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Son of a career military officer, Emilio de Bono was born in Cassano D’adda in 1866. After completing the Milano Military College, and the Modena Military Academy, he became Lieutenant in 1886, and enrolled as voluntary on the III Bersaglieri regiment in the Eritrea colonial war.
After completing the war academy in 1887, Emilio De Bono became captain in the VII Army Corps and in 1907 he was promoted to Major. As a Colonel Lieutenant in Libya in the 1911-1912, he was responsible for the organization of the Navy logistical bases in Misurata, becoming Capo di Stato Maggiore (Chief of Staff) of the 1° special division.
As Capo di Stato Maggiore of the II Army Corps at the beginning of the First World War in 1915, he was the commanding colonel of the XV Bersaglieri regiment on the Carsian front and in 1916 of the Trapani Brigade. He distinguished himself by the conquest of Gorizia in August. General commander of the Savona Brigade, then of the 38° division, and therefore of the entire Corpo d’Armata D’Albania on 1917, he commanded the IX Corpo d’armata in the Monte Grappa front in 1918. He distinguished himself on the Solstizion battle in June and Vittorio Veneto battle that ended the war in October.
Decorated with 3 military silver medals and commander of the Savoia Military Order, from January 1919 to January 1920 Emilio De Bono commanded the occupation troops of the XII° Army Corps in the Austrian territory and in Verona. Disappointed with the government after the First World War, he became a member of the Fascist party and obtained a transfer to auxiliary for personal and political reasons.
He witnessed the Fiume events with a mix of satisfaction and disapproval by the breakdown of military discipline. He cultivated a friendship with the Duke D’Aosta and was inspired by the Duke’s monarchic nationalist feelings. Despite this, he collaborated with the journalist Giovanni Amendola’s “il Mondo” on military subjects.
In August 1922 he wrote the storm troopers Discipline Regulation along with De Vecchi. The text was deferred by the Discipline Council of the Royal Army (as an official he was organizing a para-military party force), which lead him to quit until the following November. After an inspection of the black shirts he manifested strong reserves about the black shirts’ efficiency. Nevertheless, he participated in the March of Rome, of which he was one of the leading commanders with Fara and Ceccherini, the only other few generals that participated.
Despite not having any political background, Emilio De Bono became a mediator between the military environment and Fascism. He became the commanding chief of the storm troopers that later became known as the MVSN. He attempted to regulate and institutionalize the voluntary militias, and to obtain this goal, he proposed a project in July 1923. However, it was decided to use the militia’s to achieve the integral “Fascistization” of the state.
He became general director of Public Security and Senator of the first Mussolini ministry. He was involved in the Matteotti crime. The group was responsible for the murder of Matteotti and accused of covering the crime. But in the new political climate created by Mussolini, De Bono was considered not guilty by High Court of Justice .
From 1925 to 1928, he became governor of Tripolitania and repressed the rebellions against the Italian colonial domination. During this period he started a small attempt of agricultural colonization of the Gebel region. He served as Minister of the state, Secretary and then Minister of the Colonies. In 1929, he supported the definitive conquest of Libya.
In 1935 he was nominated High Commissioner of the Italian Africa. He strongly supported anti Ethiopian policies and prepared the invasion of that empire the following autumn. De Bono was the commander and strategy developer of the Ethiopia invasion that took place between September and November 1935, winning the first battles at Adua, Axum, Makalle e Amba Alagi.
Despite the successes, De Bono defended a prudent advancing strategy in enemy territories. He gave particular attention to communication lines security and to the consolidation of the conquered territories. Due to the slow progress strategy he fell out of favor with the impatience of the Duce. For this reason, De Bono’s position was given to Badoglio. As consolation he was nominated Marshal of Italy.
In the following years De Bono was strongly committed with several conferences on the colonies and colonial troops. The relationship with Mussolini, to whom previously De Bono referred to using the expression you (tu), cooled down. He also disapproved of the racial laws approved on 1938.
In July 1939, he carried out an inspection of the troops on the French border. He highlighted the lack of training and weak points of the armed forces in terms of mechanization, modern fortifications, artillery, roads and communications.
After being nominated overseas troops inspector, he produced two accurate reports of the Italian troops in Albania (November 1939) and Egeo (February 1940). In these reports, he highlighted the lack of preparation of the Italian military device, and implicitly tried to stop the Italian intervention in the war. Designated commander of the Southern Armies (III° Army, Sicily, Sardania, Albania) in June 1940, he remained at the margins of the political activity and of the military decisions during the war.
As a member of the State Council and Great Fascism Council, he proposed to remove Mussolini from the military and foreign policies political roles, and voted for Grandi’s proposal on July 24th, 1943.
After Mussolini’s arrest on 25th July 1943, Badoglio stepped up and dissolved the PNF and the MVSN. The Fascists did not react, and De Bono saw with pain and disconcertment these events. The pages of his personal diary testify the dismay of the following weeks. Sicily and Calabria were invaded by the Allies, who from the Teheran Conference imposed to all the Axis’s members the unconditional surrender. The Germans fought in the South with the Italians and penetrated the Brennero and the Po Valley with plans of assuming control of the valley (Operation Achse) giving no possibility to the Italians of fighting back and resisting. Badoglio’s government proposed to follow an intermediated path, with the objective of trying to control the internal order, and not irritate the Nazis in order to avoid any strong and bloody reprisals.
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