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Author's Note: Yes, this was inspired by the unfinished TL on alternatehistory.com of the same name. Since it is abandoned and it was one of my favourite timelines of all time, I thought I'd create it here with my own little spin on it.
The rise of the Italian Empire is perhaps the most epic tale of the twentieth century. The "Century of Fascism", as the great Duce himself called it, began as a simple ideology in Italy, by a former socialist and war veteran, who was seen as a joke internationally. From the March on Rome until the final days of the great Cold War of which Italy played a star role in, it was time for Italy to rise from its humiliation and instability, and for the Italian Empire to take the world by the throat, per l'onore d'Italia!
The Caesar's New Boots - 1933
The Italian Empire's history began its road to being the true heir to ancient Rome in 1933. It was a year of major developments. In January, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Worker's Party took power in Germany with help from his National Conservative allies. This event, known as "Machtergreifung", or the "Seizure of Power", began the transformation of Wiemar Germany into a National Socialist state. Although at first impressed by the Nazis, themselves modeling their government after Mussolini's own Fascist ideology, their racial policies made Il Duce sick to the stomach, and saw Hitler as nothing more than a mere Austrian Corporal. What did worry Mussolini to some degree, is the German claims to its old 1914 borders, convincing him that the Germans will try to expand east, and took that time to modernize his military.
Mussolini met with the king and his military advisers to discuss military reform in April of 1933, and agreed on building shipyards in southern Italy and Sicily to build an aircraft carrier to defend Italy's Mediterranean interests, as well as possibly expand Italy's naval presence in the Atlantic. A private meeting between Mussolini and the King took place on April 24th to talk about Germany's new leader: Adolf Hitler. Both men detested his racial policies and agreed that he would be a danger to the Italian people in the future, and a change in military doctrine seemed reasonable. For that to become a reality, Italy would have to turn to its great war allies: Britain and France.
Mussolini would land in the Great West Aerodrome on May 20th, 1933, and was greeted by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Lord Mayor Charles Colette . They took Il Duce to a banquet nearby, and he would spend the rest of the day touring London. The next day, he and the British Prime Minister took a train to Westminster, where Il Duce was to meet the King.
Mussolini arrived at Westminster on the 21st, and taken to Buckingham Palace for a private meeting with King George V. Mussolini spoke in English, which he spoke quite well. MacDonald, King George and Mussolini spoke alone, where Mussolini requested that some of his military commanders come to Britain and train alongside the British military commanders. Officers were not excluded from the request, which Il Duce intended to train his soldiers with new doctrine. He stated that the same offer was to be extended to the French, and reinforced his fears that the Germans are looking for war in Europe. MacDonald and King George were skeptical about the idea, but assured Mussolini that he would get an answer by the 24th.
The Prime Minister and the King, after much debate, decided to accept the deal. Mussolini was informed and was ecstatic. Upon his return to Italy, Il Duce meet with his top military commanders again, this time to discuss the Air Force. Italo Balbo, who was present at the meeting and one of Il Duce's closest friends, explained that in order to combat the rising threat from Hitler, a modernization of the Air Force was needed. The request was granted, and Italo Balbo was named Minister of the Air Force of the Kingdom of Italy.
Mussolini poured money into aircraft research, and ordered for new fighters to be designed and built by the mid-late 1930's, with a new bomber and fighter already in development for that time period. New airfields were being constructed in Southern Italy and aircraft factories in Sicily to help with the unemployed.
Mussolini would plan a state visit to Paris in June to extend the proposal to the French, and Mussolini begins advocating for an Anglo-Italo-French summit to discuss improving relations, and the possibility of future war games and designs for tanks and aircraft, maybe even the possibility of an anti-German defense pact.
The First Martyr - 1934
The events of August 31, 1934 would be one of the darkest in modern Italian history. It was a peaceful day in Rome, the King was on a tour of Rome with Mussolini. At 2:05pm, the convoy stopped at an intersection. Suddenly, three gunmen went in front of the car containing the King and three royal guards. They opened fire, with 17 shots being fired in total, killing King Vittorio Emanuele, and two of the royal guards, wounding the third. Guards from the other cars fired on the gunmen, who in turn, fired back. Two were killed on the street while the third ran into a shop and through the back entrance. One of the men who murdered the king was on the run in Rome.
The King's death was announced the next day, with Italians all across the world mourning the loss of their beloved monarch. The King of England sent his condolences, and announced that he would attend his funeral. Adolf Hitler, although not personally caring for the king, sent his condolences anyway and visited Italy to prevent this from sparking an international incident. His funeral service was planned for September 12th.
The manhunt for the last shooter, who was revealed to be a National Socialist by the name of Jochim Günsche, began all across Rome. Newspapers printed his face on the front cover and mobs of Italians armed themselves and searched everywhere for the shooter. A speech by now-King Umberto II, who was crowned hours after his father's death, spoke to ethnic Italians worldwide: "My father will be remembered as a martyr, a martyr for Italy, and of Fascism. Viva l'Italia!"
The National Socialist was found in his hideout thanks to a lookout who spotted him buying groceries. His hideout was stormed on September 3rd, and the mob violently executed the shooter. The police quickly dispersed the crowd, and took the assassin's body (what was left of it) for inspection. At the late king's funeral, Mussolini declared August 31st to be "Martyr's Day", to commemorate Vittorio Emanuele and the others who were killed, as they were Martyr's of Fascism. An elite special forces division, known as the Vittorio Emmanuele III Division, was created in the fallen king's honor.
The Second Italo-Ethiopian War - 1935
Author's note: I will skip the Second Italo-Ethiopian War section for now.
In March of 1935, Mussolini was planning his next move, which would be Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been a theatre for Italian conquest before, in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, which the Italians unsuccessfully attempted to force Ethiopia to abide by their version of the Treaty of Wuchale, which stated that Ethiopia was to be an Italian protectorate.
Nazi-Italian Relations Overview and the South Tyrol Question - 1934 - 1935
Hitler and Mussolini distrusted each other, that was a fact. Mussolini hated the Nazi ideology of racial purity and that made relations between the two countries tense. Vittorio Emanuele being assassinated by three National Socialists didn't help either, sparking unrest that led to the deaths of nearly 100 ethnic Germans in Northern Italy. Mussolini could see Hitler eyeing Austria, and has made every move he can short of war to prevent that from happening. Some time after his conquest of Ethiopia, Mussolini personally inspected the Austro-Italian border, where National Socialists had gathered, protesting against the Italian killings of ethnic Germans. However, one protester had tried to cross the border illegally, to which Il Duce gave the order to shoot. He was gunned down, sparking violence among the National Socialists just across the border.
This incident sparked unrest among the German population, with riots in South Tyrol being viciously crushed by the Blackshirts themselves. Hitler had denounced the Italianization efforts of the Fascists before, putting a further strain of relations between the two dictatorships. In private, Hitler hoped to annex South Tyrol at some point, but was smart enough not to announce this intention, lest it provoke a war against Italy. Mussolini would obviously not allow that to happen, but Hitler saw an opportunity. A meeting between the two leaders was set for September 4, 1935, where Hitler and Mussolini would come to terms for a solution to the assimilation of South Tyrol. The Germans in South Tyrol would be given an option, either emigrate to Germany or face the loss of their language and culture and be assimilated into mainstream Italian society. Over 85% opted to leave Italy and go to Germany, while the rest were subject to forced Italianization.
