"Tuscan War". A couple of lines about the Italian resistance
The village of San Leonino is located like an "eagle's nest" overlooking the Ambra Valley, which flows into the Arno in the north. Today, this route is used by both the main motorway Florence-Rome and the railway line.
San Leonino is a quiet fortified settlement. In the Middle Ages, this place acquired a strategic importance, as it was located on the border between the city-states of Florence and Siena. Despite the fact that the village is located on the outskirts of the tourist town of Chianti, there are few tourists here. The residents of the settlement today work in the nearby Prada factory or produce high quality olive oil and Chianti wine.
In July 1944, this village was a dangerous place.
The Germans were forced to retreat from the Albert Line through southern Tuscany.
They did not have the strength or weapons to hold any positions for long, but they found themselves in the position of fighting side by side with their Italian fascist allies, when their only task was to try to delay the Allied advance as long as possible.
The main line of the defensive-retreat operation ran up the Arno Valley, then along the roads through the hills further west, crossing the Ambra Valley.
Not far from the retreating Germans was the advancing British 4th Armored Division, supported by infantry from the 2nd Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiments and the 2nd Royal Liverpool Regiment.
The advancing British, supported by airstrikes and artillery, were not the only threats the Germans faced.
By the summer of 1944, the Tuscan hills were home to a growing number of resistance groups.
Most of them consisted of young Italians who were evading conscription for factory work in Germany. Many have joined them. Allied POWs are people freed after the Italian government abruptly pulled out of the war last summer, before the Germans could flood their former ally's territory with fresh troops.
Growing resistance movement and German-Italian measures
When the young Italians climbed the mountains, they united in resistance groups, which consisted of various anti-fascist organizations, mainly communist ones. These groups were soon involved not only in the war with the German occupation forces, but also in the civil war with the Italian fascists.
It is estimated that by the summer of 1944, about 17 partisans were active in Tuscany against the Germans and Italian fascists. Among them were several resistance groups based in the region encompassing the Arno and Ambra valleys and the wooded hills south of Arezzo.
One such group destroyed an entire battalion of Italian engineers belonging to the security forces of Benito Mussolini's puppet regime while they were busy repairing the Florence-Rome railway line.
The German army and SS reacted in the same way as on the Eastern Front: they applied widespread repressive measures against the civilian population.
These were not such atrocities as on the territory of the USSR, but the German army - not only the Nazi "die-hard" SS men - subjected the Italians to rather cruel measures.
Retaliation against civilians was par for the course in Tuscany that summer. On June 17, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Germany, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, issued an order to combat the growing activity of partisans:
Battle of San Leonino
On July 6, 1944, partisans attacked a German convoy on the road along the Ambra River, killing five soldiers.
Three days later, German soldiers stopped a man in the valley, demanding to know where the partisans were hiding. He pointed towards the hills, hoping that the Germans would release him, but they forced him to accompany them. Having surrounded the village outside San Leonino, they shot and killed eight men. One 16-year-old captured while returning from a rabbit hunt was shot and killed for being a partisan. The women and children were herded into the village, and the soldiers opened fire in the forest.
Further deaths were avoided only because the Germans staged a booze, thereby allowing many to slip away.
True, the suffering of the villagers is not over yet.
When the Germans retreated through the Ambra Valley, San Leonino provided an ideal defensive position from which to blockade the British.
On 16 July, a four-man British patrol entered the village and a violent exchange of fire ensued, during which the Germans took two prisoners.
Then large British forces began to approach, which, as it later turned out, was led by one of the members of the Italian resistance, who decided to ask the British command to give him the opportunity to lead the liberation of his village.
Among the men who subsequently fought for the village was Kenneth Kingsley, a 19-year-old soldier in the 2nd Royal Liverpool Regiment. He recalled:
As we scrambled up this chasm-like spur, all hell seemed to come crashing down on us. Artillery shells exploded around us ...
Fights for every house
When the British entered San Leonino, fierce fighting broke out for each house, during which the Germans retreated along the main street of the village to the houses on the hills to the northeast.
Private Kingsley recalled that fight:
I have to explain that I was extremely short-sighted and wore these army glasses with a round metal frame, and since I was not looking straight ahead, but instead at an angle, everything was warped and distorted.
