Legionary Reaction

Legionary Reaction
Date1 April- 2 April 1938
Location
Result

Legionary victory

Belligerents

FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Eturian Government
Supported by:

CSRN.png Revolutionary Legion of Etruria
Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Marco Antonio Ercolani  
FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Aurelio Cesare Tozzo  
FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Argo Secondari  
FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Vincenzo Baldazzi  
FlagoftheEtrurianFirstRepublic.png Guido Solariano  
CSRN.png Ettore Caviglia
CSRN.png Aldo Aurelio Tassinari
CSRN.png Franco Gioda
CSRN.png Mario Giampaoli
CSRN.png Decio Razza
Strength
~251 loyalist police and soldiers in Poveglia ~3,586 in Poveglia
50,000-100,000 during the March on Solaria
Casualties and losses
~231-311 senators killed
2,300-3,500 supporters killed or imprisoned
32 killed
46 injured
286 civilians killed or injured

The Legionary Reaction (Vespasian: Reazione Legionaria) or April’s Fish Massacre (Il massacro di Pesce d’Aprile) was a coup d'état that took place on 1 April and 2 April 1938. On those days, forces loyal to the Revolutionary Legion of Etruria staged a simultaneous mass march on the city of Solaria and a violent overthrow of the Etrurian government in the capital, Poveglia. The event overthrew the Second Etrurian Republic and led to the formation of the Etrurian Revolutionary Republic and a single-party totalitarian regime.

The Reaction followed two years of crumbling civil governance due to the "Emergency Government of Peace", which was established in wake of the Great War. The EGP had been established to maintain peace as civil unrest erupted across Etruria over poor territorial gains made in wake of the allied victory, economic collapse and poor management of demobilised soldiers.

The Reaction, argued by some, began in the early hours of 20 February with the "March on Solaria", where between 50,000 and 100,000 supporters of the Revolutionary Legion of Etruria began the 100km march from Vicalvi to Solaria. Though, officially historiography states that it began on April 1, when the March reached the outskirts of Solaria. In conjunction, armed soldiers and sailors of the RLE entered Poveglia and stormed the Palazzo Orsini, which housed the Etrurian parliament, while it was in an emergency session to debate the March. RLE militia then gunned down and killed over 90% of the sitting legislature and executed by firing squad the government of President Marco Antonio Ercolani. This was followed by a speech by RLE leader, Ettore Caviglia who declared the overthrow of the republic and the establishment of a new National Solarianist regime.

Background

Red August

To many historians, the origins of both National Solarianism and the demise of the Second Republic lay during the period of instability, socialist agitations and political violence, colloquially known as Red August.

The late 1900s had seen the emergence of organised workers’ committees and rights movements. While the democratisation of the workplace was welcomed by some in the liberal government, many saw it as a possible route for socialist agitation and influence. The 1910s would as a result, would be dominated by the struggles between trade unions and the federal government. This would escalate from 1913 until 1917, as President Emiliano Capri sought to control and contain trade unionism through its subordination to the federal government.

Armed workers occupying a factory in San Alessandro in the summer of 1917.

Capri's government utilised law enforcement and groups linked to his Liberal Republican Party to intimidate trade union leaders, violently attack workers' councils and break strikes. The heavy-handed response radicalised elements of the Etrurian left, culminating in the creation of the People's Protection Groups (Gruppi di Protezione delle Popoli), who engaged in political violence against its rivals in the streets. The violence escalated to such an extent that Capri was removed from office by his cabinet and succeeded by the moderate Alessandro Luzzani in 1917.

The GPP as well as the Etrurian Radical Worker's Party saw Luzzani as weaker and lacking in the authority of Capri and sought to use growing industrial discontent over working conditions to ferment revolution. 1917 was marked by drought and a record-breaking hot summer, which led to rapid increases in food prices and the collapse of a mine shaft killing 111 miners in northern Vespasia led to the fueling of socialist agitation. Throughout the summer, the GPP and ERWP provoked violent clashes and strikes across Etruria, the number of striking and rioting workers rising by each day. By August, Etruria's industrial base was crippled by mass strikes, while right-wing militias struggled to break strikes through violence.

