The Megalomaniac Who Inspired World War 2

Most normal folk would righteously vilify Adolf Hitler as the most repugnant human who ever lived.

Were you to query the typical person regarding who was humanity’s single most despicable historical figure most would justifiably cite Adolf Hitler. That guy was a homicidal nutjob. He was personally responsible for tens of millions of innocent deaths. Hopefully, his is a record that will never be broken. However, what many do not appreciate is that Hitler’s role model, inspiration, and BFF was actually Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini paved the way for Hitler’s National Socialism.

The eldest of three siblings, Benito Mussolini was born in 1883 in Predappio, Italy. His father was a blacksmith and an atheist. His mother was a devout Catholic schoolteacher. Mussolini despised Christianity and deified the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Hitler once presented Mussolini with a complete 20-volume set of Nietzsche’s works as a personal gift.

Like most able-bodied men of his generation, Benito Mussolini served in the trenches during World War 1.

Prior to World War 1, Mussolini worked as a journalist. Late in the war he enlisted and served nine months in the trenches. He was badly wounded by a mortar round and carried no less than forty pieces of steel in his body for the rest of his days.

The Italians always did rock some seriously flamboyant headgear.

After his discharge, Mussolini returned to mass media. During WW1 Italy was aligned with the British. For a time Benito was paid handsomely by the British MI5 security service to help publish pro-war propaganda. As his political ambitions grew, Mussolini began to see himself as a 20th-century version of Julius Caesar. He felt his destiny was to lead Italy back to its Roman-era greatness.

Mussolini’s grasp on power was absolute. Those are surely some constipated-looking guys sitting behind him.

As is the case with all despots, Mussolini subscribed to a uniquely rarefied opinion of himself. By the mid-1920’s he had obliterated any vestiges of constitutional restraints on his personal power and established Italy as a dictatorial police state. In nearby Germany, an ambitious Adolf Hitler liked what he saw.

Benito Mussolini created for himself a persona that was larger than life.

By the 1930’s Mussolini enjoyed a remarkable cult of personality, sometimes helming as many as seven government departments simultaneously while still drawing a check as Italy’s supreme leader. His armed local fascist militia, the MVSN or Blackshirts, violently suppressed dissent. Under Mussolini’s leadership journalists were required to obtain a certificate of approval from the Fascist party. Unbeknownst to him, Il Duce (The Leader) was setting himself up for a mighty fall.

Running with the Wrong Crowd

Arno Brecker’s 1939 neoclassical work “Die Partei” depicts the Aryan archetype that resonated with Il Duce’s image of the master race.

Mussolini applied a certain social Darwinism to his international relations. He believed that virile nations with high birth rates were destined to destroy more effete nations with lower rates of procreation. This led him into an alliance with Germany and a visceral disdain for the French. He described the war as “The struggle of the fertile and young people against the sterile people moving to the sunset.”

These Italian armored cars are shown during the ill-fated invasion of the Balkans.

In short order, Italy allied itself with Germany and embarked on a variety of military misadventures. The Germans had to rescue the Italians in Greece and the Balkans, subsequently delaying Operation Barbarossa. The Italian formations committed to the bloody battles on the Eastern Front got chewed into sausage on the frozen Russian steppes. The Italians got soundly trounced in North Africa, and by 1943 Mussolini’s subjects were both cold and hungry. An uninterrupted stream of bad news from the sundry battlefields upon which Italian blood was being so liberally spilled finally spurred them to action.

These are some of the German Fallschirmjagers who freed Il Duce from Gran Sasso. Note the FG42 paratrooper rifle with its ZF4 scope resting on its integral bipod.

In July of 1943, Mussolini was summoned to a meeting with the Italian king and arrested. Mussolini was subsequently imprisoned at the alpine resort of Gran Sasso. In one of the most daring special operations in military history, an elite force of German Fallschirmjagers and Waffen SS troops led by Major Otto-Harald Mars and accompanied by the famed German commando Otto Skorzeny rescued Mussolini and spirited him to safety in Germany.