Spanish Civil War - 1936
1936 was a tumultuous year for Europe. Spain disintegrated into Civil War between the Nationalists led by Francisco Franco and the Republicans led by the Spanish president: Manuel Azaña. The Republicans were supported by the Soviets and the Nazis (mostly due to Italy supporting the Nationalists). Mussolini pledged support for the "Spanish Fascists" in a speech in mid-1936. Hitler had made a speech the following week to announce his intention to support the Republicans, which shocked Franco. The extent of support for the Nationalists was never revealed to the public, but thousands of trained Italian veterans from Ethiopia captured various coastal cities for the Nationalists. In August, a campaign left Alicante, Valencia, and Cartagena in Italian control, with around 1,000 Italian casualties and over 5,000 for the Republicans.
Under Rodolfo Graziani, Italian soldiers poured into Spain to assist Franco's Nationalists. The size of the Italian troops allowed Franco to capture Bilbao on September 1, 1936 after a long battle. The same veteran soldiers that captured Spanish coastal cities at the beginning of the war were training the Nationalists, who would go on to take Zaragoza in mid-September. The Condor Legion, after suffering three consecutive defeats at the hands of the nationalists, was pulled out by Hitler out of embarrassment. Hitler would gather his military advisers and order them to correct the mistakes that happened during the war. On October 2, Britain and France sent volunteer divisions, who would hook up with Italian forces to finally capture Barcelona on October 12, after the long bombing campaign. By October 17, all coastal cities were in Nationalist and/or Italian control, and the Nationalists, aided by the Italian Royal Air Force, were on the march to Madrid. On October 22, the Nationalists had surrounded the capital city. Franco had sent an ultimatum of surrender to the Republican leadership. Most of the Republican soldiers surrendered, but fighting continued for weeks. On November 12, the rest of the Republicans threw down their arms, ending the conflict. The Spanish Civil War was finally over, and Nationalists celebrated over their victory via a joint Spanish-Italian parade attended by Il Duce and Francisco Franco themselves. The French and British, though sympathetic to the Republicans, decided to assist their ally Italy out of opposition to Nazi support for the Republicans.
The Rome-Madrid Axis and Albania - 1937
Italy was on a roll in the 1930's. Ethiopia has been conquered in 1935 and Fascism has triumphed in Spain in 1936 earning Mussolini a new ally and a strategic position in the Mediterranean. Hitler had, in turn, earned an enemy in the Mediterranean as Franco was livid at Hitler's support for the Republicans during the civil war. A private meeting was set up between Il Duce and Il Caudillo in Naples on new years day, 1937. The Naples Accord made a mutual alliance official between the Kingdom of Italy and the Spanish State, with Italy and Spain agreeing to aid each other if one was to be the victim of aggression by Germany, on the condition that Italy help rebuild Spain and stimulate its economy. The two Fascist leaders shook hands after the institution of the Rome-Madrid Axis and continued Franco's state visit. Franco and Mussolini would tour Rome, and would make a visit to the Vatican, where Franco was greeted by Pope Pius XI and several members of the Catholic Clergy, who would proclaim their support for the two, turning the visit into a propaganda campaign. They also inspected the Vittorio Emmanuele III Division, whom had helped the Nationalists against the Republicans. Giving them an official commendation, Franco had asked that several elite soldiers from his army be allowed to serve in the division as a gesture of friendship. Mussolini agreed, and dozens of elite Spanish troops became part of the unit. After Franco departed, Mussolini would meet with his military advisers to plan for his next conquest.
1937 was a tumultuous year for the world. The Japanese had attacked China, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was initiating a purge of supposed dissidents, Germany was once again attempting to annex Austria and Mussolini was now planning his next addition to his empire. Albania was a target for Italy since the Fascist regime's establishment. Italy had penetrated the Albanian economy and dominated its political spectrum, with the kingdom being a de facto Italian protectorate since 1927. An invasion was planned years earlier, and was set for 1938 or 1939, but with the quick end to both the Italo-Ethiopian and Spanish Civil Wars, Mussolini did not want Italy's momentum to lose steam. With Mussolini feeling confident with his strategic position in the Mediterranean, an order was issued for an invasion of Albania to be planned and set for mid-May.
The invasion began on the morning of May 17th. A paratrooper force of 10,000 men landed in Vlorre and Durres, capturing them with little resistance, opening up the ports to Italian cargo ships, who proceeded to send in armoured divisions and regular infantry. Italo Balbo's Air Force began bombing Albanian supply lines and captured many of their officers, cutting off any sort of competent leadership to organize an effective resistance like the Italians experienced in Abyssinia. The next day, Mussolini publicly announced the invasion, citing various reasons to justify the invasion and explain why it is rightfully Italian. In just a matter of days, Tirana was miles away from the Italian army, and a final ultimatum was given to King Zog I of Albania, demanding he abdicate and be relocated to Northern Italy, where he was assured that he would be taken care of. He denied the offer, and reorganized his army for a defense of the city.
On May 20th, the Italians marched into Tirana, where they met with some resistance from the Albanian army. Though a reinforced thrust into the city backed by tanks succeeded in crippling the Albanian defenses, and troops scattered. King Zog and a small force of Royal Guards attempted to escape the city, but the Italians cut them off and captured the King. On the 21st, the Albanian King was forced into exile into a private residence in northern Italy. Pockets of resistance continued until May 26th, when the last of the Albanian Royal Army signed an unconditional surrender to the Italians. The war lasted less than ten days, with 110 Italian and nearly 700 Albanian casualties. In a ceremony in the Albanian Palace of Brigades, Umberto II was crowned King of Albania, and Albania was made a client state in personal union with Italy, but was de facto part of the Italian state.
Anschluss - 1937
Austria was a thorn in the side of German-Italian relations. Repeated attempts to unify the German and Austrian states by Hitler made the prospect of war between the two nations seem not so crazy, and violence between Austro-Fascists and Nazis has escalated to levels unprecedented. Hitler made a visit to the Austrian leadership on July 2nd, demanding them to appoint National Socialists to positions of power within the government. Mussolini, after learning of this, made his own visit to Austria, urging the Chancellor to resist the demands Hitler has put forth. Unfortunately for Il Duce, the Chancellor agreed to Hitler's demands, fearful of increasing internal strife.
Hitler made a speech on August 1st, 1937, promising the freedom to "[our] ten million German brothers locked away across its borders", instituting German claims over Austria and (parts of) Czechoslovakia. Hitler made another state visit to Austria, speaking in public, demanding a referendum be put for vote, allowing the people to choose to unify with their German brothers. Again, fearful of civil war, the Austrians accepted to the demand, and a referendum was set for September 2nd, despite massive disapproval from Mussolini. While the referendum was going on, the Wehrmacht was ordered across the Austrian border, and, led by Hitler himself, marched to Vienna. Enthusiasm toward Hitler surprised both Nazis and non-Nazis, with the Wehrmacht being welcomed with Nazi salutes and flowers. At the Heldenplatz, Hitler proclaimed that Germany's eastern province is reunited with the Reich.
Czechoslovakia, the Munich Agreement and the Fascist International - 1937 - 1938
After the Anschluss between Germany and Austria, many hoped that that was the end of his territorial ambitions. In late 1937, Hitler had announced to the German people that he wanted the Sudetenland, a Czech territory, to become part of the rising German Reich. Mussolini, during an address to the Fascist Council, believed Hitler to try to act upon his momentum of taking Austria, and dismissing the "Austrian Corporal" as someone just trying to act tough. Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his son-in-law, was weary of the Germans, and feared that the Germans were in fact militarily strong. Ciano, who had himself met Hitler in September of 1937, knew Hitler could not be trusted, but Mussolini didn't believe Hitler to be serious even for one second.
