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Italian Social Republic
The Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) was a puppet state of Nazi Germany led by the "Duce of the Nation" and "Minister of Foreign Affairs" Benito Mussolini. The RSI exercised official sovereignty in northern Italy but was largely dependent on the Wehrmacht (German military) to maintain control. The state was informally known as the Salò Republic (''Repubblica di Salò'') because the RSI's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mussolini) was headquartered in Salò, a small town on Lake Garda. The Italian Social Republic was the second and last incarnation of a Fascist Italian state.
The context of RSI's creation
On July 24 1943, after the Allied landings in Sicily, the Grand Fascist Council, on a motion by Dino Grandi, voted a motion of no confidence in Mussolini. The next day, King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Mussolini from office and ordered him arrested. By this time, the monarchy, a number of Fascist government members, and the general Italian population had grown tired of the futile war effort which had driven Italy into subordination and subjugation under Nazi Germany. The failed war effort left Mussolini humiliated at home and abroad as a "sawdust caesar." The new government, under Marshal Pietro Badoglio, began secret negotiations with the Allied powers and made preparations for the capitulation of Italy. These surrender talks implied a commitment from Badoglio to not only leave the Axis alliance but to also have Italy declare war on Germany.
While the Germans formally recognised the new status quo in Italian politics, they quickly intervened by sending some of the best units of the Wehrmacht to Italy. This was done both to resist new Allied advances and to face the predictably imminent defection of Italy. While Badoglio continued to swear loyalty to Germany and the Axis powers, Italian government emissaries prepared to sign an armistice at Cassibile in Allied-occupied Sicily, which was finalized on 3 September.
On 8 September, the truth was finally revealed and Badoglio announced Italy's surrender. German Führer Adolf Hitler and his staff, long aware of the betrayal, acted immediately by ordering German troops to seize control of northern and central Italy. The Germans disarmed the stunned Italian troops and took over all of the Italian Army's materials and equipment.
Just four days later, on 12 September, a daring German paratrooper action in the mountains of Abruzzo, led by Otto Skorzeny and named ''Unternehmen Eiche'' ("Operation Oak"), succeeded in liberating Mussolini. While in captivity, the new Italian government had moved Mussolini from place to place in order to frustrate any would-be rescuers. The Germans eventually determined that Mussolini was being housed at the Campo Imperatore Hotel at Gran Sasso. After being liberated, Mussolini was safely flown to Bavaria. His liberation made it possible for a new, German-dependent Fascist Italian state to be created.
History of the RSI
Upon Mussolini's rescue from Italian arrest, Adolf Hitler ordered Mussolini to form a new fascist state or else he would destroy Milan, Genoa and Turin. Knowing the alternative would be undisguised occupation under a protector with Italy being treated like an occupied enemy, Mussolini obliged. The Italian Social Republic was proclaimed on September 23.
Although Mussolini desired to return to Rome, the Germans vetoed the idea due to the proximity of the city to Allied lines and the possibility of civil unrest if the Duce revealed himself. Instead, Mussolini established his capital in a villa at Salò on Lake Garda, midway between Milan and Venice.
Immediately upon the state's creation, it became obvious that it was little more than a puppet state dependent entirely upon Berlin. German distrust of the Italian Fascists' ability to control their own territory, as well as German territorial claims on Italy, which had been repressed from the 1930s for the sake of alliance with Italy, rose to the forefront. Germany forced Mussolini to cede Istria, Trieste, and Tyrol to Germany and Mussolini was told that he'd have to cede Venice next. Huge portions of Italian-populated territories, acquired through years of conflict, were suddenly forced to be abandoned.
Mussolini himself knew he was little more than the Gauleiter of Lombardy, even though he stated in public that he was in full control. The finances of the state were completely dependent on German funding, the state lacked a constitution and had no organized economy. German forces themselves had little respect for Mussolini's failed fascist movement and saw the regime as useful only for purposes of maintaining order,
such as repressing the Italian partisans and persecuting Jews. This was work was also carried out by Pietro Koch and the Banda Koch on Germany's behalf. [Philip Rees, ''Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890'', 1990, p. 212] In addition, Hitler forced the new regime to take revenge against those who had voted against Mussolini on the Grand Council, as well as other suspected traitors. For example, on January 11, 1944, Mussolini had his own son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano executed.
