Rome Map

This they got in full. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of Britain and France. The fiercest fighting was along the border of modern-day Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where 600,000 Italian soldiers are now buried. It was a giant disaster in that respect, but a much bigger success for the war supporters in another. Italy had technically won, and had grown its industrial base exponentially in those years, thanks to the demand for planes, guns, and strong state controls on production. The values of war, militancy, and ruling with an iron fist would carry Mussolini and his Fascist blackshirts into Rome in a risky, but ultimately successful, march. (Actually, Mussolini stayed well behind in Milan and arrived by train once the dust had settled.) He took command in October 1922, and after a stirring speech to Parliament in 1925, he ruled as a modern-day Augustus until things went awry in July 1943.

In the late ’30s, Italy fought alongside Germany in the Spanish Civil War, and a Fascist friendship grew. (Though it should be pointed out that Italians had their share of resistance fighters, too, rallying around the cry Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy.) This alliance became increasingly important when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. The next year, Mussolini annexed Albania, which was already Italian in practice. In such matters, he avoided risk wherever he could”his contribution to colonialism was moving into Ethiopia”and once Hitler had conquered most of Europe by 1940, Mussolini thought there would be little risk in attacking Greece and joining the war on Germany’s side.

After he lost battles in Africa (saved only by the Germans time after time) and faced strikes and food riots at home, revolts by the domestic Slavs, and a generally disenchanted Italian public, Fascism crumbled in July 1943. The king had Mussolini arrested and appointed Marshal Badoglio as prime minister. Badoglio pretended that he would continue to fight with the Germans while he arranged for an armistice with the Allies. The Germans rescued Mussolini from his prison in Abruzzo, eventually setting him up in a puppet state on Lake Garda.

The U.S.-led Allies had started moving up into the peninsula, closing in on the German-held North. Fighting alongside the partisans, the Allies bombed Rome and eventually ousted the Nazis. Badoglio and the king deserted Rome for Bari and signed an armistice on September 8, 1943. Meanwhile, Mussolini had tried to flee to Switzerland, carrying a forged Spanish passport, along the western shore of Lake Como. He was captured by the partisans near the town of Dongo, held as a prisoner, and ultimately shot there. His corpse was dangled upside down, along with that of his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and fellow Fascists, from the roof of a Milan gas station. Il Duce was gone, but the scars of World War II remained.

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