In December of 1937, Ciano's fears were confirmed when on the 25th, the Christmas War occurred. On that day, German troops patrolling the border accidentally crossed into the Sudetenland, and fired on Czech troops. The Czech and Germans both sent reinforcements, and by day's end, nearly 44 German troops were dead, and 62 Czech troops were killed. Over 100 more were wounded. The next day, General De Bono sent extra troops to the Italian-German border, where German troops opened fire on Italian troops. 15 Italians were killed, and five Spanish troops (who were on the border for training by Italian troops) were killed. Between 20-30 German troops were killed during the border fight. Mussolini on the 2nd of January, 1938, replied to the attacks and demanded the Germans apologize for the attacks. Hitler on the 4th of January responded by sending extra troops to the Czech and Italian border.
On the 15th of January, more Italian soldiers, including the Vittorio Emmanuele III Division, were brought to the Italo-German Border, with several Aircraft Carriers being brought into the Adriatic, preparing for possible intervention. The heightened border issues were noticed by the French and British, who began to deploy their Navies, fearing they would be dragged into an Italo-German war. On February 17th, 1938, Hitler retreated his forces and on the 1st of March, the Italians and Czech did the same. The next day, King Umberto II called for the Italian people to remain calm during the time of German aggression, and that if the Germans came into Italy, to "Fight to the last man, woman and child! Never shall the National Socialists take our land!"
On the 12th of April, the Germans called for a Conference to take place to discuss the Germans to gain the Sudetenland. Mussolini and Chamberlain refused the offer, and urged for the Czech to fight back against any aggression. The leaders of France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom all met in Milan to discuss what to do if the Germans did make a move into the Sudetenland, and agreed to condemning the Germans, as well as opening the possibility to military actions. The next day though, the British and French backed out of possible military action if a war broke out. Mussolini, and Franco were stuck negotiating with Hitler.
In July of 1938, the Germans called for British, French, and Italian leaders to meet with Hitler in Munich to come to a decision over the Czech crisis. All sides agreed, and the Munich Conference would discuss what to do over the Sudetenland Crisis. The meeting began in late July and ended in early August, where the Munich Pact was signed between Chamberlain, Mussolini, Hitler, and the French leadership. The agreement gave Hitler the Sudetenland, and Hungary, an ally of Germany, parts of Southern and Eastern Slovakia. After the conference, Mussolini met with Ciano and he then agreed that Hitler was a threat, and that war with Germany was inevitable. A photo of the leaders was taken, showing something of a humorous show of Italian mistrust to the Germans, with Mussolini glaring at the German leader Adolf Hitler.
Following his return to Rome on the 6th of August, Mussolini, taking inspiration from the Communist International, urged Fascists worldwide to meet in Rome for a Fascist International. Eventually, it would become known as the Roma Pact, or the Alliance of Fascists. The two Fascist states of Italy and Spain would have their leadership present, as well as many members of their Fascist parties. The British Union of Fascists would also be in attendance, as well as their leader Oswald Mosley. The Brazilian Integralism movement, represented by Plinio Salgado, would also attend the Roma Pact.
On the 31st of October, the First Roma Pact began, or as many others called it the First Fascist International, began. It was seen as a way to combat Hitler's Nuremberg Rallies every year in Germany and the Communist International. All of the Fascist leaders arrived in Rome on that day, and the meeting would last until the 6th of November. The meeting outlined a strategy for various parties to take power in their respective countries, or how current Fascist governments can improve their power within their nations. In addition to the Italian and Spanish leadership, parties from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Persia, and South Africa were also in attendance.
The Pact ended on the night of November 6th, after the March of Fascists from Pisa to Rome. It would be something of a holy march for Fascists worldwide. It ended with a tribute to Victor Emmanuel III, the Martyr of Italy, and an Italian military parade in Rome headed by the elite military division named after him, the Vittorio Emmanuele III Division. Oswald Mosley called the rally a success to Fascists internationally, while Hitler feared Mussolini was planning a war against him.
Invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Second Martyr - 1939
On January 19th, 1939, war inched ever closer to the Italians, when on that date, the Germans broke the Munich Pact, and invaded Czechoslovakia. The invasion was harshly criticized, but it led to the capitulation of Prague on the 22nd of January, their complete surrender three days later, and the last fighting ending on the 27th. Slovakia was turned into a puppet state of the Germans, and the Italian security along the border was heightened to unprecedented levels. Thousands of Italian citizens protested the invasion outside of the German Embassy, while the Czech Government-in-exile took up residency in Rome on the 1st of February. The King of Italy, Umberto II, called the invasion of Czechoslovakia an atrocity, one which should be reversed. The calls for the return of Czech sovereignty were ignored by the Germans.
Poland was feared to be the next target of German aggression, and throughout February, France, and the United Kingdom set up guarantees for Poland's sovereignty. The Italians though, who were now eyeing Yugoslavia and Greece, did not want a war to interrupt their plans for invasions in the Balkans. To make sure war didn't spoil Italy's next conquest, he called on the British and French to not give guarantees to anyone, or they would only be plunging Europe into war. He did this mostly throughout March and April, hoping to seem a bit friendlier to the Germans, so that if war did break out, the Germans may overlook the Italians for a time and allow Mussolini to carve out the Balkans.
The Summer of 1939 was met with many challenges for Italy. King Umberto II, while visiting Bolzano for a parade, was shot at by German sympathizers. While he survived the Bolzano Attacks, 14 people were either killed or injured by the crossfire. Six of the gunmen were arrested and swiftly executed, while four of them were interrogated. They were National Socialists who crossed the border from Germany, and were ordered by their organization to kill the King. Mussolini asked the Germans to investigate into this organization, but the Germans refused, with Hitler claiming "Mussolini's claims of a German organization wanting to kill their King is insane, and unwanted. They are disrupting the peace that the Munich Pact called for!"
On the 28th of August, 1939, another border incident took place when the King of Italy was visiting the border. While visiting a schoolhouse in Milan with two of his children, including his heir Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, the King was shot by a man only known as Gunther. The King of Italy was pronounced dead three days later on Martyr's Day, the 31st of August. The gunman also killed four other school children and severely wounded Victor Emmanuel IV, who was now technically the King of Italy despite his young age of a little over two years old. This led to chaos all over Italy as thousands took to the streets, in an image reminiscent of 1934, when Victor Emmanuel III was shot to death. Victor Emmanuel IV, who was too young to lead, was still in the hospital and looked as if he would not survive the year due to a gunshot to the chest.
Civilians attacked German tourists and ethnic Germans all across the country, and on the 29th of August, protesters stormed the German Embassy in Rome, accusing the Germans of planning the assassination. The Black Shirts even took part in some of the protests, burning German-owned shops in Rome, Milan, Venice, Palermo, and Naples. By the end of the protests and riots on Martyr's Day, over 60 people were killed, most of them German-Italian, or German born. While the German Embassy was still intact following the civilians storming its entrance, the Germans condemned the attacks against ethnic Germans. On the 29th of August, the Germans pulled back its Ambassador to Italy, saying that they will return in September once Hitler is fully informed of the situation in Italy.
