Military Wiki
Italian Civil War
Part of World War II
Italian Civil War scene. Partisan hanged by republican fascists of the Decima Flottiglia MAS. The sign says "He attempted with weapons to shoot the Decima".
DateSeptember 8, 1943 - May 2, 1945
Result Defeat of republican fascists by partisans
Italian Social Republic Italian Social Republic
Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg Kingdom of Italy
Flag of Italian Committee of National Liberation.svg Italian resistance movement
 United States
 United Kingdom
Other Western Allies
Commanders and leaders
C-in-C National Republican Army:
Italian Social Republic Benito Mussolini
Italian Social Republic Rodolfo Graziani (POW)
C-in-C Republican Guard:
Italian Social Republic Renato Ricci
C-in-C Xª MAS:
Italian Social Republic Junio Valerio Borghese
C-in-C Italian Royal Army:
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Pietro Badoglio
C-in-C CLN:
Flag of Italian Committee of National Liberation.svg Ivanoe Bonomi
Flag of Italian Committee of National Liberation.svg Alfredo Pizzoni

The expression Italian Civil War is used to define the period between September 2, 1943, the date of the armistice of Cassibile, and May 2, 1945, the date of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, including forces under their control in Italy.[1] The war was fought between the forces of the fascist Italian Social Republic of Benito Mussolini, aligned with the Axis, and the Italian partisans, aided by the Allies with the remnants of the Italian Royal Army, loyal to King Victor Emmanuel III. Some historians who have studied the Italian civil war have not restricted their analysis to the war itself, but to the consequences that it had on Italy after the surrender.[2]

Use of the expression in history

Historian Claudio Pavone, thanks to the success of his famous book Una guerra civile. Saggio storico sulla moralità della Resistenza (A Civil War. Historical Essay On the Morality Of the Resistance), published in 1991, was responsible for making Italian Civil War a widespread term used in Italian[3] and international [4][5] historiography. The term was used before,[6] but not as much as since the early 1990s, when it became a widely accepted historical category.


The many confrontations between the two factions resulted in the torture and killing of many civilians. During the Italian Campaign, partisans were supplied by Allied planes with small arms, ammunition and explosives. These air operational units were part of the RAF and USAF. Allied command did not consider the use of Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force squadrons for this task, as requested by Italian Co-belligerent Armed Forces, due to the risk of confrontation between Italians. Allied forces and partisans cooperated on military missions, parachuting or landing personnel behind enemy lines, often including Italian-American members of OSS. Other operations were carried out exclusively by secret services members. Where possible, both sides avoided situations in which Italian units of opposite fronts were involved in combat episodes. In rare cases, clashes between Italians involved partisans and fascists of various armed formations.


The first groups of partisans were formed in Boves (Piedmont) and Bosco Martese (Abruzzo). Other groups composed mainly of Slavic and communist elements sprang up in Venezia Giulia. Others grew around Allied Yugoslav and Russian prisoners of war, released or escaped from captivity following the events of September 8. These first organized units dissolved in a short time because of the rapid German reaction. In Boves the Nazis committed their first massacre on Italian territory.

On September 8, hours after the radio communication of the armistice, several notable antifascist organizations converged on Rome. They were Ivanoe Bonomi (PDL), Scoccimarro and Amendola (PCI), De Gasperi (DC), La Malfa and Fenoaltea (PDA), Nenni and Romita (PSI), Ruini (DL), Casati (PLI). They formed the first Committee of National Liberation (CLN). Bonomi took over the presidency.[7]

Of particular note, Italian Communist Party was anxious to take the initiative without waiting for the Allies:

(Italian) ...è necessario agire subito ed il più ampiamente e decisamente possibile perché solo nella misura in cui il popolo italiano concorrerà attivamente alla cacciata dei tedeschi dall'Italia, alla sconfitta del nazismo e del fascismo, potrà veramente conquistarsi l'indipendenza e la libertà. Noi non possiamo e non dobbiamo attenderci passivamente la libertà dagli angloamericani. - [8]
(English) "... It's necessary to act immediately and as widely and decisively as possible, because only if the Italian People actively contribute to push out Germans from Italy and to defeat Nazism and Fascism, it will be really able to get independence and freedom. We can not and must not passively expect freedom from the British and the Americans."

