The Fall of Mussolini – Closing the Ring by Winston Churchill

Closing the Ring (1952)

Chapter III

Mussolini now had to bear the brunt of the military disasters into which he had, after so many years of rule, led his country. He had exercised almost absolute control and could not cast the burden on the Monarchy, Parliamentary institutions, the Fascist Party, or the General Staff. All fell on him. Now that the feeling that the war was lost spread throughout well-informed circles in Italy the blame fell upon the man who had so imperiously thrust the nation on to the wrong and the losing side. These convictions formed and spread widely during the early months of 1943. The lonely dictator sat at the summit of power, while military defeat and Italian slaughter in Russia, Tunis, and Sicily were the evident prelude to direct invasion.

In vain he made changes among the politicians and generals. In February General Ambrosio had succeeded Cavallero as Chief of the Italian General Staff. Ambrosio, together with the Duke of Acquarone, the Minister of Court, were personal advisers of the King and had the confidence of the Royal circle. For months they had been hoping to overthrow the Duce and put an end to the Fascist regime. But Mussolini still dwelt in the European scene as if he were a principal factor. He was affronted when his new military chief proposed the immediate withdrawal of the Italian divisions from the Balkans. He regarded these forces as the counterpoise to German predominance in Europe. He did not realise that defeats abroad and internal demoralisation had robbed him of his status as Hitler’s ally. He cherished the illusion of power and consequence when the reality had gone. Thus he resisted Ambrosio’s formidable request. So durable however were the impression of his authority and the fear of his personal action in extremity that there was prolonged hesitation throughout all the forces of Italian society about how to oust him. Who would “bell the cat”? Thus the spring had passed with invasion by a mighty foe, possessing superior power by land, sea, and air, drawing ever nearer.

During July the climax came. Since February the taciturn, cautious-minded, constitutional King had been in contact with Marshal Badoglio, who had been dismissed after the Greek disasters in 1940. He found in him at length a figure to whom he might entrust the conduct of the State. A definite plan was made. It was resolved that Mussolini should be arrested on July 26, and General Ambrosio agreed to find the agents and create the situation for this stroke. The General was aided unwittingly by elements in the Fascist Old Guard, who sought a new revival of the party, by which, in many cases, they would not be the losers. They saw in the summoning of the highest party organ, the Fascist Grand Council, which had not met since 1939, the means of confronting the Duce with an ultimatum. On July 13 they called on Mussolini and induced him to convene a formal session of the Council on July 24. The two movements appear to have been separate and independent, but their close coincidence in date is significant.

We had at the time no definite knowledge of the inner stresses of Italian politics, but reports of growing demoralisation and unrest had for some time reached Allied headquarters. Strikes and rioting in the Northern Italian cities had followed on our bombing raids. We knew the food situation in Italy had worsened as rail traffic was disrupted. It seemed that the time had come to launch an appeal to the Italian people upon the Sicily landing. President Roosevelt had proposed a proclamation which seemed to us to assume for the United States a position which was not fair to the British share in the Italian war. On July 5 I cabled him as follows:

The War Cabinet had contemplated a joint declaration to the Italian people in the name of both our countries. Whereas “Torch” was by agreement planned as an American expedition with a British contingent and I have acted as your lieutenant throughout, we consider “Husky” [Sicily] and post-“Husky” as joint undertakings in which we are equal partners. This would certainly seem justified by the proportion of troops, naval forces, shipping, and aircraft involved. I fully accept your dictum that “there should be no senior partner.”

2. However, since we have been longer in quarrel or war with Italy than you, and also since a document of this character written by one man in its integrity is better than a joint production, we are ready that you should speak at this juncture to the Italian people on behalf of both our countries and in the interests of the common cause.

3. There are a few amendments which I venture to suggest to you in all the frankness of our friendship. They are of importance, because without them untoward reactions might grow among the British people and their forces that their contribution had not received equal or sufficient recognition. In fact, they are only mentioned once, and all else is either United States or United Nations.

4. The amendments are as follows:
(a) After the words “against whom on December 11, 1941, your Government declared war” insert, “I speak also on behalf of His Britannic Majesty’s Government and in their name.”

(b) After the words “under the command of General Eisenhower” insert, “and his Deputy General Alexander.”

(c) The end of the sentence “The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United Nations” should read, “of the United States and Great Britain. Italy’s sea-coasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean.” (I am sure you will see the justice of this, as after all it is the United States and Great Britain who are doing virtually the whole thing.)

