Rome, Italy September 9, 1943

On this date in 1943 in Italy, the Allies from their strong­holds in North Africa (since November 1942) and Sicily (since July‑August 1943) invaded the boot-shaped Ital­ian main­land at Salerno, some 170 miles south­east of Rome, Italy’s capital, with diver­sionary land­ings at Reggio di Cala­bria (Sep­tem­ber 3, 1943), which lay on the “toe” of the Ital­ian Penin­sula, and Taranto (Sep­tem­ber 9), the Ital­ian naval port and air­fields that lay in the “in­step” of the Ital­ian heel. The Salerno landings came six days following Italy’s secret armis­tice with the Allies on Sicily on Sep­tem­ber 3, 1943 (the armis­tice of Cassibile, or short armis­tice, was pub­licly announced five days later), and the flooding of thou­sands of German troops and equip­ment into Italy the previous month in the wake of Ital­ian fascist dicta­tor Benito Musso­lini’s arrest and impri­son­ment in late July of the same year by forces loyal to King Victor Emman­uel III. In landing on the Ital­ian main­land U.S. forces were returning to the European continent for the first time since 1918.

On the same date, September 9, 1943, six major Italian anti-fascist parties formed the Comi­tato di Libera­zione Nazionale (CLN), or National Libera­tion Com­mit­tee, to orga­nize the country’s uni­fied resis­tance to Nazi Germany’s occu­pa­tion of Italy. To organize and foster cooperation with the Western Allies, the CLN met with repre­sen­ta­tives of Britain’s Special Oper­a­tions Exec­u­tive (SOE), the Amer­i­can Office of Stra­te­gic Ser­vices (OSS), and the mili­tary intel­li­gence ser­vices of both coun­tries, MI9 and MIS‑X, respectively.

From heavily fortified positions the Germans sent out armored patrols to round up Ital­ian Resis­tance fighters and parti­sans (parti­giani in Ital­ian) and to take brutal repri­sals against the local popu­la­tion if any parti­sans or their sym­pa­thizers were found hidden in their villages or towns or were sus­pected of engaging in sab­o­tage or hit-and-run oper­a­tions against German troops and convoys. During the course of the Ital­ian civil war (Septem­ber 1943 to April 1945) the dead included 50,000 mem­bers of the Ital­ian Resis­tance (not all Resist­ance fighters were Italian-born) and on the other side 35,000 troops of Musso­lini’s Nazi puppet state, the Repub­blica Sociale Ital­iana (Italian Social Repub­lic, or simply Salò Repub­lic). In summer 1944 alone, German casual­ties fighting parti­sans amounted to 20,000; the figure included 5,000 killed, 7,000–8,000 missing/­”kidnapped,” and a similar number seriously wounded. Between July 1943 and May 1945 total esti­mated German casual­ties and losses in Sicily and main­land Italy vary from 366,000 to just over 580,000. During the same period 150,000 or more non-com­bat­ants died, many in revenge killings that occurred at the end of hostilities and in their immediate aftermath.

On April 19, 1945, the CLN called for an insurrection. In Northern Italy Bologna was attacked by parti­sans on April 19 and liber­ated on April 21 by the Italian Co-Bellig­erent Army, the army of the Italian Royalist forces fighting on the side of the Allies, together with the Polish II Corps under Allied com­mand. Turin and Milan were liber­ated on April 25 through an insur­rec­tion following a general strike that com­menced two days earlier; over 14,000 German and fascist troops were captured in Genoa on April 26–27. Many of the defeated German troops attempted to escape from Italy and some parti­sans units allowed German columns to pass through if they turned over any Italians who were traveling with them. Such was the fate of Benito Mus­solini, who, along with his mis­tress and several fascist big-wigs, was captured and exe­cuted on April 28, their bodies taken to Milan and hung from a girder at a gaso­line sta­tion in city’s Piaz­zale Loreto (see photo essay below). On May 2, three days after the sui­cide of Mus­solini’s Axis partner, Adolf Hitler, in his under­ground Fueher­bunker in the Nazi capi­tal, Berlin, German occu­pa­tion forces in Italy offi­cially capit­u­lated to the Allies. Some die-hard fascists attempted to con­tinue fighting, but they were quickly suppressed by Italian partisans and Allied forces.