Red August institutionalised several right-wing militias, including the Cohort for National Protection, seen here during an event in Fauglia in 1919.

On August 4, President Luzzani, fearing that the highly popular Etrurian Worker's Party would vote to back insurrection or revolution decided to take decisive action. In a series of secretive cabinet meetings, Luzzani opted to "decapitate the leftist hydra" with a raid against the EWP leadership at the party's upcoming General Congress. Unwilling to risk mass defections of the army through deployments to the streets, Luzzani's government sought out loyalist right-wing officers and soldiers to conduct the operation. The group, who'd later become known as the Iron Six led the operation and on 19 August 1917, 600 soldiers stormed the Stadio Invicto in Vicalvi killed 32 EWP members and detaining the entire General Committee. This was followed by similar arrests or assassinations of leading GPP and ERWP leaders. By the end of August, the agitation had subsided, with a vast majority of striking workers only seeking improved working conditions. It is widely accepted that the Second Republic was mere days away from a mass socialist uprising when the Stadio Invicto raid occurred.

While the Second Republic was ultimately saved from a leftist revolution, the series of events had radicalised elements of the military who blamed the Republic itself and democracy for allowing the leftist threat to become so severe. Many of the officers who staged the Stadio Invicto Raid would become the first National Solarianists, with the Iron Six forming the Society of the Cohort in December 1917. By 1919, the Etrurian military would become a stronghold for anti-democratic right-wing fraternal groups, secret societies and clubs. In 1920, a captain in the army, Etttore Caviglia founded the Black Templar, a secret society that drew support from all branches of the military and many in the business and middle class.

Great War

With the radical left mostly subdued, the Second Republic entered the 1920s in a reinforced and strengthened state. The national economy rapidly recovered from 1917 and Etruria documented a general sense of "spero che la gioia" (hopeful joy), however, rising tensions in Euclea and the rapid militarisation of the Gaullican Empire under Rafael Duclerque was causing great concern among Etruria's political elite.

An anti-war protest in Torrazza 1926.

Etruria's alliance with Werania and Estmere guaranteed that it intervene in their defence, however, the significant levels of influence held by right-wing and pro-Gaullican elements in the military hindered the government. This hindrance was such, that when war ultimately erupted in 1926, the Etrurian government was unable to guarantee that its military would follow orders. Between 1926 and 1927, both sides of the conflict, including Etruria's allies in Werania and Estmere promised Etruria significant territorial gains in exchange for its intervention. During this time, Parlatore's government sought to undermine and remove many of the pro-Gaullican officers from their positions.

Etrurian troops in the Aventine Mountains. Over 234,000 Etrurians would be killed in mountain fighting against Gaullica throughout the war.

In 1927, the government purged hundreds of right-wing field commanders, deploying them to Etruria's colonial possessions, while loyalist and pro-republic officers were promoted to replace them. The same year, Etruria renewed its alliance with Werania and Estmere in exchange for promises of gains from Gaullica's colonial empire. On May 14 1928, Etruria declared war on Gaullica and formally entered the Great War.

Over the next seven years, Etruria would fight the Entente forces across southern Euclea and northern Bahia and Hydana. Ultimately, over 850,000 Etrurians would be killed in the war, while the conflict itself produced renewed sense of Etrurian nationalism, with many of the military's most striking victories becoming quasi-national holidays during wartime. Throughout wartime, many Etrurian right-wing academics with links to the secret societies began propagating ideas of Etruria as a nation "yet unleashed in power and respect." Even though many of these groups held admiration for the Duclerque regime, they abandoned their pro-Gaullican positions to present the war as an opportunity to "re-birth Etruria" and establish it as a great power rivaling all others.

However, despite being on the victorious side of the war, Etruria would not see virtually any of its promised territorial gains. To further fuel discontentment, many of Etruria's colonial holdings taken during the war by the entente were not returned following the war's end and were instead granted independence by the new international order. The failure of the government in securing promised gains would unleash a wave of discontentment and despondence far out-stripping that of Red August.

