May 7th in German History: The Signing of the Unconditional Surrender of German Forces

General Alfred Jodl signs the instrument of surrender. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Second World War began with the rapid German invasion of Poland followed by the conquest of several more countries. The German Army seemed invincible as it overran first Poland then the Low Countries then France. World War II would end with a broken German Army surrendering in a city in liberated France. On May 7th, as Germany collapsed and following the death of Adolf Hitler, General Alfred Jodl would surrender all German forces on all fronts. Fighting would continue in some places for nearly another day, but for all intensive purposes the war was over.

By the time Germany surrendered, the nation had fallen far. In 1941, Germany and its allies controlled all of Europe from the Pyrenees to the gates of Moscow, and a good portion of North Africa as well. The flaws in the German Army were not yet fully exposed, and it has as of yet not suffered any major defeats. The same could not be said of the German air force, but that body was still famous and had generally been successful in its battles. In the following years, the German military was worn down by attrition on the Eastern Front and German industry suffered from labor and resource shortages along with Allied bombing raids. The German Army was unable to resist the Allied invasion of France along with Soviet offensives in the East, and the German High Command became ever more pessimistic about the outcome of the war. One of the last resort options considered was to cease all fighting on the Western Front and make a separate peace in order to focus their efforts on the East. This hope was gradually shown to be in vain, and the new plan became surrender to the Western Allies and have the remaining forces flee to the West. By May of 1945, most of Germany’s more famous and skilled generals, like Rommel, Rundstedt, and Manstein, had been killed or fired. Thus, it was left to General Jodl to attempt to negotiate a surrender solely on the Western Front. The Americans and British flatly refused this offer, and so Jodl was forced to surrender all German forces everywhere. At the town of Reims in France, Jodl signed the instrument of surrender. The document provided for the cease of all combat operations, the surrender of German soldiers, and the transfer of governmental power to the victorious Allies. It essentially ended Nazi Germany and the European theater of the Second World War.

The surrender at Reims is interesting because it was one of the few times in modern history that a nation ceased to exist. Germany did not change its governments regimes. For a time, there was no actual German nation. Germany was split up into occupation zones in which foreign powers performed the roles of governments. The surrender at Reims represented the utter abandonment of any hope of victory. The fact that the crazed optimists at that point were hoping only to be able to surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians show just how far Germany had fallen. The destruction of the German nation and the stamping out of any nationalism or national pride was near total. What is surprising, though, is how quickly Germany was able to rebuild its economy and regain its independence, although the level of German nationalism that existed before the war will probably never be seen again.

Also on this day in history, Brahms, who I discuss here, was born.

May 6th in German History: The Hindenburg Disaster

Hindenburg disaster - Wikipedia
The Hindenburg Disaster: Image Credit: Wikipedia

Before there were passenger airplanes, massive Zeppelins traveled between continents and countries carrying passengers and cargo. The Zeppelin Era lasted for decades, but would have been ended simply because of advances in airplane technology and the inherent inefficiency of the Zeppelin. Its demise, however, was hastened by the destruction of the Hindenburg which occurred on May 6th, 1937.

The Zeppelin was invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and patented in 1895. The Zeppelin was first used commercially and made successful flights. The Deutsche Luftschiffahrts was the first airline. Over 10,000 passengers had been carried by 1914. During World War I, the German Empire used Zeppelins in bombing campaigns over the British Isles and as reconnaissance aircraft. The Zeppelins were at first very difficult to combat due to their construction and altitude. However, the invention of the phosphorus bullet allowed British fighters to shoot down Zeppelins with relative ease. Ultimately, the expensiveness of the Zeppelin and its vulnerability to planes armed with such bullets limited its usefulness as a weapon of war. After Germany was defeated, DELAG had to surrender its airships and was banned from building airships with the exception of one for the US Army. In 1926, the restrictions were lifted and in the 1930s the large Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg made transatlantic flights. By this time, the Zeppelin had become a Nazi propaganda symbol and displayed the swastika on their fins. However, this Golden Age would end in 1937. The Hindenburg had been designed to use non flammable helium but the US controlled the supplies of the gas and so it was filled with hydrogen. On May 6th, while the ship was landing in Lakehurst its tail caught fire and the ship was destroyed in the ensuing fire. Thirteen passengers and 22 crew were killed. Following the destruction of the Hindenburg, Zeppelins declined massively in popularity and few flights were conducted. A couple more Zeppelins were constructed but they saw limited use. In 1939, one Zeppelin, the graf Zeppelin II, was used for reconnaissance. However against Poland and Britain in 1940 all of the remaining Zeppelins were scrapped on the order of Hermann Goering.

