Salo, Republic of

   Two weeks after Anglo-American forces landed in Sicily (10 July 1943), the Fascist Grand Council supported a document submitted by Dino Grandi urging the king to retake command of Italian forces and resume “that supreme initiative in making decisions which our institutions attribute to him.” The vote was 19 in favor, 7 opposed, and 1 abstention. King Victor Emanuel III thereupon ordered Benito Mussolini’s arrest and transfer to a prison on the Gran Sasso Mountain in Abruzzo, where he was kept under close guard until he was freed by German glider-borne paratroopers in a daring raid on 12 September. The king initially chose Marshal Pietro Badoglioto head what became a royal-military dictatorship still intent on continuing the war, at least while negotiations with the Allies could proceed. When Italy surrendered on 8 September 1943, the king, Badoglio, and the government fled south to Brindisi by way of Pescara, leaving the army without orders; this proved the final blow to the monarchy. Even before Mussolini’s rescue from Gran Sasso, several Fascist leaders (Roberto Farinacci, Vittorio Mussolini, and Alessandro Pavolini) had announced from East Prussia the creation of a new Fascist government. By 23 September, an ailing Mussolini was installed by the Nazis at the head of a puppet regime at the town of Salo on Lake Garda. He immediately renamed the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF). It was now to be the Partito Repubblicano Fascista/Fascist Republican Party, infuriated with the monarchy and with those Fascists who had voted against Mussolini. A party congress held in nearby Verona 14–16 November 1943, established the new regime’s fundamental principles in an 18-point program that announced the end of the monarchy and articulated an ideology that paid lip service at least to the necessity of limiting the power of private capitalism. In January 1944 several members of the Grand Council who had voted against Mussolini were convicted of treason and executed, including Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. The true believers who stayed with Mussolini or were conscripted in the North were teamed with German units to function as “order maintainers” and as an antipartisan militia. Anxious to prove their mettle to their diffident German comrades-in-arms, they were responsible for savage acts of repression in Emilia-Romagna and other northern regions.
   The Republic of Salo came to a end in the spring of 1945. As Allied forces advanced on both the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic fronts and German General Karl Wolff, in Switzerland, began negotiations with the Allies for the surrender of the German forces in Italy, Mussolini sought to escape to Switzerland, then Austria. Together with his mistress, Clara Petacci, he was apprehended—despite the German uniforms they wore to assist in their escape—and summarily executed by partisans on 28 April 1945. Most of the Salo survivors returned to their homes and drifted, politically, into the Movimento Sociale Italiano/Italian Social Movement (MSI). The MSI’s longtime leader, Giorgio Almirante, was himself an unashamed supporter of Fascism’s final phase. The savagery of the fascist militias left a scar on Italy’s conscience, and it is only recently, with the emergence of Gianfranco Fini’s “fascism in a double-breasted suit,” that the passions aroused by the memory of Salo have begun to subside.
   See also Resistance.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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