|Italian Civil War|
|Part of the Italian Campaign in World War II|
Italian Civil War scene. Partisan hanged by republican fascists of the Decima Flottiglia MAS. The sign says "He attempted with weapons to shoot the Decima".
Kingdom of Italy|
Italian Social Republic|
|Commanders and leaders|
Alcide De Gasperi
Raffaele Cadorna Jr.
Victor Emmanuel III
Benito Mussolini |
Junio Valerio Borghese
CLN / CLNAI:|
|Casualties and losses|
CLN / CLNAI:|
21,168 seriously wounded
unknown captured or lightly injured
unknown wounded, captured, and missing
RSI: 34,770 killed
(June–August 1944 only)
|~80,506 civilians killed|
The Italian Civil War (Italian: Guerra civile italiana) was a civil war in Italy fought by the Italian Co-Belligerent Army and the Italian Resistance (with the Allies of World War II) against the Italian Fascists and Italian Social Republic (and the Axis powers) from 9 September 1943 (the date of the armistice of Cassibile) to 2 May 1945 (the date of the surrender of German forces in Italy).
During World War II, after Mussolini was deposed and arrested on 25 July 1943 by King Victor Emmanuel III, Italy signed the Armistice of Cassabile on 8 September 1943, ending its war with the Allies. However, German forces shortly succeeded in taking control of northern and central Italy, creating the Italian Social Republic (RSI), with Mussolini installed as leader after he was rescued by German paratroopers. The Germans, often helped by Fascists, committed several atrocities against Italian civilians and troops. As result, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was created to fight against the RSI and its German allies, while other Italian troops, loyal to Mussolini, continued to fight alongside the Germans in the National Republican Army. In addition, a large Italian resistance movement started a guerrilla war against the German and Italian fascist forces. The anti-fascist victory led to the execution of Mussolini, the liberation of the country, and the birth of the Italian Republic.
Claudio Pavone's book Una guerra civile. Saggio storico sulla moralità della Resistenza (A Civil War. Historical Essay On the Morality Of the Resistance), published in 1991, led the term Italian Civil War to become a widespread term used in Italian and international historiography. Although the term had been used before, in the early 1990s it became accepted.
The confrontations between the factions resulted in the torture and death of many civilians. During the Italian Campaign, partisans were supplied by the Western Allies with small arms, ammunition and explosives. Allied forces and partisans cooperated on military missions, parachuting or landing personnel behind enemy lines, often including Italian-American members of OSS. Other operations were carried out exclusively by secret service personnel. Where possible, both sides avoided situations in which Italian units of opposite fronts were involved in combat episodes. In rare cases, clashes between Italians involved partisans and fascists of various armed formations.
The first groups of partisans were formed in Boves, Piedmont and Bosco Martese (Abruzzo). Other groups composed mainly of Slavs and communists sprang up in the Julian March. Others grew around Allied prisoners of war, released or escaped from captivity following the events of September 8. These first organized units soon dissolved because of the rapid German reaction. In Boves, the Nazis committed their first massacre on Italian territory.
On September 8, hours after the radio communication of the armistice, several antifascist organizations converged on Rome. They were Ivanoe Bonomi (PDL), Scoccimarro and Amendola (PCI), De Gasperi (DC), La Malfa and Fenoaltea (PDA), Nenni and Romita (PSI), Ruini (DL), Casati (PLI). They formed the first Committee of National Liberation (CLN). Bonomi took over the presidency.
The Italian Communist Party was anxious to take the initiative without waiting for the Allies:
(in Italian) ...è necessario agire subito ed il più ampiamente e decisamente possibile perché solo nella misura in cui il popolo italiano concorrerà attivamente alla cacciata dei tedeschi dall'Italia, alla sconfitta del nazismo e del fascismo, potrà veramente conquistarsi l'indipendenza e la libertà. Noi non possiamo e non dobbiamo attenderci passivamente la libertà dagli angloamericani. - 
"... It's necessary to act immediately and as widely and decisively as possible, because only if the Italian People actively contribute to push out Germans from Italy and to defeat Nazism and Fascism, it will be really able to get independence and freedom. We can not and must not passively expect freedom from the British and the Americans."
The Allies did not believe in the guerillas' effectiveness, so General Alexander postponed their attacks against the Nazis. On 16 October the CLN issued its first important political and operational press release, which rejected the calls for reconciliation launched by Republican leaders. CLN Milan asked "the Italian people to fight against the German invaders and against their fascists lackeys".
