Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, son of Italian blacksmith, moved to Switzerland at the age of 19 due to poverty, where he became involved in socialist politics. He returned to Italy in couple of years, and worked as a journalist in the socialist press, but he abandoned his party to advocate Italian intervention in World War I. Following the war, in which he served as a rifleman, Mussolini decided his destiny was to rule Italy as a modern Caesar and re-create the Roman Empire. In March 1919, Mussolini formed the Fascist Party, galvanising the support of many unemployed war veterans. He organised them into armed squads known as Black Shirts, who terrorised their political opponents.
By October 1922, Italy seemed to be slipping into political chaos. The Black Shirts marched on Rome and Mussolini presented himself as the only man capable of restoring order. King Victor Emmanuel invited Mussolini to form a government. Mussolini gradually dismantled the institutions of democratic government and in 1925 made himself dictator, taking the title ‘Il Duce’. He set about attempting to re-establish Italy as a great European power. The regime was held together by strong state control and Mussolini’s cult of personality. In 1935, Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and incorporated it into his new Italian Empire. He provided military support to Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Increasing co-operation with Nazi Germany culminated in the 1939 Pact of Steel. Influenced by Hitler, Mussolini began to introduce anti-Jewish legislation in Italy. His declaration of war on Britain and France in June 1940 exposed Italian military weakness and was followed by a series of defeats in North and East Africa and the Balkans.
After the Allied victories of November 1942, Mussolini implored Hitler to make peace with Joseph Stalin and concentrate on defeating the British-American forces. Hitler’s refusal and the Sicilian invasion convinced the king and high command to overthrow Mussolini in July 1943. In September, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Mussolini was rescued by German commandos and was installed as the leader of a new government, but had little power. The April 1945 German surrender in Italy forced Mussolini to flee. Insurgents captured and shot him.