AT LAST – The truth about Italy

The Pittsburgh Press (April 3, 1941)

Screenshot (261)

The truth about Italy: No. 1 –
Mussolini completely defeated; Nazis spread hatred of U.S. among Italians

Editor’s note:
Here is the first absolutely uncensored and unrestrained story telling the exact situation in Italy today. It will be followed by at least seven other stories on the Italian crack-up.

John T. Whitaker, noted Chicago Daily News Service correspondent, was expelled from Italy on Feb. 26. He had been in Rome continuously since June 1939, and also was with the Italian Army during the invasion of Ethiopia. He is acquainted with Mussolini, Ciano and other Italian leaders and was decorated by Italy after the Ethiopian war.

The Chicago Daily News Service is no longer attempting to maintain a Rome bureau in the face of Italian censorship. Therefore, now that Mr. Whitaker has reached a neutral country from which his dispatches are being cabled, he is free from any censorship and restraint – and thus becomes the first American newspaperman who can tell the full inside story of conditions in Italy.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier
After 10 months of war, Italy’s defeat is complete, and to prevent the negotiation of a separate peace with Great Britain, the Germans have taken over control of the country. Italy’s regime, her armed forces, her internal police and much of her industry and agriculture already are under direct Nazi tutelage, and Benito Mussolini today is scarcely more than the gauleiter (district governor) of a conquered province.

This is the dramatic climax of 19 years of flamboyant Fascism. More than that, it is the tragic end of united Italy, which won its independence from Germanic domination only 80 years ago under the grandfather of the present king, who is sovereign now only by the grace of Adolf Hitler, which means in name alone.

How Mussolini took his country to war when it was utterly unprepared for that stern test, how this blunder disclosed the true nature of Fascism to the Italian people so that a whole nation lost its illusions and its will to fight, and finally how Hitler in eight swift weeks achieved a bloodless invasion of Italy, can now be told.

True story can now be told

Many an informed newspaperman in Rome knows that story but not one of the correspondents can tell it. They work there under a censorship that is intelligent and complete, fighting a daily battle in the wear of nerves, sick that they must withhold, so much of the truth but loyal to the editors and readers who want a man on the spot, however difficult it is to do this job.

Your correspondent can tell that story because he has been expelled from Italy and he writes free of censorship for the first time in a year. The authorities could cite no dispatch of mine from Italy as either inaccurate or misleading. They asked me to leave because my general tone was unfriendly to the Axis, and curiously enough because I had access to too many highly-placed Italians.

I have had four audiences with Mussolini and scores of conversations with his son-in-law, Count Ciano. I know Marshals Badoglio and Graziani.

But this seems a strange reason to ask a correspondent to go away. It is my personal opinion that the expulsion was ordered by the Germans. I have no concrete evidence of that, however, and it is only a surmise.

Germans threatened arrest

One month before my expulsion, the Germans already were pretty well in control of Rome, and more than one of them said in public places that they would have me arrested on some trumped-up charge of espionage if the Italian authorities would not expel me. It was obvious that the Germans wished to intimidate me into quitting Rome voluntarily, since the Italians, having had many proofs of my friendship for Italy, were reluctant to order my expulsion. The Germans rightly thought that I was no friend of Nazi Germany.

Uncensored articles on the defeat and occupation of Italy can be valuable to American readers if they achieve objectivity. In that spirit, I hope to describe the extent and manner of German infiltration; why the Italians are incapable of revolution; how Fascism as a system destroyed the efficiency of the armed forces; why Mussolini, after a brilliant series of success, is personally responsible for the tragedy; what happened in Libya; what happened in Greece; what happened in Ethiopia; the actual condition of the Italian people; why Fascism cannot work, and finally how the Germans mean to exploit their new province.

The most remarkable change that has come over Italy since the German entry is the country’s attitude toward the United States. The Nazi propaganda machine is deliberately teaching the Italians to mistrust and hate Americans. The newspapers now describe America as 40% Jewish, Roosevelt as an unscrupulous dictator with ambitions for world conquest, the American people as soulless Protestant money-grabbers, too cowardly to fight but opposed to the Axis out of a feeling of inferiority in the face of the countries that have produced Dante and Goethe, Wagner and Verdi.

This propaganda is beginning to have an effect because the essential argument is the face-saving idea that the Italians already would be enjoying peace and victory except for the Americans, who, though unwilling to fight themselves, help England in order to prolong the war and enrich themselves at the expense of an exhausted Europe.

The American consulates at Naples and Palermo were closed shortly after the Germans took control in Rome. That was significant, but Washington retaliated by closing two Italian consulates in America. More important than the expulsion of the consular officials was the fact that the Germans, with deliberate cynicism, persuaded the Italians that those officials were acting as spies.

Charge U.S. with spying

The Italian man in the street now believes that American consular officers signaled to British warships and planes for bombardments at Genoa and elsewhere, though the officers of his government, having taken down on phonograph discs every word or sound heard in those two consulates, know that the charge is false.

This lie is all the more brutal since the absence of any proper American intelligence service is often remarked upon by grateful Axis officers. Its mere mention brings guffaws of laughter from Italian as well as German officials.

After the closing of the consulates, a highly-placed officer in the Italian War Ministry said to me mockingly:

The American intelligence service must be the best in the world because neither we nor the Germans have ever been able to discover an American spy.

Early in the discussion of the Lend-Lease Bill, the Germans persuaded the Italians to undertake demonstrations against the United States. There was a mild and not very catching demonstration before the American consulate at Turin but the effort in Rome was called off.

I think they failed because the reaction of the Italian public in that period was so instantaneously opposed to such a demonstration that the German secret police thought better of the idea.

Americans are shadowed

All Rome knew of the demonstration to be held before the American Embassy five hours before the time fixed for the shouting. In that five hours, I heard the same reaction from at least 15 Italians:

When we are being beaten by the Greeks, are these madmen going to make us provoke America?

By now I think even that much common sense has been destroyed by the daily pricking of Goebbels’ poisoned pens and the careful preparation of Himmler’s black books.

No Italian officer or diplomat can see an American in Rome today without written permission and private citizens are told that they risk having their names written in the Gestapo black book. Most Americans, including your correspondent in his last month there, are followed by detectives wherever they go, and the servants of every American household are questioned daily on all visitors and their conversations.

Persons entering the American Embassy are stopped by detectives who ask for their papers and take down their names. All American telephones and the walls of the American Embassy and consulates are tapped with listening devices. The American ambassador consequently can have no private conversation with any Italian, and indeed it is very doubtful whether he can consult with Washington without having his coded cables broken.

Italy, in short, is German, and its public must be prepared for Hitler’s declaration of war, as Axis spokesmen sometimes say in Rome, if America begins to make aid to Britain decisive by convoying armaments directly to British ports.

Tomorrow’s story will tell how the Germans have made Mussolini virtually a prisoner and are running Italy.

1 Like


In view of the startling nature of Mr. Whitaker’s article above, the following dispatch is particularly significant and timely.

By George Weller

Athens, April 3 –
Today’s picture of Rome and Athens, two worldly-wise cities, blacked out, contemplating the same destiny which has reversed their ancient cousinship:

Imperial Rome is in descendance. The Germans have come again into the forum; but this time, Greece, once conquered by the Roman legions, holds the advantage.

How are the two peoples, fundamentally different by lineage but related through Mediterranean culture, adapting themselves to the fortunes of war which have piled Ossa upon Vesuvius?

How are ordinary Italians and Greeks affected by the incredible reversal which has made Greek arms a miracle and filled even the enemies of Italy, including the Greeks, with outspoken pity for those who, following Mussolini’s dictum, have believed, obeyed, fought – and died?

Perhaps it is too soon to answer such questions fully. But because I am the only American newspaperman who has visited both Rome and Athens in this fateful 1941, I undertake to hazard a description of the changes war has wrought in the people’s psychology of the two countries.

A visit to Rome was made in January, when the Italian situation was markedly more hopeful than at present. At the time, Mussolini had not yet tried for a personal victory in Albania and failed, and the British had not yet crushed the Italian Navy.

All the brutal 1941 blows to Fascism were still to come.

Yet it was hard to imagine a more dangerously subdued city than Rome in mid-winter. The air was electric with suffering and unspoken resentment.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Adriatic, even while the Hitlerian Trojan Horse was leading the German divisions along their zigzag way from Vienna to the Black Sea and thence toward the Greek border, a resignation to die if necessary was giving the Greeks fortitude.

There was resignation in Rome, too, but it was not willingness to die, it was hopeless acceptance of death. Something that had been real and even idealistic was drying in Rome. It was unmistakable and could almost be smelt in the tenser Roman air. A whole political philosophy was lying upon its bier.

Greece, in other words, has had an advantage of spirits more than of arms. The Greeks admit it.

Greece has suffered deeply in the war, she has lost many sons in saving her honor, but honor is still left. In Italy, there is an inexpressible feeling that it is honor rather than victory that is slipping away because the arms that seized Albania and attacked Greece never invented any moral justification except a superficial one.

The Fascist blow has been force, and with the failure of force, there is a ghastly sense of emptiness in the Roman streets.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 4, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 2 –
Hitler reluctant to take over, but had to because collapse threatened surrender

This is the second article in John T. Whitaker’s “Beyond the Italian Frontier” series. Mr. Whitaker, who had been in Rome continuously since before the war, was expelled Feb. 26. He now has reached a neutral nation and has become the first American correspondent able to write a completely uncensored and frank account of conditions in that country.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
The once palatial Hotel de Russie is now the headquarters of the German High Command. Camouflaged staff cars stand 40 at a time in the spacious Piazza del Popolo and the roar of army motorcycles reaches up into the peaceful Pincio Gardens.

Italians gape or grind their teeth in impotent rage as immaculate generals and colonels stride through the hotel doors while tow-headed, thick-set orderlies click heels and present arms. From this hotel, instructions go directly to the Ministries of War, Marine and Air as well as to the various German units who now occupy Italian soil.