Zeppelins are perhaps history’s most famous fad. They were romanticized at the time and still feature in popular culture. Zeppelins, however, were a fundamentally flawed concept for air travel, and would never have been able to adopt the mass travel role that airplanes have today. Zeppelins are simply too slow, cannot carry enough passengers, and are too dangerous. Further, they use helium which is a truly limited resource. The Hindenburg disaster merely hastened the inevitable. That being said, there was a time when they were the pinnacle of human transportation innovation, and that should be remembered. In a time before the airplane had been sufficiently developed, the comparability simple Zeppelin allowed humans to travel the skies in comparative luxury and, inefficiently, rain death upon their enemies.

May 5th in German History: The Birth of Karl Marx

Karl Marx | Biography, Books, Theory, & Facts | Britannica

The 19th century had no shortage of influential philosophers, economists, and political theorists. Emmanuel Kant, Friederich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, and many others helped develop modern thought and influenced modern politics and culture. Perhaps the most influential philosopher of all, though, if only for the harm his ideas caused, was Karl Marx.

Karl Marx was born on May 5th, 1818, in the city of Trier in a province of Prussia. Karl’s father Heinrich was not very religious and a lawyer, a classical liberal who was among the agitators for reform in Prussia. Marx witnessed a police raid at his high school when it was discovered that the Headmaster was distributing liberal literature. Marx was enrolled in the Bonn University, but his deteriorating grades led his father to force him to transfer to the University of Berlin. While spending the summer of 1836 in Trier, Marx became engaged to Baroness Jenny von Westphalen in 1836, a controversial development given their class differences. After arriving back in Berlin in October of 1836, Marx became interested in the philosophy of Hegel, particularly its dialectical method of criticizing established society. Marx’s father died in 1838. By this time Marx was writing fiction and nonfiction, and in 1841 was awarded a PhD by the University of Jena for his liberal doctoral thesis. Marx was barred from an academic career because of the government’s suppression of Hegelians and so he became a journalist for a radical newspaper in Cologne. In 1843, the newspaper was banned after it criticized the Russian Czar. Marx spent the next several years as a journalist or editor for various radical newspapers in Paris and Brussels. In June of 1847 Marx was able to reorganize the radical underground League of the Just into the open Communist League. In 1848, Marx and his friend Friederich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto. In it, they laid out their philosophy of class struggle and historical materialism, and predicted the coming overthrow of the capitalist governments. Marx supported the revolutions of 1848, and was saddened when they failed to produce any lasting change. Marx continued his journalism while working as a European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. He wrote articles on slavery, the American Civil War, and European politics until in 1863 a shift in the paper’s ideology compelled Marx to resign. At this time, Marx became involved in the First International and though he was able to defeat the anarchist wing of that organization he was unable to prevent its decline. Marx spent the later years of his life studying capitalism and the in 1867 published Das Kapital in which he analyzed capitalism and its detrimental effects on labor. The second and third volumes of the books were published posthumously by Engels. Marx continued to comment on politics and engage in political discussion even as his health declined. He died on March 14th, 1883.

