Benito Mussolini

Political Leader / World War II Figure

Born: 29 July 1883
Died: 28 April 1945 (shot to death)
Birthplace: Predappio, Italy
Best known as: Italy's dictator during World War II
Known as "Il Duce" -- the Leader -- Benito Mussolini was the Fascist dictator of Italy during World War II. Benito Mussolini grew active in Italian politics in the first decade of the 1900s. He then spent time in exile in Switzerland and Austria, where he worked writing and editing socialist newspapers. He returned to Italy after serving as a rifleman in World War I and gained power and notoriety as a revolutionary nationalist. Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in 1919, used force and intimidation against political opponents, and took power in 1922, creating a dictatorship and dissolving Italy's parliament. Despite his heavy-handed tactics, he was popular with the common people for many years as he expanded government services and "made the trains run on time." Bald and blustery, he loved fancy uniforms and liked to strut and posture proudly during public appearances. In the 1930s Italy invaded Ethiopia and Albania and in 1939 Mussolini promised an alliance with Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. But Mussolini's fall was nearly as swift as his rise: Italy's failures in the war led to Mussolini being ousted from power in 1943. He was arrested but then rescued by German troops, after which Hitler set him up as the head of government in Northern Italy. As the war ended in 1945, Mussolini tried to escape to Switzerland but was seized by Italian partisans, who shot him and then strung up his body in Milan for public display.

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