The Piazza Venezia remains in Mussolini’s hands, but the German control him entirely. He had thrown in his lot with Hitler and knows that, as the brilliant second, he must carry out such orders as come to him. Mussolini has talked with almost no one but Germans for two years so that he knows about the great world beyond Italy, only what the Germans want him to know and he thinks, consequently, as they want him to think.

Finally, the military defeat of Italy has brought so great a popular reaction that Mussolini can remain in power only through the favor and support of the Nazis.

Royal family depends on Nazis

The Quirinal, or royal palace, has not been violated by the Germans, who leave the King alone except for social activities. The royal family nevertheless is at pains to identify itself with the German alliance. Even the queen, whose best languages are English, Italian and French in that order, prefers now to speak German.

The new Japanese ambassador told me that the Queen insisted on speaking German to him though he had the temerity to suggest that he could not speak that tongue and preferred English. Hissing between his teeth, the ambassador said to me:

It was very unhappy, also very funny. Her Imperial Majesty talked to me for 20 minutes in German. I not understand one single word.

Next in importance in Italy comes the Foreign Office. There, as in all other ministries, the Germans have installed Germans. As a concession to the Italians, they wear the black Fascist uniforms of high-ranking party officials. They are instructed to be tactful and merely to offer the collaboration of allies who say:

We do this way in Berlin.

In the Foreign Office, as in the Ministries of War, Communications, Finance and all the rest, no decision can be made without the approval of these German collaborators. Actually they serve as commissars.

Germans detest Ciano

The Germans, especially von Ribbentrop, detest Ciano. Italy’s youthful foreign minister has independence of mind and he is the only Italian left who will speak the truth to Mussolini. Ciano opposed Germany’s invasion of Poland, insisting at Berchtesgaden that the British and French would fight, until Hitler in fury cried:

You ass, you son of an ass!

Worse, Ciano opposed Italy’s entry into the war. Consequently, the Germans have thrown Ciano out of the Foreign Office despite the fact that he is Mussolini’s son-in-law and heir apparent. Von Ribbentrop said to an Italian friend of mine at a dinner party in Rome nine months ago:

One of the first things we will do when we control Italy is get rid of Ciano.

It was no idle threat. Ciano today commands a bombing squadron, in the heel of Italy, that flies almost daily against the Greeks. He keeps the title of Foreign Minister, but “Major” Ciano has no control of the country’s policy.

The Germans whisper in Rome, to discredit Ciano with the Italian people, that his squadron never goes out to bomb without an escort of 25 fighting planes.

I doubt that and, if it is true, don’t believe that it is at Ciano’s request. I have seen him under fire and he is a man of remarkable physical courage, even recklessness.

Nazis now control industries

This infiltration into every executive post was made possible by persuading Mussolini of the advantage in principle of merging Fascism and Nazism. It was made effective by the Nazis pressing home every opportunity.

When the Fascists asked Nazi Economic Director Karl Clodius to take less food from Italy, he arranged that the Germans should take direct charge of rationing in Italy. When Italian industries began to feel the pinch of British sea power, the Germans granted them raw materials only at the price of taking over control of the competent ministries and, worse, of the industries themselves.

Consequently, not only are the political offices controlled by the Germans but the factories, too. In every factory that uses German raw materials, German technicians are taking over the managerial posts. They have arranged, moreover, to buy stock in many of the factories, profiting by a wholly arbitrary exchange value for the mark and the lire.

Thus, 50% of Italian heavy industry is now controlled in one way or another by the Germans and it is interesting to note that in the last economic accord negotiated by Dr. Clodius, the whole fiction of a clearing account between the two countries was dropped.

Having carefully prepared these moves, the Germans waited until the week before Christmas to strike. Until then, the Italians had seen very little of the Germans. Uniforms were not conspicuous. The Germans were not untactful. The true nature of the alliance was not brought home to the man in the street.

It is very doubtful in my mind that the Germans wished to take over Italy. Hitler has shown Mussolini every personal consideration in their numerous interviews, according to every reliable second-hand report that has reached me. Hitler had to take over.

The Axis position in North Africa and the Mediterranean had become desperate. The Axis position in Italy had become worse than desperate – the Italians were knocked out and ready for separate peace. Only Mussolini could prevent separate peace and he could be maintained in power only by the arrival of the Germans in force.

By mid-December, the Germans already controlled the Italian railway system. Suddenly, without warning, 122 major train services in Italy were suspended. In that eight weeks, beginning at the joyous Christmas season, those trains were devoted to the task of hauling German troops and German equipment into Italy. The conquest was swift and complete.

Police caught by surprise

Italians in various parts of the country woke up to find that their allies had them by the arm. The owners of palatial homes answered the knock to learn that their allies wanted to requisition their homes. Two families I know of personally tried to resist the very polite German inquiries and received prompt orders from Rome that they were to make their houses available to the Germans immediately.

When I left Italy, the Germans had placed two Panzer divisions in Libya and had three more in Sicily which they hoped to move across the straits of Sicily. I estimated without access to military information that they already had placed 1,400 airplanes on Italian bases with more coming daily and that, for these airplanes alone, a ground and land force of not less than 20,000 men had been established at various airdromes. Elsewhere, perhaps another 20,000 German soldiers are scattered through Italy “in transit” or “in special training.”

Control of Italy is now complete.

Tomorrow’s story by Mr. Whitaker will tell of Italy, a country in a coma, staggered by defeat, and resentful toward Mussolini.

1 Like


The following is especially interesting and timely as a companion piece to John Whitaker’s article above.

By George Weller

Athens, April 4 –
In Greece and Italy, the attitude of the wealthy towards the war is sharply different, but in a contrasted way, from the general public psychology described in my yesterday’s dispatch.

Rome, in mid-winter, when the writer passed through, was overshadowed by the death of the 23-year-old son of one of the two oldest Italian families, Prince Camillo Caetani.

He was the last of his line and a 700-year-old family died out with him. He met Greek fire in the mountains of Albania, and because it took long to get him to a dressing station, due to the half-prepared state of Italian support, he bled to death.

Prince Caetani had little sympathy for Fascism, but a great love for Italy and his many ancestors distinguished in military annals, and, wearing his lieutenant’s uniform, he died in their name, and not Mussolini’s.

Prince Caetani left one witticism that may be remembered. In the first days of the war, before German anti-aircraft gunners arrived in Italy, the Italians placed all their guns around the edge of the Sacred City. When the first practice alarm was sounded, and the guns began firing, something went wrong. The barrage formed an umbrella over the city, and shells began dropping in the downtown boulevards. The forum was peppered, the Colosseum chipped, and shrapnel even fell in the Piazza Venezia.

Prince Caetani asked:

What is this, anyway, the Italo-Italian War?

What has the war meant to Greeks of the same class as Prince Caetani?

In an aristocratic club of Athens, a sleepy retreat with deep red leather lounges full of brooding old gentlemen, the writer met a Greek merchant of Paris. He was nearly 50 years old, a member of a clique of well-to-do men between 50 and 60 with whom he regularly dines and discusses politics.

Fond of good things

A millionaire, somewhat fat and as fond of life’s good things as Prince Caetani, though twice his age, the Greek displayed himself to his friends. He was dressed in the khaki of a common private of the lowest grade, wearing the roll leggings and forage cap.

He asked his friends, extending his hobnailed marching boots above the waxed floor for them to admire:

How do I look? Isn’t this a handsome jacket they gave me? Do you like the designs I’m wearing? They show everybody that I’m in the Signal Corps.

He turned slowly around so that they could admire him near and front. He said:

My captain says I’m very fit for a man of my age, and that if we go to the front, I’ll handle myself very well. I may not be good enough to get a medal, but I ought to be able to grab a few Italians.

Envious general watches

A retired Greek general watched the rookie over the heads of his fellow members with a tinge of envy. The millionaire private, to whom everyone listened respectfully because of his uniform, began a lecture on military matters and society.

He said:

I don’t believe in giving the poor everything they want. Our poor people seem to think they can have this war all to themselves, but they can’t. I have just as much right to get in it as my chauffeur. I got a little soft sitting around this club with you so long, but I guess my figure is as good as Mussolini’s. Want me to show you again the way I salute my captain?

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 5, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 3 –
Nation is sick and humiliated, but lacks any leader; even king and church criticized

Herewith is the third of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
Taxis are so scarce in wartime Rome and so much desired, with private cars forbidden, that the mere appearance of a cruising taxi will bring a core of people into the street crying, “Libero? Libero?” which means “are you free?” Since the arrival of the Germans, any cry of “Libero” at night during the blackout brings an answer from everyone within earshot. Feeling safe in the darkness, the people cry, “No, Italian.”

To be Italian is not to be free and the people know it. But though they recognize the fact with a grim and mirthless jest, which no one of them would dare to utter in broad daylight, they are not prepared to do anything about it. There are several reasons, I think, why the arrival of the Germans is accepted with as much resignation as the eruption of Vesuvius or any other natural disaster over and beyond the control of mortal man, several reasons why the Italian is ready for separate peace but not for revolution.

The first reason is the fact that most Italians are overawed by the military might of modern Germany and fairly confident that Hitler will win the war, even if America comes in before the invasion of Britain. The rule that nothing succeeds like success operates in Italy as nowhere else in the world, and the Italians are tremendously impressed with Hitler’s successive victories. In addition, even those who doubt German victory feel with typical Italian cynicism that nothing ought to be done unless and until Germany shows signs of cracking.

In the second place, German propaganda has been skillfully designed to appeal to Italian sensibilities. The Italians are told by their Nazi-controlled propagandists:

We Fascists have carried the whole burden of the war on our shoulders through the fall and winter, our troops fighting from the French Alps to the African deserts, our ships from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans, our planes from England to Persia. The Germans have rested meanwhile, Now it is only fair that they should come to our help.

