While Hitler was planning on invading Poland during the summer of 1939 the Germans repeatedly told Mussolini & Ciano that a war in Europe was still several years away. Mussolini was surprised to be informed, on 25th August, that Hitler was planning to attack Poland, over alleged problems in Danzig & maltreatment of the Volksdeutsche, before the end of the month[i].
Mussolini, on Ciano’s advice, informed Hitler that Italy was not ready for war. When being asked what Italy needed to place it on a war ready status Mussolini gave Hitler an impossible list of needed supplies. Hitler went to war anyway, without Italy as a partner. Mussolini then attempted a repeat performance of his success with the Munich Agreement the previous year. This meddling was not to Hitler’s taste & Mussolini’s final offer of intervention on 2nd September was brusquely turned down by Hitler, refusing all concessions. On the 9th September Ciano told Mussolini "If Germany wins before Christmas, well and good, otherwise she will lose the war"[ii].
Ciano’s sister Maria Magistrati died on 22nd October, from tuberculosis & complications caused by her anorexia. Ciano hoped to the end that Maria would rally & her death revived his feelings of loss for his father[iii].
Three weeks before Maria’s death Ciano had been back in Germany to meet Hitler, who was pressing Italy to join the war, to enable him to invade France. Ciano spent a lot of time & energy in a successful attempt to keep Italy out of the war, which he instinctively felt would be bad for Italy. At their meeting Hitler informed Ciano that if Germany loses the war there will be no reason to live & "I would be the first to kill myself". Ciano’s Chef de Cabinet Ansaldo, accompanying Ciano, suggested to Ciano, sotto voce, that it would be a good idea if Hitler fulfilled his promise straight away. Edda added to her husband’s unhappiness, with her support for the Germans. Less far sighted than her husband, she was pressing her father to join the war on the German’s side[iv].
In June 1940 Ciano lost the personal battle he had fought with Mussolini since August 1939. Following the smashing victories won by the Wehrmacht in France & the Low Countries the Duce, eager for easy victories & a share of the spoils of war, signed up for the fight . Mussolini was desperate to join in the war, but Hitler was no longer in need of what little support that Italy could offer & only grudgingly accepted his offer.
Edda had been training to be a nurse with the Red Cross, but failed to complete the two year course. Nevertheless she wished to be involved & Mussolini persuaded the Red Cross to let her work for them. The day Italy declared war on Britain & France Edda rushed to Turin just in time to share the bombardment of the city by the RAF, leaving her children to the tender mercies of others.
On the 11th June Ciano left to join his squadron in Pisa, taking part in an attack on 12th June on Toulon. On his return to base he phoned an unenthusiastic Edda, now back in Rome, to give her details of the attack. He continued flying on air raids for the next week & was then required to visit Munich with Mussolini for a conference with Hitler, thereafter returning to his duties as Foreign Minister. The problems caused by having his ministers on active duty did not seem to concern Mussolini – it was manly & therefore right.
By the end of the year Ciano had made a further six trips to Germany for discussions with Hitler & von Ribbentrop, whose dislike of Ciano was mutual. Ciano, although a diplomat by trade, was not a diplomat by nature. He was arrogant & frequently acted in a juvenile manner happy to offend those he did not like.
By October 1940 Edda was serving on a hospital ship & in March 1941 she was on the hospital ship Po, where she had her own cabin to separate her from the trained nurses. On the 15th the Po was sunk by a British torpedo plane[v] Edda, who had been reading a PG Wodehouse book at the time of the explosion, was among those rescued.
Galeazzo Ciano had never been popular with his mother-in-law, who despised his fancy ways & ‘aristocratic behaviour’. By the summer of 1941 Rachele Mussolini had come under the influence of a builder & entrepreneur called Pater. A former favourite of Rachele’s, her nephew, visited Ciano in his office at the Palazzo Chigi, in mid-May, complaining of Pater’s power over the Duce’s wife. Edda had already informed Ciano, earlier in the year, of her mother’s new favourite, wondering whether Rachele was suffering from the menopause. By early June the Duce’s eccentric wife was threatening to visit the Palazzo Chigi to ‘start shooting up the place’[vi].