The Allies did not believe in the effectiveness of local guerrillas, so that initially General Alexander postponed their attacks against the Nazis. On 16 October the CLN issued its first important political and operational press release,[9] – which rejected the calls for reconciliation launched by Republican leaders. The CLN Milan called to arms, "the Italian people to fight against the German invaders and against the fascists that they are servants".[10]

In late November, the Communists established task forces called distaccamenti d'assalto Garibaldi which later would become brigades and divisions[note 1] whose leadership was entrusted to Luigi Longo, under the political direction of Pietro Secchia and Giancarlo Pajetta, Chief of Staff. The first operational order dated 25 November read:

  • to attack and annihilate in every way officers, soldiers, material, deposits of Hitler's armed forces;
  • to attack and annihilate in every way people, places, properties of fascists and traitors who collaborate with the occupying Germans;
  • to attack and annihilate in every way war industries, communication systems and everything that might help to war plans of Nazi occupants.[11]

Shortly after the Armistice, Italian Communist Party,[12] the Gruppi di Azione Patriottica ("Patriotic Action Groups") or simply GA, established small cells which operated independently of each other in case of arrest or betrayal of individual elements, whose main purpose was to unleash urban terror through bomb attacks against fascists, Germans, and their supporters. The success of these attacks led the German and Italian police to believe they were composed of foreign intelligence agents. A public announcement from the PCI in September 1943 stated:

To the tyranny of Nazism, that claims to reduce to slavery through violence and terror, we must respond with violence and terror.

— Appeal of PCI to the Italian People, September 1943

Historical opinion has justified the action of GAP's mission as "justice" against Nazi tyranny and terror, with emphasis on how the selection of targets: "the official, hierarchical collaborators, agents hired to denounce men of the Resistance and Jews, the Nazi police informants and law enforcement organizations of CSR", thus differentiating it from the Nazi terror. However, partisan memoirs insist on the "elimination of enemies especially heinous", such as torturers, spies, provocateurs." Some orders from branch command partisans insist on protecting the innocent, instead of providing lists of categories to be hit as individuals deserving of punishment. Part of the Italian press during the war agreed that murders were carried out of most moderate Republican fascists, willing to compromise and negotiation, such as Aldo Resega, Igino Ghisellini, Eugenio Facchini (it) and the philosopher Giovanni Gentile.

Women also participated in the resistance, mainly procuring supplies, clothing and medicines, anti-fascist propaganda, fundraising, maintenance of communications, partisan relays, participated in strikes and demonstrations against fascism. Some women actively in the conflict as combatants. The first detachment of guerrilla fighters rose up in Piedmont in mid-1944 as the Garibaldi Brigade Eusebio Giambone. Partisan forces varied by seasons, German and fascist repression and also by Italian topography, never exceeding 200,000 men actively involved, with an important support by residents of occupied territories. Nonetheless it was an important factor that immobilized a conspicuous part of German forces in Italy, and to keep German communication lines insecure.

Fascist forces

When the Italian Resistance movement began following the armistice, various Italian soldiers of disbanded units and many young people not willing to be enrolled into fascist troops—some 60,000 soldiers—initially formed the army of Italian Social Republic (RSI), also named republic of Salò because the city hosted important offices of the republic. At first it was organized into four regular divisions (1ª Divisione Bersaglieri Italia - light infantry, 2ª Divisione Granatieri Littorio - grenadiers, 3ª Divisione fanteria di marina San Marco - marines, 4ª Divisione Alpina Monterosa - mountain troops), together with various irregular formations and the fascist militia Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR), that would in 1944 pass to the control of the regular army.[13]

The fascist republic was forced to fight with the partisans in order to keep control of the territory. The Fascists claimed 780,000 men. This is disputed and it is likely there were no more than 558,000.[14] Partisans and their active supporters were up to 82.000 in June 1944.[15]

In addition to regular units of the Republican Army and the Black Brigades, various special units of fascists were organized, often spontaneously at first and afterward from regular units that were part of the armed forces of Salò. These formations, composed mostly of criminals,[16] often adopted brutal methods during counterinsurgency operations, repression, and counter-retaliation.