In late November, the Communists established task forces called Distaccamenti d'assalto Garibaldi which later would become brigades and divisions[note 1] whose leadership was entrusted to Luigi Longo, under the political direction of Pietro Secchia and Giancarlo Pajetta, Chief of Staff. The first operational order dated 25 November ordered the partisans to:
Shortly after the Armistice, the Italian Communist Party, the Gruppi di Azione Patriottica ("Patriotic Action Groups") or simply GAP, established small cells whose main purpose was to unleash urban terror through bomb attacks against fascists, Germans and their supporters. They operated independently in case of arrest or betrayal of individual elements. The success of these attacks led the German and Italian police to believe they were composed of foreign intelligence agents. A public announcement from the PCI in September 1943 stated:
To the tyranny of Nazism, that claims to reduce to slavery through violence and terror, we must respond with violence and terror.— Appeal of PCI to the Italian People, September 1943
The GAP's mission was claimed to be delivering "justice" to Nazi tyranny and terror, with emphasis on the selection of targets: "the official, hierarchical collaborators, agents hired to denounce men of the Resistance and Jews, the Nazi police informants and law enforcement organizations of CSR", thus differentiating it from the Nazi terror. However, partisan memoirs discussed the "elimination of enemies especially heinous", such as torturers, spies and provocateurs. Some orders from branch command partisans insisted on protecting the innocent, instead of providing lists of categories to be hit as individuals deserving of punishment. Part of the Italian press during the war agreed that murders were carried out of most moderate Republican fascists, willing to compromise and negotiate, such as Aldo Resega, Igino Ghisellini, Eugenio Facchini and the philosopher Giovanni Gentile.
Women also participated in the resistance, mainly procuring supplies, clothing and medicines, anti-fascist propaganda, fundraising, maintenance of communications, partisan relays, participated in strikes and demonstrations against fascism. Some women actively participated in the conflict as combatants.
The first detachment of guerilla fighters rose up in Piedmont in mid-1944 as the Garibaldi Brigade Eusebio Giambone. Partisan forces varied by seasons, German and fascist repression and also by Italian topography, never exceeding 200,000 people actively involved. Nonetheless, it was an important factor that immobilized a conspicuous part of German forces in Italy, and kept German communication lines insecure.
When the Italian Resistance movement began following the armistice, with various Italian soldiers of disbanded units and many young people not willing to be conscripted into the fascist forces, Mussolini's Italian Social Republic (RSI) also began putting together an army. This was formed with what was left of the previous Regio Esercito and Regia Marina corps, fascist volunteers and drafted personnel. At first it was organized into four regular divisions (1ª Divisione Bersaglieri Italia – light infantry, 2ª Divisione Granatieri Littorio – grenadiers, 3ª Divisione fanteria di marina San Marco – marines, 4ª Divisione Alpina Monterosa – mountain troops), together with various irregular formations and the fascist militia Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR) that in 1944 were brought under the control of the regular army.
The fascist republic fought against the partisans to keep control of the territory. The Fascists claimed their armed forces numbered 780,000 men and women, but sources indicate that there were no more than 558,000. Partisans and their active supporters numbered 82,000 in June 1944.
In addition to regular units of the Republican Army and the Black Brigades, various special units of fascists were organized, at first spontaneously and afterward from regular units that were part of Salò's armed forces. These formations, often including criminals, adopted brutal methods during counterinsurgency operations, repression and retaliation.
Among the first to form was the banda of the Federal Guido Bardi and William Pollastrini in Rome, whose methods shocked even the Germans. In Rome the Banda Koch helped dismantle the clandestine structure of the Partito d'Azione. The so-called Koch Band led by Pietro Koch, then under the protection of General Kurt Maltzer, the German military commander for the Rome region, were known for their brutal treatment of anti-fascist partisans. After the fall of Rome, Koch moved to Milan. He gained the confidence of Interior Minister Guido Buffarini Guidi and continued his repressive activity in various Republican police forces. The Banda Carità, a special unit constituted within the 92nd Legion Blackshirts, operated in Tuscany and Veneto. It became infamous for violent repression, such as the 1944 Piazza Tasso massacre in Florence.
In Milan, the Squadra d'azione Ettore Muti (later Autonomous Mobile Legion Ettore Muti) operated under the orders of the former army corporal Francesco Colombo, already expelled from the PNF for embezzlement. Considering him dangerous to the public, in November 1943, the Federal (i.e., fascist provincial leader) Aldo Resega wanted to depose him, but was killed by an attack of GAP. Colombo remained at his post, despite complaints and inquiries. On August 10 1944, Muti's Squadrists, together with the GNR, perpetrated the Piazzale Loreto massacre in Milan. The victims were fifteen anti-fascist rebels, killed in retaliation for an assault against a German truck. Following the massacre, the mayor and chief of the Province of Milan, Piero Parini, resigned in an attempt to strengthen the cohesion of moderate forces, who were undermined by the heavy German repression and various militias of Social Republic.
