Nicholas Farrell Nicholas Farrell

Mussolini at Lake Como

Even in sunglasses and a German uniform, the Duce wasn’t tricky to spot. That hasn’t stopped Italy’s conspiracy theorists

If your destiny is to be shot dead with your mistress, where better than Lake Como, which, in the words of Shelley, ‘exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty, with the exception of the Arbutus Islands in Killarney’?

It was in Giulino di Mezzegra, a tiny village in the mountains above the lake, that a handful of communist partisans executed the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci on 28 April 1945. The Duce was 61 and his amante 33 — two years older than his daughter Edda.

The partisans loaded their corpses and those of other Fascist leaders — executed separately down by the lake — on to a lorry and drove the 70 miles to Milan where they dumped them in Piazzale Loreto. A huge crowd soon gathered to defile the corpses, especially those of Mussolini and Petacci, which were later strung upside down from the girders of a petrol station in the square. Two days later, in Berlin, Hitler took the Roman option and committed suicide.

But Mussolini — once described by Winston Churchill as ‘the Roman genius’ — had had no intention of doing anything of the sort. He was en route for the Swiss border at the northern end of Lake Como with a small German escort when chance or God intervened to seal his fate.

Mussolini had left both his wife, Rachele, and his mistress behind in Milan. But -Petacci could not live without the Duce and had caught up with him in Como.

On its way to the border, in the village of Dongo, Mussolini’s convoy ran into a flimsy roadblock manned by a dozen or so partisans who had come down from their mountain hideout, desperate for a smoke.

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