5 Results for "label/Victor Emmanuel III"

Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio

PART 23

When last we left Dumb and Dumber, King Victor Emmanuel III had finally removed Mussolini in what amounted to a bloodless military coup d’état. In his place, the king appointed Army Marshall Badoglio as Prime Minister.

His only task: make an unconditional surrender to the Allies and get Italy out of the war. And yet, he hesitates. For five weeks. Five weeks! God forbid the king would have urged him on. The Italian people are weary. They want out of the war. Not to mention they are beginning to starve. But Badoglio’s man, General Castellano, dickers with Eisenhower’s representatives in neutral Portugal, a country with more spies during World War Two than any other place in the world.

All of this would be fine except for the one big problem: Italy is still allied with Nazi Germany. Are the Italians aware that the Germans have a contingency plan to seize all of Italy in the event the Italians surrender? Presumably. I mean, someone must know. Do the Italians know the Germans are moving troops and supplies through the Brenner Pass into Northern Italy? Yes. They know that. Why don’t they do something? “Because the Germans stole our gasoline.” Or something along those lines which becomes the excuse they give the Americans in a few days for not doing anything. This is the military equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

Cut to the Germans. Do they know exactly what the Italians are doing and planning and thinking? Yes, they know everything. Why? Because there are still German sympathizers in the Italian government and armed forces — a fact Badoglio and the king are well aware of. Further, not one official in Italy seems to be able to keep his mouth shut when he learns something confidential. The moment he learns something secret, he blurts it out.

Writes historian Gerald Weinburg in A World At Arms: A Global History of World War Two:


In the ensuing race between Badoglio and his associates and the Germans, the Italians did almost everything as stupid and as slowly as possible.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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On the first day Rome was bombed, Victor Emmanuel III watched the American bombers with his binoculars while standing on a portico of the Villa Savoia. He was greatly puzzled that not one Italian fighter plane took to the air to attack the American planes. An hour or so after the bombing, he and his retinue inspected the nearby Ciampino military airfield. What the King found was dispiriting.

Gutted and pitted with craters, aircraft and hangers destroyed, Ciampino was still burning, but worse, was all but abandoned. The base commander, when he was found, justified this under the phrase ‘preventive decentralization’…

B-17’s flying in formation en route to a target during World War Two.

In other words, the minute the bombers were sighted, everyone took to their heels. At least the reception from the base commander was better than the King’s reception at his previous stop – a neighborhood damaged by the bombs – there an angry mob had pelted him with stones.

In all fairness to the Regia Aeronautica, by this point in the war they had less than one hundred front line fighter planes. Italy had not the industrial base to build a large airforce and when the Kingdom entered the war the airforce claimed to field 1800 modern aircraft. It’s a stretch to label many of those aircraft ‘modern.’ British estimates put the number of Italy’s modern, combat capable aircraft at less than 800 at the beginning of the war. That number did not increase as the war went on.

Italian Regia Aeronautica Fiat BR.20
Italian Regia Aeronautica Macchi C.205

The Germans kept promising to send Italy some of their high performance single engine fighters but somehow they never arrived. Probably that was good. Italian pilots didn’t lack bravery or elan. They lacked training. (Much of this due to a major shortage of aviation fuel.) Most high performance German fighters were notoriously difficult to fly so it would not have been a good match.

The Italian Battleship Cesare firing her salvoes near Punta Stilo (Battle of Calabria) on 9 July 1940.

Although they were keen on doing a good job, the Regia Aeronautica rarely performed well. On 9 July 1940, in the Battle of Calabria, the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet, which included three battleships, engaged the Italian First and Second Fleets, which had one battleship between them. The Italian admiral in command on the scene radioed the Italian air force for help. That these two organizations barely acknowledged each other did not make it easy when a combined arms attack was needed.

The Regia Aeronautica put up one hundred twenty-six bombers. Seventy-six dropped bombs on the British fleet without inflicting damage. The other fifty Italian planes bombed the Regia Marina ships, once again not inflicting damage except to mutual trust. Admittedly, identifying ships from any sort of altitude was difficult and all sides bombed their own ships. (Because of this, most warships on every side in World War Two opened up on any aircraft which came with-in range.) Still fifty bombers dropping ordnance on their own fleet was a bit much.

Italian forces in World War Two rarely performed well. Much of this was due to a lack of interest in fighting alongside the Germans against the British and Americans. The rest was due to poor training and equipment. Given this, for the King and Mussolini to actually believe their forces could prevail in a stand-up battle with Anglo-American or Russian forces shows an incredible lack of understanding of the strength and weaknesses of the Royal Italian forces. And further, shows a callous disregard for the lives of the men who served in those forces.

Sources:

The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 by Robert Katz (three stars).

Struggle for the Middle Sea by Vincent P. O’Hara (five stars).

The Oxford Companion to World War Two by I. C. B. Dear (Editor) and M. R. D. Foot (Editor).

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy in 1919
Italian Caribinieri in the Balkans in 1943

PART 22

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.

