The Italian resistance (in It. Resistenza italiana) is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II. They were also known as the Partisan Resistance, in Italian: Resistenza partigiana, and one author has defined them the Second Risorgimento.
The movement was initially composed of independent troops, spontaneously formed by members of political parties previously outlawed by the Fascist regime, or by former officers of the disbanded Royal Army loyal to the monarchy. Later, the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CNL; Committee of National Liberation) created by the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Partito d'Azione (a republican liberal party), Democrazia Cristiana and other minor parties took control of the movement, in accordance with King Victor Emmanuel III's ministers and the Allies.
The formations were eventually divided between three main groups, the communist Garibaldi Brigades, Giustizia e Libertà Brigades (related to Partito d'Azione), and socialist Matteotti Brigades.Smaller groups included Catholic sympathizers and monarchists (like the Green Flames, Di Dio and Mauri), and some anarchist formations.Relations between the different groups were not always good. For example, in 1945 in Porzûs (in the province of Udine), Garibaldi Brigade partisans under Yugoslav command attacked and killed partisans of the Catholic and azionista Osoppo band. The Garibaldi Brigade partisans claimed that the Catholic and azionista Osoppo band partisans had refused to accept the authority of Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslavian partisan leader. They were also accused of sharing intelligence with the fascist enemy. This famous fratricide was preceded by several instances where the reverse was true. For example, in the Maritime Alps near Mondovì in autumn 1943 some Communists partisans, fugitive after killing German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) officers in an ambush, were traded to the Nazi-Fascists by monarchist military officers from the so called azzurri or badogliani who exerted command there in an uneasy truce with the enemy.
While the largest contingents operated in mountainous districts of the Alps and the Apennine Mountains, there were also large formations in the Po plain; in the main towns of Northern Italy, like Piacenza and surroundings valleys next to Gothic line, where in Montechino castle there was an important partisan headquarter, the Gruppi di azione patriottica (G.A.P., Patriotic Action Groups) regularly carried out acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and the Squadre di azione patriottica (S.A.P., Patriotic Action Squads) arranged massive strike actions and campaigns of propaganda. Not unlike the French Resistance, women were important leaders and couriers both in the armed groups, as well as in the industrial areas
In 1944, with the Allied forces nearby, the partisan resistance in Italy staged an uprising behind German lines, led by the Committee of National Liberation of Upper Italy (CLNAI). This rebellion led to the establishment of a number of provisional partisan governments throughout the mountainous regions of northern Italy, of which Ossola was the most important and received recognition from Switzerland and from Allied consulates in Switzerland. By the end of 1944, German reinforcements and Benito Mussolini's remaining forces had crushed the uprising, and the area's liberation had to wait until the final offensives of 1945.
On April 19, 1945, concurrent with the renewal of the Allied offensive, the CLN called out a general insurrection. Bologna was liberated on April 21 by The Free Polish Forces under allied command. Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated on April 24. Turin and Milan were liberated on April 25 when Fascists retreated. Over 14,000 German and Fascist troops were captured in Genoa on April 26 and 27, when General Meinhold surrendered to the CLN.
The April uprising showed to the world that not all Italians agreed with the Fascist rule. It proved that Italians were prepared to fight against Fascist rule at great cost. Casualties from the uprising amounted to:
During the war, German and Italian Fascist soldiers committed a number of other war crimes including summary executions, ransacking, and retaliations against civilians; most of these were common practices.
Some of the most notorious events were the Ardeatine massacre, the Marzabotto massacre, and the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre. Captured partisans or civilians were often tortured. The Decima Flottiglia MAS, an Italian unit under German command, is now remembered as one of the most ruthless military corps of the war.
The Germans profited greatly from the weakness of the Fascist puppet state in Northern Italy. The Germans determined that they would annex Italian territories into the Third Reich. Two new German regions were to be established. One was the Alpenvorland, to comprise the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and the Province of Belluno. The other was Adriatisches Küstenland, to comprise Istria, Quarnero, and most of today's region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In the valley of Carnia, the Germans used anti-communist forces from the Soviet Union under the command of ataman Timofey Ivanovich Domanov; they were promised a Cossack republic to be established in Northeastern Italy, to be called Kosakenland.
