The Daring Ones: How Italy’s Arditi found themselves fighting for Mussolini

You can read the first part of our history of the Arditi here for a summary of these fearl

Mussolini’s break from socialism was a turning point in his life and his career. Now at loggerheads with his former left wing comrades and too radical for liberals and moderate nationalists, he needed allies and fast. His solace would come in the form of the Futurists and the Arditi, who the soon to be Il Duce would first contact in the summer of 1918.

Members of the Arditi would later be present in the November 1918 war celebrations in Milan and stories tell of Mussolini leaping down from the stage he had just spoken on to have a drink with the Arditi soldiers who were watching. Were these men the same as the ‘Daring Ones’ from the Great War?

The Arditi in post-war Italy

The Arditi were attracted to Fascism by its strong anti-socialist ideals. The first few Squadristi blackshirt squads were made up of ex-members who were keen to give socialists a good kicking. The liberalistic governments of Orlando, Nitti and Giolitti were renowned for being weak and pigheaded to the Fascist threat and one of their greatest faults was not becoming aware of the threat of the Arditi.

Ex-secret service soldiers were running riot all over the country with a strong anti-government agenda. The government eventually acted, demobilising them all from service, but this just increased the dissent.


Fascists in Fiume

In May 1919, the remaining members of the Arditi were reorganised by the Ministry of Defence into a security force. This decision was met with widespread dismay and what was viewed as a humiliation of the once unique special forces. Not all of the Arditi members felt a connection with the Fascists but an anti-establishment feeling spread through the former military men and a significant amount fled the clutches of the state and government.

Their biggest impact was their support to the infamous Impresa di Fiume, held by political leader and ultra-nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio. Elsewhere, in Milan, former Arditi members had been involved in street fights with Italian communists. Battle had spilled out onto the streets.

Those against Fascism: Arditi del Popolo

The Arditi involvement in political matters reached a head in 1921 when the Arditi del Popolo (People’s Squads) was founded.

Instead of backing Mussolini and the National Fascist Party (PNF), this group of anarchists represented an offshoot that was firmly anti-Fascist. Their finest hour came in 1922, when 350 successfully defended the city of Parma against a 20,000-strong Fascist offensive. Ultimately, the pure weight in numbers of Fascist recruits broke the back of the Arditi del Popolo’s resistance, and by 1924, the majority of the leaders had been detained by the PNF.

The Arditi name lived on in the upcoming Fascist state but since World War II, their legacy has all but faded and is remembered only in pockets of information.


For more on 20th century history pick up the new issue of All About History here or subscribe now and save 25% off the cover price.


  • Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction 1909-1944, Günter Berghaus
  • Benito Mussolini, Jeremy Roberts