Karl Marx is a controversial figure primarily because his ideas have been the justification for a great deal of evil. What good did come of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, its furthering of labor rights and liberal movements in the US and Europe, is overshadowed by the level of destruction it caused first in the uprising of the Commune of Paris in 1871 and to a far greater extent in its inspiring the Communist revolutions in Russia and China and the subjugation of much of the world under the Iron Curtain. Marx’s ideology is also flawed, coming under criticism for both its theoretical failings, most notably its inconstancy and absolutist nature regarding its analysis of history, and because there has never been a successful government built on its principles. Marx, though, should not be viewed too harshly as an individual. He lived at the height of the Industrial Revolution, when it seemed as though industrialization had only harmed the working class. Marx’s philosophy was a reaction against inequality, poverty, and repression that characterized Europe at the time. Although his ideas were misguided and wrong, they are still understandable when one considers the world Marx lived in. That being said, in the present with its general plenty and with the benefit of hindsight, Marxism is a clearly flawed ideology that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

May 4th in German History: The Sussex Pledge

Sussex Pledge: Definition & History | Study.com
The French Passenger Liner Sussex. Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

World War I saw submarines used effectively on a large scale for the first time. Germany realized that it could not challenge the British Navy with its surface fleet and so attempted to cut the British Isles off from food and raw materials from its colonies using its submarine fleet. This attempt had unforeseen diplomatic consequences, however. On March 24, 1916, the French passenger liner Sussex was sunk without warning. The sinking of passenger vessels angered the United States, and so Germany issued the Sussex Pledge on May 4th of 1916, promising not to target passenger ships and not to target merchant ships that did not carry weapons.

German submarines had begun operating in the first year of the war. For most of 1914 the main targets were warships as the Germans thought that the U-Boat was a flawed commerce raider and did not want to anger neutral powers. German and Austrian submarines were able to sink many allied cruisers and even a few battleships. However, the Allies developed a pattern of erratic movement that if followed by a ship would prevent its targeting by a U-Boat. Attacks on merchant ships began in October, but only 19 were sunk until February of 1915. In 1915, Germany began more aggressively targeting commercial ships in reaction to the harsh British blockade imposed on Germany. Most famously, RMS Lusitania was sunk. Although it was later discovered that the ship had been carrying weapons, the US public was outraged at the death of American citizens. German and Austrian submarines sank military ships in the Atlantic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean and greatly increased the number of commercial vessels sunk. The practice of sinking civilian ships continued, but the US was angered when a passenger liner, the French Sussex, was sunk. Germany wanted to prevent the US from entering the war, and so issued the Sussex Pledge. The Pledge detailed that passenger ships would not be attacked, that merchant ships would not be sunk unless they carrier weapons, and that the crew of merchant ships would be allowed to escape the ship before sinking.

While these measures pacified the US, they weakened the German war effort. In 1917, Germany decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare and was able to sink 25% of all British shipping by March. However, the US declared war in response to the resumption and along with the British were able to bring shipping losses down to acceptable levels by the end of 1917. In 1918, Germany would suffer ever heavier submarine casualties and would be unable to inflict crippling damage on allied shipping thanks to countermeasures like improved convoy systems, the use of airplanes to spot submarines, and depth charges. In the end, German efforts to starve Britain failed to be as effective as the British blockade on Germany. Germany’s attempt to win a protracted war would fail because it could not feed its own population or supply its factories with natural resources. Further, Britain’s superior navy was able to blockade Germany and protect her supply lines at the same time. The cruel truth of German warfare, that Germany will loose if the war drags on from more than two years due to lack of resources, played out in World War I and again in World War II, and is one of the many reasons why Germany has not started a war since.

May 3rd in German History: Bruno of Carinthia Becomes Pope

Pope Gregory, V - Find A Grave Memorial
Pope Gregory V. Image Credit: Find a Grave

I decided to take a break from the Second World War today and instead chose to focus on some more obscure history that I still think is interesting. While the elevation of Bruno of Carinthia to Pope Gregory V may not be as popular as the end of the Battle of Berlin or the death of Adolf Hitler, both of which I have discussed, it is still part of German history and should not be forgotten.