Mussolini, on the 31st of August, 1939, announced that Italy would introduce a new flag, one that would be raised on Martyr's Day every year, to represent the Martyrs of the Italians, Victor Emmanuel III and his son, Umberto II. The new flag was a horizontal tricolor, adorned with the coat of arms of the House of Savoy on the left side of the flag, complete with a black band in the center to symbolize mourning for the fallen Kings. The flag was widely received by most people, and brought up morale during such a tragedy in Italy. King Victor Emmanuel IV was photographed in his hospital room that day as well, conscious, and next to the Pope, who was visiting the hospital in Milan that day. The new King, due to his young age, deferred his power to Mussolini who became his regent. As a result, Il Duce became the single most powerful man in Italy, with no opposition to his rule.
However, on the next day, September 1st, 1939, the world would forever be changed. Early in the morning, German forces led an invasion of Poland. Two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.
Prelude to the Invasion of Yugoslavia - 1940
As the year 1940 rolled in, the face of Europe had been changed. Poland was occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union, France and Britain were fighting what was dubbed a "Phoney War" against the Germans while the Italians were busy preparing for their next conquests. Constant debates took place with Mussolini's Inner Circle, on whether or not to take part in the war. The Anti-German faction led by Ciano wanted to invade Austria, and to force Southern Germany into the Empire. Others, like Italo Balbo, wanted to avoid the Germans as long as possible, knowing that Italy would eventually be drawn into the raging conflict. Mussolini knew that the Germans were doomed, and decided to, according to the diary of Ciano, "Wait for the West to crush the Germans militarily, then we move in to feast on the scraps."
Mussolini's decision came on the 1st of April, 1940, and thus, military capabilities were starting to go to the borders and seas of Yugoslavia, to prepare for the inevitable invasion of the country. Mussolini knew that it was an opportune time to invade Yugoslavia, since the West and Germany were occupied with war, so much so that any Italian intervention would probably be second page news to most people, and the fact that the Italians controlling the Balkans would be seen as more favourable than the Tripartite Pact, the alliance made up of the German Reich, Kingdom of Hungary and the Empire of Japan, controlling the region. The Pact was signed on the 12th of April, and was followed hours later by a Declaration of War by Hungary on France and the United Kingdom. On the 15th of April, Mussolini ordered that an invasion plan be drawn up in case war with Germany ever did come to pass. This was known as Operation Tripoli, due to Mussolini and Balbo being present in the city on the 15th of April when the plans were being drawn up.
On the 10th of May, Mussolini visited London, the same day as two major events. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, and the Germans launched the invasion of the Low Countries and France. Mussolini was still unsure what to do at the time, and on the 12th, during an address at the British Union of Fascists headquarters in English, he said "The time for action is now. While Italy is neutral, you have a duty to your country, as Fascists in Italy have a duty to theirs. Fascists always put their allegiance to their country first, not to a God, not to a King."
Mussolini also inspected British Union of Fascists forces in Britain, and urged some of them to volunteer for the new Italian Foreign Legion. On the 15th of May, Mosley agreed to this, and over 1,500 volunteers agreed to join. On the same day, Mussolini met with Churchill at 10 Downing Street with a French Representative. Mussolini promised neutrality on the condition that Savoy, Nice, Tunisia, Djibouti and Corsica. After hours of debate, the French gave in, under the promise that Rome be the home of a government-in-exile if Paris is overrun, as well as the permission of volunteers to join the war effort against the Germans. Mussolini agreed, and on the 1st of June, the discussed territories were ceded to Italy. Over the next few weeks, the Germans continued to push into France, until on the 22nd of June, the French surrendered to the Germans. French forces under Charles de Gaulle fled into Italian territory and made their way to Africa.
Mussolini, in July of 1940, was preparing for his Balkans Campaign. Over 300,000 Italian troops were prepared for the invasion by land in Northern Italy, and 150,000 in Albania. Over 40,000 were prepared to land along the Yugoslavian Adriatic Coast to prepare for naval landings when the war was to begin. On the 15th of July, Operation Adriatic Storm began; the Invasion of Yugoslavia.
The War in Yugoslavia - 1940
The Yugoslav War began officially on the 15th of July. A month before, France surrendered to the Germans, giving the neutral Italy land in Africa and Europe. Savoy and Nice were given to Italy if they promised to remain neutral, and support the Allies in some ways. Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti were also given to the Italians, with rumors of Somaliland, a British colony in Africa, will soon become Italian as well. The Italians though, at the orders of Benito Mussolini, and the blessing of the Royal Family, were preparing for a different war. With the other world powers otherwise distracted, the Italians, with minor assistance from Spain, were preparing to expand Fascism into Yugoslavia, which Mussolini intended to annex into his growing empire.
In the early morning of the 15th of July, 1940, Italian troops were dropped inland along the Adriatic Coast, causing chaos for Yugoslav supply lines, as well as opening way for a landing force to take Split, a vital town along the Adriatic. Most of the Yugoslavian Navy, which was in port, was captured or destroyed by Italian forces. Air attacks took place all across Yugoslavia, with heavy bombers taking to the air and striking vital Yugoslav supply depots. Some 10,000 Italian troops landed in Split, and started to expand outward into neighboring areas.
Hours later, tens of thousands of Italian troops crossed into Yugoslavia from the North, and quickly captured Ljubljana, and Flume. To the South, Italian forces based in Albania quickly pushed North into Montenegro, capturing most of the area by the 16th of June, while Italian forces moved into Macedonia with heavy Yugoslav resistance. While the Italians were superior to the Yugoslavs, it took nearly five days to capture Macedonia, and wipe out resistance in the area. On the 22nd of July, Italian forces began a massive push both from the North and South to capture the city of Sarajevo, with forces from Split also coming in from the West. On the 25th of July, the Siege of Sarajevo began when Yugoslav forces were surrounded by the Italians. Air raids took place day and night, and while urban warfare took a hold on the city, civilians started to take up arms to end the siege as soon as possible. Some civilians supported the Italians, believing the war was lost, while others took up arms against Italian forces. The siege ended on the 2nd of August when an Italian air raid took out the local command center, killing most of the officers in the city.
The Vittorio Emmanuele III Division and the newly established Umberto II Division began an offensive to take Belgrade. Italian troops pushed into Uzice on the 5th of August, and Valjevo on the 7th of August. Brod and Vinkovci were also captured on the 8th of August, as Italian troops were charging toward Belgrade. King Peter of Yugoslavia on the 9th of August surrendered to oncoming Italian troops during a visit to the front lines, and on the 10th of August, the first Italian troops reached the banks of the Danube. Italian troops quickly marched into Belgrade unopposed on the 14th of August, and at that point, Yugoslavia had no choice but to surrender to the Italians.
Nearly 77,000 Yugoslavian troops were killed during fighting, with 18,000 Italian troops killed. Some 35,000 civilians were killed during the battles in some of the major cities, or due to resistance fighting in some parts of the Adriatic Coast. As the Italians settled in during their new victory, plans were being made for a similar invasion in the South, directed at the Greeks.
The Greek Conquest - Late 1940
The Italians continued to consolidate their gains in Yugoslavia for the remainder of the Summer. Graziani, Badoglio, and De Bono on the other hand, were preparing for their next major offensive, the absorption of Greece into their Empire. During the Italian invasion of Yugoslavia, the Germans were attempting to court the Greeks into their camp. Field Marshal Papagos believed the Germans would help the Greeks achieve their goals of taking Rhodes, Albania and parts of Turkey; the Greeks having dreams of their own Empire. The dictator urged the Greek Government in September of 1940 to join the Tripartite Pact. When Italian spies in Greece informed Mussolini that the Greeks were preparing to ally themselves with the Germans at some point in 1941, Il Duce realized he needed to act quickly. He began to prepare Italian troops for a land invasion of Greece, as well as for two troop landings in Crete and in Patras. The invasion date was set for the 5th of October, 1940.
