September, 1945. W. S. Churchill was on Como Lake.
Was Italian dictator Benito Mussolini shot on orders issued by Winston S. Churchill? Was Mussolini privy to secrets which could have damaged the reputation of the British statesman? Was Mussolini in possession of compromising documents which could have changed the common reading of Italy’s intervention into the war? Damning documents which had thus to be seized and destroyed?
Thousand of articles and books had been published in Italy – and new ones do appears every year – since the end of WWII trying to prove or disprove such assumptions, a thing which may surprise non Italian readers.
I have myself given a small contributionby publishing an historical novel in Italian in which a young and promising secret agent going by the name of James Bond is sent to Italy to meet Mussolini to get rid of the compromising papers and then kill il Duce. Mine is just a novel, mind you, but on writing and researching it I had strongly sided with the ‘believers’.
Benito Mussolini, during his last days on the Garda Lake, had indeed made claims of possessing some documents which could have been used to find an honourable way out of the war for Italy and he hinted several times with people around him, that he had a special channel with Churchill. However it is possible that he had made it up, transforming his delusion into a sort of ‘secret weapon’ desperate, as he was, to snatch an honourable way out of what appeared to him, since 1942, certain defeat.
Winston Churchill lost the election in 1945, contrary to all polls and expectation, and on July 26 , 1945, he resigned as Prime Minister. Then he decided to go to Italy to paint and relax. He went on Como Lake in North Italy, right were Benito Mussolini, 4 months before, was captured by communists partisans and where his luggage and all the documents he was carrying were stolen and then shot, in never-clarified circumstances.
We have an incomplete record of what Churchill did during his stay in Italy because he took with him his personal doctor, Lord Moran, who was keeping a diary which he published 1966, after the death of his famous patient, and in spite of the furious opposition of his widow, Lady Clementine, who did not want her husband being shown in all his human weaknesses. Finally, only parts of Lord Moran diaries were published, parts which were deemed to possess greater historical importance.
They left Northold airport on a Dakota plane and after 5 and half hours they landed in Milan and were promptly escorted by Major Ogier of the 4th Hussars to Moltrasio, after Como, at Villa Donegani, just a few miles away from were Mussolini was arrested and mysteriously shot with his mistress, Clara Petacci. Donegani was an Italian industrialist who had been put in jail in San Vittore penitentiary at the end of the war, accused of having been close, perhaps too close, to Mussolini. It seems that Donegani saved his own skin because of Churchill’s intervention, who had him released from detention. Donegani’s name often surface in the documents’ trail left by Mussolini papers.
Most of the time Churchill remained occupied by reading minutes and copies of despatches he had carried with him – so Lord Moran tells us – having in mind to write down his memoirs. This is only a partial truth because we know that he took away several boxes of secret documents from the War Ministry and gave them to a team of historians who wrote his 6 volumes historical opus. He did not write them but he got a Nobel Prize for it, while getting rich in the process.
After two weeks in Moltrasio, Churchill and his entourage moved to Liguria and then Nice, in France, finally getting back to England. During his stay he did not only paint or went through his files but took long trips, by car, to nearby places. It appears that he even visited the house of the director of a small bank in Dongo where the documents contained in Mussolini briefcase had been stored for a night, right inside their vault, put there temporarily by the same partisans who had arrested him. Such kind movements by Churchill did not go unnoticed in Italy and over the border: in fact a Swiss newspaper printed a cartoon showing Churchill sitting in front of the fire at Donagani’s villa, while throwing documents into the flames. The fact that he indeed moved around can be gleaned by watching paintings which Churchill published in a small volume entitled ‘Painting as a pastime’ published in 1948. They were probably completed during the following months after having sketched them in Italy.
Starting from the upper part, left:
September, 1945, lakeside scene, Lake Como
September, 1945 village near Lugano
September, 1945 church by Lake Como
September, 1945 the Mediterranean near Genoa
1945, Lake Lugano