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".
Date September 8, 1943 - May 2, 1945
Location Italy
Result Defeat of republican fascists by partisans and establishment of the Italian Republic.
23x15px Italian Social Republic
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).png Germany
22px Kingdom of Italy
23px Italian resistance movement
23x15px United States
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Other Western Allies
Commanders and leaders
C-in-C National Republican Army:
23x15px Benito Mussolini 
23x15px Rodolfo GrazianiTemplate:POW
C-in-C Republican Guard:
23x15px Renato Ricci
C-in-C Xª MAS:
23x15px Junio Valerio Borghese
C-in-C Italian Royal Army:
21px Pietro Badoglio
C-in-C CLN:
22px Ivanoe Bonomi
22px Alfredo Pizzoni
Casualties and losses
20,000 deaths 100,000 deaths

The expression Italian Civil War is used to define the period between September 8, 1943, the date of the armistice of Cassibile, and May 2, 1945, the date of the surrender of Caserta.[1] The war was fought between the forces of the fascist Italian Social Republic of Benito Mussolini, allied to the Axis, and the Italian partisans, aided by the Allies and the remnants of the Italian Royal Army, loyal to King Victor Emmanuel III. Some of the historians who have studied the Italian civil war have not restricted their analysis to the war itself, but they have also studied the consequences that it had on the Italians after the surrender.[2]

Use of the expression in historyEdit

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 of making Italian civil war a widespread used term in Italian[3] and international [4][5] historiography; the term was already used before,[6] but not as much as since the early 1990s, when it became a widely used historical category.


There were many confrontations between the two parts, and many civilian were involved into clashes, or tortured, abused and killed by extremists from both sides. In this phase of conflict, that developed in paraller with the Italian Campaign, partisans were supported by Allied forces with small arms, ammunitions and explosives, launched by planes being part of special warfare squadrons. These air operational units were part of RAF and USAF because Allied command did not consider positively 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. Another form of cooperation between Allied forces and partisans was exerted by military missions, parachuted or landed behind enemy lines, and often composed by Italian military personnel and/or Italian-American soldiers members of OSS, but elsewhere from specialists (communications, sabotage) and secret services members. Where possible, both sides avoided situations in which Italian units of opposite fronts were involved in combat episodes, but this happened in some rare cases. The bulk of episodes of blood between Italians were clashes between partisans and fascist of various armed formations.


First groups of partisans were formed in Boves (Piedmont) and Bosco Martese (Abruzzo). Other groups -made mainly by Slavic and communist elements- born or grew strong in Venezia Giulia. Others grew up around the Allied soldiers, 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 particular, in the village of Boves - during one of these counterinsurgency operations - the Nazis committed their first massacre on Italian territory.

Since the evening of September 8, just hours after the radio communication of the armistice, several notable antifascist (emerged from hiding after the collapse of the fascist regime on July 25) converged to Rome: 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) and Bonomi took over the presidency.[7]

In particular, Italian Communist Party was quivering on the initiative without waiting for the Allies:

Template:It «...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]
Template:En «... 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. »

Besides, the Allies did not believe in the possibilities of success of a local guerrilla, so that initially the nuclei consisting of General Alexander invited to postpone the attacks against the Nazis. On 16 October the CLN branched out a press release, the first important political and operational [9] – which rejected the calls for reconciliation launched by Republican leaders. The CLN Milan echoed by an order of the day when 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 decided the establishment of task forces called "distaccamenti d'assalto Garibaldi", which later would become "brigades" and "divisions",[11] whose leadership was entrusted to Luigi Longo, under the political direction of Pietro Secchia, with 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 sistems and everithing that might help to war plans of Nazi occupants.[12]

Since shortly after the Armistice arose, on the initiative of the Italian Communist Party,[13] the Gruppi di Azione Patriottica ("Patriotic Action Groups") or simply "GAP", consisting of small groups of cellular structure, designed not to affect the mutual existence in case of arrest or betrayal of individual elements, whose main purpose was to unleash the terror urban trough bomb attacks against fascists, Germans, and their supporters. The ability of GAP in performing the tasks was such that German and Italian police initially thought they were composed of foreign intelligence agents. In this regard it is significant what is written on the public announcement of the PCI in September 1943:

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)

Part of journalism has justified the action of GAP's mission of "justice" against the Nazi tyranny and terror, with emphasis on how the selection of targets to be hit would give preference, "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 claiming a substantial difference with the Nazi terror, but that would have been indiscriminate in the eyes of the population. The partisan memoirs in particular insists on the "elimination of enemies especially heinous", such as torturers, spies, provocateurs. Some orders from branched commands partisans insist on the need to avoid hitting the innocent, instead of providing lists of categories to be hit as individuals deserving of punishment ".

