After Italy's armistice on 8 September 1943, the Italian resistance movement became massive. The Italian partisans, as military formations of the Italian resistance movement, fought German occupying forces in Italy and Greece and the Mussolini-led Fascist Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI). All opposition to Nazi-Fascism in Italy during the final period of World War II can be broadly defined as Resistenza.
More than 300,000 armed fighters (among them 35,000 women) took part in the fighting forces. The Italian resistance movement included elements in the country as well as among Italian armed forces abroad. Participants in the 1944-1945 strike movement in the factories of Turin, Milan, and other industrial cities are considered to be a part of the Italian resistance movement as well; many of the strikers were later deported to German concentration camps as a result of their "sabotage" of the war effort. Italian soldiers who refused to cooperate with the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) after the Armistice are considered as Italian resistance heroes. One of the best known example of such behaviour was the Italian garrison in Cefalonia, who refused to surrender the base to overwhelming German forces, right after the Allied armistice with Italy in September 1943; six thousand prisoners were shot by a German firing squad after the struggle.
The 1948 democratic Constitution of the Italian Republic declared itself to be "built on the Resistance".
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 Porzus (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, today often quoted for the purpose of smearing Communists and their political heirs, was preceded by several instances were 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, 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 Polish and Brigata Maiella troops.Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated on April 24.Milano and Torino were liberated on April 25.The last German troops left Genoa on April 26, when General Meinhold surrendered to the CLN.
Allied troops arrived in the liberated cities in the next days.
The April uprising showed to the world that not all Italians agreed with the Fascist rule. Furthermore, it proved that Italians were even prepared to fight against Fascist rule at great cost to themselves. Casualties from the uprising amounted to:
During the war, German and Italian Fascist soldiers committed a number of other war crimes including:
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; women were often raped during questioning. 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 and it was to comprise the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and the Province of Belluno. The other was Adriatisches Kustenland and it was to comprise Istria, Quarnero, and most of today's region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In the valley of Carnia, anti-Communist forces from the Soviet Union under the command of ataman Timofey Ivanovich Domanov were used; they were promised the establishment of a Cossack republic in Northeastern Italy, to be called Kosakenland.
Around 27 April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were captured by partisans while trying to escape to Switzerland. Upon the arrival of Communist partisans under "Lieutenant-Colonel Valerio" (Walter Audisio), Mussolini, Petacci, several high-ranking Fascist officials, and some other Fascist hanger-ons were taken to Dongo. On April 28 they were summarily executed. 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 location of an execution of civilians by fascists in 1944. A total of fifteen Fascists were thus exhibited.
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), Pisenti 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), Alfredo Coppolo (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.