Pietro Badoglio, 1871-1956

Pietro Badoglio (1871-1956) was the chief of the Italian defence staff from 1925 to 1940 and Prime Minister of Italy after the fall of Mussolini, playing a major role in moving Italy from the Axis to Allied camps.

Badoglio was born into a peasant family in Piedmont. He joined the army, and took part in the disastrous Italian invasion of Ethiopia of 1896-97, where he survived the defeat at Adowa (1 March 1896). He also took part in the Italian invasion of Libya of 1911-12.

During the First World War he rose from the rank of captain to general. He fought during the battles of the Izonso, where he served as chief of staff for the 2nd Army and then as commander of II Corps. In that role he captured Monte Sabotin (near Gorizia) on 6 August 1916, one of the more significant Italian victories on that front. He was also able to extract his forces largely intact during the crushing Italian defeat at Caporetto in October-November 1917. He then became chief-of-staff to General Armando Diaz, the new Italian commander-in-chief. In November 1918 he conducted the armistice negotiations with Austro-Hungary.

Between 1919 and 1921 he served as a Senator and as Chief of Staff of the Army. However he didn't support Mussolini's march on Rome, and like many high ranking opponents of fascism he was sent into a 'gilded exile', in this case as Ambassador to Brazil in 1924-25.

This was only a brief break in his military career. He returned to Italy, and on 4 May 1925 Badoglio was made Chief of the Defence Staff, a post he held for an impressive fifteen years, until 1940. For the first two years of this period he was also Chief of Staff of the Italian Army. As chief of the general staff he advised Mussolini on strategy and war preparation, and was meant to be in charge of cooperation between the services. For some of the same period he was also head of a National Research Council, which was meant to direct Italy's military and industrial research, but that easily got diverted into ineffective schemes.
He was also promoted to Marshal of Italy on 24 May 1926.

Badoglio wasn't always a terribly 'hand's on' chief of staff. Between 1928 and 1933 he was Governor of Libya, and in 1935-36 he led the Italian conquest of Abyssinia (replacing the original commander, Emilio de Bono). He was created Duke of Addis Ababa and Viceroy of Abyssinia as a reward for his success, although he only held the role from May-June 1936, before being replaced by Graziani.

Badoglio was opposed to the Italian entry into the Second World War. In the spring of 1940 he even went as far as condemning fighting alongside the Germans as unpatriotic, helping to make sure that there would be no German help in North Africa until after the Italians had suffered a defeat. However he eventually gave his consent to the Italian declaration of war on the assumption that Italy wouldn't launch any offensives.

On 4 June 1940 Mussolini gave Badoglio the task of turning his directives into operational orders for the three services. In order to achieve this he organised a series of meetings of the three service chief of staffs, but he had almost no staff of his own to actually perform the task.

After Italy's entry into the war in June 1940 Mussolini and Badoglio put in place plans for an immediate invasion of Egypt, which was to begin on 15 July, although this was seen as more of a large scale raid than an attempt at conquest.. The Italian commanders in place in Libya were unwilling to rush to the attack, and Marshal Graziani didn't advance until late in the year. It probably didn't help that Graziani and Badoglio were long term rivals.

In mid-August Badoglio suggested a two pronged assault on the British in India, with the forces in Italian east Africa advancing at the same time as the forces in Libya. The Navy wasn't interested in supporting the attack on Suez, and the proposed attack from East Africa stalled after the capture of a couple of Sudanese towns.

In September 1940 he told the chiefs of staff that if the Italians could force the British Fleet to leave the Mediterranean then 'we will dominate the Mediterranean and nothing will be able to stop us'. At this point, with Britain standing alone against the Axis powers, that wasn't an entirely bad judgement.

In October 1940 Mussolini decided to demobilize 600,000 of the 1.2 million troops present in Italy. Badoglio accepted this disastrous move, while at the same time displaying no more than mild concern about the almost simultaneous decision to invade Greece.

The invasion of Greece began on 28 October 1940. On 1 November, two days into the invasion, Badoglio gave the Balkans front the strategic priority, even though the long awaited advance in Egypt had finally begun.

On 4 November the Greeks began a counterattack that soon forced the Italians to retreat back into Albania.

Badoglio resigned on 6 December 1940 after the Italian failure in Greece. He was replaced by General Cavallero, a long term rival and sworn enemy since the mid 1920s.

Badoglio wasn't active in the plan to depose Mussolini, but after their success King Victor Emmanuel chose to appoint him as the new Prime Minister of Italy.

For six weeks Badoglio was faced with a difficult task. Italy was still officially allied with Germany, and there were German troops across the country. At the same time his task was to negotiate an Italian exit from the war. Hitler was of course intensely suspicious of the new Italian government, which had after all removed his long standing ally. On 26 July Badoglio declared that the war would continue. Badoglio's attempts to convince Hitler of his loyalty by offering his word of honour as an officer wasn't at all effective, and of course neither was it true. At the same time negotiations were underway in Portugal, and by the end of August the terms of the armistice had almost been settled. At the same time the Germans now had sixteen divisions in northern and central Italy.

On 3 September 1943 General Ambrosio signed the 'short armistice' with Eisenhower on Sicily. Part of the plan was for the US 82nd Airborne to land at Rome, where alongside the Italians it would fight off any German attempt to seize the city. General Maxwell Taylor secretly visited Rome to organise this landing, but by then Kesselring had rushed troops into the city and Badoglio called off the landings. 

On 8 September Eisenhower announced the armistice with Italy. Badoglio and the new Italian government panicked, and spent the night of 8-9 September besieged in the Ministry of War building (along with the Royal Family). The party managed to escape to Pescara on the following day, and from there reached the Allies at Brindisi on two Corvettes.

Badoglio's efforts in August and early September had largely ended in failure. The need for secrecy meant that the army wasn't warned in advance, and was unable or unwilling to put up much resistance when the Germans took control. Large parts of the fleet did manage to escape, with a key part of the battlefleet ending up at Malta on 10 September, but the collapse of the army and the failure to stand up to the Germans meant that Italy would be a battlefield for the next two years.

Badoglio set up a new government under Allied control. His credibility wasn't helped by the dramatic rescue of Mussolini on 12 September 1943, but he remained in power into 1944. On 29 September he and Eisenhower signed the 'long armistice' on HMS Nelson off Malta, and on 13 October Badoglio's government declared war on Germany. In March 1944 he even got Soviet recognition, and with it the support of Togliatti's Italian Communist Party.

After the Allied capture of Rome on 4 June 1944 Badoglio stood down to allow the formation of a new government. At the same time Victor Emmanuel III handed his powers over to his son Umberto, although he didn't abdicate until after the war, just before the Italian people narrowly voted to abolish the monarchy. Badoglio retired to his home in Piedmont, where he died on 31 October 196.

Badoglio must take much of the blame for the Italian army's poor performance during the Second World War. He had been responsible for much of its structure and character for fifteen years, and the army was in many ways his product. Even as late as the summer of 1940 he had failed to recognise the changing nature of warfare, dismissing a July 1940 report on the German conquest of France as something to read after the war. He was also unwilling to prepare plan for any offensives, instead preferring to concentrate on defensive preparation. As a result he poured money into the defences of Tripoli, but did little to improve the key ports further to the east, which would have been key to supplying any advance.

WWII Home Page | WWII Subject Index | WWII Books | WWII Links | Day by Day

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 August 2017), Pietro Badoglio, 1871-1956 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_badoglio.html

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy