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* The Accidental Death Of A Mussolini - www.ihfhilm.com

A Trio Of Mussolinis Were Qualified Pilots, But The Accidental Death Of One Of Them Shattered The Duce Of Italian Fascism Ever After

by Blaine Taylor

Photo: Italian Regia Aeronautica/Royal Air Force combat pilot Bruno Mussolini on May 28, 1935, during his father's war in Ethiopia. (Photo from LUCE, Rome.)


At 11 AM on Aug. 7, 1941, Italian Fascist Party Duce/Leader, Premier of Italy, and First Marshal of the Empire Benito Mussolini, 59, was just stepping into his private elevator in Rome's Palazzo Venezia when an official rushed up with startling news: "There's been a crash at Pisa, Duce! Your son Bruno is wounded, and his condition is critical."

Stunned, the bald Mussolini steadied himself against the iron lift cage, eyes squeezed shut, and asked softly, "Is he dead?" At the confirmation of his second son's death, asserted the official later, it was "As if something switched off inside Mussolini forever."

As the youngest son Romano later remembered the oldest of three brothers---Vittorio---saying, "'There was a Mussolini before Bruno's death, and a Mussolini after it.' Prior to Aug. 7, 1941…despair was not part of his emotional range. The tragedy turned him into a different man whose lost stare, at times, provoked pity."

The Duce's wife, Rachele Guidi Mussolini, recalled that, "What hit me hardest was Il Duce's excruciating silence. It was as if he had turned to stone."

From this time forward, the Italian leader's mood was considered to be entirely unpredictable, although he may've seemed outwardly composed. As he explained to his Undersecretary for Air---Gen. Francesco Pricolo---"You see me in front of you calm, because that's how I have to show myself, but inside I feel torn with grief."

Later, when the commanding officer of the Regia Aeronautica/Air Force Squadron # 274 at Pisa (to which both pilots Capt. Bruno and Lt. Vittorio Mussolini belonged)---Col. Gori Castellani---arrived to express his condolences, an angry, distraught Duce leapt out of his chair and shouted, "I know what you are here for! I know that you and everyone are pleased that I have had this loss. I don't want to hear anything from you! You can get out!"

Recalled Romano, "My father had an affinity for Bruno, a special fondness that almost seemed to be inspired by a sad premonition of the irreversible events that were going to take place. I remember when Bruno returned from Germany. Il Duce asked him to report on the true capabilities of the German Air Force.

"Evidently, my father distrusted the information he was receiving from Party leaders Bruno was very clear---his analysis was that, despite the Germans' admirable and widespread efforts, they would lose the war. The defeat would represent the fatal epilogue to a conflict that had set them against the entire world. As for Italy, she would be drawn into Germany's crushing defeat.

"Bruno confided his worries to my mother as well. 'Papa's job is difficult,' he said, 'but what is most dangerous is all of the sabotage. There are oil tankers that reach their destination safely, only to be inexplicably blown up moments after they arrive. There are weapons that leave the factories with unbelievable flaws. These are not isolated cases, and they are not accidental. These are acts of widespread sabotage that---in a test of truth---will prove to be absolutely disastrous."

That "test of truth" was to be Fascist Italy's catastrophic participation as an Axis Pact partner in the Second World War, at the side of Adolf Hitler's doomed Third Reich.

According to The Washington Post edition of Aug. 7, 1941, "The crash occurred at 10 AM. Il Duce took off in a plane for Pisa immediately with Gen. Pricolo, Chief of the Air Force General Staff. Crews at the field were drawn up in mournful review as the Duce hurried past to the Santa Chiara Hospital where---with Lt. Vittorio Mussolini, his eldest son---he viewed Bruno's body. Then he went to the scene of the crash.

"Later, Bruno's mother flew to Pisa from the Mussolini summer home at Rimini."

