In the 1940s, Adolf Hitler didn’t have all that many friends. He did, however, consider Benito Mussolini of Italy to be among those in his circle. So when Mussolini lost the support of his country, the German chancellor was ready to offer him aid. Germany, allegedly, went so far in 1943 to rescue the Italian dictator.
Mussolini’s Early Years And Break From Socialism
Benito Mussolini was born into humble origins in Predappio in 1883. His father was a blacksmith and his mother was a Catholic schoolteacher. In school, he was thought of as grumpy and proud, often having clashes with both teachers and other students.
In 1902, Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland to avoid compulsory military service. While there, he became very interested in socialism. He broke from the party, though, when he called for Italian intervention in World War I. Following his expulsion from the socialist party, he began to support fascist causes.
The relationship between Hitler and Mussolini
While Nazism was based in part on Fascism, Hitler and Mussolini did not share the same beliefs, particularly when it came to racism. There is a story from 1932 when Mussolini spoke to a journalist named Indro Montanelli who had recently published a book called Io e il Duce. Mussolini discussed a section of the author’s book where he talked about the importance of Jews to the Italian economy. The Italian PM told him, “You have my approval: racism is blondes’ (Germans) stuff!”
Hitler, on the other hand, was very much a fan of Mussolini. According to history professor Christian Goeschel, the German chancellor considered Mussolini to be an inspirational figure. He even asked the Italian prime minister for an autographed picture by letter in the early 1930s.
Mussolini’s power begins to slip
When World War II broke out, Mussolini aligned himself with Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers. The Italians waged a large-scale campaign in North Africa in hopes that Britain would collapse and Italy would be able to take over large swaths of the land. Mussolini did succeed in taking British Somaliland. The Italian forces, though, began to suffer heavy losses. In early 1943, the Allied forces defeated the Axis Powers in the Tunisia Campaign.
Despite his 20 years in power, Mussolini was in serious trouble. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when bombing campaigns began in Rome. The Prime Minister’s government turned against him, Mussolini was informed that his army no longer wanted to fight for him and the King Victor Emmanuel the III told him he was no longer a recognized ruler.
A worried Hitler hatched a plan
The King had Mussolini arrested and Italian soldiers took him off to an undisclosed location. Adolf Hitler was extremely worried about the news. The German Chancellor feared that new leadership in Italy would create an alliance with the Allied forces. The Nazi leader decided that his best course of action would be to rescue Mussolini.
Hitler was serious about rescuing the fascist leader. The German Chancellor tabbed Otto Skorzeny, his best man, with tracking the movements of Mussolini. And it didn’t take Skorzeny long to find success. The tracker was able to intercept radio transmissions made by the Italian military. Two months into the hunt, Skorzeny discovered that Mussolini was being held at the Hotel Campo.
The job, however, wasn’t quite finished. The Nazis had to hatch a rescue plan. After examining aerial reconnaissance photographs, Skorzeny noted that the hotel was located on top of a mountain, ruling out a parachute assault. However, the Nazi rescue team soon realized they could land a squadron of gliders on a small patch of land.
On September 12 1943 Skorzeny and his team of SS commandoes and ‘Fallschirmjäger’ paratroopers boarded ten DFS 230 gliders. The men dangerously hang-glided into the area. The patch of land turned out to be a rocky slope that causes one glider to crash land, injuring several of the men involved in the rescue attempt.
Following their landing, the group took a prisoner of General Fernando Soleti. The Italians released Mussolini and Skorzeny personally hang-glided him off the premises.
It’s believed the entire hotel raid took only 10 minutes to complete. Following the success of the mission, the Italian PM was personally delivered to Hitler following his rescue.
While not every detail of the mission has been confirmed as fact, what we do know is that it was a success.
A life in exile
Hitler wanted to depose the Italian king and hoped that Mussolini would support him. Mussolini, however, had little interest in doing so. Over the next year and a half, the former Italian leader lived in the town of Lombardy. He was essentially a puppet leader as the Nazis restricted his travel and communications.
In April of 1945, with Allied troops marching towards him, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, hoped to escape to Switzerland. They were intercepted along the way in Lake Como.
The former fascist leader was executed by gunfire. His body was moved to Milan where it was hung upside-down at a gas station.