Among the first to form, there was the banda of the Federal Guido Bardi and William Pollastrini in Rome, whose coarse and vulgar methods shocked even the Germans.[17] Later, in Rome the Banda Koc helped to dismantle the structure of the Partito d'Azione. The so-called Koch Banda led by Peter Koch, then under the protection of General Kurt Maltzer, military commander of the square,[18] distinguished himself with violent methods against anti-fascist partisans. After the fall of Rome, Koch moved to Milan and having the confidence of the Minister of the Interior Guido Buffarini Guidi, continued his brutal repression of various police forces of the Republic.[19] In Tuscany and Veneto he operated the Banda Carità a special unit constituted within the 92th[Clarification needed] Legion Blackshirts, which became famous for his violent repression, such as the killing of Piazza Tasso" in 1944 in Florence.

In Milan, the Squadra d'azione Ettore Muti (later Legion Autonomous Mobile Ettore Muti) operated under the orders of the former army corporal Francesco Colombo (it), already expelled from the PNF during the twenty years for embezzlement. Considering him dangerous to the public in November 1943, the Federal Aldo Resega wanted to depose him, but was killed by an attack of GAP; Colombo remained at his post, despite several complaints and inquiries.[20] Squadrists of Muti together with the GNR were the perpetrators in August 10, 1944 for the massacre of Piazzale Loreto in Milan, whose victims were fifteen anti-fascist rebels designated in retaliation for an assault against a Nazi German truck. Following the massacre, the mayor and chief of the Province of Milan, Piero Parini, resigned in an attempt to strengthen the cohesion of moderate forces, undermined by the heavy German repression and various militias of Social Republic.[21]

The chain of command of National Republican Army, comprised Marshal Graziani and his deputies Mischi and Montaigna. They controlled the repression and coordinated anti-partisan actions of the regular troops, the GNR, the Black Brigades and various semi-official police, together with the Germans, who were often provided information on individuals and groups of resistance fighters; Germans then made reprisals. The Republican Army was an operational tool also thanks to the famous and draconian Graziani call-up for conscription that impressed several thousand Italians. It should be noted though that Graziani were only nominally involved armed forces under the apolitical CSR, not by Republican Fascist Party, but the supreme command of the armed forces.[22]

The civil war


On July 25, 1943 Mussolini was deposed and arrested and King Victor Emmanuel III posed Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister. At first Italian government declared the continuation of war together with the Axis, and some demonstrations of citizens exulting for the presumably regained liberty were repressed with violence. Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 8, and King Victor Emmanuel III left Rome with his Cabinet, leaving the Italian Royal Army without orders. Up to 600.000 Italian soldiers were taken as prisoners by the Nazis and the greatest part of them (about 95%) refused allegiance to the newly established Italian Social Republic (RSI), a fascist state with Benito Mussolini as Head of Government created on September 23. This was made possible by the German occupation of the greater part of the Italian peninsula with Operation Achse, planned and headed by Erwin Rommel. During this period, there were not only military and terrorist episodes, but political rivalries between the various components of the antifascist front. After the armistice with Italy British forces had two perspectives: that of liberals, who wanted to support the democratic parties to overthrow the monarchy, and that of Churchill, who had confidence in being able to benefit from a defeated enemy than from a true, even if newly recruited, allied one.[23] The parties were reconstituted after September 8. Skeptics in collaboration with the monarchy, compromised as it was with the late regime, "even in this situation over the months the life of the parties was very difficult in the South during years 1943 and 1944 and above all, they (parties) were scarcely able to break through apathy that characterized local populations";[24] the rest of "the great majority of farmers referred to the parish structures".[25] For these reasons, the remaining resources were concentrated in the propaganda among the masses in the Liberated Areas, the common denominator of losing fascist support.[26] In confirmation of this phenomenon we can find the reports of the prefectures, where is demonstrated the recruitment of many former fascists in the ranks of newly constituted parties.[27]