A People in Arms: Tragic Fallout from Germany’s Military Occupation of Italy, September 1943 to April 1945

Italian resistance movement: Italians shot by invading Germans in Barletta, September 12, 1943Italian resistance movement: A young woman executed by public hanging in a street in Rome, early 1944

Left: Italians shot by Germans on a street in Barletta, an Adriatic city in Southern Italy, on September 12, 1943, nine days after the British amphib­i­ous and air­borne inva­sion of Southern Italy (Gen. Ber­nard Law Mont­go­mery com­manding) and three days after the Septem­ber 9 Anglo-Amer­i­can landings under Lt. Gen. Mark Clark of the U.S. Fifth Army in and around Salerno on the west coast of Italy.

Right: A woman hanged by fascists in Rome, surrounded by German soldiers, some­time in early 1944 before ele­ments of Mark Clark’s Fifth Army entered Rome on June 5, 1944. A white sign pinned to the front of her skirt laid out the charges for which she was summarily executed.

Italian resistance movement: Public hanging of three Italian partisans, Rimini, August 1944Italian resistance movement: Corpses of Benito Mussolini and Claretta Petacci, Milan, April 29, 1945

Left: The Nazis and their fascist stooges in the besieged and ever-shrinking Salò Repub­lic adopted a repri­sal policy meant to split the popu­lace from the parti­sans: 10 Italians killed for every German and fascist death. Mass atroc­ities like the Arde­atine mas­sacre out­side Rome (335 Jews and polit­i­cal pri­soners) and the Staz­zema massacre of about 560 Tuscan vil­lagers, of which 130 were children, were noto­ri­ous stand­outs. This photo from August 1944 shows three parti­sans exe­cuted by public hanging at Rimini on the Adri­atic coast. By then par­ti­san strength stood at 100,000, swelling to 250,000 in April 1945. The parti­san family of Alcide and Genon­effa Cervi, living in Reggio Emilia north­west of Rimini, lost all seven sons to a fascist repri­sal the previ­ous Decem­ber. Later that same month the fascists attacked the Cervi farm, torching the family’s barns. Genon­effa Cervi suffered a fatal heart attack that same day, leaving her two daughters and hus­band the sole survi­vors of fascist retali­a­tions. After the war the Ital­ian presi­dent pinned seven Silver Medals for Military Valor on Alcide Cervi’s chest, one for each of his lost sons.

Right: Displayed in the Piazzale Loreto, Milan’s major town square, on April 29, 1945, are the grime-covered corpses of Benito Musso­lini (second from left) and to the right his 33‑year-old mis­tress, Cla­retta Petacci, along with the remains of other exe­cuted fascists, pri­mar­ily minis­ters and offi­cials of Musso­lini’s Nazi puppet state, the Salò Republic. Musso­lini was shot through the fore­head near the village of Dongo on Lake Como near the Swiss border late the pre­vious after­noon after his German convoy was stopped and searched by partisans. His body was taken in a closed van to Milan, the city where Ital­ian fas­cism was born in 1919, and dumped in the same spot where the year before fas­cist squads had exhib­ited the bodies of 15 Milanese civil­ians (the so-called “Martyrs of Piaz­zale Loreto”) whom they had killed in retali­ation for parti­san activ­ity. A howling mob of more than 5,000 peo­ple kicked and spat on Musso­lini’s remains before his corpse was hung upside down on butcher hooks at a gas station, where it remained for several days before being removed and buried. In 1957 Musso­lini’s remains were rein­terred in Predap­pio, his birth­place in the Appen­nine Hills of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. His tomb attracts thou­sands of far-right pilgrims from across Italy and beyond, especially on the anniversary of his death.

Student Documentary: The Rise of Italian Fascism, Italian Resistance Movement, and Italy’s Liberation