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The Capture Of Mussolini, His Final Hours And the Strange Journey His Body Went On After His Death.

Updated: Apr 28

Benito Mussolini had dreamt of rebuilding the Roman Empire, but by 1945 his dreams, just like the crumbling Roman Forum, were in in ruins.

The 61-year-old Italian dictator who sought to become a modern-day Julius Caesar had first risen to power more than two decades earlier when he became prime minister in 1922. “Il Duce” allied himself with fellow fascist Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in World War II, but his outdated Italian military was badly outclassed. By July 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily and bombing of Rome caused the Italian high command and King Victor Emmanuel III to remove Mussolini from power and place him under house arrest.

By April 25, 1945, the grip of the Third Reich on northern Italy was slipping rapidly. As Milan, Mussolini's stronghold, faced imminent collapse, he reluctantly consented to meet with a delegation of partisans at the palace of Milan’s Cardinal Alfredo Schuster. It was during this encounter that Mussolini, enraged, discovered that the Nazis had initiated negotiations for an unconditional surrender without his knowledge.

Clara Petacci

Storming out of the palace, Mussolini fled Milan accompanied by his 33-year-old mistress, Clara Petacci, in the 1939 Alfa Romeo sports car he had purchased as a gift for his lover. The following day, they joined a convoy of fellow fascists and German soldiers heading north towards Lake Como and the Swiss border. Despite Mussolini's attempt at disguise with a German Luftwaffe helmet and overcoat, it proved ineffective when partisans halted the convoy in the lakeside town of Dongo on April 27. Mussolini, who had cultivated a cult of personality over two decades, found that even in disguise, his unmistakable shaved head and chiseled jaw led to his capture.

The location of Mussolini's execution, Como.

The partisans captured Mussolini and Petacci, apprehensive that the Nazis might attempt to rescue the dictator once more. To ensure their safety, the partisans concealed the pair in a secluded farmhouse overnight. The next day, Mussolini and Petacci were transported to the quaint village of Giulino di Mezzegra, nestled by the shores of Lake Como. There, they were instructed to stand before a stone wall at the entrance to Villa Belmonte, where they faced execution by machine gun fire. While the identity of the triggerman is disputed, it is widely believed to have been communist partisan commander Walter Audisio.

There’s no uncertainty, however, about what happened to Mussolini’s body in the hours after his execution. In the pre-dawn hours of April 29 the corpses of Mussolini, Petacci and 14 fellow fascists were placed in a truck and dumped like garbage in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, a deeply symbolic public square for the anti-fascist forces. There, eight months earlier, fascists acting under orders from Hitler’s SS publicly displayed the bodies of 15 executed partisans.

There is no ambiguity surrounding the fate of Mussolini's body following his execution. In the early hours of April 29, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci, and 14 other fascists were loaded onto a truck and callously discarded in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, a highly symbolic public square for anti-fascist forces. This location held significant historical weight, as eight months prior, fascists acting under orders from Hitler’s SS had publicly exhibited the bodies of 15 executed partisans.

In early afternoon, American troops ordered the bodies to be taken down and Mussolini’s bullet-ridden corpse transported to the city morgue. By this point, Mussolini’s badly beaten body was barely recognisable, but a U.S. Army photographer still staged the bodies of the former dictator and his mistress in each other’s arms in a macabre pose.

Mussolini and Petacci

As the Soviets advanced towards Berlin, Hitler learned of Mussolini’s demise. Determined to deny his enemies the satisfaction of his death or desecration of his body, Hitler chose to end his own life on April 30, subsequently having his corpse cremated. Meanwhile, Mussolini was interred in an unmarked grave within a Milan cemetery. Though its location was not a closely guarded secret, anti-fascists regularly visited to defile his resting place. However, on Easter Sunday 1946, Mussolini experienced an unconventional resurrection when Domenico Leccisi and fellow fascists unearthed his body, cleansing it in a nearby fountain before transporting it in a wheelbarrow to a waiting car.

A note left by the “Democratic Fascist Party” denounced the Communist Party’s slanderous remarks. For nearly four months, the corpse remained missing until its discovery in August 1946 at a monastery outside Milan.

After the Italian government reclaimed Mussolini’s remains, their location remained undisclosed for over a decade. However, in 1957, newly appointed prime minister Adone Zoli sought the support of a far-right party. In exchange for their backing, he arranged for the bones of Mussolini to be returned to his widow.

After spending 11 years stored in the cupboard of a Capuchin monastery, Mussolini’s body was finally laid to rest in the family crypt in his hometown of Predappio, which has since become a pilgrimage destination for neo-fascists. In 1966, the last remaining piece of Mussolini’s body, a sample of his brain, was returned to his widow by the United States. It had been removed during autopsy and tested inconclusively for syphilis.



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