It is fall 1917 in Italy. World War I rages; in late October the German army gasses the Italians to defeat in the Battle of Caporetto. Hyperinflation and food shortages cripple the economy, and suddenly a large number of Italians don't see the point of fighting anymore. At the same time, Lenin and the Bolsheviks seize St. Petersburg and the allies see that soon they will lose a key partner in the war. Of course, this happens and within six months; Brest-Litovsk means no more Russian-British alliance. And now Britain is looking at losing another ally, Italy.
Enter Sir Samuel Hoare, the man in Rome for British counter-intelligence. He is charged with keeping the Italian front fighting,and he quickly finds an ambitious newspaper editor to help him with the task, Benito Mussolini.
This is the story Cambridge historian Peter Martland tells after uncovering documents proving the relationship.
Yes, MI5 paid Il Duce £100 a week to keep the fighting spirit alive and well in Italy. He did this through his newspaper as well as through his gang of armed thugs who bludgeoned peace protesters into staying home. The latter proved to be a good training exercise for what would become his fascist blackshirt squads. Mussolini, 34 at the time, received the exorbitant salary for at least a year, according to Martland.
"I have no evidence to prove it," Martland said. "But I suspect that Mussolini, who was a noted womanizer, also spent a good deal ofthe money on his mistresses."
After Mussolini's brief stint as a British agent, he rose to power and became the dictator of Italy. When he became belligerent in 1935, he met Hoare again when the two signed the Hoare-Laval pact that gave Italy control of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. Hoare was later forced to resign for appeasing the fascist.
Mussolini turned his back on his former-partner when he sided with Hitler during World War II, further proving, you just can't trust partners you pay to be on your side.