Signora Mussolini's account disputed this aspect: "As soon as we received the terrible news, your father and I," she told Romano, "boarded a plane for Pisa. We were thrashed by a violent storm, as if it were a nightmare. The survivors told us that the engines had failed abruptly, and that Bruno had done everything to avoid a crash. They also told us that he had remained composed to the very end, not giving in to panic. His final words were, ' The battlefield, Bappo!' Someone suggested sabotage, and there was an inquiry into that."

Romano---a popular jazz musician after the war who married actress Sophia Loren's younger sister Maria---added, " I must confess that even I have at times doubted that Bruno's death was an accident, because there were more and more traitors within the regime. Still, no proof has ever been found of tampering on his four-engine plane."

Continued The Washington Post account, "The funeral will be held tomorrow at the Fascist headquarters in Pisa, where the body---together with those of Bruno's two comrades---was taken tonight. The body will then be taken to Forli and buried Saturday in the cemetery of San Casiano at Pendino Predappio, near ll Duce's birthplace.

"As black shirted aviators carried the three caskets to the Party headquarters, silent crowds threw flowers before them. Il Duce, Vittorio, and Bruno's mother and widow" (the former Gina Ruberti) "remained some time in the funeral chamber. Gen. Pricolo and other high Party and government officers stood the first watch of a night-long guard of honor."

The late Bruno's far more famous sister----Countess Edda Mussolini Ciano, wife of the Italian Foreign Minister---bit her lip until it bled at the sad funeral, and Premier Mussolini himself reportedly wept in a paroxysm of grief. His mother believed that Bruno came to her in dreams.

Added The New York Times the next day, "Capt. Bruno Mussolini was buried in the family crypt…this morning amid unprecedented evidence of national mourning. To the thousands of persons who turned out in Pisa and along the railroad line to Forli were added many thousands more who flocked in from all parts of Romagna, from which the Mussolinis come…Among the wreaths sent was one from the military, naval, and air attaches of the United States Embassy" (as the US and Italy were not yet at war.)

In the square before the cemetery where the official ceremony ended, Mussolini---wearing the black cap and belted jacket of the Fascist Party Militia of which he was chief, light trousers, and high-topped, black riding boots---stepped up to the assembled diplomats and asserted, "I thank you, gentlemen, for having wanted to pay a last tribute to a soldier of Italy."

"Every city in Italy," reported the Times, "has its flags at half-staff, and in some ways is taking part in the countrywide mourning." Added Romano, "A votive lamp burns on his tomb, placed there by the mothers of the airmen of Lucca. I remember that even the English RAF officers who took part in the farewell ceremony paid homage to my brother by sending flowers." (I believe here that he has confused the then-at-war English officers with the still neutral Americans.)

The dead aviator---whose "glorious death" was portrayed as being a shining example of the regime's most Fascist of the armed forces, was also seen as a believer in his father's credo of "Live dangerously."

The Fascist press announced that Bruno died as "Another fallen hero of Fascist youth. Bruno died at his post the same as other soldiers during a volunteer test of a warplane," said the Tribuna. Virginio Gayda's Journal of Italy eulogized the slain youth, "Because he was the son of the Duce, he always participated in the most dangerous of enterprises."

Concluded the Times' account, "Premier Mussolini paid reverence beside the bodies of the two others killed with his son, and talked with the wounded men, gathering details of the crash," which had occurred at San Jiusto at Pisa. Altogether, three men---including Bruno-had been killed, and five more were injured." Reportedly, the four-engine, long-range bomber was going to be used by the Regia Aeronautica against the Red Air Force in Russia.

Soon after Radio Rome had announced "Bruno's glorious death at his post of combat," condolences poured in upon the father: from (Italian King and Queen) Victor Emmanuel III and Elena of the House of Savoy, from Pope Pius XII, " and many others from Tripartite Pact powers, too.

Nine days after the tragic crash, the Times ran a follow-up story headlined, Mussolini's Son Cleared. "The commission of inquiry into the plane accident in which Capt. Bruno Mussolini lost his life issued a report today absolving the Premier's son of any blame. At the same time, it was announced that the gold medal for aeronautic valor had been awarded posthumously to the dead pilot."

When Bruno's widow Gina brought their daughter Marina with her to receive her late husband's gold medal, Count Galeazzo Ciano saw in his father-in-law's eye, "A light that betrayed everything that his iron will had sought to hide: his heart and his sorrow."

Added the Times, "The investigators concluded that the accident was caused by "'The improper functioning of the gas switch, due to the great distance between the motors and the pilot's post.' In other words, there was a defect in the design of the P-108 four-motored bomber in which Capt. Mussolini met his death.

The aircraft in question was the Piaggio P-108 Bombardiere/Bomber, that had a limited production capacity, since Italy lacked the industrial base to produce heavy bombers during World War II. The P-108, however, had evolved from the P-50-II, and its prototype first flew in 1939 as a cantilever, low-wing monoplane with retractable tail wheel landing gear and four P.12 radial engines.

There were a series of four planned models for different purposes: anti-ship attack (with a 4-inch/102mm nose gun), bombing, and for both civil and military transportation.

Of these four, only the second version was put into production---as a conventional bomber---and this had a rather unusual layout. The P-108B's most unusual feature was the three-level nose that housed---from bottom to top and from front to rear---the bombardier, nose gunner, and flight crew.

Only about 20 were ever built, and some were later adapted as night aircraft with engine flame dampers and a revised nose construction with less glazing and no gunner's position provided. Thus, the principal P-108B version was also the aircraft's sole production model, and was a seven-seat plane that boasted four 1,500 horsepower 35 radial piston engines.

The aircraft's performance provided a maximum speed of 267 mph at 13,780 feet, with a climb altitude rate of 16, 405 feet in 21 minutes, and a service ceiling of 27,885 feet, and a range of 2,187 miles. When empty, the plane weighed 38,195 pounds, and had a maximum takeoff weight of 65,885 pounds. Its wingspan was 194 feet, length was 73 feet 2 inches, height was 19 feet 8.25 inches, and wing area was 1,453.18 square feet. The aircraft's armament consisted of eight .5 inch/12.7mm trainable machine guns in both nose and ventral engine nacelle turrets, two beam hatches, and a pair of remotely controlled wing barbettes, plus up to 7,716 pounds' worth of bomb payload.

The P-108 project had begun late in the Thirties to supply the Air Ministry's desire for an Italian long-range bomber. The head of the Piaggio design team was designer Giovanni Casiraghi, who'd just returned from a stint working in the United States. Despite the fact that Piaggo built Fascist Italy's most powerful aircraft engines, the firm also had a deserved reputation for mechanical failures. Casiraghi wanted first to model the P-108 on the American-made B-17 bomber, and then to surpass it.

In 1938, the first test version appeared, the P-50, with its engines mounted in tandem, and the second version adopted four Piaggio P-11 radial engines. The P-108 first appeared in 1939, with four P-12 engines of 1,350 horsepower each. Having duly surpassed the B-17, the P-108 placed second, however, to the Italian-made Cant Z-1014, but it cost double the amount to manufacture the Cant as it did the P-108, and thus the production contract was awarded to Piaggio.

The first prototype crashed, however, and another wasn't available to spring 1940. After Capt. Mussolini's death, the first combat mission---against British-held Gibraltar---was flown in June 1942, followed by later raids on Algeria and against Allied shipping.

In total, 163 Piaggio P-108s were manufactured, but its production run ended on Aug. 31, 1943---a month after the Duce's political overthrow--- when an Allied air raid destroyed the Pontedera plant in Tuscany where it had been constructed.

Wrote Romano Mussolini in 2006, "The last time I saw Bruno was in Riccione in the final days of July 1941. I remember my brother Vittorio and I having so much fun with him. Vittorio was 11 years older than me, and he rarely honored us with his company. After taking off his military uniform, he became absorbed with his cinema-related pursuits.

"On this occasion, however, we played ball together and roller-skated along the promenade. Bruno, I remember, slipped, and grazed his knee.