5. Finally, we think that the message to the Italian people would seem to come better after an initial success in Sicily has been achieved, because a repulse would make it somewhat inappropriate. It would anyhow be lost to the world in the cannonade, and will hardly get through to the Axis fighting troops in time to influence the crunch.

Roosevelt recognised the justice of our case, and I sent him a revised draft which we felt would be appropriate.

This is a message to the Italian people from the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

At this moment the combined armed forces of the United States and Great Britain, under the command of General Eisenhower and his Deputy General Alexander, are carrying the war deep into the territory of your country. This is the direct consequence of the shameful leadership to which you have been subjected by Mussolini and his Fascist regime. Mussolini carried you into this war as the satellite of a brutal destroyer of peoples and liberties. Mussolini plunged you into a war which he thought Hitler had already won. In spite of Italy’s great vulnerability to attack by air and sea your Fascist leaders sent your sons, your ships, your air forces, to distant battlefields to aid Germany in her attempt to conquer England, Russia, and the world. This association with the designs of Nazi-controlled Germany was unworthy of Italy’s ancient traditions of freedom and culture – traditions to which the peoples of America and Great Britain owe so much. Your soldiers have fought, not in the interests of Italy, but for Nazi Germany. They have fought courageously, but they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Germans on the Russian front and on every battlefield in Africa from El Alamein to Cape Bon.

To-day Germany’s hopes for world conquest have been blasted on all fronts. The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United States and Great Britain, Italy’s sea-coasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean. The forces now opposed to you are pledged to destroy the power of Nazi Germany, which has ruthlessly been used to inflict slavery, destruction, and death on all those who refuse to recognise the Germans as the master race.

The sole hope for Italy’s survival lies in honourable capitulation to the overwhelming power of the military forces of the United Nations. If you continue to tolerate the Fascist regime, which serves the evil power of the Nazis, you must suffer the consequences of your own choice. We take no satisfaction in invading Italian soil and bringing the tragic devastation of war home to the Italian people; but we are determined to destroy the false leaders and their doctrines which have brought Italy to her present position. Every moment that you resist the combined forces of the United Nations – every drop of blood that you sacrifice – can serve only one purpose: to give the Fascist and Nazi leaders a little more time to escape from the inevitable consequences of their own crimes. All your interests and all your traditions have been betrayed by Germany and your own false and corrupt leaders; it is only by disavowing both that a reconstituted Italy can hope to occupy a respected place in the family of European nations.

The time has now come for you, the Italian people, to consult your own self-respect and your own interests and your own desire for a restoration of national dignity, security, and peace. The time has come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler – or live for Italy, and for civilisation.


Allied aircraft dropped leaflets of this proclamation over Rome and other Italian cities on July 17.

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Two days later the Duce, accompanied by General Ambrosio, left by air to meet Hitler at a villa at Feltre, near Rimini. “There was a most beautiful cool and shady park,” writes Mussolini in his memoirs, “and a labyrinthine building which some people found almost uncanny. It was like a crossword puzzle frozen into a house.” All preparations had been made to entertain the Fuehrer for at least two days, but he left the same afternoon. “The meeting,” says Mussolini, “was, as usual, cordial, but the entourage and the attitude of the higher Air Force officers and of the troops was chilly.” (Mussolini, Memoirs, 1942-43 [English edition], p. 50)

The Fuehrer held forth lengthily upon the need for a supreme effort. The new secret weapons, he said, would be ready for use against England by the winter. Italy must be defended, “so that Sicily may become for the enemy what Stalingrad was for us.” (Rizzoli, Hitler e Mussolini: Letters e Documenti, p. 173) The Italians must produce both the man-power and the organisation. Germany could not provide the reinforcements and equipment asked for by Italy owing to the pressure on the Russian front.

Ambrosio urged his chief to tell Hitler plainly that Italy could not continue in the war. It is not clear what advantage would have come from this, but the fact that Mussolini seemed almost dumbstruck finally decided Ambrosio and the other Italian generals present that no further leadership could be expected from him.

In the midst of Hitler’s discourse on the situation an agitated Italian official entered the room with the news, “At this moment Rome is undergoing a violent enemy air bombardment.” Apart from a promise of further German reinforcements for Sicily, Mussolini returned to Rome without anything to show. As he approached he flew into a huge black cloud of smoke rising from hundreds of wagons on fire in the Littorio railway station. He had an audience of the King, whom he found “frowning and nervous.” “A tense situation,” said the King. “We cannot go on much longer. Sicily has gone west now. The Germans will double-cross us. The discipline of the troops has broken down…” Mussolini answered, according to the records, that he hoped to disengage Italy from the Axis alliance by September 15. The date shows how far he was out of contact with reality.