Sources:

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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PART 21

When last we left the Italians, a remnant of the Royal Italian Army had finally struggled out of the Don Pocket, created by the Soviet encirclement of the German 6 Armee at Stalingrad. Other Italian units on the Eastern Front had been cut to pieces as well. In the summer of 1942 and through the early fall, the King had bestirred himself and urged Mussolini to extract the Italian forces in the Soviet Union.

That advice was not taken. After the brutal winter fighting of 1942/43 in the Soviet Union, the troops came home in the summer of 1943, over half were KIA or MIA. Of those taken prisoner by the Soviets, 85% died in captivity. The Italian adventure in the Soviet Union ordered by Mussolini had been a catastrophe.

Scores of German and Italian prisoners at Gromalia prisoner of war camp after the fall of Tunis.
Dino Grandi during the 1930s when he was a member of the National Fascist Party. Grandi formally asked the King to remove Mussolini from power at the 25 July 1943 Fascist Grand Council meeting.

Yet there was more bad news for Musso. In mid-May of 1943, at the end of a long and bloody campaign, all Axis forces in North Africa (including the vaunted German Afrika Korps) surrendered to Anglo-American troops. With this surrender, Italy had lost her entire colonial empire in North Africa. This victory for the Allies had been accompanied with a parallel campaign of great ferocity: air and naval superiority in the Mediterranean. This should not be taken to mean that the Allies completely controlled the Mediterranean since at this point we did not. But close. The British, especially the Royal Navy had taken a terrific beating from the Germans and occasionally the Italians but they had held on doggedly until reinforced by the Americans.

With the collapse of Axis resistance in North Africa, even a dunderhead could look at the map and observe that the next step for the Anglo-Americans would be an attack on Sicily or the Italian mainland or both.

With the knowledge of the King, men opposed to Mussolini had been preparing for a coup d’état. I would note that Victor Emmanuel bestirred himself less so because of the suffering of the Italian people and more so for the preservation of the dynasty. Historians who lack Christian charity have made the point that the House of Savoy never ended a war on the same side with which it had begun that war. Surely not. Granted, this is the case in numerous instances but there are a few exceptions, World War One for example. I’m sure there must be one or two more exceptions.

During the time of the fighting and subsequent defeat in North Africa, it had also become apparent to Mussolini’s supporters that the game was up. When Mussolini summoned the Fascist Grand Council to meet on 25 July 1943, he inadvertently brought all the actors upon the stage. He thought it would be a routine meeting. It was not.

Mussolini did not have total control of Italy as Hitler did in Germany. As Musso himself said, “there are three of us in Rome; myself, the King, and the Pope.” Unlike Hitler, Musso was not Chief of State. That role still remained with the monarch. While Mussolini had appointed himself commander-in-chief of the armed forces, usurping the King’s constitutional authority, Italian soldiers did not swear an oath of allegiance to Mussolini or even Italy. They swore an oath to be loyal to the House of Savoy.

Source: The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism by F.W. Deakin (Four stars).

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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PART 16

When last we left the evil twins, Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III, World War Two had broken out. The Germans attacked Poland and the Italians, well, they hesitated, saying their alliance with Germany was “defensive.” Hitler was furious. At least this showed some thinking going on at the top of the Italian Government. Or maybe just inertia since the King himself didn’t seem to do much thinking.

Victor Emmanuel III (right) with Albert I of Belgium (left). This photograph shows Emmanuel III’s small physical stature.

Said Hitler of Victor Emmanuel III, “The king is senile, of course. Victor Emmanuel is the smallest king I’ve ever seen. When I went to Rome in my private train in 1938, I warned my staff when we were about to arrive at the station, that if they saw on the platform a tiny little man in uniform covered with bits of gold and medals, they shouldn’t laugh — it would be the King of Italy.” (Source: Voices from the Bunker by Pierre Galante.)

On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy bestirred itself and got into the action declaring war on Great Britain and France. Fortunately, most of the hard fighting had been done. The Germans had already occupied Denmark, defeated and occupied Belgium and Holland and Luxembourg, and forced the British Army off the continent. France capitulated on 22 June 1940. The Italians had declared war just in time.

But lets back up a moment and see what Mussolini and Victor had gotten themselves into before all of this. Having been defeated by the Ethiopians once, the Italians went back a second time with aircraft and poison gas and managed to defeat the Ethiopians who had neither. That was in 1936. Before war broke out in late 1939, the Italians also attacked and seized one of the most critical countries in Europe – Albania. This will sound like a joke but it isn’t: along with his title of King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III also became Emperor of Ethiopia and Emperor of Albania. But then, he still, and his heirs today, still claim the title of King of Jerusalem, a crusader state which became defunct a thousand years ago.

As ever, the House of Savoy had been grabbing bits and pieces of territory that no one else really wanted. But Italy was hardly prepared for another war, especially a global conflict such as World War Two became. The Italian economy could hardly support such an effort and didn’t. This did not stop them from attacking Greece in October of 1940. The Greeks beat the hell out of them forcing Hitler to come to the rescue.

Greek artillery shelling in the Morava height in November 1940.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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