On the 3rd of October, 1940, when addressing the Grand Fascist Council, Mussolini called for war against Greece so as to prevent them from falling to the Tripartite Pact and essentially allowing Hitler to surround Italy. The Grand Fascist Council voiced their support for their leader. On the 4th of October, Italo Balbo, who was placed in charge of the Air assets during the invasion, visited the border of Greece, where he assured his front line commanders that the invasion would "be a complete success." On the 5th of October, the Invasion of Greece, known as Operation Odysseus, was launched.
The invasion began on its planned date of the 5th of October with massive air attacks all across the Greco-Italian border. Fortifications were eliminated, as well as many airfields across Greece. Hours later, a force of nearly 600,000 troops began the invasion of Greece, swiftly capturing Veria, Corfu, Vevi, Adessa, and Kilkis. General Graziani began a large-scale operation on the 6th of October to move into Thessaloniki, which was quickly captured after nearly a day of fighting on the 7th of October. This cut off a large portion of Eastern Greece, which had now become effectively immobilized. Large portions of the Italian Army under Ugo Cavallero was making a push South, and on the 14th of October, pushed into Katerini under heavy resistance from the Greeks. On the 16th of October, he had Italian troops march south to capture Mount Olympus, and mount the Italian flag over the mountain. The Vittorio Emmanuele III Division began to move south from there, capturing Trikala on the 18th of October, and pushing on the Thermopylae Front on the 20th of October, Greece's last line of defense into Athens.
The opportunity to break the Thermopylae Front arrived on the 22nd of October, when Italian paratroopers landed in Crete, capturing all of the island's major cities within a day, and two airfields, allowing for Italian bombers to control the Aegean. On the 24th of October, naval landings took place in Patras, with the Umberto II Division pushing east toward Corinth, capturing the city on the 26th of October. Italian troops began a new offensive to capture Athens within the end of the month, which was under Mussolini's direct orders, orders that his Generals were dedicated to carrying out. The Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, ordered his Generals to make a last stand in Thermopylae and the Battle of Thermopylae as a result led to devastating results for the Greeks. While it delayed the Italians by several days, most of Greece's elite forces were either killed or captured. Emilio De Bono led Italian forces on the 2nd of November into Athens, which had surrendered before the Italians even reached the city. Mextaxas fled to Rafti on the 4th of November, where he committed suicide. Alexander Papagos chose to surrender the Greek Armed Forces to the Italians on the 6th of November after the surrender of Thrace. The war was over.
After Greece and Operation: Barbarossa - 1941
While the Italians were consolidating their gains in Yugoslavia and Greece, the war continued to rage all across Europe. The Battle of Britain ended, and Winston Churchill was now seeking another nation to assist his war against the Nazis. Unfortunately, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary were under the Tripartite banner, and there were rumours that Hitler was attempting to contact the Turkish government and offer Italian lands in Greece. British intelligence managed to intercept messages detailing these offers and immediately reported it to Churchill. Fearing the Turks would ally with the Germans, made a risky decision. On February 10th, 1941, he organized a meeting with Benito Mussolini in Alexandria, Egypt to discuss a possibly alliance against the Germans. The Spanish, the other half of the Rome-Madrid Axis, or the Axis Alliance, would also send a representative to the secretive meeting.
The meeting was held on March 10th through the 1st of April, during which time Churchill and Mussolini personally discussed a plan for a pre-emptive strike on the German Reich. Churchill planned for the Italians to enter the war in early 1943, knowing that by then the Germans will have expanded too much and would be a perfect time to strike into Austria and Southern France. Mussolini agreed to opening a 2nd Front in early 1943, and plans were drawn up to begin building up troops for the invasion in December of 1942, so that Mussolini can crush any potential rebellion in recently conquered areas. The Italians however wanted compensation, particularly Malta, Trans-Jordan, and railroad access across Sudan to connect the Italian colony in Abyssinia. Churchill agreed, promising to give Malta to the Italians once the war was over. They signed the Treaty of Alexandria on the 15th of April, 1941.
Upon Mussolini's return to Rome, he immediately met with military leaders, placing Badoglio and Graziani in charge of the two armies to be redeployed to the German border in late-1942. They would consist of 600,000 troops, one force to cross into Vichy France, the other into Austria to capture Innsbruck and push north into Munich. Along with that plan, De Bono would lead an invasion force into Romania and Bulgaria, and the British would, according to the plan, land troops in Calais. The plan was, in retrospect, considered impossible; the Germans still had far more available troops and resources than the Italians did. Churchill offered to send a large British Expeditionary Force to Italy to assist with the invasion, but Mussolini refused, on the grounds that it was Italy's who will triumph in Austria and Southern France, not Britain.
In June of 1941 however, plans completely changed. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union en masse, altering Mussolini's plans. He wanted to push up the date of the invasion, but Churchill, wanting to be cautious, moved the date of Italian intervention up to allow for further preparation for an invasion with the new developments by the arrival of the Soviet Union into the war. The Treaty of Alexandria still stood, and while Churchill was happy a second front was opened, he was upset it led to the possibility of a Soviet-occupied Europe in the end. For the next few months, Italian diplomats met with British diplomats in Jerusalem to discuss the new plans for Italian intervention. The discussion invited representatives from the Soviet Union to Jerusalem, where much of the war planning would be located throughout the war.
In December of 1941, once again, plans changed for the war. Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the Americans into the war against the Tripartite nations. Mussolini condemned the attacks on Pearl Harbor, vowing to assist the Americans by any means possible short of war. Mussolini fortified his border in Tunisia, preparing for an invasion into Vichy French Africa once the war started. While Free-French and British forces were fighting in French West Africa, Algeria was firmly under German control during the course of the war, and it would be up to Mussolini to end the threat once the Italians choose to enter the war on their own doing, or whether they are forced into it. To allow for easier access for American ships, Mussolini signed a Free Movement Treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom, allowing them to move wounded troops safely into Sicily, as well as to move convoys through the area to avoid U-Boats.
The Road to War - 1942
Following the Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Italians and the Allies altered their plans to combat the German threat. The Italian invasion was pushed further back, now planned for May of 1943, with deployments to the border to start in January of the same year. Hitler, knowing the Italians were going to try something within the next two years, arranged for a meeting with Il Duce. The meeting was Hitler's last chance to at least convince the Italians to remain neutral in the war. Wanting the Germans not to suspect a future Italian invasion, Mussolini accepted the offer. The meeting was to be held in February of 1942 in the city of Venice, where the two leaders would discuss neutrality and the war in a conference which would only be attended by a handful of people. Churchill and Roosevelt were informed of the conference so that they would be able to keep track of it.
The meeting began on the 19th of February, with Hitler's arrival by train into Venice. Hitler began by offering Mussolini some pieces of Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary so as to appease him and remain neutral. Mussolini, who intended to turn down any offer given by Hitler, refused. For the next few days, offers were constantly turned down, until on the 25th of February, Francisco Franco arrived in Venice to take part in the meeting. For nearly a week, the meetings turned into constant arguments, with Mussolini and Hitler throwing insults at each other. The arguments reached its climax when Minister Ciano took a glass of wine and spilled it on the Führer's lap after the dictator had accused Mussolini of being a phoney Caesar, leading to Hitler's enraged exodus from the meeting. On the 2nd of March, the meetings resumed, with Hitler and Mussolini agreeing to a Non-Aggression Pact (which Mussolini planned to break in 1943). It made Mussolini feel more comfortable, believing the Germans would hold up to it. They also agreed to open a new German Embassy in Venice. Hitler left on the 5th of March with his entourage, with one of the few images of the meeting being taken that day.