At that moment, I saw something similar to the silhouette of a man. I didn't bother to wonder if it was German. In street fights, you don't stop and ask who the enemy is before you shoot - you shoot first ...
I thought it might be a German with a grenade ... I pulled the trigger of the machine gun, firing about thirty bullets. However, it was not a German woman - it was a young Italian woman, dressed all in black, who, according to my comrades, ran out to greet us. I think she shouted "Viva Inglesi!" Thank God I didn't get into it ...
She picked up her skirt and ran back to her house. I stood there trying to explain my mistake to her in English, not Italian, but she disappeared unharmed, but probably a little shaken.
The remaining Germans held on to the top of the village.
One was shot while trying to detonate a mine that would have destroyed most of the village, another while trying to escape on a motorcycle, which the British commander duly handed over as a reward to the guerrilla leading the attack.
Several Germans were captured.
Today, a monument to civilians killed during the war by the Germans stands at historical Church of San Leonino.
From San Leonino through the Ambra Valley towards San Pancrazio and further south was the fortified city on the Civitella hill in Vai di Chiana.
This was another of hundreds of minor places that formed the halo of the war of liberation of the Italian people against the fascists.
On June 23, about 80 resistance fighters in prepared positions entered into battle with German and local Italian fascist troops participating in a mission to clear the region from the rebels. The guerrillas claimed to have killed 36 of their enemies in the brutal battle that followed.
Four days later, German troops and Italian fascists entered Civitella in the morning, driving in front of them all the men they met along the way.
Some then went from house to house, killing any men they found. Others took up positions at the entrances to the city and fired at anyone who tried to leave.
Germans were also not particularly humane with regard to women. They ordered them and their children to leave the church and opened fire, throwing a hand grenade to be sure.
All the remaining men were lined up in the main square of the city and shot in the head. The priest offered himself instead of hostages, but the German commander simply ordered to kill him first.
Then the Germans left, looting the corpses and houses of those they had killed. On that day, according to a number of sources, a total of 212 civilians were killed in the city and surrounding villages and farms.
Two days later, on June 29, the inhabitants of San Pancrazio suffered the same fate.
German troops arrived there early in the morning and drove civilians from their homes to the main square. The men were ordered to split into groups and enter a large building with a basement for storing various products.
When each group of men just went down to the basement of the building, they were immediately shot. Thus, the Germans turned an ordinary cellar into a crypt.
Sixty-two civilians were killed and their corpses were set on fire.
Their wives, relatives and children stood outside in the square when the shooting was fired.
By the summer of 1944, the war in Italy was portrayed as a minor event compared to the general attack of the Red Army in Belarus, as well as the landing of the Allies in Normandy and their offensive in France.
The deceptive ease with which the war was fought in Italy, among historians, mainly Western ones, gave rise to a certain myth about an allegedly easy war in the country of sunlight and wine.
In fact, the allied forces, carrying out an offensive from the south of the peninsula to the very north, carried out a complex military operation that had not been undertaken since the campaign of the Byzantine commander Belisarius in the XNUMXth century.
This advance up the mountain range of the peninsula provided the Germans and their Italian allies with a number of strong defensive positions that were very difficult to overcome. Especially in the northern part of the country.
However, there were also gaps in the rear of these same German defensive positions. It was an Italian guerrilla movement.
The Italian and German fascist regimes hoped for help in the war against the allies from the Italian people. They thought that the desire to free the country from the "Western occupiers" would become an end in itself for the Italians.
However, in fact, many Italians were not ready to fight for Mussolini, but were happy to fight against him and his ally in Berlin. They committed acts of sabotage, attacks on military units and convoys. And for this they were paid with retaliatory fascist repressive measures.
In late 1944, the British commander of the allied forces in Italy, Field Marshal Alexander, told The Times that anti-fascist resistance in Italy was holding back six of the 25 German divisions in the country.
The US Office of Strategic Services estimated that in March 1945 there were about 182 Italian guerrillas.
In the end, almost all the major cities of Northern Italy - Milan, Turin, Genoa and Venice - were liberated not by the Allied forces, but by the Italian partisans.
- Vladimir Zyryanov
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