Bruno of Carinthia was the son of the Duke of Carinthia, who was a member of the Salian Dynasty and descended from one of the earlier Holy Roman Emperors. Bruno was the Chaplin of Otto King of Germany, who was also his cousin. Otto made Bruno Pope on May 3rd, 996, at the age of twenty four, succeeding Pope Jon XV. One of Gregory V’s first actions was to make his cousin Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor. The office had been left vacant since the death of Otto II. Gregory was either the first or the second German Pope depending on whether or not one counts Boniface II. As Pope, Gregory V granted more privileges to the Holy Roman Empire and monasteries within it. He also acted against those who opposed the Holy Roman Empire. Gregory enforced the excommunication of the Kingdom of France in order to force King Robert II of France to put aside his wife. Robert had attempted to secure the right to appoint his own bishops. In 997, the nobles of Rome chose an anti pope against the wishes of Otto III. This anti-pope was John XVI and Crescentius II, an aristocrat who declared himself ruler of Rome. The Emperor marched on Rome and suppressed this rebellion. The troops of the Emperor blinded John and cut his ears and tongue off. When Neilos of Rosanno, who would become St. Nilus of Rosanno, criticized the Emperor and Gregory V for their cruelty, they sent John to a monastery. They pursued Crescentius to the Castel Sant’Angelo and hanged him upon its walls in 998. Gregory V died soon after, in 999, with some suspicion of foul play.

Aside from being the first real German Pope, Gregory V’s impact on history was relatively marginal. Nevertheless, his actions do tell us a lot about what medieval politics were like. The revolt against Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and the brutal repression of it shows just how ruthless political rulers were. Further, Gregory V’s favoritism towards the Holy Roman Empire is an example of how leaders used the Papacy as a tool for enhancing secular power. The Middle Ages saw state and religion overlap as the former used the latter to gain power in a deeply devout Europe.

May 2nd In German History: The German Surrender of Italy and Berlin

Surrender of Berlin - Europe Remembers
German prisoners of war are grouped together after the surrender. Image Credit: Europe Remembers

Far from being the soft underbelly in Europe, Italy had proven a difficult theater ever since the Allied invasion had begun in 1943. German troops had held most famously at the Gustav Line during the Battle of Monte Cassino. The slow progress in Italy along with Soviet impatience had forced the Allies to invade Normandy in 1944. Progress was made, however, and the German forces supporting their puppet Italian Socialist Republic were pushed from the Gustav then front line and finally from the Gothic line. Once that line broke, the German forces lost all hope of holding Northern Italy and the Allied forces took city after city with little opposition. The German forces were largely destroyed in the Allied Spring Offensive in 1945 and what was left had little ammunition and no heavy equipment, and no hope of resupply as allied air raids had destroyed bridges and railroads that would have carried them. Realizing that they had no hope of holding as the larger German war effort faltered, the German commanders in Northern Italy signed a surrender agreement on April 29th. This agreement took effect on May 2nd and fighting in Italy ceased. On the same day, Berlin surrendered to General Zhukov and the Soviet Union. Although fighting had stopped, the people of Berlin would still have to endure the retribution of Soviet soldiers for several weeks. Nevertheless, Allied victory did bring the restoration of food and fuel supply to the capitol. Over a million prisoners were taken between both surrenders. After the surrenders, German forces controlled only parts of the middle of Germany and Austria.

The surrender of German troops was a recognition of reality on the part of German commanders. The nation should have surrendered months earlier, before its cities became battlegrounds, but its fanatic leaders would not allow such a move. In doing so they cost hundreds of thousands of lives on all sides and were responsible for unnecessary death and destruction.

May 1st in German History: The German Federal Election

Frankfurt Parliament - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Frankfurt Parliament. Image Credit: Wikipedia

1848 was a year of revolution and change in Europe. In France, the population overthrew a corrupt and ineffective monarch. In the Austrian Empire, the Hungarians revolted against their Hapsburg rulers but were put down with Russian supports. In Italy, a series of revolts against Austrian rule failed to create an independent Italy. Finally, in Germany the people of Prussia rose up and demanded a constitution, a parliamentary monarchy, and a united Germany.

