cover image Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy from Triumph to Collapse, 1935–1943

Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy from Triumph to Collapse, 1935–1943

John Gooch. Pegasus, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-1-64313-548-9

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. (Dec.)