During the existence of the Italian Social Republic, Mussolini, whose government had banned trade unions and strikes, began to make increasingly populist appeals to the working class. He claimed to regret many of the decisions made earlier in supporting the interests of big business. He promised a new beginning if the Italian people would be willing to grant him a second chance. Mussolini claimed that he had never totally abandoned his left-wing influences, insisting he had attempted to nationalize property in 1939–1940 but had been forced to delay such action for tactical reasons related to the war. With the removal of the monarchy, Mussolini claimed the full ideology of Fascism could be pursued, and reversed over twenty years of Fascist support of private property and relative economic independence by ordering the nationalization of all companies with over 100 employees.
[Smith, p312] Mussolini even reached out to communist Nicola Bombacci, a former student of Vladimir Lenin to help him in spreading the image that Fascism was a progressive movement. The economic policy of RSI was the "Socialization".
While the RSI remained largely a puppet state, Mussolini maintained personal close relations with Hitler, which helped to aid his state. In 1944, he urged Hitler to focus on destroying Britain, rather than the Soviet Union, as Mussolini claimed that it was Britain which had turned the conflict into a world war and that the British Empire must be destroyed in order for peace to come in Europe.
As the situation became desperate in late 1944, with Allied forces in control of most of Italy, Mussolini declared that "he would fight to the last Italian" and spoke of turning Milan into the "Stalingrad of Italy", where Fascism would make its last glorious fight.
[Smith, p317] Despite such strong rhetoric, Mussolini considered evacuating Fascists into Switzerland, although this was opposed by Germany, which instead proposed that Mussolini and key Fascist officials be taken into exile in Germany. Further disintegration of support for his government occurred as fascist and German military officials secretly tried to negotiate a truce with Allied forces, without consulting either Mussolini or Hitler.
Around 25 April 1945, Mussolini's republic came to an end. This day is known as ''Liberation Day''. On this day a general partisan uprising and the (Western) Allied spring offensive managed to largely oust the Germans from Italy. The Italian Social Republic had existed for slightly more than one and a half years.
On 27 April, Mussolini, his mistress (Clara Petacci), several RSI ministers, and several other Fascists were caught while attempting to flee. On 28 April most of the captives were shot at Mezzegra and Dongo by Italian partisans. Fifteen of the bodies were taken to Piazza Loreto, a square in the center of Milan and hanged unceremoniously upside down in front of a gas station.
RSI military formations
RSI soldiers, March 1944.
RSI soldier with signature "M" monogram on lapels.
Smaller units like the Black Brigades and the Decima Flottiglia MAS fought for the RSI during its entire existence. The Germans were satisfied if these units were able to participate in anti-partisan activities. While varying in their effectiveness, some of these units surpassed expectations.
In March, the bulk of the 1st Italienische Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade (or la Brigata d'Assalto, Milizia Armata in Italian) were sent to the Anzio beachhead where they fought alongside their German allies, receiving favourable reports and taking heavy losses. In recognition of their performance, Himmler declared the unit to be fully integrated into the Waffen SS.
On 16 October 1943, the Rastenburg Protocol was signed with Nazi Germany and the RSI was allowed to raise division-sized military formations. This protocol allowed Marshal Rodolfo Graziani to raise four RSI divisions totalling 52,000 men. In July 1944, the first of these divisions completed training and was sent to the front.
Recruiting military forces was difficult for the RSI, most of the Italian army had been interned by German forces in 1943, many Italians had been conscripted into forced labour in Germany and few wanted to participate in the war. The RSI became so desperate for soldiers that it granted convicts freedom if they would join the army and the sentence of death was imposed on anyone who opposed being conscripted. . Autonomous military forces in the RSI also fought against the Allies including the notorious Decima Flottiglia MAS of Prince Junio Valerio Borghese. Borghese held no allegiance to Mussolini and even suggested that he would take him prisoner if he could.