Wolff's proxy for the surrender of Caserta

In various cases, fascist units disputed the control of territory with partisan units, and fascists often were sustained by German armed forces with air units, intelligence, and where possible tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Fascists predominated in cities and plain zones, where heavy arms were proficiently used, while small units of partisans, tactically linked or acting in autonomy, were predominant in mountains where natural cover was possible and large formations could not maneuver with the necessary cohesion to overwhelm the enemy.

Many episodes of violence followed, even sometimes involving fascists against fascists and partisans against partisans. Well known among these is Porzûs massacre, where some communist partisans of the division Natisone (the SAP brigade 13 martiri di Feletto), attached to the Yugoslavian XI Corpus by orders of Togliatti,[28] after reaching the command of an Osoppo Brigade (there were many brigades under this name, with a territorial unified command, in Friuli), massacred 20 partisans and a woman, with the motivation that "they were german spies." Among these, there was the commander Francesco De Gregori, uncle of famous Italian singer Francesco De Gregori, and Gastone Valente, commissioner of the brigade.[29]

The end

Fascist forces surrendered on May 2, 1945, following Germany's surrender to the Allies.

Consequences of the war

Following the end of the civil war, many soldiers, executives and sympathizers of the fascist Repubblica Sociale were subjected to quick show trials and executed. Others were killed without a proper trial. Civilians were killed too and among them there were also people who were wrongly accused of being collaborators by people who wanted to take revenge on them because of private grudges. Minister of Interior Mario Scelba estimated the victims of these executions to be 732,[30] but historians dispute this estimate. German historian Hans Woller writes about 12,060 killed in 1945 and 6,027 in 1946. Ferruccio Parri said in an interview that there were about 30,000 victims.[31] Violence decreased after an amnesty was issued on behalf of the Italian government with the so-called Togliatti amnesty in 1946.[32]

See also


  1. Despite their name, generally these detachments were not that large, and at their best they counted no more than some hundreds of members. In some cases, however, there were formations numbering thousands of partisans, until summer 1944 when some joint Italian-German operations would reduce this strength (as in Appendix in De Felice, 1997).


