When World War I began in August 1914, the Italian government brushed aside the Triple Alliance (with Germany and Austria) and declared its neutrality. After failing to gain satisfactory terms from the alliance, Italy signed the secret Treaty of London with the Allied powers. This treaty promised Italy Italian-speaking territories in Austria and a share of the German colonies in Africa for its participation on the Allied side. In May 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary.
The war proved difficult and arduous. The Italians won some early victories, but in May 1916 the Austrians wiped out many of those gains. A successful counterattack enabled the Italian army to occupy the important city of Gorizia, but the Italians made little progress thereafter. In October 1917 a combined Austro-German force attacked the Italian defenses, winning a dramatic victory at Caporetto in Venezia Giulia. The Italians retreated, eventually to the Piave River. There, they consolidated their defenses and were able to fight off an Austrian attack in June 1918. The Italians assumed the offensive, culminating in a victory in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto (October 24-November 4, 1918).
On November 3, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian government and the Allies signed an armistice. Italian casualties during World War I totaled more than half a million. In the treaties that followed, Italy acquired the Trentino, Trieste, and the South Tyrol, but it did not get all the territory promised in the Treaty of London—notably Dalmatia and Fiume. In November 1920 Italy and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia) signed the Treaty of Rapallo; Fiume was established as a free state, and Italy renounced its claims to Dalmatia.
From 1919 to 1922 Italy was torn by social and political strife, inflation, and economic problems, aggravated by the belief that Italy had won the war but lost the peace.
The unions became militant, and fears of imminent revolution increased when the Socialist Party and the new Communist Party that was founded in 1922 adopted the programs of the Russian Bolsheviks. In response, armed bands with a strong nationalist bias, known as the Fascisti, fought the socialists and communists in Rome, Milan, Bologna, Trieste, Genoa, Parma, and elsewhere. In an attempt to restore order, the aged Giolitti formed his final ministry from 1920 to 1921. It relied on a National Bloc of Liberals, Nationalists, and others, including Fascists. But the two largest political parties, the Socialists and the newly formed Catholic Popular Party, withheld their support, making parliament unworkable.
Giolitti then resigned. His departure precipitated a period of uncertainty. Many landowners feared that their estates would be seized by the peasants; the middle class and the industrialists feared that Italy would become a Soviet-style republic; and conservative Roman Catholics worried that socialism, communism, and atheism threatened the religious order. On October 24, 1922, the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, emboldened by the support of conservatives and former soldiers, demanded that the government be entrusted to his party. He threatened to seize power by force if his conditions were refused. As the Fascisti mobilized for a march on Rome, Prime Minister Luigi Facta resigned. On October 28 Victor Emmanuel III called on Mussolini to form a new government. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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