Mussolini was a notorious womanizer who maintained a generous harem. Clara Petacci was his final paramour.

Hitler mobilized German forces in Italy to shore up his southern front and appointed Mussolini the titular head of the Italian Socialist Republic, a German puppet state headquartered in Milan. As German battlefield reverses grew to epic proportions, Mussolini fled north to Switzerland with his mistress du jour Clara Petacci in a sports car he had given her as a gift. His final destination was actually Spain.

The Killing

The assassination of Benito Mussolini remains embroiled in controversy to this day.

The murder of Benito Mussolini has rightfully been described as the Italian JFK shooting. No less than a dozen different individuals claimed to have pulled the trigger. As such we will stick to the technical details and avoid some of the debatable human bits.

Mussolini was a professional journalist and an inveterate egomaniac. His efforts to deify himself made his one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

Mussolini disguised himself in a Luftwaffe helmet and greatcoat and masqueraded as a drunken German soldier in a military convoy. He was subsequently identified by his characteristic chiseled jaw and shaved head and captured by pro-communist partisans.

When they finally fell, Mussolini and Petacci fell a great distance.

Mussolini and Petacci spent their last evening alive together sharing a peasant bed in a farmhouse belonging to the De Maria family in Mezzegra. The following morning they were rousted so quickly Petacci was unable to retrieve her undergarments.

This man, an Italian partisan named Walter Audisio, likely pulled the trigger that killed Mussolini. The true details will likely never be known for certain.

An Italian partisan leader going by the nom de guerre Colonnello Valerio had the two prepped for execution. The most reliable versions of the story have him attempting to do the deed with a Sten submachine gun that jammed. He then retrieved a French-made MAS-38 and killed Mussolini with a burst of either seven or nine rounds.

The Gun

The Sten gun was widely distributed to partisan units during WW2.

We have explored the Sten in previous installments. It was a prolifically mass-produced arm that saw wide service with both partisans and Commonwealth forces around the world. The French MAS-38, however, was a remarkably well-made weapon that saw very limited production.

The French MAS-38 was an unusual but effective French SMG. Note the odd angular interface between the bolt raceway and the bore.

The MAS-38 sported a complicated machined steel receiver. Its action was an unusual off-axis delayed blowback contrivance that made the gun exceptionally controllable. The MAS-38 weighed just shy of ten pounds empty, cycled at around 650 rpm, and fed from a 32-round steel box magazine. The weapon’s unusual 7.65 Longue round was loosely based on the American .30-caliber Pederson cartridge.

The MAS-38 represented a decidedly unconventional design. It was by all accounts a fairly effective weapon, however.

The recoil system on the MAS-38 projected at an angle into the buttstock and the gun could be disassembled without tools. Pressing the trigger forward served to lock the bolt in either the open or closed position. The gun had a two-position flip-up sighting system.

The MAS-38 was a rare weapon, but it gained infamy as the gun that killed Mussolini. This is the actual piece that Collonnelo Valerio used to do the deed.

The MAS-38 was an odd rare piece. Less than 2,000 copies were manufactured prior to the German occupation of France. Production figures under German control are unknown. Some of the weapons were supplied to the Vichy French collaborationists, while the German Wehrmacht accepted the gun as a substitute standard weapon titled the 7.65mm MP722(f). The MAS-38 was encountered later during the war in French Indochina.

The Rest of the Story

The bodies of Mussolini and his entourage ultimately became a public spectacle.

Nearly a year before Mussolini was shot his government had murdered fifteen Italian partisans and displayed their bodies in the Piazzale Loreto, a suburban square in Milan. After Il Duce’s execution, his body along with that of Clara Petacci and his Fascist comrades were dumped in the same square. A violent crowd assembled and desecrated the corpses most vigorously. The entire macabre scene was captured by a US Signal Corps cameraman and can naturally be found on YouTube.

American soldiers later arranged the corpses of Mussolini and Petacci in this macabre embrace.

