one to think of a nation which makes such an exhibition of itself, with such a sudden and, one might add, hysterical change of attitude? Some of those who hastened to telegraph Badoglio justified themselves by the uncertainty aroused by the first communiqués, in which it was announced that “the war will continue,” and that there were to be no recriminations, and which also hinted at national unity and the ‘military’ character of the Government.
And yet, a few minutes reflection on the tenor of the communiqués would have been enough to raise a doubt at least as to the real truth of the matter — a truth which could mean only one thing: “Capture of the Duce and preparations for capitulation.” Did it not seem odd to them that the announcement of my dismissal was not accompanied by any word of appreciation or recognition of my work? I don’t mean by this the usual autographed letters which the King sends his generals on certain fixed occasions; but a man who had served for twenty-one years in peace and war and who, after the conquest of Abyssinia, was awarded the highest military decoration — did such a man not merit a single word, a word such as one would not even refuse a mediocre servant?
And if there was nothing in the communiqué, why was I not permitted to say farewell to the troops or somehow to make myself heard by the nation? Why did they not even mention the transfer of my powers to the new Head of the Government? Why this sudden silence? Why this complete disappearance?
The most fantastic rumours circulated at that time and there was one, mainly spread in Crown circles, according to which I was the King’s guest in an unspecified villa, and which said that in a few days, when popular ferment had subsided, I should be able to go peacefully about again. This work of confusion — which succeeded admirably — was already over by the early hours of the morning of the 26th, when the mob gave itself up to the crazy excesses complacently recorded by the press.
From the morning of the 26th no Fascist could entertain the slightest doubt as to the character, scope and intentions of the Badoglio government; it was a government which aimed purely and simply at destroying everything in the sphere of ideas, institutions or anything else created in the twenty years of Fascism. And men lent themselves to this miserable business who, until 10:29 p.m. on July 25th, had declared themselves Fascists, though their membership went back to different dates — some of them to the very beginning. Meanwhile, the order was to ignore my existence — the silence of the tomb must surround my name. I was a corpse whose death they hesitated to announce. Thus began the month of August, 1943, the month of infamy, of betrayal and of capitulation.
Nothing connected with Fascism was respected — not even the dead! The executors of Badoglio’s policy (and they brought a ghoulish zest to their task such as few could have imagined) were the officers and men of that Corps, which I had so much praised and protected, and which had risen to the imposing total of 156,000 in the first six months of 1943.
It was the month of ‘liberty’ — a liberty with a curfew and a state of siege, a liberty consisting simply in the defamation of everything connected with Fascism. No one was spared. According to the slanderous rumours there was not a Party official who was not supposed at very least to have hidden a pile of gold and hoards of stolen victuals in his cellars. The English hailed my fall as the greatest political victory of the whole war, and in August they carried out air bombardments of exceptional violence in order to ‘soften up’ the nation’s moral resistance and make them ripe for a surrender which was already in the works.
The material and moral disorder had now reached such proportions as to cause a certain uneasiness in Crown circles.
Among the many papers which the fugitives of September 8th did not succeed in concealing, as they had planned, near the Swiss frontier, was a significant one headed as follows in Badoglio’s handwriting:
Memorandum which H.M. the King told me he had composed and which he gave me in audience on August 16th, 1943.
BADOGLIO.Here is the actual text of the memorandum:
The present Government must conserve and maintain in all its activities its character of a “Military Government” as declared in the proclamation of July 25th and as clearly emerges from its very constitution — Head of the Government: Marshal Badoglio; the ministers: all technical experts.
The tackling of political problems must be shelved till a future period and the formation of a new government, and must take place in a very different atmosphere, one more tranquil for the country’s fate.
The promise given by the King in his proclamation and counter-signed by Marshal Badoglio must be kept: “No recriminations will be allowed.”
The elimination on principle of all ex-members of the Fascist party from all public activity must therefore definitely cease.
All Italians, once their good faith is known, must have an equal duty and an equal right to serve their King and country. A revision of single posts must be carefully undertaken so as to dismiss the unworthy and punish the guilty.
No open organisation of any party should be permitted or tolerated. Nor should they make themselves known in publications and pamphlets, whether Labour Democrats, the Republican Party or any other. There are many papers in circulation whose authorship is easily discernible and which “the existing laws punish severely.”
All tolerance is weakness; all weakness a lack of loyalty to the country.
The Commissions set up in excessive number by the Ministries have been unfavourably received by the sounder part of the country; all, at home or abroad, may be led to believe that every branch of public administration is definitely corrupt. Everyone will expect the laws and institutions to be overset at every change in the government.
If the original scheme is persisted in we shall end up with the absurdity of implicitly judging and condemning the work of the King himself.
The bulk of ex-members of the Fascist Party, who were honest and are now suddenly eliminated from all activity through no special fault of their own, will be easily led to transfer their own organisation and technique to the extremist parties and thus add to the future difficulties of any legal government.
The majority of these, seeing themselves abandoned by the King, persecuted by the Government, misjudged and insulted by the exiguous minority of the old parties (which for twenty years had supinely accepted any compromise and let their own political tendencies become assimilated), this majority will in a short time reappear in the squares in defence of the bourgeoisie against Communism, but this time they will lean decidedly to the Left and away from the monarchy.
The time is a difficult one. The Government will find it easier if all Italians, free from fear of constantly fresh repression, viewed and judged with a single though severe judgment, can again take up normal life which, for all honest people without exception, began on July 25th as the King solemnly promised.Here ends the royal memorandum, the significance of which is evident. What the Marshal, to whom the note was handed personally, replied is not known. It is clear that already by the middle of that unlucky August, Victor of Savoy began to have fears for his future. He had started the avalanche and now — seeing its accelerating motion— attempted to slow it up. Too late! He seemed to be regretting the liquidation of a regime in the ranks of which he had found sincere and numerous champions, but now the die had been cast. Even if Badoglio had wished to do so, he could no longer have freed himself from the parties who had assisted him in the coup d’état, whose prisoner he now was and with whom he was to perfect the manoeuvre leading to the capitulation of September.
The royal document of August 16th is an attempt — a fruitless one — to absolve himself from his responsibilities and to leave a door of escape open; the hint at a revival of Communism is eloquent. Did Victor of Savoy perhaps sense the approach of something or someone later to be revealed as Palmiro Togliatti? It was a pious illusion to think that the mighty torrent which had burst its bounds could return to the river-bed of more or less legality, under a government of officials.
The Marshal passed the memorandum along to the files, where it was later found. That document might well be called “The Dynasty’s First Cry of Alarm.”
CHAPTER XI: TOWARDS CAPITULATION
In the second half of August, having taken down the flags from the windows where they had remained for over a fortnight as if to celebrate the most triumphant victory, having exhausted the paeans on liberty regained, having seen the terrible raids and the wild disorder of food supplies, it became necessary to ‘distract’ public opinion; and so the fortnight of the ‘scandals’ began.
It began with accusations of ‘illicit enrichment.’ They said that all the higher Party officials had been thieves, all of them profiteers, not one honest man among them, even if you searched for him with the proverbial lantern of Diogenes. They even went so far as to assert that the Party officials had stolen a total of some 120 milliards of money from the Italian nation.
By the restitution of that really astronomical sum to the Treasury they hoped to make good the budget deficit. All this would seem almost incredible if it had not actually appeared in print. They claimed that the cellars and attics of the houses belonging to Fascists were full of all sorts of food. That was one of the most singular examples of ‘mass psychosis’ — the piles of gold and the sides of bacon.
All this was designed to arouse the lowest instincts of the mob. One of the families particularly singled out by the notorious Commission presided over by the traitor Casati, was that of Ciano.
It was an indirect manoeuvre aimed at myself — of whom many people may often have been thinking, although, in accordance with the instructions issued by the Badoglio censorship, no one dared utter my name.
As to the fortune belonging to Count Galeazzo Ciano’s family, it was mentioned in terms of milliards. The letter which Count Ciano addressed to Marshal Badoglio on August 23rd, 1943, is a political rather than a private document.
Here is the actual text:
23rd August, 1943.
I read with great bitterness an article in the Corriere della Sera which outraged the memory of my father. I scorn to descend to polemics with anonymous journalists who rake mud in order to fling it in the face of the dead, but I hold it my duty instead to inform Your Excellency (pending the findings of the Commission in this matter) of the exact total of the whole inheritance left me and my late sister by my father.
At his death he was in possession of the following estate:
1. Three-quarters of the printing and publishing firm of the newspaper II Telegrafo of Livorno.
2. Four buildings in Rome to the value of about five million lire at the time of his death.
3. Industrial holdings as follows: “Società Romana di elettricità” 1,400 shares; Terni, 500 shares; Montecatini, 2.000 shares; Valdagno, 1,000 shares; Metallurgical, 1,000 shares; “Navigazione generale,” 300 shares; Ilva, 500 shares; Ante, 1.000 shares; Monte Amiata, 1,000 shares; I.M.I., 100 shares; “Consorzio Credito Opere Pubbliche,” 24 shares; Treasury Bonds, 1 million; cash, 355,089 Lire; current postal account, 32,975 Lire.
Proof of this information is in my hands and is of course completely at Your Excellency’s disposal.
I am sure that these figures, far removed from the astronomical flights of fancy of anonymous calumniators, will be estimated by Your Excellency’s impartial mind not as the dishonourable booty of a profiteer, but rather as the just reward of an extremely active life. And it is for this reason, Your Excellency, that I turn only to Marshal Badoglio, in order that the memory and honour of a soldier of Italy may be protected.
GALEAZZO CIANO.Churchill’s speech of September 22nd proves that already by the last ten days of August the principal clauses at least of the unconditional surrender had been fixed at Lisbon. Among them was one proposing the handing over of my person to the enemy. That is without precedent in the history of mankind! During the troubled days of September after my liberation on the Gran Sasso, the journals did not publish the full verbatim text of Churchill’s speech. Though now rather late in the day, it is worth publishing it, in order to complete the evidence. At the House of Commons on September 22nd, while speaking of events in Italy, Churchill said:
“Unconditional surrender of course comprises everything, but not only was a special provision for the surrender of war criminals included in the longer terms, but a particular stipulation was made for the surrender of Signor Mussolini. It was not, however, possible to arrange for him to be delivered specially and separately before the Armistice and our great landing took place, for this would certainly have disclosed the intentions of the Italian Government to the enemy, who were intermingled with them at every point and who had them so largely in their power.Those were the words transmitted by Reuter at 7 p.m. on September 22nd, 1943.
So the Italian position had to be that although an internal revolution had taken place in Italy, they were still the allies of Germany and were carrying on common cause with them. This was a very difficult position to maintain day after day with the pistol of the Gestapo pointing at the nape of so many necks.
We had every reason to believe that Mussolini was being kept under a strong guard at a secure place, and certainly it was very much to the interests of the Badoglio Government to see that he did not escape.
Mussolini has himself been reported to have declared that he believed that he was being delivered to the Allies. This was certainly the intention and is what would have taken place but for circumstances entirely beyond our control. The measures which the Badoglio Government took were carefully conceived and were the best they could do to hold Mussolini, but they did not provide against so heavy a parachute descent as the Germans made at the particular point where he was confined. It may be noticed that Hitler sent him some books of Nietzsche to console or diversify his confinement. The Italians could hardly have refused this civility and the Germans no doubt were thus pretty well acquainted with where he was and the conditions under which he was confined. But the stroke was one of great daring and conducted with a heavy force.
It certainly shows there are many possibilities of this kind open in modern war. I do not think there was any slackness or breach of faith on the part of the Badoglio Government, and they had one card up their sleeve.
The Carabinieri guards had orders to shoot Mussolini if there was any attempt to rescue him, but they failed in their duty, having regard to the considerable German force who descended upon them from the air and who undoubtedly would have held them responsible for the prisoner’s health and safety. So much for that.”
That Marshal Badoglio had, as Churchill said, “carefully” conceived the measures taken to ensure my captivity and my eventual handing over to the enemy, is proved by this letter in the Marshal’s own handwriting to the Chief of Police, Senise:
This morning I have informed the Commander-in-Chief of the Carabinieri, His Excellency Cerica, as follows:Having decided on my being handed over to the English and laid down the terms of it, they had to build up a scandal about me, and to cover me with ridicule and abuse, so that the nation, already forgetful of me, would consider my handing over to the enemy as the handing over of a man now not only politically but also physically and morally spent.
"The Inspector-General of Public Security, Saverio Polito, is responsible for the custody of the former Head of the Government, Benito Mussolini. He alone is personally responsible to the Government for ensuring that the aforesaid Mussolini does not escape or is not removed from prison by anyone whatsoever. General Polito will ask the High Command of the Carabinieri and the Chief of Police for all the personnel he requires, giving the names of those he desires. All his demands are to be met. Inspector Polito will keep me frequently informed.”Badoglio,Rome,16th August, 1943.
Suddenly, the floodgates of gossip were thrown open, and the five percent of truth was embroidered with wild fancies of all sorts which, however, did not fail to excite the curiosity of the mob. No one was in a position to cast the first stone — none of the great or lesser men of the past, none of the present, least of all Marshal Badoglio; but the blow was struck. It was necessary to make an end of me, first of all by a silence of the grave, and then by ridicule. The spectacle lasted two days — but that was enough. There was no lack of those who deplored these tactics and spoke of a “boomerang,” but this was to delude oneself. The stroke was successful. The Jesuits, those great scholars of the human heart, are credited with originating the well-known maxim: “Keep on slandering, some of the mud will stick.”
And there is no doubt that some did stick.
At the end of August, capitulation was in the air. The enormous crime which will weigh heavily for centuries on the country’s history was about to be committed; they were in process, that is, of transforming Italian soil into a bloody battlefield for enemy armies.
Only a fool could have thought that things would turn out otherwise — only a fool, who had neglected to read the telegraphed and telephoned bulletins which were sent to Rome every morning by the frontier officials and contained precise details of the despatch to Italy of German men and materials. These bulletins were left on the table by the fugitives of September 8th. Ever since the morning of July 26th, news and details had been coming in from the Brenner, the Tarvisio and the Ventimiglia passes, of movements of German divisions. Every day hundreds of vehicles — lorries, armoured cars and troop formations. Right from the beginning, Germany had grasped that the Badoglio Government had only one programme — to surrender, and then to take up arms against their ally. It is true that on July 28th Marshal Badoglio had had the effrontery to send the following telegram to the Führer — but words deceive no one:
After taking the oath to His Majesty the King Emperor, the Council of Ministers presided over by myself took up office yesterday. As already declared in my proclamation issued to the Italian people and officially communicated to your ambassador, we shall carry on the war in the spirit of our alliance. I wish to confirm this to you and to ask you to give audience to General Marras who is coming to your headquarters on a special mission from me. I am glad of this opportunity, Führer, of expressing my kindest regards.
By the second half of August the now overt signs of the King’s and Badoglio’s policy could no longer escape the notice of German observers either in Rome or Lisbon. All of it could be summed up in one word: Capitulation.BADOGLIO.
One the most suspect symptoms was the request to the German Supreme Command to authorise the withdrawal of many of the large Italian formations stationed outside the country. Territory conquered with blood would have to be abandoned, but they wanted the divisions within reach, so as to take their ally in the rear, once the fronts had changed over. A telegram signed ‘Guariglia’ and bearing the date August 10th, rings false. The text is:
To the Royal Embassy, Berlin.
Please contact German Foreign Office immediately and inform them of the following:
"As was said at the Tarvisio meeting on the 6th inst., the Italian Supreme Command has decided to recall the whole of the 4th Army stationed in metropolitan France, and an Army Corps of three divisions from the troops now stationed in Slovene-Croat territory. The reasons prompting the present decision are various and have already been explained at Tarvisio.
First of all, the Supreme Command feels the necessity of reinforcing the defence of home territory. Apart from this, it seems to US opportune that our own units should complete the formations of the German divisions in Italy, whose task appears to be limited to the defence of a few sectors, whereas it is obvious that on our part we must provide for the defence of our whole national territory. As I myself pointed out explicitly to Herr von Ribbentrop, reasons of a political and moral nature make it necessary for the nation to feel that the defence of its territory is not being entrusted only to the troops of our ally, but also, and mainly, to Italian soldiers.
You will take the opportunity of drawing attention to these and any other points which may seem more appropriate to you, to make the German Foreign Office realise the necessity of this decision.
We realise that the evacuation of these forces will involve problems and questions of a political nature, as von Ribbentrop himself said, but we earnestly hope that everything can be settled in a manner satisfactory to both parties.
To this end, therefore, the necessary contacts must immediately be made by the competent authorities concerned, both political and military.
CHAPTER XII: SEPTEMBER ON THE GRAN SASSO
In my speech to the Grand Council I had declared that, à propos of a ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ war, I did not wish to waken the “great shades of the past,” that is, I did not wish to go back to the nineteenth century in order to discover which wars were more popular and which less, in the cycle of the Risorgimento.
Here is the part of my speech which was then condensed into a few words.
I began by recalling the 1915-18 war which was declared in an atmosphere of nothing less than civil war, in a struggle between neutralists and interventionists with no quarter given — a civil war which continued until Caporetto, had a ten months’ truce during our recovery on the Piave, and started again immediately afterwards, the minute the sham peace of Versailles had been signed. Was the 1915-18 war ‘popular’? It was called the Milanese war, and many soldiers in the ranks had to conceal the fact that they came from the Lombard capital in order to escape the wrath and insults of their comrades.