"On Aug. 7, 1941, at 8:50 AM, Bruno took off from the airport in Pisa in the same four-engine plane he had been flying over Riccione a week earlier, and in which he wanted to perform a series of specific flight tests. The large plane labored to lift off the runway, and managed to do so only at the last moment, after hitting a small cottage with one of its wings./p>

"It then pitched up, and overturned on Bruno's side. Bruno wasn't wearing a protective helmet, and this is probably why he died. The pilot seated next to him---who was wearing a helmet---survived the crash. Four aviators lost their lives in this air disaster along with Bruno. Vittorio was also supposed to be on that airplane, but he had been called to Rome at the last minute, and had decided against joining the flight."

Never is a good time for any parent to suffer the death of a child, but the loss of Capt. Bruno Mussolini---the Fascist hero of a trio of wars at the tender combat age of but 23---came at an especially vexing time for his father, who was due to meet with Hitler in East Prussia and the German-occupied former Soviet Ukraine in three weeks' time.

Moreover, the Fascist Italian "parallel war" at Nazi Germany's side with Great Britain had not been going at all well ever since the Duce had rashly declared it on June 10, 1940 from his famous balcony on the front of the Palazzo Venezia that still exists today.

Indeed, the Italian Commander-in-Chief's military decisions were now considered to be even more flawed than before his son's tragic demise. "He had no sense of judgment left," asserted Gen. Pricolo. "He listened to any suggestions put forward," and acceded to one that saw four Italian Army divisions---three infantry and one cavalry---being volunteered to aid his German ally's forces in far-off Russia, even though the Nazis hadn't asked for them, and despite the fact that Fascist Italy was even then already losing its very own on-going struggle with the British 8th Army in embattled North Africa.

Later in the war, the Duce requested that a Catholic Mass be said for his dead son. He also mentioned him in his very last letter to his wife, of Apr. 27 1945, two days before he was captured and murdered by Italian Red Partisans.

He even went so far as to publish a small book entitled I Talk with Bruno, in which he eulogized the slain aviator as a hero of Fascist hagiography who was virtually unrecognizable to his friends, who remembered him, rather, as the "shy, timid, bullied, wordless, and repressed Bruno" whom they'd actually known in life.

Was Mussolini merely behaving as any overwrought father might, given the circumstances? Maybe not, as the Premier's widow wrote in 1974: "I …wonder about the death of our son Bruno…His plane crashed to the ground on the verge of the runway at the Pisa airport, for some reason which has never been explained. Bruno was a distinguished pilot who had totaled an impressive number of flying hours. He managed to avoid inhabited areas even when his plane was in distress.

"I shall never be quite free of the idea that Bruno---who was also in a position to notice misbehavior and report it to his father---paid for his observations with his life. Whatever one says to the contrary, I saw evidence of too much wickedness to believe that my son's death was only an accident."

The card-playing, music-loving Bruno was credited by Edda in her own 1976 memoirs with having introduced basketball into Italy, and his proud papa even came to see him play once, because he was captain of his team. Although he wasn't known as a particularly affectionate father---leading Bruno to grow up as a somewhat "wordless" youth---Benito did enjoy sometimes shedding his jacket after lunch to play a game of football on the lawn with his three sons, even when mama Rachelle got annoyed at the broken windows!

Athlete Bruno enjoyed racing cars and skiing like his father, and also boxed. Thrice decorated by Fascist Italy for his flights in both war and peace, Bruno was born at Milan in northern Italy on Apr. 22, 1918, while his wounded First World War veteran father was editing the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia/The People of Italy. Bruno almost didn't survive his childhood, however, as he contracted both diptheria and bronchitis in 1919.

During his years of political struggle before being named Italian prime minister late in 1922, Benito sometimes had to hide his wife and children from angry Socialists. Young Bruno took Holy Communion for the first time in 1924, when his father was already Premier, and his parents were finally married in a religious ceremony in the Catholic Church on Dec. 28, 1925. (They'd been married in a civil ceremony in 1915.)

Papa/politician Benito took his boys to the seashore, and when he lifted little Bruno up in his arms, reportedly, "all the mothers cried." As the boys became teenagers, and then young men, however, according to his biographer Laura Fermi, "They lacked intelligence, strength of character, and ambition for posts of responsibility," perhaps a harsh verdict from an avowed anti-Fascist.