Cooperation between the two allies is all-embracing. Just as we sent planes to the Channel to help the Germans, so they send them now to Sicily and Libya to help us. Just as we send workers to Germany, so they send soldiers here.

Italy sick and humiliated

These arguments have a certain effect simply because Italy is so sick in the humiliation of her own defeat. The calling in of the Germans gives them a flicker of hope like the calling in of a new doctor when the patient has despaired of recovering.

Italian peasant parents “know” that their own Tony or Pepe was no coward. He was the finest, bravest boy that any parents ever had.

He died in Albania of frostbite and gangrene or he was captured in Libya because of the unpreparedness of Mussolini and the inefficiency of the general staff. If the Germans take over, they say, maybe this brother will prove that the Italians can fight.

Italian officers “know” that they are not to blame for defeat. If there is German staff work, perhaps they can redeem the honor of Italian arms. Italian generals “know” that their equipment was outmoded. Perhaps with German tanks and artillery and planes they can show those Anglo-Saxons. These are the feelings to which the propaganda machine plays not altogether successfully, but with some results.

In the third place, the Italian collapse and defeat have been so crushing that the whole nation lies in a coma of disillusionment, humiliation and distrust. There is no leader, no man and no ideal to turn toward.

Fascism has ruined Italy

The nation has been debauched by 19 years of Fascism. Few Italians accepted that system without compromising their intelligence and their conscience. The strength of the Italian lay in his healthy cynicism and his common sense. He had to give up both to be a Fascist.

19 years of daily compromise has done something to his soul. He is less a man than he was. The sudden realization that Fascism was a lie, not a new national movement but merely a technique for keeping a small clique in power, has crushed his spirit.

A military doctor told me about a peasant boy whose feet and hands had been amputated after frostbite because no winter equipment was provided to the army that invaded Greece. This boy raised the maimed stump of his right arm and screamed:

We are going to kill Mussolini, the murderer!

I heard the same thing myself from a wounded university student who said there were no bandages in the field hospitals in Libya. An Italian woman told me how another wounded man rose from his hospital cot and spat in the face of Countess Ciano, who served as a nurse.

People are angry, but weak

But these are isolated and personally desperate cases. Mussolini has the personal loyalty today of scarcely more than a few hundred Italians. The millions who applauded him yesterday are through with him today. But they are not ready to throw him out, first, because they have nowhere else to turn and, second, because the last 19 years have not conditioned Italians to the tradition of Garibaldi.

The royal family is as bankrupt politically as Mussolini. Until three months ago, I never heard any Italian speak of the House of Savoy except with reverence and affection. In recent months, I have heard bitter hatred on every side.

A prince who has been a member of the royal household said:

The king is worse than ga-ga. He is a cynical, selfish, dirty old man. He cares nothing for Italy or the Italian people but only for his own throne. He has never intervened for the nation against Mussolini. He said to me once, “I go with Mussolini because, whether he is right or not, he is lucky.” What a way for a monarch to serve his people. All he wanted was to spare himself trouble. By such a notion of his duties Victor Emmanuel has destroyed his nation and his house in the third generation of united Italy.

This conversation could be multiplied a hundredfold.

Prince loses his popularity

The Prince of Piedmont has lost his popularity, too. Servants as well as the nobility speak for the first time of his being effeminate. Officers who have revered him suddenly describe him as dupe. The people are unfair, no doubt, to him, as they are to his father and to Mussolini, but this is a measure of their bitter disillusionment.

Military personalities like Badoglio and Graziani are equally tarnished, Italians point out the palatial modern show place which the regime has built for Badoglio.

They say:

There is the marshal who once offered the king to clean out the Fascists with a regiment of troops. He has sold out. Would he stand against the invasion of Greece? No. He approved it and then resigned after it failed.

The Fascists have deliberately spread lies about the corruption of Badoglio. He isn’t corrupt. He is merely a very old man. Of Graziani, the people speak no more. He was a great general, but he failed.

The modern Romans with more heat than fair mindedness say:

Once beaten generals fell on their swords. Now they go like Graziani to rest amid the beauty of Capri.

That, too, is unfair, because Graziani is a sick man, suffering, perhaps, from cancer of the throat.

Even criticizes the Church

In their bitterness, the Italians even rail out against the Church. They say that the present Pope has condoned Fascism and accepted a German victory as inevitable. This is palpably false and unfair, but it is significant of the present mood of the people.

When the Pope’s encyclicals have inveighed against totalitarianism Italians have objected that the Church ought to stay out of politics. Now they say that it should have enlightened them on the true nature of Fascism.

All of this bitter disillusionment might have been brought to a head in the last weeks before the German entry if the British had bombed the country effectively. This they did not do, probably for lack of long-range bombers. Their raids have been numerous and exceedingly accurate, but the bomb loads have been light, the objectives purely military and the effect upon Italian morale almost negligible.

British necessity may prove the most effective propaganda in the end, however. Once the Germans are being defeated, the Italians will be ready to rise and against the British there will be little rancor.

The fourth of Mr. Whitaker’s noteworthy dispatches will be printed next Monday.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 7, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 4 –
Political bosses ruin army as Mussolini builds huge navy and then lets it rot; career generals must bow to bungling Blackshirts

Herewith is the fourth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
The Roman asks you:

What is the difference between Italy in this war and in the last?

Assured that you never have heard the anecdote before, he says:

In 1914, we prepared, then we fought; finally we made the armistice. In 1940, we made the armistice, then we fought and now we must prepare.

There is more truth than humor in this. Italy was not prepared for this war and never would have come in if Hitler had not persuaded Mussolini that Britain, like France, would capitulate. This is the first reason for Italy’s defeat. The second reason is that Fascism as a system made it impossible for the army, the navy and the air corps to function as armed services. They became merely appendages of the Fascist Party and political instruments.

Knowing Russia as I know Italy, I marvel that the Communists get more like the Fascists and the Fascists more like the Communists each day. Their ideologies, like their systems, though different in theory, prove essentially the same in practice. It is my opinion that neither can build an efficient military machine.

Nazi Germany has built the greatest military machine in history, but I do not think that an exception. I think that the totalitarian ideology is less important in Germany than the Prussian tradition of military conquest. Nazi ideology still is being used for the corruption and political conquest of one country after another, but it has not mattered in Germany since the purge of June 30, 1934.

Blackshirts got double pay

Nazism served the Germans for industrial mobilization in peacetime, but for seven years, Hitler and his generals have worked together for military efficiency and military efficiency alone. The party has become only an instrument in that work, not an end in itself. I was in Berlin during the purge and I saw the party Storm Troopers dissolved. Within a brief space, they were in the uniform of the army and answerable to the generals.

In Italy, army units always are brigaded with the Blackshirt militia, an independent force with its own general staff. Until the eve of Italy’s entry into the war, the militiamen even received twice the pay of the regular army troopers.

A Blackshirt general is a political boss who can appeal to the party and cause the removal of any regular army general who has crossed him. If a Blackshirt general through incompetence breaks liaison, leaves a flank hanging in the air, or moves the whole command into ambush, the regular army career general cannot relieve him of his command. Instead, he must and does recommend him for the highest medals.

Militia keeps Duce in power

The Blackshirt general who took a column into ambush in Ethiopia through criminal negligence – and I know him personally – should either have been reduced to the ranks or shot. Instead, he was given the highest award. The Blackshirt generals who were responsible for Guadalajara in Spain all were decorated and promoted.

Every career general knows this or should. General Pirzio Biroli, one of the ablest professional soldiers in Ethiopia, reprimanded Blackshirt officers for their incompetence. After the Ethiopian war, General Pirzio Biroli was retired and has been only called back in the last two months because Mussolini needed a competent general at any price to retrieve the situation in Albania.

This is an impossible situation with which to confront any army. And yet under Fascism it cannot be changed. The militia is necessary because otherwise a united army, independent of politics and loyal to the King would make Mussolini and his patronage machine dependent upon public opinion. With the army loyal to him and with no Fascist fighting force, the King could dismiss Mussolini and call for elections. Staying in power is more important to the Fascists than building an efficient army.

Not only must Mussolini keep the Blackshirt militia, he must also see that the highest posts in the army go to generals who are politically amenable. That explains why the work of the Italian general staff is criminally incompetent. The eternal staff on the eve of Italy’s entry into the war was packed with officers who would not oppose Mussolini’s Axis policy on military considerations and who had no other qualifications for the task.

Let me illustrate the results in inefficiency. Two steamships in Trieste were requisitioned by the general staff and ordered to proceed urgently to Naples, where they were to pick up troops for Libya. At Naples, there were no troops ready for transport.

The local military commander queried the War Ministry which replied that it had no record or knowledge of the two steamships. To my own knowledge, those two ships lay in Naples harbor for six weeks while troops in Genoa waited vainly for transports. This illustration is typical rather than exceptional.

Hurt Navy even worse

What Fascism has done to the Italian Navy is even more tragic and the gallant corps of professional naval officers hang their heads today in shame. For years, the navy has been run on political considerations and the personal whims of Mussolini rather than upon the recommendations of professional officers. To bargain diplomatically, Mussolini constructed 122 submarines when officers cried for more money for submarine personnel.

In the fleet review for Hitler which I watched several years ago, 90-odd submarines were on parade, but a submarine commander told me later that 18 of them were under the command of yeomen and that the Admiralty had held its breath for fear that these petty officers with no training in navigation might wreck them all. An Italian admiral once said to me:

We can get a new battleship out of Mussolini but we can’t get the paint to keep the old ones in condition.

Thus half the gun crews of the Italian Navy never have fired the guns themselves. British target practice requires the relining of the gun tubes about once a year.

Italian battleships and cruisers have gone six years without the necessity of relining the tubes while Italian naval officers have burned their hearts out in anticipation of the failure of their gun crews once actual battle was joined.

