Benito Mussolini Arrested after being Ousted by Grand Council of Fascism
Italy's position became more and more untenable.
After the defeat at El Alamein in 1942 the Axis troops had to retreat to Tunisia where they were finally defeated in the Tunisia Campaign. Also at the Eastern Front were major setbacks and the war had come to the nation's very doorstep with the Allied invasion of Sicily. The home front was also in bad shape as the Allied bombings were taking their toll. The factories were ground to a virtual standstill due to a lack of raw materials, coal and oil. Additionally, there was a chronic shortage of food, and what food was available was being sold at nearly confiscatory prices. Mussolini's once-ubiquitous propaganda machine lost its grip on the people; a large number of Italians turned to Vatican Radio or Radio London for more accurate news coverage. Discontent came to a head in March with a wave of strikes in the industrial north—the first large-scale strikes since 1925. Also in March, some of the major factories in Milan and Turin stopped production to secure evacuation allowances for workers' families. The physical German presence in Italy had sharply turned public opinion against Mussolini; for example, when the Allies took Sicily, the public welcomed them as liberators.
Earlier, Mussolini had begged Hitler to make a separate peace with Stalin and send German troops to the west to guard against an expected Allied invasion of Italy. He feared that with the losses in Tunisia and North Africa, the next logical step for Dwight Eisenhower's armies would be to come across the Mediterranean and attack the peninsula. Within a few days of the Allied landings on Sicily, it was obvious Mussolini's army was on the brink of collapse. This led Hitler to summon Mussolini to a meeting in northern Italy on July 19. By this time, Mussolini was so shaken that he could no longer stand Hitler's boasting. His mood darkened further when that same day, the Allies bombed Rome—the first time that city had ever been the target of enemy bombing.
Some prominent members of the Italian Fascist government had turned against Mussolini by this point. Among them were Grandi and Mussolini's son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano. With several of his colleagues close to revolt, il Duce was forced to summon the Grand Council of Fascism on July 24, the first time that body had met since the start of the war. When he announced that the Germans were thinking of evacuating the south, Grandi launched a blistering attack on him. Grandi moved a resolution asking the king to resume his full constitutional powers, in effect, a vote of no confidence in Mussolini. This motion carried by a 19–7 margin. Despite this sharp rebuke, Mussolini showed up for work the next day as usual. He allegedly viewed the Grand Council as merely an advisory body and did not think the vote would have any substantive effect. That afternoon, he was summoned to the royal palace by King Victor Emmanuel III, who had been planning to oust Mussolini earlier. When Mussolini tried to tell the king about the meeting, Victor Emmanuel cut him off and told him that he was being replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio. After Mussolini left the palace, he was arrested on the king's orders.
By this time, discontent with Mussolini was such that when the news of his ouster was announced on the radio, there was no resistance. In an effort to conceal his location from the Germans, Mussolini was moved around before being sent to Campo Imperatore, a mountain resort in Abruzzo where he was completely isolated. Given the large Nazi presence in Italy, Badoglio announced that "the war continues at the side of our Germanic ally" in the hopes that chaos and Nazi retaliation against civilians could be avoided. Even as Badolglio was keeping up the appearance of loyalty to the Axis, he dissolved the Fascist Party two days after taking over. Also, his government was negotiating an armistice with the Allies, which was signed on September 3, 1943. Its announcement five days later threw Italy into chaos, a civil war of sorts. Badoglio and the king fled Rome, leaving the Italian Army without orders. After a period of anarchy, Italy finally declared war on Nazi Germany on October 13 from Malta; thousands of troops were supplied to fight against the Germans, others refused to switch sides and had joined the Germans. The Badoglio government held a social truce with the leftist partisans for the sake of Italy and to rid the land of the Nazis.