Let the volunteers of those days speak — if there are any left, as it is to be hoped there are! The volunteers were harassed in all manner of ways. “Are you a volunteer?” they said. “Then show how voluntarily you do everything!” Not even the Irredentists who enthusiastically enrolled themselves in the Italian ranks found the atmosphere in the least comradely. Men like Battisti and Sauro met with so much bitterness that only their boundless love for Italy enabled them to overcome it.
Groups of volunteers leaped from the trenches in October 1915 in a fury of heroism which contained also an element of disgust and exasperation at the hostile, rebellious surroundings in which they found themselves. The regular Army never had the slightest sympathy for the volunteers. The Army was regarded as the domain of the Royal House. Its task was chiefly to defend existing institutions and, also, to make war, in which case the majority of officers considered it not as the long-desired and crowning glory of a mission but as a regrettable nuisance which everyone wished to avoid.
Already by October, 1915, the flower of the Italian volunteers, from Corridoni to Deffenu, had been mown down in the trenches on the first heights of the Carso beyond the Isonzo. There were probably no volunteers left in the Italian army when, after Battisti’s martyrdom on August 14th, 1916, General Cadorna decided to issue a circular of two printed pages in which he said that volunteers were not to be made objects of derision but were to be respected by officers and by soldiers.
The 1915-18 war was not ‘popular’ with the aristocracy or in Court circles, still less among the clerical and would-be political classes. It was to the accompaniment of violent popular agitation; of the famous manifesto “War or a Republic" which I wrote on the spur of the moment after a meeting of the leaders of the Milanese interventionists held in the Via Palermo; and of D’Annunzio’s gigantic demonstrations in Rome, that the three hundred deputies of the Giolitti caucus buried themselves in the depths of their constituencies and a declaration of war was brought about through the ‘Malthusian’ instinct.
It is a law of history that when there are two contrary currents of opinion in a nation, one wanting war and the other peace, the latter party is invariably defeated even when, as always happens, it represents, numerically speaking, the majority. The reason for this is obvious. Those who call themselves “interventionists” are young and ardent, they make up a dynamic minority as against the static majority.
Were the wars of the Risorgimento ‘popular’ by any chance?
The history of the Risorgimento has still to be written; a synthesis has still to be made of its history as manipulated by the monarchists (who held a mortgage on the Risorgimento) and the republican version. Judgment must be passed on the contribution made by the people and that made by the Crown — that made by revolution and that made by diplomacy. Among the oleographs which were inflicted on us in childhood was one formerly very widely diffused, representing the four ‘makers’ of the Risorgimento: Victor Emmanuel, in immensely long pantaloons with spurs sticking out beneath them, and the large moustachios which made him look like an urbanised countryman; Cavour, with spectacles diplomatically concealing his expression, while with his short beard framing his face, he looked a little like a distinguished elderly gentleman; these two represented the Royal House and diplomacy. Then came Garibaldi, the epitome of strength and humanity, the generous volunteer for every great adventure, in love with Italy with all the ardour personified by his Red Shirts, ingenuous and “rowdy” as he called himself, using an original and unrhetorical adjective, a true champion of the ancient Liguro-Italian race. Fourth and last came Mazzini, of the same race, born by the same sea, preoccupied, thoughtful, hard as granite, fanatical, with a sublime, though for a time long impracticable Republican orthodoxy. It was these two latter who made the wars of the Risorgimento possible, even if not popular.
The public had not then access to the sources which we now possess; we may therefore recall the attitude of the Piedmont Parliament with regard to the wars which, in the twenty odd years between 1848 and 1870, brought the House of Savoy to Rome.
The war of 1848 seems to have been fairly popular. But even from the beginning, certain deputies did not fail to make criticisms and reservations, especially Brofferio who, as early as May 29th, in the course of a discussion on the speech in reply to the Crown, touched on the subject — always a painful one in Italy — of the generals’ conduct of the war. In a later sitting, the deputies Moffa di Lisio and Grossi continued their criticisms, which naturally became extremely lively as often as military operations took a not exactly brilliant course. In these criticisms the inactivity of the generals was denounced over and over again, which Cesare Balbo, President of the Council, found somewhat embarrassing.
Agitation rose to the pitch of causing a crisis in the Government, even though in the middle of a war, and in a difficult phase of it at that. The new Cabinet, presided over by Casati, proclaimed at the sitting of May 27th that “the war goes on” (as Badoglio did on My 26th), but now events were leading to an armistice which was considered a betrayal.
Brofferio cried: “If you persist in a peace which would be fatal to us, we shall answer you with cannons and not with protocols, and the representatives of the people will declare war on you yourselves, a ceaseless, stubborn, tireless war.”
Casati could not carry on, and Gioberti appeared on the scene, but he in his turn could not control the passions that had been unleashed, and he dissolved the Chamber. Three cabinets in nine months! Vincenzo Gioberti took the helm again in March, 1849, in a completely negative atmosphere, and lasted a little over a week. Charles Albert abdicated, thus setting an example which his descendant, in infinitely graver circumstances, has so far taken good care not to imitate!
Still less popular was the Crimean war, or rather, Piedmont’s intervention in the war which had broken out between Russia and Turkey. The ratification of the Treaty of Alliance between Piedmont and the Great Powers (France and England) — a real masterpiece of Cavour’s policy — was brought before the Chamber on February 3rd, 1855, and met with lively opposition as much from the Right as the Left.
Brofiferio, among other things, accused Cavour of not having a clear policy and of having “no respect for conventions and constitutional morality,” and denounced the utter uselessness as well as the inopportunity of the treaty. “The alliance with Turkey is an insult to Piedmont and a disgrace to Italy. We have defied all sorts of privations, we have submitted to intolerable taxes, we have boldly faced the bankruptcy of the State in the hope of being able, one day, to return to the field with the cry: ‘Out with the foreigner!’ And now? We have done all this in order to squander our soldiers and our millions in the Crimea for the benefit of Italy’s enemies.” And he concluded: “If you approve this treaty, the downfall of Piedmont and the ruin of Italy will be an accomplished fact.”
Cavour’s own brother Gustavo, a deputy, voted against it. It was on that occasion that Cavour made one of his best speeches.
The treaty was ratified, but sixty deputies voted against it, with one hundred and one in favour.
The war of 1859 also aroused strong opposition. Cavour practically dismissed the Chamber and, at the last moment, called for extraordinary powers which were granted him by 110 votes to twenty-three. Everyone speaks of the terrible indignation, the wave of real fury which swept all Italy at the news of the betrayal perpetrated by Napoleon III at Villafranca. The polemics were exceptionally violent; and yet Napoleon’s betrayal was not on the same scale or of the same nature as that consummated by the House of Savoy on September 8th, 1943! And, in any case, he was a foreign monarch.
But the Italians will never forgive Napoleon, whose statue remained for years and years in the courtyard of the Senate at Milan, abandoned like a bit of worthless rubble.
From a material point of view my captivity was not actually harsh, except at La Maddalena — and there because of the natural poverty of the island and the general difficulties. The officers and men always treated me very respectfully, too. From the beginning of September facilities even increased. I always took my meals alone, but in the evening I could now listen to the wireless, receive a few papers or play cards with my guard. All this began to look suspicious. I was reminded of the better treatment reserved for men condemned to death.
The rumours which came from L’Aquila were more and more confused. The war communiqués made it clear that it was now only a sham war.
On September 1st the Pope made a speech which I also heard; the fervently pacifist tone of that oration, broadcast at such a time, was part of a spiritual preparation for the event now drawing to a close. At the Refuge Inn all went on peacefully. I left the building only in the early afternoon, and then only for a few hundred yards, always accompanied by an N.C.O. One morning machine-guns were placed each side of the gate. Another morning they carried out an exercise with heavy machine-guns on the neighbouring heights.
The Gran Sasso is really fascinating from the aesthetic point of view. The rugged profile of that mountain rising to over 10,000 feet in the heart of Italy cannot easily be forgotten. The rock is bare, but at the foot of the highest peak a great plateau extends to the south-east, the Campo Imperatore at least 12 ½ miles long, with gentle slopes, an ideal spot for winter sports.
At the beginning of September, many flocks which had come up from the Campagna in the spring and had been pasturing on this and the neighbouring plains were now slowly drifting away and preparing to go back again. Sometimes the owners of the herds appeared on horseback and then vanished along the ridge of the mountain, standing out against the skyline like figures from another age.
There is an indefinable something about the people and things — and even the air — of the Abruzzi which captures one’s heart. One day a shepherd came up to me and said in a very low voice: “Excellency, the Germans are already at the gates of Rome. The Government is on the point of fleeing, if it has not already done so. We country folk have all remained Fascist. Nobody has bothered us hereabouts. They have only closed down the local headquarters. People are always speaking of you. They say that you have fled to Spain, or that you have been killed, or that you died in hospital in Rome after an operation, or that they shot you at Fort Boccea. I believe that when they know where you are, the Germans will come and set you free. Now I am taking my sheep down, and I myself will tell them where you are. Nowadays it doesn’t take long, the sheep go by train. When I tell my wife that I have seen you she will say I have gone mad. Now the sergeant is coming, so good-bye to you.”
CHAPTER XIII: THE CROWN COUNCIL AND THE CAPITULATION
It was 7 P.M. on September 8th when news arrived that an armistice had been concluded; people listened in to all the radio transmissions. From that moment vigilance was strengthened, and a sentry was posted outside my room by night as well. The inspector in charge of the guard arrangements seemed increasingly worried. The Army had received the Armistice declaration without excessive enthusiasm. From Rome came the first news of the King’s and Badoglio’s flight and of the beginning of the break-up of the armed forces and the whole nation. Barrack-room gossip let loose a non-stop flood of rumours.
On the 10th, at 8 p.m., I went down to the drawing-room and turned on the wireless. As it happened I picked up Berlin, and I distinctly heard this announcement, date-lined Algiers, and saying: “Allied General Headquarters have officially announced that among the Armistice terms is included the handing over of Mussolini to the Allies.” This started a discussion.
One of those present said: “An announcement of that sort has already been put out, but London later contradicted it.” I was convinced, on the contrary, that the announcement corresponded to the truth. I was determined not to give myself up alive to the English, or, above all, to the Americans. The commander of the Carabinieri, who had been taken prisoner by the English in Egypt and who apparently loathed them profoundly, said to me: “An hour before that happens, you will be warned and will be able to escape. I swear this to you on the head of my only son.”
These words, spoken in a tone of sincerity and accompanied with tears, expressed the man’s feelings; but who could guarantee that other factors would not intervene at the last moment? Among the guards there were many young ones who did not conceal their sympathy for me; but there were four or five with a shifty-eyed, uneasy gaze, who bore the internal and external appearance of professional killers.
On September 11th, all the news and rumours from Rome went to show that confusion was at its height, while German troops were proceeding to occupy all our territory.
In the morning, the officers commanding the Gran Sasso detachment went down to L’Aquila, where they had a long conference with the local Prefect, and a no less long telephone conversation with the Chief of Police, who still remained at the Palazzo Viminale.
Nothing definite was known about the Armistice terms; but the surrender imposed had been accepted. Many versions have been given of the course of events on September 7th and 8th. The most probable is the following. It is a report by one who was present and lived through it. Here it is:
“On September 7th, in the late afternoon, the American General Taylor, young and sturdy, accompanied by an elderly colonel, also American, arrived at the Palazzo Caprara in a motor-ambulance from Gaeta, where he had landed from an Italian monitor.
My informant received him. He already knew of this visit and first informed General Roatta, who declared that he did not wish to have any conversation with the above general; then General Rossi, Deputy-Chief of General Staff, who also refused — the usual shirking of responsibility. Finally, he was received by General Carboni, who asked his Chief of Staff for the map showing the disposition of the Italian and German troops in the Rome area.
The American general was extremely irritated by the way he was kept waiting before being received by General Carboni.
The conference lasted for over three hours. Apparently Carboni made it quite clear that the Italian forces could not hold the Germans in the Rome area for more than five hours. General Taylor replied that, on the contrary, General Castellano, when he signed the Armistice on September 3rd, had made it appear that the Italian forces were perfectly capable of coping with the Germans, and had declared that with Anglo-American aid with regard to the Rome area, or even without it, in Rome as in northern Italy the Germans would be decisively beaten, or, at least, brought to such straits that they would consider the Italian situation resolved, as far as the war with the Allies was concerned.
On the strength of this, Eisenhower, fearing lest the Italians change their minds again and constitute (as in fact they were to do) a valuable aid to the Germans, insisted on the immediate signing of the Armistice on September 3rd, to which Castellano agreed, in view of the powers he had been given.
Taylor was convinced by General Carboni’s account and, after a dinner which seems to have been very sumptuous, according to the tradition of the Staff canteens (as I know by experience), they went together to see Badoglio at his house, where they had a long conference, lasting till three in the morning.
Badoglio requested General Taylor to make clear the difficult situation in which the Italian forces would find themselves if the Armistice were announced prematurely; and they agreed that no action to that effect should be taken prior to September 16th.
No one knows why the American general and his adjutant did not leave until 4 p.m. on September 8th. They left in a special plane of the Royal Italian Air Force (my informant gave them civilian clothes to get to the airport).
The announcement of the Armistice overtook the American general while still on his journey.
Then why did General Eisenhower send him on this mission?
After the announcement of the Armistice had been made on the Italian side, the troops were informed at 8 p.m. that a state of emergency existed.
General Roatta, in an armoured car belonging to the Army, together with his adjutant, Lt.-Col. Fenazzi, took refuge at the Palazzo Caprara where, late at night, the chief Staff officers joined them.
At four in the morning, General Carboni, who came out very pale from a talk with Badoglio at the War Office, gave orders for the motorised Army Corps to disengage and withdraw to Tivoli.
His Chief of Staff pointed out the impossibility of carrying out such an order without compromising the fate of the units already partly engaged or in contact with the Germans.
Carboni replied that the King was at Tivoli, and this argument convinced everybody. The written order was signed by General De Stefanis, the only one still there at five or six in the morning. Exit Carboni till the evening of the 9th.
The troops found themselves in a tragic maze of orders and counter-orders. Calvi di Bergolo assumed command of the Army Corps and confirmed the order, which was carried out.
Re-enter Carboni on the evening of the 9th, saying that he is in favour of negotiating with the Germans. Negotiations start, Caviglia intervenes. Negotiations broken off during the morning of the 10th. Carboni decides to fight. Fresh intervention by Calvi. Exit Carboni.
The troops disband. Various generals flee in disguise.
At 5 p.m. on September 8th, General De Stefanis received a telephone call from Badoglio’s Cabinet to go at once to the Quirinal, in place of General Roatta, who was engaged with Marshall Kesseiring in one of the normal operational conferences.
General De Stefanis telephoned the Quirinal for confirmation of the request, as this urgent call to the royal palace seemed strange to him. They confirmed it.
At 5:30 he reached the Quirinal and learned that a top-secret Crown Council had been convened.
Almost without warning, he found himself in a drawing-room in the presence of the King. Badoglio, Acquarone, Ambrosio, Sorice, Sandalli, De Courten and Guariglia had been convened as well. General Carboni does not seem to have been present.
Badoglio began to speak, and said that in view of the desperate situation, the King had convened them to learn their opinions. To the astonishment of all present, as their faces showed, Ambrosio said that on September 3rd an Armistice had been signed with the Anglo-Americans. He read its clauses, and said that the Anglo-Americans had suddenly announced it, contrary to the provisions made. So much for the timely knowledge of the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Guariglia protested at not having been informed of the signing which had taken place. De Stefanis made every possible reservation in view of Roatta’s absence, asked them to wait for him, and expressed himself as personally against it. Acquarone pressed for the immediate acceptance of the Armistice.
Badoglio was in a state of nervous depression.
Most of them expressed themselves against it.
Badoglio is said to have exclaimed: ‘Then I can't carry on!’
At 6:15 p.m. a radio message came from Eisenhower, conceived in terms of a two-hour ultimatum.
Faced with this ultimatum, panic and indecision seized the minds of all present.
It seems that Eisenhower, confronted with a new demand, had stated that guarantees for the future would be given with the most generous understanding of the conditions under which Italy and her government were now labouring.
At 7 p.m. the King rose to his feet, stated that he had decided to accept the Armistice and asked them to compose an official Italian announcement to that effect, to be broadcast at 8 p.m., the time at which the Anglo-American ultimatum expired.
De Stefanis was against the last part of the announcement, that is, the part concerning, ‘from whatever Power hostilities may proceed....’ etc.
His view was finally accepted by the King himself, and it was decided to leave out the last part of the announcement.
At 7:30 p.m. the Council dissolved.
At 9 p.m. De Stefanis, who was in the Monterotondo canteen with Generals Mariotti, Utili, Surdi and Parone, expressed his astonishment and disappointment at the inclusion of the phrase concerning hostilities with Germany, which the King and Council had decided to omit.
Apparently Badoglio had put the phrase into the actual announcement at the last moment, on his own initiative.
De Stefanis and the other Staff officers remained at Monterotondo until midnight.
