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During the last days of the war in Italy, Dictator Benito Mussolini attempted to escape the advancing Allied Army by hiding in a German convoy headed toward the Alps. Partisans stopped and searched the convoy at Dongo. They found him in the back of a truck wearing a private's overcoat over his striped general's pants. The partisans took him prisoner and he was later joined by his mistress, Clara Petacci, at Mezzegra. The council of partisan leaders, lead by the Communists, secretly decided to execute Mussolini and 15 leading Fascists in retaliation. They were executed on April 29, 1945, and their bodies were hung at an Esso gas station in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.
I've included these photos as a final closure to the costly struggle that our servicemen had to endure. Also, it is of interest as my Dad said he heard about Mussolini's capture and he and some buddies jumped in a truck and drove over to Milan to see the grissly scene.
Scroll down for a longer Version of the Capture and Execution, including a list of all the Fascists who were executed with Mussolini.
More Partisian crowd control
A study of uniforms; an elite-soldier in a camo jacket next to one wearing old Adrian helmet. Note drawn pistol. (Bodies were cropped out of bottom of the photo to tone down the image.)
view of all 7 bodies and more
in the foreground.
A general description of each one (L to R) as viewed from crowd:
Unidentified - Shirtless
with what appears to be a rope or suspenders around his mid-torso,
can be seen in photos from other side.
A man in white shirt, standing in the foreground, is holding a piece of paper. Possibly a sign used to identify the criminal and his offenses.
This is a good view of the front of the gas station and the crowd that was gathered to witness this event.
Photos with men on the girders were probably taken soon after the bodies were hung.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MELVIN - THIS IMAGE WAS REVERSED. IT IS NOW FLIPPED AROUND TO MATCH OTHER PHOTOS.
Another "rear" view showing the gruesome scene of bodies lying on the ground around the service station's curbs while the crowd is restrained.
From the above photos, 7 bodies can be seen lying around the gas pumps.
In medieval Italy it was the custom to hang crooks or embezzlers by one foot.
And finally, I found proof that American GI's were there in Milan to witness this gruesome scene. I count 8 helmets in this photo. Who knows; one of the GI's in this photo could be my Dad.
Recently found a photo on eBay that identified the soldiers as the 91st Recon Squadron.
Used by permission from another website.
Special thanks to Ruud Straatman of UK for the original photos from his collection, which came from the son of a British veteran of the Italian Campaign. Thanks, also, to Peter Dunn of UK, whose father was Joseph Dunn. His father served with the British Dental Corps in Italy and brought his photos home as a souvenir.Return to CustermenMain Menu.
version of the Capture and Execution of Mussolini and 15 of his
Capture and Execution of Mussolini
Mussolini spent his last 7 days in power in Milan, which was the site of his rise to power. Then on April 20, 1945, he disbanded his government offices. On April 21, Bologna was captured by the Allied troops and the Fascist chief Arpinati was slain. Duce's staff and friends tried to persuade Duce to flee to Spain but he refused to leave his country.
Duce submitted a proposal to the Socialist part of the Liberation Committee, that was flatly refused. On April 24th, Cardinal Schuster made contact but nothing became of that as Duce became more apethetic to surrendering to his destiny. He told the Cardinal, "I have no illusions". A meeting was held with the Liberation Committee at the Archbishop's palace, where they informed him of the impending surrender of the German army in Italy. Mussolini's reaction was:
"They have always treated us like slaves, and now they betray us".
On April 25th, they left Milan in a convoy headed for the lakes near Como with their desitnation as Valtelline. The column consisted of some cars and German armored cars, followed by Clara Petacci and her family. At Como, they discussed htier options over supper. Duce wrote the last letter to his wife, Rachele, urging here to flee to Switzerland. He signed it:
"Your Benito, Como, 27th April, 1945
Year XIII of the Fascist Era".
They left Como on 26th and stopped at Menaggio. A column of Fascists troops, lead by Pavolini, left Milan to join up with their leader. News reached them of the decree from Liberation Committee calling for the death peanilty for Fascists responsible for the 1922 "insurrection" and those guilty of crimes against the state since September 8, 1943.