Great Betrayal

Immediately upon the war's end and the much maligned peace treaty which denied Etruria not only lost territories but failed to honour the 1927 agreement with Werania and Estmere, the very same secret societies within the military and academia resumed their assault on the Republic. Within months, the Great Betrayal (Grande Tradimento) theory emerged in the press. Accordingly, many on the right saw the failure of territorial expansion (which discounted the internationally recognised annexation of Jevia and Tarpeia) as a plot to deny Etruria's rightful place as a Great Power. This was further fueled by public horror that so many Etrurians had died for very little gain.

The key propagators of the Great Betrayal theory were the Black Templar, Praetorian League and the Association of the Mother-Wolf, who used access to newspapers to turn the general public against the government. Ettore Caviglia, who led the Black Templar and served as a captain during the war, used his father's money to found the newspaper La Torre di Guardia. In its opening editorial he wrote:

Etrurian soldiers burning their de-mobilisation notices in protest of the peace agreement in March 1936.

"We have been betrayed comrades, our allies and stalwarts spit upon our dead sons and fathers by offering us the scraps of the vanquished Entente! Right now, 850,000 Etrurian martyrs cry in fury, our greatest ancestors from the pioneers of Poveglian Asteria, the warriors of the Solarian Deep, the great Renaissance Captain-Generals, to the Emperors and Consuls of Solaria of old, roar with indignation. On the blood of our sons, we shall have revenge."

As the government began the process of de-mobilising the army, many of the veterans returning home were ardent supporters of the Great Betrayal theory which had become a near quasi-faith among soldiers according to Giovanni Lupelli, a prominent historian. As they returned home, they would "vent and spew the claims of betrayal to their loved ones, in the taverns and on the streets." The loss of Etruria's colonies which had fallen to Gaullica during the war, only emboldened the theory's sway among the general public. While many placed blame with the victorious allies, much of the anger was held against the Etrurian government and the entire Republican system, which many saw had "capitulated in victory."

Post-war instability

Etruria soon descended into street violence, mass protests and rioting, both over the mass embrace of the Great Betrayal theory and the stark socio-economic consequences of demobilization and the sharp end to the wartime economy. President Marco Antonio Ercolani, who succeeded Fortunato Parlatore in 1934, struggled to contend with the mass unrest, this was made more difficult with the collapse of the unity government over his acquiescence to the treaty ending the war.

Throughout the remainder of 1936, thousands of demobilized soldiers joined with workers and widows in protesting against the government and demanding the return of lost territories. During this time, the many secret societies that emerged in wake of Red August became public groups and movements, in September 1936, the Black Templar established the Revolutionary Legion of Etruria, an armed political movement within the Etrurian military, led by Ettore Caviglia. In November, it was revealed that all the major military commanders of the war, including Field Marshal Maurizio Adriano Galtieri and General Amadeo Ravelli had pledged support to the Black Templar and RLE, fearing a military coup, President Ercolani invited the military into the government to subdue public unrest.

The Cohort of National Protection was reconstituted in late 1936 in order to protect right-wing movements against the far-left. Comprised mostly of demobilised soldiers, they were key to further entrenching the Great Betrayal theory and undermining the Republic.

The new Emergency Government of Peace, which included several Black Templar members failed to address much of the public anger, owing to the resistance of civilian ministers and the Etrurian senate to the military's demands. What followed was sporadic street violence, political assassinations and the radicalisation of the Etrurian electorate. This period would also see Ettore Caviglia and his "Squadra" (the popular term for his inner-circle) travel across Etruria securing support for their National Solarianism, the same time, the various militias of Red August were re-constituted to attack left-wing movements who also made use of public discontent.

Rise of the National Solarianists

The establishment of the Emergency Government of Peace on November 10 1936, immediately began the erosion of civilian authority across Etruria. The office of the presidency was steadily stripped of executive power, which was transferred to the provisional post of "Chief Minister", held by Leonardo Rapisada, the chief of the supreme command. While, Rapisada was cautious toward the secret societies, he often expressed opinions firmly in line with the criticism laid against the republic.

From November until March 1937, the new emergency government failed to curtail the rising street violence and political extremism, mostly owed to the entrenched opposition of both civilian ministers within the government and the senate. This opposition was driven by the ever growing demands by the military in shutting down particular freedoms and civil liberties.