Partisans attempted unsuccessfully to disperse the crowd by firing into the air and unlimbering fire hoses. Most of the assembled unconventional troops appear to be armed with Carcano carbines or Beretta 38A submachine guns. An enraged Italian mother shot Mussolini’s corpse five times in the head with a pistol, loudly exclaiming that she had done so to avenge her five sons lost to the war. Angry Italians pummeled their dead leader’s body, and a woman unceremoniously hiked her skirts and urinated on his face.

Images of the desecration of Mussolini became some of the most enduring of the war. The shocking nature of this event shaped Hitler’s subsequent demise.

The corpses were ignominiously hung feet-first from an unfinished Esso gas station. Petacci’s lack of undergarments became embarrassingly obvious, so a local priest secured her skirt to her legs. Later in the day American military authorities retrieved the bodies and took them to a local morgue for autopsy. A slice of Il Duce’s brain was sent to America to be tested for syphilis. The test was negative, and Mussolini’s preserved gray matter was returned to his family for some bizarre reason in 1966.

Adolf Hitler carefully orchestrated his death, insisting that he be cremated so as not to become the freak show that his buddy Mussolini had.

Adolf Hitler was mortified at the news of the desecration of Mussolini’s corpse, and this shaped his own sordid destiny. Determined to avoid a similar fate, Hitler shot himself in the head with his engraved Walther PPK two days after Mussolini’s gory demise. He left instructions that his body along with that of Eva Braun be burned outside the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin.

It Gets Even Weirder…

The pursuit of Mussolini’s corpse took on the timbre of a dark comedy.

Mussolini was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave, but neofascists stole his body nearly a year later and spirited it off with the authorities in hot pursuit. Over the next sixteen weeks, they dragged the guy’s moldy corpse over half of Italy, losing one of his legs in the process. Italian authorities finally recovered what was left of him and hid it for the next eleven years in a Capuchin Monastery.

There yet remain those who venerate the degenerate Mussolini even today.

In 1957 Benito Mussolini’s long-suffering carcass was finally laid to rest in a family sarcophagus liberally adorned with fascist symbology and a marble bust of the man. Every year more than 70,000 people file by to gawk, pay their respects, or feed some misguided nostalgia for the good old days of unbridled despotism. Apparently the misplaced leg is still out there somewhere.  

Mussolini’s demise is itself a quirky tale. It seems only fitting that he would meet his end at the muzzle of a strange French submachine gun.
This is the farmhouse where Mussolini spent his last night on earth.
In a way, Benito Mussolini shaped both the beginning and end of WW2 in Europe. His heavy-handed governance inspired that of Adolf Hitler, while the frenetic nature of his demise drove Hitler to his ultimate doom.

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About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • sfvshooter June 17, 2020, 12:59 pm

    These comments are hilarious. Guess you can’t see the fascism when you have a hard on for socialism.

    History will judge Trump and his followers. You’re going to be on the wrong side, but most of you’ll be dead or you’ll lie about who you voted for.

    Live with that.

    • Big Al 45 June 22, 2020, 4:08 pm

      Talk about hilarious, you yourself are the epitome with that comment.
      Equating Trump to either of those Political beliefs makes you a fool, and a VERY uneducated one at that.
      Now, IF I’m wrong, and you were educated in a higher institution, I suggest you ask for your money back.
      Although, I suppose if you weren’t paying attention, it’s not their fault.

  • Bill Wright June 15, 2020, 11:38 am

    Mussolini was a rabid socialist. When he added thuggery, he invented fascism.

    • Helge June 16, 2020, 10:20 am

      That’s right, like Hitler. Everyone forgets that this Austrian artist-loser was a National Socialist. What we call Nazism is just an ugly extreme form of nationalism. And all of them – Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin were socialists in their views.

