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.