The command of the National Republican Army was in the hands of Marshall Graziani and his deputies Mischi and Montagna. They controlled the repression and coordinated anti-partisan actions of the regular troops, the GNR, the Black Brigades and various semi-official police, together with the Germans, who made the reprisals. The Republican Army was augmented by the Graziani call-up which conscripted several thousand men. Graziani were only nominally involved in the armed forces, under the apolitical CSR.
The Republican Police Corps under Lieutenant-General Renato Ricci, formed in 1944, included the Fascist Blackshirts, the Italian Africa Police members serving in Rome, and the Carabinieri. The Corps worked against anti-fascist groups and was autonomous (i.e., it didn't report to Rodolfo Graziani), according to an order issued by Mussolini on 19 November 1944.
On July 25, 1943, Mussolini was deposed and arrested. King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister. At first, the new government supported the Axis. Demonstrations celebrating the change were violently repressed. Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 8. Victor left Rome with his Cabinet, leaving the Army without orders. Mussolini was rescued from imprisonment by the Waffen-SS on 12 September. Up to 600,000 Italian soldiers were taken as prisoners by the Nazis and the greatest part of them (about 95%) refused allegiance to the newly established Italian Social Republic (RSI), a fascist state with Mussolini at its head, created on September 23. This was made possible by the German occupation of the Italian peninsula via Operation Achse, planned and led by Erwin Rommel.
After the armistice with Italy, British forces had two perspectives: that of "liberals", who supported democratic parties attempting to overthrow the monarchy, and that of Winston Churchill, who preferred a defeated enemy to a newly recruited ally. The parties were reconstituted after September 8. "Even in this situation over the months the life of the parties was very difficult in the South during years 1943 and 1944 and above all, they (parties) were scarcely able to break through apathy that characterized local populations". The rest of "the great majority of farmers referred to the parish structures". Resources were concentrated to push propaganda among the masses in the liberated areas, featuring the common denominator of ending fascist support. Prefecture reports confirmed the recruitment of former fascists in the ranks of newly constituted parties.
Fascist units, often sustained by German forces, fought for territory with partisan units. The fascists were strong in the cities and the plains, where they could be supported by heavy arms, while small partisan units predominated in mountainous areas with better cover, where large formations could not maneuver effectively.
Many violent episodes followed, on occasion pitting fascists against other fascists and partisans against other partisans. The Porzûs massacre saw communist partisans of the Natisone division (of the SAP brigade 13 martiri di Feletto), attached to the Yugoslavian XI Corpus by orders of Palmiro Togliatti, massacre 20 partisans and a woman at the HQ of one of the many Catholic Osoppo Brigades, claiming that they were German spies. Among the dead were commander Francesco De Gregori and brigade commissioner Gastone Valente.
The forces of the Italian Social Republic struggled to keep the insurgency under wraps, resulting in a heavy toll on the German occupation forces stationed to buttress them. Field Marshall Albert Kesselring estimated that from June to August 1944 alone, Italian partisans inflicted a minimum of 20,000 casualties on the Germans (5,000 killed, 7,000 to 8,000 captured/missing, and the same number wounded), while suffering far lower casualties themselves. Kesselring's intelligence officer supplied a higher figure of 30,000 - 35,000 casualties from partisan activity in those three months (which Kesselring considered too high): 5,000 killed and 25,000-30,000 missing or wounded.
Defeats at the hands of Anglo-American forces left the Germans, and by extension the Italian fascists, increasingly weaker in Italy, until by April their front was collapsing and their rear lines were only lightly defended. The Italian partisans took advantage of this with a wide-scale uprising in late April, attacking the retreating Germans and RSI forces. On April 26 Genoa fell, with 14,000 Italian partisans forcing the city's surrender and taking 6,000 German soldiers as prisoners. 25,000 partisans captured Milan the same day, with Turin falling two days later on April 28. Mussolini attempted to withdraw to the mountains on April 27, but was caught by the partisans and killed. Fascist forces surrendered fully on May 2, 1945 after an agreement made with the Allies on April 30, before Germany's surrender to the Allies on May 7, 1945.
Following the civil war, many soldiers, executives and sympathizers of the fascist Repubblica Sociale were subjected to show trials and executed. Others were killed without a proper trial. Civilians were also killed. Among them were people wrongly accused of collaboration by others who wanted revenge over private grudges. Minister of Interior Mario Scelba estimated the number killed to be 732, but historians dispute this estimate. German historian Hans Woller claimed some 12,060 were killed in 1945 and 6,027 in 1946. Ferruccio Parri said the fascist casualties were as high as 30,000.
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