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Posts Tagged ‘Benito Mussolini’

Today was not a day of war for the Greek cruiser Elli.  August 15, 1940 was a day of celebration.  Anchored in Tinos Harbor in the Cyclades (a chain of islands southeast of mainland Greece), she was arrayed for a party rather than geared up for battle.  In his book on the sea battles around Crete, David Thomas describes the scene when he writes, “The 2,083 ton cruiser, barely larger than a destroyer flotilla leader, presented a gay scene, the bright summer sunshine adding to the colour of the bunting and flags which decorated her overall.  She – and the estimated 40,000 people ashore – were there to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, to the Greeks second only to Easter Sunday as a sacred day.”

Also in Tinos Harbor was the Delfino.  She was not there to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  The Italian submarine was submerged and outfitted for war, and she had the Elli in her sights.  And at half past 8 in the morning, the Delfino made her move, launching 3 torpedoes at the her target…a sitting duck.

In recent months, the Mediterranean had seen an increase in conflicts between the Italians and the British.  The British were very interested in keeping the Italian Navy out of the eastern part of the region, particularly the Aegean and Ionian Seas.  For their part, the Italians were seeking an expanded empire (not unlike their Axis partners Germany and Japan).  Italian strong-man Benito Mussolini had set his sights on Romania, but Adolf Hitler got there first.  So Italy turned to Greece, which had pro-British leanings.  And nothing says “you’re in the crosshairs” like a submarine attack on an idle pip-squeak cruiser during peacetime in front of 40,000 people at a religious celebration.

Two of the torpedoes missed the Elli, but did damage some of the docks.  The third struck home, hitting the ship in the boiler room, dropping her to the harbor floor, and killing nine sailors.

Greece’s Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, told the public that the attacker was unknown.  Problem was, his government was the only group of people that “didn’t know”.  The public knew it was the Italians, and the military knew it was the Italians.  Even when investigators recovered fragments of Italian torpedoes from the waterlogged Elli, the government (in its efforts to avoid a military confrontation with Italy) squelched the findings and maintained that the attackers were unknown.

And as we know, Greece’s attempts to prevent war with Italy were ultimately pointless, as Mussolini’s forces attacked Greece two months later.

Recommended Reading: Crete 1941

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Since being removed from power, Benito Mussolini had been spending quite a bit of time reading Ricciotti’s Life of Jesus.  Well, reading and being transferred from prison cell to prison cell.  There was little doubt in the mind of Pietro Badoglio, the new Italian leader, that the Germans would be searching long and hard for the old Italian leader.  So Mussolini was shuttled around from one secret place to another, ending up in late August at the Hotel Albergo-Rifugio, a mostly inaccessible (and closed down) ski resort in the Gran Sasso peaks of the Apennines.

And Badoglio was right…the Germans were frantically searching for Mussolini.  And they were using more than just the normal channels (spies and message interception).  They were using channelers as well.  Rick Atkinson briefly mentions it to his readers in his book The Day of Battle.  He writes, “Hitler’s search for his erstwhile ally included consultation with various occultists and astrologers, among them a certain ‘Master of the Sidereal Pendulum,” as well as more conventional intelligence clairvoyants.”

At some point (I’m guessing from conventional channels), the Germans discovered Mussolini’s latest residence, and Hitler turned immediately to Captain Otto Skorzeny, quite possibly his most trusted commando operative, with orders to effect a rescue.

And Skorzeny did just that on September 12, 1943.  He loaded 108 commandos into gliders and headed for the Gran Sasso.  Mussolini was looking out the window when he saw his rescuers come sliding across the grounds.  Within minutes (and without a shot being fired), Otto Skorzeny had flung open the door to Mussolini’s room and the deposed dictator was a free man.  He and Skorzeny shoehorned themselves into a tiny Storch airplane, and flew off to safety.

Benito Mussolini was warmly greeted by Adolf Hitler, who would soon install him as the head of the Italian Social Republic.  It was nothing more than a figurehead position over a piece of real estate that would eventually fall to the Allies, but I suppose a good number of things, even working for Hitler in 1943, were better than prison.

