After the end of the first World War fears of revolution in Italy loomed as the Italian Communist Party rapidly gained popularity. Poverty crippled the country for far too blown and the masses demanded change. Benito Mussolini was also known as Il Duce, Mussolini forced his way into power and ruled with an iron fist for over two decades, overshadowed by Mussolini’s German counterparts Adolf Hitler. Many have ignored the fascinating history of fascist Italy, especially its involvement during the Second World War. There were many intriguing events and figures during this period, that have received only a moderate amount of attention. Of course, things are about to change. These are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Fascist Italy.
10: Mussolini’s Era
The use of violence was a key factor in Mussolini’s rise to power yet surprisingly the Italian government did little to stop him. The Fasci di Combattimento otherwise known as the Blackshirts would cause property damage, eliminate political opponents and even pour motor oil down the throats of anyone they despised. In late October 1922, Mussolini was ready to take over the country with the March on Rome. Pro-fascist politicians were acquiring more seats in the government at an alarming rate. Prime Minister Luigi Facta among others attempted to persuade King Victor Emmanuel III to declare a state of emergency in order to fight back. They were unsuccessful as the Italian king was unwilling to put the country in an even more vulnerable position. Facta resigned leaving the country vulnerable for a hostile takeover.
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9: School Boys Were Forced to Take Part in Military Exercises
You thought your gym classes were rough. All Italian school boys were forced to take part in military exercises. Mussolini once said, “I am preparing the youth to a fight for life but also for the nation.” Youth organizations like the Opera Nacional Ballina made young boys marched in parades, exercise with imitation weaponry and much more. They were educated into thinking that conflict and fighting for one’s country was a male biological trait. In 1929, over half of Italy’s youths were part of the OMB. Older members were granted affordable access to things like concerts, plays, sports centers, etc., as a reward for their faith and tenacity.
8: Beano Comics in Fascist Italy
Authoritarian governments believe satirical comics criticizing their leaders was treasonous. Even in the United Kingdom though, powerful and frightening dictators were portrayed as dim-witted clowns. The Beano comics depicted Mussolini as a wine-guzzling scrounger, who is desperate to force children to learn about decorating Moussa. Meanwhile, the Dandy comics betrayed both Mussolini and Hitler as dim-witted best friends, who came up with harebrained schemes in order to steal food. Naturally, the stories would always end in a comically misfortune end for inducing. So, it’s no surprise what children’s reading like this was banned from entering the country, even simple harmless Disney cartoons were outlawed.
7: Mussolini Wrote Socialist Papers
Before his rise to power, Mussolini was educated in a Catholic school. His father was a socialist and named Mussolini after various leftist figures. Later in his life, he wrote and edited socialist papers like L’Avvenire del Lavoratore, the Worker’s Future and Avanti (Forward), where he would openly criticize religion and praised the work of communist philosopher Karl Marx. However, he was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party after openly supporting the great war. After the war, the Dictator found the Italian fascist party. New laws included outlawing abortions and homosexuality, both of which were vilified by the church.
6: Wedding Ring Donations
The wedding ring is a symbol of unity between partners. A sign of love and commitment to last until death. For Fascist Italy, it was nothing more than valuable gold. On November 18th, 1935, the Giorno Della Fede or day of faith took place. Any and all Italians were commissioned to hand over their wedding rings to the costly war. Approximately 450,000 rings were donated. Those who relinquished gold wristbands were given an iron ring engraved with the message, “Gold to Homeland – 18 Nov”. Although nothing is near as valuable as gold, it was to be perceived as a grand achievement.
5: Improving Birth Rate
Improving the yearly birth rate was a vital objective for fascist Italy. The aim was to increase the population size but just over 200 million over the course of 3 decades. The life of a bachelor was frowned upon in fascist Italy. Those who avoided marriage and establishing large families were taxed heavily by the government. In contrast, those who did tie the knot and born many children, five or more per family was considered to be an ideal amount by the state. The state had considerably cheaper taxes and between 1927 and 1954, the birth rate actually declined, despite advances in health care etc. Thus, rendering the country’s efforts fruitless.
4: Decima Flottiglia MAS
The Decima Flottiglia MAS or 10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla was some of the Italian army’s toughest troops. This crack team of commando scuba divers would swim to enemy boats and rig it with high powered explosives. La Decima sank over 800,000 tons of allied warships destroyed just over 130,000 tons of merchant boats. Even the mightiest allied tankers and Soviet submarines were no match for this deadly squad, very few ships avoided total obliteration.
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3: The Second Italo Ethiopian War
In the late 19th and early 20th century, major countries of the world joined the scramble for Africa, attempting to seize control of as much of the country as possible. More land goods made an empire all the mightier. Fascist Italy had its eye on the country of Abyssinia since the late 1800s and finally decided to take it by any means necessary.
The second Italo Ethiopian war was brief but bloody. Approximately a quarter of the 760,000 Ethiopian troops had military training, of which they were armed with rifles of varying conditions, others simply fought with spears. They were catastrophically outmatched and outgunned in comparison to their attackers, the Italians massacred the opposition. Going so far as to mutilate their enemies tossed captives out of planes or trapped them in labor camps. Worst of all, the illegally used chemical warfare in order to achieve victory, releasing deadly mustard gas upon enemy soldiers, civilians and even the injured.
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2: Rescuing Mussolini
In July 24th, 1943, after the allies bombed Rome defeat appeared inevitable, King Emmanuel decided to join the allies and consequently had Mussolini arrested, Italy was finally free from Fascist rule. On August 26, Il Duce was held captive in the Campo Imperatore Hotel part of the ski resort in Abruzzo Central Italy. Two days after Mussolini’s arrest, Hitler personally ordered a rescue operation to get his ally back. He sent Waffen SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny and a squad of Varamyr commandos to rescue Il Duce.
The question remained, how after intercepting enemy radio calls, it was discovered that the hotel was situated on a rocky mountain, meaning sending paratroops was out of the question. Instead, Skorzeny alongside Italian General Fernando Silletti and the aforementioned troops used gliders. According to the colonel, despite being outnumbered by 200 Italian soldiers, he knocked out the enemy radio operator and smashed his equipment’s, persuaded the enemy to surrender and personally freed Mussolini from confinement.
He exclaimed, “The Fuhrer has sent me! You’re free!.” Mussolini’s delighted response was, “I knew my friend Adolf wouldn’t desert m!”. A pilot took a risk by landing the plane on the rocky terrain and got Mussolini, Silletti and Skorzeny aboard. Skorzeny also insisted that the plane hit a rock and plunged downward, but the pilot miraculously managed to pull the aircraft back up to safety, narrowly avoiding death. Mussolini was eventually sent to govern German-occupied northern Italy, where the Skorzeny account was entirely true or not is debatable. Nevertheless, Il Deuce’s rescue undoubtedly sounds like something out of a Hollywood action movie.
1: Mussolini’s Death
Mussolini met with humiliating demise three days before the end of the war. With the majority of the country back on to the king’s rule and the government purged fascist politicians. Mussolini fled for the Swiss border disguised as a German soldier. Embarrassingly enough his cover was blown when an Italian partisan recognized him and shouted, “we’ve got a big head”. He and his mistress were arrested, executed and hung upside down in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra in northern Italy. The desecration of the once powerful and almighty dictator became headline news for the allies.
So, that’s it for today’s list of 10 things you didn’t know about Fascist Italy. What are the other things you know about Fascist Italy? Let us know in the comments down below. Thanks and bye for now.