Par of Italian press during the war period agrees that, in addition to these actions, were planned and carried murders of most moderate Republican fascist, willing to compromise and negotiation, such as Aldo Resega, Iginio Ghisellini, Eugenio Facchini and the philosopher Giovanni Gentile.

Also participated in the resistance, mainly due to activities of procurement of supplies, clothing and medicines, anti-fascist propaganda, fundraising, maintenance of communications in the role of partisan relays, relief and assistance, several women, variously organized, and some participated actively in the conflict as combatants: the first detachment of guerrilla fighters rose up in Piedmont in the mid-1944 at the Garibaldi Brigade "Eusebio Giambone" . Women participated in strikes and demonstrations against fascism. Consistence of partisan forces was incostant, depending by seasons, German and fascist repression and also by orography of Italian territory, but never exceeded 200.000 men actively involved, with an important support by residents of occupied territories. Nonetheless it was an important factor that concurred in immobilizing a conspicuous part of German forces in Italy, and to keep German communication lines insecure, with an advantage for Allied forces operating in Italy.

Fascist forcesEdit

At the same time of the birth of an Italian Resistance movement, collecting various Italian soldiers of regular units disbanded after armistice and, after the reorganization of fascist army, many young people not willing to be enrolled into fascist troops, on other side, some 60.000 soldiers went initially to form the army of Italian Social Republic (RSI), also named "republic of Salò" because in this city where hosted some important offices of the republic (it's commonly known that there was the capital, but this it's not formally correct); 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 in 1944 will pass under control of regular army.[14]

While considering them bandits, the fascist republic was forced to fight with the partisans in order to keep control of the territory; they were even able to create short lasting partisan republic. Fascist forces, according to fascist sources were up to 780.000 men; this is disputed and it is likely there were no more than 558.000.[15] Partisans and their active supporters were up to 82.000 in June 1944.[16]

In addition to regular units of the Republican Army and the Black Brigades, various special units fascists were organized, often spontaneously at first and afterward from regular units being part of the armed forces of Salò. These formations, composed mostly of common criminals,[17] often brutal methods adopted during counterinsurgency operations, repression, and counter-retaliation.

Among the first to form, there was the banda of the Federal Bardi and Pollastrini in Rome, whose coarse and vulgar methods shocked even the Germans.[18] Later, in Rome was very active in the Banda Koch, which helped to dismantle the structure of the Partito d'Azione in the capital. The so-called Koch Banda, led by Peter Koch, initially discussed personalities connected with Bardi and Pollastrini, then under the protection of General Kurt Maltzer, military commander of the square,[19] distinguished himself by violent methods against those based on torture and anti-fascist partisans. After the fall of Rome Koch moved to Milan and became the man of confidence of the Minister of the Interior Guido Buffarini Guidi, continuing its brutal repression and participating in the struggles between the various powers and various police forces of Republic.[20] In Tuscany and Veneto operated the Banda Carità a special unit constituted within the 92th Legion Blackshirts, which became famous for his violent repression acions such as the"killings of Piazza Tasso" in 1944 in Florence.

In Milan, the Squadra d'azione Ettore Muti (later Legion Autonomous Mobile Ettore Muti) operated to the orders of the former Corporal army Francesco Colombo, already expelled from the PNF during the twenty years for embezzlement. Considering it dangerous to public in November 1943, the Federal Aldo Resega would have wanted to depose him, but was killed by an attack of GAP; Colombo remained at his post, despite several complaints and inquiries.[21] Squadrists of Muti together with the GNR were the protagonists in August 10, 1944 for massacre of Piazzale Loreto in Milan, whose victims were fifteen anti-fascists 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.[22]

The chain of command of National Republican Army, in the first place in the person of Marshal Graziani and the alternative of his deputies Mischi and Montaigna, contributed to the repression and coordinating anti-partisan actions of the regular troops, the GNR, the Black Brigades and various semi-official police together with the Germans, who were often also provided information on individuals and groups of resistance fighters; Germans then used to make reprisals and for this objective they helped to make the Republican Army a truly operational tool, also thanks to the famous and draconian Graziani call-up for conscription that impressed several thousand of Italians. It should be said though that Graziani least nominally caused the armed forces were unified and apolitical CSR, not by employees so Republican Fascist Party, but the supreme command of the armed forces.[23]

