Churchill-Mussolini Non-Letters

Churchill-Mussolini Non-Letters

(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.

3 thoughts on “Churchill-Mussolini Non-Letters

  1. Not real­ly. Lake Como wasn’t so war rav­aged. Gen­er­al Alexan­der offered him the use of a vil­la, and the two spent hap­py days paint­ing along­side each oth­er. The local Ital­ians gath­ered and cheered him–there were no expres­sions of dis­ap­proval. I sup­pose they thought he’d helped and a war that had nev­er been very pop­u­lar among them. And he need­ed the break, hav­ing just received “the order of the boot” by the vot­ers in the July gen­er­al elec­tion. His daugh­ter Sarah accom­pa­nied him, and said it did him a world of good.

  2. Of all the paces to go on vaca­tion why did Churchill choose a war rav­aged Italy in 1945? A “paint­ing hol­i­day?” Seems odd.

  3. great com­men­tary. Of course, many peo­ple would LIKE to show Churchill as Pro-Mus­soli­ni as much as pos­si­ble for polit­i­cal rea­sons. Andrew Roberts is right. The prob­lem with con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists is they specualate and go beyond the facts. Ques­tion­able doc­u­ments are not facts.

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