The Rise of the Puppet: The Italian Social Republic

Benito Mussolini was overthrown in the summer of 1943; Italy had decided it wanted no more to do with Germany or the Axis. Aware that they did not have a realistic chance or resisting the might of the German war machine, Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio declared armistice with the Allies before fleeing the country, seeking refuge alongside the King of Italy. It took less than two months for Germany to locate Mussolini’s prison, and with Hitler applying pressure, Mussolini caved in, accepting the position as head of the new Italian fascist government.

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The ousting of Mussolini was an event that had been some time in the making; while not widely discussed, the Italian military almost universally refused to assist in the apprehension of Jews in French occupied zones in January of 1943, and by March had put an end to all attempts to deport Jews from their areas of control. This growing refusal to cooperate with the Nazi agenda led directly to Italy being used as a pupet state, and helped divert important resources during the declining years of World War II.

The change in power left the Italian military stymied; they had no orders and no direction. As such, when the German military moved in, there was little meaningful resistance, and the Italian army was summarily disbanded. Distaste for German war practices was high; although the German military offered the Italian military the choice to continue fighting alongside them or be pressed into slave labor for German industry, more than eighty-eight percent of the Italian military refused to fight for Germany, knowing full well what the consequences for refusal would be. Many Italian soldiers managed to evade capture, and joined forces with native resistance fighters in Yugoslavia and Greece.

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With Mussolini relegated to the status of figurehead on his reinstatement, and no military power to speak of, Italy was relegated to the role of firgurehead, an attempt to present the image to the world that the Axis was still solid and united. The truth, of course, could not be shouted down by propaganda. Il Duce had lost any semblence of personal motivation, and once referred to himself as a corpse, a spectator in his own affairs and position.

Considerable portions of Italy were annexed into Germany after the formation of the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI), and more still to Croatia. While some of the disputed territories were refused to the country by Germany, Dalmatia was still taken, and the claims and action caused the RSI to refuse to acknowledge diplomacy with Croatia thereafter.

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Even had the Italian people wished to support the Axis further, there was little they could actual do so with. Much of the economy was in tatters, due to damage from raids, and especially from shortages of materials for the war effort, especially in the form of fossil fuels. What existed of the labor force regarded the Germans as oppressors and after repeated attempts to exercise the rights they’d been given on paper, engaged in a massive and crippling strike in early 1944.

By April of 1945, the last vestiges of the RSI military, commanded by Field Marshal Rudolpho Graziani, surrendered to Allied forces, putting an end to the influence of the RSI on World War II.

 

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