Through a discussion of the recent historiography and analysis of archival records, this chapter explains the collapse of the Fascist Regime during the Second World War by focusing on the impact of Allied bombing. It argues that the manner in which the state and people prepared for and faced air attack provides illuminating insights into the nature of the Regime. It also provides an examination of, and hopes to contribute to, the existing literature on Fascist Italy during the Second World War. During the war, the Regime monitored public opinion closely and understood that failure to protect its population adequately from bombing could further undermine its legitimacy. But it also saw Allied bombing, if maximised by skilful propaganda, as an opportunity to mobilise its public against the democracies. The chapter begins with an examination of how the government and population prepared for bombing as war approached. During the 1930s, as Europe faced the prospect of a new war in which large-scale bombing was widely expected, the Regime sought to develop a legal and institutional framework for civil defence. It also attempted to create, consolidate, mobilise and train the civil defence and emergency services, as well as to develop its air defences. Yet preparation for bombing was inadequate and inappropriate, both in terms of active and passive defences, as became clear after the raids had started, when the public authorities faced the reality of bombing. Eventually the state collapsed under the assault, and the Italian case, compared to those of the other Western European countries that experienced the air war, provides the nearest approximation available to an enemy being bombed into submission. As public morale was explicitly targeted by the Allies, the Regime tried to use raids to mobilise the population against them. However, the Regime failed to win the propaganda war: Allied propaganda encouraged the view of bombing as a prelude to an inevitable liberation; Fascist propaganda was undermined by the poor record of air raid protection and by the growing unpopularity of local authorities; as propaganda lost credibility, rumour took its place, revealing that many blamed the raids either on an impersonal fortune or on the Axis powers. This is also a study of the Fascist party during wartime: as the PNF had colonised state institutions, and remained the dominant channel of political communication and mobilisation into the war, when it lost the public’s confidence, as it clearly had by the end of 1942-beginning of 1943, the state itself was dramatically weakened. By contrast, the Vatican assumed a higher political profile as the Fascist state withered, especially after Rome, until then untouched by the war, was directly threatened in 1943. The political and ideological role of Italian air power worked as a metaphor for the Regime as a whole. The champions of aviation represented the anthropological revolution at the heart of the totalitarian experiment. However, the story of both active and passive air defences reflects many of the failures of the Fascist Regime itself. Mussolini’s strategy forced Italy to assume military responsibilities and economic commitments which it could not hope to meet in a situation where the world’s trade routes were dominated by the enemy, and the only major ally, Germany, had too many commitments of its own. From September 1943 the German occupation meant a demand for labour and resources that hampered the state’s efforts to cope with the extreme strain of major air attacks. The Italian Social Republic faced, and fought with increasing but unsuccessful ferocity, the armed resistance; pro-Allied sentiment at that stage led a significant sector of the population to view bombing as a painful but necessary prelude to liberation from occupation and Fascism.

Il fallimento militare del regime: la guerra e i bombardamenti / C. Baldoli (FRECCE). - In: Il fascismo italiano : Storia e interpretazioni / [a cura di] G. Albanese. - [s.l] : Carocci, 2021. - ISBN 9788829009244. - pp. 69-92

Il fallimento militare del regime: la guerra e i bombardamenti

C. Baldoli
2021

Abstract

Through a discussion of the recent historiography and analysis of archival records, this chapter explains the collapse of the Fascist Regime during the Second World War by focusing on the impact of Allied bombing. It argues that the manner in which the state and people prepared for and faced air attack provides illuminating insights into the nature of the Regime. It also provides an examination of, and hopes to contribute to, the existing literature on Fascist Italy during the Second World War. During the war, the Regime monitored public opinion closely and understood that failure to protect its population adequately from bombing could further undermine its legitimacy. But it also saw Allied bombing, if maximised by skilful propaganda, as an opportunity to mobilise its public against the democracies. The chapter begins with an examination of how the government and population prepared for bombing as war approached. During the 1930s, as Europe faced the prospect of a new war in which large-scale bombing was widely expected, the Regime sought to develop a legal and institutional framework for civil defence. It also attempted to create, consolidate, mobilise and train the civil defence and emergency services, as well as to develop its air defences. Yet preparation for bombing was inadequate and inappropriate, both in terms of active and passive defences, as became clear after the raids had started, when the public authorities faced the reality of bombing. Eventually the state collapsed under the assault, and the Italian case, compared to those of the other Western European countries that experienced the air war, provides the nearest approximation available to an enemy being bombed into submission. As public morale was explicitly targeted by the Allies, the Regime tried to use raids to mobilise the population against them. However, the Regime failed to win the propaganda war: Allied propaganda encouraged the view of bombing as a prelude to an inevitable liberation; Fascist propaganda was undermined by the poor record of air raid protection and by the growing unpopularity of local authorities; as propaganda lost credibility, rumour took its place, revealing that many blamed the raids either on an impersonal fortune or on the Axis powers. This is also a study of the Fascist party during wartime: as the PNF had colonised state institutions, and remained the dominant channel of political communication and mobilisation into the war, when it lost the public’s confidence, as it clearly had by the end of 1942-beginning of 1943, the state itself was dramatically weakened. By contrast, the Vatican assumed a higher political profile as the Fascist state withered, especially after Rome, until then untouched by the war, was directly threatened in 1943. The political and ideological role of Italian air power worked as a metaphor for the Regime as a whole. The champions of aviation represented the anthropological revolution at the heart of the totalitarian experiment. However, the story of both active and passive air defences reflects many of the failures of the Fascist Regime itself. Mussolini’s strategy forced Italy to assume military responsibilities and economic commitments which it could not hope to meet in a situation where the world’s trade routes were dominated by the enemy, and the only major ally, Germany, had too many commitments of its own. From September 1943 the German occupation meant a demand for labour and resources that hampered the state’s efforts to cope with the extreme strain of major air attacks. The Italian Social Republic faced, and fought with increasing but unsuccessful ferocity, the armed resistance; pro-Allied sentiment at that stage led a significant sector of the population to view bombing as a painful but necessary prelude to liberation from occupation and Fascism.
Second World War; fascism; bombing; air defences; public opinion
Settore M-STO/04 - Storia Contemporanea
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/2434/862937
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