Churchill-Musso Non-Letters

by Richard Langworth on 12 April 2015

(Or: “You Haven’t Looked Hard Enough”)

Benito Mussollini (Wikimedia)

Ben­ito Mus­solini (Wikimedia)

“The Untold Story of Mussolini’s Fake Diaries” (Daily Beast, 12 April 2015) eval­u­ates Mussolini’s sup­posed diaries, let­ters or doc­u­ments ped­dled over the years, while rais­ing some incrim­i­nat­ing charges, or sup­po­si­tions, about Win­ston Churchill:

Before the war, Churchill offered Il Duce a deal. After the war, British intel­li­gence tried to destroy their cor­re­spon­dence…. When Churchill became prime min­is­ter in May 1940 he tried, in a series of let­ters, to dis­suade Mus­solini from join­ing the Axis pow­ers. He was ignored. Three weeks later Italy joined Nazi Ger­many and declared war on Great Britain. Although there would have been copies in Lon­don of the Churchill-Mussolini exchanges, none has ever turned up and in April 1945, some­body in Lon­don was very anx­ious that Mussolini’s copies should never see the light of day.

There was no “series of let­ters.” Churchill him­self pub­lished his only let­ter to Mus­solini (16 May 1940), try­ing to per­suade the Duce to stay out of the war—and Mussolini’s neg­a­tive response (18 May) in 1949.1 (Inci­den­tally, Italy joined the Axis in 1936, not 1940.)

The most flagrant fake, from "Chartwell" (but not the Chartwell letterhead), with two misspellings and the title "Duce of Fascism," which Churchill would have choked on. The pasted signature isn't even level.

One of the fakes, with mis­spellings, from “Chartwell” on 22 April 1940 (when Churchill was trav­el­ing from Lon­don to Paris). The pasted sig­na­ture isn’t even level.

Of course there were at least three faked let­ters, pub­lished in the past, and referred to by con­spir­acy books. One of the more recent, Il carteg­gio Churchill-Mussolini alla luce del processo Guareschi (2010), was exploded by reviewer Patrizio Gian­greco, who illus­trated the alleged Churchill let­ters. Com­plete with inau­then­tic let­ter­heads and fake sig­na­tures, they are almost laugh­able in their ama­teur­ish­ness.2

The Daily Beast states that Churchill, en route to Lake Como for a paint­ing hol­i­day in Sep­tem­ber 1945, stopped in Milan to stand bare­headed at Mussolini’s unmarked grave. No evi­dence is offered, nor does it seem likely: Churchill flew from Lon­don Sep­tem­ber 2nd and arrived at Como the same day3—but I’m sure the con­spir­acists would claim that his vigil at Il Duce’s grave was “cov­ered up.”

Churchill is said to have flown to Milan under the cover name “Colonel War­den,” which the Daily Beast sug­gests was his pilot’s name. In fact, Churchill had used “War­den” as a code­name for him­self and his fam­ily (“Mary War­den”) since early in the war. It likely stemmed from his 1941 appoint­ment as Lord War­den of the Cinque Ports.4

Churchill, we are then told, arrives at his villa on Lake Como, “owned by none other than Guido Done­gani…an indus­tri­al­ist and Fas­cist col­lab­o­ra­tor,” who was “inter­ro­gated by British intel­li­gence and later released.” Churchill meets with Done­gani, who appar­ently hands him the incrim­i­nat­ing let­ters, papers or diaries—they are var­i­ously described.

The author adds that he enlisted offi­cial biog­ra­pher Mar­tin Gilbert to authen­ti­cate the diaries, let­ters, or what­ever they were: “Gilbert, the his­to­rian, con­cluded that the cor­re­spon­dence had been retrieved and handed over to Churchill but it never turned up in the Churchill archives and was never seen again.”

This is pass­ing strange, since Sir Mar­tin Gilbert dis­missed the idea of secret Mus­solini cor­re­spon­dence, and noth­ing in his writ­ings sug­gests Done­gani met with Churchill. Writ­ing to his wife the day after he arrived at Como, Churchill says the villa belonged to “one of Mussolini’s rich com­mer­cants who had fled, whither is not known.”5 (Again, the con­spir­acists would prob­a­bly say this was a smokescreen.)

The so-called Mus­solini Diaries are labeled “Fake” in the article’s title, so one must sup­pose there is no argu­ment. There are a con­fus­ing num­ber of ref­er­ences to var­i­ous peo­ple who tried to ped­dle them, includ­ing one who ran away when hailed at an air­port. An Inter­pol agent who inves­ti­gated the story is quoted as say­ing Ital­ians “needed peo­ple to believe that the diaries were forged” because oth­er­wise “they would encour­age a revival of the Mus­solini cult and Fascism.”

How those faked 1940 let­ters, or other doc­u­ments from 1945, would, if gen­uine, have revived Fas­cism is dif­fi­cult to under­stand. Per­haps the best rejoin­der is that of the his­to­rian Andrew Roberts:

Leav­ing aside the fact that Churchill would not by that stage have wanted or needed peace with Mus­solini, one charge goes that the rel­e­vant doc­u­ments are in a water­proof bag at the bot­tom of Lake Como. So, when one takes issue with them, the con­spir­acy the­o­rists say, “go and look.” Of course, if you don’t find any­thing, they just say, “you haven’t looked hard enough.”6

End­notes

1. Win­ston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1949), 107-08.

2. Patrizio Gian­greco, “Lead­ing Churchill Myths: ‘Churchill Offered Peace and Secu­rity to Mus­solini,’” Finest Hour 149, Win­ter 2010-11, pp 52-53/57. (The let­ters were first pub­lished in Can­dido in 1954.)

3. Mar­tin Gilbert, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 7 Road to Vic­tory 1941-1945 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2013), 134.

4. War­ren F. Kim­ball, Churchill and Roo­sevelt, The Com­plete Cor­re­spon­dence, 3 vols. (Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 1984), II 344. Lady Soames to this writer, 2005.

5. Gilbert, Road to Vic­tory, 344, and con­ver­sa­tions with this writer, 2010.

6. Andrew Roberts, “Churchill’s Rep­u­ta­tion,” remarks at the Cab­i­net War Rooms, Lon­don, 16 Novem­ber 2005.

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