Benito Mussolini was executed on April 28th, 1945, together with his mistress Clara Petacci. They were killed by the partisans while trying to flee Italy. At that time in the war, the Allies have entered the Boot and were heading north from Sicily. For Mussolini’s Italy that was a signal that fascist regime has come to an end.
His last attempt to rally the troops occurred on July 24, 1943. At a Grand Council, Benito Mussolini held a two-hour speech fueled with a passion for trying to provoke fighting spirit in hearts of his comrades. But, he failed, as the council decided that the best way to pursue action was through a peace treaty with Allies. By a 19–8 margin vote, the Council voted to give back constitutional powers to King Victor Emmanuel III, effectively removing Mussolini from power. Even his son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano voted against him. He tried to shrug it off by coming to work the next day as if nothing happened, only to be summoned to the royal palace.
One day after the Council meeting, Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, relived Mussolini from his duty declaring: “At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.” Shortly after that Benito was arrested and imprisoned. Entire Italy celebrated and Italians soon joined the allied forces. This happened on September 8th. The country wanted to remain neutral for the remainder of the war, but Winston Churchill demanded that Italian troops aid Allies in the fight with the Germans. He said that that’s the only way for them to have a “passage back.” On October 13th, partially unwillingly, Italy declared war on Germany. Third Reich responded by capturing Italians and sending them to concentration camps. The persecution of Italian Jews started at the same time.
The daring rescue
Mussolini was rescued from his mountain prison by German SS paratroopers who consequentially transported him to Germany. There he met with Hitler, who set up Mussolini as the head of a republic in the north part of Italy which was occupied by Germany.
Although the credit for his rescue is often given to Hitler’s favorite commando, Otto Scorzeny, his SS team of 26 men was just a small part of Gran Sasso raid or Operation Eiche, as it was called. The majority of the assault group was compromised of Fallschirmjäger, or German paratroopers. The raid commander was Major Otto-Harald Mors, acting on direct orders from Hitler himself.
At first, Mussolini objected to Hitler’s idea of creating a new state and continuing the war, citing exhaustion of Italian people and huge casualties among the civilian population. Hitler then threatened him with the complete destruction of several Italian cities and Il Duce caved in. The Italian Social Republic was created in 1943, with Mussolini as head of state. The newly formed republic depended on Germany for everything, from money to weapons. Its armed forces nominally fought against the Allies, but apart from few hard-core fascist units, its soldiers were largely demoralized and either surrendered or deserted in droves.
Mussolini spent the last year of his life writing his memoirs, resigned to the fact that the war is lost and that his personal future is grim. In an interview with Madeleine Mollier in January 1945, he said: “Seven years ago, I was an interesting person. Now, I am little more than a corpse. Yes, madam, I am finished. My star has fallen. I have no fight left in me. I work and I try, yet know that all is but a farce… I await the end of the tragedy and – strangely detached from everything – I do not feel any more an actor. I feel I am the last of spectators.”
The execution of Benito Mussolini
The end for Benito Mussolini cam in April of 1945 when Allies reached North Italy. Running in front of evading force, Mussolini planned to cross the Swiss border accompanied by his mistress Clara and a couple of loyal followers. He was stopped by partisans on April 26th, despite his attempts to pass as a Luftwaffe pilot.
On April 28th, the car in which he was transported to Milan was stopped. Both Mussolini and Clara Petacci were escorted out and set up against a wall. It was then that partisans passed the death sentence and Petacci hugged Benito and screamed: “No, he mustn’t die.” She was immediately shot. After this Mussolini opened his jacket, fell to his knees and said: “Shoot me in the chest!” His executioner, a communist partisan called Walter Audisio, granted Mussolini’s last request. After the first bullet, he was still alive, but another one followed to finish the job. Their bodies were loaded into a van, and transported to Milan.
At Milan, their bodies were brought to Piazzale Loreto where many partisans were executed a year before. Their corpses were beaten up, urinated on, only to be left to hang upside down. Pettaci had not been wearing underwear, so her skirt was rearranged to cover her intimate parts by courtesy of a couple of old women. The large crowd was around their bodies for hours trying to get a good look at the scene. People wanted to be sure that Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy for 23 years, is finally dead.