The day that the overthrown Duce was arrested---July 26, 1943---an unknown officer came to his home and unexpectedly met the late flier's mother, whom he didn't recognize, since she'd shunned the limelight throughout the 22-year-long regime. "In one of the rooms, the officer noticed a photograph of my son Bruno, and smiled. 'What a marvelous boy he was,' he said. 'Very simple and kind. We went to school together.'"

Bruno took his first airplane ride when he was but 9, and at 16 in August 1935 was pulled out of school for volunteer service in the Duce's war with Abyssinia/Ethiopia by being awarded (after an abbreviated training course) a pilot's license like his father, older brother, and Count Ciano. Indeed, the Duce himself pinned on his pilot's golden wings, thus making him the youngest pilot in Italy, according to Time magazine.

Bruno and Vittorio served as Caproni aircraft pilots in the Aeronautica's famed La Disperata 14th Bomber Squadron bombing the 1896 Adowa battlefield, and also defenseless native villages. Count Ciano commanded the 15th Bomber Squadron.

Recalled Romano, "In 1936…Bruno had already earned a silver medal for valor in the Ethiopian campaign. In 1937---together with Lt. Col. Attilo Biseo-he set a series of impressive aerial records, risking his life during the Istres-Damascus-Paris air race. The event occurred following a refueling in Damascus, where his (Savoia-Marchietti) S-79 took third position.

"En route to Paris, Bruno and Biseo ran into a violent storm that reached its peak as they were flying over the Alps. I'll quote my brother's account: 'All of a sudden, the flight instruments showed a simultaneous loss of power in three of the S-79's engines. Biseo and I decided not to waste any time, setting course instead for the small airport in Cameri, where we made an emergency landing.'

"My father, who often proudly spoke of his beloved but unfortunate son's adventures, told me the rest of the story: 'The weather was improving, so Bruno was able to set off again for Paris to complete the race at Le Bourget Airport. A few days later, he returned to Italy, where I greeted him officially at Littorio Airport.' My father was exultant, my brother even more so.

"In 1937-again with Biseo---he broke the 1,000 kilometer record with a two-ton load by exceeding a speed of 430 kms per hour. This is how the famous Sorci Verdi Squadron was born, with Biseo and several other pilots as members. My father amusingly explained the origin of the squadron name: 'While waiting with Bruno for the new S-79s to be equipped, Bruno addressed the skeptics, who expected little from these aircraft, and said defiantly, 'Go ahead and turn up your noses! When the S-79s begin to fly, we'll give you a hell of a rough time! Vi varemo I sorci Verdi! '" (Writer's note: I'll try to have this translated.)

During the Spanish Civil War, Fascist Italy sent Italian "volunteers" to fight on the side of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Nationalists against the Republicans and their Communist allies, and among them was Bruno Mussolini. Romano recalled his late brother's combat service in 2006.

"When the civil war" (continued) "in Spain in March 1939…my brother didn't hesitate to lend his support. He set off for Palma di Majorca" (an Italian air and naval base) "with a bomber squadron. Franco greatly appreciated the gesture, but he also made it known to my father that he had a genuine concern for what could've happened to Bruno had he fallen into enemy hands.

"My brother fought in Spain on Franco's behalf for a month and a half, earning---among other things--- another silver medal for valor. The news we received about his accomplishments was often confusing…An English newspaper even published an article stating that he was dead!

"My mother was constantly afraid. I still remember her heated telephone calls with my father when she learned that Bruno had engaged in a duel with an American pilot, Derek Dickinson, commander of the Red Wings formation.

"In siding against Franco, the US had sent the formation in support of the Spanish government. Bruno broadcast a challenge over the radio, inviting enemy pilots to measure their strength against him---in Spain at that time, in addition to Italians and Germans, there were French, English, and American pilots.

"Dickinson---who had been stationed in Castellon de la Plana with his squadron---accepted the challenge, saying, 'We'll see which of us has tougher skin!'