Field Marshal Maurizio Adriano Galtieri's tenure as Chief Minister, enabled the National Solarianists to erode and utlimately incapacitate the government's executive ability to confront a major security threat, which would later be vital in the success of the Legionary Reaction.

In April 1937, Rapisada was succeeded by Maurizio Adriano Galtieri as Chief Minister, a Black Templar and ally of Ettore Caviglia, he's own personality and connections with conservatives in the senate enabled him to further diminish the civil authority further and by May, had secured ultimate control over law enforcement for the military. This was followed by the use of state forces near exclusively against left-wing groups arrayed against the right-wing militias and groups.

This level of protection enabled Caviglia and his allies to dramatically increase their public profiles with larger events and mass rallies. From May 1937 until Christmas, Caviglia and Aldo Aurelio Tassinari traveled extensively across Etruria, railing against the Great Betrayal, the failures of the Republic and the "demolition of Etrurian morality." In October 1937, Caviglia formally declared his ideology to be "nationalist and inherently Solarian", with the aid of Giuseppe Spadavecchia, this ideology was produced into pamphlets which was widely distributed.

This increased level of activity, coupled with the violent repression of the left and impotence of the liberal elite enabled Caviglia and his National Solarianist (Solarianistas) to rapidly ascend in the public's eye, while continued violence only further fueled public disenchantment with the republic. By Christmas 1937, the level of violence against the liberal elite escalated into public and overt assassinations, attacks and bombings. Continued economic malaise enabled the Solarianistas to reach out to working and middle class unemployed, amassing significant support. On December 28, Caviglia and his Squadra met in secret, where they agreed to proceed in taking power by overthrowing the republic.

Events

March on Solaria

The meeting of the Squadra in December 1937, resulted in the agreement to seize power from the Republic. This was followed by a series of successive meetings to debate how they right-wing Solarianista coalition would achieve its aim. Initial plans reportedly focused on a simple seizure of power from within the Emergency Government, however, Ettore Caviglia and Aldo Tassinari rejected this, both argued that any seizure of power would require at least the perception of public support.

In mid-January 1938, the Squadra agreed and formulated a complex plan to seize power from the republic. This plan centered around a mass "act of defiant patriotism" and in late January plans were made for the "March on Solaria." The march itself would involve up to 100,000 of the most ardent and loyal supporters of the Revolutionary Legion of Etruria; by this time, boasting up to two million members, marching from Vicalvi to Solaria, demanding a "patriotic and true government." Between February 1 and February 19, responsibility of the march fell to Aldo Tassinari and Giuseppe Spadavecchia, while Chief Minister Maurizio Galtieri kept all intelligence on the march from the civil authorities.

Ettore Caviglia with several members of the Squadra during the March on Solaria on April 16.

On February 20 1938, 110,000 RLE supporters amassed at the Campo di Paolo su Marte, a large park south of Vicalvi and began the 100km march south toward Solaria. At first, the civil authorities dismissed the march as just another public display by the Solarianistas, however, throughout the first half of the march, the column was met with ecstatic support, while between February 23 and March 15, the number of marchers swelled from 110,000 to an estimated 800,000.

While the March distracted much of the liberal elite, in other parts of the country, the RLE rapidly expanded its areas of control, both through the seizure of weapons from the army (though surviving accounts describe the army willingly distributing rifles and machine guns) and scouted out the residences of liberal politicians and public figures.

By the end of March, concern within the Senate over the march began to grow as senior figures began to suspect that the march could be the precursor to a Solarianista uprising. This was further fueled by fictitious reports being delivered by the military, now believed to entice an emergency meeting of the senate. Records from the time show that Chief Minister Galtieri purposefully misled the senate on numerous occasions to become "delirious with fear."

Caviglia Ultimatum

On March 27, Ettore Caviglia issued an ultimatum in a speech to marchers, demanding that the senate dissolve and permit an election, all RLE supporters in prison for violent acts be released and that the senate officially reject the XX Treaty that ended the Great War. The senate, led by the now figurehead-president Marco Antonio Ercolani, rejected his demands.