The chief actor in the final drama now appeared on the scene. Dino Grandi, veteran Fascist, former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Britain, a man of strong personal determination, who had hated the Italian declaration of war upon Britain, but had hitherto submitted to the force of events, arrived in Rome to take the lead at the meeting of the Grand Council. He called on his old leader on July 22, and told him brutally that he intended to propose the formation of a National Government and the restoration to the King of the supreme command of the armed forces.

At 5 p.m. on the 24th the Grand Council met. Care appears to have been taken by the Chief of Police that they should not be disturbed by violence. Mussolini’s musketeers, his personal bodyguard, were relieved of their duty to guard the Palazzo Venezia, which was also filled with armed police. The Duce unfolded his case, and the Council, who were all dressed in their black Fascist uniform, took up the discussion. Mussolini ended:

War is always a party war – a war of the party which desires it; it is always one man’s war – the war of the man who declared it. If to-day this is called Mussolini’s war, the war in 1859 could have been called Cavour’s war. This is the moment to tighten the reins and assume the necessary responsibility. I shall have no difficulty in replacing men, in turning the screw, in bringing forces to bear not yet engaged, in the name of our country, whose territorial integrity is to-day being violated.

Grandi then moved a resolution calling upon the Crown to assume more power and upon the King to emerge from obscurity and assume his responsibilities. He delivered what Mussolini describes as “a violent philippic,” “the speech of a man who was at last giving vent to a long-cherished rancour.” The contacts between members, of the Grand Council and the Court became evident. Mussolini’s son-in-law, Ciano, supported Grandi. Everyone present was now conscious that a political convulsion impended. The debate continued till midnight, when Scorza, secretary of the Fascist Party, proposed adjourning till next day. But Grandi leaped to his feet, shouting, “No, I am against the proposal. We have started this business and we must finish it this very night!” It was after two o’clock in the morning when the voting took place. “The position of each member of the Grand Council,” writes Mussolini, “could be discerned even before the voting. There was a group of traitors who had already negotiated with the Crown, a group of accomplices, and a group of uninformed who probably did not realise the seriousness of the vote, but they voted just the same.” Nineteen replied “Yes” to Grandi’s motion and seven “No.” Two abstained. Mussolini rose, “You have provoked a crisis of the regime. So much the worse. The session is closed.” The party secretary was about to give the salute to the Duce when Mussolini checked him with a gesture, saying, “No, you are excused.” They all went away in silence. None slept at home.

Meanwhile the arrest of Mussolini was being quietly arranged. The Duke of Acquarone, the Court Minister, sent instructions to Ambrosio, whose deputies and trusted agents in the police and the Carabinieri acted forthwith. The key telephone exchanges, the police headquarters, and the offices of the Ministry of the Interior were quietly and unobtrusively taken over. A small force of military police was posted out of sight near the Royal villa.

Mussolini spent the morning of Sunday, July 25, in his office, and visited some quarters in Rome which had suffered by bombing. He asked to see the King, and was granted an audience at five o’clock.

I thought the King would withdraw his delegation of authority of June 10, 1940, concerning the command of the armed forces, a command which I had for some time past been thinking of relinquishing. I entered the villa therefore with a mind completely free from any forebodings, in a state which, looking back on it, might really be called utterly unsuspecting.

On reaching the Royal abode he noticed that there were everywhere reinforcements of Carabinieri, The King, in Marshal’s uniform, stood in the doorway. The two men entered the drawing-room. The King said:

My dear Duce, it’s no longer any good. Italy has gone to bits. Army morale is at rock-bottom. The soldiers don’t want to fight any more… The Grand Council’s vote is terrific – nineteen votes for Grandi’s motion, and among them four holders of the Order of the Annunciation! … At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy. You can no longer count on more than one friend. You have one friend left, and I am he. That is why I tell you that you need have no fears for your personal safety, for which I will ensure protection. I have been thinking that the man for the job now is Marshal Badoglio…

Mussolini replied:

You are taking an extremely grave decision. A crisis at this moment would mean making the people think that peace was in sight, once the man who declared war had been dismissed. The blow to the Army’s morale would be serious. The crisis would be considered as a triumph for the Churchill-Stalin set-up, especially for Stalin. I realise the people’s hatred. I had no difficulty in recognising it last night in the midst of the Grand Council. One can’t govern for such a long time and impose so many sacrifices without provoking resentments. In any case, I wish good luck to the man who takes the situation in hand.

