Italian resistance movement
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|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the Italian Wikipedia. (November 2011)|
The Italian resistance movement (Italian: Resistenza italiana or Resistenza) is an umbrella term for a number of partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians to fight the German Nazis and the Fascist Italian puppet regime during the later years of World War II, after the Allied invasion, the armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces and the 1943 German occupation of northern Italy. It is also known as the Italian resistance and the Italian partisans. Shortly after the war it was said that the modern Republic of Italy was founded on the achievements of partisan leaders, whose political allegiance was mixed and sometimes contentious.
Resistance by Italian armed forces
The earliest acts of armed resistance to the German occupation were undertaken by the Italian regular army, which cannot be defined as "partisans" (paramilitary forces) since they were part of the Italian Armed Forces and the Carabinieri national police.
The best-known battle of that period broke out in the capital, Rome, the day the armistice was announced. Regio Esercito units such as the Sassari Division, the Granatieri di Sardegna, the Piave Division, the Ariete II Division, the Centauro Division, the Piacenza Division and the "Lupi di Toscana" Division (in addition to Carabinieri, infantry and coastal artillery regiments) were deployed around the city and along the roads leading to it. Fallschirmjäger and Panzergrenadiere were initially repelled but (despite being outnumbered and enduring heavy losses) slowly gained the upper hand, aided by their experience and superior Panzer component. The defenders were hampered by the escape of King Victor Emmanuel III, Marshal Pietro Badoglio and their staff to Brindisi, which left the generals in charge of the city without a coordinated defence plan. This caused Allied support to be canceled at the last minute, since the Fallschirmjäger took the drop zones where the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division was scheduled to be airdropped; Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor had crossed the lines and gone to Rome to personally supervise the operation. The Centauro II Division, not participating in the battle, also contributed to the defeat since its the German-made tanks could have turned the tables; however, given its dubious allegiance (comprised primarily of ex-Blackshirts) it was not fielded. By 10 September the Germans had penetrated downtown Rome and the Granatieri (aided by civilians) made their last stand at Porta San Paolo. At 4 pm, General Giorgio Carlo Calvi di Bergolo signed the order of surrender; the Italian divisions were disbanded, and their members taken prisoner. Although some officers participating in the battle later joined the resistance, the clash was not motivated by anti-German sentiment but by the necessity to defend the Italian capital and resist the Italian soldiers' disarmament. General Raffaele Cadorna, Jr. (commander of Ariete II) and Giuseppe Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (later shot in the Ardeatine massacre) joined the underground; General Gioacchino Solinas (commander of the Granatieri) instead opted for the Italian Social Republic.
In the days following 8 September 1943 most servicemen, left without orders from higher echelons, were disarmed and shipped to POW camps in the Third Reich (often by smaller German outfits). However, some garrisons stationed in occupied Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and Italy engaged in armed combat against the Germans. Admirals Inigo Campioni and Luigi Mascherpa led an attempt to defend Rhodes, Kos, Leros and other Dodecanese islands from their former allies. With reinforcements from SAS, SBS and British Army troops under the command of Generals Francis Gerrard Russell Brittorous and Robert Tilney, the defenders held on for a month. However, the Wehrmacht took hold of the islands through air and sea landings by infantry and Fallschirmjäger (supported by Luftwaffe aircraft). Both Campioni and Mascherpa were captured and executed at Verona for high treason. On 13 September 1943, the Acqui Division stationed in Cefalonia was ordered by Comando Supremo to attack the Germans, despite ongoing negotiations between Italian headquarters and Wehrmacht senior officers. After a ten-day battle, the Germans executed thousands of officers and enlisted men in retaliation. Those killed in the massacre of the Acqui Division included division commander General Antonio Gandin.
More Italian forces remained trapped in Yugoslavia when the armistice was announced. Elements of the Taurinense Division, the Venezia Division, the Aosta Division and the Emilia Division were assembled in the Italian Garibaldi Partisan Division, part of the Yugoslav People's Liberation Army. When the unit finally returned to Italy at the end of the war, half its members had been killed or were listed as missing in action.
The Italian soldiers captured by the Germans numbered around 700,000. Most chose to refuse cooperation with the Third Reich despite hardship, chiefly to maintain their oath of fidelity to the king. Their former allies designated them Italienische Militär-Internierte ("Italian military internees") to deny them prisoner of war status and the rights granted by the Geneva Convention. After decades of obscurity, theirs has been recognized as an act of unarmed resistance on a par with the armed confrontation of other Italian servicemen.