Navy told not to fight

By way of recognizing the gallantry and loyalty of these helpless officers, Mussolini sent orders early in the war that commanders must go down with lost ships – an unheard-of thing. A half dozen officers who can never be replaced consequently have blown their brains out on the bridges of Italian cruisers and destroyers after actions the gallantry of which the British themselves have recognized.

Naval officers who gladly would die for their country never have been given a chance. I talked in the second month of the war with one who later died on the bridge of his destroyer after he had torpedoed a British cruiser against which it was suicide to go.

He said:

In the first weeks we had a chance to smash the British Navy a crippling blow. The Navy itself wanted to move the submarine and destroyer force into the harbor of Alexandria. We would have taken heavy losses, of course, but we could have sunk British capital ships and cruisers. We could have moved toward parity in the sea since we would soon have been able to put six capital ships of our own out in the Mediterranean.

Mussolini flatly refused. He was confident of quick victory. He wanted the fleet intact for bargaining with Hitler at the peace. The navy protested in vain. Now it is too late for that type of action. Now we are short of fuel oil. Now we have orders not to give fight to the British fleet because of the fuel shortage and the political repercussions of the British shelling of our coastlines if we should lose our capital ships.

The tragedy of this statement lies in the fact that since then, at Taranto on the night of Nov. 11-12 and in the Ionian Sea in the early evening of March 28, the British have sunk or crippled four of Italy’s six battleships. Taranto, one of the most impressive, if least important, naval defeats in history, is less a reflection on the Italian Navy than an indictment of Fascism.

The Italian ships were trapped in the harbor. Short of fuel, they did not steam up because of the direct orders of Mussolini. They were caught flat-footed. A naval officer said to me:

My God! Why won’t they at least let us go out and lose our ships fighting?

In the more recent debacle in the Ionian Sea, Italy paid the penalty for Mussolini’s refusal to build aircraft carriers. Caught unawares off Cape Matapan, the Fascist navy saw three of its cruisers and two of its destroyers sunk and a battleship of the Littorio class crippled, by the British Mediterranean fleet which itself suffered no losses and was formidably supported by planes from the powerful aircraft carriers Illustrious and Eagle.

TOMORROW – How a once-powerful Italian air force was ruined and has lost 1,600 of its 3,500 planes with no new ones now building.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 8, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 5 –
Mussolini loses 1,600 out of 3,500 planes; Fascist pilots overconfident and poorly trained, although they wear rows of medals

Herewith is the fifth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
If Fascism crippled the army and navy, what did it do to the Italian Air Force? This corps, after all, was the creature of the Fascist Party, designed by Mussolini to be the irresistible striking force of the new Roman Empire.

From the day 20 years ago, when an Italian general invented the theory of totalitarian bombing power, Fascism nurtured the fliers as its very own and made them the spoiled darlings of the new militarized Italy.

There are few Italian pilots without a row of medals across their chests and certainly no bar in Italy which has not heard them boast of their exploits in Ethiopia, Albania and Spain. Even American pilots like Major Al Williams, listening to them, were persuaded that they were willing to dive down the funnels of British warships – or, more important, that they had planes which could do just that.

How did they stack up as an air force when the going got hard?

Their failure was greater than that of the army or the navy. And it was more significant because that failure, more than anything else, revealed to Italians the inherent, essential, inescapable weakness of the Fascist system. The weakness of Fascism is that it cannot show itself weak or recognize and admit any inferiority.

‘Mussolini is always right!’

Mussolini is always right.

That is the motto of the Fascist Party. To point out a weakness or a mistake in the Italian air corps was to point out that Mussolini was wrong. Similarly, to bring charges against grafters is to break the party solidarity. Consequently, the youngsters who composed the mass of the Italian air corps went into the war thinking that they were the best in the world.

The high-ranking ministers and officers who knew better or should have known better are reaping the rewards in the graft and patronage which are the due of Fascists who know how to keep their mouths shut. They weakened the air force. That’s all right. They never let Mussolini or the party down by putting the air force first.

As for the poor devils of badly trained pilots whose inferior planes were shot down over France, England, Egypt and Greece, Fascist ideologists merely retort that they don’t matter: Mussolini’s totalitarian Italy is rich in cannon fodder. Let the bones bleach and if mothers pine for lost sons, give them posthumous medals! They are only sentimental mothers in the eyes of the hard-boiled Fascists.

1,600 out of 3,500 planes lost

What is the record? As the arm which was to prove sea power outmoded the Italian Air Force, despite perfectly placed bases and a narrow sea, has failed to sink one capital ship or to close the Mediterranean to the virtually free movement of British convoys, the British fleet itself sails that sea with impunity and even enters the Adriatic and shells such vital ports as Valona and Genoa.

As the eyes of the army, the Italian Air Force could not even inform Graziani that the whole of General Sir Archibald Wavell’s army was being moved across hundreds of miles of desert to launch the offensive which proved decisive.

As a bombing force, it could neither smash up Greek communications, despite the inadequate air defense of that pitiful little army, nor attack England.

The Italian Air Force, which cooperated for several months with the Germans against England, was withdrawn from the Channel because its planes were not good enough for daylight raids and its pilots not trained for night flying.

In 10 months of warfare, the Italians have lost 1,600 of the 3,500 planes with which they started. My estimate shows the losses as 1,300 in Libya, 200 in Albania and 100 on the Channel. Not only have their best pilots gone with these losses, but the ships are not replaced. Except for a handful of planes redesigned as torpedo-carrying craft, Italian industry has turned out virtually no planes in the past year.

Italian engineers, who used to steal new developments from abroad and combine them, find that spies are meeting with more difficulties today, and since they cannot design superior ships and lack raw materials, the Germans have told them merely to make airplane parts, instruments and fittings. The “Italian” dive bomber, of which the Fascists boast, is an early model Stuka made in Germany and assembled in Italy.

As proof that these losses are not replaced, I offer three facts. The shortage is so real that, sometimes for three weeks at a time, no plane is available to carry mail or passengers on the Italian line connecting Rome and Lisbon. These planes are drafted for transport of troops. Cadet pilots, though badly needed, have been given holidays for weeks and months at a time because there are no training ships for them. I have skied with these lads, and know.

Finally, when British warships appeared off the coast of Genoa and began to throw a thousand one-ton projectiles into the Ansaldo and other factories, their fire being corrected by British spotter aircraft overhead, it took the Italians three hours to get aircraft to Genoa. That only means that in their shortage they have drained normal airdrome defenses.

Political corruption blamed

The failure of the air corps was due essentially to its being shot through with Fascist politics and corruption against which no one could protest. Marshal Italo Balbo once told me himself some years ago how he argued with Mussolini for the purchase of Wright Whirlwind motors instead of inferior Italian engines. He was banished to Libya and ultimately shot down by his own anti-aircraft fire, the crew being badly trained and excited.

Another Air Minister who recognized air force weaknesses was dismissed in the year before Italy went to war.

There are three further and contributory reasons, however, for the failure and they are significant.

First, the Italians, by getting the jump on others, did have, about four years ago, one of the best air armies in the world and its quality surprised them and lulled them into resting on their laurels. In Spain, their fighting pilots proved definitely superior to the Germans or to any others in that war, though their bombers were decidedly inferior.

Admiration justified

My admiration for the personal qualities of these fighting pilots has been justified by their engagements with the British. In almost every instance that the Italians and British have clashed, the British plane has had more speed and better guns than the Italian. And yet the Italian fighting pilot has never hesitated to engage his enemy.

Something of the penalty Fascist politics and corruption have imposed upon them, especially in the last two months of fighting, was explained to me by a young Italian pilot who is the heir to a great title and a graduate of one of the English universities.

He said:

These English chaps are wonderful and their planes beyond compare. The first time a Hurricane hit my squadron, he shot down four fighters before we knew he was on us. It was literally like a hurricane coming through us.

Bad system of training

The second reason for Italian air corps inadequacy is a bad system of training. Against 250 hours of basic training of American cadets, the Italian has only 100 hours in the air. Italian emphasis – and this is true of the German, too – is for group work rather than individual enterprise and both members of the Axis treasure a plane rather than a pilot.

When an American plot cracks up a plane, his commanding officer merely says, “bad luck.” When an Italian or a German smashes that many thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, there is hell to pay. Fortunately, American pilots are encouraged to take their planes out alone on cross-country flights – required to, in fact – but this is unheard of in Italy or Germany.

Can’t find way home

The result? Listen to an Italian pilot I have known for 10 years:

When we are bombing Malta, I’m sunk when there are British fighters. Only our squadron leaders knows anything about navigation. If I lose him in the general breakup, I might as well be shot down because none of us in the other planes knows how to find his way home. We have got visions of giving out of gas somewhere in the Mediterranean. Do you think the bomber goes on with his bombing mission or the fighter concentrates on British fighters? Hell, no. We are all thinking with three-quarters of our minds about where the squadron is and how we get home.

This weakness and also the argument against a separate air force were best brought home in the battle off the heel of the peninsula when British ships drove the Italian fleet into Taranto early in the war in order to screen the passage of a convoy to Malta.

The Italian Navy called for the bombers. They came, but at a great altitude, and for one hour, they bombed their own ships. Fortunately, they missed. Hereafter, it was necessary to put naval officers who know the lines of their own ships in bombing squadrons.

No proper bomb sight

These training errors should have been revised, but the Italians had great success in Spain and they reorganized their air work on the basis of Spanish experience.

Unhappily for Italy, Spain was not a very good testing ground for modern warfare. Consequently, the defects. Their bombers have no proper bomb sight and they have not overcome this handicap by a combination of area and dive-bombing. They just fly over and drop in the haphazard, Spanish fashion. Similarly, reconnaissance which depends on the perfection of the individual pilot is never reconnaissance as undertaken by the Italians. They merely sweep up or down the coast in squadron formation. In short, they have overlooked the lessons which the British have proved perfectly – in the air, quality counts: quality of machines and quality of pilots.

