Benito Mussolini was born in Forli, Italy, in 1883. After working briefly as a schoolteacher, Mussolini fled to Switzerland in 1902 in an effort to evade military service.
Mussolini returned to Italy in 1904 and over the next ten years worked as a journalist and eventually became editor of Avanti. Mussolini was active in the socialist movement but moved to right in 1914 when the Italian government failed to support the Triple Alliance. In 1915 Mussolini resigned from the Socialist Party when it advocated support for the Allies in the First World War.
When Italy entered the war Mussolini served in the Italian Army and eventually reached the rank of corporal. After being wounded he returned to Milan to edit the right-wing Il Popolo d'Italia. The journal demanded that the Allies fully supported Italy's demands at the Paris Peace Conference.
After the war Mussolini attacked Vittorio Orlando for failing to achieve Italy's objectives at the Versailles Peace Treaty and helped to organize the various right-wing groups in Italy into the Fascist Party. After a series of riots in 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini in an attempt to prevent a communist revolution in Italy.
Mussolini headed a coalition of fascists and nationalists and parliamentary government continued until the murder of the socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti in 1924. Left-wing parties were suppressed and in 1929 Italy became a one-party state. Mussolini also carried out an extensive public-works programme and the fall in unemployment made him a popular figure in Italy.
Italy controlled Eritrea and Somalia in Africa but had failed several times to colonize neighbouring Ethiopia. When Mussolini came to power he was determined to show the strength of his regime by occupying the country. In October 1935 Mussolini sent in General Pietro Badoglio and the Italian Army into Ethiopia.
The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and in November imposed sanctions. This included an attempt to ban countries from selling arms, rubber and some metals to Italy. Some political leaders in France and Britain opposed sanctions arguing that it might persuade Mussolini to form an alliance with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Over 400,000 Italian troops fought in Ethiopia. The poorly armed Ethiopians were no match for Italy's modern tanks and aeroplanes. The Italians even used mustard gas on the home forces and were able to capture Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, in May 1936, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie to flee to England.
In 1939 Italy invaded Albania and soon afterwards Mussolini signed a full defensive alliance with Nazi Germany (the Pact of Steel). However, Mussolini did not declare war on Britain and France until 10th June 1940.
Mussolini already had over a million men in the Italian Army based in Libya. In neighbouring Egypt the British Army had only 36,000 men guarding the Suez Canal and the Arabian oilfields. On 13th September, 1940, Marshall Rodolfo Graziani and five Italian divisions began a rapid advance into Egypt but halted in front of the main British defences at Mersa Matruh.
In October 1940, Mussolini declared war on Greece. Attempts by the Italian Army to invade Greece ended in failure. The war was also going badly in North Africa. Although outnumbered, General Archibald Wavell ordered a British counter-offensive on 9th December, 1940. The Italians suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back more than 800km (500 miles). British troops moved along the coast and on 22nd January, 1941, they captured the port of Tobruk in Libya from the Italians.
By the end of 1941 Italy was totally dependent on Nazi Germany. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Galaezzo Ciano, became increasingly dissatisfied with the way Mussolini was running the country. After a series of heated arguments with Mussolini, Ciano resigned in February, 1943.
At the Casablanca Conference Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt discussed ways of taking Italy out of the war. It was eventually decided to launch an invasion of Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, south-west of Italy. It was hoped that if the island was taken Benito Mussolini would be ousted from power. It was also argued that a successful invasion would force Adolf Hitler to send troops from the Eastern Front and help to relieve pressure on the Red Army in the Soviet Union.
The operation was placed under the supreme command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Harold Alexander was commander of ground operations and his 15th Army Group included General George Patton (US 7th Army) and General Bernard Montgomery (8th Army). Admiral Andrew Cunningham was in charge of naval operations and Air Marshal Arthur Tedder was air commander.
On 10th July 1943, the 8th Army landed at five points on the south-eastern tip of the island and the US 7th Army at three beaches to the west of the British forces. The Allied troops met little opposition and Patton and his troops quickly took Gela, Licata and Vittoria. The British landings were also unopposed and Syracuse was taken on the the same day. This was followed by Palazzolo (11th July), Augusta (13th July) and Vizzini (14th July), whereas the US troops took the Biscani airfield and Niscemi (14th July).
General George Patton now moved to the west of the island and General Omar Bradley headed north and the German Army was forced to retreat to behind the Simeto River. Patton took Palermo on 22nd July cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. Patton now turned east along the northern coast of the island towards the port of Messina.
Meanwhile General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army were being held up by German forces under Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring. The Allies carried out several amphibious assaults attempted to cut off the Germans but they were unable to stop the evacuation across the Messina Straits to the Italian mainland. This included 40,000 German and 60,000 Italian troops, as well as 10,000 German vehicles and 47 tanks.
The loss of Sicily created serious problems for Mussolini. It was now clear that the Allies would use the island as a base for invading Italy. A meeting of the Fascist Grand Council is held on 24th July and Galaezzo Ciano gets support for his idea that Italy should sign a separate peace with the Allies. The following day Victor Emmanuel III told Mussolini he was dismissed from office. His successor, Pietro Badoglio, declared martial law and placed Mussolini under arrest.
On 29th July 1943, Adolf Hitler had a meeting with Otto Skorzeny about the possibility of rescuing Benito Mussolini, imprisoned high in the Abruzzi Apennines. Skorzeny agreed and on 13th September he led an airbourne force of commandos to the hotel where he was being held. Mussolini was soon freed and Skorzeny flew him to safety.
Mussolini now set up the Salo Republic, a fascist regime in German-occupied northern Italy. His first was the arrest and execution of five of those who had voted against him on the Fascist Grand Council, including his son-in-law, Galaezzo Ciano.
On 18th May, 1944, Allied troops led by General Wladyslaw Anders (Polish Corps) and General Alphonse Juin (French Corps) captured Monte Cassino. This opened a corridor for Allied troops and they reached Anzio on 24th May. The German defence now began to disintegrate and General Harold Alexander ordered General Mark Clarkto trap and destroy the retreating 10th Army. Clark ignored this order and instead headed for Rome and liberated the city on the 4th June.
After the capture of RomePietro Badoglio resigned and Invanoe Bonomi formed a new government. In an attempt to bring the country together Bonomi's government included left-wing figures such as Benedetto Croce and Palmiro Togliatti.
The Allied armies now pursued the German 10th Army and took Grosseto (16th June), Assisi (18th June), Perugia (20th June), Florence (12th August), Rimini (21st September), Lorenzo (11th October) until being held on the Gothic Line in the northern Apennines. The arrival of winter weather meant that a renewed offensive did not begin until 9th April, 1945.
On 23rd April the 8th Army began to cross the River Po at Mantua. German resistance now began to collapse and Parma and Verona were taken and partisan uprisings began in Milan and Genoa.
With Allied troops approaching, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, attempted to escape to Switzerland. They were captured at Lake Como by Italian partisans on 27th April, 1945. The following day they were shot and their bodies displayed in public in Milan.