The movement was initially composed of independent troops (members of political parties previously outlawed by the Fascist regime) or by former officers of the Royal Italian Army. Later the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (Committee of National Liberation, or CNL), created by the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Partito d'Azione (a republican liberal socialist party), Democrazia Cristiana and other minor parties, took control of the movement in accordance with King Victor Emmanuel III's ministers and the Allies. The Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI, or National Liberation Committee for Northern Italy) was set up by partisans behind German lines and had the support of most groups in the region.
The formations were eventually divided into three main groups: the communist Garibaldi Brigades, Giustizia e Libertà Brigades (related to the Partito d'Azione) and the socialist Matteotti Brigades. Smaller groups included Catholics and monarchists, such as the Fiamme Verdi (Green Flames), Di Dio, Mauri, Franchi (founded by Edgardo Sogno) and anarchist and apolitical groups. Relations among the groups were not always good. For example, in 1945 in the province of Udine Garibaldi Brigade partisans under Yugoslav command attacked and killed partisans of the Catholic and azionista Osoppo groups.
While the largest contingents operated in mountainous districts of the Alps and the Apennine Mountains, there were also large formations in the Po River flatland. In the large towns of northern Italy, such as Piacenza and the surrounding valleys near the Gothic line, in the Montechino castle there was a key partisan headquarters. The Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (Patriotic Action Groups, or GAP) carried out acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and the Squadre di Azione Patriottica (Patriotic Action Squads, or SAP) arranged strike actions and propaganda campaigns. Not unlike the French Resistance, women were important leaders and couriers in the armed groups and industrial areas.
In 1944, with Allied forces nearby, the partisan resistance in Italy staged an uprising behind German lines led by the CLNAI. This rebellion led to the establishment of a number of provisional partisan governments throughout the mountainous regions of northern Italy. Ossola was the most important of these, receiving recognition from neutral Switzerland and Allied consulates in Switzerland. By the end of 1944, German reinforcements and Benito Mussolini's remaining forces crushed the uprising and the area's liberation waited for the final offensives of 1945.
The nature of the partisans meant that unit sizes varied with bands reaching 450 men and women. The size of units also depended on logistics, such as the ability to arm, clothe, and feed the members as well as the amount of local support. The basic unit was the squadra or squad with three or more, usually five, making a distaccamento or detachment. Three or more detachments made a brigata or brigade of which two or more made a divisione or division. In some places several divisions formed a gruppo divisione or divisional group. These divisional groups would be responsible for an zona d'operatione or operational group.
Just like their European counterparts, Italian partisans seized whatever guns they could find. The first weapons were brought by ex-soldiers willing to carry on the fight against the Germans and Italian Fascists, and came from the Regio Esercito inventory: Carcano rifles, Beretta M 1934 and M1935 pistols, Bodeo M1889 revolvers, SRCM and OTO hand grenades, Fiat-Revelli Modello 1935, Breda 30 and Breda M37 machine guns. As time went by, captured K98ks, MG34s, MG42s and of course the iconic potato mashers, Lugers and Walther P38s were added to partisan kits. Submachine guns such as the MP 40 were initially scarce and, usually, reserved to squad leaders. Automatic weapons became more common as they were captured in combat, or RSI soldiers started to defect to the underground bringing in their own gear. The much beloved Beretta MABs started to appear in larger numbers since October 1943, when they were spirited away en masse from the Beretta factory which was producing them for the Wehrmacht.
Additional weapons, chiefly of British origin, were airdropped by the Allies: PIATs, Lee-Enfield rifles, Bren light machine guns, and above all Sten guns. U.S.-made weapons were provided in a smaller scale courtesy of the Office of Strategic Services: mostly Thompson submachine guns (both M1928 and M1), M3 Grease Guns, United Defense M42s, and some scarce examples of folding stock M1 Carbines. Besides this, supplies included explosives, clothing, boots, food rations and even money that the partisans would use to pay for their weapons or hand over to civilians as a compensation for the confiscations they had made for their survival.
Nazi and Fascist retaliation
The resistance showed the world that not all Italians agreed with the Fascist rule. It proved that Italians were prepared to fight against Fascist rule at high cost. Casualties from the resistance mounted to tens of thousands of Italian partisans, civilians and prisoners of war killed. During the war, German and Italian Fascist forces committed numerous crimes including summary executions, rape of female prisoners, ransacking, and retaliations against civilians; most of these were common practices. Some of the most notorious events were the Ardeatine massacre, the Marzabotto massacre, and the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre. Captured partisans or civilians were often tortured. The Decima Flottiglia MAS, an Italian unit under German command, the Black Brigades, and the National Republican Guard were ruthless collaborationist formations of the war.