The Frankfurt Parliament was the democratic body set up in the aftermath of the March Revolution. The Frankfurt Parliament was elected on May 1st, 1848 and it was in session from May 18th of that year to May 31st of the next. The Parliament had several Prime Ministers, the most famous of which was Heinrich von Gagern. The Parliament’s main accomplishment was the creation of the Frankfurt Constitution. This constitution proclaimed the creation of the German Empire. This Empire would be a parliamentary democracy and would have basic rights for all its citizens. The Kaiser would be a constitutional monarch. The Parliament had to deal with several crises during its short existence. Chief of these was the war with Denmark, which had attempted to occupy Holstein and blockade the German coast. That episode consumed all of the funds of the Parliament and it had to rely on donations from citizens as the finances of most of the German States were in disarray and the Princes were not inclined to give money to a Parliament that sought to take some of their power away. The Frankfurt Parliament also dealt with defining Germany and choosing who exactly the Emperor of Germany would be. Because it had no military force or method of compelling funding, the Parliament gradually lost influence and power until April of 1859 when all of the Austrian deputies left the Parliament and the elections called for by Prime Minister Gagern did not take place. Gagern was unable to get the Regent, an Austrian Archduke, to intervene in favor of implementing the Constitution and he resigned, leaving the Parliament without any real effective leader. In the following months, all of the Prussian ministers left followed by most of the moderate and all of the conservative deputies. The radical liberal members of Parliament called for a revolution to force the implementation of the Constitution, but this failed to achieve any real results. Following this, the assembly was forced to move to Stuttgart on the 31st of May and continued to lose members; it now had 154 members when it had once had nearly 500. The Parliament was now effectively dissolved, but the radical liberals would still call for a revolution across the entirety of Germany. The Prussian Army put down the small revolutions which did occur as a result, and shortly after the government of Wurttemberg, the state which Stuttgart was in, sent troops to occupy the Parliament’s chambers and had the deputies expelled.

The Frankfurt Parliament’s failure ended any real possibility of the peaceful unification of Germany into a democratic state. The bourgeoisie liberals who would have led such an effort were discredited by the utter failure of the Parliament to establish itself and enforce its directives, and the Parliament would only be viewed positively once the Wiemar Republic replaced the German Empire. The revolution and Prussia’s suppression of it also led to some of the smaller German States seeing Prussia more favorably. The Frankfurt Parliament thus had the opposite of the intended effect. It empowered an authoritarian Monarchical state and discredited democratic movements in Germany. There was a silver lining as many of the Parliament’s laws and practices would be implemented into the Wiemar Republic. For the time being, though, the Parliament’s attempt to lead a peaceful and moderate revolution only pushed Germany towards conservative monarchism.

April 30th in German History: The Death of Adolf Hitler

Death of Adolf Hitler - Wikipedia
The US Armed Forces Newspaper reporting the death of Adolf Hitler. Image Credit: Wikipedia.

At around 3:30 pm on April 30th of 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide via gunshot and poison in his bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler’s suicide would destroy the heart of the Nazi ideology and lead to the rapid capitulation of what was left of the Nazi leadership.

In the days and weeks leading up to his death, Hitler had become more and more desperate regarding the military situation. This desperation manifested in his lashing out against many of his subordinates. On April 28th, Hitler had had the SS representative Hermann Fegelein executed for desertion. He had also reorganized the line of succession after hearing that Heinrich Himmler had tried to negotiate a peace treaty and after Hermann Goring asked if he could assume power when he heard that Hitler had asked for cyanide capsules. Hitler married Eva Braun on April 29th, which I talk more about here, and shortly after had his secretary Traudl Junge transcribe his last will and testament. In it he designated Karl Doenitz the head of state and Joseph Goebbels the Chancellor. That afternoon Hitler learned that Mussolini had been executed and strung up by partisans, an event which I discuss here, and this further convinced him against letting himself be captured by the Allies. He had the cyanide pills tested on his dog Blondi, an exercise which killed her. Almost until the end Hitler had maintained some hope that Berlin would be relieved, but in the morning he had learned that all forces that Hitler had ordered to rescue Berlin had been destroyed. At 2:30 pm Hitler bid farewell to around 20 members of his staff. He then met with Helmuth Weidling, the General commanding the defense of Berlin, who told him that the garrison would run out of ammunition within a day and requested permission to attempt a breakout. Hitler eventually granted his request. He then went into his study with Eva and the two committed suicide. A few minutes later, Hitler’s valet entered the study and found the two bodies. The bodies were burned along with the study and the remains buried in a shallow crater. News of Hitler’s death was first released by the Germans on May 1st and Doenitz was declared the successor. The Soviets were suspicious of the news at first, and when they captured the Reich Chancellery they exhumed the bodies and instructed Hitler’s dentist to examine the remains. He confirmed the identity of them and the Soviets moved the remains to a facility in Magdeburg where they were reburied. The remains would finally be destroyed in 1970 for fear of their becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. In the first years after World War II the Soviet Union entertained conspiracy theories regarding Hitler’s death, Stalin saying that he was in Spain or Argentina. In the 1950s the CIA also investigated several stories regarding the whereabouts of Hitler, but did not take any of them seriously.

