Duce may become Hitler’s puppet
London, England (UP) –
Germany boasted today that former Premier Benito Mussolini had been snatched from the new Italian government and Allied quarters speculated that if true, this might mean the beginning of an attempt by Adolf Hitler to pump life into the discredited Fascist Party and revive the Axis partnership.
Nazi reports of Mussolini’s release coincided with word from various sources that Italians still under German domination were striking and resisting Hitlerian aggression to the best of their ability.
It was believed that Hitler was trying desperately to maintain the fiction of Fascism and Nazism as a fighting team, with Mussolini still the leader of Italians opposed to the Allies.
Vittorio in Germany
One view was that Hitler had gone to great lengths to retrieve Mussolini in the fear that Il Duce’s depressed and failing condition would prompt him to reveal many embarrassing political and military facts should he fall into Allied hands.
A Swiss report that Mussolini had been “rescued” by German paratroopers from Palermo, Sicily, was discounted here. It was authoritatively said that he had never been in Allied hands.
The Nazi-controlled Hilversum Radio in Holland reported that Mussolini’s son, Vittorio, had also arrived in Germany, U.S. government monitors said. It was reported that Vittorio is Hitler’s choice to succeed his father if anything happens to Il Duce.
The French newspaper Dépêche Algérienne at Algiers said that King Victor Emmanuel and Premier Marshal Pietro Badoglio were in Sicily, but this was not confirmed by any other source. They also had been reported in southern Italy.
Outbreaks are reported
The Dakar radio said that there had been fresh outbreaks involving Italians and German troops in the Turin and Naples areas and quoted “neutral” observers as saying that the internal situation in Italy was rapidly approaching a state of civil war.
The Swiss radio, recorded by the Exchange Telegraph Agency, stated that the Nazis were in control of northern Italy down to a line running between La Spezia to Ravenna. The province of Tuscany and Abruzzi e Molise, south of this line, were said to be controlled by the Italians.
The Swiss reports said that the Germans had occupied Como last night. The Zürich correspondent of Exchange Telegraph said that several hundred Nazi Gestapo agents had arrived at Milan and Turin to round up leaders of five political parties and of trade unions for deportation to Germany. Serious communist outbreaks were reported in those cities.
The Moscow radio reported peace demonstrations in Romania and Hungary when news of Italy’s capitulation was received, according to CBS, and the British radio said there had been bitter fighting between Italians and Germans at Durazzo, Albania.
Increasing numbers of workers in Milan, Turin and Genoa, as well as Rome itself, have taken to the surrounding hills after striking in defiance of a Nazi threat of execution for all strikers, saboteurs, political demonstrators and persons attempting to communicate with Badoglio or the Allies.
Marshal Albert Kesselring, German commander for central and southern Italy, announced in a Rome broadcast that he had declared martial law in areas under his jurisdiction.
43 ships escape
The number of Italian warships revealed to have escaped the Germans after Italy’s capitulation rose to 43 following the arrival at Malta of three more destroyers and an undetermined number of submarines from among her fleet of 60.
Madrid reports said four of the 10 Italian naval units that reached the Spanish Balearic Islands had scuttled themselves last night, but there was no immediate explanation of the reason.
A Berne dispatch said Mussolini was believed to have been taken to Fuschl Castle near Salzburg, the residence of Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. London sources theorized that the erstwhile Il Duce was en route to Adolf Hitler’s Berchtesgaden for a conference, then would appear in German-occupied northern Italy as head of a new Fascist government.
A special communiqué from Adolf Hitler’s headquarters yesterday reported that German paratroopers, along with Gestapo agents and elite Stormtroopers, “carried out the action which freed Il Duce, who had been imprisoned by a traitorous clique.”
The communiqué said:
The intended delivering up of Il Duce to the Anglo-Americans by the Badoglio government thus had been foiled.
There was no indication of the place from which Mussolini was “liberated” by the Germans. A broadcast by the unreliable Nazi Paris radio said the Germans seized Mussolini at a small village near Palermo on the north coast of Sicily and flew him to the Italian mainland. However, Palermo is under Anglo-American occupation troops and Hitler’s communiqué specifically implied that Mussolini had been in Italian hands.
There was still no Italian or Allied confirmation that Mussolini had escaped, but a communiqué was expected soon on the subject. Mussolini is high on the list of war criminals wanted by the Allies for post-war trial.
More authentic reports indicated that he was interned up until the time of the Italian surrender at a villa near Rome. One Swiss report said that German troops who seized Rome found Mussolini at Fort Braschi and released him.
John Steinbeck, author of Grapes of Wrath, arrived in this sector with a story that Benito Mussolini is in custody of Italian Army officers, but dreams and talks of returning to power.
Mr. Steinbeck accompanied an Anglo-American task force which recently took Ventotene Island, in the Tyrrhenian Sea less than 45 miles from Naples, and said he missed Mussolini there by less than 12 hours.
Mr. Steinbeck said it seemed certain that Mussolini had been living on the nearby island of Ponza, 25 miles west and slightly north of Ventotene since the Fascist regime collapsed and Marshal Pietro Badoglio took over leadership of Italy. Mussolini came to Ventotene for one day, he said.
Mr. Steinbeck said:
I talked with a number of inhabitants of Ponza who were spending some days in Ventotene. They are always going back and forth. Some of them knew Musso in the old days and were convinced he is completely nuts now. They said Il Duce assured them he would return to power in Italy and reestablish a Fascist regime, comparing himself at present with Napoleon at the time Napoleon was exiled in Elba for 100 days.
The islanders thought Mussolini acted or pretended to act as though his guards – Italian Army officers – were merely giving him protection rather than holding him in custody. According to some of them, Mussolini’s gesticulations were more jerky and intense than ever, which they appeared to interpret as symptomatic of a jangled nervous system.
19 reach Malta
Altogether, 19 Italian warships have reached Malta, including four battleships, seven cruisers and eight destroyers. In addition, 14 submarines, including some still at sea, have been “accounted for,” a naval spokesman at Allied headquarters in North Africa said.
All seven Italian battleships have now been accounted for. Four put in at Malta, the 25,000-ton RN Impero still under construction at an Italian shipyard, another battleship is still lying damaged at Taranto from a British torpedo attack, and the 35,000-ton RN Roma was sunk by German bombers while trying to escape from Spezia to Malta.
Ships in good question
A Madrid dispatch identified the warships which put into the Spanish Balearic Islands as one battleship, seven destroyers and two submarines, but it was possible that the “battleship” may have been a cruiser.
A report from Malta said all the Italian warships reaching there were in excellent condition and ready for almost immediate battle service. It was anticipated they would leave soon for other Allied ports for minor battle adjustments.