When the armistice was ratified on 8th September 1943, the Italian army was taken by surprise and left disbanded by the flight of the king and the generals, while the Germans occupied the parts of the country that had not yet been liberated by the Allies.
Resistance developed with time in those areas that were under German control and administered by Mussolini, reinstated as the head of the Italian Social Republic. The first partisans were disbanded soldiers who had managed to avoid being captured and sent to concentration camps after the armistice. This first group of partisans was soon joined by all the young men who refused to be enlisted in the fascist army. The CLN - National Liberation Committee, representing all national antifascist groups, was at the head of the Resistance. Partisan groups gradually grew in strength and expertise regardless of the harsh repression carried out by the Germans and the fascists, who did not hesitate to harm civilians in order to put an end to their support to the partisans. They carried out retaliation massacres everywhere (Fosse Ardeatine, Monte Sole, S. Anna Stazzema, etc.), leading to more than 14,000 victims. However, this did not prevent the development of close cooperation between civilians and Resistance fighters. Women in particular had a very important role, not only as fighters, but also with regard to assistance, support and exchange of information. Support by civilians and the Allies allowed the Resistance movement to spread from the mountains to the lowlands and in the cities too.
The Resistance movement welcomed fighters of all political background. Although Communist involvement was very high, particularly in the “Garibaldi” Brigades, there were also units that were predominantly Catholic (“Fiamme Verdi”), Socialist (“Matteotti”) or liberal-socialist (“Giustizia e Libertà”). In the autumn of 1944, when the advance of the Allied forces was forced to a stop on the Gothic line, which ran across the Appennini mountains, partisan units had to endure a very challenging winter, waiting until April for the Allies to advance further. In April, finally, partisan units were the first ones to set the most important cities in Northern Italy free, establishing the first democratic local governments.
At the end of the war, among all those involved in the Resistance, more than 185,000 were officially acknowledged as partisan fighters, 35,000 of whom were women.
The Resistance movement suffered nearly 29,000 casualties, including 683 women.