Recommended Reading:  The Day of Battle

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There’s still been no resolution to replacing the dead laptop.  I went to the store this afternoon with the intention of picking up a cheap one, but it was at one of those places where the sales people are paid on commission.  We were dealing with one person (who happened to be busy helping someone else), and were then set upon by another salesman who wouldn’t let us be.  We left in frustration.  I think that sale ends tonight, so maybe there will be another one in the near future…we’ll see.

Onwards.

The Italian invasion of Greece in October of 1940 was a pretty poorly run thing.  Advances made into the country were quickly checked and reversed.  Within weeks, not only had Italy been largely removed from Greece, but their opponents had also taken southern Albania, which the Italian military had conquered (and I use that term somewhat loosely) back in 1939.

But it was Germany who bailed out Mussolini’s forces in early April, when they rolled into the Balkans.  Yugoslavia (just to the north) was first, invaded on the 6th and quickly overrun.  Simultaneously, Greece was invaded and, in less than three weeks, had lost nearly all of its territory and any substantial reason to keep fighting. On April 24, 1941, Greece threw in the towel and the government surrendered.

This left the British with a nasty mess, as they had nearly 60,000 soldiers in Greece, and all would need to be evacuated to avoid capture and imprisonment.  And that’s a topic we may look at sometime.

Recommended Reading: Crete 1941

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Italian dictator Benito Mussolini clearly had a flair for ineptitude.  He may have made the trains run on time in Rome and he may have made the grapes more delicious in Tuscany.  He might have even single-handedly kept Venice from sinking deeper into the Adriatic.

But on military matters…well…most people wanted him fighting for “the other guy”.

As a member of the Axis, Italy’s part (militarily speaking) was often to sit by and watch Germany and Japan pretty much do what they wanted.  And that didn’t sit well with Mussolini, who became jealous of their “easy” conquests.  Oh sure, there had been some gains in Africa (Abyssinia, British Somaliland, Eritrea).  And don’t forget the “conquering” of Albania.  But they paled when compared with Poland and China and Norway and France.

Mussolini needed a big feather in war-time cap.

Romania had, in the middle of October of 1940, accepted German protection for its massive oil fields at Ploesti, which bothered Benito badly.  He had long considered Romania to be in the Italian sphere of influence, and believed Germany was overstepping its bounds a little.  So he turned at Greece, sending an ultimatum demanding they allow Italy to occupy their territory.

Greece and Italy had a history of troubled relations.  Italy’s conquest (I use that term lightly) of Albania put them right on Greece’s border, and Prime Minister Metaxas was showing a preference for Britain.  For his part, Metaxas did what he could to maintain neutrality, going so far as to cover up the origins of the sinking of the Elli in Tinos Harbor in August…clearly an Italian operation and a topic worthy of discussion at some point.

But there was no way the Prime Minister of Greece was going to allow an Italian occupation.  He refused on October 28, 1940…and was attacked by Italy on October 28, 1940.  Italian Generals launched their attacks while simultaneously trying to recall the men they had sent home just weeks before to help with the harvests.

Within two weeks, Greece’s military had stopped the Italian advance.  A stalemate, which would last six months, began.  Hitler was, once again, angry with the Italian leader for going off and beginning an operation he couldn’t finish.  Evenutally (in the spring of 1941), Germany would have to delay Operation Barbarossa and commit his own forces to finally subdue Greece.

Recommended Reading: Crete 1941 – This is a somewhat dry book dealing mostly with British naval operations around Crete, but it provides good background information on Greece as well.  It should go quickly for you.

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How the mighty had fallen.  When Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, he had done so on a wave of immense popularity.  Twenty years later, he was on his way out.  A string of terrible military “adventures” in Africa, a disastrous invasion of Greece, the impending loss of Sicily, and the inevitable invasion of Italy by Allied forces had seriously eroded his support base.

On July 25, 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III told the embattled dictator, “Dear Duce, the situation is beyond remedy.  At this moment, you are the most hated man in Italy.  You have not a single friend left, except for me.  I am sorry, but the solution could not be otherwise.”

Italy’s Grand Council had just passed, with the greatest of ease, a vote of no-confidence against Benito.  The people were angry, the government was angry, and now the King’s words, coming from a man standing barely five feet tall, towered over the once-powerful Italian leader.

