No. 266  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/8

Letter from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Private and Confidential)

ROME, 10 February 1943

Nobody seems to be able to give a lucid reason for the Duce's dismissal of his Cabinet last week. It is however generally believed that he wanted to oust Ciano without giving enemy propagandists the opportunity of exploiting it as a family scandal and, in order to do so, he was obliged to make a clean sweep of the lot and pretend it was only the long delayed 'cambia della guardia'. But this is only part of the story. During his recent illness when doctors were elaborating on the dangers of an operation, it seems that Grandi, Bottai, Ciano and a few other Cabinet members who have been developing defeatist tendencies of late had been planning some kind of a Council to take over the Duce's functions in case of an accident and, at the same time, to send an envoy to Lisbon to sound the Allies on peace conditions. These plans did not mature due probably to the patient's recovery. One fact however remains. The leading members of the Cabinet had ceased to believe with their Chief in the ultimate success of Axis arms. Their successors are men of rather mediocre calibre, mostly old journalistic and party hacks with no opinions of their own.

The dismissed Ministers only learned of their fall from grace a few hours ahead of the general public. When the Foreign Minister went, as usual, at 5 p.m. to report to the Duce he learned the dismal news. Some of his staff had the information earlier but dared not tell him. To keep up appearances of family solidarity he was offered the post of Governor General of Albania but declined as life has still many attractions for him. The Embassy at Madrid was then suggested but he must have recalled the case of the former Spanish Foreign Minister who was almost considered persona non grata here after having been dropped from the Cabinet. Finally, he was offered the Embassy to the Holy See to the evident disgust of the Vatican authorities. The holder of this post will probably be sent to Berlin to replace Alfieri who barely escaped with his life from the German capital after having been involved in one of the nastiest diplomatic scandals of recent times.1 A German General who returned home from the front rather unexpectedly found the Italian Ambassador, according to well authenticated information, keeping his bed warm. After some scuffling Alfieri escaped to his Embassy where he had to remain in hiding until, as the report goes, the direct intervention of the Führer permitted him to return to Italy. Twenty four hours after this incident an Order was promulgated throughout the Reich providing for the death penalty for adultery when members of the armed forces on active service were the victims.
[matter omitted]

1 Dino Alfieri (1886-1966), Italian Ambassador to Germany (1940-3).

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