While behind the scenes plotting against Mussolini had been going on for sometime, a coup d'état is not easy to organize and like most things in life, timing is paramount. “An error in timing could be fatal,” said the King to one of his confidants a few months before. Unfortunately, the King was thinking of the House of Savoy and not Italy. That is, if the King misjudged the situation and tried to get rid of Mussolini too soon, then an aggrieved Mussolini and his Fascists could bring down the dynasty. What happened to his subjects while he waited wasn’t of concern.
Nonetheless, because the monarchy remained, there was a way to actually get rid of Mussolini and transfer power to someone else: the King had only to dismiss him from office. Much easier said than done, of course, but that was the legal framework by which Mussolini was pushed out of power.
By the summer of 1943, resentment continued to grow amongst Italians of every class over the vainglory and stupidity of Mussolini and his fascist gang. On 10 July Sicily had been invaded. The Allies had begun bombing strategic targets in Italy several months even before that. The position of Mussolini and the Fascists was desperately weak although Mussolini did not see it. Like most dictators, he was oblivious to popular opinion and believed the people loved him.
On 19 July 1943 the final outrage occurred. Rome was bombed. Mussolini, the King, their advisors, and the populace of Rome believed that the presence of His Holiness the Pope protected Rome, that the Allies would not bomb the Eternal City for fear of either hitting the Vatican or going against the strongly and publicly expressed wishes of Pope Pius XII that Rome not to be bombed. They were all wrong.
On 24 July 1943, the Fascist Grand Council met with Mussolini and voted that they had no confidence left in his ability to lead the nation. He ignored them. The next day, 25 July 1943, he told his wife, “the people are with me.”
At 5:00 pm that afternoon, Mussolini arrived in a convoy of four cars, three filled with his escort of Fascist police, at the Villa Savoia, the King’s official residence. Il Duce was wearing the uniform of an Italian Army Marshal (that is, Field Marshal). In a brief audience the King purportedly said to Mussolini, “you are the most hated man in Italy and the only friend you have left is me.” It certainly is good to have friends like that.
Mussolini was arrested by the ever loyal Carabinieri and taken away in an ambulance. His escort was overcome and arrested as well. The pompous dictator of Italy had finally been removed.
- The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 by Robert Katz (three stars).
- A World At Arms: A Global History of World War Two by Gerhard Weinberg (three stars).
- The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism by F.W. Deakin (four stars).
[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]