Finally, a country like Italy, which depends on overseas countries for raw materials simply cannot keep the pace in the air. Modern warfare is fought by machines and by great industrial countries with an abundance of raw materials and petroleum. Mussolini didn’t seem to know that, and since Mussolini must always be right, no one seems to have had the temerity to tell him. But the awakening that the poor cocky pilots got was rude, indeed.

They don’t believe any longer that the British are decadent and they think somebody has been lying to them.

The sixth of Mr. Whitaker’s dispatches will be printed tomorrow.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 9, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 6 –
General Wavell trained his forces to fight in certain terrain; British Army leaders and politicians learned how to work together

This is the sixth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
There is an old military axiom that the perfect army is the army which has been trained on a given terrain against a given foe. The soundness of this rule is known to every football coach who scouts the plays of the opposing team and trains his own squad in a defense and offense designed to defeat them.

This is exactly what the British General Sir Archibald Wavell, did with his now-famous Army of the Nile. This is exactly what the Italian General Rodolfo Graziani did not do when he had an army in Libya. As America begins to build an army for the first time, the lessons of how the British beat the Italians in Africa may prove instructive.

I know Graziani and think of him as a very great general. He has been quarreling with Mussolini since the destruction of the Army of Libya.

He said pretty bluntly, if between the lines, in his official report that Mussolini hadn’t given him the equipment and support he asked for in Libya. Mussolini replied in a recent speech that he had sent millions of dollars’ worth of equipment to Libya. The dictator read off a long list of tanks, guns and whatnots sent down. Each is trying to blame the other for the defeat.

Politicians beat Italy and France

The interplay of responsibility between politicians and generals is one of the most serious problems which Americans must study today. It is a problem which the Germans and the British appear to have solved, but which the French and the Italians certainly did not solve. This is the primary reason for the defeat of France.

After Poland, Édouard Daladier asked General Maurice Gamelin if it were not necessary to reorganize French defense in view of the success of mechanized columns. Gamelin replied that, in his opinion, panzer divisions could not move from Berlin to Paris even in peacetime if the bridges were blown.

Daladier, though unconvinced, left it at that instead of assembling every expert, and going to the bottom of the matter and reaching a decision which meant action. Graziani and Mussolini proved as stupid as Gamelin and Daladier and, for exactly that reason, their country has suffered the same fate as France.

One week before the British offensive in Libya, an Italian friend who is close to Graziani came up to Rome. He brought me personal greetings from the General, we discussed the Italian success at Sidi Barrani and over whisky and soda after dinner before a log fire we talked.

Italians misjudged British

My friend said:

Well, you know the Italian soldier, after all. He is wonderful. He puts up with any hardship, goes without food for two days if necessary and is always cheerful. Graziani is worried but the Italian soldiers will see him through.

The British Army is superlatively good, but it is too small and Anglo-Saxons cannot endure hardships like the Italians. The British Army is deluxe and their men can’t go anywhere without whisky and soda, portable ice machines, shower baths and such gadgets.

The British haven’t a chance. They can make raids, but they can never launch an offensive. Wavell’s got the tip-and-run mentality of Lawrence of Arabia. He has got a little deluxe army of 25,000 men. Graziani’s got 130,000 whites, carefully trained in Ethiopia, where you saw them yourself, and that many blacks besides.

A British offensive is quite impossible. Graziani has built pipelines of water through the desert and improvised trucks with anti-guns to turn the British columns. It is only a question of months until we enter Alexandria and Cairo.

British attack a surprise

A week later, Wavell struck with absolute surprise, blinding rapidly and with a reckless disregard of the conventional or outmoded rules of warfare. He simply adopted the technique used by the Germans in the Lowlands and France, running his mechanized columns clean through the enemy and counting for safety upon the confusion and destruction of communications. It was a brilliant operation, notable primarily for the excellence of British staff work.

I have reason to believe after subsequent conversations with officers in a position to know that this offensive did not come to Graziani as a surprise. He had feared it and asked Mussolini for heavy tanks and more air support.

Mussolini had talked with Hitler about the tanks and Hitler agreed to provide them, but only on the condition that they carried German crews. Mussolini rejected this condition. As for the aircraft, he dissipated them over the Channel and Albania.

If Graziani can offer this protest, he cannot escape the responsibility on two other charges.

First, he did not re-train the Italian Army against the new British tactics. No Italian general ever gives his troops special training for the given terrain and given foe. It is a fundamental weakness.

Secondly, he did not cut his losses after the first British success, fall back on a defensive position and get himself set for the next attacks. The alternative of launching attacks himself was not offered to him because the morale of the Italian troops was too low.

Mussolini is responsible

That brings the ultimate responsibility back to Mussolini. Most of the generals knew that the Italians were weary from Ethiopia and Spain, knew that they loathed the Germans, knew that Mussolini was taking them into a war they had no will to fight.

Mussolini disregarded the morale of his troops as easily as he disregarded the recommendations of his field commanders. Graziani asked for the fleet support, but Mussolini kept the fleet in home ports while the Italian peasant soldiers were undefended against British naval bombardments of the coast.

Graziani asked for more airplanes and the air force complained that there were no repair shops in Libya. Thus they had to fly back to Italy for normal overhauls and the peasant boys got quite a mouthful of British bombing.

All of Mussolini’s orders were issued for political or personal reasons, never on a basis of military necessity. And Graziani disregarded Fascist Party necessities. Mussolini forced Graziani to undertake the offensive which took the Italians to Sidi Barrani before Graziani was prepared for that action.

Consequently, the relations between Mussolini and Graziani were no more cordial than those between Daladier and Gamelin. They worked at cross-purposes instead of together because they mistrusted each other. One was thinking politically, the other militarily, instead of the two coming together to think with singleness of purpose of victory alone.

Consequently, when the collapse came, it was complete. I estimate that the Italians have lost 100,000 men in Libya, most of them prisoners. The peasant soldiers knew that they had been let down once again by their friends. They had never wanted the war and never understood the necessity for it. Once they realized that they were let down, all the fight went out of them.

In addition to the men, the Italians lost their best tanks, guns, planes and equipment. They have nothing with which to replace it. To illustrate the loss of tanks, I know that a tank division training near Rome as a replacement to a division destroyed in Libya has only four tanks and only three officers of active experience in the tank corps. To illustrate the loss of equipment, I know an Italian who recently told me that he had been called up for military service, but would escape it.

He said:

I’ll wait until the last minute. There won’t be enough shoes and uniforms to go around and I’ll be passed over.

He did just that and avoided the army.

It is clear then that the British feat is remarkable in the extreme. In roughly four months, they assembled, equipped and trained an army which routed an army seasoned in the deserts of Ethiopia and trained in Spain. That ought to be an inspiration to Americans who know how hard it is to improvision an army which is rarely built overnight, but generally grows slowly like a tree.

TOMORROW – Mr. Whitaker tells how Mussolini blundered into the Greek campaign and brought on complete disaster.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 10, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 7 –
Attempt to conquer Greece is ludicrous story of double-crossing and bribery, but it brought destruction and misery to thousands

Herewith is the seventh of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
One Italian asked another:

Do you know about Roosevelt’s new note to Athens? He has told the Greeks that America cannot recognize the conquest of Italy by force.

This is typical of half a dozen stories in Rome and every Italian tells you that a French wit in the Alps put up a sign reading:

Greeks stop here. This is the French frontier.

Mussolini’s invasion-in-reverse would be the most ludicrous story in modern history if it had not caused so many thousands of deaths, so much destruction and human misery. The inside story is funnier than Wodehouse and more melodramatic than Oppenheim.

It is a gangster story of bribing and double-crossing. Mussolini bribed a half dozen Greek generals to betray their country. They went to the late Dictator Gen. John Metaxas, and he – the wiliest Greek of them all – said:

Keep the money, be true to your country and keep me informed.

They did exactly that and Mussolini, expecting to conquer Greece in 48 hours, has been beaten instead.

Italian claims based on lies

Three weeks before Mussolini’s “unexpected” ultimatum and his precipitate invasion, your correspondent and at least two embassies in Rome knew the exact day and hour of the invasion. I sent four cables setting the zero hour as precisely as I could without risking expulsion.

The Italian excuse that the Greeks were providing submarine and air bases for the British was as bald a lie as the trumped-up story some months before the murder of Daut Hodgia, a bandit described by the Italians as an Albanian patriot. Hodgia had been killed in a drunken brawl two months before the “incident.”

Mussolini decided that Greece ought to be his swag after Hitler double-crossed him on the French loot. Mussolini jumped on the back of France, only to be thrown off with bad bruises, because he wanted Savoy, Tunisia, Corsica, Nice and French Somaliland.

But Hitler decided not to give them to Mussolini. Hitler wanted the French colonies and the French Navy for use against the British and he feared that if Mussolini were allowed to despoil France prematurely the navy and the colonies might go to De Gaulle (Gen. Charles De Gaulle, Undersecretary of War in pre-war France, heads the “Free French” movement).

Mussolini wanted pushover

Smarting under Hitler’s direction, Mussolini looked about for a quick pushover, to which Hitler might agree. Mussolini had always wanted Yugoslavia but he knew that the Serbs would fight him and, besides, Hitler wanted to drain all the livestock and food out of Yugoslavia before attacking there. Mussolini asked Hitler about Greece and Hitler said:

Okay, but later. You’ve got to wait until much later in the game.

Mussolini decided to cross Hitler. He called in Foreign Secretary Ciano and Ettore Muti, who had engineered the coup in Albania, and asked them to repeat the performance in Greece. Muti is a 6’2” roughneck who looks like a professional football player. He has the courage of a lion and the brain and education of a 10-year-old child.

Count Ciano idolized him and told me once in Muti’s presence that his friend was “the perfect Fascist” and the most trustworthy lieutenant he had ever found. Ciano made him secretary of the Fascist Party but had to remove him later because, with no administrative ability and only a causal knowledge of reading and writing, poor Muti got to chastising inefficient Fascist bosses by beating them up with his bare fists.

