Benito Mussolini declares himself dictator of Italy


Publish date:
Year
1925
Month Day
January 03

Similar to Adolf Hitler, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini did not become the dictator of a totalitarian regime overnight. For several years, he and his allies worked more or less within the confines of the Italian constitution to accrue power, eroding democratic institutions until the moment came for them to be done away with entirely. It is generally agreed that that moment came in speech Mussolini gave to the Italian parliament on January 3, 1925, in which he asserted his right to supreme power and effectively became the dictator of Italy.

Mussolini had been a schoolteacher and an avowed socialist, but after World War I he became a leader of the nascent Fascist movement. Like much of Europe, Italy was rife with social turmoil in the wake of the war, with paramilitary groups and street gangs frequently clashing over their competing visions for the new political order. A close confidant of Mussolini formed a Fascist paramilitary group, known as the Blackshirts or squadristi, as Mussolini led the political party, and they found that government fears of a communist revolution allowed them to operate without state intervention. By 1921, Mussolini had been elected to parliament as the leader of the growing National Fascist Party.

Soon after Mussolini’s election, armed Blackshirts marched on Rome, demanding that the king install Mussolini as Prime Minister. In a decision that utterly changed the course of Italian and European history, King Victor Emmanuel III ignored Prime Minister Luigi Facta’s pleas that he declare martial law, leading to Facta’s resignation and Emmanuel’s invitation to Mussolini to form a new government. The Fascists and their moderate allies set about dismantling Italy’s democratic institutions. He was proclaimed dictator for a year and increasingly merged his party and its paramilitary wing with the state and the official military. He also undertook a program of privatizations and anti-union legislation in order to assure industrialists and aristocrats that fascism would protect them from socialism.

Despite these reforms, many Fascists felt Mussolini was moving too slowly. In 1924, assassins with ties to Mussolini killed socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, leading most of the parliamentary opposition to boycott Mussolini’s legislature. The Fascists felt that their moment had come. On December 31, they issued an ultimatum to Mussolini. Three days later, he addressed the remainder of parliament, declaring “I, and I alone, assume the political, moral, and historical responsibility for all that has happened,” obliquely referring to the assassination of Matteotti. In doing so, Mussolini dared prosecutors and the rest of Italy’s democratic institutions, as well as the king, to challenge his authority. None did. Thus, from 1925 onward, Mussolini was able to operate openly as a dictator, styling himself Il Duce and fusing the state and the Fascist Party. Two decades of suppression and brutality followed, culminating in Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the Second World War.

READ MORE: Mussolini’s Final Hours

Source

Germany declares war on Portugal


Year
1916
Month Day
March 09

On March 9, 1916, Germany declares war on Portugal, who earlier that year honored its alliance with Great Britain by seizing German ships anchored in Lisbon’s harbor.

Portugal became a republic in 1910 after a revolution led by the country’s military toppled King Manuel II (his father, King Carlos, and elder brother had been assassinated two years earlier). A liberal constitution was enacted in 1911, and Manuel JosÉ de Arriaga was elected as the republic’s first president.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Portugal became increasingly anxious about the security of its colonial holdings in Angola and Mozambique. In order to secure international support for its authority in Africa, Portugal entered the war on the side of Britain and the Allies. Its participation was at first limited to naval support. In February 1917, however, Portugal sent its first troops—an expeditionary force of 50,000 men—to the Western Front. They saw action for the first time in Belgium on June 17 of that year.

One notable battle in which Portuguese forces took part was the Battle of Lys, near the Lys River in the Flanders region of Belgium, in April 1918. It was part of the major German offensive—the last of the war—launched that spring on the Western Front. During that battle, one Portuguese division of troops was struck hard by four German divisions; the preliminary shelling alone was so heavy that one Portuguese battalion refused to push forward into the trenches. 

All told, the victorious Germans took more than 6,000 prisoners in that conflict and were able to push through enemy lines along a three-and-a-half mile stretch. By the time World War I ended, a total of 7,000 Portuguese soldiers had died in combat.

READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I

Source

Zimmermann Telegram presented to U.S. ambassador


Year
1917
Month Day
February 24

During World War I, British authorities give Walter H. Page, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, a copy of the “Zimmermann Telegram,” a coded message from Arthur Zimmermann, the German foreign secretary, to Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to Mexico. In the telegram, intercepted and deciphered by British intelligence in late January, Zimmermann stated that in the event of war with the United States, Mexico should be asked to enter the conflict as a German ally. In return, Germany promised to restore to Mexico the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

After receiving the telegram, Page promptly sent a copy to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who in early March allowed the U.S. State Department to publish the note. The press initially treated the telegram as a hoax, but Arthur Zimmermann himself confirmed its authenticity. The Zimmermann Telegram helped turn U.S. public opinion, already severely strained by repeated German attacks on U.S. ships, firmly against Germany. On April 2, President Wilson, who had initially sought a peaceful resolution to end World War I, urged the immediate U.S. entrance into the war. Four days later, Congress formally declared war against Germany.

Source

Second Battle of the Somme ends

Year
1918
Month Day
April 04

During World War I, the Second Battle of the Somme, the first major German offensive in more than a year, ends on the western front.

On March 21, 1918, a major offensive against Allied positions in the Somme River region of France began with five hours of bombardment from more than 9,000 pieces of German artillery. The poorly prepared British Fifth Army was rapidly overwhelmed and forced into retreat. For a week, the Germans pushed toward Paris, shelling the city from a distance of 80 miles with their “Big Bertha” cannons. However, the poorly supplied German troops soon became exhausted, and the Allies halted the German advance as French artillery knocked out the German guns besieging Paris. On April 2, U.S. General John J. Pershing sent American troops down into the trenches to help defend Paris and repulse the German offensive. It was the first major deployment of U.S. troops in World War I. Several thousand American troops fought alongside the British and French in the Second Battle of Somme.

By the time the Somme offensive ended on April 4, the Germans had advanced almost 40 miles, inflicted some 200,000 casualties, and captured 70,000 prisoners and more than 1,000 Allied guns. However, the Germans suffered nearly as many casualties as their enemies and lacked the fresh reserves and supply boost the Allies enjoyed following the American entrance into the fighting.

Source

Mussolini founds the Fascist party


Year
1919
Month Day
March 23

Benito Mussolini, an Italian World War I veteran and publisher of Socialist newspapers, breaks with the Italian Socialists and establishes the nationalist Fasci di Combattimento, named after the Italian peasant revolutionaries, or “Fighting Bands,” from the 19th century. Commonly known as the Fascist Party, Mussolini’s new right-wing organization advocated Italian nationalism, had black shirts for uniforms, and launched a program of terrorism and intimidation against its leftist opponents.

In October 1922, Mussolini led the Fascists on a march on Rome, and King Emmanuel III, who had little faith in Italy’s parliamentary government, asked Mussolini to form a new government. Initially, Mussolini, who was appointed prime minister at the head of a three-member Fascist cabinet, cooperated with the Italian parliament, but aided by his brutal police organization he soon became the effective dictator of Italy. In 1924, a Socialist backlash was suppressed, and in January 1925 a Fascist state was officially proclaimed, with Mussolini as Il Duce, or “The Leader.”

Mussolini appealed to Italy’s former Western allies for new treaties, but his brutal 1935 invasion of Ethiopia ended all hope of alliance with the Western democracies. In 1936, Mussolini joined Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in his support of Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, prompting the signing of a treaty of cooperation in foreign policy between Italy and Nazi Germany in 1937. Although Adolf Hitler’s Nazi revolution was modeled after the rise of Mussolini and the Italian Fascist Party, Fascist Italy and Il Duce proved overwhelmingly the weaker partner in the Berlin-Rome Axis during World War II.

In July 1943, the failure of the Italian war effort and the imminent invasion of the Italian mainland by the Allies led to a rebellion within the Fascist Party. Two days after the fall of Palermo on July 24, the Fascist Grand Council rejected the policy dictated by Hitler through Mussolini, and on July 25 Il Duce was arrested. Fascist Marshal Pietro Badoglio took over the reins of the Italian government, and in September Italy surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Eight days later, German commandos freed Mussolini from his prison in the Abruzzi Mountains, and he was later made the puppet leader of German-controlled northern Italy. With the collapse of Nazi Germany in April 1945, Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans and on April 29 was executed by firing squad with his mistress, Clara Petacci, after a brief court-martial. Their bodies, brought to Milan, were hanged by the feet in a public square for all the world to see.

Source

First air raid on Britain


Year
1915
Month Day
January 19

During World War I, Britain suffers its first casualties from an air attack when two German zeppelins drop bombs on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn on the eastern coast of England.

The zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in 1900. Although a French inventor had built a power-driven airship several decades before, the zeppelin’s rigid dirigible, with its steel framework, was by far the largest airship ever constructed. However, in the case of the zeppelin, size was exchanged for safety, as the heavy steel-framed airships were vulnerable to explosion because they had to be lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of non-flammable helium gas.

In January 1915, Germany employed three zeppelins, the L.3, the L.4, and the L.6, in a two-day bombing mission against Britain. The L.6 turned back after encountering mechanical problems, but the other two zeppelins succeeded in dropping their bombs on English coastal towns.

READ MORE: London’s World War I Zeppelin Terror

Source

First U.S. air combat mission begins


Year
1916
Month Day
March 19

Eight Curtiss “Jenny” planes of the First Aero Squadron take off from Columbus, New Mexico, in the first combat air mission in U.S. history. The First Aero Squadron, organized in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I, was on a support mission for the 7,000 U.S. troops who invaded Mexico to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.

On March 9, 1916, Villa, who opposed American support for Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, led a band of several hundred guerrillas across the border on a raid of the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. On March 15, under orders from President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. Four days later, the First Aero Squadron was sent into Mexico to scout and relay messages for General Pershing.

Despite numerous mechanical and navigational problems, the American fliers flew hundreds of missions for Pershing and gained important experience that would later be used by the pilots over the battlefields of Europe. However, during the 11-month mission, U.S. forces failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, and Mexican resentment over U.S. intrusion into their territory led to a diplomatic crisis. In late January 1917, with President Wilson under pressure from the Mexican government and more concerned with the war overseas than with bringing Villa to justice, the Americans were ordered home.

Source

The United States officially enters World War I

Year
1917
Month Day
April 06

Two days after the U.S. Senate voted 82 to 6 to declare war against Germany, the U.S. House of Representatives endorses the declaration by a vote of 373 to 50, and America formally enters World War I.

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British Isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. One month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk the William P. Frye, a private American vessel. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized and called the attack an unfortunate mistake.

READ MORE: Should the U.S. Have Entered World War I?

On May 7, the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans. The German government maintained that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, but the U.S. demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. In August, Germany pledged to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but in November sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. With these attacks, public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.

In 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. Four days later, his request was granted.

On June 26, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. After four years of bloody stalemate along the western front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict marked a major turning point in the war and helped the Allies to victory. When the war finally ended, on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives.

READ MORE: World War I: Causes and Timeline

Source

The Christmas Truce


Updated:
Original:
Year
1914
Month Day
December 25

Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the majority of German troops engaged in World War I cease firing their guns and artillery and commence to sing Christmas carols. At certain points along the eastern and western fronts, the soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn, many of the German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. In 1915, the bloody conflict of World War I erupted in all its technological fury, and the concept of another Christmas Truce became unthinkable.

READ MORE: What Happened When WWI Paused for Christmas
READ MORE: Letters Shed New Light on WWI’s Christmas Truce

Source

Post-World War I peace conference begins in Paris


Year
1919
Month Day
January 18

On January 18, 1919, in Paris, France, some of the most powerful people in the world meet to begin the long, complicated negotiations that would officially mark the end of the First World War.

Leaders of the victorious Allied powers–France, Great Britain, the United States and Italy–would make most of the crucial decisions in Paris over the next six months. For most of the conference, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson struggled to support his idea of a “peace without victory” and make sure that Germany, the leader of the Central Powers and the major loser of the war, was not treated too harshly. On the other hand, Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau of France and David Lloyd George of Britain argued that punishing Germany adequately and ensuring its weakness was the only way to justify the immense costs of the war. In the end, Wilson compromised on the treatment of Germany in order to push through the creation of his pet project, an international peacekeeping organization called the League of Nations.

Representatives from Germany were excluded from the peace conference until May, when they arrived in Paris and were presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. Having put great faith in Wilson’s promises, the Germans were deeply frustrated and disillusioned by the treaty, which required them to forfeit a great deal of territory and pay reparations. Even worse, the infamous Article 231 forced Germany to accept sole blame for the war. This was a bitter pill many Germans could not swallow.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after a Serbian nationalist’s bullet ended the life of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and sparked the beginning of World War I. In the decades to come, anger and resentment of the treaty and its authors festered in Germany. Extremists like Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party capitalized on these emotions to gain power, a process that led almost directly to the exact thing Wilson and the other negotiators in Paris in 1919 had wanted to prevent–a second, equally devastating global war.

READ MORE: World War I—in Color

Source