Mutilated victory

The mutilated victory (Italian: vittoria mutilata) was the aftermath of the First World War for Italy, stemming from the broken Pact of London. It fueled the rhetoric of irredentists and nationalists in Italian politics before the Second World War. The term was coined by a nationalist poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio.[1]

Italy and Triple Alliance

Angered by the French seizure of Tunisia, in which Italy had extensive economic interests and had viewed as a possible area for colonial annexation, in 1882, Italy joined the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria as a means of defending against further French aggression and gaining diplomatic backing for coming disputes.[2] The alliance, however, proved troublesome. Italy and Austria-Hungary had been rivals for many years; the latter had, for years, held northeastern Italy, opposed Italian unification, and it still held Trieste and Istria, Zara and the coast of Dalmatia, the primary targets of the Italian irredentist movement.

As such, in the years before 1914, Italy engaged in diplomatic maneuvers to ally itself with the United Kingdom and France. In 1902, Italy concluded a secret treaty with Britain in which Italy abandoned the Triple Alliance, with the stipulation that it be given the territories currently controlled by Austria.

London Pact

After the First World War erupted, the wooing by both sides of Italy to enter the war increased. On April 26, 1915, the Triple Entente and Italy signed a secret agreement, called the London Pact, that stipulated the terms of Italy’s participation in World War I against the Germany-Austrian Alliance. If Italy declared war on Germany and the Entente emerged victorious, Italy would be awarded Habsburg territories in Southern Alps and in the Balkans, specifically the regions of Trentino and the South Tyrol (up to the northern limit of the Brenner Pass), the Friuli-Julian area, Trieste and the surrounding area, Istria, and the North of the Dalmatian Cost including the city of Šibenik. Other possible territories included in the treaty were the city of Valone in Albania, some part on the south Anatolian coast, as well as a share of Germany’s African colonies.

This map depicts territories that belonged to the Republic of Venice and the area on the Adriatic Sea promised to Italy under the Pact of London signed in 1915


These demands were outlined by the Italian Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino to secure a strong Italian presence in the Mediterranean. The acquisition of the area surrounding the Adriatic, especially the port city of Trieste, would strengthen Italian naval presence and keep pace with possible postwar territorial gains in the area by the other members of the Entente. The demands for lands carved from the Ottoman Empire and the African colonies were motivated by national ambition.

Neutrality with Germany

Sonnino however delayed a declaration of war against Germany even though Italy had declared war on Austria-Hungary. By May 1915, the Italian push towards Ljubljana reached a stalemate with Austrian forces in the Alps while Britain, France and Germany were embroiled in a stalemate of their own on the Western Front.

The outcome of the war was not yet clear, and Sonnino stood by a position of neutrality with Germany. That would soften as Sonnino realized Italy’s army was in no position to carry out a protracted war, and pressure from within Italy demanded solidarity with the Entente. The Italian government declared war on Germany in late 1915.

Wilson's opposition

In January 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to American President Woodrow Wilson expressing his disapproval of the promise to give Italy the Adriatic territories. In a later trip to the United States in May to speak with American diplomat Edward M. House about the pact, Balfour made it clear that Britain had no particular ill will against Austria-Hungary and that the planned transfer of the Slavic lands to Italy would only create more problems. While American-Italian diplomatic dialogue regarding the claims did not take place prior to the Peace Conference, Wilson’s own stance on the matter was clear in his Fourteen Points, which urged for the Italian border with Austria to be redrawn along "clearly recognizable lines of nationality". His first point urged for no international agreements to be negotiated in secret so he refused to recognise the arrangements made under the pact. Sonnino's plans for securing the Adriatic were ignored, as were the imperial aims of Italy, and concessions were made in the form of postwar American economic aid.[3]


The cause of Mutilated Victory was embraced by many Italians on the political right. The poet Gabriele D’Annunzio criticized in print and in speeches the failures of Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando at the proceedings in Versailles, particularly in his attempts to acquire the city of Fiume, which was ceded by Austria to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. On September 12, 1919, D’Annunzio took matters into his own hands and led 2,600 Italian irredentist troops against a mixed force of Allied soldiers to occupy the city. In Fiume, the victors established the Italian Regency of Carnaro, an unrecognized state based on the protofascist Charter of Carnaro.

While the regime would be shortlived, its effect on the people and politics of Italy would leave their mark on the following decades of Italian history. Benito Mussolini embraced the ideals of the D’Annunzio and Carnaro when he formed the first Fascio di Combattimento, an association devoted to violence, imperialism, and the repression of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). Mussolini, an avid supporter of the First World War, credited the over 1.2 million military and civilian casualties and 148 billion lire spent [4] to both the weaknesses of the Liberal government and the treacheries of Italy’s former allies.

After his rise to power in 1922, Mussolini would continue to cite the Mutilated Victory in Fascist rhetoric.


  1. Cfr. Gabriele D'Annunzio, in an editorial in Corriere della Sera, October 24, 1918, Vittoria nostra, non sarai mutilata ("Our victory will not be mutilated")
  2. Lowe, C.J. (2002). Italian Foreign Policy 1870-1940. Routledge.
  3. Burgwyn, H. James. (1993). The Legend of the Mutilated Victory. Greenwood Press.
  4. Mack Smith, Denis (1997). Modern Italy. The University of Michigan Press.


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