And as he left the King’s estate, he was met by armed men and arrested.  The reign of Mussolini in Italy was over.  The annoucement was broadcast over the radio shortly before midnight, leading to an impromptu after-hours pajama party in the streets of Rome.

Almost overnight, Facism in Italy vanished.  Pietro Badoglio, who took over power, said, “Facism fell, as was fitting, like a rotten pear.”  Even Mussolini’s own newspaper replaced Il Duce’s picture (shown prominently on the front page) with one of Badoglio.

In Germany, the news was met with anger and harsh words.  For all his miserable economic failures and complete ineptitude as a military leader, Mussolini had Teutonic allies.  In his diary, Joseph Goebbels would write about the deposed dictator, “…behind his massive figure a gypsy people has gone to rot.  The only thing certain in this war is that Italy will lose it.”

And then the scheming to somehow free Mussolini began…

Recommended Reading:  The Day of Battle

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I had a couple different ideas for discussion, but the evening has conspired against me and now it’s too late to give them good attention.  So I’ll choose the shortest (and laziest) topic, and pick up the more involved ones as soon as it’s April 7th again.  Let’s head overseas to Albania.

Albania is a small country in southeastern Europe.  If you find Italy on the map, then trace a line straight east from the “heel” of Italy’s boot, your line will run into Albania.  It’s kind of shaped like New Jersey, though a little bit bigger, which gives you some sense of scale.

In 1939, Italian bossman Benito Mussolini was feeling a little behind-the-curve as far as the Axis powers were concerned.  Though “the Axis” didn’t yet officially exist (that would happen in 1940), there is no doubt that Germany, Italy, and Japan were all engaged in similar (and aggressive) expanionist activities.  Japan was running wild in China, Germany had retaken the Rhineland and followed up with Austria (1938) and Czechoslovakia (1939).  Italy had conquered Abyssinia in 1935…which was not unlike the old cliché of taking candy from a baby.

So, Mussolini reasserted his importance and, on April 7, 1939, (just a couple weeks after Hitler’s takeover of Czechoslovakia) launched an invasion of his own.  Against Albania.  And against the better judgement of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III.  But this action was even less significant than Italy’s victory in Abyssinia.  Albanian resistance was negligible, and King Zog (stop that chuckling in the back) was paying more attention to his infant son (born on April 5th) to do much more than hop a plane with his wife and son and head for the safer climes of London.

And what’s more, Italy (though gaining a New Jersey-sized piece of property) really got nothing out of the invasion.  The Albanian and Italian economies had been inexorably linked since the 1920’s.  Minerals mined in Albania were already shipped to Italy.  The Italian government was a strong financial guarantor of Albania.  Heck, the two countries already had a military alliance, also dating back to the 1920’s.

Albanian “resistance” would last for, well, practically not at all, and Italy would take over just 5 days later.  Aim high, Mr. Mussolini.  Aim high.

Recommended Activity:  Act out your own Albanian invasion.  You be Italy. – Equivalent activities could include (but are not limited to):

  • Stealing your child’s blanket when he/she is sleeping.
  • Finding an ant and stomping on it.
  • Giving the neighbor kid a cookie, then taking it back (just be sure the kids are small so they’re more like Albania).
  • Challenging your pet hamster to an arm-wrestling contest.

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The months heading into the fall of 1943 had not been especially good ones for the country of Italy.  Benito Mussolini had been deposed in July and replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio.  The new leader vowed to “carry on the fight with their Germanic brothers“…while simultaneously meeting with Allied negotiators (smuggled into the capital) in an effort to get Italy out of the War.

An armistice was finally signed on September 3, 1943, but was not publicly announced until five days later (the day before the Allies landed on the beaches of Salerno and Taranto in southern Italy), which prompted the Germans to take over Rome.  Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III immediately left the capital for the safety of Malta, and the Italians, without direct leadership, were left to enjoy their Nazi occupiers and conditions approaching anarchy.

But on October 13, 1943, some sense of clarity was provided to the Italian citizenry and military as, once again, the Italians declared war…on the Axis.  Thousands of Italians turned on their former brothers-in-arms and current overlords, but many others joined the German ranks.

Recommended Reading: The War North Of Rome: June 1944- May 1945 – This part of the war in Italy doesn’t get the press that the rest does. Here’s a great book to learn more about it.

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