During the winter of 1944-1945, armed Italians were on both sides of the Gothic Line. On the Allied side were four Italian groups of volunteers from the old Italian army. These Italian volunteers were equipped and trained by the British. On the Axis side were four RSI divisions. Three of the RSI divisions, the 2nd Italian "Littorio" Infantry Division, the 3rd Italian "San Marco" Marine Division, and the 4th Italian "Monte Rosa" Alpine Division, were allocated to the LXXXXVII "Liguria" Army under Graziani and were placed to guard the western flank of the Gothic Line facing France. The fourth RSI division, the 1st Italian "Italia" Infantry Division, was attached to the German 14th Army in a sector of the Apennine Mountains thought least likely to be attacked.
On 26 December 1944, several sizeable RSI military units, including elements of the 4th Italian "Monte Rosa" Alpine Division and the 3rd Italian "San Marco" Marine Division, participated in Operation Winter Storm. This was a combined German and Italian offensive against the 92nd Infantry Division. The battle was fought in the Apennines. While limited in scale, this was a successful offensive and the RSI units did their part.
In February 1945, the 92nd Infantry Division again came up against RSI units. This time it was Bersaglieri of the 1st Italian "Italia" Infantry Division. The Italians successfully halted the US division's advance.
The RSI Minister of Defense, Rodolfo Graziani, was even able to say that he commanded an entire Army. This was the Italo-German Army Group Liguria.
On 29 April, Graziani surrendered and was present at Caserta when a representative of German General Heinrich von Vietinghoff-Steel signed the unconditional instrument of surrender for all Axis forces in Italy. But, since the Allies had never recognised the RSI, Graziani's signature was not required at Caserta. The surrender was to take effect on 2 May. Graziani ordered the RSI forces under his command to lay down their arms on 1 May.
The National Republican Air Force (''Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana'' or ANR) was the air force of Italian Social Republic and also the air unit of National Republican Army in World War II. Its tactical organization was: 3 Fighter Groups, 1 Air Torpedo Bomber Group, 1 Bomber Group and other Transport and minor units. The ANR worked closely with German Luftwaffe in Northern Italy even if the Germans tried, unsuccessfully, to disband the ANR forcing its pilots to enlist in the German Air Force (''Luftwaffe''). In 1944, after the withdrawal of all German fighter units in the attempt to stop the increased Allied offensive on the German mainland, ANR fighter groups were left alone and heavily outnumbered, to face the massive Allied air offensive over Northern Italy. In the operation time of 1944 and 1945 the ANR managed to shoot down 262 Allied aircraft with the loss of 158 in action.
[[http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/italy_drago.htm Italian biplane fighter aces - Ugo Drago]]
Very little of the Regia Marina chose to side with the RSI. The RSI's National Republican Navy (''Marina Nazionale Repubblicana'' or MNR) only reached a twentieth the size of the co-belligerent Italian fleet. The RSI Navy included the following craft: Four Motor Torpedo Boats (also known as Torpedo Armed Motorboats or ''Motoscafo Armato Silurante'' or MAS), two anti-submarine vessels, and various other light vessels. There were also five midget submarines stationed in northern Italy and five midget submarines stationed in Romania on the Black Sea. The five submarines stationed in northern Italy all chose to join the RSI Navy. Because of maintenance payment issues, only four of the submarines in Romania were returned to the RSI.
Troops of the Decima Flottiglia MAS fought primarily as an army unit of the RSI.
The fall of the Fascist regime in Italy and the disbandment of the MVSN saw the establishment of the Republican National Guard (''Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana'' or GNR), and the emergence of the Black Brigades (''brigate nere''). The forty Black Brigades consisted of former MVSN, former Carabinieri, former soldiers, former Italian Africa Police, and others still loyal to the Fascist cause. Alongside with their Nazi and ''Schutzstaffel'' (SS) counterparts, the Black Brigades committed many atrocities in their fight against the Italian resistance movement and political enemies. On August 15, 1944, the GNR became a part of the Army.