Following the death of Hitler his successor Karl Doenitz attempted to organize a fighting retreat so as to allow German troops to surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets. Doenitz was only able to delay the inevitable for less than a week though, as on May 7th he was forced to unconditionally surrender to the Allies. In the end, Hitler’s suicide was not a militarily important event. Hitler certainly would not have been able to effect the outcome of the war, and it is doubtful if he could have led any sort of resistance from hiding as he was by that time nearly universally disliked by the German people and would have been hunted relentlessly had he gone into hiding. Hitler’s death is, however, a symbolically important event. That the man who was supposed to lead Germany into a new age of greatness, marshaling the people to overcome all odds, was forced to take his own life to prevent his enemies from capturing him is perhaps the best example of the irony of Nazism. The ideology which had the sole purpose of strengthening the state and the people resulted in the near complete destruction of the nation it was supposed to elevate. The greatest fundamental flaw in Nazism is that in its inherent aggression, its ingrained barbarism, it dooms any nation that follows it to destruction by its neighbors even as it destroys itself.

April 29th in German History: The marriage of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler

How Eva Braun's Champagne-Soaked Fantasies Fueled A 'Make-Believe ...
Eva Braun dining with Adolf Hitler. Image Credit: NPR

Despite the many injustices he inflicted upon the world and the hardship he subjected the German people to, Adolf Hitler remained the subject of adoration for many in the German population. One such person was Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress whom he married on April 29th, 1945.

Eva Braun was the second child of a schoolteacher and a seamstress. She was educated in a lyceum and a business school and at the age of 17 was hired by Heinrich Hoffman, the photographer of the Nazi Party, to work as a clerk and assistant. She met Hitler, who at the time was living with his half niece Raubal, in 1929. Raubal shot herself with Hitler’s pistol in 1931. This saddened Hitler, and he began to see Eva Braun more. The two began a relationship in 1932 while Braun was still working as a photographer for the Nazi Party, a position which allowed her to travel with Hitler. Braun made two suicide attempts in the 1930s which most historians agree were meant to attract more attention from Hitler. Braun soon moved into accommodations he provided and he defended her from hostility within his inner circle. However, he was rarely seen in public with her as Hitler wanted to present the image of a single, chaste, leader. The one exception to this was when she sat near him during the Berlin Olympics. Braun continued to take photos and video of high level Nazis as part of her job for Hoffman. Further, she held the position of Hitler’s personal secretary. However, she had little interest in politics and did not make herself an influential person in the Reich. The one exception is when she became angry at Hitler after she heard of a proposed ban on cosmetic production that would be implemented in order to further shift Germany over to wartime production. Hitler ordered armaments minister Albert Speer to quietly halt production of cosmetics as opposed to outright ban them. On June 3rd, 1944, Braun’s sister married Hermann Fegelein, Heinrich Himmler’s liaison officer on Hitler’s staff, and Hitler used this as an excuse to have Eva come to official functions. Braun remained faithful to Hitler even as the war worsened for Germany, and refused to attempt to escape or go into hiding as the Soviets approached Berlin. Eva and Hitler married in the Fuerherbunker after midnight on April 29th. The next day, she would commit suicide using cyanide pills that Hitler first had tested on his dog.