The King accompanied Mussolini to the door. Mussolini says:

His face was livid and he looked smaller than ever, almost dwarfish. He shook my hand and went in again. I descended the few steps and went towards my car. Suddenly a Carabinieri captain stopped me and said, “His Majesty has charged me with the protection of your person.” I was continuing towards my car when the captain said to me, pointing to a motor-ambulance standing near by, “No. We must get in there.” I got into the ambulance, together with my secretary. A lieutenant, three Carabinieri, and two police agents in plain clothes got in as well as the captain, and placed themselves by the door armed with machine-guns. When the door was closed the ambulance drove off at top speed. I still thought that all this was being done, as the King had said, in order to protect my person.

Later that afternoon Badoglio was charged by the King to form a new Cabinet of Service chiefs and civil servants, and in the evening the Marshal broadcast the news to the world. Two days later the Duce was taken on Marshal Badoglio’s order to be interned on the island of Ponza.

Thus ended Mussolini’s twenty-one years’ dictatorship in Italy, during which he had raised the Italian people fom the Bolshevism into which they might have sunk in 1919 to a position in Europe such as Italy had never held before. A new impulse had been given to the national life. The Italian Empire in North Africa was built. Many important public works in Italy were completed. In 1935 the Duce had by his will-power overcome the League of Nations – “Fifty nations led by one” – and was able to complete his conquest of Abyssinia. His regime was far too costly for the Italian people to bear, but there is no doubt that it appealed during its period of success to very great numbers of Italians. He was, as I had addressed him at the time of the fall of France, “the Italian lawgiver.” The alternative to his rule might well have been a Communist Italy, which would have brought perils and misfortunes of a different character both upon the Italian people and Europe, His fatal mistake was the declaration of war on France and Great Britain following Hitler’s victories in June 1940. Had he not done this he could well have maintained Italy in a balancing position, courted and rewarded by both sides and deriving an unusual wealth and prosperity from the struggles of other countries. Even when the issue of the war became certain Mussolini would have been welcomed by the Allies. He had much to give to shorten its course. He could have timed his moment to declare war on Hitler with art and care. Instead he took the wrong turning. He never understood the strength of Britain, nor the long-enduring qualities of Island resistance and sea-power. Thus he marched to ruin. His great roads will remain a monument to his personal power and long reign.

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At this time Hitler made a crowning error in strategy and war direction. The defection of Italy, the victorious advance of Russia, and the evident preparations for a cross-Channel attack by Britain and the United States should have led him to concentrate and develop the most powerful German army as a central reserve. In this way only could he use the high qualities of the German command and fighting troops, and at the same time take full advantage of the central position which he occupied, with its interior lines and remarkable communications. As General von Thoma said while a prisoner of war in our charge, “Our only chance is to create a situation where we can use the Army.” Hitler, as I have pointed out in an earlier volume, had in fact made a spider’s web and forgotten the spider. He tried to hold everything he had won. Enormous forces were squandered in the Balkans and in Italy which could play no part in the main decisions. A central reserve of thirty or forty divisions of the highest quality and mobility would have enabled him to strike at any one of his opponents advancing upon him and fight a major battle with good prospects of success. He could, for instance, have met the British and Americans at the fortieth or fiftieth day after their landing in Normandy a year later with fresh and greatly superior forces. There was no need to consume his strength in Italy and the Balkans, and the fact that he was induced to do so must be taken as the waste of his last opportunity.

Knowing that these choices were open to him, I wished also to have the options of pressing right-handed in Italy or left-handed across the Channel, or both. The wrong dispositions which he made enabled us to undertake the main direct assault under conditions which offered good prospects and achieved success.

Hitler had returned from the Feltre meeting convinced that Italy could only be kept in the war by purges in the Fascist Party and increasing pressure by the Germans on the Fascist leaders. Mussolini’s sixtieth birthday fell on July 29, and Goering was chosen to pay him an official visit on this occasion. But during the course of July 25 alarming reports from Rome began to come in to Hitler’s headquarters. By the evening it was clear that Mussolini had resigned or had been removed, and that Badoglio had been nominated by the King as his successor. It was finally decided that any major operation against the new Italian Government would require withdrawals of more divisions than could be spared from the Eastern Front in the event of the expected Russian offensive. Plans were made to rescue Mussolini, to occupy Rome, and to support Italian Fascism wherever possible. If Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies, further plans were drawn up for seizing the Italian Fleet and occupying key positions throughout Italy, and for overawing Italian garrisons in the Balkans and in the Aegean.