"My father was proud of Bruno's courage, but feared for his life. My mother…was terrified, and furious. She argued with Il Duce for allowing his not yet 20-year-old son to leave for Spain.

"Bruno took off from the airport in Palma di Majorca in a Fiat-Romeo, a plane used in military exercises and equipped with only two machine guns. He had a lot of faith in the aircraft because it was extremely easy to handle, and was able to make very sharp turns.

"Derek Dickinson was flying a Boeing P-26, possibly the most efficient fighter plane of the time, armed with four machine guns. He left from Castellon de la Plana and headed for Majorca, knowing that midway he would encounter Bruno's Fiat-Romeo.

"With everything that happens in wars today, it's difficult to believe how the duel between Bruno and Dickinson-indomitable but respected adversaries, much like the knights of days past---actually took place. The duel was to occur at an altitude of 1,000 meters. Flying behind each of the two men were two reconnaissance planes, with their seconds-in-command on board.

"This is how my brother later described the skirmish to the family: 'Almost without realizing it, after the umpteenth turn, I found myself above Dickinson's Boeing. Through the transparent cockpit, I saw his silhouette as he was desperately trying to regain altitude. I began to fire my machine guns, and I clearly saw my shots hitting the mark.

Only later did I learn that Dickinson was wounded in one hand, which prevented him from taking off his scarf and waving it outside to signal surrender, as the terms of our duel required.'

"Imagine the emotion which I---a young boy of 10!---listened to Bruno's story. I begged him to continue, and he complied---putting an arm around my shoulder and almost whispering into my ear as he began to reconstruct the duel's final moments.

"'Dickinson's plane took a nosedive for about 400 meters, apparently because Dickinson was dazed by the intense pain in his hand. Then---in an extraordinary effort---he managed to bring the Boeing back up to cruising altitude, and I suddenly found him above me.

"I clearly saw that he had me in his sights, but he didn't have time to squeeze the trigger because, at that very moment, I raised my right hand, and my long scarf in white silk fluttered outside the plane, signaling surrender.'

"Bruno spoke modestly about the 'surrender.' In reality, the plane's engine was malfunctioning, leaving him unable to maneuver, and forcing him to cut the duel short. No one has ever published a complete chronicle of this encounter, which---without a doubt---represented one of the 'most colorful' as Bruno used to call it, refusing to use my father's word 'memorable,' episodes of the entire Spanish Civil War.

"If it is, in fact, true that my brother was forced to cede victory because his engine left him in the lurch, he succeeded in landing unharmed only because of a masterful glide on his part.

"Dickinson's Boeing P-26 was riddled with 326 hits, and his hand was wounded. The American pilot spoke about the duel in a series of interviews to journalists from around the world. The Spanish Civil War was followed with intense interest by the press. Dickinson---assaulted by reporters---embellished his account with ever more astonishing details each time he told it, to the point where he even succeeded in amusing my father.

" It was Il Duce who sent a clipping of one of these interviews to Bruno in Spain, together with this note: 'Here's yet another reconstruction of your famous duel with Capt. Dickinson.'

Back home, young Bruno was thought to be spending too much time in local whorehouses, and then was ineffectively sued in 1937 by a poor Roman girl who claimed that he seduced, and then abandoned, her. Lionized by the press as a genuine Fascist war hero, Bruno also gained unwanted attention when he ran down in his racecar an elderly Roman pedestrian named Teresa Velluti. The official police traffic accident report blamed the dead victim for being at fault. The Duce's son could do no wrong.

In January 1938, Bruno flew with the "Green Mice" from Italy to Brazil, being promoted captain upon his triumphant return home, as well as being named general manager of a civilian airline between the homeland and Latin America. That October, the young pilot and airline executive married Gina Ruberti, the daughter of a school inspector and the granddaughter of the Catholic-Fascist Minister of Finance. Their daughter was born thereafter, and Bruno was also named to the Presidency of the Italian Boxing Federation.

vOf this period, Romano recalled, "Only a few months passed, and Bruno---back from Spain---was already embarking on a new adventure, the first trans-Atlantic flight from Guidonia to Rio de Janiero aboard three S-79s, manufactured by Savoia-Marchetti, from the Sorci Verdi squadron. The first of these planes would be under his command, the second was to be piloted by Biseo, and the third by Maj. Moscatelli.

