A remarkable new history evoking the centrality of Italy to World War II, outlining the brief rise and triumph of the Fascists, followed by the disastrous fall of the Italian military campaign.
While staying closely aligned with Hitler, Mussolini remained carefully neutral until the summer of 1940. At that moment, with the wholly unexpected and sudden collapse of the French and British armies, Mussolini declared war on the Allies in the hope of making territorial gains in southern France and Africa. This decision proved a horrifying miscalculation, dooming Italy to its own prolonged and unwinnable war, immense casualties, and an Allied invasion in 1943 that ushered in a terrible new era for the country.
John Gooch's new history is the definitive account of Italy's war experience. Beginning with the invasion of Abyssinia and ending with Mussolini's arrest, Gooch brilliantly portrays the nightmare of a country with too small an industrial sector, too incompetent a leadership and too many fronts on which to fight.
Everywhere—whether in the USSR, the Western Desert, or the Balkans—Italian troops found themselves against either better-equipped or more motivated enemies. The result was a war entirely at odds with the dreams of pre-war Italian planners—a series of desperate improvisations against an allied force who could draw on global resources, and against whom Italy proved helpless.
Historian Gooch (Mussolini and His Generals) delivers a comprehensive and unsparing account of the Italian army's performance during WWII. Though Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1937 and helped Gen. Francisco Franco win the Spanish Civil War, "success gave rise to dangerous illusions." Gooch details campaigns against Greece, an underestimated and persistent foe; France, which mounted strong resistance against Italian forces; and Egypt, where Italian commanders had "little enthusiasm" for Mussolini's bombastic orders. In April 1941, Germany salvaged Italy's stalled campaign in Greece; later that summer, Mussolini joined Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. In the fall of 1942, "Italian tanks were shot to pieces one-by-one" in the battle for El Alamein in Egypt, and in July 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily, where Germans took command of Axis forces while Italian generals negotiated their own surrender and Mussolini's ouster ("Everyone seemed to be plotting," Gooch writes). Rescued by German commandos from the hotel where he was imprisoned, Mussolini survived as the figurehead of a fascist puppet regime in northern Italy until his April 1945 execution. After the war, his "admirals and generals had nothing good to say about Mussolini." Gooch marshals his voluminous research into a coherent narrative, though casual history fans may find the level of detail daunting. Completists, however, will relish this painstaking and astute analysis of where Mussolini and his cohorts went wrong.