Ciano and Muti fall out

Ciano also took Muti to the country club to show him off to his girls and a few foreigners with the kind of obvious pride a man takes in a newly acquired bird dog or mastiff. That ultimately destroyed their friendship.

Muti fell in love with one of the girls to whom Ciano introduced him and later when Ciano took the girl away from him, simple, forthright Muti did not understand. Four weeks ago at the airport at Bari, where both are pilots, Muti socked Ciano and Ciano socked back. A man who saw the fight told me it was a thriller. Muti won.

At the time Mussolini ordered them to engineer the conquest of Greece, Ciano and Muti still were friends. They went to work with a will. Ciano began to grind out the press campaign. Muti arranged the Daut Hodgia incident. They dispatched agents to Greece and organized the bombing force. They planned to repeat the Albanian performance verbatim.

Ciano gave the Greeks private intimations that he wanted only Salonika and a few bases and would treat the country well if it merely offered a nominal show of resistance. The invasion was to be a Fifth Column operation based on treachery by key Greek generals, exploited by methodical bombing which would destroy communications and paralyze Greek resistance. Ciano and Muti promised Mussolini a 48-hour job.

Mussolini was then cocky

Mussolini was delighted. He decided to confront Hitler with a fait accompli (an accomplished fact). He set the date of the invasion for the early morning of the day, three weeks later, when Hitler was to meet him in Florence. In that moment, Mussolini’s position as an Axis partner was strong enough to permit an independent action.

He had the only Axis navy because then there had been no Taranto defeat; he was winning in Africa in British Somaliland, for then there had been no Libya disaster, and his air force was going up to give Pal Hitler a help on the Channel.

What happened afterward is now history, as heroic and thrilling as Thermopylae. The Greeks fought. The British rushed in prompt and effective help. Militarily, the operation was described to me by one of the highest officers in Italy. Listen to him:

Militarily, the invasion was impossible. We had seven divisions in Albania. Two of them were necessary to hold the Albanian population from going into revolt. Two others were in reserve. That left us three divisions with which to undertake an offensive. Against us, the Greeks disposed of 15 divisions. We might have been able to undertake an offensive had those figures been reversed.

Greeks had good leadership

The Greeks had good staff work and good luck. They got their divisions into position. Better still, knowing that we meant to drive for Salonika, they massed their forces into the region of the Kostanza frontier. When impossible weather conditions bogged us down in Epirus, our position was strategically untenable. The air force failed to prevent Greek concentrations. The navy failed to land below Corfu. It was not a military operation. It was a political adventure. No officer in the Italian or any other army would have approved such a military offensive.

Despite this explanation, which is sound, Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Chief of Staff came out badly. Why did he not veto the operation, offering his resignation if necessary? Actually, Mussolini outmaneuvered him. After the fiasco, Badoglio told the King that he meant to resign in protest. The King dissuaded him and sent him to Mussolini. The dictator rose when Badoglio entered his office and said:

Your resignation has been accepted and is effective immediately.

The poor bewildered old general was thus made the butt of the misadventure. Even his fellow officers criticized him for running out when the Italians were beaten and Mussolini informed the public that Badoglio had approved the operation and was responsible for the tragedy – responsible with Ciano.

Were bribes really paid?

It is typical of the mood of Italians today that those who know of the bribery and its failure think that money never reached the Greeks, that it was pocketed by grafting Fascist agents. I don’t believe this. I believe the money did reach the Greeks, that Ciano learned shortly before the invasion date that he had been double-crossed, but that Mussolini would not abandon his plan.

One of Ciano’s most trusted agents came back to Athens four days before the invasion date. He said that the Greeks would fight and that the Italian agents had been double-crossed. He said that he reported this to Ciano.

Wherever the responsibility lies, it is one of the most brutal and cynical aggressions in history and the long-suffering people of Italy have paid for it as early as the Greeks. My dearest Italian friend, the last of a thousand-year line of Roman princes, died in Albania. A fellow officer told me that he bled to death from his wounds – an unnecessary death had there been any organized medical service with the Italian Army.

I have another Italian friend whose hands have been amputated. No gloves were issued to an army sent to fight in snow-filled mountain passes. I have another Italian friend who probably is crippled for life. There were no bandages in the military hospital even when he was brought across the Adriatic to the Italian mainland.

Multiply these cases by several thousand. Add to it the heroism of soldiers and officers who out of shame for their country went on fighting and dying and are doing that even today when they know how cynically and brutally they were betrayed. This is real heroism – to die without faith in order to regain your self-respect as an Italian.

Mussolini has said he will break the back of the Greeks, no matter how long it takes, that the Axis hordes will make Greece a second Finland. That may be so, but the Greeks have broken his back, too. More than princes and peasants lie dead in the mountain passes of Albania. Fascism died there, too.

TOMORROW – The tragic story of Mussolini – a man whom power corrupted, who sacrificed his country for his own ambitions.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 11, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 8 –
Duce probably is suffering from paranoia, the insanity of delusions – illness 2 years ago responsible for alliance with Nazis

This is the eighth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
President Thomas G. Masaryk of Czechoslovakia once said:

The dictators always look good until the last five minutes.

This is the tragedy of Benito Mussolini in the 22nd year of Fascism and the 19th year of his own dictatorship. He has lived too long.

Had Mussolini died one year ago, history would have recalled his many accomplishments, the patriotism and discipline he evoked among his own people, the Bismarckian coolness with which he played power politics, the boldness with which he conquered Ethiopia and won in Spain, the skill with which he kept Italy out of Hitler’s war. His own inconsistencies and the inherent unsoundness of his opportunism might have been glossed over.

Now, whether Germany conquers the Anglo-Saxon world or not, Mussolini will go down in history as a man who sacrificed his own nation to his own lust for glory – a man, in short, whom power corrupted.

Rose to equality with great

It is a tragic end for a man who by his own genius, sly peasant cunning and mastery of national psychology rose to equal rank with Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler and Stalin in a century when unparalleled power has been entrusted to a few dominant personalities.

Until two years ago, the picture abroad of a blustering megalomaniac was certainly false (megalomania is a craze for personal greatness). The first time I talked with Mussolini in 1935, I told him that I was anti-Fascist but meant to write objectively about him and his regime unless he preferred to throw me out of his country then and there.

Out went the jaw and the eyes bulged. Then his face was wreathed with a smile. He threw back his head, roared with laughter and said:

Let’s see if you can do it.

When I told Mussolini two years later that he was going to suffer a military defeat in Spain which would destroy all the prestige gained in Ethiopia and urged him to get out and give the Spanish people a chance, he said:

Perhaps you are right.

When the news reached him one month later of the disaster at Guadalajara he summoned me, gave me the news before it was published and said:

You were right and I was wrong.

I said promptly:

Why don’t you get out of Spain now?

Must go through to the end

He replied:

Ah, now I cannot. Now I must go through to the end.

This was said soberly, not blusteringly or in the spirit of megalomania.

I have seen Mussolini but once in the last two years and then I was not allowed to talk with him. I am not certain, therefore, but it is my sincere and reluctant belief that for exactly two years – since a sudden and unpublicized illness – the dictator has suffered the most violent form of paranoia (paranoia is a form of insanity marked by delusions). After acting the role with cynical derision for nearly 20 years, in order to shut up his opposition or frighten weaklings like British Prime Minister Chamberlain, the actor has become the man. Mussolini today is as horrible a megalomaniac as Nero or Caligula.

I have established from trustworthy sources, though many of the details are sketchy, that in the spring of 1939, Mussolini suffered a stroke which for several days caused a partial paralysis of the face.

I know that he was confined to bed with the greatest secrecy near Milan for five weeks. Later he retired to a private house near his birthplace at Forli. I understand that near Forli he was visited by a Swiss specialist because the left eye was affected.

Stroke came at worst time

This stroke came at the worst possible moment both in the personal life of Mussolini and in the development of Fascism. It is responsible, in my opinion, for the alliance with Germany and for the ultimate entry into the war. It came at a moment when for the first time Mussolini had become aware both of the ravages of age and the loneliness of great power.

In my four conversations with the Dictator and in scores I have heard of second hand, there was always some allusion to sex. Mussolini was exceedingly boastful of his sexual prowess and tried in every way to belie his years. His loneliness was a horror to him.

His brother Arnaldo, the editor, was his only friend, and Arnaldo died. He turned to his daughter Edda, the Countess Ciano, and she, with no interest in anything beyond the frivolities of life, failed him utterly. He had no companion, no one to whom he could confide.

Politically, the situation two years ago equally was bitter and disappointing. After 17 years, Fascism had run down. It was all very well to talk about “living like lions;” Italaians were tired. Ethiopia and Spain had been exhausting.

Italians want bread, not circuses

Instead of having trained up a people of steel, Mussolini found that the Italians wanted bread, not circuses. Instead of having trained up an elite, Mussolini found that his most trusted ministers wanted graft and a letup in the tension. This came at a moment when Mussolini felt certain that the future of the world soon would be decided. And then suddenly, without warning, he was stricken.

These are the personal and political disappointments that he mulled over as he lay in bed. I think that he decided to make an alliance with Hitler in order to revitalize Fascism through a union with the younger and more violent Nazi movement. I think the decision was based on internal politics and ideological considerations, not on any analysis of the international situation. The Dictator put Fascism, not Italy, first.

Mussolini thought that he could handle Hitler, but once the alliance was made, he found that he had signed in blood a compact as binding as that of Faust with Mephistopheles.

Confident that the British and French would not wantonly attack him, Mussolini thought that he had bought off a German invasion and secured a balance-of-power position for himself.