Meanwhile, in answer to a German request that they might evacuate Sardinia, taking with them the consignment of German 88 mm. A.A. guns which they had given our divisions there (the request was conveyed by our Command on the island), De Stefanis replied that we agreed and would let the Germans embark without interference.
Afterwards, all of them removed to Rome, to the Palazzo Baracchini and the Palazzo Caprara.
At 6:30 a.m. on September 9th, De Stefanis and Mariotti left for the Abruzzi. At the meeting point at Carsoli they found an order from Ambrosio to proceed to Chieti. De Stefanis went on to Avezzano, where his family had arrived by car from Mantua, and from there, at 3:30, went on to Chieti, accompanied by Staff Colonel Guido Perone, saying he would be back the same evening.
At 6 p.m. he reached Chieti, where Ambrosio held a review of the Staff. Generals Roatta, Mariotti, Utili, Armellini, Salazar and others were present, including Lt.-General Braida and Captain Barone, now at Rome.
At 9:30 p.m., after dining in the garrison canteen and after Roatta had given orders to General Olmi, Divisional Commander, to take over command of Chieti, they all left in great haste and secrecy: lights out, machines a short distance one from another so as not to lose the way, destination unknown.
At midnight the column of vehicles reached Ortona a Mare. Some hours later a few cars arrived from which the King, the Queen and Prince Umberto emerged, with a small suite.
The Queen was distraught and kept sipping something. The Prince remained isolated and apart, racked by a severe cough.
The King conferred with Ambrosio. Sandalli and De Courten were also present. A little later a tug arrived. A corvette was waiting in the offing. In thick darkness the embarkation of the fugitives was completed. The ship was the Gleno. Fifty thousand lire were distributed to the escort of Carabinieri. Some senior officers, among them General Cener, of the Transport Command, remained ashore.”That is an eye-witness account. One might add that the Royal family had been in hiding in the War Office, which they had hastened to leave as soon as news came that German armoured cars were about to enter the Piazza Venezia. Their flight was precipitous, and many maps and documents were left on the tables or shelves. The coffers containing money, however, had been thoroughly emptied.
By this complete desertion to the enemy — a case unique and without precedent — the Kingdom of the House of Savoy, born after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 through a diplomatic combination of the Great Powers (which gave them first Sicily and then, in exchange, Sardinia), was drawing to a dishonourable close.
History will not judge them otherwise than did the Italian people.
CHAPTER XIV: ECLIPSE OR SUNSET?
Did the authors of this treason — primarily the King as head of the gang, together with his generals and councillors who had fled to Ortona — did they have the faintest conception of what they were doing? Were they conscious or unconscious criminals? Or a little of both? And yet the consequences might have been predicted with mathematical accuracy. It was easy to foresee that at the magic sound of the word “Armistice” all the armed forces would be pulverised; that the Germans, prepared for this, would disarm them to the last cartridge; that Italy, now split in half, would become a battlefield which would turn her into a “scorched earth”; that the plan for deceiving Germany and later betraying her would weigh, as it will, for an unconscionable period of time on Italy’s future; that from now on it would be axiomatic that the words ‘Italian’ and ‘traitor’ were synonymous; and that the confusion and humiliation in every heart would be very great.
Once the immense cloud of dust raised by the hurling down of the whole structure of the State had subsided, and the military arsenals had been plundered first by the troops and then by the mob, it became possible to discover two crystallisations of what remained of the national conscience.
The first consisted in considering the monarchy liquidated. A King who flees to the enemy, a King who (a case unique in history) gives the whole national territory over to the foreigner — enemy in the south, ally in the north — is a man who condemns himself to the vituperation of present and future generations.
Second observation: the military arsenals were full. Mountains of equipment of all sorts, and piles of arms, most of them modern, which had not been issued to the troops.
On April 2nd, 1943, barely three months before the crisis, the engineer Agostino Rocca, managing director of the Ansaldo works, sent me this report:
I think I ought to give you certain information concerning the manufacture of artillery in the Ansaldo works. During the first thirty-nine months of war (July, 1940-January, 1943) our works have manufactured 5,049 pieces of artillery. In the first thirty-one months of the last war (June, 1915-December, 1917) the famous old Giovanni Ansaldo works manufactured 3,599.
The attached diagram shows that 15 million working hours were needed to make these 5,049 guns, whereas, in the last war, six million working hours were needed for the 3,699 guns. The same diagram shows that the artillery of today, with high initial velocity and therefore more powerful propellants, takes more work than the artillery of the last war, despite the progress made in machinery and tools.
The attached diagram D shows that at the beginning of the 1940 war the industrial potential was higher than in June, 1915, because the measures adopted in 1939-40 were inspired by a broader vision than those of 1914-15. In this, as in every other branch of Italian industry, thanks to the autarkic and corporative provisions of the Regime, our state of preparation in 1940 was considerably better than that in 1915. The same diagram shows that production reached its height in 1941 and declined slightly in 1942, whereas the plant potential would allow of a production about double that of 1941.
All that proves that the programme of productive exploitation of the industrial potential approved by you in 1939-40, and carried out by the I.R.I. concerns, has enabled us to meet the needs of the armed forces liberally.Therefore one firm alone had manufactured five thousand pieces of artillery!
The fall was what the Spaniards call ‘vertical’. When one compares the Italy of 1940 with what it is today, now that it has been reduced to an unconditional surrender such as no nation worthy of the name would ever have greeted with outbursts of rejoicing like those after September 8th (a fairly strong echo of which reached even the Refuge Inn on the Gran Sasso), it must be admitted that the comparison is heart-wrenching. In 1940 Italy was an Empire; today she is not even a State. Her flag flew from Tripoli to Mogadishib, from Bastia to Rhodes and Tirana; today it has been lowered everywhere. Enemy flags are flying over our home territory. Italians used to be in Addis Ababa; today Africans are camping out in Rome.
Italians of whatever age or class, young or old, man or woman, worker, peasant or intellectual, are asking themselves this question: was it worth surrendering and disgracing ourselves in the eyes of posterity, for this? If we had continued the war instead of signing the capitulation, would Italy be in any worse a situation than she has been in since September 8th?
Apart from the moral catastrophe, there is not a single Italian who is not feeling the fatal consequences of the decision. There is not a family in Italy who has escaped the storm, while the relatives of the 300,000 fallen are wondering whether the sacrifice of their blood has not been in vain.
By dint of repeating the word “betrayal” one runs the risk of making it lose its significance and of doubting even the existence of the fact. But was it not the blackest, the most classic example of all betrayals to plant a dagger in the back of an ally with whom, right up to the war communique of the previous day, we had been fighting side by side? And was it not the blackest, the most classic example of deceit, when faced with our ally’s doubts and legitimate enquiries, to lie to the last, to lie even when enemy stations were already broadcasting the announcement of the capitulation?
There is one burning question to which the attention of all Italians must be drawn, and that is, to their responsibility in the eyes of the world for this betrayal. If the actual responsibility for the betrayal can, in our country, be laid at the door of certain individuals and classes and made to redound on them, the shame of the betrayal redounds on all Italians. As far as foreigners are concerned, it is Italy herself who has perpetrated the betrayal, Italy herself as historical, geographical, political and moral entity. The atmosphere in which such betrayal was possible was Italian. Everyone contributed in greater or lesser degree to creating that atmosphere, including the many millions of assiduous listeners-in to London Radio, who were responsible for creating within themselves and others the present-day state of apathy. Even history possesses its debit and credit side or, if you like, its active and passive voice. It is only right that every Italian should be proud of belonging to the soil whence sprang such men as Caesar, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci and Napoleon; a ray of light from these stars shines on every Italian. But the same holds true for shame and dishonour; an element of these reflects on each and every one of us. There is only one way to redeem our disgrace, to re-establish the equilibrium, and that is by the sternest of all ordeals: the ordeal of blood.
Only through this ordeal shall we be able to answer another and no less grievous question: Are we faced with an eclipse or with a final sunset?
In the history of every nation there are periods similar to the one through which Italy is now going.
Something of the sort was bound to happen, and in fact did, in Russia after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The chaos from which Leninism emerged lasted nearly six years; what happened later proved that it was a question of an eclipse, not of sunset.
Prussia suffered an eclipse after Jena, a battle in which the Germans had, as usual, fought heroically, and lost, mown down by death, what was called the “flower of the Prussian army,” including the Commander-in-Chief himself, the Duke of Brunswick.
The Italian intellectuals of today have adopted an attitude not very different from that of Johannes von Muller, the German Tacitus. Hegel himself greeted Napoleon as “the Soul of the World” when the victor passed through Jena.
The standard-bearers of the Enlightenment in Berlin were prodigal of their welcome to the “liberator.” Was there not a Prince Doria Pamphili in Berlin, in the guise of Count von der Schulenburg-Kehnert? But it was only an eclipse. The Prussian national conscience underwent a powerful and rapid awakening. The great traditions of Frederick the Great had only lain dormant.
Men such as Stein, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were the champions of the recovery. So, above all, was the philosopher Fichte with his Discourses to the German Nation, which should be re-read. It is a heartening piece of reading for the Italians of 1944 as well. Listen to what this giant among German philosophers says of the Romans:
“What was it that inspired the noble Romans (whose ideas and way of thinking still live and breathe among us today in their monuments) — what inspired them to so many labours and sacrifices, to so much suffering endured for the sake of the Fatherland? They themselves give a clear answer; it was the firm belief in the eternity of their Rome and the certain conviction that in that eternity they themselves would live eternally down the ages. And this hope, inasmuch as it was well founded and took the form in which they undoubtedly would have conceived it had they attained to knowledge of themselves — this hope did not deceive them. What truly was eternal in their Eternal Rome still lives today (and they therefore continue to live among us) and will live to the end of time.”In consequence of the tremendous price paid today, it is essential that the feeling of the Romans should become the driving force of the Italians; namely, that Italy cannot die. The Italians must ask themselves the questions which Fichte himself, in one of his lectures, asked the German people:
“We must come to an agreement,” he said, “on the following questions: 1. Is it true or not that a German nation exists, and is there a threat to the possibility of its continued existence in terms of its own peculiar and independent nature? 2. Does it or does it not deserve to be preserved? 3. Is there a safe and efficacious means of preserving it, and if so, what?”
Prussia answered these questions by sending Blücher’s divisions to Waterloo. As far as Italy is concerned, we can answer that an Italian nation does and will exist, that it is worth preserving, and that to do this, it is essential that, of the two factors today weighing on its conscience — defeat and contemptibility — the most serious, that is the latter, should be wiped out in the only possible, the only irrefutable way: by returning to the fight, side by side with our ally, or rather allies: by hoisting the old flag of the Fascist Revolution once and for always, the flag for or against which the world has ranged itself in two opposing camps.
The war which begun for lack of obtaining a German corridor through the Polish corridor is already over; the war of today is a real war of religion, which is transforming States, peoples and continents.
In a sort of diary I kept at La Maddalena and which may one day see the light, I wrote:
“It is not to be wondered at, that people cast down the idols which they themselves have created. It is perhaps the only way of restoring them to the stature of common humanity.”And further on:
“In a short time Fascism will once more shine on the horizon. First of all, because of the persecution to which the ‘Liberals’ will subject it, showing that liberty is something to reserve to oneself and refuse to others; and secondly, because of a nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ which will begin little by little to gnaw at the Italian heart. All those who fought in the European and especially, the African wars, will suffer particularly badly from this nostalgia. The ‘African sickness’ will carry off thousands.
When Napoleon ended his career through being guileless enough to trust in the chivalry of the British, the twenty years of his epic struggle were foresworn and abused. A great many Frenchmen of that time — and some of today as well — condemned him as a villain who, in order to try and realise his wild dreams of conquest, had led millions of Frenchmen to the slaughter. Even his work in the political field was misjudged. The empire itself was considered an anachronistic paradox in the history of France. The years went by. The veil of time dropped over the former struggles and passions. France lived, and since 1840 has continued to live, in the shining furrow of the Napoleonic tradition. The twenty years of Napoleon are, rather than a historical event, a fact now inseparable from the French national consciousness. Perhaps something of the sort will happen in Italy. The decade between the Reconciliation and the end of the war in Spain — a decade which raised Italy in a flash to the level of the great empires — the Fascist decade which enabled every man of our race, scattered all over the world, to hold his head high and to call himself Italian without blushing — the men of this decade will be exalted in the second half of this century, even though now, in the heat of the moment, people try and blot out its memory.”And elsewhere, still from my La Maddalena diary:
“To redeem oneself one must suffer. Many millions of Italians of today and tomorrow will have to experience in their own bodies and souls what defeat and dishonour mean, what it means to lose one’s independence, what it means to be the object of foreign policy instead of determining it, what it means to be completely disarmed; the bitter cup will have to be drained to the dregs. Only by reaching the depths can one rise once more to the stars. Only the fury at suffering too great humiliation will give the Italians strength for recovery.”
CHAPTER XV: A “STORK” OVER THE GRAN SASSO
In the history of every age and of every nation there are stories of flights and of dramatic, romantic and sometimes fabulous rescues; but my own rescue appears even today, after a lapse of time, as the most daring, the most romantic and at the same time most modern, from the point of view of the means and method employed. Indeed, it has already become legendary.
I had never nourished any hope of being liberated by Italians, not even by Fascists. That some of them thought about doing so, is certain; that here and there the more spirited groups of Fascists even laid out plans for it, is beyond question; but nothing got beyond the planning stage, because the groups or individuals capable of attempting such a plan were kept under strict surveillance and had not the means necessary to accomplish it.
From the very beginning I felt sure that the Führer would do everything to try and rescue me. The Ambassador, von Mackensen, went to the King almost at once to obtain permission to visit me, according to the Führer’s wish, but the request was refused with the following note:
His Majesty the King has informed Marshal Badoglio of the Führer’s desire. While confirming the excellent health enjoyed by H.E. Mussolini and his complete satisfaction with the treatment accorded him. Marshal Badoglio regrets that he is unable, in the personal interests of H.E. Mussolini himself, to consent to the proposed visit. He is however prepared to forward forthwith any letter which H.E. the Ambassador may have for him, and to transmit an answer. — July 29th, 1943.The Chef de Cabinet of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs went to the German Ambassador and then reported to Marshal Badoglio.
Given the situation of an Italian Government which pretended to be Germany’s ally and to wish to continue the war, the Government of the Reich could not — by taking any formal steps, such as the request for my immediate release — compromise the relations between the two Governments or provoke a premature crisis in their relations. It is clear that Berlin mistrusted the trends and aims of Badoglio’s policy. But diplomatic relations prevented that mistrust from becoming effective until the position had come to a head. Nobody gave me a thought on July 29th — with one exception. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring telegraphed me as follows (the telegram was brought to Ponza by a Carabinieri officer):
My wife and I send you our warmest and beet wishes for today. Though circumstances have prevented my coming to Rome as I had planned, in order to offer you a bust of Frederick the Great as well as my congratulations — the feelings I express to you today of complete solidarity and brotherly friendship are all the more cordial. Your work as a statesman will live in the history of our two nations, destined as they are to march towards a common fate. I should like to tell you that our thoughts are constantly with you. I want to thank you for the charming hospitality which you formerly offered me, and I once more sign myself with invincible faith.
Even at La Maddalena I had noticed some German activity; they had a base on the opposite side of the Straits, at Palau. In fact, the Germans had thought out a plan, consisting of a landing by a submarine camouflaged as an English one with the crew in English uniforms, which would take me off the island and set me free. The plan was just about to be attempted right when I was transferred to the Gran Sasso.Yours,Göring.”
On Saturday evening, September 11th, a strange atmosphere of uncertainty and expectation reigned on the Gran Sasso. It was now known that the Government had fled, together with the King, whose abdication had just been reported. The officials in charge of me seemed embarrassed, as if faced with the performance of a particularly unwelcome task. On the night of the 11th-12th, towards 2 a.m., I got up and wrote a letter to the Lieutenant, in which I warned him that the English would never take me alive. After removing any remaining metal or other sharp objects from my room (in particular, my razor blades), Lieutenant Faiola repeated to me: “I was taken prisoner at Tobruk, where I was badly wounded. I witnessed the British cruelty to Italians, and I shall never hand an Italian over to the English.” And he burst into tears.
The rest of the night passed quietly.
In the early hours of the morning of the 12th a thick whiteish mass of cloud covered the summit of the Gran Sasso, but it was nevertheless possible to observe the flight of a few aeroplanes. I felt that today would decide my fate. Towards noon the sun broke through the clouds, and the whole sky seemed to shine in the clear September air.
It was exactly 2 p.m., and I was sitting by the open window with my arms folded when a glider landed a hundred yards from the building. Four or five men in khaki got out, rapidly assembled two machine-guns and then came forward. A few seconds later, other gliders landed in the immediate vicinity, and the men from these carried out the same manoeuvre. More men got out of more gliders. I never thought for a moment that they were English. There would have been no need for them to have recourse to such a risky undertaking in order to pick me up and take me to Salerno. The alarm was sounded. All the Carabinieri and police rushed out of the gate of the Refuge, weapons in hand, and arrayed themselves against the assailants. In the meantime, Lieutenant Faiola burst into my room and threatened me: “Shut the window and don’t move.” Instead, I remained by the window and saw that another and more numerous group of Germans, having seized the funicular, had come up and were now marching compactly and resolutely from the station square towards the inn. At the head of this group was Skorzeny. The Carabinieri had already got their guns at the ready when I noticed an Italian officer among Skorzeny’s group whom, on approaching nearer, I recognised as General Soleti, of the Metropolitan Police Corps.
