Gran Sasso Raid, The: The History of the Nazi Operation to Rescue Benito Mussolini from Captivity during World War II

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As Sicily fell and the Allies prepared to press on, Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, was actually arrested to prevent him from doing further damage. Il Duce still held considerable power in the eyes of many ground-level activists, and if left unchecked, the possibility of violence in the streets was genuine. He was jailed in Campo Imperatore on August 28, 1943, on one of the largest mountains in Central Italy, but when the new Italian government surrendered to the Allies, most of the Italian mainland was still controlled by the Germans, who now pushed out to oppose not just the Western Allies but the Italians. In one tragic move, the Germans attacked the Italians without mercy on all fronts, slaughtering their former allies and taking no prisoners, while the remnants of the Italian military, located on national soil, fought to stop their former allies from the far-reaching south to the last man to allow easy access to British and American troops. Immediately, all dormant anti-Fascist resistance cells sprung up around Italy, organizing a massive movement of armed resistance against the German invaders.  

During his dictatorship and World War II, Hitler routinely betrayed alliances, repudiated solemn pacts when it suited him and generally acted without consideration for others, but Mussolini seemed to be the one exception. Hitler seems to have formed few close personal relationships in his life, but his friendship with Mussolini appears to have been genuine, and it would survive military catastrophe and the destruction of the Nazi empire. Thus, when Mussolini finally found himself imprisoned by the Italian authorities and threatened with execution or being handed over to the Allies, Hitler personally authorized a daring mission to rescue the Italian dictator.