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Italy in World War II

Relations were established with the National Socialist Germany, which, from the Rome-Berlin Axis, was to culminate in a military alliance, the Steel Pact of 1939, and participation in the Second World War alongside Hitler the following year. Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and France in 1940. In 1941, Italy -- with the other Axis powers, Germany and Japan -- declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union.

When Italy's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, came to power, he began proclaiming Italy's military superiority and building up his country's war machine. In 1935, in an uneven match, he invaded Ethiopia and later sent troops and planes to support Franco in the Spanish Civil War. After Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began, American public opinion started to shift. While most of the country still wanted to avoid getting involved in the fighting, sentiment was growing to extend material aid to the Allies. Roosevelt also tried to mediate, and he thought he had gotten Benito Mussolini to agree not to bring Italy into the war. But Mussolini wanted war, and had already promised Hitler he would intervene.

With the advent of World War II, Mussolini hoped to emulate the military successes of his ally, Hitler. But his ventures in France, East Africa, North Africa, and particularly Greece met with crushing failure, and he required rescue by Nazi forces. In a speech on February 23, 1941, Mussolini blamed defeats in Libya on the fact that the British attacked before he was ready to launch his own offensive. In March 1941, he launched a major offensive by invading Greece as part of his larger, ill-timed bid to pursue a Balkan campaign. After the campaign failed Mussolini required German aid to disentangle his forces.

The military defeats sustained at the hands of the Allies led to Mussolini's removal from government following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. After failing to reach a majority during a session of the Fascist Council, on 24-25 July 1943 Mussolini was arrested by order of King Victor Emmanuel III. The Kingappointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. Badoglio signed an unconditional surrender to the Allies the following September, and declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country. This was the beginning of a tormented period for Italy, marked by the double occupation by the Allies south of Rome and the Germans in the north, the formation of a resistance movement against the Germans and the sad events of the civil war between partisans and the combatants of the Social Republic, a brief-lived regime in the north.

In the afternoon of July 25, 1943, Italy's formal sovereign, Victor Emmanuel III, dismissed Benito Mussolini as chief of the government and ordered his arrest. Marshall Badoglio was called to preside at a Government Cabinet mainly formed byprofessionals. Meanwhile, Italian opponents of the fascist regime applied pressure for the immediate elimination of fascism, separation from Germany, and the pursuit of an armistice with the Allied governments to reach a separate peace treaty later. In response to the Italian government's moves to remove Mussolini from power, Hitler occupied Italy. The governments of the United States and Great Britain responded to the dismissal of Mussolini by requiring Italy to surrender unconditionally to the Allied Forces. This Anglo-American request for unconditional surrender made negotiations more difficult and protracted, and it was decided that the Allies should enter Italy and that the armistice should be announced around the middle of September 1943.

As German forces fortified positions, the Allied troops moved to land in Sicily. In September, 1943, as Allied Forces continued landings in Sicily, the Italian Resistance began to form partisan units all over Italy to support the expulsion of German occupationforces. The Resistance was created not merely as a military force, but a wide political movement that expressed national regeneration and rejected fascism and Nazism. It was a movement of workers, fighters, peasants and priests.

On 12 September 1943, a German raid freed Mussolini from the jail in which he had been imprisoned. On his arrival in Munich, Germany, Mussolini reconstituted the Fascist Party, proclaiming allegiance to his former republican and socialist programs while laying the blame for the defeat on betrayers and saboteurs. From this program, on September 23, the "Italian Social Republic" was formed under the German Army occupation.

Meanwhile, in the South, a government led by Badoglio was constituted. This provisional governmentdeclared war on Germany on September 13 and was acknowledged as a "co-belligerent" bythe Allies. The advance of the Allied armies towards the North was stopped for the first time during the winter 1943-1944 on the "Gustav Line" and the second time during the winter 1944-1945 on the "Gothic Line". After an adjustment phase during the first winter, the partisan fight joined with this advance and, after Rome's liberation, became more active with the consequent formation of the National Liberation Committee and the assignment of special powers inregard to Northern Italy, which was still under German occupation.

The spring of 1945 brought the renewal of the war activity on every front of the European zone; in Italy the breaking of the "Gothic Line" took place. The Allied armies, with the participation of the Italian Liberation Corps and the partisan brigades, broke into the PadanaValley. On April 25, the Volunteers Corps for Freedom ordered the popular rising, which iscommemorated today as Italian Liberation Day. On May 6, 1945, Germany surrendered.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:52 ZULU