Mussolini Denounces British Press as Whisky Swilling Hyenas

Writing in the Popolo d’Italia Mussolini launched a furious attack on the way that the British press had reported the Battle of Brihuega in March. Quite why he should have chosen this moment is obscure, but clearly it had rankled that the defeat of Italian forces should have been reported at all. A Nationalist offensive against Madrid had begun well but had been forced to retreat by a republic counter-attack that included the International Brigade. It was a severe, but far from decisive, setback. Mussolini conjured up an erroneous retreat order to a single battalion as the origin of the report. He contrasted British accounts of the battle with reports of Italian participation (as Britain’s ally) in the First World War; “These hyenas in human form threw themselves on the pure blood of Italian youth as if it had been whisky, losing all trace of shame…”

As propaganda it merely served to remind the world of the large-scale presence of Italian troops in Spain at the very moment that Italy was presenting the (rather more successful) offensive in the North as a purely Spanish affair. The remaining Republican (and Basque) forces had been penned up in Bilbao. The defensive “Iron ring” of static hilltop positions had been broken by a combination of nationalist armour and bombing. The Republicans withdrew leaving the city to fall with little fighting.

The tense atmosphere created by the bitter strike in the US steel industry was fuelled by the release of film footage from earlier in the year showing the Chicago police opening fire without warning on a small procession of strikers. A number were killed. This helped swing sentiment against the employers. President Roosevelt appointed a committee of mediation to try to solve the dispute although it had no immediate effect. There was violence on the picket line around the Johnstown steel mill in Pennsylvania. Two pickets were stabbed and non-strikers sought permission to carry firearms.


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