Then, in the silence a few seconds before the order to fire, I shouted: “What are you doing? Can’t you see? There is an Italian general there. Don’t fire! Everything is all right.”
At sight of the Italian general approaching with the group of Germans, the firearms were lowered.
This is what had happened. General Soleti had been carried off that morning by Skorzeny’s detachment, having been told nothing of their motive and purpose. His revolver had been taken from him, and he left for an unknown destination. When, at the moment of the assault, he realised what it was all about, he was delighted. He declared himself happy to have contributed to my liberation and perhaps, by his presence, to have prevented a bloody conflict. He told me that it would not be advisable to return to Rome immediately, where there was an “atmosphere of civil war,” and gave me some information concerning the flight of the King and Government. He was thanked by Captain Skorzey, and when Soleti asked for his revolver to be returned, his request was granted, as was his further request to follow me wherever I might go.
Gueli had taken no part in the extremely rapid succession of events. He appeared only at the last moment. Skorzeny’s men, after taking possession of the machine-guns at each side of the Refuge gate, came to my room in a group. Skorzeny, sweating and much moved, stood at attention and said: “The Führer, who, night after night, ever since your capture, has been thinking how to set you free, gave me this task. With infinite difficulty I followed your vicissitudes and peregrinations day by day. Today, in liberating you, I have the great joy of seeing the task assigned me crowned with complete success.”
I replied: “I was certain from the beginning that the Führer would afford me this proof of his friendship. I thank him and I thank you, Captain Skorzeny, as well as your comrades who faced the risks with you.”
Then the conversation turned to other matters, while my papers and belongings were collected.
On the ground floor the Carabinieri and police were fraternising with the Germans, a few of whom had been hurt on landing, though not badly. At 3 p.m. all was ready for departure. On leaving, I warmly saluted the men of Skorzeny’s group, and all of them together — Italians included — went to a small plateau lower down where a Stork plane was waiting.
The captain piloting it came forward; a very young man called Gerlach, an ace. Before getting into the machine I turned to wave to a group of my guards; they seemed stunned. Many of them were genuinely moved. Some even had tears in their eyes.
The space in which the “Stork” had to take off was really very small, so it was dragged back to gain a few extra yards. At the end of the plateau there was a fairly deep drop. The pilot took his place in the machine, Skorzeny behind him and then myself. It was 3 p.m. The “Stork” started up. It pitched a little. Rapidly it covered the stony ground and then, a yard away from the precipice, with a violent haul on the joystick, took the air. There was still some shouting, some waving of arms; and then came the silence of the upper air. In a few minutes we passed over L’Aquila, and an hour later, the “Stork” came tranquilly to earth in the airport of Pratica di Mare. There a large, three-engined plane was already waiting. I climbed into it. Our destination was Vienna, where we arrived late at night. A few people were waiting at the airport. From there we went to the Hotel Continental for one night.
The next day, about noon, we set off again, for Munich, in Bavaria. The next morning the welcome at the Führer’s General Headquarters was simple and brotherly.
My liberation by German shock troops aroused a great wave of enthusiasm in Germany. One might say that the event was celebrated in every house. The wireless had prepared listeners for some extraordinary news by repeated announcements, and they were not disappointed when, about 10 p.m., the news was made known. Everyone considered it an outstanding event.
Hundreds of telegrams, letters and poems poured in to me from all over the Reich. The event did not have similar repercussions in Italy. Those were the days of chaos and destruction, of looting and degradation. There, the news came as an unwelcome surprise and was received with vexation and rancour. And they began by denying it; rumours went round that the whole thing was a joke, that I had already died or been handed over to the English, and that the speech at Munich had been made by a double. This rumour went on circulating months afterwards even, the wish being father to the thought.
Although hundreds of people have seen me, that rumour has not entirely died out. The persistence of this phenomenon needs some explanation, for it was not due merely to the news given out by the enemy radio of my steadily failing health, or of continued attempts on my life, or of a flight into Germany either already achieved or about to take place. The phenomenon must be differently explained and referred to certain basic elements in the psychology of part of the Italian people: the part which is, perhaps, more endowed with talent rather than intelligence.
From one point of view, I am a man who is “hard to kill.” In fact, I have many times been on the point of death. At the hospital in Ronchi, in March 1917, with my body riddled with shrapnel, they thought I would die or, at best, have my right leg amputated. Nothing of the sort. After the war, on my return from the Fascist Congress held in Florence in 1920, a formidable collision which shattered the bars of a level crossing outside Faenza only gave me a slight concussion, as my shock-proof skull had brilliantly neutralised the blow.
The plane crash on the Arcore airfield was an extremely interesting experience. I observed then that the speed at which the machine fell was the same as the speed with which the thought, “We are going to crash” was formulated in words. It is no joke to fall like a stone from a height of 200 feet, even in a stout chassis like the unforgettable “Aviatik.” The crash as we hit the ground was resounding enough, to say nothing of the creaking and groaning of the wings and fuselage. There was a rush from all parts of the airfield. The pilot-instructor, that enthusiastic and charming veteran of the air, Cesare Redaelli, was slightly hurt; as for me, I had merely bruised one knee, while my Panzer-like head only showed a light scar between nose and forehead.
The flight from Ostia to Salerno was fairly exciting on the day of the famous (and for some time unpublished) Eboli speech, in June, 1935. It was in a howling storm. Just before we arrived, a flash of lightning struck the plane and burnt out the wireless. It must be admitted that not every common mortal gets struck by lightning at ten thousand feet above sea level and escapes unharmed.
We need not mention my many duels, which never got beyond the stage of innocent fun, even when the weapon employed was a rapier. Less innocent, perhaps, and incredibly tedious, were the attempts made on my life in 1925 and 1926 — a couple of bombs, a series of revolver shots, both male and female, Italian and British, besides a few other attempts the origin of which remains obscure. Business as usual.
We now pass from the — what shall I call it? — the realm of external injuries to that of my physique, or the organic side. For twenty years now, from February 15th, 1925, precisely, I have been “blessed” with a delightful duodenal ulcer, whose exact and detailed history may be found (together with some other 70,000 case histories) in Professor Frugoni’s archives. To see it on the X-ray plates, first taken by the very able and honest Aristide Busi, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Rome (now dead), was a cause of very understandable and very personal satisfaction.
From this description it will be seen that I may be considered “hard to kill” — so far, at any rate.
How then can we explain the fact that public opinion, vague and amorphous as it is, believed I was dead?
I have, if one may say so, different incarnations. Even from the political point of view I am hard to kill. In 1914, when I was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party at the memorable assembly at the Teatro del Popolo, all or nearly all the members considered me a dead man, beaten by the plebiscite carried out among the herd, to which, as usual, was added a “moral question.” A few months later Neutralist Socialism was completely defeated by the same herd.
When the war was over, Italy was swept by a wave of Bolshevism. In the 1919 elections, in which I had the honour of being on the same list as Arturo Toscanini (who was, therefore, one of the first Fascists), I obtained only 4,000 votes as against the millions obtained by my adversaries. The Red Flag fluttered triumphantly and menacingly. In the intoxication of victory they gave me a mock funeral, and a coffin containing my effigy and followed by a vociferous crowd, went past my home at No. 38, Foro Buonaparte, top floor.
I emerged from that coffin in the years 1921 and 1922. As in November, 1919, something of the same sort was tried in July, 1943. This time it was to be for good and all. And now, my political and physical death were to go hand in hand, with a well-calculated simultaneity. But He Who from the unsearchable heights rules the changing destinies of man had decided otherwise. There is a Mussolini who embodies the Mussolini of yesterday, even as the one of yesterday embodied the one of today, and this Mussolini, though no longer living at the Palazzo Venezia, but at the Villa delle Orsoline, has put his shoulder to the wheel with his usual determination. And so, O far from invincible phalanx of Doubting Thomases, if I work, then I must, to say the least, be alive.
The Greek philosopher, Thales, thanked the gods for creating him a man and not a beast, a male and not a female, a Greek and not a barbarian. I thank God for halving spared me the farce of a vociferous trial in Madison Square, New York — to which I should infinitely prefer a regular hanging in the Tower of London — and for having allowed me, in company with the best Italians, to live through the fifth act of the terrible drama now being enacted in our tortured Fatherland.
CHAPTER XVI: ONE OF MANY: THE COUNT OF MORDANO
On the morning of May 25th, Count Dino Grandi di Mordano made himself scarce. He was sought in vain at the Chamber, in vain at his villa — a fairly sumptuous one, apparently — in Frascati; even the telephone call to enquire for him at Bologna at the Resto del Carlino was in vain. None of those questioned could give any information; at Frascati they said he had left by car straight for Bologna. In reality he had remained in hiding in Rome, awaiting the coup d’état. He remained at Rome in the days which followed as well.
As soon as he learned of the composition of the Badoglio Government he wrote a letter to the Marshall to tell him that “it was a really solid Government” and that “the choice of men could not have been better.”
After a few more days of fruitless waiting, he reappeared as the lawyer Domenico Galli, and slipped away to Spain. He did not stay there long, experiencing what might be termed an odd sort of hospitality from the Italian Consul at Seville; and not feeling safe under Franco’s regime, he removed to near Lisbon, in Portugal — to Estoril, to be exact.
His former attitude, his speech in the session of the Grand Council, and his flight from Italy by plane with a Badoglio passport, remove the last shadow of doubt as to the part played by him in the carrying out of the conspiracy. He, who had been first Under-Secretary for the Interior, then Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador to London and finally Minister of Justice and, at the same time President of the Chamber of Fasci and Guilds, as well as a Count with the title of Mordano. Was that not enough? No, it was not enough.
At the beginning of March, 1943, he presented himself at the Palazzo Venezia, armed with the Yearbook of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and addressed me as follows:
“It is not the first time that I have felt embarrassed in your presence, but on this occasion I feel it particularly. You know that after a certain period of time Ambassadors, especially if they have been accredited to the Court of St. James in London for many years, are decorated with the Collar of the Annunciation. I think I qualify for this. Would you speak to the King about it?”
This was the sort of talk that annoyed me frightfully. On a former occasion, so far as the Collar was concerned, I had renounced mine in favour of Tommaso Tittoni.
“Very well,” I replied. “I shall mention it at my next audience.”
So I did. But at the outset the King did not seem in the least enthusiastic about it.
“First of all,” he said, “it is not true that anyone who has been Ambassador in London is the senior Ambassador and has a right to the Collar. That reason won’t wash. The other reason, extension of State territory, doesn’t exist in Grandi’s case. He can only be decorated with the Collar in the quality of President of the Chamber. But if I confer it on him I ought to give it to the President of the Senate, Count Suardo, as well, and there is no chance of that after the recent gossip about Senators giving information to the police.”
I interrupted to point out that investigation had shown that the charges were unfounded.
At the following audience, the King raised no further objections. On the contrary, he admitted that, since the completion of the Codes, Grandi’s services as Keeper of the Seals had earned him this high distinction. Such a change of attitude in forty-eight hours seemed strange. As to the time, the Feast of the Annunciation was chosen, and shortly afterwards, on March 25th, 1943, Count Dino Grandi became cousin to Victor Emmanuel of Savoy.
The newspapers announced the fact without undue prominence. A few days later Grandi returned to the Palazzo Venezia and made such protestations of loyalty and devotion to me that the four walls of the building shook. Was the conferring of the Collar a part of the conspiracy, by any chance?
Who indeed could have doubted Grandi’s loyalty to Fascism? There were a few who did, but they were not listened to. Among the various thousands of files containing the life, death and miracles of 200,000 Italian citizens great and small, that of Grandi is unusually bulky. In order to avoid having to write several hundred pages, let us pass over the public manifestations, oral and written, from which it emerges that he gloried in calling himself an "orthodox” Fascist, one of my most faithful followers. Had I not raised him from the post of an obscure reporter on the Resto del Carlino to that of a politician of importance, first in the Party and then in the country?
“What should I have been,” said Grandi, “if I had not met you? At the very most, an obscure provincial lawyer.”
Let us glance through the file, which contains documents not meant for publication and, therefore, presumably, free from ulterior motives.
After the March on Rome, in March, 1923, to be precise, he was called to Rome to take up political activities, and on that occasion he wrote to me as follows:
Thank you for your words which have given me back in a flash all my old capacity for work and struggle, I have been reproaching myself for the time I have wasted, eating my heart out in sterile silence. No one knows and acknowledges his faults more than I do. They are very great, and infinite in number. But you, who are my Chief, will see me tested. You will see what an example of devotion and loyalty will be set by
In May, 1925, I sent for Dino Grandi to take up the appointment of Under-Secretary to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Grandi had wanted that appointment badly and had not concealed the fact. He thanked me in these terms:DINO GRANDI.
I tell you frankly, and without false modesty, that this unexpected appointment has flattered me greatly, the more so because your having chosen me for such an important function will enable me to be nearer you. This is my highest ambition and the greatest reward I could desire. On the other hand, you know how boundless and unquestioning my loyalty is, and how my one wish is to obey you, so pray do with me whatever you consider most opportune and most suited to the needs of the moment which you alone can know and appraise.On December 14th, 1927, he addressed me another letter containing the following words:
A few months ago you ordered me to resume my post. I have done so. And in resuming it, I can only repeat to you, with all my enthusiasm, an assurance, which is an oath of loyalty. I can only say to you that my loyalty is blind, complete and indestructible. You have made the spiritual conquest of a man of silence and meditation. You will see me when the test comes.After directing the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for many years, he was replaced. Why? In assiduously frequenting Geneva he had become assimilated into those perfidious surroundings. From now on, his line was “The League.” There is no doubt that he had made a certain name for himself in the inter- national world. He had visited nearly all the European capitals, including Ankara. He was considered a man of democratic leanings, a man of the “Right” in Fascist foreign policy. The Government line altered after the failure of the Four-Power Pact. One day he was replaced and sent as Ambassador to London. It may well be that from that moment he began to cherish a grievance which was to carry him a long way. Nevertheless, he hid it well.
When there was a feeling in the air that something fresh was going to happen on African territory, he wrote from London on February 20th, 1935, as follows:
I have returned to my job with a vision of Fascist Italy as I never saw her before; the real Italy of your time, which goes forward to meet her fate, coolly appraising it, without anxiety on the one hand or a show of hysterical enthusiasm on the other, taking things as they are. The Romans, who understood such matters, would have called this the age of Fortuna Virilis. I think you should be satisfied with the way Italy has responded to your marching orders.From time to time the Ambassador to London deigned to return in order to keep in touch with the life of the nation and the Regime. Not a single reservation or criticism appeared in his public attitude, not a reservation in his private correspondence, but only loud hosannas of approval of everything.
After visiting a barracks pf the Fascist Militia in February 1939, he wrote as follows:
The impression I brought back with me was profound. Guidonia is the most virile generator of power for our war of tomorrow and, of all your creations, is perhaps the one which affords in most sculptural form a feeling of Genius and Power.That was the year in which the “passo romano” was introduced for parades in the Italian Army, beginning with the Fascist Militia; that march concerning which so many otiose discussions then took place. It is a fact that the only army in the world which marched past without a certain style of step was the Italian Army. It is obvious that a parade step is the indispensable finish to training in close formation, and it is indisputable that such a step is of very great educational importance. The episode at Waterloo is well known. At one moment during the battle certain Prussian divisions wavered for a moment, surprised by heavy fire from the French artillery. Blücher marched them back to the lines in goose-step, and they then intrepidly resumed the fight.
When, during one of his periodic visits to Rome, Ambassador Grandi had occasion to assist at the first march past in “passo romano,” he was simply electrified. He was quite carried away in beholding it, and interpreted the importance of the march from the phonetic as well as the moral point of view, in this extract from a letter of apologetics addressed to me:
The earth shook beneath the thud, or rather the hammer-blows, of the feet of the legionaries. I saw these Blackshirts close to; when they marched with the “passo romano” their eyes sparkled, their lips straightened and hardened, their faces acquired a new expression which was not merely a martial air, but rather the air of satisfied pride with which a hammerer smites and crushes the head of his enemy. Indeed, after the first ten or twelve steps the thudding acquired a steadily growing power, as the echo of the hammer-blows in the ear of the hammerer himself redoubles their force. In the necessary revolution of our customs which you are making, the “passo romano” (together with the familiar “voi” and the uniforms) is and always will be the most potent instrument of Fascist teaching of the young. That is why I am wondering whether music is not superfluous in the parade step. Whereas the drum “underlines” it, the music of the band (if you don’t think me presumptuous for saying so) creates a spiritual distraction quite detrimental to that which should be exaggerated by the silence and the drums, I mean the echo and vibration of that rhythmic, powerful, united hammer of bronze.Those were the years when the Party proposed to revolutionise traditions. With that object, the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard was introduced.
The Changing of the Guard had, with time, become the most slovenly of military ceremonies. Nobody watched it because nobody was interested in it. After improving the method of changing guard at the Quirinal, by detailing at least one company and a band to support the guard, an almost identical ceremony was performed in front of the Palazzo Venezia, before the eyes of an ever-growing audience of Italians and foreigners.
Grandi once had occasion to be present at the Changing of the Guard at the Palazzo Venezia, and having described the scene as magnificent and formidable, had continued as follows:
What I saw in Berlin formerly and what I see fairly often in London now, cannot be compared with this. The close formation which you have taught your soldiers is of superb and unique originality. These soldiers of yours this morning, in their steel-coloured uniform, marched with heart, muscles and sinews of steel. It was not the Anglo-Saxon “ballet,” it was not the Teutonic “catapult.” It was a single block of steel, a powerfully weighty mass like the German, but not of cast-iron but of vibrant metal. It is the most powerful instrument of popular pedagogy which you have ever created.Who, in recent times, has not cast a stone at Party Secretary Starace? In the session of the Grand Council, Grandi was positively virulent. And yet in 1938, in a letter he wrote me after a visit to the Farnesina, he contrived to say: Starace is doing wonders there, and, announcing his departure for London, declared that he would avoid going through France but would go via Germany because, as he said, in the seven years I have been in London I have never, no, not once, stayed a single night in Paris, a city which I loathe.
At the time of the occupation of Albania he wrote from London as follows:
Today’s events have electrified my spirit. You, Duce, are making the Revolution move with the inevitable and ruthless motion of a tractor. After the vengeance for Adowa, the vengeance for Valona. Your faithful collaborator, who for eight years has had the privilege of being a daily witness of your work, knows that you have never relaxed your efforts even for a moment. This conquest makes the Adriatic a strategically Italian sea for the first time, and opens the ancient highways of Roman conquest in the East to Mussolini’s Italy.As for Count Grandi’s attitude with regard to the present war, it was at first one of absolutely enthusiastic support. On August 9th, 1940, on presenting me with a photograph copy of one of his articles written twenty-six years earlier (December 1914), showing that the reasons for intervention in 1914 were the same ideological and political reasons for intervention twenty-five years later, he wrote:
From that time on, Duce, under your leadership, we believed that the real war, Italy’s revolutionary war, was still to come, and that it would be a war of the proletariat, with Italy, Germany and Russia on the one side, and France and England on the other. From then on we knew these latter to be our real enemies, even though we were preparing to fight on their side.When he finally returned from London, where he had enjoyed a certain prestige in some circles, he was created Keeper of the Seals, and as such gave a strong stimulus to the completion of the Codes, which he wanted to call the Mussolini Codes. On being elected President of the Chamber of Fasci and Guilds, while still remaining Keeper of the Seals, he wrote to me as follows on March 27th, XVIIIth year of the Fascist era:
I am deeply grateful for what you were good enough to tell me this evening. To become ever more one of the new Italians whom you are hammering into shape; that is the aim of my life, my faith and my soul, which have been yours for twenty-five years, my Duce.On December 2nd, 1942, I addressed the Chamber on the political and military situation. Grandi presided. The assembly had warmly cordial note which seemed to convey perfect unanimity. The next day a letter was sent me, signed A Woman, and containing the following:
You have at your side two or three officials who are plotting something, I followed the meeting yesterday from the press gallery and noticed Grandi’s cryptic attitude. His applause was perfunctory. He has been too long in London. One who knows him warm you — beware!The case of Grandi is not unique; it is one of many, and they are all alike. It is an historical fact that in times of great crisis the chiefs weaken or play the traitor, while the rank and file hold firm and remain faithful. It is therefore calculation (i.e., intelligence) that actuates the former, whereas in the latter it is the primitive and elemental force of feeling which guides them. Faced with spiritual changes of front such as are shown here by Grandi’s letters (only a fraction of which has been quoted), one can understand my cynicism, which is also due to the fact that I have never had a friend in my life.
Was that a good thing? Or a bad one? I set myself this problem at La Maddalena; but I did not solve it, because good or bad, it is too late now. There was someone in the Bible who cried: “Woe to him that is alone.” and someone in the Renaissance declared: “Be alone, and you will be your own master.” If I had had friends today they would have had to “sympathise” with me, that is, literally, “suffer with me.” As I have none, my affairs do not extend beyond the closed circle of my life.
CHAPTER XVII: THE DRAMA OF THE DYARCHY
FROM THE MARCH ON ROME TO THE SPEECH OF JANUARY 3RD
When one is faced with historical phenomena of vast significance, such as a war or a revolution, the enquiry into first causes is extraordinarily difficult. Above all, it is difficult to give a date to the origin of these events. In tracing them back through the centuries one runs the risk of reaching prehistoric times, since cause and effect condition each other and follow each other in turn. To avoid this, a starting point must be chosen — a birth certificate, so to speak.
The first manifestations of Fascism date back to the years 1914-15, at the time of the First World War, when the “Fasci of Revolutionary Action” insisted on intervention. On March 23rd, 1919, they were reborn as the Fasci di Combattimento. Three years later came the March on Rome. Anyone wishing to study the twenty years of the Regime up to July 1943 and to retrace the first origins of the coup d’état must take October 28th, 1922, as the starting point.
What was the March on Rome? A mere governmental crisis, a normal change of ministers? No. It was something more than that. An insurrection? Yes. One which lasted on and off for about two years. Did that insurrection erupt into a revolution? No. Assuming that a revolution takes place when not only the system of government but also the constitutional framework of the State is changed by force, then in that sense Fascism did not cause a revolution in October 1922. There was a monarchy before it, and a monarchy remained after it. I once said that when the Blackshirts were marching through the streets of Rome on the afternoon of October 31st, amidst the cheering crowds, there was a slight error in planning the itinerary; instead of passing in front of the Royal Palace on the Quirinal, it would have been better to storm it. Nobody gave it a thought because at that moment such a suggestion would have appeared untimely and absurd to everybody.
How could one attack the Monarchy which, far from barring the doors, had flung them wide open? The King had effectually revoked the State of Siege proclaimed at the last moment by Facta; he had ignored the suggestions of Marshal Badoglio (or those attributed to him) which provoked a very violent article in Il Popolo d’Italia; he had given me the task of forming a ministry which — by excluding those Leftists still in the grip of anti-Fascist bias — was born under the signs of complete victory and national concord.
If we had suddenly given a Republican character to the March, it would have complicated matters. There had been the Udine speech of September 1922, in which Fascism’s Republican tendency was set aside for the moment. However, the attitude of Fascism to the form of the political institutions of the State had been laid down from the very beginning of the movement, in the declaration of policy by the first Central Committee of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento in 1919 (which had its headquarters at 37, via Paolo da Cannobio). Clause D of this declaration proposed “the convocation of a National Assembly for the duration of three years, whose first task will be to determine the constitutional form of the State.” There was, therefore, no Republican formula or bias. A year later, at the National Congress held in the green room of the Teatro Lirico, in Milan, on May 24th and 25th, 1920, a few guiding principles of Fascist action were formulated. These were summarised in the pamphlet “Technical Guides and Practical Postulates of Fascism” (central headquarters in via Monte di Pietà) which declared that the Fasci di Combattimento “are not in principle opposed to socialism in and of itself — as an arguable thesis and movement — but they are opposed to its theoretic and practical degeneration as summed up in the one word: Bolshevism.” It then passed to the question of the political regime, declaring in the following precise terms:
“For the Fasci di Combattimento the question of the regime is subordinate to the moral and material interests, present and future, of the Nation, understood in its reality and its historical development; for this reason they are not prejudiced either in favour of or against existing institutions. This does not authorise anyone to consider the Fasci monarchists or supporters of the dynasty. If, in order to safeguard the interests of the Nation and to guarantee its future, a change of regime should appear necessary, the Fascists will be prepared for such an eventuality; but on the strength not of inalterable principles but of a concrete assessment of the situation. Not every regime suits every nation. Not every head can wear the Phrygian cap. A given nation needs a given form of state. The form of the state may rid itself of all its antiquated content and become democratic, as in England. On the contrary, there may and do exist republics which are fiercely aristocratic, such as the Russia of the so-called Soviets. Today, Fascists do not consider themselves in the least bound up with the fate of the present political institutions of monarchic type.”As may also be seen from the 1920 manifesto, the Fascist attitude might be described as “pragmatic.” Nor did that attitude substantially change during 1921 and 1922. At the time of the insurrection, a republic was not present in the mind of the people either as an idea or as an institution. After the death of Giuseppe Mazzini and his fellow apostles (the last of whom, Aurelio Saffi, died in 1890), the Republican party had lived on its “sacred memories,” stifled by the reality of the Monarchy and weighed down by the new Socialist doctrines.
Three men stand out from the general greyness of that twilight: Dario Papa, Giovanni Bovio, and Arcangelo Ghisleri. The last of these was adamant in uncompromising faith which made him refuse ever to become a Deputy, in order to avoid taking the oath of allegiance. But the other party leaders — through parliament, that corrupting element par excellence — had become assimilated into the monarchic pattern to the point of assuming ministerial responsibility during the war. This sort of republicanism — democratic and masonic in sympathies — was represented by the Jew, Salvatore Barzilai.
One might say that the Crown on the one hand and Freemasonry on the other had practically emasculated both the republican idea and the Republican Party. Against this, with the 1915-18 war and the liberation of Trento and Trieste, the historical task of the party might be considered at an end. The dream of a century of sacrifices, of martyrs and of battles, had been realised. The credit for having kept that torch alight for so many years belongs unquestionably to the Republican Party. After the war, with the exception of the Red Demonstration at the opening of the first Chamber under the new electoral law in November 1919, no one mentioned a republic any more, not even the Leftists.
From the day when the King did Turati the ‘honour’ of summoning him to a conference at the Quirinal and Turati went (even though in a lounge suit and soft hat), it seemed an anachronism to speak of a republic in Italy, where the name of monarchy was associated with victory.
Of the quadrumvirs, one, De Vecchi, was uncompromisingly monarchist and Savoyard; De Bono was at bottom no less monarchist; only Italo Balbo had gone through a republican phase in his youth; while Michele Bianchi, the political brains of the group (who had come to Fascism after syndicalist experience), did not consider the institutional problem in Italy to be practical politics.
Given these historical conditions and political factors, the March on Rome could not establish a republic for which the Nation was quite unprepared, while an attempt to do so out of season would probably have complicated, if not prejudiced, the outcome of the insurrectional movement.
The monarchy remained, but Fascism realised almost at once the need for creating institutions of its own, such as the Grand Council and the Voluntary Militia for National Security (MVSN).
At a meeting held in the Grand Hotel, Rome, in January 1923, not only were the Grand Council and the Militia born, but a political system which might be called a “dyarchy” was set up, the government of two, the “dual command.” I am sometimes no end of a wit without meaning to be, and I said that the system was like a married couple’s bedroom with separate beds: the worst possible situation according to Honoré de Balzac in his Physiologie du Mariage.
Little by little the dyarchy took on a more definite character, even though not always determined by special laws. At the top were the King and myself, and when the troops on parade cheered, they cheered each of us in turn. There was a moment after the conquest of the Empire when General Baistrocchi, giving way to his volcanic exuberance, made them repeat the salute three times, until I requested him not to introduce the Litany into the regiments. Beside the Army, which was primarily loyal to the King, there was the Fascist Militia, primarily loyal to myself. The King had a bodyguard composed of specially tall Carabinieri, and one day Gino Calza-Bini created my own personal bodyguard, the “Musketeers.”
The Council of Ministers derived from the Constitution, but the Grand Council exceeded it in importance because it derived from the Revolution. On ceremonial occasions the martial and rousing anthem “Giovinezza” was coupled with Gabetti’s noisy and tedious “Royal March” which, like a moto perpetuo, might be played until both the band and the audience were completely exhausted. In order to avoid the tedium of listening too long, only the first few bars of each anthem were played.
Even the military salute did not escape the dyarchic principle; with cap on, the old salute was retained; bareheaded, the Roman or Fascist salute was given, as if one had changed heads in the meantime!
Of the three armed forces, the most Royalist was the Army, followed by the Navy, particularly the Naval Staff. Only the Air Force boasted the Lictor emblem under which it was born or, at least, reborn.
In the Army there was one branch especially which was exclusively devoted to the House of Savoy: the Carabinieri. This was the King’s own corps. Even here Fascism tried to organise a police-force which would give some guarantee from the political point of view, and a secret organisation was added: the OVRA.
But the Royal House itself even had its own police and an internal intelligence service which was carried out in the various provinces by former officials, civil or military, who had retired on pension. That the Crown had a diplomacy of its own, besides that of the Government, is certain; not only through the diplomats who always came to report at the Quirinal when they returned to Rome but also through the connections of the royal or princely families, or through what was once the very numerous and powerful “International” of the reigning houses, now reduced to a circle of a few ghostly phantoms.
There is no doubt that the Army Staff was pre-eminently royalist; it formed a sort of highly circumscribed if not absolutely exclusive caste, on which the Royal House relied absolutely. If the Chamber seemed an emanation of the Party, specifically representing the Regime, the Senate, on the contrary, stressed its loyalty to the Royal House both by its royal nomination and by its very composition. The percentage of generals, admirals and nominees of the monied class was always impressive. Rather than a material force, therefore, the Senate constituted a political and moral reserve in favour of the dynasty.
All the Italian aristocracy, first the “White” and then, after the Lateran Treaties, the “Black” as well, constituted another loyalist force. Once the Roman question had been settled, the Curia and clergy joined the royal sphere of influence, so that the prayer for the King was enjoined for all religious ceremonies.
The upper middle-classes, industrialists, landowners, bankers, though not in the front ranks, marched nevertheless under the royal banner. The Freemasons considered the King as one of their “honorary brothers.” So did the Jews. A Jew, Professor Polacco, had been tutor to the Crown Prince.
In order for this dyarchic system, based on parallelism of power, to work, it was essential that the “parallel powers” should not cease to be such. During the whole of 1923, the year of “full powers,” there was not much change, except for the major incident of Corfu, which was settled at Geneva, to the entire satisfaction of the Italian government.
1924, on the contrary, was a most critical year. The Regime had to face the consequences of a crime which, apart from any other consideration, was a political error both in method and in timing. In the summer of 1924 the pressure of the Aventine group on the King and his immediate entourage was very strong. The opposition had made “formal” approaches to the Quirinal. The icing had given certain general assurances as far as legal punishment of the crime was concerned, but hesitated in following the men of the Aventine into the domain of political responsibility.
Even Cesare Rossi’s famous memorandum of the end of December (published on the Government’s initiative, so as to anticipate their opponents) did not make much impression on the King. The opponents of Fascism were henceforth bottled up in a moral question with no way out; and also, by going into exile, they had cleared the ground — that ground on which a counter-attack was to be launched at the right moment by the Regime. This was launched by the speech of January 3rd, 1925, and by the measures taken in the following forty-eight hours. Although the King had shown some firmness in resisting the approaches made by the Aventinians in the second half of 1924 — even when they had appealed to him more or less directly — he did not seem too pleased with the action taken on January 3rd which, by suppressing all political parties, laid the foundations of a totalitarian state.
That was the dyarchy’s first “clash.” The King felt that from that day onward the monarchy had ceased to be constitutional in the Parliamentary sense of the word. There was no longer any possibility of choice. The game of party politics and of alternating power was over. The Crown’s raison d’être was fading away. Recurrent ministerial crises, apart from great national calamities and New Year greetings (later abolished) — these were the only occasions on which the King did anything to remind the Italian people that he was something besides an enthusiastic, not to say fanatical, collector of ancient coins.
During a ministerial crisis the procession of candidates to the Quirinal had been an occurrence with the King as central figure. From 1925 onwards all that was over. From that year onwards, the changing of leaders assumed the character of a shift in internal arrangements within the orbit of the Party.
1925 was the year of special laws. 1926 was a year of constructive social laws. But towards November the Chamber (henceforth called Fascist) expelled the Aventine fugitives from its midst, as guilty of secession. Nor did this hardening of the Regime’s policy in a totalitarian sense pass unobserved in Court circles. From that moment they began to speak of the Crown as a prisoner of the Party, and they sympathised with the King, now relegated to second place compared to myself.
Notwithstanding, the two years 1925 and 1926 went by in peace.
CHAPTER XVIII: THE DRAMA OF THE DYARCHY
FROM THE GRAND COUNCIL LAW TO THE JULY CONSPIRACY
The law which brought on the first serious clash between the monarchy and Fascism was the one legalising the Grand Council, making it the supreme organ of State and laying down its duties and prerogatives. Besides the task of keeping a fist of men worthy of becoming Head of the Government (and I once presented a list of this sort to the King), the Grand Council reserved the right of intervening in regard to the succession to the throne. Dynastic circles were deeply shocked. This meant a mortal blow to the Constitution which settled this problem automatically. Some went as far as hinting that the article in question was of Republican inspiration and that in any case we wanted to prevent prince Umberto’s accession to the throne and to put forward the then Duke of Apulia.
From that day on Victor of Savoy began to detest me and to nurse a profound hatred of Fascism. “The Regime,” said the King one day, “should not meddle in these affairs, which have already been settled by the Constitution. If a party under a monarchic regime tries to decide who shall succeed to the throne, the monarchy will not be a monarchy any longer. The proclamation of succession can only be the traditional one of: ‘The King is dead. Long live the King.’”
The crisis brought on by the Grand Council Act lasted several months, though relationships within the dyarchy remained cordial on the surface.
In 1929 the Reconciliation with the Holy See smoothed the irritation away, and relations returned to normal. At first, the King did not believe in the possibility of a solution to the “Roman Question”; next he doubted the Vatican’s sincerity; but finally he was flattered by the idea that the last mortgage held on Rome by its last deposed sovereign had been redeemed. Then, too, he was pleased at the prospect of an exchange of visits between the two neighbouring sovereigns. He saw in all this the strengthening of existing institutions. Nor did the Concordat displease him, although his notorious anti-clericalism made him suspicious of it. But when he saw the array of bishops filing past him in order to take the oath of fidelity he was convinced that even in the Concordat each concession made to the Vatican produced something in return.
1929 was therefore a lucky year. Some time after the signing of the Lateran Treaties the King said to me, at one of our usual bi-weekly conferences:
“You have succeeded in a task which others have never attempted and could never have carried out. By your speeches to Parliament you have corrected the wide interpretation given it in certain clerical circles. That is excellent. I do not know how to give public expression to my gratitude. I really do not know. The Collar was given you after the annexation of Fiume. Perhaps a title...?”
“Oh, no,” I interrupted. “A title would make me appear ridiculous at once. I should never dare look myself in the face again. I shall not say boastfully, ‘Roi ne puis, prince ne daigne, Rohan je suis,’ but I ask you not to press me. Everyone should live in his own way.”
The King understood and the matter was not followed up.
It would take too long now to relate all the incidents in which the dyarchy was put to more or less severe tests. The affair took on a more serious and sometimes grotesque aspect as soon as one penetrated the sacred and almost bewildering labyrinth of the “protocol” of court ceremonial. It came to a head during the Führer’s visit to Rome. On that occasion the dyarchy revealed itself in all its plenitude before the public at large for a whole week, and there were incidents which surprised, irritated and sometimes amused the public. I had visited Germany in 1937. I had been given a memorable welcome in Berlin and Munich. Millions of Berliners foregathered at the Maifeld to listen to the Führer’s and my speeches. The interest aroused all over the world by my visit was great. In May 1938 the Führer arrived in Rome. It was not always easy to decide on the formalities of the visit, but it was clear that the Führer chiefly intended to visit the ‘Rome of Mussolini.’
When the German train reached the new and very handsome station of San Paolo, I was there to meet it as well as the King. But after that the Führer got into the State carriage with the King and went to the Quirinal. The crowd lining the Via dei Trionfi, the Via dell’Impero and the Piazza Venezia looked for me in vain. I had gone back to my office through the side streets of the Testaccio.
The Führer seemed offended by this. The following days we took turns to offer hospitality. In the morning the King accompanied the Führer to the various demonstrations, in the afternoon I did, or vice versa, according to the more or less political and Fascist nature of the demonstrations.
The Führer felt ill at ease in the frigid atmosphere of the Quirinal, partly owing to petty oversights of a material kind. At the grand military review in the Via dei Trionfi, the Führer’s suite observed that, while the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting bowed deeply as the Army banners passed, they pretended not to notice the pennants of the Fascist Militia.
At ceremonies where the King and I were present together, I stood behind and left the foreground to the uniforms of the royal suite. That was specially noticed at a traditional festival in historical costume in the Piazza di Siena, one of the grandest and most picturesque spectacles of modem times in Rome. The Führer invited me to come next to him in the front row.
At last the stay in Rome came to an end. Having emerged from what one Berliner called “the atmosphere of the royal catacombs” and arrived in Florence, the Führer’s mood lightened. If he had been deeply impressed by the majesty of Rome, he was enthusiastic over the grace of Florence. He would have liked to stay there longer. “It is my dream city,” he said.
If the week of the Führer’s visit to Rome revealed what may be described as the ceremonial aspects and differences attaching to the dyarchy, it was another incident which provoked the most serious crisis — the law creating the two First Marshals of the Empire. This happened at the spontaneous instance of certain groups of deputies and senators after a speech I had made a speech which aroused great enthusiasm. The law having been passed by both chambers of Parliament, the King was on the point of refusing his signature that would make it law. In our talk immediately afterwards he was extremely agitated.
“Following the Grand Council Act,” he said, “this law is a further mortal blow to my sovereign prerogatives. I could have given you any rank you liked, as a sign of my admiration, but this placing us on the same level puts me in an impossible position because it is another flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Kingdom.”
“You know I do not care about these things, which are mere externals,” I objected. “The sponsors of the Act held that in conferring that rank on me, you. Your Majesty, were automatically invested with it.”
“No. The Chambers cannot take the initiative in such matters.” The King was white with rage; his lower jaw was quivering.
“This is the limit! In view of the imminence of an international crisis I do not want to add fuel to the fire, but at any other time I would have abdicated rather than submit to such an affront. I would tear off this Marshal’s braiding.” And he looked with a disdainful eye at the braided double maeanders on his sleeve and hat.
I was somewhat surprised at this outburst of fury and decided to ask Professor Santi Romano, President of the Council of State, for his opinion from a strictly constitutional point of view, as he was a very eminent expert on such matters. He sent in a memorandum of some few pages in which he proved in strict logic that Parliament was able to do what it had done and that in investing me with a rank not yet existing in the military hierarchy, the King must also be invested with it, in his capacity of supreme head of the aforesaid hierarchy.
When I presented Santi Romano’s memorandum to the King, Victor Emmanuel had a fresh outburst of rage: “Professors of constitutional law, particularly when they are cowardly opportunists such as Professor Santi Romano, can always find arguments to justify the most absurd theses. It is their job. But I am still of the same opinion. For that matter, I have not concealed my attitude from the two Presidents of the Chambers, who are to inform the people who sponsored this affront to the Grown that ft must be the last.”
From that moment Victor Emmanuel swore to himself that he would be revenged. It was now a matter of waiting for a propitious moment.
By the early summer of 1943 the relationship between the two forces of the dyarchy had profoundly altered. The whole Fascist structure — Government, Party, syndicates and administration — seemed to be suffering from the toll of war. Tens of thousands of Fascists had fallen on the battlefields, among them no fewer than 2,000 Party officials. That is a fact which it would be criminal to forget. Over a million Fascists were serving in the army, spread out over a territory stretching from the Var to Rhodes, from Ajaccio to Athens. Only a few members of the Party remained in Italy, and they had dedicated themselves almost exclusively to social service. To this must be added the unlucky course of military operations, with the loss of all the African colonies; the terror raids on towns; and the growing food shortages.
There then began the subtle and steady work of cleverly breaking down the nation’s morale. Everything was used as a means to that end. And when facts were lacking they were invented or amplified. At the right moment the notion was spread abroad that the edifice of the State was being undermined from within and that any shock would be enough to bring it crashing down. Nothing and no one was left untouched. The young people, particularly, needed to be demoralised. Two forces, rivals indeed but akin, since they were both international, were particularly active in every field, from the political to the economic. Freemasonry, which had long lain dormant but had never died, realised that its moment had come, and set to work on the circles which had deferred to it in the past — members of the liberal professions, and civil and military State officials. A mysterious and untraceable sabotage began, which had immediate repercussions in all branches of the armed forces. The most absurd rumours were in circulation. Contact with the Anglo-Saxon Masonic forces was resumed via Lisbon. This reawakening of Masonic activity naturally did not pass unnoticed in the Vatican, which also entered the lists, though in a different field no less insidious and demoralising: that of supranational pacifism which, preached in Italian and, above all, in Italy, acted as a depressing agent upon the people’s spirit, especially in certain zones. To this manoeuvre on the part of those two great organisations there was added the support of the old and new anti-Fascist parties, whose programme was one of pure and simple revenge.
With the landing in Sicily, the last hope of a military success had gone, and the crisis of the dyarchy was bound to explode in all its hideousness. Realising the toll taken of Fascism, the other force of the dyarchy, which had been holding itself in reserve and which also held in reserve all the forces which traditionally supported it, seized the right moment for going over to the attack.
In July, 1943, the Crown, which at last considered itself the stronger, was guided only by the instinct for its physical preservation. The war, the Fatherland, the future of the nation did not enter into its calculations in the least; the King’s action was inspired by the most pitiable egotism, perhaps, even, by a purely personal self-interest. He wanted, according to one of his personal declarations from the grave at Bari, “to be done with Fascism.”
The King erred in his calculations, and the martyred nation is now paying the price for the royal betrayal.
Fascism — generous and romantic as it was in October 1922 — has paid the price for its mistake in not having been totalitarian right up to the apex of the pyramid, and for having believed that it was solving the problem by a system which, in its historical applications both recent and remote, has shown itself a difficult and short-lived compromise.
The Fascist revolution halted before the throne. That seemed inevitable at the time. Events have decided that the Crown should expiate, by its fall, the treacherous blow dealt to the Regime and the unpardonable crime committed against the nation.
The nation can arise again and live only under the banners of a Republic.
CHAPTER XVIII: ANOTHER OF THE MANY: PORTRAIT OF AN EXECUTIONER
On April 2nd, 1925, while barely convalescent, I pronounced to the Senate (which was discussing Di Giorgio’s bill) a speech of a military character, which had the honour of being posted up in all the towns and villages of the Realm by almost unanimous proclamation of the Senate. A few days later I assumed the direction of the Ministry for War.
On April 10th, 1925, the then General Pietro Badoglio sent me the following telegram from Rio de Janeiro (where he had been sent as ambassador):
On the occasion of your assuming direction of the Ministry for War I should like, Your Excellency, to send you my heartiest good wishes as General of the Army and soldier of our respected and victorious nation.After the March on Rome, Badoglio had been sent to fulfil the task of Ambassador to Brazil. Just before the Fascist insurrection in October, declarations had been attributed to him which gave rise to a violent attack in Il Popolo d’Italia on October 14th.
Badoglio raised no objections of any sort when nominated ambassador, but left for his new destination, where he remained a couple of years without distinguishing himself particularly. When he returned, his loyalty to the Fascist Regime (which had meanwhile undergone the trials of 1924) seemed absolutely sincere. He went about saying: “Wherever I am ordered I shall go; Badoglio is always ready to go whenever you give the word.”
In spring 1925 the question arose of creating the office of Chief of General Staff for the co-ordinated building up of all the armed forces. General Badoglio was the Court candidate and outstripped all the others; the King himself said that from the professional point of view he had “the best head.”
At the moment it is not possible to discover what has become of the lawyer and ex-Senator Edoardo Rotigliano, who had come to Fascism via Florentine nationalism. His last public oration was a somewhat frondistic speech to the Senate in spring 1943, in which he recalled the King’s attitude after Caporetto.
Now, on April 4th, 1925, the ex-Deputy Rotigliano sent the following symptomatic and, in some ways, almost prophetic letter to me, as Head of the Government:
His Excellency the President,
Today in the Chamber General Badoglio’s name was repeatedly mentioned for the appointment of Chief of Army General Staff. I hope this rumour is unfounded. I had the opportunity of knowing General Badoglio during the war, and of following his actions closely. I can assure you that he has not the requisite gifts for being placed at the head of the Army. Many people know that Badoglio was the man chiefly responsible for Caporetto, but few know of his ignoble conduct on the morrow of the defeat, when he abandoned three of the four divisions of his 11th Army Corps without leadership on the left bank of the Isonzo, in order to rush to Udine and Padua to assure his own safety and to canvass for the appointment of Deputy Chief of Staff. He is a man of insatiable ambition. If he were once at the head of the Army I am sure he would profit by it to try and scale the ladder of government. I have no candidates to put forward, I would even assert that none of the generals most under consideration can, in my opinion, give a sufficient guarantee of loyalty to our Regime. But from that point of view Badoglio would certainly be the worst of the lot. Forgive me, Excellency, for thinking it my duty to express to you a conviction which is the fruit of my own personal knowledge of events, and of which, if you wish, I could give you proof.
I assure you of my unchanging loyalty,
E. Rotigliano.This was followed by a typed P.S.:
By means of a faked telegram he tried to make it appear that he had been transferred to another command before the break-up of his Army Corps.Rotigliano’s letter did not pass unobserved, but provoked fresh discussions and further investigations. At a later meeting I received the impression that it was a question of polemical “taking sides.” It was known that the Nationalists were going all out in support of Cadorna who, in his turn, had written as follows to the editor of Vita Italiana in a letter dated from Villar Pellice, September 12th, 1919:
The “Gazzetta del Popolo” yesterday published the findings of the enquiry into Caporetto.After saying that he ought to write a book in reply, he continued as follows:
Responsibility is pinned on me and on Generals Porro, Capello, Montuori, Bongiovanni and Cavaciocchi, and yet there is not a word about Badoglio, whose responsibility was extremely grave. It was his very Army Corps (the 27th) which was routed in front of Tolmino, losing three extremely strong defence lines in a single day, although the day before (October 23rd) he had expressed to me personally his complete confidence in their resistance, confirming what he had already told Colonel Calcagno on October 9th when I had sent the latter to collect information on the state of that Army Corps and its requirements. It was the rout of that Corps which caused the rout of the whole army front. And yet Badoglio gets off scot free! Here obviously Freemasonry and probably other influences have had something to do with it, in view of the honours with which he has subsequently been loaded. And that, I think, is that.The other influence referred to by Cadorna was that of the Crown.
Still à propos of Caporetto, the War Museum in Milan contains General Cavaciocchi’s three unpublished manuscripts (presented by his daughter through General Segato fifteen years ago) which are to be published one day.
The battle taking place for and against Badoglio in political and military circles ended in Badoglio’s favour, chiefly through the Duke della Vittoria’s support. In a letter dated May 1st, 1925, Badoglio, on taking up his appointment, and dealing with the choice of Deputy Chief of Staff, turned down Grazioli as “slippery”, Vaccari as “not in the picture”, and Ferrari as “no longer enjoying prestige”, and suggested General Scipioni, “despite the fact that he looked like an apothecary”. He concluded:
What I have said above is exactly what I think. But I shall do the same with any Deputy Chief of Staff, and Your Excellency will get the army you want. I therefore resign myself completely to Your Excellency’s decisions.The first problem to be faced at a series of meetings held at the Ministry for War, with myself presiding and Bonzani and Thaon di Revel present, was the organisation of the Air Force as an autonomous Service.
After Zaniboni’s unsuccessful attempt, Badoglio sent me the following letter on headed notepaper, dated November 7th, 1925:
As Chief of General Staff and faithful collaborator of the National Government, in view of the fact that the ex-deputy Zaniboni was wearing a major’s uniform of the Alpini at the time of his criminal attempt, I feel it my duty, in the name of as many as wear the uniform of a soldier of Italy, to protest indignantly against this dastardly act by one who, forgetful of the dictates of honour, sought to make possible the perpetration of the vilest and most odious of crimes by means of the symbols of past distinction. God has protected Your Excellency and Italy!
In the heartbeats of the nation which, vibrant with emotion and exultation, has rallied affectionately to you at this time. Your Excellency will certainly have recognised and felt near you the heartbeats of all of us who bear arms in the service of our Fatherland; and in the august name of the King, we remain your most obedient and loyal servants.
Your most devoted,
BADOGLIO.It gives one a curious feeling, twenty years after, to hear the phrase “the dictates of honour” from the Marshal’s lips. And it is odd that, among the first collaborators chosen for the Bari government born of the unconditional surrender, there should figure the would-be assassin of 1925!
Having definitely assumed his command, Badoglio dealt with military problems very much from a distance, contenting himself with issuing directives of a general nature. He but rarely attended the grand annual manoeuvres, so as to avoid meeting men he detested, such as Cavallero, for instance. That did not prevent him, on December 24th, 1926, from expressing the most loyal and heartfelt good wishes to the Duce, together with the hope that . . . . under the energetic direction of the Duce the Army would attain to the maximum efficiency. I assure Your Excellency that in this grandiose task we shall be your most loyal and tireless collaborators.
In the autumn of 1928 Badoglio was nominated Governor of Libya in succession to De Bono, who had begun the agricultural development of the colony. It was agreed that Badoglio should keep his job of Chief of General Staff; that, save for unforeseen developments, he should remain in Libya from January 1st, 1929, to December 31st, 1933; and that he should continue to draw his former salary as well as that of Governor, which Badoglio asked should be at least equal to what he had got as Ambassador to Brazil.
It was then that the Marquisate of Sabotino blossomed forth. In a letter dated September 12th, 1928, VI of the Fascist Era, Badoglio wrote:
Because Your Excellency’s generosity in rewarding all your faithful collaborators is well known, I take the liberty of applying to Your Excellency to suggest to the King that he should grant me a hereditary title referring to my action on Sabotino. I should be most grateful if Your Excellency would confirm what I have had the honour of writing to you in this letter. As I told you verbally yesterday. Your Excellency can count on my most complete and absolute devotion now and always.
PIETRO BADOGLIO,This is not the place to examine Badoglio’s political, military and economic achievements in the five years of his governorship of Libya. Maintaining the objectivity characteristic of this narrative, we may say that the work begun by De Bono was perfected on a greater scale. From time to time, in order to show that Libya “was not a liability to Italy,” he sent me fruit, vegetables and grapes, the first-fruits of that earth which the industrious hands of thousands of Italians had rendered fertile.
Marshal of Italy.
In 1933, after the failure of the only logical and rational historical attempt to reach an understanding with the Western Powers so as to co-ordinate Europe’s political and social evolution, it became clear that if Italy wished to continue to exist, she would have to secure a larger and more fertile terrain in Africa. On December 30th, 1934, I sent my principal political and military collaborators a memorandum illustrating a plan for the conquest of Abyssinia.