From March 28 until the coup itself, Caviglia used the senate's refusal as a means of attacking the liberal elite as "fundamentally aligned against the good and patriotic Etrurian man and woman." Their refusal also succeeded in inflaming public anger toward the republic and its leaders, resulting in mass protests in Vicalvi, Solaria, San Alessandro, Stazzona and Turania.

In a letter to Franco Gioda, Caviglia wrote, "their refusal is our justification and cannon shot, now we proceed with the road paved with adoration." Many historians cite this letter as evidence for the Ultimatum's purpose, to provide the public rage as cover for the final phase of the plot to seize power.

Storming of the Palazzo Orsini

In the early hours of April 1, armed militia and LRE aligned soldiers were deployed across Etruria, outside the homes of liberal politicians and those who'd later be arrested or executed in the immediate aftermath of the Reaction. Over 3,500 militia and soldiers were secretly transported and inserted inside Poveglia, with most being hidden within the Poveglian Arsenal.

At 06.30am, all members of the senate were re-called for an emergency session to debate and discuss the March on Solaria. Chief Minister Galtieri was recalled, but failed to attend, though this provoked little suspicion due to his regular refusal to attend sessions.

The senate session officially opened at 10.03am with President Ercolani providing a statement on the status of the March. During his opening remarks, the soldiers and militia crossed Poveglia from the Arsenal in the east, while police officers loyal to the LRE sealed the Piazza dei Tredici from civilians, while escorting militia toward the entrance of the Palazzo Orsini.

At 10.11am, as President Ercolani moved to propose a dissolution of the Emergency Government and return to civilian rule, the LRE militia and soldiers stormed the Palazzo, killing numerous staffers, reporters and senatorial guards, while suffering casualties themselves. The sudden sound of gunfire alarmed the senate session, but as some began to make for the doors, armed gunmen armed with automatic weapons entered the chamber and began firing into the mass of politicians. The side-exits were soon covered by further gunmen who opened fire, while others stormed the galleries above the chamber, killing observers and then firing down onto the senators below.

Soldiers and Milita pose for a photo following the massacre in the Palazzo Orsini.

At 10.18am, after seven minutes of ceaseless gunfire, senior LRE militia commanders entered the chamber, armed with pistols they shot the bodies of cabinet ministers, while President Ercolani was shot over 30 times, and then repeatedly stabbed to ensure his death.

The massacre left between 231-300 senators, cabinet ministers and officials dead, though the exact number has not been determined, as other politicians were arrested and executed outside of the capital. The entire executive branch of the federal government was killed, including the President, Vice President and President of the Senate. 26 senatorial guards were killed in defence of the palazzo, while 47 guards and police were killed in the vicinity of the palazzo. A further 40 others, including senatorial staffers, journalists and by-standers were also killed, while the Solarianistas lost 8 men killed and 12 injured.

Mass assassinations and arrests

Simultaneously to the storming of the Palazzo Orsini, Solarianista militia attacked the residences and offices of politicians not present at the Senate, while police loyal to the LRE also launched mass raids against journalists, academics, former politicians and opponents to the LRE. Over the next three hours, Solarianista units detained or killed between 2,300 and 3,500 pre-listed individuals from multiple professions, political parties and areas of public life.

The exact number of those killed outright during the morning and early afternoon of April 1 is one of the most debated issues surrounding the Reaction. The leading historian on the Reaction, Giovanni Gazzera wrote in 1998, "considering that many of those detained on April 1 were transported to makeshift prisons, we can deduce that the number killed on the day itself is between 1,100 and 1,250, a significant number in further proof the immense organisation and planning put into this operation."

One major breakthrough for the Solarianistas was the armed seizure of the state-level government buildings in Vicalvi (Vespasia), Vilanija (Novalia) and Praproče (Carinthia) within an hour of the storming. In each three state capitals, the Solarianistas murdered or arrested state-level governors and their cabinets, while in Vicalvi, soldiers and officers detained or murdered loyalist officers.

Gazzera would also write in 2004, "within six hours of the storming of the senate, the Solarianista coalition had obliterated the entire political class, decimating it at the state and national levels and in the glaring vacuum, placed themselves as the only viable option."

Proclamation of the Revolutionary Republic

Aftermath

Emergence of the new regime

Mass arrests and killings

Etrurianisation

Renewed militarism