Eva Braun provides an extreme example of how even the worst people can attract devoted and loyal followers. She was either ignorant of his deeds or overlooked them, and was so faithful that she was willing to die with him. On a less extreme level, supporters of a leader can easily look past their mistakes and flaws as long as that leader furthers their interests. This is made only easier if the leader can create a cult of personality around themselves and control the media and the education system. Such leaders can pose a great threat to the nation, and the citizens of all countries should make special effort to prevent such leaders from coming to power in the future.

April 28th in German History: The Execution of Benito Mussolini

Did the Brutal Death of Mussolini Contribute to Hitler's Suicide ...
The bodies of Mussolini and other fascist leaders hung upside down by partisans.

Benito Mussolini had fallen far by the time of his execution on April 28th of 1945. Barely 20 years earlier he was the leader of the first and only Fascist state in the world. He would go on to re-militarize Italy and extend its colonial holdings in Africa through his conquest of Ethiopia, avenging the national shame that was the defeat at the Battle of Adawa. His pre-war rule was not without its upsets, though. The economy stagnated in the 1930s and his intervention in the Spanish Civil War, while ultimately successful, was fraught with embarrassment. Further, his attempts to assert Italian leadership among Fascists failed as fascist Austria, which he supported, was annexed by Germany. Nevertheless, on the eve of war fascist Italy looked like a formidable regional power and one that could help the war effort of whichever side it joined.

However, Mussolini was reluctant to enter World War II as his army and airforce were hopelessly outdated, rearmament having been conducted a decade too early, and the Italian economy dependent on raw materials imported from Britain. Even the Regia Marina, the most modern of the three branches, was hamstrung by outdated doctrine and a reliance on imported fuel. When Italy entered the war in 1940, it quickly launched invasions of Southern France, Egypt, and British colonies in the middle of Africa. All of these offensives failed, often spectacularly, and Italy was forced back in Africa. The Germans supported the Italians in North Africa and for a time drove the British back. They were unable to take Egypt, though, due to insecure supply lines and the British replacing poor commanders. American entry into the war resulted in vast quantities of weapons and munitions being supplied to the British army in Africa and Operation Torch, the invasion of Northwest Africa, resulted in the destruction of the Afrika Corps and the complete loss of North Africa. While this happened, the Italians had lost air and naval superiority in the Mediterranean which allowed the Allies to invade Sicily and Southern Italy in 1943. In reaction to the horrible defeats that Italy had suffered, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy along with the Grand Council of Fascists ousted Mussolini as Italian Prime Minister and had him arrested. They negotiated an armistice with the Allies and declared war on Germany. In response, Germany occupied as much of Italy as they could and established the Italian Social Republic as a puppet state. German special forces rescued Mussolini from imprisonment and installed him as the leader of the Republic. He was, however, no longer anywhere near an equal partner of Hitler as his country was defended by German troops as much as Italian ones and the Germans, Croatians, even the Japanese took Italian European and colonial possessions. The Italian Social Republic was pushed up the Italian peninsula, losing Rome and then Revenna in 1944. The Allies broke through the Gothic line, the last defensive line in Northern Italy, in August of 1944 and from then on the Allies moved to take cities in Northern Italy. The Allies were unable to occupy the entirety of Italy by the end of the war but did force the German army in Italy to surrender on the 29th of April. Mussolini had tried to appeal to the workers and rebuild public faith in his rule, but these efforts proved insufficient to prevent rapid growth of partisan activity in Northern Italy and the defection of much of Mussolini’s army. A day before the surrender, Mussolini was captured by some of these partisans while fleeing to Switzerland along with his mistress. Both were shot and their bodies displayed for the public to see.

The death of his puppet saddened the Führer, but Mussolini’s fall had been expected and did not shock what little of the Reich that was not too busy fleeing battle to pay attention to news of the wider world. The death of the first fascist leader, at the hands of those who were supposed to be cogs in the great state, was a fundamental blow to the supposed strength and unity of fascism. Further, it showed the world that no matter their positions, tyrants would suffer for their crimes. Hitler would escape Mussolini’s fate when he committed suicide two days later. Demagogues and dictators should learn from the example of Mussolini; no matter one’s glorious rise, the most common fate for tyrants is death at the hand of their subject.

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