World War 2

Benito Mussolini (1883 - 1945)

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini

Mussolini was born in 1883 in the village of Predappio, in the Romagna district of central Italy. His father was a blacksmith and his mother a teacher. Socialist and pacifist before the First World War, he rapidly changed his views and actively campaigned for Italy's entry into the war. Wounded and much changed by the war, he returned to civilian life.

After the First World War, the economic situation in Italy was disastrous. Mussolini formed around himself a large group of dissatisfied men who comprised the 'Italian fighting fascist' (or I fascii) and opposed left-wing militants. His black-shirted followers soon became known the world over simply as Fascists. Yielding to a largely fictitious 'march on Rome' by tens of thousands of Fascists, King Victor Emmanuel III called Mussolini to power in October 1922.

Within three years, Italy became a dictatorship. All political parties were outlawed, and power was concentrated in the hands of a single party. Its members held all government offices and blindly obeyed their Duce (leader). The regime's motto became: 'Believe, obey, fight'. Skinful propaganda helped Mussolini to retain his hold over the people. He dreamed of restoring to Italy the grandeur of the ancient Roman Empire. He went to war to conquer Ethiopia, supported Franco in Spain, and allied himself with Hitler. On the evening of 24th July 1943, Mussolini was outvoted at the Grand Fascist Council.

He was placed under arrest and imprisoned on the order of the king, who wanted to make peace with the Allies. Mussolini was rescued by a German SS commando operation, and set up a Fascist Republic in the north of Italy. In spring of 1945, he attempted to escape to the Tyrol in the Alps, where he hoped to find refuge. He was captured by a group of partisans and executed. His body was hung up by the feet and exposed to the abuse of the people.