For the next few months, tensions died down between the Italians and Germans. Italy was still planning its invasion of Southern Germany, believing that Hitler would be too pre-occupied on the Eastern Front, particularly along the Volga River. A stalemate formed on the Eastern Front along the Volga, but it was largely caused by German troops being moved for what the Germans called Operation Frederick the Great, the Invasion of Italy. The invasion force would be placed under the command of Erwin Rommel, who was a successful military commander in the West Africa Campaign, which was still ongoing. Panzer Divisions and Infantry Divisions, as well as troops who were well trained in mountain fighting. The invasion was set for the 1st of December, 1942, with a massive offensive striking into Northern Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Other attacks were planned by the Afrika Corps to cross from Algeria into Italian Tunisia and Libya.
German spies all across Italy began to prepare for sabotage of massive quantity. Some German sympathizers were supposed to spread a defeatist attitude during the invasion, while others would mobilize pro-German organizations and others to kill Italian political leaders. Some German and Nazi sympathizers planned partisan activity in Yugoslavia in an effort to distract Italian troops in the days leading up to the invasion. Another, more sinister plot, was organized to kill the five-year old King of Italy, which was planned to occur simultaneously with the invasion. SS troops were even involved in the plot to both kill the King of Italy and Benito Mussolini, as well as other leading Fascists in the opening days to the war.
The 1st of December, 1942 was a day which would leave a scar on the history of Italy.
Italy's War - Late 1942 - Early 1943
Officially, Italy's War began on the 1st of December of 1942; however, days before, the roadwork for the German invasion was being set. Otto Skorzeny was to infiltrate Italian territory in late November, along with several squads of SS and Vichy forces, in Ajaccio, Corsica where Vittorio Emmanuele IV, the now six-year old King of Italy, was living in safety along with his mother, two grandmothers and most members of the House of Savoy in the newly constructed Royal Palace of Corsica, with the mainland deemed too dangerous in case of German invasion. Skorzeny was to, according to his orders, sneak into the city assassinate the King of Italy. German amphibious troops would then land on the day of the invasion, giving Skorzeny reinforcements to "liberate Ajaccio".
Operation Bonaparte was launched officially in the early morning of the 1st of December, 1942. Some 50 SS and 25 Vichy soldiers, after successfully infiltrating the island five days prior, armed themselves and began their assault. The Royal Palace, constructed in 1941 by the Italians, was quickly breached. A massive firefight between Italian and SS troops took place at the Palace, and although the Royal Guards fought valiantly against the Germans, Otto Skorzeny and his men managed to make it to the King's Chambers, where they murdered Vittorio Emmanuele IV, his mother and his grandmother Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria. Less than an hour later, a German force of nearly 30,000 landed ashore outside of Ajaccio. On the 4th of December, after four days of heavy fighting, the city, as well as the rest of the island, fell to the Germans. The King's body, as well as the surviving members of the Royal family, managed to make it to Rome, where dispute over succession began. Locals managed to assist in the Royal family's retreat to the capital, which became quickly popularized by the government.
The German invasion of the mainland began in the early hours of the 1st of December. However, artillery attacks and air raids had begun nearly an hour before the Nazis crossed the border. Because of the relative surprise of the invasion, the Italian positions in the Alps were quickly overrun. The initial invasion was two pronged; one half of the invasion force crossed from Nice and Savoy while the other half crossed from Tyrol into Northern Italy. Turin, Milan and Venice were among the main targets, while smaller cities were swallowed up by the German war machine. Immediately, Spain declared war on Germany as part of the Axis Alliance and were met with their own invasion by the Nazis. On the 5th of December, Merano became a battleground, with the battle seeing Graziani taking control of all Italian forces within the border regions. The Italian held the city for as long as they could to allow for the evacuation of supplies and wounded soldiers from previous battles southward. The battle ended on the 9th with an Italian retreat into Bolzano, which was fortified during the Battle of Merano by the Martyr's Corps, the unified military formation consisting of the Vittorio Emmanuele III and Umberto II Divisions. The Germans began their siege of Bolzano on the 12th of December, but the Italian forces managed to gold out against the enemy. However, the Germans simply surrounded the city and continued their assault southward toward Trento.
On the 15th of December, German and Vichy soldiers crossed into Turin en masse, capturing the city after nearly a week of bloody combat against the Italian defenders. Mussolini ordered a retreat of all forces on the 18th of December to bolster the defences of Venice, Trento and Milan which he planned to turn into a "Northern Redoubt". The Italians moved into defensive positions across the peninsula on the 20th of December, when the first Germans attacked Trento. The city fell on the 22nd, while Bolzano was occupied by the Germans on the 24th. Nazi soldiers began their trek toward Milan while Novara came under fire on the 28th of December. The Siege of Milan began on the 1st of January, with the Germans beginning their assault on the northern outskirts of the city. Two days later, Milan was entirely encircled by the Germans.
The Germans launched a new offensive toward Venice on the 5th of January, simultaneously besieging the city of Verona. Mussolini began pulling back his forces in order to catch the Germans in a counter-attack, leading to the German capture of Vicenza and Padua without resistance. He planned to allow the Germans to continue their advance into Italy and attack them when they are stretched thin. On the 12th of January, 1943, German troops took Treviso, making their way to the Adriatic Coast. Three days later, Venice would be entirely under siege. The next day, Rodolfo Graziani began the establishment of defences along the Po River, hoping to begin a counter-attack against the Germans. On the 19th of January, Mussolini met with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in Jerusalem, where they agreed to open up another front in France to put pressure on the Germans. The Conference in Jerusalem began a plan for the demise of the Reich, and although Italy was yet to be liberated, Mussolini was convinced that Italy will emerge victorious in the war.
On the 1st of February, while both Milan and Venice remained under siege, the Germans moved into positions along the northern banks of Po. Outside of Venice and Milan, Mantua was the only city north of the river that was still fortified. German soldiers began amassing on the outskirts of Genoa and Alessandria while the Martyr's Corps set up defences all across the Italian Peninsula. Mussolini famously said to the public, "Hundreds of thousands of our people are dead, from Greece to Dalmatia and Serbia, all the way to the gates of Venice and Milan. The fate of our people, our very civilization, will be decided at the gates of Rome! This time, Rome will not fall! This time, the Empire will not be trampled by the Visigoths and Vandals!"
On the 2nd of February, the Independent State of Italy, a German puppet state with its government based in the city of Brescia, is established with the nation claiming its capital as Venice. The same day, the first Italian Jews are rounded up and sent to German concentration camps. Three days later, Hitler asked Mussolini to surrender, with Il Duce replying "I would rather hang myself from a lamppost than surrender my home to anybody, let alone an Austrian corporal." Meanwhile, Isa Miranda, Italy's number one actress, is tasked by Il Duce to go to Hollywood and churn out pro-Italian propaganda films in order to build up overseas support for the Italian cause.