German agents worked shrewdly

Aware of Mussolini’s stroke and his resultant fears and apprehensions, Hitler and his agents dealt shrewdly with the Italian. They flattered him. The two revolutions were the same. If Hitler won his war, this would become “The Century of Mussolini.” They told him such things and the aging dictator, fearful for the future of Fascism, relished the sound of them.

Except for his stroke, I think Mussolini’s peasant shrewdness would have saved him. Because he was not very well Mussolini had to give up public appearances and private conversations. He lost the feel of his own public opinion and he saw almost no advisers or counselors except the Germans.

It is no wonder therefore that he was impressed when Hitler told him a few months before the invasion of the Lowlands and France exactly how that offensive would go. Mussolini had been frightened when Hitler, telling Foreign Minister Count Ciano that the British and French were afraid to fight, invaded Poland over Italy’s protest. But when Hitler’s most optimistic prediction proved true, Mussolini’s doubts vanished.

Clutching at the coattails of the triumphant Nazis, the Fascists were safe. Mussolini told a friend of mine:

We must go to war immediately. France will collapse in a matter of days and Britain’s capitulation will follow swiftly. If we are to share in the spoils we must strike before Hitler brings the hostilities to an end.

And so on June 10, in one of the least impressive speeches of his long career, Mussolini declared war on Great Britain and France.

Italy in no way ready for war

This act was a criminal blunder. Italy was in no way prepared for war. Every type of armament and equipment was lacking for the army. No reserves of fuel had been stored either for the air force or the navy.

No raw materials had been stocked for Italy’s war industries. Worst, the Italian people felt a profound distrust for the Germans, their traditional foes, and wanted strict neutrality. The nation was not morally prepared for the sternest of all national tests.

The extent of Mussolini’s blunder has been proved in Libya and Albania. It would be proved in Italy as well except that the Germans today have complete control of that country.

Because he put the party first, Mussolini has become the most reviled man in the history of modern Italy. The guards around the Palazzo Venezia are counted today not in hundreds but in thousands. Tnhery stand sentry five, six and seven blocks away from his executive offices.

Against his security the most vicious threats are uttered by men who served him blindly in the past. About his private life the most disgusting stories are circulated by people who used to speak of him with tears in their eyes. And there is no doubt that today he rages with impotent fury against a people that didn’t want to live like lions.

The only person in Italy who understands him now is a woman half his age. She tells him that he is still a relatively young man.

He has built her an imposing three-story home on one of the hills of Rome. He has installed in it an escalator – quite as good as any in an American department store – which goes from the ground to the third floor. In addition to the guards he keeps for her there is a motorcycle escort which waits in the streets while Mussolini is there. One of these motorcycle policemen just had a brother killed in Albania.

Mr. Whitaker, in his article tomorrow, discusses how the Prussians always make war pay.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 12, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 9 –
Fascists pour fortune into Ethiopia for empty title for King; France won’t pay his bill and French ‘stab in back’ yielded nothing to bankrupt Italy

This is the ninth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
The Prussians are the only people in modern history who have made war pay. That was true when Bismarck was uniting the empire and it is true under Hitler.

The investment in tanks and Stukas has brought a bonanza yield in Austrian iron, Czech lignite and Romanian oil as well as in the foodstuffs, raw materials, equipment and rolling stock looted from Norway, the Lowlands and France.

The Italians by contrast have a genius for non-productive conquest. Mussolini has been a collector of desert and headaches. As a journalist-turned-politician, the Fascist dictator has a passion for power politics and an abhorrence of economics. He has moved Italy increasingly toward bankruptcy with every new conquest and, though the annexation of Ethiopia proved gratifying to Italian self-esteem, the country simply could not afford it. Defeat would have cost less than a brief five-year victory, which British Imperial troops snatched away.

Various figures – none of them newsworthy – have been cited by the Fascists for the initial outlay. Certainly the military operation cost less than ₤7 billion (about $350 million). But the conquest of Ethiopia was but a fraction of the total expenditure.

Count Thaon di Revel, the Italian Finance Minister, estimated that in five years, Italy spent ₤45 billion on Ethiopia. He was not specific, but I think this global figure included ₤7 billion for the war itself.

If that is so, Italy has spent some $2.25 billion or the equivalent of four annual budgets on one of the biggest dud investments since the pricking of the Insull bubble. The British will be grateful for the $168 million that went into roads and they will conserve something of the $450 million invested in private firms, bus lines, airports and harbor facilities. As for the Italians, there was no return whatsoever on the investment.

Fail to find materials

Last year, as in the first year of the conquest, Ethiopia imported from Italy roughly 10 times its total exports. The dream of mineral resources proved a propaganda myth.

Even General Teruzzi, the acting Minister of Colonies, admitted that the effort to find minerals was only “partially successful,” and he held out the hope of coffee, cotton, lumber, wheat, livestock, and hides instead of gold, nickel, platinum, copper and petroleum. But the trade figures show that not even these were sent to the motherland.

Few colonists found home

Mussolini talked of moving down a million Italians in a vast homestead project. No more than 200 families had gone down before Mussolini’s precipitate entry into Hitler’s war made the loss of the empire inevitable. In short, for an expenditure equal to four annual budgets, Italy got nothing except the title of “Emperor” for King Victor Emmanuel.

The invasion of Spain proved an equally costly adventure. The Italians recently published the bill rendered General Francisco Franco. This shows a direct expenditure in planes, armaments and material of ₤7.5 billion (the lira is quoted at approximately 5¢). Thus, nearly $400 million was spent in Spain beyond the cost of transporting, feeding and paying the “volunteers” who were herded together like convicts and shipped away under the impression that they were going to Ethiopia instead of Spain.

The value of labor in Italy as in Russia is purely arbitrary, but to ₤7.5 billion, something ought to be added for what these soldiers might have done in some productive capacity.

No returns from Spain

Whatever the total of the investment, the return was almost nil. Efforts at Italian economic penetration have failed before Spanish stubbornness, German competition and the outbreak of war which brought the British blockade. The mercury monopoly belonged to Italy already, and her efforts to control Rio Tinto and other mines failed.

Italy hoped for virtual control of high-grade olive oil and insisted that Franco should ship his oil to Italy for refining and shipping abroad under Italian labels. The Spaniards preferred to refine their own olive oil and sell it abroad for gold, which they needed just as badly as the Italians.

Spain gave Italy only 120,000 quintals of olive oil in 1938 and shut down as the war neared. Italy has no trade future with Spain and will never collect the whole of the bill rendered for the Fascist intervention that has yielded the Spaniards nothing but destruction and poverty.

The conquest of Albania cost a mere $5 million. There, the Italians hoped to develop petroleum production, estimating in moments of optimism that Albania might provide a quarter of Italy’s annual petroleum needs, But this was an economic production possible only under a system of autarchy which cares nothing for costs. To the initial outlay for conquest and the cost of petroleum exploitation, it would have been necessary to add the cost of two divisions of Italian troops necessary to hold the population from revolt.

French invasion profitless

What the invasion of the frontier region of France cost, I do not know. Whatever the sum, there has been no return on the investment. The Italians hoped for much, got little and failed to keep even that. French Morocco produces annually roughly Italy’s needs in iron ore. French shares in the Suez Canal would have enabled Mussolini, in theory, to handle transportation between the motherland and Ethiopia with no further drain on Italy’s gold.

The French port of Djibouti and the railway leading up to Addis Ababa would have been a valuable acquisition, too. For prestige, there were Corsica, Nice and Savoy. What did Mussolini get for stabbing the French in the back? He got nothing in Morocco. Hitler vetoed that. He got nothing in Suez. The British fleet took care of that. All that Mussolini got of value was Djibouti and the British are taking that away from him.

The jackal’s role for Stalin in Poland was all very well, but not for Mussolini in France. Hitler has not even let him loot French foodstuffs and material. There are French trucks, guns, food stores and the like in Sicily today, but they are brought down by the Germans for the use of the German forces of occupation in Italy.

Militarization cost wasted

The cost of the “conquest” of Greece does not arise because it is still an invasion-in-reverse, so far as the Italians are concerned. It should be charged, like the attack against France, to the general outlay for the militarization of Italy.

The cost of this general rearmament program undertaken from the day when the Fascists first took power has been set by Mussolini at ₤171 billion, or nearly $8 billion. Such a figure is purely arbitrary under the Fascist system of bookkeeping and with the Fascist tradition of corruption. Whatever the true value of the expenditure, it has proved a bad investment. The Italian nation is not militarized.

Mussolini’s adventures in flamboyant nationalism frequently thrilled Italians. But in every instance, the conquest has proved to be non-productive. The Italians now know that they can afford neither Mussolini nor Fascism. The combination has bankrupted the country for two generations.

Another of Mr. Whitaker’s exclusive dispatches will appear in Monday’s Press.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 14, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 10 –
Many factories idle as workers are sent to Reich, blockade ends imports; vital olive oil goes for Hitler’s guns as peasant stomachs groan in vain

This is the tenth of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. Now, from a neutral country, he is cabling for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
The slow strangulation of the Italian economy by British sea power comes as no surprise. But with industrial production roughly 50% off in a year and with the peasants and workers lacking spaghetti and olive oil, something more than the British blockade is at work.

The Nazis have come into Italy and when they run over a land, they strip it as clean as a plague of locusts.

First, the blockade. The last official trade figures available for Italy covered the year 1938, which is a normal period. The impressive thing about Italian imports is that they came from the British and French empires or from neutrals beyond the Suez, Gibraltar and the Dardanelles. The statistics are eloquent for that year.

Of 1,571,000 quintals of raw cotton (about 314 million pounds) imported by Italy, 1,537,000 quintals came from beyond the Suez, Gibraltar, the Dardanelles or regions under British control. Of 326,000 quintals of raw wool, 305,000 lay under British control. Of the iron ore importations totaling 4,006,000 quintals, 2,829,000 quintals came from regions now under the blockade or crippled by German occupation while the similar figure on scrap steel was 5,162,000 of a total of 6,040,000 quintals imported.