Hitler told his advisers on July 26:

We must act. Otherwise the Anglo-Saxons will steal a march on us by occupying the airports. The Fascist Party is at present only stunned, and will recover behind our lines. The Fascist Party is the only one that has the will to fight on our side. We must therefore restore it. All reasons advocating further delays are wrong; thereby we run the danger of losing Italy to the Anglo-Saxons. These are matters which a soldier cannot comprehend. Only a man with political insight can see his way clear.

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We had long pondered over the consequences of an Italian collapse. Eight months before I had written:

Position of Italy

Note for the War Cabinet by the Prime Minister

November 25, 1942

It is in my opinion premature to assume that no internal convulsion in Italy could produce a Government which would make a separate peace. If we increase the severity of our pressure upon Italy… the desire, and indeed the imperative need, of getting out of the war will come home to all the Italians, including the rank and file of the Fascist Party. Should Italy feel unable to endure the continued attacks which will be made upon her from the air, and presently, I trust, by amphibious operations, the Italian people will have to choose between, on the one hand, setting up a Government under someone like Grandi to sue for a separate peace, or, on the other, submitting to a German occupation, which would merely aggravate the severity of the war.

2. I do not share the view that it is in our interest that the Germans should occupy and take over Italy. We may not be able to prevent it. It is still my hope that the Italians themselves will prevent it, and we should certainly do what we can to further this move. If there were a revolution in Italy and an Armistice Government came into power it is at least arguable that the German interests would be as well served by standing on the Brenner as by undertaking the detailed defence of Italy against the wishes of its people, and possibly of a Provisional Government.

3. When a nation is thoroughly beaten in war it does all sorts of things which no one would imagine beforehand. The sudden, sullen, universal, simultaneous way in which Bulgaria – Government, Army, and people alike – cut out in 1918 remains in my memory. Without caring to make any arrangements for their future or for their safety, the troops simply marched out of the lines and dispersed to their homes, and King Ferdinand fled. A Government headed by a peasant leader remained to await the judgment of the victors.

4. Therefore I would not rule out the possibilities of a sudden peace demand being made by Italy, and I agree with the United States policy of trying to separate the Italian people from their Government, The fall of Mussolini, even though precautions may have been taken against it beforehand, might well have a decisive effect upon Italian opinion. The Fascist chapter would be closed. One tale would be finished and another would begin. I consider it would be well to drop leaflets over all Italian towns that are bombed, on the theme, “One man alone is the cause of your sufferings – Mussolini.”

5. It is to be observed that we are under no obligations to offer any terms to the vanquished, should they sue for them. That decision must be taken when and if we are offered their surrender, and in the meanwhile we certainly ought not to make promises, as some of the American propaganda leaflets have seemed to do.

The news from Rome now raised these issues, and prompted me to telegraph to the President.

Former Naval Person to President Roosevelt

26 July 43

Changes announced in Italy probably portend peace proposals. Let us consult together so as to take joint action. The present stage may only be transition. But anyhow Hitler will feel very lonely when Mussolini is down and out. No one can be quite sure this may not go further.

The President’s message to me crossed this telegram.

President Roosevelt to Prime Minister

26 July 43

By coincidence I was again at Shangri-La this afternoon when the news from Rome came, but this time it seems to be true. If any overtures come we must be certain of the use of all Italian territory and transportation against the Germans in the north and against the whole Balkan peninsula, as well as use of airfields of all kinds. It is my thought that we should come as close as possible to unconditional surrender, followed by good treatment of the Italian populace. But I think also that the Head Devil should be surrendered, together with his chief partners in crime. In no event should our officers in the field fix on any general terms without your approval and mine. Let me have your thoughts.

The results of our joint action would dominate the future course of the war. I spent part of the same day in setting down on paper my reactions to the Italian drama. In the afternoon the War Cabinet met to discuss the new situation, and to consider the draft which I had composed. That evening I sent a copy to the President for his comments.

Former Naval Person to President Roosevelt

26 July 43

I send you my thoughts in the form in which I submitted them to the War Cabinet, obtaining their full approval.

