Ciano, Galeazzo (1903–1944)

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CIANO, GALEAZZO (1903–1944)


Italian politician.

The only son of the naval hero and Fascist political leader Costanzo Ciano, Galeazzo Ciano was born in Livorno, on 18 March 1903. He is best known for his service as foreign minister (1936–1943) under Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), in which role he helped link Fascist Italy to Nazi Germany. His father's political connections were essential to his own political success. Costanzo Ciano left active service in May 1919 and joined the Fascists in 1920. Mussolini appointed him as navy undersecretary in November 1922; communications minister from 1924 to 1934; and Chamber of Deputies president from 1934 to 1939. Corrupt and greedy, Ciano accumulated great wealth, acquiring a count's title in 1928.


Snobbish and pampered as a child, Galeazzo Ciano disdained Blackshirt violence. Displaying modest journalistic and writing talent, he gained a law degree in 1925, then entered the foreign service with his close friend Filippo Anfuso. Ciano served in Brazil, Argentina, and China, returning to Rome in September 1929. His father, Mussolini's secretly designated successor, successfully proposed that Galeazzo wed Mussolini's daughter, Edda. They married in April 1930 then departed for China. After their 1933 homecoming, Mussolini appointed Galeazzo as his press and propaganda chief. In this position, he shaped public opinion for Mussolini's impending Ethiopian invasion.

Despite respiratory ailments, Ciano assumed command of a bomber squadron in Eritrea in August 1935. In October, during the Italo-Ethiopian War, he attacked Ethiopian towns. In December, using medical leave, he fled looming disaster from Ethiopian counteroffensives and Italian diplomatic isolation. Ciano encouraged Mussolini's January 1936 agreement with Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), in which Mussolini exchanged gradual abandonment of Austria for German diplomatic and economic support. Italian victories in Africa drew Ciano back to Ethiopia in February. After carrying out daring missions he returned to Italy and was rewarded with medals and Fascist Grand Council membership. Mussolini appointed him foreign minister and heir apparent on 11 June 1936.

Ciano assigned Anfuso to his cabinet, directed diplomacy dictatorially, and implemented pro-German policies. From July 1936, alongside Germany, he championed supporting the nationalists in Spain's civil war. Ciano's successful October meeting with Hitler, Mussolini's Rome-Berlin Axis proclamation in November, and the December dispatch to Spain of an expeditionary corps reflected Mussolini's goals: Mediterranean-Balkan predominance.

Ciano and Anfuso oversaw operations in Spain. But defeat at Guadalajara in March 1937—"my ugliest day," Ciano noted (author translation)—revealed miscalculations. In Spain, Italy further exhausted resources that had already been diminished in Africa, while Germany expanded, annexing Austria (March 1938), Sudetenland (September 1938), and Bohemia and Moravia (March 1939). The nationalist victory in Spain and the Italian invasion of Albania, both in April 1939, hardly compensated for Italy's losses, both in resources and in power relative to Germany.

Western documents stolen from embassies gave Ciano advantages unwarranted by Italian power. Taken together, the stolen information and the policy of appeasement adopted by western governments help to explain Ciano's diplomatic successes: the Belgrade Pact (March 1937), Nyon conference (September 1937), Easter Accords (April 1938), First Vienna Award (November 1938), and Neville Chamberlain's Rome visit (January 1939). Ciano sought to divide the democracies, circumscribe Germany, and delay war pending Italian readiness. Meanwhile, Anfuso, long a German spy, informed Berlin.


Apparent Axis solidarity masked deep antagonisms. Mussolini and Ciano feared Hitler; yet Nazi might overawed them when they toured Germany in September 1937. Hitler flattered Mussolini, and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893–1946) pressed alliance on Ciano when Nazi leaders inspected Italy in May 1938. During the Sudetenland crisis, in September 1938, Mussolini backed Hitler almost to war despite Ciano's trepidation. That crisis and the end of appeasement in March 1939 persuaded Mussolini to ally with Germany. In exchange, Hitler promised peace until 1943. Mussolini then discovered Hitler's Polish invasion plans. Enraged, Mussolini nonetheless plotted parallel conquests of Greece and Yugoslavia. Mussolini and Ciano expected that the Pact of Steel, signed 22 May 1939, would protect their aggression.

Costanzo Ciano's death that June, along with the Duce's missteps, weakened Galeazzo's certainty that Mussolini was always right. By August he convinced Mussolini that their army could not invade the Balkans while resisting western offensives. Mussolini sent Ciano to Hitler to urge negotiations over Poland. Hitler refused. Ciano persuaded Mussolini to declare "nonbelligerence" when war exploded in Europe. Both expected a lengthy conflict that would enrich Italy, exhaust the belligerents, and facilitate eventual intervention alongside Germany. Ciano's December 1939 Chamber speech suggests that his opportunism had replaced the Duce's ideological attraction to Nazism. But in March 1940 Mussolini decided Germany would prevail soon and promised Hitler imminent support. Ciano, fearing defeat, plotted a coup with the king. German victories in the spring dissuaded them. Like Mussolini, they expected a British surrender after the French collapse. Mussolini declared war on 10 June 1940.

Ciano shifted with Axis fortunes. He backed the poorly planned invasion of Greece (October 1940). Then, after enforced air service in the disaster, he again plotted Mussolini's overthrow in May 1941. Operation Barbarossa renewed Ciano's bellicosity. Defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad reawakened Ciano's conspiring. He believed that Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) would support his removal of Mussolini and then negotiate peace. Instead, in February 1943 Mussolini dismissed Ciano, who accepted the ambassadorship to the Vatican. There, Ciano rewrote his diaries—minimizing his guilt, maximizing Hitler's and Mussolini's—and conspired with Fascist leaders and the king against Mussolini. At the Grand Council, on 25 July 1943, the majority denounced the Duce's policies. The king had Mussolini arrested, and the regime collapsed.

Fearing imprisonment, Ciano sought refuge in Spain via Germany. But after Hitler had placed Mussolini atop a puppet Fascist republic, he turned on Ciano. Condemned for treason, Ciano attempted to trade his doctored diaries for escape. Hitler refused. Ciano died bravely before a firing squad in Verona on 11 January 1944. Ciano's fascinating, dishonest diaries and more accurate diplomatic papers appeared posthumously.

See alsoAxis; Ethiopia; Fascism; Germany; Italy; Mussolini, Benito; Nazism; World War II.


Primary Sources

Ciano, Galeazzo. Diplomatic Papers: Being a Record of Nearly 200 Conversations Held during the Years 1936–42 with Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Goering, Ribbentrop, Chamberlain, Eden, Sumner Welles, Schuschnigg, Lord Perth, François-Poncet, and Many Other World Diplomatic and Political Figures, Together with Important Memoranda, Letters, Telegrams, etc. Edited by Malcolm Muggeridge. Translated by Stuart Hood. London, 1948.

———. Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, from the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry. Washington and London, 1949–1983.

——. Diary, 1937–1943. Edited by Renzo De Felice (1980). Translated by Robert L. Miller. New York, 2002. Sometimes inaccurate translation of Diario, 1937–1943.

Secondary Sources

Guerri, Giordano Bruno. Galeazzo Ciano: Una vita, 1903–1944. Milan, 1979.

Moseley, Ray. Mussolini's Shadow: The Double Life of Count Galeazzo Ciano. New Haven, Conn., 1999.

Brian R. Sullivan