Mussolini was a British Agent
MI5 paid Benito Mussolini ‘£6,000 a week’ during World War I to peddle British propaganda
But it appears the British intelligence agency M15 once considered Benito Mussolini, to be a good investment.
Il Duce (of The Leader) got his start in politics back in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5 - the equivalent of £6,000 today - it was reported yesterday.
The future dictator, then a 34-year-old journalist, was paid to publish propaganda in his paper to ensure Italy fought alongside the allies in World War I.
The startling discovering was made by Cambridge University historian Peter Martland whilst he researched the papers of Sir Samuel Hoare.
Mr Hoare was at the time Britain's man in Rome and had 100 intelligence officers in Italy. They had been sent there to stiffen the resolve of the industrial working classes.
At that time in 1917 Russia had collapsed into the Bolshevik revolution and Italy was defeated at the Battle of Caporetto. It was at this point that the payments were made.
Mussolini's socialist publication, Il Popolo d'Italia, played a key role because it served the factory workers of Milan whose output was essential for the war effort.
Leading up to World War I, Italy had sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance. Italy was expected to join these two nations when war broke out in 1914. However she did not and decided to wait it out and see how the war progressed. She argued she could renege on the Alliance commitments because the other two countries had behaved aggressively and that the terms of the agreement did not apply.
After first being against the war, Mussolini (pictured) joined up in 1915
Then, in April 1915, she came into the war on the side of the Triple Entente – Britain, France and Russia. After first being against the war Mussolini signed up to fight. In 1915, Italy had signed the secret Treaty of London. In this treaty Britain had offered Italy large sections of territory in the Adriatic Sea region. The idea was that Italy would open a new front which would split the German and Austrian-Hungarian forces. But after two years of fighting Italy only managed to get ten miles within Austrian territory. The Battle of Caporetto in October 1917 was disastrous for its army and they lost 300,000 men. After first being against the war Mussolini signed up to fight. He was wounded by a mortar explosion in 1917
Dr Martland said: 'Britain's least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia's pullout from the conflict.
‘Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaiging - equivalent to about £6,000 a week today.'
Hoare, later to become Lord Templewood, mentioned the recruitment in memoirs in 1954, but Martland stumbled on details of the level of payments for the first time while scouring Hoare's papers.
Within the papers were also references to Mussolini sending Italian army veterans to beat up peace protestors in Milan - a dry run for his fascist black shirt units.
Dr Martland, author of The Future Of The Past, explained why Britain was eager to pay Mussolini the high sum.
He said: 'The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing the factories in Milan to a halt.
‘It was a lot of money to pay a man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the £4million Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty cash.
‘I have no evidence to prove it, but I suspect that Mussolini, who was a noted womaniser, also spent a good deal of the money on his mistresses.
Mussolini rose to power after the end of World War I. He had established a fascist dictatorship by the mid-1920s.
During the time he led the country he became desperate to create an Italian Empire, and so in 1935 Italy decided to invade Ethiopia. Its forces were far superior to the Abyssinian army particularly because of its air force and victory was swiftly secured.
During World War II Italy fought alongside Germany as part of the Axis powers. At the end of the war he tried to escape to Switzerland with his mistress but was caught by Communist partisans and executed. Their bodies were later hung from meathooks in a Milan square.
Dr Martland's findings were included in Christopher Andrew's history of MI5, Defence of the Realm, published last week.
|With the Axis powers in the ascendancy, Hitler and Mussolini meet in Germany in May 1941. Behind Hitler's right shoulder is his secretary, the slavishly devoted Martin Bormann|
At home with the Goerings: Mussolini walks with Emmy and Hermann Goering at Carinhall, the couple's estate north of Berlin
|Desperate to create an overseas empire, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Abyssinia. Here, Italian planes can be seen bombing Abyssinian reinforcements over Asmara. This squadron was commanded by Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law|