Not all members of the Italian resistance were of Italian nationality; there were also many foreigners who had escaped POW camps or had joined guerrilla bands as so-called "military missions". Among them were Yugoslavs, Russians, Ukrainians, Dutch, Spaniards, Greeks, Poles, and even some Germans disillusioned by national socialism, as well as British and Americans, either ex-prisoners or advisors deployed by SOE, SAS and OSS. Some of them later became well-known to the public, such as climber and explorer Bill Tilman, reporter and historian Peter Tompkins, former RAF pilot Manfred Czernin, and architect Oliver Churchill.
On April 19, 1945, with the renewal of the Allied offensive, the CLN called for an insurrection (the April 25 uprising). Bologna was liberated on April 21 by the Italian Co-Belligerent Army and the Polish II Corps under Allied command. Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated on April 24. Turin and Milan were liberated on April 25 through an insurrection. Over 14,000 German and Fascist troops were captured in Genoa on April 26 and 27, when General Meinhold surrendered to the CLN.
On the morning of 27 April 1945 Umberto Lazzaro (nom de guerre "Partisan Bill"), a partisan with the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade, was checking lorries at Dongo on Lake Como carrying retreating German troops to the Swiss border. This was part of an agreement with the partisans that the convoy would be given safe passage if no Italians were concealed among the Germans. In one of the trucks, Lazzaro discovered Benito Mussolini (Il Duce). The task of executing Mussolini was given to a "Colonel Valerio" (generally identified as Walter Audisio or Luigi Longo). The bodies of Mussolini and Petacci were later brought to Milan and hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto, a square near the Milano Centrale railway station; the site was chosen because of a massacre there of anti-fascists by Fascist militia under German orders the previous year. Fifteen prominent Fascists (including Mussolini, Clara Petacci, Fernando Mezzasoma, Luigi Gatti, Alessandro Pavolini and Achille Starace) were executed and displayed in the square; this number was significant because 15 anti-fascists were displayed in the square in 1944.
Other resistance activities
Another task carried out by the Italian resistance was the assistance of escaping POWs (an estimated 80,000 were interned in Italy up until 8 September 1943): they were assisted in reaching Allied lines or were escorted to Switzerland through paths previously used by smugglers. Sometimes fugitives were hidden in safe houses, usually by women (the less likely to arise suspicion), even several at a time. After the war, Field Marshal Harold Alexander issued a diploma to those who did this at the risk of their lives.
Jews were aided by DELASEM, a secret network which extended throughout occupied Italy and included Jews and non-Jews alike, Roman Catholic bishops, clerics, laity, policemen and even some German soldiers. Since Jews were considered "enemy aliens" by the new Fascist government, they were left with little or nothing to live on, DELASEM contributed to their survival by offering food, shelter, and even money, of which vast amounts were donated. Many of its members would be later designated Righteous among the Nations.
||This article uses bare URLs for citations. (January 2013)|
- Sanna, Daniele (2005). Da Porta San Paolo a Salò. Gioacchino Solinas comandante antitedesco. AM&D. ISBN 88-86799-86-1.
- Natta, Alessandro (1997). L'altra Resistenza. I militari italiani internati in Germania. Einaudi. ISBN 978880614314 Check
- The Italian Army 1940-45 (3) Osprey Men-at-Arms 353 ISBN 978-1-85532-866-2
- H-Net Review: Andrea Peto <firstname.lastname@example.org> on Women and the Italian Resistance, 1943–45
- Balbo, Adriano (2005). Quando inglesi arrivare noi tutti morti. Blu Edizioni. ISBN 88-7904-001-4.
- Incerti, Matteo (2011). Il Bracciale di Sterline - Cento bastardi senza gloria. Una storia di guerra e passioni. Aliberti Editore. ISBN 978-88-7424-766-0.
- Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (1980), pp. 340/360
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Italian Resistance|
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- (Italian) Il portale della guerra di Liberazione
- Articles on Anarchist resistance to Italian Fascism
- 1943–1945: Anarchist partisans in the Italian Resistance
- European Resistance Archive
- Book: War In Italy: By Richard Lamb
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