2. I don’t think myself that we should be too particular in dealing with any non-Fascist Government, even if it is not all we should like. Now Mussolini is gone I would deal with any non-Fascist Italian Government which can deliver the goods. The goods are set out in my memo, herewith. My colleagues also agreed with this.

Thoughts on the Fall of Mussolini by the Prime Minister

It seems highly probable that the fall of Mussolini will involve the overthrow of the Fascist regime, and that the new Government of the King and Badoglio will seek to negotiate a separate arrangement with the Allies for an armistice. Should this prove to be the case it will be necessary for us to make up our minds first of all upon what we want, and secondly upon the measures and conditions required to gain it for us.

2. At this moment above all others our thoughts must be concentrated upon the supreme aim, namely, the destruction of Hitler, Hitlerism, and Nazi Germany. Every military advantage arising out of the surrender of Italy, should that occur, must be sought for this purpose.

3. The first of these is, in the President’s words, “the use of all Italian territory and transportation against the Germans in the north and against the whole Balkan peninsula, as well as use of airfields of all kinds.” This must include the surrender to our garrisons of Sardinia, the Dodecanese, and Corfu, as well as of all the naval and air bases on the Italian mainland as soon as they can be taken over.

4. Secondly, and of equal importance, the immediate surrender to the Allies of the Italian Fleet, or at least its effective demobilisation and paralysis, and the disarmament of the Italian air and ground forces to whatever extent we find needful and useful. The surrender of the Fleet will liberate powerful British naval forces for service in the Indian Ocean against Japan, and will be most agreeable to the United States.

5. Also, of equal consequence, the immediate withdrawal from, or surrender of, all Italian forces in Corsica, the Riviera, including Toulon, and the Balkan peninsula – to wit, in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece.

6. Another objective of the highest importance, about which there will be passionate feeling in this country, is the immediate liberation of all British prisoners of war in Italian hands, and the prevention, which can in the first instance only be by the Italians, of their being transported northwards to Germany. I regard it as a matter of honour and humanity to get our own flesh and blood back as soon as possible and spare them the measureless horrors of incarceration in Germany during the final stages of the war.

7. The fate of the German troops in Italy, and particularly of those south of Rome, will probably lead to fighting between the Germans and the Italian Army and population. We should demand their surrender, and that any Italian Government with whom we can reach a settlement shall do their utmost to procure this. It may be however that the German divisions will cut their way northwards in spite of anything that the Italian armed forces are capable of doing. We should provoke this conflict as much as possible, and should not hesitate to send troops and air support to assist the Italians in procuring the surrender of the Germans south of Rome.

8. When we see how this process goes we can take a further view about action to be taken north of Rome. We should however try to get possession of points on both the west coast and east coast railways of Italy as far north as we dare. And this is a time to dare.

9. In our struggle with Hitler and the German Army we cannot afford to deny ourselves any assistance that will kill Germans, The fury of the Italian population will now be turned against the German intruders, who have, as they will feel, brought all these miseries upon Italy and then come so scantily and grudgingly to her aid. We should stimulate this process in order that the new, liberated, anti-Fascist Italy shall afford us at the earliest moment a safe and friendly area on which we can base the whole forward air attack upon South and Central Germany.

10. This air attack is a new advantage of the first order, as it brings the whole of the Mediterranean air forces into action from a direction which turns the entire line of air defences in the West, and which furthermore exposes all those centres of war production which have been increasingly developed so as to escape air attack from Great Britain. It will become urgent in the highest degree to get agents, Commandos, and supplies by sea across the Adriatic into Greece, Albania, and Yugoslavia. It must be remembered that there are fifteen German divisions in the Balkan peninsula, of which ten are mobile. Nevertheless, once we have control of the Italian peninsula and of the Adriatic, and the Italian armies in the Balkans withdraw or lay down their arms, it is by no means unlikely that the Germans will be forced to withdraw northwards to the line of the Save and Danube, thus liberating Greece and other tortured countries.

11. We cannot yet measure the effects of Mussolini’s fall and of an Italian capitulation upon Bulgaria, Roumania, and Hungary. They may be profound. In connection with this situation the collapse of Italy should fix the moment for putting the strongest pressure on Turkey to act in accordance with the spirit of the Alliance, and in this Britain and the United States, acting jointly or severally, should if possible be joined or at least supported by Russia.