This document is still in existence, as are the hundreds of signed telegrams by which I directed all the preparations and the different phases of the campaign. Who of those who saw it could ever forget the national gathering on October 2nd, 1935? And those of May 5th and 9th, 1936? Who does not swell with pride at the thought of the resistance to the blockade organised by the League of Nations? Who is not moved at the recollection of the “Wedding-Ring Day”? No one can erase those great pages from the history of the Italian Nation.
In my prefaces to the books written by the three conquerors of the Empire, I acknowledged the merits of each of them. In view of the proportions the war might assume — over half a million Italians, military and civilian, had gone over to East Africa in spite of the English — I thought the task of directing it belonged to the Chief of General Staff. When the English fleet appeared in the Mediterranean in September, Marshal Badoglio had a bad attack of nerves and thought the game jeopardised. In a letter he implored me, “who had done so much for Italy, to do something to prevent a clash with Great Britain.” I replied that Italy would not take the initiative in the Mediterranean, but would stand up to any blackmail and would defend herself, if attacked.
The English fleet arrived, cruised through the Mediterranean without firing a shot, and the dreaded crisis was averted.
Before leaving, he telegraphed me from Naples on November 18th, 1935, as follows:
On leaving Italy for Eritrea I wish to express to Your Excellency my feelings of profound gratitude for your having given me the opportunity of once more serving, under Your Excellency’s orders, the cause of Fascist Italy in lands across the sea. The operation so happily begun will be brought to a conclusion according to the Duce’s wishes, and with that strength which unites the people, soldiers and Blackshirts in one sole block of faith and enthusiasm.During the campaign in those exciting days of May 1936, Marshal Badoglio not only did not seek to conceal his Fascism, but made a parade of it on successive public occasions. Fascists accorded him honours everywhere. They considered him one of themselves. Meanwhile, he was sending in his various bills. First he demanded another title. He did that at once, the minute he returned from Addis Ababa in My 1936. The worthy Fedele, then Commissioner of the College of Heralds, although in favour of a dukedom, was against the title of Addis Ababa and against making it hereditary as the Marshal wished it to be, not only for his sons but for his daughter as well. He also asked to receive his wartime emolument for life .and also that the expenses connected with the creation of the title should be borne by the Presidency of the Council. The King offered some opposition, particularly to the title chosen. But he ended by yielding. I contented myself with “putting the matter in hand.” Thus the Duke of Addis Ababa was born.
Badoglio then resumed his old job, leaving others the thankless task of pacifying the Empire.
A sort of Badoglio clique had been formed in Rome which took upon itself the task of preserving the gilt on the Marshal’s laurels. When, in the last part of his book, Myself and Africa, Sem Benelli attributed the merit of the victorious and rapid conclusion of the campaign to me, Badoglio sent the author a letter of most lively protest, which was answered explicitly and exhaustively. Again, when Alberto Cappa’s book Total War came out, in 1940, Colonel Gandin, Marshal Badoglio’s chief secretary, pointed out the fact to my secretariat in these scornful terms:
In case you should not yet have noticed it, I draw your attention to the enclosed book in which some vile accusations against Marshal Badoglio are repeated. I consider it my duty to do this, since the Marshal does not propose to take any steps in the matter.
Your loyal and obedient servant.The book mentioned the battle of Caporetto and contained a preface by Enrico Caviglia which said:
“This is a study worthy of being read and meditated on by all who have to do with military science and politics in general. No one with any political or military responsibilitity can today ignore the principles of total war, which involve the forces of the whole nation.”Up to the whole of 1938-39 my relations with Badoglio were cordial, outwardly at least. So much so, that on September 21st, 1938, on the occasion of my visit to the province of Alessandria, the Marshal offered me the hospitality of his villa or, at least, a tea-party “which would be the greatest honour for him and a great satisfaction to the whole province.”
Badoglio accepted the war against France with apparent enthusiasm. He wished, however, to postpone it as long as possible. It is perfectly true that when Badoglio read out the French armistice terms at the Villa Incisa just outside Rome, he had tears in his eyes.
Again, in 1940, the Marshal sent me “his hearty good wishes” on the anniversary of the founding of Fascism.
In this rapid retrospective glance over the twenty years of Fascism, the figure of the Marshal, a traitor several times over, has been subjected to the ordeal by fire and branded for all time.
He drew away from the Regime and began to premeditate his revenge after the start of the Greek campaign, when he was relieved of his command as Chief of General Staff.
CHAPTER XIX: THE MEETING AT THE PALAZZO VENEZIA ON OCTOBER 15th, 1940
At the right moment, a rumour was cunningly circulated that Marshal Badoglio was against the war with Greece. It is time the truth was told. Marshal Badoglio was in favour of the war with the aim of occupying Greece entirely. Now, in view of the situation in which we have been placed, we can open the iron safes and publish, if not in their entirety, at least the essential points of many historical documents. And the meeting which took place on October 15th, 1940, at 11 a.m. in my study at the Palazzo Venezia may well be called historic. There were present Badoglio, Ciano, Soddu, Jacomoni, Roatta, Visconti Prasca, and, as Secretary, Lt.-Colonel Trombetti, who took down the proceedings in shorthand.
After calling to mind the provocations which Greece, a fief of England, had made against us, and after examining the question of Italo-Greco-Albanian relations as a whole and, particularly, from the military and political points of view, I explained the reason for the meeting, which followed many others held during the summer; and I invited Jacomoni, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Albania, to review the situation.
Jacomoni spoke as follows:
Jacomoni: “In Albania this operation is being anxiously awaited. The country is impatient and full of enthusiasm; indeed, one may say that the enthusiasm is so great that there has lately been some disappointment because operations have not yet begun. We have provided very thoroughly for the provisioning of the country. The ‘Durazzo harbour danger’ exists, in the sense that if it were bombarded it would be difficult for us to get supplies. The question of road communications has made much progress but cannot yet be considered solved. What is the Greek situation like from the Albanian point of view? It is very difficult to define. Public opinion is ostentatiously indifferent. We announced that the niece of the famous murdered Albanian patriot had been killed, but they replied by denying the fact. From the information given by our agents it emerges that, while two months ago the Greeks did not seem likely to offer serious resistance, they now appear determined to oppose our operations. I believe that Greek resistance will vary according to whether our action is swift, determined and strong, or prudent and limited in scope. We have also to consider what help the Greeks may receive by sea, from the English.”
Duce: “I should most categorically rule out the sending of men.”
Jacomoni: “The only worry might arise from a partial occupation of Greece, because the English might launch an offensive against Southern Italy and Albania from the remaining bases, if they were in a position to send out powerful air support. The Greek Air Force has 144 planes, which need not cause us serious apprehension.”
Duce: “What is the people’s attitude like in Greece?”
Jacomoni: “They seem very depressed.”
Ciano: “There is a clear cleavage between the people and the political and plutocratic governing class, which is the one that animates resistance and keeps the Anglophile spirit alive in the country. This is a very small class but very rich, whereas the rest are indifferent to whatever happens, our invasion included.”
Jacomoni: “The news I let out of the high salaries in Albania has made a deep impression on the Greek people.”
(The Duce then invited General Visconti Prasca, commander of the troops in Albania, to review the military situation.)
Visconti Prasca: “We have planned an operation against Epirus which will be ready by the 26th of this month and which looks very promising. The geographical situation of Epirus does not favour the possibility of the other Greek forces intervening, because on the one side there is the sea and on the other an impassable mountain range. The Greek field of campaign enables us to carry out a series of enveloping movements against the Greek forces — reckoned at about 30,000 men — and it would make possible the occupation of Epirus in a short time, say ten or fifteen days. This operation — which might enable us to eliminate all the Greek forces — has been planned down to the last detail, and is perfect, so far as is humanly possible. The success of the operation would enable us to improve our position and would give us a safer frontier and the possession of the port of Prevesa, which would completely alter our position. That is the first phase of the operation, which should be carried out thoroughly and in the best possible manner. The operation, however, depends on climatic conditions. In a few weeks the rainy season will raise serious difficulties for the conquest of Epirus and the base of Prevesa.”
Duce: “The starting date of the operations may be advanced, but not delayed.”
Visconti Prasca: “The morale of the troops is excellent, enthusiasm is at its peak. I have never had occasion to complain of the troops in Albania, The only sign of indiscipline I ever came across was the excessive eagerness of officers and men to go forward and fight.”
Duce: “What forces have you?”
Visconti Prasca: “About 70,000 men, besides the special battalions. With regard to the troops against us — about 30,000 men — we have a superiority of two to one.”
Duce: “And with regard to enemy material-armoured cars and field defences?”
Visconti Prasca: “The only worry is the help which the enemy might get from the English Air Force, since in my opinion a Greek Air Force does not exist. With regard to the Salonika front, certain reservations must be made because of the seasonal weather conditions. We could start our action against Epirus.”
Duce: “The action at Salonika is important because we must prevent it from becoming an English base.”
Visconti Prasca: “This action will take a certain time. The port of embarkation is Durazzo, which is about 188 miles from Salonika. It will therefore take a couple of months.”
Duce: “In any case we can prevent the English landing at Salonika. It is important that two divisions should be sent to this front as well, because they may decide Bulgarian intervention.”
Visconti Prasca: “The basis of everything, even the beginning of the march on Athens, must be the occupation of Epirus and the port of Prevesa.”
Duce: “And the occupation of the three islands Zante, Cephalonia and Corfu.”
Visconti Prasca: “Certainly.”
Duce: “These operations should be carried out simultaneously. Do you know anything about the morale of the Greek soldiers?”
Visconti Prasca: “They are not the sort of people to enjoy fighting. The operation has been planned in such a way as to convey an impression of a crushing defeat in a few days.”
Duce: “By virtue of the responsibility which I take upon myself in this matter, I tell you not to worry yourself unduly about possible losses, although from the human point of view you must consider the life of each separate soldier. I tell you this because sometimes a Commander halts in his advance on account of heavy losses.”
Viscount Prasca: “I have given orders for every battalion to go into action, even against a division.”
Badoglio: “The matter involves two questions — that of Greece and that of help from the English. I am completely in agreement with you, Duce, in almost ruling out the possibility of an English landing. They are much more worried about Egypt than about Greece, and they are reluctant to embark troops in the Mediterranean. Therefore the only possible help would be from the air. To meet this contingency, the plan might be modified so as to make the attack on Greece coincide with that on Mersa Matruh. In that case it would be very difficult for them to withdraw planes from Egypt and send them to Greece. This would be feasible, because Graziani, too, will be ready, by the 26th of this month. Now, looking into the Greek problem, I believe that it will not meet the case if we stop short at Epirus. I don’t exaggerate when I say that we must occupy Crete and the Peloponnese as well, if we want to occupy Greece. The operation in Epirus as planned by Visconti Prasca is all right. With our left flank safe, the enemy forces should not give us much trouble. We have the Air Force.”
Duce: “We shall throw at least 400 machines into the operation, in view of possible English support.”
Badoglio: “We shall have to occupy the whole of Greece if we want to get good results.”
Roatta: “Taking everything into account, we can count on the equivalent of eleven divisions. In order not to stop at Epirus we shall have to intensify the despatch of troops, in order, also, to avoid giving the impression that we are too out of breath to go any further. We should therefore study the problem at once of occupying the whole of Greece.”
Duce: “If we fix the start of operations for the 26th of this month, and assuming we have eliminated the problem of Epirus by about the 10th or 15th November, we have another month for the despatch of fresh forces.”
Visconti Prasca: “The despatch of fresh forces depends on how the plan works out. And they can only be sent to Epirus when we have occupied it. It is not a question of carrying out a decisive action in the time, but of an operation for our own security. At this time of year we can only operate in southern Greece. If we retain Durazzo as a port of embarkation for Salonika we shall need a month for the despatch of each division.”
Duce: “To clarify our ideas on the subject we are now discussing, I would ask you how you propose to march on Athens after occupying Epirus.”
Visconti Prasca: “I don’t think it will be very difficult. A group of five or six divisions would be sufficient.”
Badoglio: “I think a march on Athens more urgent than a march on Salonika, because it does not seem likely that the English will land at Salonika.”
Ciano: “The more so in view of possible Bulgarian intervention.”
Roatta: “What we need is pressure on that side, too.”
Duce: “Do you think two divisions would be enough?”
Duce: “Our ideas seem to be crystallising. An attack on Epirus. As to Salonika: wait and see what follows if Bulgaria intervenes, as I think probable. I am in full agreement with the occupation of Athens.”
Visconti Prasca: “Then from Athens we shall cut Greece in half, roughly speaking, and we can start for Salonika from the capital.”
Duce: “How far is it from the borderline of occupied Epirus to Athens?”
Visconti Prasca: “About 160 miles, over middling roads.”
Duce: “And what is the terrain like?”
Visconti Prasca: “Rugged, steep, bare hill country.”
Duce: “And how do the valleys lie?”
Visconti Prasca: “East to west, that is, in the direction of Athens itself.”
Duce: “That is important.”
Roatta: “That is only true up to a certain point, because we have to cross a range nearly 7,000 feet high.”
(Shows the Duce a map of the district.)
Visconti Prasca: “There are a lot of mule tracks over it.”
Duce: “Have you been over these roads?”
Visconti Prasca: “Yes, several times.”
Duce: “We now come to two further questions. Having settled all that, how many extra divisions do you think we shall have to send to Albania in order to occupy all the ground leading to Athens?”
Visconti Prasca: “At first, three divisions equipped for mountain warfare would be enough; naturally, it depends on the circumstances. Now these troops could reach the port of Arta in a night.”
Duce: “Another point is Albanian support either in regular troops or in irregular bands, which I consider fairly important.”
Visconti Prasca: “We have made a plan for this. We want to organise bands of 2,500-3,000 men under our own officers.”
Jacomoni: “There are any number of applications. It would not be advisable to send many Moslems in case they start a lot of vendettas.”
Duce: “But you could organise a certain number of bands?”
Visconti Prasca: “Everything has been arranged. I have already sent off a telegram telling them to keep everything in readiness and to warn each individual.”
Duce: “How will you arm them?”
Visconti Prasca: “With light machine-guns and hand grenades.”
Duce: “Now there is another aspect of the problem. What measures have you taken on the Yugoslav border?”
Visconti Prasca: “We have two divisions and a battalion of Carabinieri and frontier guards. Altogether, quite good protection.”
Duce: “I don’t think we shall be attacked from that direction, and in any case the troops will be supported by already prepared strong-points.”
Visconti Prasca: “One might add that the terrain lends itself well to defence. A few small groups might achieve some penetration through the woods, but there would be nothing to fear because we have garrisoned the whole frontier. A frontier post every 600 or 700 yards.”
Jacomoni: “In Albania they want us to call up a few classes.”
Duce: “How many men does each class produce?”
Jacomoni: “About 7,000.”
Duce: “We ought to consider that carefully. Although we must be careful not to neglect or repulse them, it would not be advisable for these forces to make too large a contribution. We do not want them to think that they are there to conquer Epirus. A certain participation of Albanian elements would be opportune as long as it does not disturb the population. I would call up two or three classes. We should give particular attention to anti-aircraft defence, because we must, as far as possible, prevent raids on the oil-field districts or on Albanian cities, and prevent any comparisons being made with the superior defences of the cities in Apulia. We shall therefore need anti-aircraft defences on a large scale.”
Soddu: “I have already arranged to send them the seventy-five ‘Skodas’ we got from Germany.”
Visconti Prasca: “The defence of Tirana is limited to two detachments, while there are barely five detachments for the defence of the whole of Albania.”
Duce: “Albania needs at least a hundred pieces of artillery because we must prevent the demoralising daylight raids. Send all the ‘Skodas’ and ‘Oerlikons’ out there.”
Soddu: “We haven’t received them all yet. I shall send them on the minute they arrive. I shall send the ‘Oerlikons’ by air.”
Duce: “We must have fighter planes as well as ground defences. Fortunately we have a large number of these available. In Albania on October 1st there were fifty-two front-line planes and fifteen second-line — sixty-seven machines altogether.”
Ciano: “The 74th Wing is on its way.”
Duce: “I think we have now examined the problem from every aspect.”
Badoglio: “The Army Staff will settle the details.”Thirteen days later, after a fatal delay of two days, the war against Greece began; not so disastrous a war as people now pretend it was. It was not overwhelming, as General Visconti Prasca thought it would be, but it is a fact that already by the end of December all Greek initiative was as good as spent, and it is certain that even without German aid (as the Führer himself loyally declared), Greece would have been beaten in the coming battle in April, because even during the operations in the Klisura sector in March she had nearly exhausted her resources.
