What a different world it would be if a truck and a bullet had come a tiny bit closer to two dictators responsible for the deaths of millions and the misery of tens of millions more.
Hitler in a Car Accident
In March 1930, Adolph Hitler was driving his Mercedes when he was involved in a collision with a truck. The story is told by Otto Wagener, a major-general and, for a time, Hitler’s economic adviser, in his memoirs (Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, Yale University Press, 1985).
Wagener was a passenger in Hitler’s car and he claims the crash came within a hair’s breadth of being fatal. Jared Diamond, in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel (Vintage, April 1998) writes that “the form of an eventual World War II would probably have been quite different if the truck driver had braked one second later.”
Was Hitler almost Shot?
Hitler may well have had an earlier escape. World War I was coming to an end on September 28, 1918 when Private Henry Tandey got involved in a battle near the village of Marcoing, France.
According to worldwar1.com the British soldier watched as “a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom and into Private Tandey’s line of fire, the battle-weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey resigned to the inevitable.”
In December 1940, Tandey told the Sunday Graphic, “I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man, so I let him go.” There is good evidence that the man Private Tandey spared was Adolf Hitler, although some historians cast doubt on the story.
Benito Mussolini Shot
When Violet Gibson had the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in her sights she did pull the trigger and took piece out of the man’s nose.
It was April 7, 1926, and Benito Mussolini was enjoying the adulation of a crowd in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. Freya Johnston (The Telegraph, February 26, 2010) describes what happened next: “As a group of students broke into song, he cocked his head in their direction. At that moment, a slight, bespectacled, shabby woman, standing less than a foot away, took aim and shot him at point-blank range. The first bullet grazed Il Duce’s nose, releasing a spectacular torrent of blood…” A second bullet jammed in the pistol’s chamber.
The woman was a British aristocrat called Violet Gibson. Hers was the closest assassination attempt to being successful of four on Mussolini’s life in less than a year.
Violet Gibson’s Tragic Life
According to Frances Stonor Saunders in her biography of Gibson (The Woman Who Shot Mussolini, Faber and Faber, March 2010) believed she was acting in the belief that she had a moral duty to kill someone for a higher purpose.
Gibson had a history of mental illness and Saunders quotes from a 1923 medical file that describes her as “violent. Homicidal…” and that “she might want to try again to kill someone.” The first target was herself. In February 1925, she shot herself in the chest but survived.
Following the attempt on Mussolini’s life, a deal was cut between the British and Italian governments and Violet Gibson went back to her home country, where she was put into a mental asylum for the rest of her life. She died in 1956.