On this day in 1943, Benito Mussolini, deposed dictator of Italy, fashions a new fascist republic–by the leave of his new German masters–which he “rules” from his headquarters in northern Italy.
In July 1943, after a Grand Council vote of “no confidence,” Mussolini was thrust from power and quickly placed under house arrest. The Italian masses, who had so enthusiastically embraced him for his promises of a new Italian “empire,” now despised him for the humiliating defeat they had suffered during the war. But Mussolini still had one fan–Adolf Hitler.
Gen. Pietro Badoglio, who had assumed authority in Mussolini’s absence, knew there might be an attempt to break the former Duce out of his confinement, and so moved him to a hotel in the Apennine Mountains. Despite the presence of an entire army of armed police, German commandos in a bold move swept onto an Apennine mountain peak from the air, overran the hotel, and flew Mussolini to Hitler’s headquarters on the Russian front.
Mussolini could not sit still long and wanted to return to Italy to reassume power. But his German “patrons” had no intention of allowing him, whom they regarded as incompetent, to return to the scene of the disaster. So in order to pacify–and control–him, he was set up in a German-controlled area of northern Italy, Gargnano, on Lake Garda. Mussolini set about creating a reformed version of fascism, one that supposedly had learned from past mistakes and included elections and a free press. His “Verona Manifesto” was the blueprint for this new fascist republic-the Republic of Salo–where his government departments had fled in light of the Italian surrender to the Allies.
Of course, there were never any elections in the new fascist republic, and no freedom of anything. Salo was little more than a police state clogged with aging Black Shirts–corrupt, viscous, and delusional. And Mussolini, geographically removed from Salo, ensconced at Lake Garda as he was, controlled nothing. He was little more than a puppet of the Germans, spewing anti-Allied propaganda and avenging himself and his masters on traitors to the party by ordering the executions of former Grand Council members–including his own son-in-law, Count Ciano. Eventually, the Allied advance into northern Italy, and the brave guerilla warfare waged by the Italian partisans, spelled the end of Salo-and its paper ruler.