  • Mike in a Truck June 15, 2020, 11:00 am

    My uncle ( mothers side) was a 19 y.o. Blackshirt. Loved BM. Became disillusioned with the Nazi occupation and joined the resistance killing them as the opportunity arose.His favorite weapon was the 1911A1. Which he possessed until well after the war when the Carbineri took it away from him for waving it around in a cafe. And yes there is nothing more vicious than an Itallian woman done wrong. Unless it’s an Irish/ Itallian woman like my ex.

  • Dr. Strangelove June 15, 2020, 8:50 am

    Stalin and Mao exceeded Hitler’s body count by far.

    • Ernie Linquist June 15, 2020, 10:20 am

      Not so sure about “by far” or if even “exceeded”. The June 2020 National Geographic issue, with a front cover showing the caption, “The Last Voices of World War II”, contains fold pages titled, “Roots of Violence”. Those pages show estimated deaths related to wars/conflicts/atrocities dating from 500 B.C. right through the “Modern Age”.

      The breakout for Joseph Stalin is 20 million dead (1928-1953). For Mao Zedong, 40 million dead (1949-1976). World War II as a whole, 66 million dead, with the Holocaust accounting for 6 million of that, plus several million other minorities exterminated by Hitler and his henchmen.

      Out of the 66 million estimate, it’s difficult to say how many civilians in total, along with military members of allied and axis military powers, died directly or indirectly as a result of Hitler’s rule. But I’d guess Hitler’s body is right up there with Stalin’s and Mao’s or isn’t far behind.

      My takeaway from those fold out pages is that we’re, without doubt, a violent species, which will remain one of our less endearing traits as long as humans exist. Makes me glad I still have the right in the U.S., or at least in the State that I live, to own firearms. Anybody who wants to take that right way is being extremely naive and delusional if he or she believes that will make everything copacetic when it comes to crime and murder. It won’t, because violence is an ingrained part of our psyche. It’s just a matter of degree as to how much each individual manifests his or her violent proclivities, with many obviously taking it to the extreme.

      • Ac June 16, 2020, 1:33 am

        Hitler lost the war so he is the devil, if he had won, Sir Winston Churchill would have been hang for war crimes among others… History is always written by the victors

  • Pat Bryan June 15, 2020, 8:32 am

    Similar fascist ambitions are expressed today by Il Douchebag.

    • Tom June 15, 2020, 10:54 am

      By who? YO MOMMA OBAMA? Lol.

  • Kenneth J Hopman June 15, 2020, 7:29 am

    Number Three: Hitler: Responsible for approximately 15,000,000 Deaths;
    Number Two: Stalin: Responsible for approximately 25,000,000 Deaths; and
    Number Three: Mao Zedong: Responsible for approximately 70,000,000 Deaths.

    • Ohiochuck June 15, 2020, 10:38 am

      The Japanese slaughtered more people than Stalin and Hitler combined.

  • John Bryan June 14, 2020, 10:21 am

    Among Il Duce’s many contemporary admirers were a not small number of Americans on both the left and right – but, ironically at first glance, moreso on the left with American Progressives sending delegations to Italy to study just how Mussolini made “the trains run on time” per a popular song. All in all good riddance to bad rubbish.

    • schurmann June 17, 2020, 2:13 pm

      The single greatest accomplishment of the Left after 1945 has been their success in convincing most citizens in the USA, UK, and Western Europe to believe that Fascism and National Socialism were movements of the Right. By sufficiently torturing definitions, the Left – eagerly aided and abetted by academics, media types, “public intellectuals,” activists, and sundry wannabe hangers-on – has managed to “prove” that the Nazis and Fascists were to the right of the Communists.

      As time grinds on, it’s looking like the Left is at work, minimizing the numbers of deaths attributed to Soviet & Chinese Communists.

      Soon after WW2 ended in Europe, Stalin was being interviewed by some sycophant from a Western nation. The sycophant offer sympathies for Soviet losses to the Germans in the Great Patriotic War; Stalin remarked that losses were indeed high, but that the collectivization of agriculture had cost the Soviet Union far more.

      Researchers used to estimate that PRC’s Great Leap Forward and their Cultural Revolution caused the deaths of 100 million.

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