Jackal among big cats
MUSSOLINI'S SHADOW: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF COUNT GALEAZZO CIANO by Ray Moseley Yak, £19.95, pp. 302 This is the only biography of Galeazzo Ciano in English, although a good Italian one was published 20 years ago. Now Ray Moseley, by assiduous research, reveals many new facets of Ciano's life. The cap- tured Mussolini documents available both in the Public Record Office and in the National Archives in Washington have been a rich and reliable source although some of the Italian reminiscences quoted are suspect. The book adds considerably to our knowledge of Ciano, although not much that is fresh about Mussolini.
Ciano, married to Mussolini's only daughter Edda, was good-looking with con- siderable charm but vain, snobbish, proba- bly corrupt and an inveterate womaniser. His claim to fame lies in his private diaries begun in his early days as foreign minister and continued until his end. They are first- hand evidence of Mussolini's vacillating moods, and are interesting about Hitler; they have been much used by historians and were important evidence at the Nuremberg trials. They show that Ciano was friendly and got on well with most other diplomats.
Mussolini liked Ciano from the first and made him under-secretary for press and propaganda in 1934. There he saw to it that the Italian and foreign press sang the prais- es of his father-in-law. In June 1936 Mus- solini made Ciano minister of foreign affairs. Until then the Duce had been his own foreign minister with the anti-German Suvich as under-secretary. Mussolini had just overrun Abyssinia, and was angry with Britain over League of Nations sanctions and her refusal to recognise de jure his con- quest; he was drifting into Hitler's arms, although in 1935 he had taken the lead in opposing Hitler's defiance of the treaty of Versailles by announcing conscription and the existence of an illegal air force.
Ciano was never anti-British but, mes- merised by Mussolini's personality, unques- tioningly carried out his orders to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and Ger- many in 1937, and the military alliance and Pact of Steel with Germany in May 1939. During the discussions on the military alliance Ribbentrop promised Ciano that Germany would not go to war for three years. Ciano soon found out that this was a lie and that Hitler planned to attack Poland in a few weeks. From then on he never trusted the Germans and became more and more anglophile, with an intense dislike of Ribbentrop.
Ciano helped to persuade the dictator to keep out of war in September 1939. Mus- solini oscillated between support for Hitler and friendship with the Allies until Hitler's mechanised columns overran France. Then greed for rich pickings at the peace confer- ence was too much for Mussolini; the king of Italy and Ciano both acquiesced in the declaration of war on France and Britain on 10 June 1940.
The war was disastrous for Italy. Ciano himself became enthusiastic for an Italian attack on Greece. This failed abysmally and Italy had to be rescued by the Ger- mans who Ciano now hated. In May 1943 all the Italian and German troops in Tunisia surrendered and North Africa was lost. This convinced Ciano that Germany had lost the war and he tried to persuade Mussolini to seek a separate peace from the Allies, making overtures to London through Lisbon. However, Churchill and Eden refused to negotiate with fascists even though Ciano suggested that Mussolini might abdicate.
Ciano was sacked by Mussolini because of his defeatism and made ambassador to the Vatican. A fateful meeting of the fas- cist Grand Council was held on 24 July 1943 with anti-fascists and monarchists plotting to topple the dictator. Ciano voted for a motion critical of his father-in-law, which was used as an excuse the next day by the king to arrest Mussolini and to sub- stitute Field Marshal Badoglio as head of a non-fascist government.
Ciano now had the worst of two worlds; he feared arrest by the Badoglio govern- ment as a leading fascist, but he had also burnt his boats with the Germans by voting against Mussolini. He and Edda tried des- perately to escape to Spain. When there
seemed no chance of this the Germans offered to fly them and their children to
Germany. Ciano made a ghastly mistake and accepted, hoping against hope that the Germans would send him on to Spain.
Although Hitler greeted the Cianos cor- dially his fate was sealed. When Mussolini, liberated from his imprisonment, arrived in Germany he at first received Ciano well, but Hitler pressurised him to execute all those who had voted against him at the Grand Council. Mussolini protested to Hitler that he could not execute 'the father of his grandchildren', but then weakened and feebly agreed with Hitler that Ciano should be returned to Italy for trial.
Ciano was brought before a fascist tri- bunal in Verona and sentenced to death and shot. Mussolini refused to reprieve him, which is a shocking indication of his brutal character and consistent with his using poison gas on defenceless Abyssini- ans.
Edda, whose relations with Ciano had been stormy throughout her marriage because of Ciano's mistresses, now became completely loyal to him. She tried to barter his diaries for his life. The Germans believed the diaries to contain material much more derogatory to Hitler and Ribbentrop than was the case. They appointed the attractive Frau Beetz to spy on Ciano and try to recover the diaries. Beetz fell in loye with Ciano and plotted with Edda to have him released in return for handing over his diaries. If the tale is true, senior Nazis wanted to do such a deal with the Cianos and he was on the brink of being released and allowed to go to Switzerland when at the last moment Hitler vetoed it. This is one of the strangest stories of the second world war and Ray Moseley tells it well.
Richard Lamb's Mussolini and the British is published by John Murray.