On this day in 1943, Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy, is voted out of power by his own Grand Council and arrested upon leaving a meeting with King Vittorio Emanuele, who tells Il Duce that the war is lost. Mussolini responded to it all with an uncharacteristic meekness.
During the evening of July 24 and the early hours of the 25th, the Grand Council of the fascist government met to discuss the immediate future of Italy. While all in attendance were jittery about countermanding their leader, Mussolini was sick, tired, and overwhelmed by the military reverses suffered by the Italian military. He seemed to be looking for a way out of power. One of the more reasonable within the Council, Dino Grandi, argued that the dictatorship had brought Italy to the brink of military disaster, elevated incompetents to levels of power, and alienated large portions of the population. He proposed a vote to transfer some of the leader’s power to the king. The motion was passed, with Mussolini barely reacting. While some extremists balked, and would later try to convince Mussolini to have those who voted with Grandi arrested, Il Duce was simply paralyzed, unable to choose any course of action.
Shortly after the Grand Council vote, Mussolini, groggy and unshaven, kept his routine 20-minute meeting with the king, during which he normally updated Victor Emanuele on the current state of affairs. This morning, the king informed Mussolini that General Pietro Badoglio would assume the powers of prime minister and that the war was all but lost for the Italians. Mussolini offered no objection. Upon leaving the meeting, he was arrested by the police, who had been secretly planning a pretext to remove the leader for quite some time. They now had the Council vote of “no confidence” as their formal rationale. Assured of his personal safety, Mussolini acquiesced to this too, as he had to everything else leading up to this pitiful denouement. When news of Mussolini’s arrest was made public, relief seemed to be the prevailing mood. There was no attempt by fellow fascists to rescue him from the penal settlement on the island of Ponza to which he was committed. The only remaining question was whether Italy would continue to fight alongside its German allies or surrender to the Allies.