"Before the Sorci Verdi left on their new mission, my mother said---as she always did when Bruno took off on one of his exploits---'Please, go slowly,' and I can still hear the amused tone and see the affectionate smile with which my brother responded, 'Of course, Mamma, you know I will. I have snails in my engines.'

"My mother told me, 'If he could have, Bruno would have said the same thing at the end of July 1941 when he flew to Riccione and dropped to a low altitude twice in order for us to be able to see him.' I, too, remember seeing Bruno's large aircraft only a few hundred meters above our heads when Edda, Vittorio, and I were vacationing on the Romagna coast.

"My brother had told us that with the new planes he was testing, he could fly to America and back without stopping. However, in order to succeed, he would have had to abbreviate the Atlantic crossing by leaving from a base in Iceland. 'The reality of all this,' he would say proudly, 'is that with Italian engines, we can achieve extraordinary things. We're number one in the world!'

"Bruno was right about the efficiency of the planes he was testing; however. He was also perfectly aware that when it came time to face the harsh reality of war, our air force could not be counted on.

"Apart from the ever more frequent cases of sabotage---especially following the Spanish campaign---the Arma Azzura/Regia Aeronautica was showing signs of deep division, and was in serious need of complete reorganization.

"The reports Il Duce received talked about 'flawless aeronautical equipment fully prepared to meet future challenges.' In reality, the Spanish exploits had drained Italy's arsenal, which had already been greatly reduced during the Ethiopian War, and while our aircraft scored a series of resounding victories in the Iberian skies, these planes had also suffered the harshest trials during the final year of that war when they faced the fighter planes sent by the Soviet Union in support of the Spanish government.

Bruno knew that at any moment, we would be involved in the most difficult and brutal war in history. He knew, too, that this called for rebuilding the Arma Azzura, and equipping it with adequate reserves.

Upon Italy's entry into the Second World War, former combat pilot Capt. Mussolini returned to active service in the now obsolete Regia Aeronautica, seeing his first action in a bombing mission in June 1940 over British-held Malta, and that October over Greece. Returning home, he was named to the executive command of the #274 Squadron outside Pisa.

Bruno's death inevitably drew the shattered Duce closer to his remaining two sons, Vittorio and Romano, a jazz musician who died in 2006 at age 79. Three weeks after the funeral, Mussolini took his fellow pilot-son with him on his trip eastward to visit Hitler, where the Nazi Fuhrer/Leader expressed his condolences to his stricken ally. German Reich Marshal---and also fellow aviator, Hermann Goring---went him one better, though, presenting the beaming father with a photographic album of his late son's life and career, on Aug. 28, 1941.

Oddly, Bruno's death and most of its aftermath wasn't covered in perhaps the very best record we have from inside Fascist Italy at that time, the postwar published private diaries of the late aviator's brother-in-law, Count Ciano, the reason being given that a serious throat infection required an operation on his tonsils that kept him away from his posts during late July-September 1941, although he did leave his sick bed to attend the funeral.

Thus, it remained for the youngest Mussolini male---Romano (1928-2006)---to publish the only inside account of his older brother's tragic and sudden death in his excellently detailed 2006 memoir, My Father Il Duce, as I have recounted it here.

Count Ciano was executed by the Fascists as a traitor in 1944, and the Duce by Communist Partisans the following year. Mama Mussolini died in 1980, and Countess Ciano in 1995 at 85, the same age as Vittorio Mussolini, on June 12, 1997.

Laura Fermi's verdict on Capt. Bruno Mussolini's death is a bit harsh: "A flight in which no glory was attached, and which had nothing to do with war operations." The former might be true, but not the latter. They also serve who test.

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* The Accidental Death Of A Mussolini


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