On April 27th, Pavolini went on ahead of his troops and reached Mussolini. Accompanying him were Angela Curti, the former mistress of Mussolini. At the same time a German anti-aircraft unit, commanded by Lt. Fallmeyer, arrived in Menaggio headed for Tyrol. Duce decided once more to seek refuge with his German ally and head north--only to escape capture, not to leave Italy.
At 7am, they reached Masso, where the partisans had blocked the road. Lt. Fallmeyer went to negotiate with the partisan commander, Count Pierluigi Bellini delle Stelle ("Pedro") of the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade. The partisans agreed to allow the Germans to pass but not the Italians.
The Germans persuaded Mussolini to don a German greatcoat and helmet and hide out in the back of a truck. The German column left at 3:00 with Mussolini now all alone. It was stopped at Dongo and searched. Il Duce was easy to find, either because he still wore general's riding pants with a red stripe or information was leaked to the partisan band. Later, Clara Petacci and her brother, Marcello, were captured, but Clara's identity wasn't detected.
The partisan Liberation Committee was informed of the Duce's capture. Immediate orders were given for fair treatment of the prisoners with strict orders not to shoot them even if they attempted escape. By 1:30am on Saturday the 28th, Count Bellini tried to transport his captors back to the Como area. Duce was once wrapped in bandages to disguise him as a wounded partisan. After hearing about the advance of the American 1st Armored Division and even reports of gun fire, they decided to return along their route to Mezzegra. There Mussolini and Clara spent their last night together in a local farmhouse.
The proceedings of the Liberation Committee is now hidden in secrecy. However, it is known that Togliatti, the secretary of the Communist Party and the Vice-Premier of Italy ordered the execution of Duce. Colonel Valerio was entrusted with this important mission in the name of the National Liberation Committee. When he arrived at Dongo at 2pm, there was some confrontation between the Communist leader and the partisan leader, Pedro. Colonel Valerio damanded to see the list of Fascist prisoners. He then revealed he had orders to execute Mussolini. He arbitrarily selected 15 names from the list for execution. (See The Fifteen, below.)
On April 28, Colonel Valerio broke into the room where Mussolini and Clara had been resting. Valerio told them he had come to rescue them. They hurried to the awaiting car. They drove about a mile away and stopped near gate to the Villa Belmonte. They were ordered to get out of the car and stand next to the stone wall. Machine guns were raised and both were shot. A guard was placed over their bodies, and Valerio drove back to Dongo, where he rounded up the remainder of the 15 prisoners selected for execution from the list. They were hurriedly brought out to the square and given 3 minutes for the ministrations of a priest. They were shot down by a partisan firing squad. Marcello Petacci was also shot while trying to escape by jumping into Lake Como. At first, the partisans mistakenly thought Marcello was Vittorio Mussolini, the son of Il Duce.
On April 29th, the bodies were brought to the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. There, six of the corpses were hung by their feet from a girder of an Esso gas station. These included: Benito Mussolini, Clara Petacci, Francesco Barracu, Alessandro Pavolini, Fernando Mezzasomma and Paolo Zerbino. To the pile of bodies lying beneath them was added Archille Starace, who had just been captured and summarily executed on the spot. The crowd vented their anger on the corpses. When they got out of hand, the police turned on water hoses to control the situation*. The Allies ordered the bodies removed for burial.
(See photo at top of page. One source said Starace was hung at Mussolini's left. Many of the photos show only six bodies; only a few show all 7 bodies that were hung and the others lying on the ground. See photo, above, for a description of each one.)
When Adolf Hitler heard how Mussolini was executed and put on public display, he vowed he would not let this happen to him. A few days later, Hitler shot his mistress and new wife, Eva Braunn, and then swallowing some poison, he shot himself in the mouth. Following Hitler's orders, their bodies were placed in a shell hole outside of his Berlin bunker and burned. The Russians found remains of his teeth.
* This incident is based on my Dad's eye witness account of what he saw when he arrived at Milan.
"One Afternoon At Mezzegra: The Story of Mussolini's Death"- - by Peter Whittle, Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1969.
"After the Battle", issue No. 7, article "The Last Days of Mussolini", 1975.
The Fifteen That Were Executed
The Liberation Committe decided to select 15 Fascists to execute along with Mussolini. As far as I understand, Mussolini's cabinet and close advisors had been replaced after he stepped down in 1943. The Liberation Committe included some of the previous cabinet members on their list. There are more than 15 listed below, because Clara Petacci and her brother weren't on the list but were caught up in the events. Names indicated in red were ones hung up in Piazzalle Loreto, as best as I can determine.