A Kingdom's Defiance and Death of the Holy Father - Mid 1943
The Kingdom of Italy was in a shaky state. The King's death and the murder of over a dozen members of the House of Savoy led to chaos within the royal family, with Mussolini acting as Regent since the 3rd of December, 1942. The Duke of Aosta, the Governor of Italian East Africa, was taken prisoner by the Germans while he was visiting Torino; he was captured when all escape routes out of the city were cut. According to reports, the Duke perished in a German concentration camp on the 20th of March, 1943. Many of those in the direct line of succession were also killed by Skorzeny's raid, among them being Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, which spelled disaster for Hitler as German monarchists began rioting across Germany. One notable family member who survived the bloodbath was Princess Maria Pia, who had been in the direct care of Mussolini's mistress, Clara Petacci, since the child's evacuation from Ajaccio in December.
The royal family had been disputing the succession of Vittorio Emmanuele IV for some time, but it all came to a head on 18 February, 1943, when Mussolini was implored by the House of Savoy to help solve the issue. Il Duce's solution shocked all present; the coronation of Princess Maria Pia, Umberto II's eldest child, as Queen of Italy. This outraged much of the house, with several royals citing the rules of succession rendering the coronation of Maria Pia as blasphemous. An outraged Mussolini angrily stood up from the table, and declared that he has decided who will be Italy's monarch, and that anyone who opposes will be executed for treason. After a royal tried to call Mussolini's bluff, Il Duce pulled out a pistol and shot the man where he stood. After witnessing the spectacle, not a single surviving member of the House of Savoy dared to whisper a word of defiance against Italy's dictator.
Back on the battlefront, the Germans and Italians were in a stalemate along the River Po, with the Genoa Front being prevented from effectively fought because of it being undermanned on both sides. On the 2nd of March, however, the Germans began a massive offensive to try to break the Italian lines. In total, over 600,000 German troops crossed Po. The first major battle was fought in Ferrara, which lasted until the 6th of March when Graziani's forces were forced to retreat. Two days later, Comacchio fell to the Germans, with Parma following suit the next day. North of Po, Verona and Venice were still holding out. Milan on the other had, was on the brink of collapse. The Vittorio Emmanuele IV Division of the Martyr's Corps led the defence of Milan, but were threatened to be overrun.
On the 14th of March, the Italian forces were ordered to break out of Milan and head toward Venice, with some 50,000 Italians managing the feat. The Italians broke out new Monza on the 16th, beginning a stunning eastward offensive across German held territory. Nearly half of the Pietro Badoglio's forces were made up of civilian partisans who joined in the defence of Milan. The city itself fell on the 20th of March after the Germans realized that the city was barely defended. Badoglio's force of 50,000 made a stunning trek across Northern Italy, with only one objective in mind; assist the defenders of Venice. On the 1st of April, the 43,000 surviving Italians reached Verona. 10,000 soldiers remained to shore up the city's defences while the rest continued on to Venice, with Badoglio's remaining force of just over 30,000 arriving on the 4th of April. Four grounded Italian battleships were used as weapons platforms, aiding in the defence of the city. A partially sunk aircraft carrier was used as an airfield in the Grand Canal, which remains a part of the city to this day.
Ob the 15th of April, the Germans staged a large offensive, pushing further down the Italian Peninsula, capturing Modena and Ravenna on the 16th and 19th of April respectively, and besieging Bologna on the 20th. The Germans crossed into Tuscany on the 1st of May while Forli fell the next day, forcing the Italians to seriously shore up the defences around Rome. The first German air raids bombed both residential areas and military targets on the 4th of May. During the raid, the Germans accidentally bombed the Vatican, wounding several Cardinals.
On the 14th of May, Hitler ordered an attack that was thought of as unthinkable. German aircraft bombed Vatican City, killing Pope Pius XII and damaging the Sistine Chapel. In addition to the Holy Father, over a thousand people died in the air raid both within and around Vatican City. The Catholic Church was outraged at the attack and sent several representatives during the Allied conference in Palermo to discuss the defeat of Germany in the war. The Vatican elected a new Pope, one who took the name Pope John XXIII, who announced that as of the 1st of June, a state of war exists between Vatican City and the Greater German Reich. On the 5th of June, Pope John XXIII called a Catholic Crusade against the Germans. In response to this, Catholic rallies took place in the United States and the United Kingdom while Catholics worldwide began moving to Italy to join in the defence of the country. Ireland declared war on Germany on the 9th of June (partially due to Britain promising Ulster in exchange for aid in the war) and rioting took place in German-occupied Italy for weeks. American General George S. Patton was place in charge of the American forces in Italy, cooperating with the Italian Generals in order to aid in setting up defences for Rome while American airborne forces are sent to Venice to bolster the city's defences.
Author's Note: I will begin the Cold War chapters of the TL while finishing off the pre-war and WWII chapters.
Operation Alaric and the Battle for Rome - Late 1943
On the 21st of July, 1943, the German's renewed offensive southward, dubbed Operation Alaric, was launched from the Alaric Line, which ran from Rimina to Pisa. The Alaric Line had been the sight of heavy fighting between the two sides for close to a month. San Marino's entrance into the war, which was declared on the 15th of July, allowed for Italy and their American allies, who were still a small force under General Patton, to build up an effective defensive line across the peninsula. The City of San Marino itself had been the sight of particularly lengthy defensive planning by Mussolini himself. Although the Italians knew that the Germans would reach Rome eventually, the defenders wanted to slow the Germans down as much as they could to buy time for Rome to be fortified against the Nazi onslaught.
The German offensive began with a massive thrust toward Florence, where Italians and Americans were setting up defences along the road to Rome. The attack caught the Allies off guard, as the leadership predicted that the Germans wouldn't begin their offensive for at least another month. When Operation Alaric began, Patton successfully beat back the Germans from Florence in two days time. Although Patton wanted to go on the offensive, Mussolini insisted that Italy remain on the defensive for the time being, both because of fear of German forces flanking and overtaking their front lines and because, according to the memoirs of Galeazzo Ciano, "Il Duce wanted the propaganda moment which saw Italy gloriously beat back the invaders at the gates of Rome." This caused friction between the two, who met in Siena on the 24th of July. Ciano acted as the mediator between the two men's egos. With help from General Eisenhower, who commanded American forces currently bolstering the defences of Rome, Ciano convinced the two to come up with a solution. The Italians and Americans would lure the Germans into a trap by reserving their best soldiers and posting them in and around Rome and the mountains while recruits and partisans would fight in the cities as to cause as much damage as possible to the Germans before they reach Rome. When the fighting in Rome began, the better trained troops would spring into action and catch the invaders by surprise.
The meeting in Siena ended with word of another German attack in Florence, which fell on the 25th of July with heavy Italian-American casualties. The Germans continued their assault downward toward Siena, which fell on the 28th, once again with heavy casualties. Rommel began gaining land along the Italian coast, with Pisa and Livorno falling beneath the treads of the General's tanks on the 1st and 3rd of August respectively. San Marino, which was heavily fortified at the insistence of Mussolini, was besieged on the 5th of August while the Germans continued downward, capturing Piombino two days later. Otto Skorzeny, the most hated man in Italy, led his SS teams into the island of Elba, which was captured in two days
On the 11th of August, Mussolini announced to the public that Rome would be the site of a future battleground. General Badoglio was put in command of Rome's defenders while Graziani was sent to take over for him in Venice. De Bono would be placed in command of the reserve forces in the mountains and in Naples, serving alongside General Patton. On the 14th of August, the SS captured Perugia. On the same day, Mussolini discovered the truth about the Jewish population's roundup from his spy rings within the German ranks; the Jews were being sent to extermination camps set up near Milan, Bolzano and Modena. Horrified at the revelation, Il Duce ordered the creation of the Jewish Corps, which would be made up of Jewish refugees and civilians within Italy and Europe.