On the morning of 27th April 1945 Umberto (nom de guerre "Partisan Bill") a Partisan of the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade (Communists) was checking lorries at Dongo on Lake Como carrying retreating German Troops to the Swiss border. He became suspicious of a man in the fifth truck. His unit had been warned that Mussolini was attempting to flee the country. There was an agreement with the Partisans the convoy would be given safe passage providing no Italians were being concealed among the retreating German soldiers. A German soldier explained the man was a drunken colleague, but Lazzaro remained unconvinced.
Lazzaro called out to the man, who twice ignored his shouts. Climbing into the truck he went up to the man and said "Cavaliere Benito Mussolini"—the man's reaction was a physical jolt. The man was Benito Mussolini (Il Duce). The political commissar of the unit was called in—the official partisan version of events thereafter is the decision to have Mussolini executed was taken by a small group including the leaders of the three main 'branches' of the Resistance. One of the representatives of the Communist Garibaldi Brigade was its Commander, Luigi Longo,(born Fubine 1900, died Rome 1980) who would later become a Member of the Italian Parliament and Leader (Secretary) of the Italian Communist Party from 1964 to 1972. Earlier in the Spanish Civil War, Longo as Inspector General of the International Brigade had fought against Franco.
The task of carrying out the execution of Mussolini was given to 'Colonel Valerio', conventionally identified as aGaribaldi Communist, Walter Audisio. However, Lazzaro in his 1962 book about the incident clearly states that the 'Colonel Valerio' the one he saw in Dongo was not Walter Audisio, but Luigi Longo. The identification of such a senior figure personally organising a summary execution was politically explosive. This didn't later stop Lazzaro from further contradicting the official partisan version that Mussolini and his mistress (Clara Petacci) had been killed the following day the 28th at 4.10pm at the gates of a villa at Giulino di Mezzegra overlooking the lake. He stated they were killed the same day the 27th at 12.30pm when Petacci tried to grab a gun from one of the resistance fighters who were escorting them to Milan for a public execution. Shots were fired and Mussolini was hit "they finished him off on the spot and then shot Clara Petacci for causing the accident".
Many of the corpses, including those of Mussolini and Petacci, were later taken to Milan and hung up-side down in [Piazzale Loreto], a square near Milan's Central Station; the square was chosen because it had been the site of a massacre of anti-Fascists by Fascist militia under German orders the previous year. Fifteen Fascists were exhibited in the square; this number had significance seeing as 15 anti-Fascists had been displayed in the square in 1944.
The Fascists executed in Dongo included: Benito Mussolini (Il Duce), Francesco Barracu (Undersecretary in cabinet office), Fernando Mezzasoma (Ministry of Popular Culture – Propaganda), Nicola Bombacci (A personal friend of Mussolini), Luigi Gatti (Mussolini's private secretary), Augusto Liverani (Minister of Communications), Alessandro Pavolini (ex-Ministry of Popular Culture), Paolo Zerbino (Minister of Interior), Ruggero Romano (Minister Public Works), Paolo Porta (Head of Fascist Party in Lombardy), Goffredo Coppola (Rector of the Bologna University), Ernesto Daquanno (Director of Stefani agency), Mario Nudi (President of Fascist Agriculture Association), Colonel Vito Casalinuovo (Mussolini's adjutant), Pietro Calistri (Air Force pilot), Idreno Utimperghe (possibly a journalist or Black Shirt leader), and Clara Petacci (Mussolini's mistress).
Achille Starace (Secretary of Fascist Party 1931–1939) was arrested and executed earlier in Milan. He was one of the fifteen Fascists exhibited in the square.
Marcello Petacci (Clara Petacci's brother) was captured with the others. But, rather than being executed in Dongo, he was shot trying to escape.
Shortly after World War II it was said the modern Republic of Italy was founded on the collective achievements of the Partisans. It shouldn't therefore be surprising that credible differing versions of these events were widely promoted then for politically expedient reasons.