Milan, Italy October 27, 1922

On this date in 1922 in Italy, riots instigated by Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party (Partito Nazion­ale Fas­cista) erupted in sev­er­al Ital­ian towns. The Fas­cists called on the national govern­ment to resign. The next day four columns of Mus­so­lini’s para­military insur­gents, Black­shirts (Camicie nere) or squadristi as they were called, began a march from the Northern Italian city of Milan to Rome, Italy’s capital.

Consisting of nationalist intellec­tuals, former army officers, and dis­gruntled former sol­diers, the Black­shirts may have num­bered 200,000 by the time of Mus­so­lini’s March on Rome. (In Germany, Adolf Hitler adopted this model for his “Storm Troopers,” men in the Nazi Party’s Sturm­ab­teilung who were issued brown shirts and were col­lo­quially known as “Brown­shirts.”) Italy’s King Victor Em­man­uel III refused the govern­ment’s request to declare mar­tial law and send sol­diers to head off Musso­lini’s uni­formed marchers. The following day the govern­ment resigned in dis­gust. Lacking a govern­ment to make or enforce laws, the king felt obliged to invite Mus­so­lini, whose Black­shirts had already taken control of the Po plain (Lom­bardy and parts of Pied­mont and Veneto), to form a new govern­ment and dispatched a special train to bring the marchers to the capital.

As both prime minister and foreign min­is­ter, Mus­so­lini headed a coa­li­tion govern­ment con­sisting of Cath­o­lics, Social Demo­crats, Liberals, and four mem­bers of his Fas­cist Party. In the 1924 gen­eral elec­tion, Mus­so­lini gar­nered the support of 65 per­cent of Ital­ian voters, but his im­pres­sive sup­port was based on a com­bi­na­tion of bluff, vio­lence, and intim­i­da­tion. In 1926 he dis­solved Par­lia­ment and estab­lished an author­i­tarian dic­ta­tor­ship that entered into a mili­tary pact with Germany and Japan (the Tri­par­tite Pact), which dragged Italy into World War II.

Mussolini remained at the helm of state until the long-dor­mant Grand Coun­cil of Fascism deposed him on the night of July 24/25, 1943. This was just days after the start of Opera­tion Husky, the Western Allies’ am­phib­i­ous and air­borne in­va­sion of Sicily that opened the way to the Allied in­va­sion of the Ital­ian main­land. King Victor Em­manuel, who had allowed Mus­so­lini to “man­age” his king­dom for 21 years, ordered the Cara­bi­nieri (national police force) to arrest him on the even­ing of July 25, 1943. To head his new govern­ment, the king appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio, former Supreme Chief of the Ital­ian Gen­eral Staff. On Septem­ber 3, 1943, a week before the Allies’ in­va­sion of the main­land, Badoglio entered into a secret armis­tice with the Allies, and the next month, on Octo­ber 13, steered his govern­ment into war with Italy’s erstwhile ally, Hitler’s Germany.

Benito Mussolini and His Fascist Power Grab, Italy in the 1920s

Benito Mussolini speaking to Fascist Party Blackshirts, Naples, October 24, 1922Fascists approaching Rome, October 28, 1922

Left: Three days before riots broke out in Italy’s second largest city, Milan, Musso­lini (middle, with sash across chest) addressed a large gathering of Fas­cist Party Black­shirts, the Volun­tary Militia of National Security (MVSN), in Naples on October 24, 1922.

Right: Fascist marchers, who numbered less than 30,000, approached Rome on October 28, 1922.

Dapper Benito Mussolini, October 28, 1922Benito Mussolini & Co. at head of March on Rome, October 28, 1922

Above: A dapper but stern-looking Mussolini during the March on Rome, Octo­ber 28, 1922, flanked by three of his quadrium­viri (princi­pal advisors): Emilio De Bono (on Musso­lini’s right), Italo Balbo (Musso­lini’s left), and Cesare Maria De Vecchi (with riding crop). De Bono became Minis­ter of Colonies; Balbo, former Air Marshal and Musso­lini’s “heir appar­ent,” became Gover­nor Gene­ral of Libya in 1933; and De Vecchi became Gover­nor Gene­ral of Ital­ian Somali­land (1923–1928). Balbo was killed by friendly fire when his plane was shot down over Tobruk in Italy’s colony of Libya on June 28, 1940, by Italian antiaircraft gunners.

Fascists assemble at royal palace during March on Rome Official greeting between king and Mussolini, November 4, 1928

Left: Fascists parade in front of the Quirinal Palace, the offi­cial resi­dence of King Victor Em­man­uel III. The monarchy was abol­ished in 1946 and the palace became the offi­cial residence and workplace for the Presidents of the Italian Republic.

Right: A photo published in a newspaper shows 52-year-old King Victor Em­man­uel III, all of five feet tall, offi­cially greeting Musso­lini on Novem­ber 4, 1922, several days following the Fascists’ March on Rome. By then Musso­lini had already been installed as the prime minister of a new Italian government.

Silent Newsreel Showing Benito Mussolini and His Blackshirts of the National Fascist Party Marching on Rome, October 1922