The Execution of Mussolini – a summary

The execution of Mussolini: on 28 April 1945, Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by partisans as they tried to flee Italy.

The war was going badly for Italy, the Allies had landed in Sicily and the future looked bleak.

Mussolini’s last plea

Benito MussoliniOn July 24, 1943, at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, Benito Mussolini delivered an impassioned two-hour speech, exhorting his fellow fascists to put up a fight. His plea fell on deaf ears, the Council instead voting to propose peace with the Allies.

Dismissed

The following day the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, dismissed Mussolini, remarking, “At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.” Mussolini was immediately arrested and imprisoned. The Italian population rejoiced.

On September 8, Italy swapped sides and joined the Allies. Italy’s wish to remain neutral was vetoed by Churchill who demanded Italy’s cooperation against the Germans as the price for the “passage back.” On October 13, 1943, Italy reluctantly declared war on Germany. Immediately, the Germans started capturing Italians as prisoners of war, shipping them to internment camps and began the targeting of Italian Jews.

The daring rescue

On September 12, 1943 on Hitler’s orders, Mussolini was rescued from his mountainside captivity by SS paratroopers and whisked away to Germany in a glider. Having met with Hitler, Mussolini was returned to Italy and set up as the head of a Fascist republic in German-occupied northern Italy.

The execution of Mussolini

But by April 1945, with the Allies advancing north through Italy, Mussolini knew the end was in sight. Together with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and a few followers, Mussolini fled and headed for the Swiss border. Stopped by Italian partisans on April 26, Mussolini’s attempts to disguise himself with a Luftwaffe overcoat and helmet had failed.

On April 28, 1945, at the picturesque Lake Como, the partisans stopped the car; pushed Mussolini and Petacci out, and ordered them against a wall. Whilst the partisans pronounced the death sentence, Petacci flung her arms around Mussolini and screamed, “No, he mustn’t die.” Petacci was shot and fell. Mussolini ripped open his jacket and screamed, ‘Shoot me in the chest!’ The executioner, a communist partisan by the name of Walter Audisio, did so. Mussolini fell but was not dead. Another bullet in the chest ensured that he was. The bodies were heaped into the back of a van, together with those of Mussolini’s last followers, and transported to Milan.

A rusty beam

Death of MussoliniIn the city their bodies were delivered to the Piazzale Loreto, the scene of a mass execution of partisans the year before. The corpses were beaten and urinated upon and finally left to hang upside down, for public display, from a rusty beam outside a petrol station. Petacci had not been wearing knickers and a group of old women rearranged her skirt to preserve her modesty. People surged around, desperate to get a look, to laugh and spit upon them, wanting to make sure that it was true: Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for 23 years, was truly dead and Italy could live again.

Two days later, Hitler was also dead.

Rupert Colley

MussoliniWorld War Two: History In An Hour and Mussolini: History In An Hour both by Rupert Colley and published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, are available in various digital formats and downloadable audio.

See also Mussolini’s March on Rome, Mussolini’s early years and the Rescue of Mussolini.

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