The Italian Social Republic

In 1944, after years of bloody advances and retreats, the Second World War had hit Italy full-force, splitting it in two. In the south, the royal forces were fighting alongside the Anglo-American troops, whilst from Rome north, the German army determinedly sought to resist the slow advance of its adversaries. In October 1943 Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler made a last-ditch attempt to rally fascist Italy, establishing the Italian Social Republic between Salò and Gargnano. The choice of the western shores of Lake Garda as the seat of the new government was no chance event. Lake Garda was a quiet area, far from the social tensions of the big cities, with limited partisan activity and a low risk of airborne or commando attacks. Germany had annexed Trentino, the South Tyrol and much of the northern end of the lake, meaning that the borders of the Reich had advanced to Limone, just 20 kilometres from Gargnano: the territory was easy to reach and to defend. Furthermore, the area offered numerous hotels, infirmaries, elegant villas and sumptuous private residences, conveniently and easily providing suitable accommodation for ministries, administrative offices, Fascist party officials and Italian and German officers. The Social Republic was officially born on 14 November 1943, coinciding with the National Assembly of the Fascist Party held in Verona. On 1 December 1943 the new State took its definitive name, the Italian Social Republic. On 10 October 1943 Mussolini arrived in Gargnano, where he occupied Villa Feltrinelli (now a luxury hotel), in San Faustino. He lived there with his wife Donna Rachele, his children Romano and Annamaria, and other close relatives. Villa Feltrinelli was patrolled by thirty SS officers from Hitlers personal guard, lodged in the cellars beneath the villa (only later would an Italian unit be allowed to come and work alongside the Germans). An anti-aircraft cannon was installed on the roof. 600 metres from Villa Feltrinelli, in the centre of Gargnano, Palazzo Feltrinelli (now a branch of Milans public university) housed the political and special bureaus entrusted to the hands of Vittorio Mussolini and Giovanni Dolfin. On the main road, the barracks of the Magnolini Alpine Corps became the base for Mussolinis guards. A large runway for light aircraft was located where we now see the Bogliaco Golf Resort. In Bogliaco, the Eighteenth-Century Palazzo Bettoni housed the Prime Ministers Offices, where cabinet meetings were called by the Undersecretary Barracu. In the tunnels between Gargnano and Riva del Garda factories were set up, specialising in the production and repair of weapons and engines for cars and planes. The workshops occupied half the width of the tunnels, forcing road traffic to run alternately in either direction. The two Italies, that of Badoglio and that of the Italian Social Republic, continued along their parallel paths from 8 September 1943 to 25 April 1945, the date of liberation. Benito Mussolini met his end on 28 April, not at Lake Garda, but near Lake Como. In the following months, the hotels, villas and homes used for ministries and offices were returned to their rightful owners. Translated from: I luoghi della Repubblica di Salò published by Consorzio Alberghi Riviera del Garda.

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