12. The surrender of, to quote the President, “the Head Devil, together with his chief partners in crime,” must be considered an eminent object, and one for which we should strive by all means in our power short of wrecking the immense prospects which have been outlined in earlier paragraphs. It may be however that these criminals will flee into Germany or escape into Switzerland. On the other hand, they may surrender themselves or be surrendered by the Italian Government. Should they fall into our hands, we ought now to decide, in consultation with the United States, and, after agreement with them, with the U.S.S.R., what treatment should be meted out to them. Some may prefer prompt execution without trial except for identification purposes. Others may prefer that they be kept in confinement till the end of the war in Europe and their fate decided together with that of other war criminals. Personally I am fairly indifferent on this matter, provided always that no solid military advantages are sacrificed for the sake of immediate vengeance.

“Your message,” replied the President to me on July 30, “expresses generally my thoughts of to-day on the prospects and methods of handling the Italian situation with which we are now confronted.” He suggested certain minor changes. These in no way altered the substance of the document, and were readily adjusted. “I have not had time to consult my colleagues,” I replied on the 31st, “but I have no doubt whatever that our joint draft as amended expresses in perfect harmony the minds of our two Governments on the broad policy to be pursued. It seems to be a case of ‘two hearts that beat as one’.”

My paper in a slightly amended form was placed before the War Cabinet on August 2, and approved by them as a draft joint directive from both Governments to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. I took it with me when I went to Quebec for a final discussion with the President. Its main interest however lies in showing our joint reactions to the news of Mussolini’s fall.

Complex problems now lay before us. We had to consider how to treat the new Italian Government. We had to expect the imminent collapse of Italy as an Axis partner, and to draft in detail the terms of surrender, bearing in mind not only the reactions in Italy itself, but also in Germany. We had to take into account the strategic implications of these events, to plan what to do in areas outside Italy, in the Aegean and in the Balkans, which were still held by Italian forces.

On July 27 the President sent me the draft of a broadcast for General Eisenhower to make to the Italian people. This had been approved by the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, and contained the following sentence:

Your men will return to their normal life and their productive avocations, and hundreds of thousands of Italian prisoners now in our hands will return to the countless Italian homes who long for them. The ancient liberties and traditions of your country will be restored.

I was not only concerned about the draft of this joint message, but about the fate of our prisoners of war in Italian hands.

Former Naval Person to President Roosevelt

28 July 43

There are 74,000 British prisoners in Italy, and there are also about 30,000 Yugoslavs and Greeks. We cannot agree to any promise to release “hundreds of thousands of Italian prisoners now in our hands” unless our men and Allied men are saved from the horrors of German captivity and restored to us.

2. Moreover, apart from Italian prisoners taken in Tunis and Sicily, we have at least a quarter of a million Italians captured by Wavell two years ago and parked about the world. We think it is too much to offer the return of such a large plurality of prisoners arising from earlier phases of the war, nor do we think it necessary. We are ready however to agree to all Italian prisoners taken in Tunis and taken or to be taken in Sicily being traded against the British and Allied prisoners mentioned above.

3. Accordingly we suggest that Eisenhower’s message at this point should read as follows:

“Your men will return to their normal life and to their productive avocations, and, provided all British and Allied prisoners now in your hands are restored safely to us and not taken away to Germany, the hundreds of thousands of Italian prisoners captured by us in Tunisia and Sicily will return to the countless Italian homes who long for them,” etc.

The following day I telegraphed to General Eisenhower:

Prime Minister to General Eisenhower {Algiers)

29 July 43

There are obvious dangers in trying to state armistice terms in an attractive, popular form to the enemy nation. It is far better that all should be cut and dried and that their Government should know our full demands and their maximum expectations. We are sending our alternative draft to your Government, and will no doubt reach agreement with them in plenty of time for any negotiations which you may have to conduct or which we shall be handling.

All our thoughts are now concentrated upon the great battle which Alexander is about to begin under your supreme direction in Eastern Sicily. The destruction of the three German divisions now facing the Fifteenth Army Group, happening at this time of all others, may well produce decisive effects in every quarter.

And to the President:

Former Naval Person to President Roosevelt

29 July 43

I was so glad to hear your voice again [on the telephone] and that you were in such good spirits.

2. I have told Eisenhower that we fully agree to his releasing the proclamation with our amendment inserted about British and Allied prisoners.

3. Discarding etiquette, I have sent a direct message to the King of Italy through Switzerland emphasising our vehement and savage interest in this matter. I am most grateful for your promise to put the screw on through the Pope or any other convenient channel. If the King and Badoglio allow our prisoners and key men to be carried off by the Huns without doing their utmost to stop it, by which I mean using physical force, the feeling here would be such that no negotiations with that Government would stand a chance in public opinion.

