No. 280  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/8

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

ROME, 10 April 1943

The situation in Italy, to-day, is as interesting to a speculative philosopher as it is to a foreign observer. It would be no easy matter for either to explain the indifference bordering almost on fatalism of a large part of the population to the reverses that have overtaken Italian arms and which are likely to bring in their train economic and political disaster for the Nation. Some would, no doubt, dismiss the matter by attributing it to the soporific engendered by two decades of a totalitarian regime but that would not be altogether correct as the roots go much deeper away down into the racial origin of the Italian people themselves.

In the first place, the Alliance with Germany was an unnatural one as the temperament of the two peoples is irreconcilable. The Germans despise the Italians and are heartily hated in return. They are natural enemies and have been so all through their history as they have, unfortunately, in their composition, many of the ingredients that provoke mutual distrust and dislike. On the other hand, the Italians have never had any serious dispute with England, and America has always been to them a kind of fairy grandmother. It is not therefore to be wondered at that the average Italian finds some difficulty in arousing hatred for the Allies while the fires of enmity for his Axis partner are always alight. High Italian military and naval officers are known to have resigned their commands rather than subordinate themselves to German generals and admirals.

Reports circulate here of how the Germans seized the petrol of the Italian soldiers in Egypt as well as their reserve of water and then abandoned them to the mercy of the desert. During the retreat from Voronef an Italian officer, now in Rome, had his fingers chopped off when he tried to hang on to a German lorry. One of the occupants used his axe effectively to oblige him to let go. Tired or wounded German soldiers were picked up but the Italians were left to perish in the snow. Stories of German brutality far worse than this are being related by returned soldiers some of which, though exaggerated, may not be altogether devoid of foundation. One may thus understand why Italian troops when protecting Rommel's retreat surrender to the Allies whenever an opportunity presents. The average Italian, be he worker, clerk, waiter, baker or tailor does not hesitate to tell you, to-day, that he would welcome the arrival of the Allies in Italy. He has an intuition that his country has more to gain by an Allied than an Axis victory and he is sufficiently astute and supple to hope that he may be on the winning side before the war is over.

The Fascist leaders are somewhat bewildered by the course events are taking. Up till recently their confidence in the German military machine was unbounded although the Italian General Staff did not always share their views. With the series of disasters that befell the Wehrmacht during the Russian Winter offensive it began to be realised also, in high Fascist circles, that German arms are not invincible and that there was a limit to the production of war machines by German factories. Some of those who at the opening of hostilities were only convinced to the contrary, against their will, felt the time had come when they should assert themselves with the result that Cabinet changes followed. The new men have not, however, shown themselves to be any more aggressive than their predecessors. In fact, some of them are known to have very little use for the Germans and I find it difficult to convince myself that one Member, at least, whom I happen to know personally for a number of years is not pro-British. Some, if not all, of the principal Fascists would sue for peace now if they could but their problem is how to save the Duce. The majority of the people are not, however, worried as to what may happen to the head of the Government but they would like to ensure the security of the head of the State and the succession to the Throne. Another element of the population by no means insignificant have little use for either the House of Savoy or the Duce of Fascism. Their ideal is a republic with an underground foundation of Marxist principles.

At no time since Italy entered the war has criticism of the Fascist régime been so audible as at present. There have been occasional expressions of discontent and minor demonstrations due to the shortage of food or fuel but these were easily dealt with by the local authorities, particularly as the Axis star was then in the ascendant. Now, that it is on the wane and that all hopes of victory have vanished, the people are growing more outspoken and may awaken from their slumbers in time to save their country from utter ruin for that will be the outcome unless, by one means or another, invasion is averted. Many Italians look to Count Grandi1 as a coming leader and it is not unlikely that he may play an important role in guiding the future destinies of Italy. The King would welcome him with open arms and so also would the moderate element in the Fascist Party which is much more considerable now than was the case a year or two ago.

[signed] M. MACWHITE

1 Count Dino Grandi (1895-1988), Italian Fascist politician. Opposed Mussolini at the 23 July 1943 meeting of the Fascist Grand Council which removed the Duce from power.

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