The First Assassination Attempt on Mussolini

"A woman!" cried the shocked Mussolini.

Wounded Mussolini
Wounded Mussolini. Topical Press Agency/Stringer/Getty Images

At 10:58 a.m. on April 7, 1926, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini was heading back to his car after having just given a speech in Rome to the International Congress of Surgeons when a bullet nearly ended his life. Irish aristocrat Violet Gibson shot at Mussolini, but because he turned his head at the last moment, the bullet went through Mussolini's nose instead of his head.

Gibson was caught immediately but never explained why she wanted to assassinate Mussolini.

Assuming she was insane at the time of the shooting, Mussolini let Gibson go back to Great Britain, where she spent the rest of her life in a sanatorium. 

The Assassination Attempt

In 1926, Benito Mussolini had been the prime minister of Italy for four years and his schedule, like every country's leader, was full and hectic. Having already met with Duke d'Aosta at 9:30 a.m. on April 7, 1926, Mussolini was driven to the capitol building in Rome to speak at the Seventh International Congress of Surgeons. 

After Mussolini finished his speech praising modern medicine, he walked outside toward his car, a black Lancia, that was waiting to whisk Mussolini away.

In the large crowd that had been waiting outside the capitol building for Mussolini to emerge, no one paid any attention to 50-year-old Violet Gibson.

Gibson was easy to dismiss as a threat for she was small and thin, wore a worn black dress, had long, gray hair that was loosely pinned up, and gave off the general air of being disheveled.

As Gibson stood outside near a lamppost, no one realized that she was both mentally unstable and carried a Lebel revolver in her pocket.

Gibson had a prime spot. As Mussolini headed to his car, he got within just a foot of Gibson. She raised her revolver and pointed it at Mussolini's head. She then fired at near point-blank range.

At nearly that exact time, a student band started playing "Giovinezza," the National Fascist Party's official hymn. Once the song started, Mussolini turned to face the flag and snapped to attention, bringing his head back just enough for the bullet fired by Gibson to nearly miss him.

A Bleeding Nose

Rather than passing into Mussolini's head, the bullet passed through part of Mussolini's nose, leaving burn marks on both of his cheeks. Although onlookers and his staff were worried that the wound could be serious, it was not. Within minutes, Mussolini reappeared, wearing a large bandage over his nose.

Mussolini was most surprised that it was a woman who had tried to kill him. Just after the attack, Mussolini murmured, "A woman! Fancy, a woman!"

What Happened to Victoria Gibson?

After the shooting, Gibson was grabbed by the crowd, pummeled, and nearly lynched on the spot. Policemen, however, were able to save her and bring her in for questioning. No real motive for the shooting was discovered and it is believed that she was insane when she attempted the assassination.

Interestingly, rather than having Gibson killed, Mussolini had her deported back to Britain, where she spent her remaining years in a mental asylum.

* Benito Mussolini as quoted in "ITALY: Mussolini Trionfante" TIME Apr. 19, 1926. Retrieved on March 23, 2010.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,729144-1,00.html