4. Armistice Terms. The War Cabinet are quite clear that we ought not to broadcast armistice terms to the enemy. It is for their responsible Government to ask formally for an armistice on the basis of our principle of unconditional surrender. Then I suppose envoys would be appointed and a rendezvous fixed. Our version is already in your hands. As you will see, it follows the main lines of Eisenhower’s draft, but is more precise and is cast in a form suited to discussion between plenipotentiaries rather than a popular appeal. There are great dangers in trying to dish this sort of dose up with jam for the patient.

5. We also think that the terms should cover civil as well as military requirements, and that it would be much better for them to be settled by envoys appointed by our two Governments than by the general commanding in the field. He can of course deal with any proposals coming from the troops on his immediate front for a local surrender.

6. Finally, all our thoughts are concentrated upon the great battle about to be fought by the British Eighth and United States Seventh Armies against the 65,000 Germans cornered in the Eastern Sicilian tip. The destruction of these men could not come at a better time to influence events, not only in Italy but throughout the world. It is grand to think of our soldiers advancing side by side like brothers and with good prospects of victory ahead.

The President agreed with us that Eisenhower should not broadcast terms for an armistice with the enemy, but urged that in order to avoid unnecessary and possibly costly military action against Italy he should be authorised to state conditions when and if the Italian Government asked him for them. I did not see why such a proposal should necessarily be made to Eisenhower, none of whose forces were in contact with the enemy except in Sicily, and then only with the Germans. It seemed to me more likely that the Italian Government would negotiate through the Vatican, the Turks, or the Swiss. I agreed however that if Eisenhower were suddenly approached by an envoy he should have precise terms, embodying the principle of unconditional surrender, which he could immediately use as the basis for granting an armistice, and after much discussion the following articles were agreed:

1. Immediate cessation of all hostile activity by the Italian armed forces.

2. Italy will use her best endeavours to deny to the Germans facilities that might be used against the United Nations.

3. All prisoners or internees of the United Nations to be immediately turned over to the Allied Commander-in-Chief, and none of these may from the beginning of these negotiations be evacuated to Germany,

4. Immediate transfer of the Italian Fleet and Italian aircraft to such points as may be designated by the Allied Commander-in-Chief, with details of disarmament to be prescribed by him.

5. Agreement that Italian merchant shipping may be requisitioned by the Allied Commander-in-Chief to meet the needs of his military-naval programme.

6. Immediate surrender of Corsica and of all Italian territory, both islands and mainland, to the Allies, for such use as operational bases and other purposes as the Allies may see fit.

7. Immediate guarantee of the free use by the Allies of all airfields and naval ports in Italian territory, regardless of the rate of evacuation of the Italian territory by the German forces. These ports and fields to be protected by Italian armed forces until this function is taken over by the Allies.

8. Immediate withdrawal to Italy of Italian armed forces from all participation in the current war, from whatever areas in which they may now be engaged.

9. Guarantee by the Italian Government that if necessary it will employ all its available armed forces to ensure prompt and exact compliance with all the provisions of this armistice.

10. The Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces reserves to himself the right to take any measure which in his opinion may be necessary for the protection of the interests of the Allied forces or for the prosecution of the war, and the Italian Government binds itself to take such administrative or other action as the Commander-in-Chief may require, and in particular the Commander-in-Chief will establish Allied military government over such parts of Italian territory as he may deem necessary in the military interests of the Allied nations.

11. The Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces will have a full right to impose measures of disarmament, demobilisation, and demilitarisation.

On July 31 I telegraphed to the President:

…So much for the immediate emergency. We hope however that you will also urgently have our Instrument of Surrender examined, so that we reach full agreement on it. There are several points in this not dealt with in the emergency terms, and it is couched in a precise, formal, and legal vein, on which much thought has been bestowed here. We are rather puzzled to know why you never refer to this document, as it seems to us to be in fact only a more careful and comprehensive version of the emergency armistice terms. We should be very grateful if you would let us know how you feel about it. We ought certainly to have it, or something like it, ready as soon as possible.

The President agreed, but said that he needed further advice from the American Chiefs of Staff and the State Department. We thought it was essential that any statement made to the Italian people should be agreed formally both by the Americans and ourselves and not merely put out by Allied Headquarters at Algiers, and anyhow it was very much better for the generals to go on with the military operations and to keep the armistice terms till they were asked for.

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Mussolini :


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