Apparently Rachele amused herself by dressing up & snooping among the ‘great & good’ of the Fascist party, using her security detail to obtain information for her. She unmasked a minister who had a statue built of himself in his home village, & claimed that Mussolini’s secretary had built a luxury villa for himself – demanding his dismissal[vii].
|Wreckage of Bruno's plane|
On 7th August 1941 Edda’s brother Bruno died in a test plane accident. The Mussolini family were not ones to display their grief, nor to rally round in support of each other. Mussolini was soon in Russia visiting Hitler with Vittorio, covering for an indisposed Ciano. It was Ciano who saw his mother-in-law grieving for her lost son, the following March, as she attended a requiem mass for the Duke of Aosta. Despite their antipathy he was able to empathise with the grieving mother[viii].
Although Edda had started an affair with Marquis Emilio Pucci, during the summer on Capri, where the Cianos had a villa; in mid-August 1941 Edda was in Stalino in the Ukraine serving as a nurse. She spendt three months at a field hospital there. Ciano was ill with throat problems from July onwards, having an operation in September. His problems with asthma had started while he & Edda were in China.
By late Autumn rumours were rife that Edda would leave Ciano to live with Emilio Pucci. Edda returned from the Ukraine in November. She then travelled to Capri where she lost 2.5 million lire playing poker with guests. Security reports stated that she was oftne seen in public in scanty clothing & that she failed to act appropriately for one meant to be in mourning for Bruno.
By March 1942 rationing was biting in Italy & on the 28th there were demonstrations in Venice protesting against the bread shortages. Yet Edda, Galeazzo & the children saw no change to their home life style. There were rumours that that 2 wagon-loads of flour etc had been brought in to feed game birds at Ciano’s shooting reserve and that the family had plentiful supplies of milk for their dogs. Rumours were fed by the couple’s behaviour; when Edda stayed at a hotel in Abetone, with Caroline Ciano & the children she had pasta & beefsteak served to them every day in front of the other hotel guests. In contrast Mussolini refused to allow his family to use more than the ration allowance[ix].
In late April 1942 Edda visited Germany with her friend Princess Giovanelli – her first visit for 6 years. On 25th Edda attended a party given by Joseph & Magda Goebbels, impressing the Minister for Propaganda with her seriousness & intelligence. During her visit Edda also met Goering & Himmler (who she later claimed gave no external evidence of being a monster). Edda wanted to visit Hamburg, Lubeck & Bremen to see the effects of the bombing. After attempting to dissuade her, von Ribbentrop organised the trip & then gave a luncheon in Edda’s honour on 4th May on her return. While on her trip Edda visited a camp for Italian ‘guest’ workers & was horrified by the ill-treatment meted out by the German guards. Her response was to complain to Hitler, who promised to have the culprits arrested. An infuriated Ribbentrop complained to Ciano, who was visiting Hitler in Mussolini’s entourage. Ciano was not amused to receive complaints about his wife from a man he detested[x].
By now Ciano was having doubts about the outcome of the war & the position Italy would be in, left on the losing side. He enjoyed the confidence of the king to a certain degree. Mussolini on the other hand had persuaded himself that the Italian people were unhappy because the country was lending too little support to the Germans in Russia[xi].
[i] Ethnic Germans living outside Germany
[ii] Diary 1937-1943 by Galeazzo Ciano 2002, Enigma Books, Mussolini’s Shadow by Ray Moseley 1999, Yale University Press, Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell, 2004, Phoenix, Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis by Ian Kershaw Penguin 2001
[iii] Diary – Ciano, Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[iv] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth by Edda Mussolini Ciano 1977, Diary – Ciano, Mussolini - Farrell
[v] On 28th October 1940 the Italians attacked Greece. Mussolini failed to inform his ally of his intentions until it was too late for a furious Hitler to intervene. Unfortunately the Italian troops were not of the same quality as the Wehrmacht and failed to overrun a difficult & mountainous country. The Italian fleet had been attacked at Taranto on 11th November reducing their already limited capacity to act in the Mediterranean, where the Royal Navy reigned supreme, to Mussolini’s great indignation. In December Mussolini was forced to go cap in hand to Hitler to ask for his assistance.
[vi] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth by Edda Mussolini Ciano 1977, Diary – Ciano, Mussolini - Farrell
[vii] The Real Mussolini by Rachele Mussolini, 1973 Saxon House
[viii] The Real Mussolini – Mussolini, Diary - Ciano
[ix] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, The Real Mussolini – Mussolini, Mussolini –by Vittorio Mussolini 1973 New English Library
[x] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, Diary – Ciano, My Truth - Ciano
[xi] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley