Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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PART 16

When last we left the evil twins, Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III, World War Two had broken out. The Germans attacked Poland and the Italians, well, they hesitated, saying their alliance with Germany was “defensive.” Hitler was furious. At least this showed some thinking going on at the top of the Italian Government. Or maybe just inertia since the King himself didn’t seem to do much thinking.

Victor Emmanuel III (right) with Albert I of Belgium (left). This photograph shows Emmanuel III’s small physical stature.

Said Hitler of Victor Emmanuel III, “The king is senile, of course. Victor Emmanuel is the smallest king I’ve ever seen. When I went to Rome in my private train in 1938, I warned my staff when we were about to arrive at the station, that if they saw on the platform a tiny little man in uniform covered with bits of gold and medals, they shouldn’t laugh — it would be the King of Italy.” (Source: Voices from the Bunker by Pierre Galante.)

On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy bestirred itself and got into the action declaring war on Great Britain and France. Fortunately, most of the hard fighting had been done. The Germans had already occupied Denmark, defeated and occupied Belgium and Holland and Luxembourg, and forced the British Army off the continent. France capitulated on 22 June 1940. The Italians had declared war just in time.

But lets back up a moment and see what Mussolini and Victor had gotten themselves into before all of this. Having been defeated by the Ethiopians once, the Italians went back a second time with aircraft and poison gas and managed to defeat the Ethiopians who had neither. That was in 1936. Before war broke out in late 1939, the Italians also attacked and seized one of the most critical countries in Europe – Albania. This will sound like a joke but it isn’t: along with his title of King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III also became Emperor of Ethiopia and Emperor of Albania. But then, he still, and his heirs today, still claim the title of King of Jerusalem, a crusader state which became defunct a thousand years ago.

As ever, the House of Savoy had been grabbing bits and pieces of territory that no one else really wanted. But Italy was hardly prepared for another war, especially a global conflict such as World War Two became. The Italian economy could hardly support such an effort and didn’t. This did not stop them from attacking Greece in October of 1940. The Greeks beat the hell out of them forcing Hitler to come to the rescue.

Greek artillery shelling in the Morava height in November 1940.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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