In 1930, the dashing and rich 27-year-old Galeazzo Ciano married Edda Mussolini, daughter to the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Six years later, he became Mussolini’s foreign minister. Yet, on 11 January 1944, on his father-in-law’s orders, he was executed.
Galeazzo Ciano’s father had made a name for himself as an admiral during the First World War. An early supporter of Benito Mussolini’s, he built his fortune through some unethical business deals. Thus, Galeazzo, born 18 March 1903, was brought up in an environment of wealth and luxury, and inherited his father’s love for fascism. Father and son both took part in Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’.
Diplomacy and Marriage
Ciano studied law before embarking on a diplomatic career which took him to South America and China. In between postings, on 30 April 1930, he married Edda Mussolini, hence becoming Mussolini’s son-in-law – facilitating a rapid rise up the promotional ladder. The couple were to have three children although Ciano, like his father-in-law, had numerous affairs. He was certainly disliked by his mother-in-law who, understandably, thoroughly disproved of his womanizing.
In 1935, Mussolini made Ciano his minister for propaganda. The same year, Ciano volunteered for action in Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, serving in a bomber squadron and reaching the rank of captain. He returned to a hero’s welcome and in June 1936, aged only 33, Mussolini appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing Mussolini himself. (Ciano’s father, meanwhile, was serving as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, a post he held from 1934 to shortly before his death in 1939).
As minister, Ciano began to keep a diary, maintaining it up to the last weeks of his life. In it, he recorded his meetings with, among many, Mussolini, Hitler and various foreign ministers. He was present at the Munich Conference on 29 September 1938, where Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, tried to appease Hitler’s aggression towards the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia.
In 1939, Ciano helped Mussolini plan Italy’s successful invasion of Albania. The Albanian port of Saranda was renamed Port Edda in honour of his wife. The name change didn’t last long.
War – The Adventure Begins
In the summer of 1939, with Hitler gearing up for his invasion of Poland, and knowing Italy was far from prepared to commit to war, Ciano tried to persuade Mussolini not to be drawn in. ‘The Duce’s reactions are varied,’ wrote Ciano in his diary. ‘At first he agrees with me [not to commit to war]. Then he says that honour compels him to march with Germany.’
When, on 10 June 1940, Mussolini declared war on Great Britain and France, Ciano wrote in his diary, ‘I am sad, very sad. The adventure begins. May God help Italy!’ Despite his reservations, Ciano again took to the skies, flying sorties during Italy’s ill-fated war against Greece.
In January 1943, Ciano urged Mussolini to seek terms with the Allies. Ciano paid for his lack of faith when, on 5 February 1943, his father-in-law sacked the whole cabinet, including Ciano. In his diary, Ciano wrote, ‘Our leave-taking was cordial, for which I am very glad, because I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss the most will be my contact with him.’ Ciano took up a post as ambassador to the Vatican who, at the time, were holding discussions with the Allies into the make-up of a potential non-fascist Italian government.
At the meeting of the Grand Fascist Council on 24 July 1943, to discuss whether Mussolini should be allowed to continue as head of government, Ciano was one of those who voted against his father-in-law. The following day, the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III (pictured), dismissed Mussolini from his post and had him arrested.
Meanwhile, on 28 August, Ciano, fearing arrest by the new Italian government, fled with Edda and their children to Germany. The Germans, however, sent Ciano back to Mussolini’s new republic where he was promptly arrested for treason, namely for having voted against Mussolini.
Under pressure from the Germans, and despite his daughter’s desperate pleas, Mussolini had Ciano tried, found guilty and sentenced to be shot. Ciano and Edda tried to bargain for his life with his diary, which the Germans knew would contain sensitive information that could be damaging to the regime. SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, certainly considered a deal but was overruled by Hitler.
The night before execution, Mussolini had a crisis of heart over whether he could go through with it. After all, as well as being his son-in-law, he had always liked Ciano and, until the vote, Ciano had always served him well. In the end, the prospect of being regarded weak by Hitler overrode any familial loyalty and so, on 11 January 1944, Galeazzo Ciano, along with four others found guilty of treason against Mussolini, went to his death.
Aged only 40, Ciano collapsed on the way to the place of execution and had to be carried. To add to the humiliation, they were tied to chairs facing backwards and shot in the back. Ciano’s last words were ‘Long live Italy!’
Two days before her husband’s execution, Edda escaped to Switzerland, taking the diaries with her. Edda never forgave her father: ‘The Italian people must avenge the death of my husband. If they do not, I’ll do it with my own hands.’ Indeed, Mussolini, along with his mistress, was executed by his own people but certainly not out of any revenge or nostalgia for Ciano.
Galeazzo Ciano’s diaries were published in 1946 and were used by the prosecution against Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, during the post-war Nuremberg Trials. Edda’s son, Fabrizio, later wrote a book entitled, When Grandpa Had Daddy Shot.