Cavallero also sought advancement in industry, assuming the directorship of the Pirelli Works in 1920. Five years later, he was called on by Italian Premier Mussolini to serve as undersecretary of war. In that capacity, he awarded Pietro Badoglio the highest posts in the Italian army before souring on him and stripping him of his powers in 1927 and then publicly snubbing him in 1928—a scandal that cost Cavallero his own powerful post. Again finding a lucrative refuge in industry, he assumed the presidency of the Ansaldo arms and shipbuilding conglomerate, devoting himself to updating and improving its output. Ironically, the Italian navy's 1933 protests that a new cruiser was receiving substandard armor plate and machinery obliged Cavallero to resign in disgrace, although proof of his complicity in the scandal was never established.
Next joining the Italian delegation to the 1932–1934 Geneva arms conference, Cavallero commanded Italian forces in East Africa in 1937 but resigned in spring 1939 after a dispute with his superior, the duke of Aosta. That June, Cavallero began shaping the Pact of Steel with Germany, conveying to Berlin Mussolini's wish to delay war until 1943, when Italy might be fully armed. In December 1940, he succeeded Badoglio as military chief of staff, and he struggled to maintain the tenuous Italian Balkan Front even as Mussolini demanded a (doomed) March 1941 offensive. Cavallero cleaned house at the War Ministry beginning in May 1941; his reforms of the three military branches came amid increased German strategic control of the Italian war effort and were hampered by Il Duce's habitual interference. Elevated in rank to marshal in July 1942, Cavallero was thwarted in his plans for an assault on Malta by German demands for Italian forces on the Soviet Front. Until January 1943, he attempted to evacuate Libya while deflecting the criticism of, among others, Mussolini, who dismissed him from office on 6 February 1943.
Arrested and imprisoned by Badoglio after Mussolini was removed on 25 July 1943, Cavallero tried to link himself with anti-Duce conspirators. After the 8 September armistice, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in Italy and a personal friend to Cavallero, released him and offered him military command of the new Fascist Italian Social Republic. Cavallero was discovered dead of an apparently self-inflicted pistol wound at Kesselring's headquarters in Frascati, outside Rome, on 14 September 1943.
Gordon E. Hogg
Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 22. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1974.; Cannistraro, Philip V. Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.; Knox, MacGregor. Hitler's Italian Allies: Royal Armed Forces, Fascist Regime, and the War of 1940–43. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.