  1. See as examples the opera of historian Claudio Pavone
  2. See as examples the following books (in Italian): Guido Crainz, L'ombra della guerra. Il 1945, l'Italia, Donzelli, 2007 and Hans Woller, I conti con il fascismo. L'epurazione in Italia 1943 - 1948, Il Mulino, 2008.
  3. See as examples Renzo De Felice and Gianni Oliva.
  4. See as examples the interview to French historian Pierre Milza on the Corriere della Sera of July 14, 2005 (in Italian) and the lessons of historian Thomas Schlemmer at the University of Munchen (in German).
  5. Stanley G. Payne, Civil War in Europe, 1905-1949, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  6. See as examples the books from Italian historian Giorgio Pisanò and the book L'Italia della guerra civile ("Italy of civil war"), published in 1983 by the Italian writer and journalist Indro Montanelli as the fifteen volume of the Storia d'Italia ("History of Italy") by the same author.
  7. Bocca, 1995 p. 16.
  8. Pietro Secchia, Agire subito from La nostra lotta nr. 3-4, November 1943
  9. [1][dead link]
  10. Oliva, 1998 p. 176.
  11. Oliva, 1998 p. 177.
  12. Leo Valiani said about existence of "terrorists of Partito d'Azione". Pavone p. 495.
  13. Decreto Legislativo del Duce nº 469 del 14 agosto 1944 - XXII E.F. "Passaggio della G.N.R. nell'Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano" - Legislative Decree of Duce (Benito Mussolini) n. 469, August 14, 1944
  14. Diego Meldi, La Repubblica di Salò, Santarcangelo di Romagna, Casini Editore, 2008. ISBN 978-88-6410-001-2, pag. 39,
  15. Giorgio Bocca, Storia dell'Italia partigiana, pp. 340-341
  16. Ganapini p. 278.
  17. Ganapini 279.
  18. Bocca, 1995 p. 289.
  19. Bocca, 1994 pp. 196-199.
  20. Ganapini p. 53.
  21. Ganapini p. 322.
  22. F. W. Deakin, History of the Republic of Salò, Torino, Einaudi, 1968, p. 579.
  23. M. Ferrari, Recenti tendenze storiografiche sulla seconda guerra mondiale, “Annali di storia contemporanea”, ("Recent trends in historiography on the Second world War", "Annals of contemporary history"), 1995, 1, pp. 411-430, p. 419
  24. R. De Felice, La resistenza ed il regno del sud, “Nuova storia contemporanea” (resistance and the southern kingdom, "New contemporary history"), 1999, 2, pp. 9-24, p. 17
  25. Vendramini F., (1987) Il PCI a Belluno e l'avvio della lotta armata. Documenti, “Protagonisti” (The PCI in Belluno and the initiation of armed struggle. Documents, "Protagonists"), 29, pp. 35-42, p. 37
  26. R. De Felice, La resistenza ed il regno del sud, “Nuova storia contemporanea”, 1999, 2, pp. . 9-24, p. 21
  27. R. De Felice, La resistenza ed il regno del sud, “Nuova storia contemporanea”, 1999, 2 , pp.. 9-24, p. 22
  28. from La nostra lotta ("Our fight") year II, n.17, october 13, 1944: ...italian formations entering in contact with Yugoslavian formations "will disciplinately stand under Yugoslavian operative command"
  29. Oliva, La resa dei conti, pag. 156
  30. See the Atti Parlamentari, Camera dei Deputati, 1952, Discussioni, 11 giugno 1952, p. 38736
  31. See the interview with erruccio Parri, on "Corriere della Sera" 15th November 1997. (in Italian)
  32. The informal name of the Decree of the President of the Italian Republic, 22 June 1946, no.4


  • (Italian) Claudio Pavone, Una guerra civile. Saggio storico sulla moralità della Resistenza, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 1991. ISBN 88-339-0629-9
  • (Italian) Renzo De Felice, Mussolini l'alleato II. La guerra civile 1943-1945, Einaudi, Torino, 1997. ISBN 88-06-11806-4
  • Stanley G. Payne, Civil War in Europe, 1905-1949, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  • (Italian) Luigi Ganapini (2010) [1999]. Garzanti. ed. La repubblica delle camicie nere. I combattenti, i politici, gli amministratori, i socializzatori (2a ed.). Milano. ISBN 88-11-69417-5. 
  • (German) Virgilio Ilari, Das Ende eines Mythos. Interpretationen und politische Praxis des italienischen Widerstands in der Debatte der frühen neunzinger Jahre, in P. Bettelheim and R. Streibl, Tabu und Geschichte. Zur Kultur des kollektiven Erinners, Picus Verlag, Vienna, 1994, pp. 129–174
  • (Italian) Gianni Oliva (1999). Mondadori. ed. La resa dei conti. Aprile-maggio 1945: foibe, piazzale Loreto e giustizia partigiana. Milano. ISBN 88-04-45696-5. 
  • (Italian) Aurelio Lepre (1999). Mondadori. ed. La storia della Repubblica di Mussolini. Salò: il tempo dell'odio e della violenza. Milano. ISBN 88-04-45898-4. 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).