List of RSI Ministers
The following is a list of RSI ministers. Many did not live past the end of World War II.
* Head of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs: Benito Mussolini from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
:Undersecretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Serafino Mazzolini from 1943 to 1945 (died of a blood infection on 23 February 1945); Filippo Anfuso
* Minister of Defence: Rodolfo Graziani from 1943 to 1945.
* Ministers of the Interior: Guido Buffarini Guidi from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 10 July 1945); Paolo Zerbino in 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
* Ministers of Justice: Antonino Tringali-Casanova in 1943 (died of natural causes on 30 October 1943); Pietro Pisenti from 1943 to 1945.
* Minister of Finance: Domenico Pellegrini Giampietro from 1943 to 1945.
* Ministers of Industrial Production: Silvio Gai in 1943; Angelo Tarchi from 1943 to 1945.
* Minister of Public Works: Ruggero Romano from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
* Minister of Communications: Augusto Liverani from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
* Minister of Labour: Giuseppe Spinelli in 1945.
* Minister of National Education: Carlo Alberto Biggini from 1943 to 1945 (died of natural causes on 19 November 1945).
* Minister of Popular Culture: Fernando Mezzasoma from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
* Minister of Agriculture: Edoardo Moroni from 1943 to 1945.
* Leader of the Republican Fascist Party: Alessandro Pavolini from 1943 to 1945 (shot by partisans on 28 April 1945).
In post-war Italian politics
While the RSI was a puppet state of Nazi Germany, it allowed the Italian Fascist movement to build a completely totalitarian state. During the preceding twenty years of Fascist association with the Savoy monarchy of the Kingdom of Italy the Fascists had been restricted in some of their actions by the monarchy. The formation of the RSI allowed Mussolini to at last be the official head of an Italian state, and it allowed the Fascists to return to their earlier republican stances.
Most prominent figures of post-war Italian far right politics (parliamentary or extraparliamentary) were in some way associated with the experience of the RSI. Among them were Pino Romualdi, Rodolfo Graziani, Junio Valerio Borghese and Giorgio Almirante.
Today, a significant number of far right organizations in Italy, notably the Fiamma Tricolore party, still explicitly take inspiration for their social and political platform from the RSI experience. The RSI is usually seen as the example of what Fascism should have been. As a sign of this legacy, Fiamma Tricolore, for example, guarantees free membership for ex-RSI military.
[[http://www.fiammatricolore.net/fiamma/tesseramento.asp :: Fiamma Tricolore :: Sito ufficiale :: Appuntamenti]] A communique from the Rome section of the Fiamma said:
[Fiamma Tricolore] is a movement born to closely approximate the ideals of the Social Republic and its fighters. We would surely have fought on the side of this Republic, if only fate had allowed us to have been born during those years.
And we would have surely fought to win, because for us the political synthesis originating from the thought of Benito Mussolini is for us the only political, economic, and spiritual system able to bring about the freedom and social justice that are today denied to Italians and all other world populations. [...][We] relaunch our battle for a better tomorrow, embodying the ideals of the Black Shirts of Alessandro Pavolini.
[[http://www.fiammaroma.info Fiamma Tricolore Roma]])
A number of postage stamps were issued by the Republic of Salò; first Italian issues were overprinted with a fasces. Later locally produced ones were made.
In the arts
Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1976 film ''Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma'' was set in the Republic of Salò, using it as an allegory; the atrocities in the movie did not happen, but in the movie, most of the choices of millieus, clothing, uniforms, weapons and other details are historically correct.
Roberto Benigni's 1997 ''Life is Beautiful'' was set too in the Republic of Salò.
''Sanguepazzo'' Wild Blood (2008 film) tell the real story of the Fascist film star Luisa Ferida and Osvaldo Valenti and their support to Republic of Salò