Mussolini, pictured in recovery in hospital several months later.
February 22 1917, Ronchi [dei Legionari]–Benito Mussolini, one of the most ardent left-wing advocates of Italian entry into the war, had been serving on the front lines as a sergeant since being called up in late 1915 (his attempts to volunteer earlier having been rejected due to his troubled political record). By 1917, Mussolini, like many other soldiers, complained of the “cold and infinite boredom” of his lot; he received a reprieve from this by being transferred to command a trench mortar detachment just behind the lines.
Mortars were very useful on the Karst, their high arcing shells able to fall into enemy trenches. On the rocky ground, they caused even more damage, adding thrown up limestone fragments into the already deadly shrapnel. The mortars, however, were hastily produced to meet the high demand, and accidents were common. On February 22, despite Mussolini’s warning, one too many rounds were added to a mortar. It exploded, killing four men and wounding many others, including Mussolini. His right collarbone was smashed, his left arm temporarily paralyzed, his right thigh shredded, along with dozens of other shrapnel wounds. Many nearby soldiers refused to come to Mussolini’s aid, blaming him for Italian involvement in the war.
He was eventually evacuated to a hospital in Ronchi; surgery to remove 44 pieces of shrapnel from his body would wait several weeks until he stabilized. The King would later visit him in hospital, and he was not discharged (though still on crutches) until August. No longer fit to serve in the Army, he returned to politics.