Mussolini's Death March

Eyewitness Accounts of Italian Soldiers on the Eastern Front

Nuto Revelli Translated with an Introduction by John Penuel

In his quest for military glory, Benito Mussolini sent the Italian Eighth Army to the Eastern Front to help fight the Russians, only to have his forces routed within little more than a month of the launch of the Soviet counteroffensives of the winter of 1942-1943. The Cuneense, a division of mountain troops, was hit especially hard, with only a small percentage of its troops straggling back to Italy; the rest were killed in action or died of frostbite or in captivity from malnourishment, overwork, and disease. All told, the Italians suffered roughly 75,000 dead, more than in their six-month campaign in Greece and Albania or in their three years in North Africa.

Nuto Revelli, who fought in Russia himself, interviewed forty-three other survivors of the campaign for a book that has become a classic among Italian war memoirs. First published in Italian in 1966 as La strada del davai, Revelli's account, now available in English, vividly recaptures the experiences and sobering reflections of these men. It provides a chilling look at an experience that, in English-language writing, has been overshadowed by that of the main actors on the Eastern Front.

“This is an extraordinary book. The testimonies collected by the author are heartbreaking, shocking, brutal, and at times, uplifting. They tell a terrible story of disaster, death, and suffering.”

The Historian

Mussolini’s Death March is a worthwhile read for those wanting to understand the Second World War from the perspective of the Italian army. The book is not only a window onto the wretched lives of the Italian soldiers on the Russian front, but also onto the Italian war experience in other theaters.

—Journal of Military History
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When news of the rout reached Italy, the shock was devastating. In Revelli's home province of Cuneo, the recruiting territory of the annihilated Cuneense Division, some villages lost almost all men of military age. The resulting rage and bitterness later fueled the partisan war against the Germans and Italian fascists.

The veterans of Mussolini's Death March speak candidly of nights in the open, of extreme cold, gnawing hunger, and eruptive madness. Thousands who survived the Soviet onslaught were taken prisoner and died on the so-called davai marches—named for Russian guards' command to keep prisoners moving—or later in the camps themselves. Even so, they developed a favorable impression of the Russian people, who provided hospitality in their small houses and aid to the wounded. Together, their recollections provide an eye-opening look at a largely neglected aspect of World War II.

About the Author

Nuto Revelli (1919-2004) was an Italian army officer, partisan, writer, and historian. After the war he took a job selling metal products but then turned to writing, dedicating himself to preserving the harsh memories of Italy's World War II. He is also the author of L'ultimo fronte, a collection of letters from soldiers whose bodies were never found. John Penuel is a translator living in Nice, France.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series