At the beginning of 1943, the Fascist Italy was looking at bitter defeat. The African front had collapsed in the previous November, exposing Italy to an Allied invasion. Tunis, the last stronghold of the Axis powers in Africa, fell in May and the Allied forces landed in Sicily in July.
Benito Mussolini had been Italy’s leader since 1922, but the Italian establishment was quickly getting tried of him. In February 1943, he attempted the most wide-ranging government reshuffle in 21 years of Fascist rule, in which almost all of the ministers were changed, but end was fast approaching for him. On July 24, 1943, the Grand Council of Fascism, the governing body of the Fascist party in Italy, passed a vote of no confidence against Mussolini in its first meeting since the start of the war. Following the vote, Victor Emmanuel III, the vacillating king of Italy whose fears of the threats the fascist supporters posed to his dynasty made him a tacit accomplice to Mussolini’s rule thus far, summoned Il Duce and dismissed him.
Mussolini was then arrested as he left the royal palace. Publicly, the new Italian leaders claimed that Italy would continue the war as a member of the Axis, but privately, they began negotiating for an armistice. In September 1943, German commandos daringly rescued Mussolini from his mountain prison and was installed as the head of the Italian Social Republic, a puppet state controlled by Nazi Germany in Northern Italy. He would continue to lead this state until April 1945, when he was captured and executed by Italian partisans as the war drew to a close.
No publication was happier about Il Duce’s fall from power than Picture Post. The Post was fiercely opposed to fascism from its very first issue. Founded by Stefan Lorant, an Hungarian Jew who had been previously imprisoned by the Nazis in Munich, Picture Post was staunchly against appeasement from the beginning when many in the establishment still sought to accommodate Hitler.
Its August 14, 1943 issue recapped the rule of Mussolini and labelled the titular “condemned man” as a gangster, agitator, revolutionary, and dictator. For the cover photo, to underline his doomed fate, the Post picked a photo where Mussolini was flanked by a priest. The photo was taken in 1937 during Mussolini’s visit to Sicily, where he was in Enna-Pergusa and visited the Grotta Calda mine (hence he wore a miner’s overalls and was lowered to a depth of 300 metres).