Benito Mussolini, Il Duce
1 Francesco Barracu - Undersecretary in cabinet office
2 Fernando Mezzasomma - Ministry of Popular Culture(i.e. propoganda)
3 Nicola Bombacci - Minister of Interior. Mussolini's friend.
4 Luigi Gatti - Duce's private secretary after organizing his new cabinet.
5 Pisenti Liverani - Minister of Communications
6 Alessandro Pavolini - ex-Ministry of Popular Culture. Editor of Rome's "Messagero". Pushed for speedy execution of Ciano in January, 1944. Tried to organize the Fascist Army to make a last stand near Alps.
7 Paolo Zerbino - Minister of Interior, Dec 1943
8 Ruggero Romano - Minister Public Works
9 Paolo Porta - Head of Fascist Party in Lombardy
10 Alfredo Coppolo - Rector of the Bologna University
11 Ernesto Daquanno - Director of Stefani agency
12 Mario Nudi - President of Fascist Agriculture Association
13 Colonel Vito Casalinuovo - Mussolini's adjutant
14 Pietro Calistri - Air Force pilot- innoncent of any connection to Duce.
15 Idreno Utimperghe - Some say he was only a journalist or Black Shirt leader.
16 Archille Starace - Secretary of Fascist Party 1931-1939. Arrested in Milan and executed on the spot and, one source says, he was hung to left of Duce.
17 Clara Petacci - Mussolini's mistress. She refused to leave Mussolini. Clara and her brother, Marcello, followed his convoy into the Alps. She met up with Mussolini after his capture and was at his side when he was gunned down. Her brother, Marcello, was captured with the 15 but was shot trying to escape.
Some refrences incorrectly list the names of Salustri and Hintermayer.
Capitano Pietro Calistri flew combat missions during 1940-42 and was credited with 2 enemy aircraft shot down, both British. On 24 June 1942, IL Duce flew to San Pietro, Sicily, to decorate some of the aviators and personally presented an award to Calistri. In April 1945, Captano Calistri belonged to the 1 Gruppo C.T. of the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR). [Source: http://www.dalnet.se/~surfcity/index.html ]
After the Execution
The gas station that was the site of this gruesome scene was located at the corner bounded by the streets Via A. Doria and Buenos Aires. Today, this station has been replaced by a bank. The UPIM department store, seen in the top photo, still exists as a UPIM store. A plaque marks the spot in the plaza where Starace was exectuted. In the plaza at Dongo, there are still bullet scars from the execution of the 15 captors (in 1975).
Mussolini's body was taken down and was buried in a secret grave in Musoco Cemetery in Milan. Almost a year later, three Fascists dug up his coffin and transferred his remains to a small trunk that measured 40 by 24 inches. The trunk was temporarily hidden in a local convent and then at a Carthusian Monastery at Pavia, until the Chief of Police confiscated it and secretly hide it for 10 years. After many requests by Donna Rachele, Mussolini's wife, the police released the body. On September 1, 1957, his remains were buried in a private ceremony at the family vault at Predappio.
The Musocco Cemetery in Milan contains more than 1,008 Fascists that were executed in the purges at the end of the war, including the 15 mentioned above. Most of these graves are dated April 28, 29 or 30.
I still hear stories at reunions where American veterans say they saw Mussolini's body. Some say they were marching throught a town and saw some bodies hanging and they were told it was "Il Duce". I've tried to research my Dad's claim and justify these other claims I receive from e-mails. I'm not saying the veterans are lying but I know that it was common in the Army to pull a gag on the lower grade enlisted men. Also, the above photos were produced and sold to many of the American GI's. It would be easy to make a simple claim to their family of "I was there"; which could result in a wrong conclusion by the family that they were actually there at the scene.
I recently found a photo on eBay that showed American soldiers at the scene and the photo had information on the back. It identified the soldiers as the 91st Recon Squadron Troop. This was a company-size unit that was mobile and advanced ahead of the infantry. This unit was in the general area and this could be the soldiers seen in the above photo.
This newspaper ran the same radio-transmitted newsphoto on the front page that is shown in the enlarged photo, above.
The Fargo Forum