German forces continued their assault; capturing Terni, Viterbo and Ancona on the 17th of August, leaving only a few small towns between the German war machine and Rome. On the 19th of August, eight year-old Queen Maria Pia of Italy made her famous "Defence of Rome" speech, calling for everyone to come to the defence of Rome. The girl's speech had a profound effect on the defenders, sending morale soaring. Mussolini declared that he would not leave Rome, and that if the city falls, he would go with it. He announced that should he perish, Galeazzo Ciano, Italo Balbo and Emilio De Bono would continue to lead the country in a wartime triumvirate. Although the Queen had requested to stay with her "father" Mussolini, Il Duce implored her to go to Palermo and remain in the care of Clara Petacci, who had tearfully parted ways with Mussolini just moments before the plane departed for Sicily. In addition to the royal family, much of the Italian Government and College of Cardinals were relocated to the Sicilian capital, so if Rome did indeed fall, the Italians would continue the fight from Palermo. The Pope had also refused to leave, remaining as a beacon of hope. Before the city was wrecked by war, one last massive military parade was held, which Mussolini and Pope John XXIII took part in. As the Germans inched closer to the city, 600,000 Italian and 200,000 American soldiers prepared for battle, backed by nearly a quarter of a million largely-untrained citizens from the Catholic world who answered their Holy Father's call to arms.
The Battle for Rome began in the late hours of the 20th of August, 1943, when German artillery hit the outskirts of the city. Tens of thousands of SS soldiers charged into small Roman neighbourhoods, slowly pushing toward the city centre while Panzer and Heer divisions came up behind them. Every day that the city was at war, German bombs fell over Italian and American positions within the city. Several historical landmarks, such as Vatican Hill and Quirinal Palace, were heavily damaged. The main port for Rome, Ostia, had begun to be contested on the 25th of August. The outskirts of the city continued to hold off the Germans until General Kesselring managed to break through the Italian defences and capture key areas within central Rome. On the 3rd of September, the Battle for Vatican Hill began, where Catholic soldiers, both Italian and otherwise, were fighting to the last man in defence of their Holy Leader's home. At Castel Sant'Angelo, the Jewish Corps did fairly well in keeping the Germans at bay alongside the Italians. On the 9th of September, German forces surrounded Castel Sant'Angelo, crossing the Tiber at Augustus' Tomb, where heavy fighting ensued between the two sides. Quirinal Palace, the location of what remained of Mussolini's government that didn't flee to Palermo, was threatened by approaching German forces on the 15th of September. The next day, German troops reached the Colosseum, where Mussolini's personal command centre was located. Bloody fighting in defence of Rome continued until the 20th of September, where Generals Patton and De Bono unleashed their surprise offensive.
General Patton and Marshal De Bono launched their surprise offensive on the enemy Generals, Kesselring and Rommel, on the 20th of September, which saw hundreds of thousands of Italian and American soldiers attack northward from the mountains. Their objective was to cut off the German supply line and force the enemy into a retreat. Their armies took Rieti and Terni with little opposition on the 22nd, cutting off roads from Perugia into Rome. As a result, the Germans began to lose ground in Rome, retreating from just outside the Quirinal Palace on the 25th and the Colosseum a few days later. Italian soldiers under Badoglio launched a massive attack to recapture Ostia, liberating it on the 4th of October. The Vatican was brought back under Italian-American control on the 9th while the Germans were routed from pantheon two days later. Patton and De Bono's soldiers continued toward Perugia, which was captured on the 1st of November after two weeks of heavy fighting. Kesselring ordered all German forces in Rome to retreat and relocated his headquarters back to Milan. Enraged, Hitler pitted the blame on the German failure at Rome on Rommel. The Führer ordered his execution, but Rommel defected to Italian troops on the 6th of November, the day the Battle for Rome ended in an Italian victory.
Operation Alaric, known today as the Roman Campaign, left nearly three million people dead. Over 1.5 million soldiers on both sides were killed, 100,000 of which were American. Over a million civilians died during the offensive, most of them subject to atrocities committed by the invading Germans. Erwin Rommel, one of Germany's best military commanders, was now in the custody of the Italians. With him, vital information about German defences farther north was now in the hands of the Allies and Rommel's defection would save his future in military and political affairs, as he would become an influential German leader after the war's conclusion.
Death of a Leader and the Extradition Incident - 1946 - 1949
Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin was a demi-god in his own country. His cult of personality reigning supreme and his word above any law, praise was only exalted to a higher extend after the victory over the evil Nazis. Stalin was on top of the world. Unfortunately, his post-war reign would end before it starts. On May 26th, Stalin went to visit Kiev as a propaganda moment, where he would encourage the citizens to rebuild their motherland. He arrived to the city at noon, going from convoy to Kalinin Square, where he would give a speech to the Ukrainians of the Soviet Union. After an applause from the audience, Stalin descended from the podium, and began walking to his limo. Out of the crowd emerged a man who proceeded to shoot the dictator six times with a Mosin-Nagant revolver. As Stalin collapses, his guards restrain the shooter and drag him away. Stalin is rushed to medical aid, but unfortunately succumbs to his wounds not too long after the shooting. The assassin was identified as Hans Smyslovsky, nephew of Boris Smyslovsky, an Russian Civil War veteran and anti-Communist who commanded the First Russian National Army, a pro-German collaborationist army that fought under the Wehrmacht, but then defected to the Royal Italian Army in 1944, and were currently living in northern Italy. Stalin was laid to rest in Lenin's Mausoleum three days later.
This assassination, however, caused a diplomatic incident between the Soviet Union and the Italian Empire. The Soviets reached out to Il Duce to send back the Russian emigres from the First Russian National Army, but he denied them, proclaiming that "These Russians have served with distinction against the National Socialists, they have more than made up for their mistakes of the past". The Soviets once again demanded that Soviet citizens who fought for the opposition be repatriated back to the Soviet Union, but Mussolini steadfastly refused, which infuriated the Soviet leadership. In fact, Il Duce had given the Russians emigres government-subsidized housing in South Germany. Back in Russia, Stalin's chosen successor, the alcoholic Andrei Zhdanov, took the reins of the country, but it would not last long. Within a month of becoming leader, Zhdanov died during a drunken stupor; falling down the stairs after bedding a subordinate's wife and breaking his neck. Although it was simply an accident, different sides began pointing fingers at the other, screaming foul play. A troika between Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrentiy Beria and Georgy Malenkov is set up, but it is an uneasy alliance. Within weeks, Beria was arrested and executed. Afterward, Nikita Khrushchev and Malenkov face off in a power struggle, which Khrushchev eventually wins. Khrushchev begins to liberalize the Soviet Union, which leads him to be unpopular with those loyal to Stalin's legacy. This culminated in a coup on August 3, 1949 by those dubbed the "Anti-Party Group", led by Malenkov and Molotov, which saw Khrushchev deposed. However, days later, a counter-coup was launched by Khrushchev with the backing of Soviet War Hero Georgy Zhukov. Bullets began flying and Khrushchev was shot in the ensuing fray, but Zhukov and his men managed to diffuse the situation. With Khrushchev dead and the Anti-Party Group arrested, Zhukov took over the leadership of the Soviet Union himself, which marked the beginning of a twenty-five year reign dubbed the "Zhukov Era".