April 27, 1945: Italian Dictator Mussolini Caught by Partisans!

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A Brief History

On April 27, 1945, World War II was almost over, a disaster for the Italian people who had been led into it by their pompous and egotistical dictator.

Digging Deeper

Benito Mussolini, or Il Duce (The Duke) as he was called, disguised himself as a German soldier and traveled with 15 of his henchmen, including his mistress, trying desperately to get to Switzerland.

The plan was to go to Spain after getting to neutral Switzerland where he would be safe from the Allies and his own people.  Of course, he never made it, for he was arrested by partisans (communist Italians who had enough of their own corrupt government) and held overnight before he was shot the next day, along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and his other traveling companions.

Mussolini’s body along with Petacci’s was hung upside down as a public spectacle and vengeful Italians pelted it with stones and clubs.

Buried in an unmarked grave, Il Duce’s body rested only a year before neo-fascists located it and absconded with it!  The hunt was on as the government chased leads for months until finally seizing the corpse.  If his death and the treatment of his body to this point was not humiliating enough, the government held Mussolini’s body for 10 years, not sure what they should do with it.  Finally it was decided he could be buried in his hometown and his remains were placed in a marked crypt in the normal fashion.

Mussolini was a typical dictator that had taken power in 1922 as the head of the Fascist Party, and as such he wielded more or less absolute power.  An atheist, Mussolini achieved a working relationship with the Vatican and was on good terms with the pope, basically just using religion to help control the masses.  An egoist, Il Duce was pompous and very much suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Allying himself with fellow right wing dictators Adolf Hitler of Germany and Francisco Franco of Spain (Hitler and Mussolini both aided Franco’s seizing control of Spain in the Spanish Civil War), and eager to gain easy victories and win popularity, Mussolini chose to attack a weak Ethiopia, bombing soldiers that carried spears from airplanes and even using poison gas.

When World War II started Mussolini waited to see how things were going before entering Italy in the war, so when Germany seemed unbeatable, Italy then jumped in and tried to conquer North Africa and Greece. Things did not go well for Italy pretty much from the start and went downhill from there.  When Italy was invaded in 1943 Mussolini was deposed, but was rescued by the Nazi’s and reinstated.  Not so cocky now, he never really regained control or popularity.

His private beliefs were that the racism of Nazi Germany was laughable and that Jews deserved a normal place in Italian society.  German power and influence became so great that Mussolini, ever the pragmatist, changed his tune and went along with persecution of the Jews after all.  When facing hardships after being deposed in 1943 this cartoon character of a man compared himself to Jesus Christ!

Question for students (and subscribers): Did Mussolini get what he deserved?  You be the judge, and tell us what you think in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Hibbert, Christopher.  Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce.  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Vincenzo Carrese of the dead body of Benito Mussolini next to his mistress Claretta Petacci and those of other executed fascists, on display in Milan on 29 April 1945, in Piazzale Loreto, the same place that the fascists had displayed the bodies of fifteen Milanese civilians a year earlier after executing them in retaliation for resistance activity, is in the public domain in the United States because it meets three requirements:

  1. it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days),
  2. it was first published before 1 March 1989 without copyright notice or before 1964 without copyright renewal or before the source country established copyright relations with the United States,
  3. it was in the public domain in its home country (Italy) on the URAA date ().

The country of origin of this photograph is Italy. It is in the public domain there because its copyright term has expired. According to Law for the Protection of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights n.633, 22 April 1941 and later revisions, images of people or of aspects, elements and facts of natural or social life, obtained with photographic process or with an analogue one, including reproductions of figurative art and film frames of film stocks (Art. 87) are protected for a period of 20 years from creation (Art. 92). This provision shall not apply to photographs of writings, documents, business papers, material objects, technical drawings and similar products (Art. 87). Italian law makes an important distinction between “works of photographic art” and “simple photographs” (Art. 2, § 7). Photographs that are “intellectual work with creative characteristics” are protected for 70 years after the author’s death (Art. 32 bis), whereas simple photographs are protected for a period of 20 years from creation.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.