Of a total of 14,742,000 quintals of crude oil imported, 2,363,000 quintals came from the British and French empires and 11,324,000 quintals from regions now intercepted by British naval strength.

In the first year of the war and before her own entry, Italy stocked very little of these vital imports. The British kept a keen eye for that and Italy was short of gold. Consequently, it is easy to understand why so many Italian factories are idle today.

The Germans want textiles, but the splendid factories around Milan are working at half capacity, I found in visits there, because there is very little cotton. Wool already is entirely exhausted, I understand. This, in a textile industry so well organized technically that it was able with governmental subsidies to drive companies like duPont out of the Mexican rayon market.

The aircraft factories, as I already have written, are only making parts and assembling planes. The great steel works at Terni are cutting down to half capacity, I understand, while there were unconfirmed reports as I left Rome that the vast Fiat works which keep Turin alive were virtually shutting down.

German policy, in face of the problem of Italian collapse, has led to a great deal more than the entry of German managers into Italian factories and German capitalists into control of industrial shares.

Send workers to Reich

With a disdain for individual rights only equaled in Communist Russia, Hitler has drafted skilled Italian labor for service in German factories which more than anything else has brought a shutdown of factories in many parts of Italy with resultant economic hardship. In the past year, Hitler already had taken 50,000 agricultural and 60,000 industrial workers from Italy.

In the first week of the effective occupation of Italy by Germany at the turn of the year, Hitler called for 315,000 industrial workers. They are telling their wives and children goodbye for indeterminate periods and going off in sealed trains for unknown destinations. A laborer knows only that to refuse means to go to prison.

That is what Hitler demanded through his economic lieutenant, Dr. Karl Clodius. In return, he continues to ship Italy a million tons of coal a month and promises to double the shipments of iron and steel. And well, Hitler may for the Italian factories now be German-controlled, in part German-owned and wholly geared to German needs.

A shortage of raw material because of the blockade and German control of Italian factories because of that shortage has been inevitable. It also has been pretty plain that Germany would drain Italy if such stuff as the Fascists could spare – flax, fruits, vegetables, sulfur, mercury.

Poor face starvation

But few observers in Italy, and certainly not many persons in the Italian government, expected the Germans to bring an actual food shortage. Italy had been working for years toward autarchy in food with “the battle of the wheat” and the like and should have proved self-sufficient. Actually there are severe shortages with a resulting upward zoom of prices. The poorer classes are face to face with starvation.

The bottom third of the Italian public has lived on olive oil and a mixture of spaghetti and noodles with tomatoes and string beans. The oil and spaghetti now are rationed under strict German control and the individual is allowed per month what he used to consume in a week. The staple dish of the poor was a meatless soup made of olive oil and scraps. The poor today are trying to make this soup without oil. That means slow starvation for them.

Nothing is sadder than the long lines of poor housewives waiting for their nations of olive oil. More often than not, the available supply is exhausted by the time a woman who has stood in line for two hours finally reaches the store counter.

Use foods for arms

And generally by the time, the housewife has got her half-pint bottle of rancid olive oil, which now serves for a week’s ration, other lines waiting for spaghetti or charcoal have exhausted those supplies. Without charcoal, the poor neither can warm themselves, cook a hot meal nor boil water.

There is no sound reason for the shortage of olive oil except that the Germans need fats for human consumption, for explosives and for the lubrication of bomb-sights, rangefinders and the like.

The fact that the Italian poorer classes cannot live without olive oil and have no substitute for it means nothing to the Germans. Italy did import olive oil – 419,000 quintals in 1938 – but of this total all but 36,000 quintals were re-exported after refinement. These importations were over and above the needs of the Italian public.

In a mere matter of months, consequently, the Germans have left the Italians feeling as if locusts had swept across the peninsula. Berlin itself has realized that if Italy still is to be treated as an ally, instead of an occupied and enemy land, there must be some letup.

Dr. Clodius said recently in Rome:

It has become politically necessary to take less from Italy. Unless we want sabotage and shooting in the streets we must even do something to improve Italy’s situation.

He proposed to send Italy certain foodstuffs from Hungary and Romania.

That will mean more bread and meat but the lowest third of the Italian public can afford to eat neither. Germany means to continue the drain of olive oil and tomatoes. If this continues, sheer starvation for thousands in Italy is inescapable.

TOMORROW – Germans prepare brutal phase of conquest of Italy.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 15, 1941)

The truth about Italy: No. 11 –
Gestapo’s lists of suspected patriots mount as peasants doubt Fascist propaganda and shiver at repeated tales of British parachutists’ bravery

This is the 11th and last of a series of dispatches from John T. Whitaker, noted correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, recently expelled from Rome. Mr. Whitaker had been in Italy since June 1939, and was with the Italian armies during the conquest of Ethiopia. From a neutral country, he has cabled for the first time the full uncensored and unrestrained story of actual conditions in Italy today.

By John T. Whitaker

Beyond the Italian frontier –
Although beaten and ready for separate peace, Italy is now overrun by the Germans and the chances of revolution seem small. The possibility remains, however, for two reasons.

  1. The plight of the Italians as a subject people will become rapidly worse with each week of blustering German rule.
  2. The Italians are likely soon to revise their opinion of the British as a decadent nation and of the Americans as a people half-cowardly, half-naive, who will prove incapable of swift and decisive intervention.

The Germans have shown themselves remarkably tactful in the first phase of the conquest of Italy, but they are already preparing a second and more brutal phase. The Gestapo is in charge of the Italian police, but the wholesale arrests that always go with police rule have not yet been started.

Only in a few instances have the Germans overruled Italian objections and spirited away important, or heretofore important, Italians. I have an Italian friend of good family and influential connections who worked for years with the OVRA or Italian secret police. Recently, the Germans arrested him without even consulting the Italians, and held him for three weeks in a Rome hotel, where the OVRA tried to discover his whereabouts. This is exceptional.

The future is now foreshadowed by the careful preparation of lists of “untrustworthy” Italians. I have learned of these lists from Italians in every ministry in Rome. I heard of them first from high ranking officers in the Ministries of War and Marine.

The German officers who entered the ministries as liaison officers and then gradually took complete control are going into the archives and files to find the names of Italians who are conceivably more patriotic than friendly to Germany.

These lists include Italian officers who prepared, under orders, plans for Italy’s defense in the event of German invasion, railway executives who complained against the seizure of Italian rolling stock by the Germans, communications experts who warned of unfair German tactics, undersecretaries of the Ministry of Corporations who discovered German plans that prejudiced Italian industry – everyone, in short, who has not had in recent years the spirit of a Quisling.

‘Barber’ is Nazi officer

In addition, long lists are being prepared of families in Italy who have been unfriendly to the Nazis or who have snubbed the German embassy. Further names are garnered from waiters in cafes, servants in private homes, telephonists, barbers and the like.

The best hairdresser in Rome, who dressed the hair of the women of the Roman nobility, the Fascist ministers and the diplomatic corps, recently left Rome’s most chic hotel to resume his place as a colonel in the German Army. He must have quite a number of names to add to Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler’s list of Italians who ought to be taken off to concentration camps until Hitler’s victory is worldwide.

While they prepare the list and bide their time, the Germans have introduced a remarkably clever and un-Italian police rule. Any relative or friend who intervenes with the authorities on behalf of an Italian arrested by the Gestapo or OVRA automatically becomes an accomplice by that act.

Wholesale arrests due

Thus, even a father of a man whose only sin is Italian patriotism and dislike of German rule risks automatic arrest if he attempts to hire a lawyer or appeal to the authorities on behalf of his son. When the wholesale arrests begin, the Italians will not like either the Germans or their methods.

These arrests will begin in a moment when, if America intervenes, the Italians slowly will realize that ultimate German victory is problematic at best. The Italian public honestly had been persuaded that the British were a decadent nation represented by men like the late Neville Chamberlain and they still believe that America is money-mad, blind to German intentions, divided internally and represented by such men as Col. Charles A. Lindbergh and Senator Burton K. Wheeler, who have received enormous publicity, thanks to German control of propaganda.

The attitude of the Italians in the face of British decadence had been tempered somewhat by the reports of pilots who have fought with “Hurricanes,” naval officers who have matched gunnery with the Mediterranean fleet – once a name at which Italians scoffed – and finally by the simple peasant who has heard about the arrival of British parachute jumpers.

Parachutists scare Italians

People beyond the frontiers of Italy scarcely can imagine the effect on Italian nerves of reports that the English were dropping down from the skies. Attempted British destruction of the aqueduct that supplies two southern provinces with water was badly botched so that the supply ran again after two and a half days, but the effect from the point of view of propaganda far exceeded that brief interruption.

The attitude, moreover, of captured British parachutists is known to Italians and impressed them. The volunteers are all bull-necked Englishmen, far from decadent. In one prison camp, they already have dug their way out twice only to be recaptured in each instance by sheer inadvertence. When asked what they would have done had they got away from the camp safely, these men answered with a contempt that the Italian himself admires. They said:

We would have stolen a warship from the Royal Italian Navy.

Most amusing of all, these British parachute jumpers speak both Italian and German. One group I know of made the villagers carry their dynamite to the bridge that they successfully destroyed. Their contempt for the Italian and their attitude of cuffing him into obedience is perfectly understood in the peninsula. The Italians have revised their attitude in face of Anglo-Saxons. Such men win the respect even of Fascists.

Call Americans cowards

Confidence in Fascist propaganda is already gone and some successful action by Americans, however small, would destroy that propaganda lie with all the rest. Once the Italians believe that Germany can be defeated, the country will be ready, in my opinion, for revolution.

The Italians are too shrewd to believe that Britain alone can withstand the hammer blows of Hitler. And they have been persuaded by propaganda that Americans are cowards. Once this is exploded, Italy will prove a foothold for any troops who can attempt the defeat of Nazi Germany.