The civil warEdit


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 Axis, and some demonstrations of citizens exulting for the presumably regained liberty were repressed with violence and blood. Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 8, and King Victor Emmanuel III left Rome with its Cabinet, leaving the Italian Royal Army without proper orders. Up to 600.000 Italian soldiers were taken as prisoners by the Nazis and the greatest part of them (about 95%) refused alligiance to the newborn Italian Social Republic (RSI), a fascist state with Benito Mussolini as Head of Government created on September 23. This was made possible by Germans occupation of the greater part of the Italian peninsula with Operation Achse, planned and headed by Erwin Rommel. In this period, there were not only military and terroristic episodes, but also political rivalities between the various components of antifascist front. After the armistice with Italy the Britidh forces was outlined on the horizon of 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 at best from a defeated enemy than from a true, even if newly recruited, allied.[24] However, 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";[25] the rest of "the great majority of farmers referred to the parish structures".[26] For these reasons, the remaining resources were concentrated in the propaganda among the masses in the Liberated Areas, the common denominator of losing consistency fascist.[27] 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.[28]


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. Fascist predominated into 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 should not manoeuver 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 probably Porzûs massacre, where some communist partisans of the division Natisone (the SAP brigade 13 martiri di Feletto), attached to the Yugoslavian XI Corpus by precise orders of Togliatti,[29] 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", doing betrayal and intelligence with enemy. Among these, there was the commander Francesco De Gregori, uncle of famous Italian singer Francesco De Gregori, and Gastone Valente, commissioner of the brigade.[30]

The endEdit

Fascist forces surrendered on May 2, 1945, after the Axis fate was fixed.

Consequences of the warEdit

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 even without a proper trial. Civilians were killed too and among them there were also people who were wrongly accused of collaborationism by people who wanted to take revenge on them because they had private reasons to hate them. Ministry of Interior Mario Scelba said the victims of these executions were 1,732,[31] 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.[32]

Violence decreased after an amnesty was issued on behalf of the Italian governament with the so-called Togliatti amnesty in 1946.[33]

See alsoEdit


  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. Script error.
  8. Pietro Secchia, Agire subito from La nostra lotta nr. 3-4, November 1943
  10. Script error.
  11. In contrast with their denomination, real dimension of these detachments were not so large, and at their best they counted no more than some hundreds of members. In some cases, however, there were formations numbering some thousands of partisans, until summer 1944, when some joint Italian-German operations would remarkably reduce this strength (as in Appendix in Script error).
  12. Script error.
  13. Leo Valiani said about existence of "terrorists of Partito d'Azione". Script error.
  14. 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
  15. Diego Meldi, La Repubblica di Salò, Santarcangelo di Romagna, Casini Editore, 2008. ISBN 978-88-6410-001-2, pag. 39,
  16. Giorgio Bocca, Storia dell'Italia partigiana, pp. 340-341
  17. Script error.
  18. Script error.
  19. Script error.
  20. Script error.
  21. Script error.
  22. Script error.
  23. F. W. Deakin, History of the Republic of Salò, Torino, Einaudi, 1968, p. 579.
  24. 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
  25. 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
  26. 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
  27. R. De Felice, La resistenza ed il regno del sud, “Nuova storia contemporanea”, 1999, 2, pp. . 9-24, p. 21
  28. R. De Felice, La resistenza ed il regno del sud, “Nuova storia contemporanea”, 1999, 2 , pp.. 9-24, p. 22
  29. 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"
  30. Oliva, La resa dei conti, pag. 156
  31. See the Atti Parlamentari, Camera dei Deputati, 1952, Discussioni, 11 giugno 1952, p. 38736
  32. See the interview with erruccio Parri, on "Corriere della Sera" 15th November 1997. (in Italian)
  33. The informal name of the Decree of the President of the Italian Republic, 22 June 1946, no.4


  • Template:It Claudio Pavone, Una guerra civile. Saggio storico sulla moralità della Resistenza, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 1991. ISBN 88-339-0629-9
  • Template:It 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
  • Template:It Script error
  • (German)Script error 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
  • Template:It Script error
  • Template:It Script error

External linksEdit

it:Guerra civile in Italia (1943-1945)

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