When Valona was abandoned in 1920 during Giolitti’s term of office, there was an outcry. Who does not recall my article “Farewell to Valona”? Then, twenty years later, the old route was retraced, the route laid down less by history than by the unchanging laws of geography. At a few minutes’ distance by air from Bari or Brindisi one can see the lagoons of the Albanian coast beyond Valona, the Sinjëo range, the Trëbëshini mountains and the blood-stained Golico, while further away, always hidden in mist, the Tomor rears its stern and forbidding head. What a prodigious work was achieved in a few years in Albania, where the Albanians were given equal rights and the same duties as Italian citizens, in keeping with Roman tradition! Here one may see the great motor highway from Durazzo to Tirana, the new buildings in the capital, the reclamation of the Mnsachia, the petroleum wells of Devoli (Italy’s only source of this raw material), the iron mines near Elbassan, the bitumen, copper, coal and chromium mines; there, the almost completed plan for a main railway from Durazzo to Elbassan which, had it been continued beyond Lake Ochrida, would have put us into direct communication with Sofia and the Black Sea. Industrial, commercial and agricultural enterprises and Italian banking concerns were transforming the face of that earth which for centuries had always gravitated towards the Italian west, from the time of Teuta, Queen of the Illyrians, down to Scanderbeg, whose monument was recently erected in a square in Rome. Nothing is left of all that, absolutely nothing. Everything crumbled on that criminal 8th of September.
The men overseas who laid down their arms and surrendered instead of going over to the German side at once with flags flying and loyalty untarnished, committed an enormous crime, whether they did it in good or bad faith.
The flag of our Fatherland which waved over a land bathed in the blood and sweat of Italians should never have been lowered. The soldiers of Italy should never have exposed themselves to the mockery or, worse still, the sarcastic pity of the Balkan peoples. They should never have left to their fate those thousands of Italian civilians — men, women and children — who had crossed the sea trusting in the protection of Italy’s armed forces and who now find themselves abandoned to the often murderous violence of hostile mobs.
Of what used to be the 9th and 11th Armies, there remains only those interned in Germany, and groups of disbanded men in the mountains of Greece or pioneer divisions in Serbia. Eight thousand Italians, defenceless, and looked at with suspicion, are still in Albania and are now trying to pick up the threads of their life again (torn, as it has been, into a thousand shreds) with that eternal eagerness and persistence in “starting afresh” which seems at once the privilege and the punishment of the Italian people.
Besides the living, the dead also remain; the forty thousand who fell in the Greek campaign.
Is there anyone still to look after the cemeteries where our comrades rest? Who takes care of that “holy ground” — really “holy” — on Height 731? The hills where the battle raged are now enveloped in that strange, deep silence proper to places where man has met man in the tempest of iron and fire. Those are the places which still nostalgically haunt the 100,000 Italian soldiers who fought in Albania.
Let us set out on our way once more, looking ahead.
That which has been will, in the nature of things, come again. The stages in the life of a nation are counted in decades. Sometimes in centuries.
CHAPTER XX: CALVARY AND RESURRECTION
After the rise to power of National Socialism in Germany, it was clear to me that the very unstable balance of power in Europe established by the Four Powers at Versailles was still more threatened and compromised. A new, powerful force had entered European life, entered it with a banner unfurled on which, in letters of fire, was written this watchword: “Revolt against the Versailles Diktat.”
That the infamous “Diktat” had left in its wake a series of paradoxical and, in the long run, untenable situations, was admitted by the more clear-sighted politicians and by statesmen as well; that the revision of certain formulas must be faced seemed henceforth inevitable; and in the dilemma “Revision or War,” it was the first alternative which nations hoped to see realised.
The Constitution of the League of Nations itself admitted the principle of revision of peace treaties. But the League of Nations had never considered the problem seriously. Entrenched in the unwieldy bureaucracy of that institution were the representatives of the territorial, political and plutocratic “status quo,” belonging in the main to the smaller States which, having benefited substantially by the Versailles Treaties, wished to keep them inviolable for all eternity. It was obvious that not even a modest treaty revision would ever have taken place through the League of Nations. It was therefore necessary to face the problem in another place. Thus arose the idea of a Four-Power Pact.
Once, at the meeting in Rapallo on Christmas Day, 1926, Neville Chamberlain said to me: “It is important for the eagles to agree; the smaller birds will follow suit.”
In my mind, the Four-Power Pact was to be the instrument of a steady, logical revision of treaties, and their adaptation to the new conditions of European life, and I had in view above all the supreme aim of conserving peace.
In one of the many articles which I published at that time in the American Universal Service press, and devoted to the study of the various aspects of the European situation, I pointed out the dilemma — either a minimum of European solidarity or else war, with the consequent crumbling of the common values of civilisation.
When the Four-Power concluded and signed, it enjoyed great popular success. But later, opposition took shape; political: the initiative had come from Fascist Italy; territorial: Little Entente circles feared the loss of part of their States; and from the League: it was obvious that the functioning of the Four-Power Pact would depreciate the Geneva institution, depriving it of one of the tasks which it had allocated to itself but which it had never tackled. Some spoke of a new Holy Alliance; certain others found it absolutely intolerable and against the League of Nations that a directorate of Four Powers should calmly and thoroughly study the more urgent problems with regard to the development and future of the nations. They preferred the large committees and ‘imposing’ assemblies of Geneva, with their interminable series of speakers, few of whom were listened to with any attention.
After much talking and writing, the Four-Power Pact became silted up in the Parliamentary sand-dunes; it was, as they say in bureaucratic language, “filed,” and, like other pacts, the Kellogg Pact, for example, found its melancholy way to the graveyard of sensible initiatives which have failed.
I myself never spoke of it again. But the consequences of the event were momentous. A little later came the Stresa Conference. It has been said that this had an anti-German character, but not on the Italian side. Italy once more attempted to open the door to German collaboration in the European field, while she reserved the right — and had already given clear signs of it — to solve her African problem; à propos of which, on the occasion of Laval’s visit to Rome and the relevant agreements (January 1935) Italy had been given “a free hand.”
What could not be achieved by means of agreement, came to pass in 1936, when the Führer ordered and effected the military reoccupation of the Rhineland. Emotions ran high. One had the impression that Janus was about to reopen the doors of his temple. But France — which was in the throes of a political and moral crisis — and England, which was not yet ready, lay low. A few months later Austria ceased to exist as such, and became a boundary-province of the Greater Reich. Emotions ran still higher, but the Western Powers said not a word. English political writers, and even a few Frenchmen who were loyal to the principle of nationality, admitted that Austria, being fundamentally a German nation, could not be denied the right of uniting with a people of the same race and language which, for centuries, had had a common destiny. The forceful dynamism of National Socialist foreign policy succeeded in forcing the Western Powers to recognise the new situation and to face the logical consequences of it.
In reality, France and England wished simply to gain time. In 1938 the atmosphere was already extraordinarily lowering. The question of the Sudeten people, that is, of the Germans incorporated into Czechoslovakia, seemed at one point as if it must prove the famous spark which fired the powder. To prevent an explosion, the Big Four met, for the first and last time, in Munich. Italy’s action was recognised as of prime importance in the peaceful solution of the question.
When it was known that an agreement had been reached, the nations breathed again. Daladier, the President of the Council, who had been accorded friendly popular demonstrations in Munich, was received in Paris by an enormous crowd and carried in triumph. The same happened to Chamberlain in London. Of the two opposite numbers, Daladier seemed the more anxious and desirous of finding a diplomatic solution which would exclude any recourse to force; Chamberlain followed the discussion very attentively, but then he very often found it necessary to consult with the personages of his suite. The atmosphere was cordial on the whole, and the faces of those present seemed brighter. On leaving the room a French journalist accosted me and said: “You have given a tube of oxygen to a sick man.” I replied: “It is the normal practice in serious cases.”
On returning to Rome I was received with perhaps the greatest popular demonstration of the whole twenty years of Fascism. The Via Nazionale was overflowing with crowds, hung with flags and strewn with laurels. I said a few words from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia to announce that in Munich we had worked for “peace with justice.” But a few weeks later the doors of the temple of Janus were no longer hermetically sealed, but rather ajar. One of the more absurd solutions which the Treaty of Versailles had given to the problem of Poland’s outlet to the sea, namely the Danzig ‘Corridor,’ came to a head. One of the most difficult tasks for the historian is to establish the cause of a war and thence, also, to assign the consequent responsibility. The causes of a war are remote and immediate, direct and indirect. Proudhon, for instance, refused to enter into that sort of consideration, and maintained that war was a universal and eternal phenomenon, an “act of God.” For the politician, on the contrary, the enquiry into immediate causes is a necessity. One may therefore say that the remote cause of the war which is soaking the world in blood was the Treaty of Versailles, and that the immediate cause was Poland’s refusal to discuss any compromise solution, such as the “corridor within a corridor” proposed by the Führer; and that Poland’s refusal was due to the guarantee which Poland herself had received from Great Britain and which served to stiffen her attitude to breaking point.
This is not the place to relate the diplomatic chronicles day by day during the first eight months of 1939. It will suffice to stress the appearance of Russia on the horizon. For some months London had been on its knees before the Kremlin, like Henry IV at Canossa, when, it the last moment, Stalin came to an agreement with Ribbentrop, so that the first phase of the war was conducted in common, or nearly so, on Polish territory and therefore, in point of fact, by Russia also against England, who could do nothing but stand impotently by at the hundredth partition of a Poland protected to no avail — now as then — right up to today, Autumn 1944.
In August things began to move. Events were striding swiftly towards war. During the last ten days of August, Italy made what might be called a desperate effort to try and avert the catastrophe. This was acknowledged by all parties in books and speeches, even by our present enemies. I did not want war. I could not want war. I saw it approaching with the deepest anguish. I felt that it was a question-mark hovering over the whole future of the Nation. Three military undertakings had ended successfully: the Abyssinian war in 1936; the participation in the Spanish Civil War of 1937-39; and the union of Albania with Italy in 1939. I thought that a pause was now necessary in order to develop and perfect the work. From the point of view of human loss the figures were modest, but the financial and administrative strain had been enormous. Nor must one forget the nervous strain of a people which, save for short intervals, had been at war since 1911! It was therefore high time to give people’s nerves a rest, it was high time to apply the Nation’s energy to works of peace.
The programme for the works of peace was imposing. With the great Pontine reclamation completed and the colonisation of the Foggia plain well under way, it was time to tackle the Landed Estates (latifundia) of Sicily, for which the construction of no less than 20,000 cottages was envisaged. Other no less important works were planned for Sardinia, with the reclamation of the waste lands of Campidano and Macomer and with the intensified utilization of the island’s raw materials.
The start of work on the great Po-Rimini irrigation canal was imminent which, tapping the water from the river near Boretto, would have stretched along the Via Emilia to the extreme limit of the Po plain, in a short time tripling agricultural production. The great plan for a self-sufficient industry was in course of realisation, with establishments for the production of liquid fuel, rubber and bauxite, as a result of which, for example, aluminium production had risen from 7,000 to 52,000 tons in five years! Also in process of achievement was the multiplication of the agricultural colonies in Libya by means of which, little by little, the vast empty region was changing its native appearance to adopt that of the homeland. The new housing of the Italian universities was already well advanced and the construction of 20,000 elementary schools had been begun. Together with the cleaning up of the old quarters of many towns, the construction was planned of very many hospitals, of modern prison establishments, and of rural water supplies. Much energy and enterprise was directed towards Albania; much also towards the Empire, whither many thousand families had already emigrated and, under the protective shade of our victorious flag, had created a Romagna, a Puglia and a Veneto in Africa. Together with a station which would have been the finest and the most modern in Europe, there arose — between the Colosseum and the sea — to which the Romans had been led back by Fascism — numerous buildings of the World Exhibition which was to have opened in October 1942, and which would have constituted the solemn and imperishable consecration of Fascism’s twenty years’ work.
Italy was a regular hive of industry in Spring, 1939, and I felt that one ought not to tempt fate too often — that a long period of peace was absolutely necessary for Europe in general and for Italy in particular, and that war, once it had broken out, would hold up everything, jeopardise everything, perhaps ruin everything completely. In my opposition to the war there were motives of a political and moral nature also, that is, the feeling that the fate of Europe as a continent creative of civilisation was at stake.
During the latter days of August 1939, work to avoid a conflict took on a rhythm which might be called frenzied. From Rome went out the proposal of an immediate second meeting of the Big Four which would consider, as well as the ‘Corridor’ question, other questions no less urgent. During the 30th and 31st, and the 1st September, dozens of telegrams went out from the Palazzo Chigi. The telephones in the Palazzo Venezia rang almost uninterruptedly, in communication with London, Paris and Berlin. There was already the feeling in the air that “the guns would go off by themselves,” but nothing was to remain untried from the moment the life of the finest youth in Europe was at stake; and everything was indeed tried, even when the guns outside the ‘Corridor’ had already made themselves heard. The Führer would have halted on the line which his troops had reached, but Great Britain put forward the demand that they were to retreat to their starting-point, and presented other claims more difficult to accept. The die had already been cast. There was nothing further that could be done. The war took its course, liquidating Poland in three weeks, while in the West, in the shelter of the useless Maginot Line, all was quiet. Italy, with the Führer’s telegraphed consent, proclaimed her non-belligerency and, though convinced that pacta sunt servanda (pacts are to be kept) and that at some point intervention at the side of her ally would be inevitable — in accordance with a pact which was called, and had to be of, ‘steel’ — she was able to enjoy another ten months of difficult and troubled peace.
In September, on receiving the Fascists of the ‘Tenth Legion’ of Bologna, I had already foreseen that the war would spread across continents and that it would by degrees take on the character of a war of religion, a clash of civilisations.
The events of the war up to the Armistice are engraved on the Italian heart, but the unconditional surrender of September 1943 was the greatest material and moral catastrophe in the three thousand years of our history. From that fatal month onwards, the sufferings of the Italian people have been indescribable and surpass anything human, to enter the realms of imagination. Never did a nation climb a more dolorous Mount Calvary!
All Italy in successive stages has become a battlefield. The tragic truth is this: Italy has been largely destroyed. First, it was the cities which underwent the still continuing savage and ferocious raids by the Anglo-Saxon “liberators,” then it was the turn of the smaller towns, the villages and hamlets. After the urban agglomerations had been reduced to rubble, came the destruction of the land as regards its natural products. Where thousands of armoured vehicles pass, nothing remains. Millions of trees have been bodily uprooted by tank tracks or cut down for defence works. Areas where centuries of share cropping had made a sort of agricultural masterpiece out of the farms, are now as desert as the steppes of Cyrenaica. Not a man remains, not a beast, not a tree, not a sign of life.
More than once in her changing and troubled but none the less glorious history Italy has been overrun by invaders; but all — except for the Arabs — were of European extraction. Today what may well, without rhetorical platitude, be called the sacred soil of our Fatherland is being overrun by every race in the world. To the south of the Apennines are men of the United States of America, Brazilians, English, New Zealanders, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, Moroccans, Algerians, Frenchmen, Greeks, Poles and indeterminate Negroes.
It is well known that Moroccans have the right to loot and lodging. By the unconditional surrender everything representing the Armed Forces was pulverised, if it did not, like the Fleet, pass into enemy hands. Not a gun remained, not an aeroplane, not a rifle, not a lorry, not an armoured vehicle, not a cartridge. Then began the Odyssey of the demobilised men and of the military internees in Germany — over half a million men who, at bottom, were guiltless, and who were the victims but not the cause of the events by which they had been overthrown. Thousands, nay, tens of thousands of Italian soldiers stationed in the Balkans have merged themselves with the civil population, putting their hands to the most menial tasks; or they have joined bands of partisans where, compelled to do forced labour, they are considered “cheap labour” in the most terrible sense of the word. One fact sheds light on the situation: Italian ex-soldiers are serving in the baggage-trains of Mihailovic’s bands! The origin of the partisan movement which is scourging Italy dates back to the 8th September, when hordes of soldiers could not regain their homes and so joined the anti-Fascist fugitives, escaped convicts and those set free from concentration camps.
Besides the war between armies, civil war has thus broken out, with episodes of savagery such as, until yesterday, would have been thought impossible on Italian soil. But that is not enough. These sufferings are accompanied by a wave of abuse from all parts of the world.
Churchill began it, with his unforgettable phrase “the stick and the carrot,” but there is not an author or journalist who does not load Italy and the Italian people with insults, making no distinction between those who betrayed and those who were betrayed. It is a time when the envenomed lance of contempt may be thrust with impunity into the side of crucified Italy, because Italy cannot defend herself. And when, as often happens, the contempt is accompanied by a hypocritical compassion, the suffering is all the greater.
Speaking objectively, one may avow that there is no proportion between the crime committed by a minority and its punishment, unless our enemies wish to punish the whole Italian people more for their virtues than for their errors. Could the world perhaps not forgive her for having in these last few years attempted to solve the problem of her existence? Well, this is the time when the Italian people should get their second wind, and set themselves as watchword the ancient fare da sé (do it by yourself). Little by little Italy will once more become a ‘Power.’ What has been done in this period since the capitulation, amidst unheard-of difficulties, is the necessary preliminary. Before the war the conception of a ‘Great Power’ was demographic and military. The ‘Great Powers’ were the United States of America, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Italy. The present war will produce an iteration in order of rank. Great Britain, for instance, is destined to become a second-class Power, in view of the disclosure of Russian and American strength. If the military criterion continues to be the determining factor in establishing the greater or lesser strength of a nation, Italy, like all nations even when victory is won, will have a long period of crisis before her. This once overcome, she will again become a Continental and Mediterranean Power, both European and African. And therefore a Great Power. She will once again sail the thousand-year-old highways of that sea in which she is set, whence she has drawn and will, through the peaceful labours of future generations, continue to draw, the springs of life and of her renewed creative greatness.