It is difficult for an author to turn a non-fiction manuscript into an enthralling and dynamic book, but Greg Annussek has done it and done it well.
His book starts at the middle of World War II in July 1943 with Benito Mussolini’s (Il Duce) twenty-year Fascist regime coming to an end. It was ending as a result of poor performance by the fascists, and because of all the warning signs that in the end, Italy and Germany were going to lose the war. The allies had invaded and defeated the Germans and Italians in North Africa and Sicily and were headed next for the mainland of Italy.
Mussolini was summoned to King Emanuele’s residence to discuss government affairs and was subsequently arrested after the meeting, placed in an ambulance and secretly rushed off the various locations - small towns, islands in the Mediterranean. He was moved constantly for about two months. The Italian people and the world were told he was taken ill and had resigned, and that the government would again be run by the king. No one believed this, especially Adolf Hitler.
Hitler vowed to his cohorts to rescue Il Duce and place him back in power because of their friendship and because he suspected the Italians (without Il Duce) would soon surrender to the Americans and turn Mussolini over to them.
Hitler set up a team of commandos and spies led by a Captain Skorzeny to locate Il Duce and rescue him from his captors. For two months the Nazis searched, contacted informants in Italy, and planned raids at various locations, only to find themselves a few days late in each rescue attempt. Finally, word was received that he was being held at the Hotel Campo Imperatore, a ski resort on top of a mountain in the Abruzzo region of Central Italy.
The Nazi plan was to invade the mountaintop with twelve gliders filled with nine paratroopers each, including a top Italian Police Official. The landing was extremely dangerous and all of the troopers survived. The use of the Italian police offical turned out to be a brilliant move on the part of the Germans. Shouting, “Don’t shoot and identifying himself” as he left his glider, the Italian caused confusion among the police guarding Mussolini and no shots were fired. Il Duce was spirited off the mountain by plane to Germany unhurt.
In Verona, Italy, Mussolini held a kangaroo court and convicted all who betrayed him. All of those whom the Germans could find were either shot in the back or jailed. Disillusioned with Mussolini,Hitler reinstated him as Italy’s leader although Italy had already surrendered to the Allies. Il Duce set up his office and home in Gargnano on Lake Garda under constant SS guard. He remained there until the spring of 1945, when the Allies were closing in and Germany was besieged from two sides by the Allies and the Russians. Dressed as a German soldier with dark sunglasses, he and his mistress were apprehended by Italian partisans near Lake Como on April 28, 1945, and shot on the side of the road. Their bodies were transported to Milan where they were abused, stripped naked and hung upside down in a warehouse for the world to see. Hitler, reportedly repulsed after seeing the pictures, ordered that his body was to be burned and the ashes hidden upon his death.
The book is a tribute to detailed research and on an equal plain with other books of this type regarding the Second World War.