Germany's campaign in World War 2 ended with Hitler's suicide in Berlin. Japan's involvement ended with its unconditional surrender following the devastation of two atomic bombs. As for the third Axis power, Italy, their leader, did not have such an easy way out, as the death of Mussolini was as brutal as his regime.
By April 1945, an allied victory was rapidly approaching. After 20+ years in power, dictator Benito Mussolini tried to escape his country and seek refuge.
He did not succeed. After being captured by partisans, the fascist leader was executed alongside his longtime mistress. Following the death of Mussolini, his body, plus the bodies of other fascists, were dumped in the center of Milan, then vandalized and hung by angry residents.
After being buried, Mussolini's body was unearthed and transported a few times before finally being laid to rest in 1957. It took over a decade after Mussolini's death to find him a resting place.
Much like his German counterpart Hitler, Mussolini had a thirst for world domination and spent his time in charge, ruling with an iron fist. Indeed, the gruesome end to his life was overshadowed by Hitler's suicide two days later.
Yet the story of how Benito Mussolini went from being one of Europe's most powerful leaders to a corpse in the streets he once controlled is worth remembering.
Mussolini's Childhood & Introduction To Politics
Like most famous historical figures, Mussolini's life started humbly. He was born in July 1883 in Northern Italy into a working-class family. When you understand the nature of Mussolini's death and the man he became, it is shocking to learn that his father was a socialist and his mother a strict catholic.
There were a couple of red flags in his childhood, though. On two occasions, Mussolini was expelled from school for stabbing his classmates. Despite these displays of madness, the young Italian was bright and had an aptitude for philosophy and politics.
He studied the works of great European philosophers and became involved with socialist politics both in Switzerland and Austria-Hungary.
Mussolini spent his final years before world war I editing a socialist newspaper in Italy, which led to his imprisonment for six months for hate speech. By the start of the first world war, he no longer had a connection with the socialist party and had started to publish his own newspaper.
Like his future Austrian ally Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini was influenced by his experiences in world war I. Mussolini enrolled in the Italian Army in 1915 and used his shooting skills to good effect. He was released from his duties after sustaining an injury.
Mussolini Becomes Il Duce
The end of Mussolini's military service marked the restart of his political ambitions. By 1919 he was already standing in national elections. Though unsuccessful, the veteran-turned politician was now eager to make a breakthrough.
Over the next couple of years, he formed the National Italian Fascist Party and gained nationwide support. He gave rousing speeches and sent paramilitary groups to cause trouble by killing members of his opposition.
Mussolini's loyal troops took control of towns and destroyed offices of political opponents. At the end of 1922, 30,000 of Mussolini's men marched into Rome to demand that the king hand over power.
King Victor Emmanuel III eventually obliged, and on October 29th, 1922, Benito Mussolini could officially call himself Italy's prime minister, Il Duce.
Shaping Society & Conquering Foreign Lands
Once he took control, there was no turning back. Mussolini initiated a targeted campaign against his former socialist party in which he silenced and imprisoned suspected members. Communists were also arrested. By 1925, Mussolini declared that he was a true dictator.
The increasingly fascist regime indoctrinated children with the creation of a youth wing. The press was not safe either since 2/3 of newspapers were owned by Mussolini's government and had to adhere to strict publishing rules. This did not mean his critics and enemies had gone ― there were several attempts to assassinate him.
By 1935, Mussolini's Italy had established an African colony by invading Ethiopia, an act formally recognized by Germany. By this point, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler's partnership was well-established. Mussolini agreed with Hitler's theories on race and introduced anti-semitic measures (such as deportations) in Italy in light of this. Furthermore, Italy stood behind Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.
The Start Of The World War 2
At the outbreak of the second world war in 1939, Italy was neutral at first. They were not as strong as their German allies militarily, so they had to watch from the sidelines as Hitler's forces entered Poland and France. In June 1940, Italy officially announced its intentions to join the conflict by declaring war on Britain and France.
Italy's first primary objective was to conquer Greece. Greece, backed by Britain, was able to repel the offensive at first.
This was a major miscalculation, and even Hitler was shocked by Mussolini's decision. Only with the help of Germany and Bulgaria did the axis manage to control Greece eventually.
The Nation Turns Against Mussolini
After the disastrous attempt to invade Greece, Mussolini was never viewed in the same way again. By 1943 things were not going his way. His colonies in North Africa had been retaken by the allies, who then proceeded to capture Sicily. Most ordinary people by then considered the war a lost cause for Italy.
In July 1943, Mussolini was removed from power and arrested. This was done with permission from the same king who granted him authority over 20 years earlier. The former dictator was exiled to a remote hotel, and the new Italian government began peace negotiations with the allies.
Mussolini Regains His Power
When the Germans learned of these developments, Hitler sprang into action to assist his longtime ally. German soldiers mobilized and seized control of the Northern half of Italy. They also successfully rescued Mussolini from his imprisonment and flew him to Germany to meet with Hitler.
Hitler decided that Mussolini should be the ruler of this new fascist state called the Italian Social Republic. So, shortly after power had slipped from his grasp, Mussolini once again found himself ruling supreme in Italy. Soon enough, he was busy targeting opposition members and deporting foreigners like before.
The End Of War In Europe: Mussolini's Death Approaches
In April 1945, the axis powers were on the verge of losing in Europe. The Soviets had reached Berlin, and the newly formed Italian Social Republic was close to collapse. During this critical time, Mussolini met with anti-fascists in Milan, where he discovered that the Germans were making plans for him to surrender.
Upon hearing this, he left the meeting in a fit of rage and decided to flee the country with his mistress. The next day, on April 27th, Mussolini, accompanied by a group of Nazis, drove north toward the Swiss border. The dictator hoped to disguise himself by wearing a German helmet and uniform, but his universally-recognized face betrayed him.
Partisans captured Mussolini and his mistress and took them to a secluded farmhouse, where they stayed until the following day. This time, with no chance of rescue from the Nazis, Mussolini's death was guaranteed.
The Gory Execution & Death Of Mussolini
The following morning, Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci were taken from the farmhouse and transported to a village near lake Como. Partisans told them to stand against a wall, where they opened fire and killed the pair. It is thought that Walter Audisio delivered the fatal shots.
While their lives ended suddenly, their dead bodies were about to suffer more humiliation.
On April 29th, Mussolini, his mistress, plus 14 other murdered fascists were put into the back of a truck and then driven to the Piazzale Loreto public square in Milan. Here, the bodies were offloaded, and crowds of angry residents could finally get revenge on a man who drove the country to near destruction.
People threw vegetables at the corpses and spat at them. One woman who lost her sons in the war was no doubt glad when she fired bullets into the dictator herself.
The Furer famously committed suicide on April 30th, 1945. Some believe that news of Mussolini's death helped Hitler to solidify his decision.
Mussolini's Death And The State Of His Body
The death of Mussolini and his initial public humiliation, and those with him, were not the last punishments for his body. After the killings, the bodies were hung up in the square upside-down like cattle. American soldiers in Milan ordered that the bodies be taken down later that day.
Clara Petacci, his mistress, and Mussolini were placed in an anonymous grave in a Milan cemetery. This location was discovered by anti-fascists who proceeded to vandalize the grave. Then, in April 1946, some of Mussolini's living sympathizers dug his body up. This was discovered at a monastery a few months later.
Then, the Italian government took the body and hid it for another 11 years. There was no rest for the dictator long after the death of Mussolini.
In the end, the death of Mussolini culminated in his bones being returned to his hometown of Predappio. This was the final burial place.