Winston Churchill ordered the assassination of Benito Mussolini as part of a plot to destroy potentially compromising secret letters he had sent the Italian dictator, a leading French historian has suggested.
Pierre Milza, an expert on fascist Italy, theorizes that the wartime prime minister may have wanted Mussolini dead to prevent the letters, in which Churchill expressed his admiration for his Italian counterpart before the outbreak of the Second World War, coming to light.
“There is no doubt, judging by his public declarations back in the 1920s and early 1930s, that Churchill was a fan of Mussolini. Roosevelt too,” Mr Milza said.
“Churchill even once said: ‘Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely’.
“But that was understandable in 1927, as then a fascist did not mean a friend of Hitler and accomplice to genocide. But when you are head of state and legitimate war hero of the British people, you don’t really want all that put up in lights.”
Officially, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci, were seized by Italian Communist partisans near Dongo on Lake Como as they tried to flee to Switzerland in April 1945.
Despite disguising himself as a drunk German officer in a mixed Italian and SS convoy, he was spotted. Both he and Petacci were shot and their bodies subsequently trussed up in a square in Milan the following day.
Writing in his book, The Last Days of Mussolini, Mr Milza says that this may explain why Churchill chose to holiday under a false name only a few miles from the spot where Mussolini was seized.
“Perhaps he went there just to paint. It is credible, however that he was there for other reasons, as one now knows a certain number of trunks were thrown into the lake with documents and booty and perhaps the services had a look for them. We cannot complete eliminate this theory,” he said.
An Italian documentary released in 2004 included an account by former Italian partisan Bruno Lonati, who says he was part of a two-man team tasked with getting rid of the couple.
Mr Lonati claimed that he acted with a British Special Operations Executive agent codenamed Captain John, real name Robert Maccarone, who had been sent to Italy to eliminate Mussolini and retrieve “very important” documents. The documents have never been found.
By Henry Samuel, Paris
Published: 9:00PM BST 02 Sep 2010
Source: The Telegraph